The superstitious belief that Witches made pacts with the Devil was well documented during the Witchcraft trials of the late fifteenth to seventeenth centuries in Western Europe and Scandinavia. A number of Witchcraft trials, particularly in Scotland in the late 1500s and 1600s, also implicated faeries as both servants of the devil and teaching Witches (mainly women) their magical arts. To the clergy, both Witches and faeries were equally associated with demonology and thus considered evil.
Isobel Gowdie, The Faery’s Friend
In 1662, Isobel Gowdie from Nairn, in the Moray Firth, made four separate confessions of Witchcraft, all entirely voluntary. She claimed she had the power to shapeshift into a hare, a crow, and a cat. The following spell to become a cat, quoted by Isobel in her trial, has passed into folk rhyme; when I taught in Scotland more than thirty years ago children chanted a version of it as a playground skipping game, substituting Lord for the Devil’s name.
With sorrow, and sych, and a blak shott;
And I sall goe in the Divellis nam,
Ay will I com hom againe.
Isobel recounted meeting the Queen of Faeries and visiting Faeryland, how “The hills opened and we came to a large and braw room—and there I got meat from the Queen of the Faerie, more than I could eat. The Queen of the Faerie is brawly clothed in white linens, and the King of the Faerie is a braw man, well-favoured and broad-faced.”
Isobel alleged that she witnessed the Devil himself in faeryland making poisoned elf bolts, the legendary flint arrows that were shot without bows. She also described fearsome faery bulls.
Isobel was initiated, she told the Inquisitors, by a grey man dressed in black, a faery devil—a “meikle, roch. Blak man, cloven footed.” Isobel spoke of the faery devils who led other local covens, but they were dressed she said in yellow and green.
It is possible that Isobel did attend some local gathering of nature worshipers to celebrate the old agricultural and fertility festivals, and the grey man could have been an actual coven master. He may have been a respectable local figure who was sympathetic to the old ways, but obviously disguised and maybe masked and with the Horned God antlers during coven meetings. The wild sexual practices described by many Witches were probably partly reflecting the sexual frustrations and fantasies of the Inquisitors and the actual sexual nature of some of the festivals where people did make love. Perhaps on occasion a better educated coven master took advantage of the simple and maybe excited women. Certainly Isobel was very sexually frustrated by her apparently passionless husband.
But, there was undoubtedly in the fifteen to seventeenth centuries, and even beyond, a huge overlap between the beliefs in faery worlds, Witchcraft, and what were perceived as demonic figures, but that may have been survival rituals from the old, watered-down Pagan Horned God religion. These accounts reveal not only astounding prejudice against the paranormal but how among ordinary folks, the fey co-existed as part of a world where magick was the reality and not the illusion.
Our thanks to Cassandra for her guest post! For more from Cassandra Eason, read her article “Faeries and Love.”