What functions did Fairies perform in Early Modern British Culture and Society?

Fairies are ambivalent and liminal, presiding over thresholds, therefore occur in many different contexts. A wide variety of functions are attributed to them. Considered of value, the study of fairies will initially be examined because their viability for academic study has not always been apparent. The reasons for the recent proliferation in fairy scholarship shall briefly be discussed to contextualise the importance of this topic Fairies interact with many aspects of human life. These relations will therefore be traced throughout the stages of human life. Fairy contact occurs most frequently amongst those people in a period of transition. Women in childbirth and young babies experience fear and risk of mortality. Fairy beliefs played an active role in this emotional state. As teenagers experienced sexual awakening fairies facilitated the exploration of new emotions. During the trials of life and housework drudgery, fairies played a dynamic role in a variety of emotionally supportive and practical ways. They assisted, rewarded and punished people. Fairies caused illness but were also associated with healing powers. Fairies acted without any apparent reasoning and were morally ambivalent. They bestrode Heaven and Earth therefore had links with the supernatural. Due to this nature fairies supported arguments of God’s existence.  This sustained those dealing with questions of mortality. The Reformation redefined the boundaries of fairy belief, making them demonic.  They became a tool to employ in anti-catholic polemic. Fairies functioned in a multitude of contexts and therefore may be treated in a multi-functional manner.

In recent years there has been an upsurge in the academic interest in fairies. However, this has not always been so. Firstly, exploration of the lack of fairy scholarship before the current increase in attention must be discussed.  S. Macdonald, reviewing Scottish Fairy Belief: A History, notes how this recent book fills ‘a significant gap’[1], in the understanding of fairy belief. This lacuna occurs across the fairy discourse. Such a gap needs explanation. The inaccessible content of source material partially explains this. S. Thomson in 1960, reviewing The Anatomy of Puck by K. Briggs, claims the ‘literary student of today can hardly credit the ready acceptance’ of folk stories believed by ‘common current’ and half accepted by the educated. [2] Modern Western society sees fairies as fictional characters from nursery tales; therefore fairy belief in adults is often quite a complex concept to accept. Evidence of Early Modern witch belief has been regarded as ‘the ramblings of deluded or tortured people,’ with no meaning to ‘traditional historians.’[3] Henderson and Cowan note that scholars might be ‘inclined to intellectually reject the bizarre reportage which they [fairy stories] contain.’[4] Purkiss regards fairy study as highly valuable. However, she also acknowledges their inherent ‘ontological dubiety.’[5] Academic credibility of fairy study has been questioned due to challenges of this nature.

However, an increasing interest in the study of fairies has taken place. Examination of why this has occurred is necessary. Changes in the practice of historical discipline help explicate why fairy scholarship has gained popularity and credibility. The rise in social and women’s history and the Post Modernist turn have shaped the historical discipline in the later half of the twentieth century. Firstly, ‘new history’, which developed ‘an interest in class, race, and gender’ [6] opened up numerous new fields of study. Political and elite no longer dominated the study of History. Many new fields of study became popular and extensively researched. More recently the advent of Post Modernism occurred. Post Modernist techniques focus on the ‘analysis of discourses’[7] by seeking ‘an explanation of the internal structures of these texts.’[8] New methodologies when applied to fairy stories, which initially appear peculiar, allow new meaning to be revealed. They can be viewed as rational in their own terms. Recently scholars have frequently sought to investigate the discourse of the fairy folk beliefs.  Such methods are used in the works of Purkiss. For example, she gives explanations why fairies stories were used by women in Scottish witchcraft trials. She explains: ‘If asked to produce a story under pressure, people will draw on stories they have heard, stories they have read, stories they have already told, stories they think others will believe.’[9] The reason provided evaluated why these narratives had meaning contained within their own discourse. Reliability for the stories is consequently created.  The fact they contained meaning for those who initially heard them is learned. Recent changes in the historical discipline allow more significance to be given to fairy stories. They have become a more viable research area.

The validity of studying fairies has been explored, now the paradigm used to analyse meaning in these stories must be considered. Gibson remarks, the theoretical changes in the historical discipline which have been discussed, suggest a ‘variety of paradigms’[10] might be used to explore these stories. Explanation of the roles fairies played in society and the utility of these beliefs will be central to the argument.  A functionalist paradigm shall therefore be our primary means of investigating fairy belief. Thomas takes a functionalist view of fairy beliefs claiming they helped ‘to reinforce some of the standards upon which the effective workings of society depended.’[11]  Functionalists’ views create explanations on how stability and co- operation in societies occur. How fairy beliefs created cohesiveness of behaviour and supported emotional needs of Early Modern Britain will be focussed upon. Weaknesses in this paradigm must be considered.  Marshall claims functionalists ‘often pay insufficient attention to genres, rhetoric and discursive strategies in the texts they draw on.’[12] To overcome this, awareness of literary techniques used by authors will be regarded. However, it should be acknowledged that sources limit us, especially when regarding human emotions; they very rarely explicate emotional information.

Leading on from the above, the definition of fairy must be examined. Purkiss vividly describes modern fairies as ‘small gauzy-wingy thingies.’[13] Fairies are presently predominantly portrayed as small benign beings that are integrated into the genre of children’s fictional literature. Conversely, Early Modern Fairies have a more ambivalent role. Many different types of fairy, goblin, nymphs and spirits, in numerous shapes and sizes appear in fairy accounts. Thomas remarks how they conform to ‘no single set of characteristics.’[14] How were these various creatures incorporated into a single genus? Robert Campbell’s manuscript of Scottish minister Robert Kirk’s The Secret Common Wealth, a treatise on the nature of fairies and second sight, contains an exposition of difficult words. Even though elves, fauns and ‘siths’ are defined, fairies are not.[15] The suggestion implied by this lack of definition is that readers had a clear notion of fairies. Scot provides a list of ‘bugges’ children are taught to fear. A great variety of creatures including witches, centaurs and imps are treated within this group,[16] illustrating a loose unity amongst these beings. Likewise, despite some disparities, fairies are all considered to be part of similar phenomena. Brigg’s Glossary of The Vanishing People contains a useful definition for fairies. She defines fairies as the ‘general name for the whole race.’[17]  The unity of fairies is held, but variety is expressed. They are a species, their types are breeds.

