The Church, trying to eradicate the old pagan cults, has relentlessly “demonized” the many creatures that populated the local mythologies. These creatures that were neither (or both) good and evil were brutally associated with all the pain, grievances, sufferings that fall on us.
According to King James I in his Daemonologie, Diana was both the goddess of witches and the Queen of Faerie. Oberon was both the Kind of Faerie and a demon summoned by magicians.
Both faeries and witches were believed to create fairy rings, circles of inedible mushrooms that grow in grassy areas in North America, Europe, and Britain. According to folklore, fairy rings are , magical circles in which faeries and witches meet to sing and dance at night.
In a similar fashion, many similarities exist between the so called “powers” and activities of witches and faeries :
- cast and broke spells
- rode in the Wild Hunt
- healed people
- divined the future and the location of lost objects
- danced and sang beneath the full moon
- trafficked with the Devil
- shape shifted, levitated, or caused others to fly or change shape
- stole unbaptized children
- poisoned people
- stole horses and rode them to exhaustion during the night
- avoided salt
- were repelled by iron
Nevertheless there are some slight differences between these two races. Both Faeries and witches are said to be shapeshifter but while witches became mice, hares, cats, gulls, or black sheep, Fairy women prefered to assume the shape of deer. A running stream could not be crossed by evil spirits, ghosts, and apparitions, but made no difference to the Fairies. Witches took the milk from cows; the Fairies took away the cows themselves, i.e. the cow in appearance remained, but its benefit (the real cow) was gone.
Between 1579 and 1651 there were a number of recorded witch trials in Sicily, however, the exact number may not be known due to loss of documentation. The trial summaries, sent to the Inquisition’s Suprema in Madrid by the Sicilian tribunal, reflected a total of 65 people, eight of them male, many of whom where believed to be associates of fairies, who were put on trial for sorcery.
The Inquisition denounced them as witches, but often did not take these cases seriously as the accused never mentioned the Devil in their confessions. The Inquisition did occasionally associate meetings with the elves as events similar to a Witches’ Sabbath, but as the local population generally held a positive view of the phenomena, the Inquisition did not press the matter. The accused said that they had become associated with the fairies because they had “Sweet blood”, and that in most cases, went to the meetings in an non-corporeal fashion, leaving their actual bodies behind. This is similar to the concept of astral projection and was something they had in common with the Benandanti, a related group that also faced scrutiny by the Inquisition.
Compared to surrounding countries, the witch trials in Sicily were relatively mild: in most cases, the accused gave their testimonies to the Inquisition without being tortured and were either freed, sentenced to exile, or jailed, rather than sentenced to death. Though the accused occasionally testified that some nobles took part in these activities, the accused themselves are generally described as poor, and most often, female.
The fisherwife of Palermo was an unnamed Italian woman who was put on trial for witchcraft by the Sicilian Inquisition in Palermo in Sicily. She claimed to associate with fairies and her confession was among the first that describes contact between elves and humans on Sicily. Similar testimony was common in the witch trials of Sicily between the late 16th and middle of the 17th centuries.
In ‘The protocol of the Inquisition’ she told that when she was a child of eight, she had flown through the air with a group of women on goats to a vast field “called Benevento, which belongs to the Pope and is situated in the kingdom of Naples. There was a field and in its center a platform with two chairs. One one was a red teenage boy and on the other a beautiful woman, whom the called the Queen, and the man was the king. The first time she came there -she was eight- the “ensign” and the other women in her company told her that she must kneel and worship the king and the queen and to all they commanded for they could help her and give her riches, beauty and young men to make love to. And they told her not to worship God or the holy Virgin. The Ensign made her swear on a book with large letters that she would worship the two others.
The king as if he was God and the Queen ad if she was the holy virgin, ad gave herself to them with body and soul…..And after she had so worshipped them, the made the tables and ate and drank, and thereafter the men had intercourse with the women and with her many times in a short period of time. All of this seem to her as if a dream, for when she awoke, she did so in her bed, naked as if she had gone to rest. But sometimes they had called upon her before she had gone to bed so that her husband and children would not notice it, and without having gone to sleep before (as far as she could tell), she left and arrived fully clothed. She further claimed that she at that time did not realise that it was sinful before her confessor had opened her eyes and told her that it was Satan and that she was not allowed to do it further. but she still continued it until two months ago. And she left filled with happiness of the joy she received from it….and because the (the king and the queen) gave her means to cure the sick so that she could earn some money, because she had always been poor”.
After this freely given statement, the Inquisition interrogated her and gave her leading questions. The attitude of the Inquisition was, that fairies did not exist, but was a remnant of Pagan superstition which should be eradicated and not be taken seriously. Therefore, the events she described must have been either a dream, in which case they could accept her story about the fairies, or, if it did happen, it must have been a witch’s sabbath, in which case it must have been demons rather than fairies, as the church believed in demons but not in fairies.
Therefore, they made her leading questions to make her identify the events as either a dream or reality. If it were the former, she would be released, and if it were the latter, she would be a witch. The fisherwife, however, passed this interrogation of leading questions: the protocols state, that in the end, she came to the conclusion that : “All of this seem to her to have happened as if in a dream”, and that it had truly all been just a dream, “as far as she could estimate the matter”.