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Thread: The Witch's Familiar and the Fairy in Early Modern England and Scotland (Emma Wilby)

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    Post The Witch's Familiar and the Fairy in Early Modern England and Scotland (Emma Wilby)

    Until recently, historians have tended to assume that the early modern witch's familiar was predominantly an elite demonological concept, imposed upon popular culture "from above." According to this hypothesis, prosecutorial suggestion during witchcraft trials, witchcraft pamphlets, pulpit teachings and so on served to gradually impress the idea of the witch's familiar into the popular imagination, where it then became a vehicle for the sensationalist and paranoid fantasies of the witch and her neighbours.

    There is now increasing acknowledgement, however, that ideas about witchcraft merged in a far more complex manner than this simplistic elite/popular abstraction allows and historians have been quicker to recognise that there was a substantial folkloric contribution to these beliefs, noting, among other things, the particularly close links between the fairy and the witch's familiar. [1] The folkloric dimension to English and Scottish familiar beliefs has still not been examined in any detail, however, and Keith Thomas's assertion that the English witch's animal familiar is a phenomenon "largely unaccounted for" remains as true today as it was when it was written nearly thirty years ago (Thomas 1971, 569). [2]

    This paper examines some of the similarities to be found between early modern beliefs in the witch's familiar and contemporary fairy beliefs. It will argue that the nature and extent of these similarities prompts one to question how far the witch's familiar and the fairy existed as separate phenomena in the early modern mind, particularly on a popular level. The paper concludes by suggesting that fairy beliefs played a more significant role in the creation and promulgation of beliefs concerning the stereotypical witch's familiar than has been hitherto acknowledged.

    Generalising about English and Scottish beliefs in this context is not without its problems, for the source material indicates considerable differences in belief between the two regions. For example, in Scottish witchcraft trial confessions the familiar frequently appeared in human form and was connected to a sabbath experience. In England, alternatively, the sabbath was seldom mentioned and the familiar most frequently appeared in animal form, often living in domestic intimacy with the witch. These and other disparities may in part be due to differences in the judicial procedure, most notably the frequent use of torture in Scotland. However they are also likely to reflect regional variations in fairy belief. [3] Whilst not wanting to obscure these differences, the aim of this paper is to present a broad overview of its subject matter and will discuss English and Scottish beliefs as a whole.

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    Post Re: The witch's familiar and the fairy in early modern England and Scotland (Emma Wilby)

    Dispute over the definition of spirits in the early modern period is an issue central to this paper. Spirits were labelled differently depending on geography, education and religious perspective, and categories of spirit overlapped considerably. This is vividly illustrated in some witchcraft trials, most notably those from Scotland. The dittays from the trial of Orkney witch Elspeth Reoch in 1616 describe how Elspeth claimed that a "blak man cam to her ... And callit him selff ane farie man quha wes sumtyme her kinsman callit Johne Stewart quha wes slane be Mc Ky at the doun going of the soone." Elspeth's interrogators obviously did not find her definition of Johne Stewart (fairy man or ghost) sufficient, for the dittay later reads "she confest the devell quhilk she callis the farie man lay with hir" (Black and Thomas 1903, 113-4. My italics). Similarly complex seems the identity of the spirit allegedly encountered by a man tried in Aberdeen in 1598. The trial dittays record that:

    Thow confessis that the Devill, thy maister, quhom thow termes
    Christsonday, and supponis to be ane engell, and Goddis godsone, albeit he
    hes a thraw by God, and swyis to the Quene of Elphen, is rasit be the
    speking of the word Benedicte (Stuart 1841, 120).