Fairies are often described as ‘liminal’ characters that preside over boundaries. Purkiss observes that fairies appear and control ‘big crises of mortal life.’ [18] Early Modern childbirth was a hazardous event with a high risk of mortality. Estimates of death in childbirth before the eighteenth century vary from 3% to 18%.[19] Women in this vulnerable state were susceptible to fairy abduction. Kirk mentions how:

‘women are yet alive who tell they were taken away when in child-bed to nurse ffayrie children, a lingring voracious image of thiers being left in their place (like their reflexion in a mirrour) which (as if it were som insatiable spirit in an assumed body) made first semblance to devoure the meat, that it cunningly carried by, and yn left the carcase expired, and departed thence by a natural and common death.’

The condition of woman and birth is explored through the medium of fairy belief. A fake image of the woman put in place, implying she is physically taken to fairyland. This image is described as ‘lingring’ and ‘voracious’, implying an obvious disparity in the behaviour of the woman and the image. Kirk describes the apparent altered and fragile state of the mother post-birth, attributing fairy causation. In this piece fairies function as a medium of explaining the post-natal state. This condition is often fraught with risk. The ‘Queen of the Elfame’ visits Bessie Dunlop, who was tried for witchcraft in Scotland, when she is in child-bed prophesises to her that her ‘barne wald de, and that hir husband suld mend of his seikness.’[20] Bessie, who has already experienced the high risk of child birth, also has a sick husband who may die. During this era Purkiss notes women could only bargain with their ‘bodies and their babies’[21]. In a fraught state of mind Bessie has envisioned sacrificing her baby to save her husband? Such encounters with mortality create numerous fears. Emotions arising from her situation could be explored by Bessie through the medium of fairy belief. Henderson and Cowan’s fairy study allows us to learn from people of Early Modern Scotland ‘their hopes and fears, their assumptions and their concerns as they struggled to comprehend the world around them.’[22]  Therefore sense can be derived from these fears through the medium of fairy belief. Fairy belief helped those in a vulnerable transitional state understand and channel their emotions.

The children created were as vulnerable as the women producing them. Human babies were susceptible to theft from the fairies; a fairy changeling put in their place.  The mad merry prankes of Robin Good-fellow, presents this common trope in a comical manner:

‘And babes new born steal as we go,

an elf in bed,

We leave in stead,

And wend us laughing, ho, ho, ho.’[23]

Despite the humour, it plays upon serious fears, babies were defenceless. Kirk describes the fairy thefts as a ‘plaginism’ which clutches ‘our children away which never return.’[24] The implication that the children never return is akin to their death.  In the Early Modern period there were high child mortality rates, with infants being most in danger of illnesses and death.[25] Henderson and Cowan explore how fairy belief reflected the mentality of early modern Scotland. They explain how ‘general concerns about such matters were manifested in part, by what amounted to something of an obsession with the phenomena’[26] of changelings. A fearful incidence is one again associated with fairies, implying that fairy beliefs were used to explore fear of children dying. After high risks in the birthing process, fear of the child perishing became protracted.

Although the phenomenon of changelings expressed worries about child mortality, it also allowed parents address those fears. William Warner in Albion’s England discusses the link between lack of faith and changelings:

‘Yee fairies too made Mother, if weake faith, to sweare that ye

Into their Beds did foist your Babes, and thiers, and theirs exchang’d be.’[27]

Warner exemplifies the risks associated with weak faith. If a mother of weak faith risks having her baby exchanged, then it is implied a mother of strong faith is less susceptible to this risk. People sought to ensure blessings through a greater faith in God. A lack of faith brought punishment through God’s wrath. Fear of these fairy thefts might endure people to seek greater piety and favour in God, in the hope that protection of their child’s life was secured by faith. Fear of changelings, which expressed fears on children’s vulnerability, allowed people to seek solutions to those fears. Religious protection was one way in which people might do this. However, Thomas considers changeling belief was utilised to ensure better care of children. ‘The risk of being landed with a fairy changeling similarly reminded men of the need to look after a newborn child.’[28] The belief functioned to seek better care of children, through parental fears, hence allowing them to prosper. Changeling belief not only allowed people a way to explore fears of loosing children, but also allowed them a senses of control by finding ways to prevent this loss.

Adolescence is a transitional state in between adulthood and childhood. Fairies often preside over these transitional states. During puberty sexual awakening is one of the most distinguishable changes that occur in people. Fairies are often associated with controlling human love and lust. Queen Mab in Romeo and Juliet is especially associated with this. Mab is no regal or refined Queen and suggestions have been made that she even represents a slattern or low woman.[29] She is described as a medium of acquaintance for maid’s first sexual awakenings:

‘This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,

That presses them and learns them first to bear,’[30]

Lying on your back strongly connotes both erotic associations and sleep. Pressing them down, as male lovers would do, instructs them into sexual activity. This is akin to the incubi or succubi who caused sexually charged dreams.[31] An incubus hag, who haunted maid’s dreams acting as a sexual facilitator, gives the piece a bawdy comic effect. However, sexual awakening is linked to a demonic encounter. Even though this is not a personal encounter, as a performance it shows that the fairy discourse correlated fairies with sexual awakening of young maids. Adolescents were learning about and thinking about sexuality. Fairies are seen to help act as facilitators in this learning experience. Purkiss relates how fairies are associated with transitions and boundaries in society: ‘She is a gate keeper.’[32] Here we see the fairy functioning as a motif for the transitional state of sexual awakening within the discourse.

However, the ambivalent nature of fairies meant they could react to sexuality in a manner of ways. Whilst, Queen Mab’s characters lead the transition into sexuality, she also regulated sexual behaviour. Queen Mab is seen as a malevolent character in the regulation of people’s desires.

‘O’er ladies lips, who straight on kisses dream,

Which of the angry Mab with blisters plagues,

Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are.’[33]

Anger implies that Mab is chastising the ladies, as a parent would correct a small child. She does this because the ladies took pleasure in eating sweetmeats and dreaming of kisses. However, the mention of kisses turns this into a sexual punishment. The physical sign of blisters causes social embarrassment. These blisters reduce the women’s sexual desirability to the men they wish to kiss. The physical sign of their misdeeds correlates to the oral part of the body to which the transgression is linked. Mab acts as a regulator, who controls sexual desires through physical punishment. Mab both encourages young maids to explore sexual feelings yet also punishes women for having desires. Little coherence is shown in the manner chosen to control people. Fairies were just as likely to encourage sexual exploration as prevent it. Todd describes how there is ‘no rhyme or reason to their choices,’[34] fairies act like nature in an ambivalent manner; they have the ‘amorality of nature.’[35] As their moral position is unresolved they can perform both good and bad things. This ambivalent position meant causations could be attributed to them from a number of moral positions. They functioned as a way of explaining phenomena that might have otherwise been attributed to the devil.[36] However, attributing transgressions to the Devil, who was allowed to punish through Gods will, meant personal accountability. Fairy liability released people from personal accountability.

Fairies acted to ease people’s frame of mind in other manners. As fairies might chastise people, so they helped them escape from the hardships of life. Entertainment was one way this was done. A common theme of fairy feasting and celebration runs through folk lore. For example, in the Mad Merry Pranks of Robin Goodfellow a typical fairy celebration is depicted:

‘By wells and giles in Meadow green,

We highly dance our hey day guise,

And to our fairy King and Queen,

We chant our moonlit harmony.’[37]

This ballad exemplifies some of the typical early modern ballads. It was to be sung to the tune of Dulcina.[38] It was part of oral folk culture. Ballads were sung in groups for entertainment, such activities were part of people’s recreational time. As people entertained themselves with songs and merry making, so did the fairies. This song is inwardly reflecting. The fairy world and the real world are linked by shared activities. On a basic level this ballad acts to entertain. Henderson and Cowan explain that ballads also convey ‘important cultural information about not only the world around, but the world around that.’[39] By exploring themes of entertainment, it is evident fairies express peoples’ desire to make merry, dance and sing. Fairies function at a practical level as part of the discourse of early modern entertainment.

Fairies participated in communal activities but also had associations with individuals displaying unusual behaviour. Fairies provided victuals for individuals. One such lady named NcIntyr was examined by Kirk. He describes how she had taken little or no food for many years. At night she would wander into fields, ‘converse with people she knew not’ and she would ‘sleep on a hillock.’[40]  The inclusion of this account in Kirk’s treatise marks that he considered it a fairy encounter.  Lack of eating linked with her strange behaviour, suggests that fairies were providing her with sustenance. Similarly, Moses Pitts relates the case of Anne Jeffries dealings with the fairies. Anne was a maid in the house he grew up in. She started experiencing fairy encounters in her late teenage years. He explains how Anne ‘was fed by these fairies from that Harvest-time to the next Christmas- day.’[41] By not eating they would have excluded themselves from meal times and aspects of commensality. An individual failing to eat for several months is an unusual behaviour trait that requires explanation. Other types of peculiar behaviour are also related in both these tales. Kirk describes Nc Intyr as ‘still prettie melanchollious/ And silent, hardly ever seen to laugh.’[42] Fairies caused Anne Jeffries ‘such a Fright and Consternation’, she relates them as ‘the Cause of this my great sickness.’[43] Anne suffered fits and seizures, such a sickness would be considered abnormal and required explanation. Todd argues fairies had a ‘willingness to create space for individuals who do not fit within the social norms of society.’[44] As liminal beings fairies were outside human society likewise by behaving abnormally these women were outside social norms. Fairy beliefs, due to their liminality, therefore created an easy function of explanation for their unusual behaviour.

This benevolent facet of fairies also extended to helping those in dire need.  Fairies often appeared to those in desperation to offer them help.[45] Herrick poem The Beggar to Mab, the fairie Queen, recounts a poor beggar petitioning Queen Mab to provide help in his desperation. ‘Please your Grace, from out your Store, Give an Almes to one that’s poore.’[46] Reference to her store implies her wealth. Herrick in Oberon’s Palace narrates Mab’s lifestyle, appealing to trappings of miniature grotesque luxury.[47]  She is set up as a potential rich benefactress to the poor beggar. Kirk  recounts a non- fiction tale of fairy aid. It occurs in 1676 during the time of a grain shortage. Two women receive visions, simultaneously but separately, of hidden treasure. This treasure is buried in a hill called ‘Sith bhruaich or Fairie- Hill’[48]. A large vessel full of ancient gold coins was found upon digging.[49] Benefits are gained through this discovery. The gold gets ‘sold in dish-fulls for dish-fulls of meall to the Country people.’[50] Fairies are not directly involved in this incident. However, Kirk suggests them as one possible cause of the event. The hill associated with fairies strongly implies some fairy involvement. The discovery of the pot occurs on territory that is delineated as fairy linked. Their deliverance from hardship is indirectly connected to fairies. Purkiss states that ‘A fairy story is a story about reaching rock bottom – in a sense, a story about dying – but it is a story about finding a way out , if only in story.’[51] Fairy discourses function as a medium through which people might express their desperation. They are also used explanations of how travails are endured and overcome.