    The pivotal definitions used in this paper i.e. "familiar," "devil," and "fairy" are general and simplistic in such a context, however a working terminology is needed. The term "familiar" was used in the period to both denote the witch's demonic spirit and, in a more general sense, personal helping spirits, often defined as fairies. For the purposes of this paper, however, the term "familiar" will refer only to the "witch's familiar," often termed "a devil" or "the Devil" in witchcraft trial records and elite writings and will include the familiar in both human and animal form, as found in both England and Scotland. The term "a/the devil" will be employed in the strictly theological sense (that is, wholly malicious spirit identified as, or in the service of, Satan). The comprehensive term "fairy" can only be employed in a very general sense, but, following Katharine Briggs (1976) specific reference will be made to fairy "hobmen" (that is, a wide range of essentially solitary spirits known variously as hobgoblins, boggarts, brownies, hobs, lobs and so on, which nonetheless share basic characteristics and can be loosely considered a type). To denote the popular magical practitioners of the period who were known to communicate with the fairies, the term "cunning man/woman" will be used, although such people could be known under a variety of other titles such as "seer," "conjurer," "wise man/woman," and so on. The terms "cunning person" and "witch" will be predominantly used in the feminine to reflect the gender emphasis of the sources used.

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    Post Re: The witch's familiar and the fairy in early modern England and Scotland (Emma Wilby)

    There are many references to familiar belief in trial records and demonological texts. Contemporary references to fairy belief, however, are less common. The Secret Common-Wealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies, compiled at the end of the seventeenth century (see Sanderson 1976), provides us with the only comprehensive discussion specifically devoted to fairy belief, otherwise snippets are to be found in a wide range of elite scholarly writings and literature. Other sources of fairy beliefs are the records from trials for magical practices, most notably Scottish witchcraft trials. All written sources present problems when trying to isolate popular fairy belief, for they all, to a greater or lesser degree, reflect the prejudices of their educated authors and must therefore be treated with caution. It is possible to argue, however, that some confessions for witchcraft contain the most authentic (that is, closest to first-hand) examples of popular fairy belief. Because the prosecutors had no vested interest in a spirit being called a fairy, in the significant minority of witches' confessions where fairies are mentioned directly we can hazard that the references came from the witches themselves. Many other trial records evidently contain allusions to fairies which have been cloaked with demonological definition, however only those which contain direct references to fairies will be used as evidence of popular fairy belief. [4]

    Because early modern sources of fairy belief are scarce, occasional reference will be made to beliefs from later sources, particularly those from the nineteenth century, though one should bear in mind the dangers of hypothesising about earlier belief on the basis of later.

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    Post Re: The witch's familiar and the fairy in early modern England and Scotland (Emma Wilby)

    In the early modern period both familiars and fairies were believed to possess a range of supernatural powers which were considered capable of affecting almost any aspect of human life. Those aspects with which the familiar was primarily associated--that is, human/animal health, domestic/farming processes and the general securing of material prosperity--were also areas of central concern to many types of fairy. Conversely, certain skills which were primarily associated with the fairies--such as the ability to divine the future, seek out lost goods, identify criminals and so on--were often associated with the familiar.

    Although comparisons can be drawn between the familiar and many different kinds of fairy, the familiar seems to bear most frequent and specific resemblance to the fairy hobman. Both types of spirit were particularly communicative and indeed "familiar" with human beings and could be found living alone, or occasionally in small groups, either alongside humans in their houses or barns (the domestic hobman and many English animal familiars) or in the countryside (the non-domestic hobman and many familiars in the form of men).

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    Post Re: The witch's familiar and the fairy in early modern England and Scotland (Emma Wilby)