Fairies also showed generosity by rewarding people. Fairies might reward individuals for cleanliness and tidiness. Individuals left shoes out in hope of a fairy reward. This acted as an incentive for individuals to clean their houses.[52] However, the fairies also took displeasure in dirty or sloppy housework.  This is expressed in one Herrick poem: ‘Sweep your house: Who doth not so,
Mab will pinch her by the toe.’[53] Despite the comic effect created by a miniature fairy queen pinching toes, it provides a pertinent commentary on the social discourses surrounding fairies. Pleasing or displeasing the fairies by your quality of housework was a contemporary folk belief affecting people’s mentalities. Thomas argues that ‘fear of being tormented by the fairies’ [54] was one reason that made maids clean thoroughly. He argues such beliefs enforced codes of social conduct. Purkiss considers that despite forming people’s behaviour they might also act as a control structure. Masters employ these tales so servants conscientiously comply with cleaning duties. ‘Maids are tricked into cleanliness by Lord Smartyboots, who leaves a silver tester in the maid’s shoe as a sly form of tip, to make her good.’[55] Swann notes how in a Foucauldian sense it regulated behaviour before an era of ‘systematic surveillance.’[56] Fairies provided an impression that those doing duties would be constantly observed. Constant observation would cause them to consistently work hard.  Fairy beliefs associated with cleaning functioned as a punishment and reward scheme to encourage cleanliness amongst people.

However, people were not always expected to perform the drudgery of housework themselves. Fairies sometimes performed household duties. Kirk mentions creatures that enter houses while the residents sleep to order the kitchens and clean plates.[57] Some families even had brownies working as ‘drudges.’[58] Kirk’s use of the word ‘drudge’ implies such tasks were considered undesirable. Robin Goodfellow performs certain tasks with an element of pleasure. ‘Yet now and then the Maids to please, I card at midnight up their wool.’[59] Robin Goodfellow acts benevolently towards the maid. He performs such actions with her feelings taken into account. Pleasure was gained by avoiding the drudgery of time consuming tasks. Fairies acting as household aid function to express people’s desire to their desire to escape the drudgery of housework.

As fairies were ambivalent in nature they did not always seek to please. Fairies were sometimes dishonest regarding their nocturnal cleaning. Householders who left milk out for them were tricked into cleaning their own house. Warner relates how fairies took women in their ‘deadest sleep’ and ‘made themselves their houses sweep.’[60] Fairies have the potential to be charlatans. However, in this depiction the owner remains unaware of the trickery. However, it is implied that this trickery may have rendered the lady tired.[61] Fairy belief acted to explain certain symptoms. The morally ambivalent position meant that a wide variety of causations may be attributed to them.

Fairy agency could be used to explain severe symptoms. Kirk describes fairy weaponry that damages the inside of the body, ‘mortally wounding the vittall parts without breaking the skin.’[62] This damaging aspect of fairy activity also linked fairies to the Devil. Isobel Gowdie was questioned for a witchcraft accusation in 1662. During examination she describes how the devil delivers arrow heads, shaped by him, to Elf boys.[63] Like fairies damaging weaponry, a variety of illnesses could be caused by fairy activity.[64] Sickness might be linked with those who consorted with fairies. Anne Jeffries, who is visited by six small fairies, is so frightened ‘she fell into a kind of a Convulsion-fit.’[65] Anne commonly had fits if anything upset her.[66]  Thomas claims fairies could ‘operate as a means of accounting for an otherwise unsatisfactory situation.’[67] Often people would seek the reasoning for their illness. Fairies could function to provide explanation to illnesses, especially for individuals connected with fairies. Gentilcore explains ‘In a world shattered by illness, the construction of narrative allows the sick person to “reconstitute” the world.’ [68] Fairies functioned to help sick people explore their emotional reactions to illness. Finding an explaination for illness allowed them to control their experiences.

Illness could also be alleviated by those who consorted with fairies. Reginald Scot claimed ‘sick folke, children, women, and cowards, which through weaknesse of mind and bodie, are shaken with vaine dreames and continuall feare,’[69] were particularly likely to hold fairy beliefs. Although, Scot was a sceptic, this link is an important one. Sick people often relied upon healers to cure their illnesses. Many elite medical practitioners claimed fairies provided their abilities.[70] Jonat Hunter encountered a fairy that ‘desired [her] to speak of God and do good to poor sick folk.’[71] Likewise, Anne Jeffries’ healing abilities were linked with a period of fairy contact. Her reputation becomes so eminent ‘that people of all distempters, sicknesses, sores and ages, came not only so far off as the Land-end, but also London, and were cured by her.’[72] The distance people travelled shows the strong faith they had in her abilities to heal. However, Anne gets this healing ability through the ‘blessing of God’[73] Even though her ability is divine; many paranormal dealings are associated with her. Moses Pitts, by inclusion of these cures in his dialogue, implicitly links all these phenomena together within the same discourse. In an era where medical solutions were not particularly efficacious, fairy belief functioned as a medium through which people might hope to receive healing. It has been illustrated that fairies both harmed and healed. Everything linked with fairies was tainted with ‘unpredictability, unreason, caprice.’[74] For this reason, they might function to explain many different phenomena.

The unpredictability of fairies became a theological issue during the Reformation. Any spirit who had not been fully assimilated into the ‘Christian Pantheon was officially defined as an “evil spirit” by most contemporary theologians.’[75] The Catholic belief in purgatory, from which ghosts were traditionally derived, was ended by Protestant Reformers. The liminal world and links between the living and the dead had been theologically severed.  However, there was still empirical evidence of Ghost activity. In Post Reformation doctrine Ghosts were considered mainly Devil sent demons. In fact many thought fairies were the dead. Fairies and Ghost come under a similar doctrine.[76] Fairies in this theological system appear to be utterly irreconcilable with Post Reformation doctrine.[77] Despite this, an important role was still served by them at a popular level.  Marshall argues, despite official doctrine, that fairies remained popular and current as evidence of spirit activity in lay protestant communities.[78] It was often tolerated by clergymen on a parish level.’[79]

How did those experiencing mortality use fairy beliefs? Fairies that are ‘liminal in everyway’ constitute ‘a society separate from human society and crucially intertwined with it.’[80] Like the dead they are linked to human society but are also distinct. Elspeth Reoch, just after childbirth, encounters a man who ‘callit Johne Stewart quha wes slane be McKy at the doun going of the soone And therfor nather deid not leiving bot wald go betuix the heaven and the earth.’[81] Both hold a liminal state; she has transitioned into motherhood and he straddles the world of the living and the dead. He acts as a link to the dead. Henderson and Cowan argue that ‘the very idea of Fairyland permitted some assuage meant of the grief attending the death of a loved one.’[82] Fairies were one way grieving relatives could still feel close to their loved ones, even though post reformation belief shut the gates of purgatory. By straddling between the boundaries of life and death, fairies functioned as a scaffold for belief in an after life. People could explore their feelings and emotions through these beliefs.

Fairies could be used as an argument for the supernatural. Empirical evidence of fairies might be drawn upon in the argument against Atheism, which appeared to be increasing after the Reformation. Briggs claims Kirk was free from this ‘puritan bigotry’ and he treated fairies as a ‘natural phenomena.’[83] Kirk seeks out empirical evidence to confirm the existence of fairies. Fairies are treated with a scientific accuracy and recorded systematically. Kirk proposed that evidence of fairies might scaffold an argument against increasing Atheism. In one of the surviving manuscripts of Kirk’s The Secret Common Wealth, the lines ‘to suppress the impudent and growing Atheism of this age’ are included on the title page.[84] Sanderson claims this shows ‘his need to justify his defence of belief in the occult world.’[85]  Kirk saw evidence from his research as evidence against the growing scepticism about supernatural phenomena which would eventually lead to lack of faith in God. As a minister of the church this was of great personal concern to Kirk. In response to Lord Tarbott, Kirk claims visions of people with second sight are not evil but really attempts by ‘fellow creatures in invisible worlds’ to convince us of a deity.[86]  They are used to support a belief in a supernatural world. Empirical evidence of fairies signposts the existence of a divinity.

Fairies, considered demonic by the protestant reformers, were tools of promulgation against papists. It is necessary to explore how fairies were demonically portrayed. James I, King of England in Daemonologie in the Form of a Dialogue, argues that the devil creates fairy appearances by tricking the senses of ‘simple creatures in making them believe that they saw and harde such thinges as were nothing so indeed.’[87]  He also observes that fairies were ‘one of these sorts of illusion that was rifest in the time of Papistrie.’[88] Catholic canon was certainly ‘deeply impregnated’ with spirits.  Ghosts were used to support their belief in Purgatory.  Protestants made this theological link. If Catholic belief supported spiritual presence, which Protestants considered demonic, then Catholicism was linked to the Devil. However, their main purpose of this link was for the purpose of anti-Catholic polemic. It was another device in the theological armoury used to defeat Catholic belief systems.  Fairies were theologically set up against Catholicism as a polemic tool.

How this polemic use of fairies practically functioned, must now be examined. The Examination of John Walsh, a man accused of witchcraft, contains many references regarding his dealings with fairies. However, the printer introduces this booklet with a long warning regarding the evil dealings of papists. John Walsh learned sorcery from a priest. The reader is exhorted to ‘see the fruites of Papistes and papistrye.’[89]  The introduction then includes a list of popes involved with witchcraft, in which the ‘abhominable sea of Rome wer thus occupied.’[90] Withcraft is directly linked with papistry.  In Post-Reformation doctrine theologians placed fairies amongst demonic spirits, therefore Walshe’s account of fairies could be akin to accounts of ‘demonic familiars’[91].  Fairies have been placed in a league of demonic spirits associated with witchcraft and devilry.  Therefore they become useful accompanying material to support the argument of the printer about the links with papistry and witchcraft. Fairies have become incorporated into the protestant discourse arguing the demonic links of Papistry. Fairies thus begun to function as part of a Protestant discourse which painted Catholic beliefs as demonic and evil. Fairies’ liminal and morally ambivalent nature could be manipulated for polemic purposes.

Bibliography

Primary Sources

The examination of John Walsh before Maister Thomas Williams, commissary to the Reuerend father in God William Bishop of Excester, vpon certayne interrogatories touchyng wytchcrafte and sorcerye, in the presence of diuers ge[n]tlemen and others. The .xxiii. of August. 1566. (London, 1566) in Early English Books Online

http://eebo.chadwyck.com/search/fulltext?SOURCE=var_spell.cfg&ACTION=ByID&ID=D00000998379000000&WARN=N&SIZE=16&FILE=../session/1260616035_11687&SEARCHSCREEN=CITATIONS&DISPLAY=AUTHOR&ECCO=N

The mad merry pranks of Robin Good-fellow (London, 1663-1674) in Early English Books Online http://eebo.chadwyck.com/search/full_rec?SOURCE=pgthumbs.cfg&ACTION=ByID&ID=47012524&FILE=../session/1260616896_13263&SEARCHSCREEN=CITATIONS&SEARCHCONFIG=var_spell.cfg&DISPLAY=AUTHOR

Bessie Dunlop and the Fairies (1576) Appendix III in Briggs, K. The Anatomy of Puck: An Examination of Fairy Beliefs among Shakespeare’s Contemporaries and Successors (London, 1959). p.240.