    Although some familiars conformed to a demonic stereotype (black in body and dress/cloven feet/fearsome aspect and so on) and some fairies were visually extraordinary (a tiny or giant size/shadowy/glowing with light/hollow backed and so on) in many instances both types of spirit resembled relatively ordinary humans or animals with slight, if any, visual anomalies. There is little heterogeneity, for example, between the sober appearance of the spirit (almost certainly a fairy hobman) described by a parishioner of Dyce, Scotland in 1601 as "ane litill bodie, haiffing a scheavin berd, cled in quhyt lening, lyk a sark" (Mc Pherson 1929, 130) and the Devil as described by Aberdeenshire witch Ellen Gray in 1597 as "in the scheap of ane agit man, beirdit, with a quhyt gown and a thrummit hatt" (Stuart 1841, 127). Similarly, there is little to distinguish the King of the Fairies as described by Auldearn witch Isobel Gowdie in 1662 as "a braw man, weill favoured, and broad faced, etc." (Pitcairn 1833, 3:604) from the Devil as described by Forfar witch Issobell Smyth in 1661 as "ane braw gentleman" (Kinloch 1848, 132) or Essex witch Rebecca Jones in 1645 as "a very handsome young man" (Howell 1816, 4:854). The Devil in the form of a man, as he appeared in Scotland, was often described as "mickle" or large/powerful, and we correspondingly find an early modern traveller in Scotland remarking that "A spirit, by the Country People call'd Browny, was frequently seen ... in the shape of a tall Man" (Martin 1970, 334). By way of contrast, other familiars seem to have been notably small ("half long," "littill" and so on), a description also redolent of hobmen as they appear in early modern and, with more frequency, later fairy sources. Both familiars and fairies could appear dressed wholly in black, or wholly in white, or in any variety of colours in between. In many accounts the devil appears in green, a colour which was often associated with the fairies. In 1661 Scottish witch Jonet Watson claimed, for example, that "The Deivill apeired vnto her, in the liknes of ane prettie boy, in grein clothes ... and went away from her in the liknes of ane blak doug" (Pitcairn 1833, 3:601). Like many familiars, Jonet's "prettie boy" was believed to shape shift, a magical skill which was also associated with the fairies, particularly the hobmen. Some of the less intimate English animal familiars resemble the more "permanent" fairy animals which were less close to humankind than the friendly hobman in animal form. The most common permanent fairy animal to be found in English and Scottish sources up to the nineteenth century, the dog, was also one of the forms most frequently assumed by the animal familiar. If later sources are consulted a close visual fairy match can be found for most early modern familiars.

    Correspondences can also be drawn in relation to names. As we have already seen, the terms "familiar" and "devil" were interchangeable between the two types of spirit, this semantic intimacy being clearly evident in the comments of a Scottish clergyman in 1677 when he refers to a type of spirit whom:

    the vulgar call white deviles, which possibly have neither so much power
    nor malice as the black ones have, which served our great grandfathers
    under the names of Brouny, and Robin Goodfellow, and, to this day, make
    dayly service to severals in quality of familiars (Law 1818, lxxvi).

    Similarly interchangeable, according to one source, was the term "imp" (often used to denote the English animal familiar) and the term "puckrel," with its obvious fairy associations (Gifford 1603, 9). The same types of personal names (often diminutive) given to individual fairies, were also given to familiars, particularly in England, reflecting the affectionate and intimate relationship often found between the witch/cunning woman and her familiar/fairy. Several familiars shared a first name with the ubiquitous hobman Robin Goodfellow. For example, the devil in the form of a man who reportedly appeared before a group of witches in Somerset in 1664 sounds very much like the versatile hobman:

    on Thursday Night before Whitsunday last, about the same place met
    Catharine Green ... and Henry Walter, and being met they called out Robin.
    Upon which instantly appeared a little Man in black Clothes to whom all
    made obeysance, and the Man put his hand to his Hat, saying, How do ye?
    Speaking low but big (Glanvil 1681, 164-5).

    Similar correspondences from the period, are (citing familiar name first and fairy equivalent in brackets): Tom Twit/Vinegar Tom/Thomas a Fearie (Thom Reid, Tom Tumbler, Tomb Thombe, Tom Tit Tot); Hob (Hob/Hobgoblin); Great or Little Browning (Browny/Brouny); Piggin (Pigwiggen); Pluck/Puppet (Puck/ Puckle); Ball/Bidd (Billy); Willet/William/Walliman (Will o' the Wisp); Tibb (Tib); Jill (Jill/Jin). [5] If names from later fairy sources are brought into the equation, then one or more fairy equivalents can be found for the majority of familiar names on record.

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    Post Re: The witch's familiar and the fairy in early modern England and Scotland (Emma Wilby)

    Although many people believed in the existence of both familiar and fairy, far fewer considered themselves to have encountered them visually. Of this number, some claimed to have "seen" such spirits just once, or occasionally, whereas others claimed to encounter them on a more regular basis, commonly developing a particularly close relationship with one or more spirits. Both familiar and fairy could be encountered either as the result of an invocation, or spontaneously (although in England it was also not uncommon to find the animal familiar passed from one witch to another, often between family members). The initial encounter with both types of spirit was often described as spontaneous and conformed, in fundamentals, to standard encounter narratives found in fairy anecdotes and folktales of all periods. The individual was usually alone, either in the countryside or at home, and in some sort of trouble, when the spirit suddenly appeared and offered to help. In 1646 Huntingdonshire witch John Winnick confessed (of his familiar) that:

    on a Friday being in the barne, making hay-bottles for his horses ... there
    appeared unto him a Spirit, blacke and shaggy, and having pawes like a
    Beare, but in bulk not fully so big as a Coney. The Spirit asked him what
    he ailed to be so sorrowfull, this Examinate answered that he had lost a
    purse and money, and knew not how to come by it againe. The Spirit replied
    "... I will help you" (Davenport 1646, 3).

    The following seventeenth-century description of a fairy encounter from the North of England, given by a man charged with witchcraft, follows a similar pattern (the man goes on to describe how he was led into a hill and presented to a "Queen" who sat in great state):

    one night before the day was gone, as he was going home from his labour,
    being very sad and full of heavy thoughts, not knowing how to get meat and
    drink for his Wife and Children, he met a fair Woman in fine cloaths, who
    asked why he was so sad, and he told her that it was by reason of his
    poverty, to which she said, that if he would follow her counsel she would
    help him (Webster 1677, 301).

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    Post Re: The witch's familiar and the fairy in early modern England and Scotland (Emma Wilby)

    Both familiar and fairy offered the suffering human some help. Although the familiar is most notoriously associated with offering the witch powers to do harm and revenge herself on her enemies and so on, trial confessions attest that generally the first and most frequent offer made by the familiar was the promise of help to ease the witch's material suffering, a service also offered by the fairies. Although both familiar and fairy could promise great wealth, they more frequently promised something rather less grand. In the majority of cases, particularly in Scotland, the devil offered what was often termed "freedom from want" which in many cases amounted to helping the witch to earn a basic living. Freedom from want could also be offered by the fairies. In Rye in 1607 Susan Swapper (accused of witchcraft) confessed that she had met the Queen of the Fairies and had been told that if she knelt to her the Queen would give her "a living" (Gregory 1991, 36). In many cases both familiar and fairy made good this offer, not through the direct gift of material prosperity, but through making themselves and their powers or knowledge available to humans, who then used this resource to set themselves up as some sort of magical practitioner i.e. witch or cunning woman. The most characteristic skill possessed by the cunning woman was that of healing, and there is evidence that many individuals tried as witches, particularly in Scotland, claimed to be healers. An Aberdeenshire cunning man tried as a witch in 1598 claimed to have received his healing skills from the fairies, the trial dittays stating that "the Quene of Elphen, promesit to the [cunning man], that thow suld knaw all thingis, and suld help and cuir all sort of seikness" (Stuart 1841, 119). Alternatively the dittays from the trial of Orkney witch Jonet Rendall in 1629 record that it was the Devil who offered Jonet her healing abilities, stating that "the devill ... said to you He sould learne yow [Jonet] to win almiss be healling of folk" (Black and Thomas 1903, 103).