From Isobel Gowdie’s Confession (1662) Appendix III in Briggs, K. The Anatomy of Puck: An Examination of Fairy Beliefs among Shakespeare’s Contemporaries and Successors (London, 1959). p.242.

Herrick, R.  Hesperides, or, The works both humane & divine of Robert Herrick, Esq. (London,1648) in Early English Books Online http://eebo.chadwyck.com/search/fulltext?ACTION=ByID&ID=D00000120679780000&SOURCE=var_spell.cfg&DISPLAY=AUTHOR&WARN=N&FILE=../session/1259339262_14513

James I King of England, Daemonologie in forme of a dialogue, diuided into three bookes (Edinburgh, 1597) in Early English Books Online http://eebo.chadwyck.com/search/fulltext?SOURCE=var_spell.cfg&ACTION=ByID&ID=D00000998432730000&WARN=N&SIZE=142&FILE=../session/1259520958_26550&SEARCHSCREEN=CITATIONS&DISPLAY=AUTHOR&ECCO=N

Kirk, R. ‘A Succinct Account of My Lord of Tarbott’s Relationes’ in Sanderson, S. (ed.), The Secret Common-Wealth and A Short Treatise of Charms and Spels, (Cambridge, 1976). pp. 73-103.

Kirk, R. ‘An Exposition of the difficult Words in the for-going Treatises’ in Sanderson, S. (ed.), The Secret Common-Wealth and A Short Treatise of Charms and Spels, (Cambridge, 1976). p. 114-199.

Kirk, R. ‘The Secret Common-Wealth’ in Sanderson, S. (ed.), The Secret Common-Wealth and A Short Treatise of Charms and Spels, (Cambridge, 1976). pp. 47-73.

Pitts, M. An Account of One Anne Jeffries (London, 1696) in Early English Books Online http://eebo.chadwyck.com/search/fulltext?SOURCE=var_spell.cfg&ACTION=ByID&ID=D00000118787420000&WARN=N&SIZE=31&FILE=../session/1260616359_12287&SEARCHSCREEN=CITATIONS&DISPLAY=AUTHOR&ECCO=N

Scot, R. The Discoverie of Witchcraft (London, 1584) pp.152-153. in Early Modern English Books Online http://eebo.chadwyck.com/search/full_rec?SOURCE=pgimages.cfg&ACTION=ByID&ID=99852103&FILE=../session/1260617253_13846&SEARCHSCREEN=CITATIONS&VID=44&PAGENO=91&ZOOM=FIT&VIEWPORT=&SEARCHCONFIG=var_spell.cfg&DISPLAY=AUTHOR&HIGHLIGHT_KEYWORD=

Shakespeare, W. Romeo and Juliet Brian Gibbons (ed.), (London, 1980).  pp. 109-112.

Warner, W. A continuance of Albions England: by the first author. VV.VV. (London, 1606) p. 368. in Early English Books Online http://eebo.chadwyck.com/search/full_rec?SOURCE=pgthumbs.cfg&ACTION=ByID&ID=99854810&FILE=../session/1260616523_12624&SEARCHSCREEN=CITATIONS&SEARCHCONFIG=var_spell.cfg&DISPLAY=AUTHOR

Secondary Sources

Briggs, K. The Anatomy of Puck: An Examination of Fairy Beliefs among Shakespeare’s Contemporaries and Successors (London, 1959).

Briggs, K. The Vanishing People: A Study of Traditional Fairy Beliefs (London, 1978).

Downs, L.L. ‘From Womens History to Gender History’ in Stefan Berger, Keiko Feldner and Kevin Passmore (eds.), Writing History: Theory and Practice, (London and New York, 2003),  pp. 261-281.

 Gentilicore, D. ‘Contesting Illness in Early Modern Naples: Miracolati, Physicians and the Congregation of Rites’, Past and Present 148 (1995), 117-148.

Gibson, M. ‘Review: Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic by Emma Wilby’ Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 3 (2008), 115-117.

Henderson, L. and Cowan, E. J. Scottish Fairy Belief: A History (East Linton, 2001).

  1. Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parson. (London, 1992), p. 42.

Macdonald, S. ‘Review: Scottish Fairy Belief: A History by Lizanne Henderson; Edward. J. Cowan’, The Sixteen Century Journal 34 (2003), 271-272.

Marshall, P. ‘Protestants and Fairies in Early Modern England’, in C. Scott Dixon, Dagmar Freist and Mark Greengrass (eds.), Living with Religious Diversity in Early Modern Europe, (Aldershot, 2009), pp.139-159.

Purkiss, D. ‘Sounds of Silence: Fairies in Early Modern England’ in S. Clark (ed.), Languages of Witchcraft, (Basingstoke, 2001). pp. 81-99.

Purkiss, D. Troublesome Things: A History of Fairies and Fairy Stories (London, 2000).

Sanderson, S. ‘Commentary’ in Sanderson, S. (ed.), The Secret Common-Wealth and A Short Treatise of Charms and Spels, (Cambridge, 1976), pp. 1-47.

Scott, J. Gender and the Politics of History (New York, 1988), pp. 28-50.

Stone, L. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 Abridged Edition (London, 1979). pp. 55-65.

Swann, M. ‘The Politics of Fairylore in Early Modern English Literature’, Renaissance Quarterly 53 (2000), 449-473.

Thomas, K. Religion and the Decline of Magic (London. 1991), pp. 701-735.

Thompson, S. ‘Review: The Anatomy of Puck: An Examination of Fairy Beliefs among Shakespeare’s Contemporaries and Successors by Katharine M. Briggs’ Shakespeare Quarterly 11 (1960), 367.

Todd, M. ‘Fairies, Egyptians and Elders: Multiple Cosmologies in Post-Reformation Scotland’, in B. Heal and O.P. Grell (eds.), The Impact of the European Reformation, (Aldershot, 2008), pp. 189-208.

Wilby, E. ‘The Witch’s Familiar and the Fairy in Early Modern England and Scotland’, Folklore 111 (2000), 283-305.

Footnotes

[1]S. Macdonald, ‘Review: Scottish Fairy Belief: A History by Lizanne Henderson; Edward. J. Cowan’, The Sixteen Century Journal 34 (2003), 271.

[2]S. Thompson, ‘Review: The Anatomy of Puck: An Examination of Fairy Beliefs among Shakespeare’s Contemporaries and Successors by Katharine M. Briggs’ Shakespeare Quarterly 11 (1960), 367.

[3]M. Gibson, ‘Review: Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic by Emma Wilby’ Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 3 (2008), 115.

[4]L. Henderson, and E. J. Cowan, Scottish Fairy Belief: A History (East Linton, 2001), p.8.

[5]D. Purkiss, ‘Sounds of Silence: Fairies in Early Modern England’ in S. Clark (ed.), Languages of Witchcraft, (Basingstoke, 2001), p.83.

[6]J. Scott, Gender and the Politics of History (New York, 1988), p.30.

[7]L.L. Downs, ‘From Womens History to Gender History’ in Stefan Berger, Keiko Feldner and Kevin Passmore (eds.), Writing History: Theory and Practice, (London and New York, 2003), p.272.

[8]Downs, ‘ From Womens History’, p.272.

[9]D. Purkiss, Troublesome Things: A History of Fairies and Fairy Stories (London, 2000), p.88.

[10]Gibson, ‘Review’, 115.

[11]K. Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (London. 1991), p.731.

[12]P. Marshall, ‘Protestants and Fairies in Early Modern England’, in C. Scott Dixon, Dagmar Freist and Mark Greengrass (eds.), Living with Religious Diversity in Early Modern Europe, (Aldershot, 2009), p.86.

[13]Purkiss, ‘Sounds of Silence’, p.95.

[14]Thomas, Decline of Magic, p.724.

[15]R. Kirk, ‘An Exposition of the difficult Words in the for-going Treatises’ in Sanderson, S. (ed.), The Secret Common-Wealth and A Short Treatise of Charms and Spels, (Cambridge, 1976). p. 114-199.

[16]R. Scot, The Discoverie of Witchcraft (London, 1584) pp.152-153. in Early Modern English Books Online http://eebo.chadwyck.com/search/full_rec?SOURCE=pgimages.cfg&ACTION=ByID&ID=99852103&FILE=../session/1260617253_13846&SEARCHSCREEN=CITATIONS&VID=44&PAGENO=91&ZOOM=FIT&VIEWPORT=&SEARCHCONFIG=var_spell.cfg&DISPLAY=AUTHOR&HIGHLIGHT_KEYWORD=

[17]K. Briggs, The Vanishing People: A Study of Traditional Fairy Beliefs (London, 1978), p.195.

[18]Purkiss, Troublesome Things, p.4.

[19]Henderson and Cowan, Scottish Fairy Belief, p.95.

[20]K. Briggs, The Anatomy of Puck: An Examination of Fairy Beliefs among Shakespeare’s Contemporaries and Successors (London, 1959), p.240.

[21]Purkiss, Troublesome Things, p.107.

[22]Henderson and Cowan, Scottish Fairy Belief, p.2.

[23]The mad merry pranks of Robin Good-fellow (London, 1663-1674) in Early English Books Online http://eebo.chadwyck.com/search/full_rec?SOURCE=pgthumbs.cfg&ACTION=ByID&ID=47012524&FILE=../session/1260616896_13263&SEARCHSCREEN=CITATIONS&SEARCHCONFIG=var_spell.cfg&DISPLAY=AUTHOR

[24]R. Kirk, ‘The Secret Common-Wealth’ in Sanderson, S. (ed.), The Secret Common-Wealth and A Short Treatise of Charms and Spels, (Cambridge, 1976), p.62.

[25]L. Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 Abridged Edition (London, 1979). pp. 55-65.

[26]Henderson and Cowan, Scottish Fairy Belief, p.95.

[27]W. Warner, A continuance of Albions England: by the first author. VV.VV. (London, 1606) p. 368. in Early English Books Online http://eebo.chadwyck.com/search/full_rec?SOURCE=pgthumbs.cfg&ACTION=ByID&ID=99854810&FILE=../session/1260616523_12624&SEARCHSCREEN=CITATIONS&SEARCHCONFIG=var_spell.cfg&DISPLAY=AUTHOR

[28]Thomas, Decline of Magic, p.731.

[29]W. Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Brian Gibbons (ed.), (London, 1980). p.109.

[30]Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, p.112.

[31]Thomas, Decline of Magic, p.568.

[32]Purkiss, Troublesome Things, p.4.

[33]Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, p.111.

[34]M. Todd, ‘Fairies, Egyptians and Elders: Multiple Cosmologies in Post-Reformation Scotland’, in B. Heal and O.P. Grell (eds.), The Impact of the European Reformation, (Aldershot, 2008), p.197.

[35]Todd, ‘Fairies, Egyptians and Elders, p.198.

[36]Todd, ‘Fairies, Egyptians and Elders, p.198.

[37]The mad merry pranks of Robin Good-fellow

[38]The mad merry pranks of Robin Good-fellow

[39]Henderson and Cowan, Scottish Fairy Belief, p.35.

[40]Kirk, ‘The Secret Common-Wealth’, p.70.

[41]M. Pitts, An Account of One Anne Jeffries (London, 1696) in Early English Books Online http://eebo.chadwyck.com/search/fulltext?SOURCE=var_spell.cfg&ACTION=ByID&ID=D00000118787420000&WARN=N&SIZE=31&FILE=../session/1260616359_12287&SEARCHSCREEN=CITATIONS&DISPLAY=AUTHOR&ECCO=N p.16.

[42]Kirk, ‘The Secret Common-Wealth’, p.70.

[43]Pitts, Account of One Anne Jeffries, p.15.

[44]Todd, ‘Fairies, Egyptians and Elders, p.204.

[45]E. Wilby, ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ and the Fairy in Early Modern England and Scotland’, Folklore 111 (2000), 288.

[46]R.  Herrick, Hesperides, or, The works both humane & divine of Robert Herrick, Esq. (London,1648) p.262 in Early English Books Online http://eebo.chadwyck.com/search/fulltext?ACTION=ByID&ID=D00000120679780000&SOURCE=var_spell.cfg&DISPLAY=AUTHOR&WARN=N&FILE=../session/1259339262_14513.

[47]Herrick, Hesperides, pp.191-194.

[48]Kirk, ‘The Secret Common-Wealth’, p.61.

[49]Kirk, ‘The Secret Common-Wealth’, pp.61-62.

[50]Kirk, ‘The Secret Common-Wealth’, p.62.

[51]Purkiss, Troublesome Things, p.85.

[52] M. Swann, ‘The Politics of Fairylore in Early Modern English Literature’, Renaissance Quarterly 53 (2000), 452.

[53]Herrick, Hesperides, p.234.

[54]Thomas, Decline of Magic, p.731.

[55]Purkiss, Troublesome Things, p.165.

[56]Swann, ‘The Politics of Fairylore’, 452.

[57]Kirk, ‘The Secret Common-Wealth’, p.50.

[58]R. Kirk, ‘A Succinct Account of My Lord of Tarbott’s Relationes’ in Sanderson, S. (ed.), The Secret Common-Wealth and A Short Treatise of Charms and Spels, (Cambridge, 1976), p.88.

[59]The mad merry pranks of Robin Good-fellow

[60]Warner, Continuance of Albions England, p. 368.

[61]Briggs, The Vanishing People, p.128.

[62]Kirk, ‘The Secret Common-Wealth’, p.58.

[63]From Isobel Gowdie’s Confession (1662) Appendix III in Briggs, K. The Anatomy of Puck: An Examination of Fairy Beliefs among Shakespeare’s Contemporaries and Successors (London, 1959). p.242.

[64]Briggs, The Vanishing People, p.127.

[65]Pitts, Account of One Anne Jeffries, p.10.

[66]Pitts, Account of One Anne Jeffries, p.11.

[67]Thomas, Decline of Magic, p.732.

[68]D. Gentilicore, ‘Contesting Illness in Early Modern Naples: Miracolati, Physicians and the Congregation of Rites’, Past and Present 148 (1995), 123.

[69]Scot, The Discoverie of Witchcraft, p.152.

[70]Wilby, ‘The Witch’s Familiar’, 290.

[71]Todd, ‘Fairies, Egyptians and Elders, p.191.

[72]Pitts, Account of One Anne Jeffries, p.16.

[73]Pitts, Account of One Anne Jeffries, p.14.

[74]Todd, ‘Fairies, Egyptians and Elders, p.198.

[75]Wilby, ‘The Witch’s Familiar’, 294.

[76]Wilby, ‘The Witch’s Familiar’, 291.

[77]Thomas, Decline of Magic, pp.701-724.

[78]Marshall, ‘Protestants and Fairies’, pp.140-159.

[79]Wilby, ‘The Witch’s Familiar’, 301.

[80]Purkiss, ‘Sounds of Silence’, p.84.

[81]Purkiss, ‘Sounds of Silence’, p.88.

[82]Henderson and Cowan, Scottish Fairy Belief, p.61.

[83]Briggs, The Anatomy of Puck, p.27.

[84]S. Sanderson, ‘Commentary’ in Sanderson, S. (ed.), The Secret Common-Wealth and A Short Treatise of Charms and Spels, (Cambridge, 1976), p.38.

[85]Sanderson, ‘Commentary’, p.38.

[86]Kirk, ‘A Succinct Account’, p.83.

[87]James I King of England, Daemonologie in forme of a dialogue, diuided into three bookes (Edinburgh, 1597) p.74. in Early English Books Online http://eebo.chadwyck.com/search/fulltext?SOURCE=var_spell.cfg&ACTION=ByID&ID=D00000998432730000&WARN=N&SIZE=142&FILE=../session/1259520958_26550&SEARCHSCREEN=CITATIONS&DISPLAY=AUTHOR&ECCO=N

[88]James I, Daemonologie, p.74.

[89]The examination of John Walsh before Maister Thomas Williams, commissary to the Reuerend father in God William Bishop of Excester, vpon certayne interrogatories touchyng wytchcrafte and sorcerye, in the presence of diuers ge[n]tlemen and others. The .xxiii. of August. 1566. (London, 1566) in Early English Books Online

http://eebo.chadwyck.com/search/fulltext?SOURCE=var_spell.cfg&ACTION=ByID&ID=D00000998379000000&WARN=N&SIZE=16&FILE=../session/1260616035_11687&SEARCHSCREEN=CITATIONS&DISPLAY=AUTHOR&ECCO=N

[90]The examination of John Walsh

[91]Marshall, ‘Protestants and Fairies’, p.149.

[92]Purkiss, Troublesome Things, p.2.

[93]Purkiss, ‘Sounds of Silence’, p.84.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s