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    Post Re: The witch's familiar and the fairy in early modern England and Scotland (Emma Wilby)

    The familiar was notorious for the fact that it demanded something from the witch in return for its services, the two of them negotiating terms in what amounted to a contract or covenant. Margaret Flower, who was tried as a witch in Leicestershire in 1619, claimed that she promised her animal familiars what they wanted and in return, "they covenanted to do all things which she commanded them" (Rosen 1991, 381). Historiographically the overtly contractual nature of the relationship between witch and familiar has been one of the elements of the witch/familiar narrative generally considered as having the most purely elite demonological provenance. Echoes of the contractual relationship between witch and familiar, however, can be found hidden in early modern fairy beliefs.

    In both elite and popular culture of the period individuals believed that they cultivated either non-visual or visual relationships with fairies. Even the most common "ordinary" type of non-visual human relationship with a fairy would have been implicitly contractual in nature. John Aubrey claimed, for example, that in England "Countrey-people ... were wont to please the Fairies, that they might doe them no shrewd turnes" (Aubrey 1972, 203. My italics). The less common relationship with a visually encountered fairy would have been of an inherently different order, for that which was implicit in the "ordinary" relationship became explicit in the "extraordinary": the unseen fairy became seen, its unheard voice became heard, and those things which the human ordinarily desired from the fairy in thought, could be verbally demanded. It is logical, then, that we find written records left by elite magical practitioners testifying that- they believed themselves to have overtly contracted with visually encountered fairies. We cannot assume, merely because they did not record their experiences on paper, that popular magical practitioners did not consider themselves to have done the same. Some sources hint at the existence of explicit contractual relationships on a popular level. In 1588 Alesoun Peirsoun of Fifeshire claimed that the fairies "wald cum and sitt besyde hir [as she lay sick in bed], and promesit that scho sould newir want, gif scho wald be faithfull and keip promeis" (Pitcairn 1833, 1:163. My italics). Similarly in England, the fairy woman in the confession recorded by Webster verbally initiates a contractual relationship with the old man when she says, "If he would follow her counsel she would help him" (Webster 1677, 301. My italics). Other sources describe more explicit contracts, but are also more suggestive of elite manipulation. Some invocatory rituals described in magical manuals, for example, possibly had their origins in popular belief. One such, described by Katharine Briggs as "a pure piece of folk-lore" details the long and complex preparations needed to summon a fairy, and then urges the invoker to "then covenant with her for all matters convenient for your purpose and she wilbe alwayes with you of this assure yourselfe for it is proved" (Briggs 1959, 116). Similarly blatant was the contract made between Leicestershire witch Joan Willimot and a fairy woman, as described in her confession of 1619 (Rosen 1991, 377. The contract is quoted fully in the next section).

    Later sources clearly indicate that contractual relationships with visually encountered fairies were a part of nineteenth-century folk belief. In Scotland, for example, the fairy "men and women of peace" were believed to habitually form "alliances" with mortals and negotiate to work with them for a prescribed length of time, for an agreed payment, in a manner redolent of the bargains sometimes struck between early modern Scottish witches and the Devil (Campbell 1900, 40-1). This is also a common folktale element, the protagonist often striking a verbal "deal" with an encountered fairy or other supernatural being which has offered them its help.

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    Post Re: The witch's familiar and the fairy in early modern England and Scotland (Emma Wilby)

    Whether the contract between the human and familiar/fairy was explicit or implicit, both types of spirit made a variety of contractual demands in exchange for their services. Two of the most notorious of the familiar's demands, and those most commonly assumed by historians to have had elite origins, were that the witch promise her soul to the familiar and that she renounce her Christian faith.

    The explicit demand for the soul, though not made by every familiar, commonly occurs in confessions. In 1612 Lancashire witch Elizabeth Southerns confessed that she "was coming homeward from begging" when she met "a spirit or devil in the shape of a boy, the one half of his coat black and the other brown, who bade this examinate stay, saying to her that if she would give him her soul, she should have anything that she would request" (Rosen 1991, 358). It was not uncommon for the familiar to demand that the soul be handed over after a specific number of years, or at death. Huntingdonshire witch Anne Desborough claimed in 1646, for example, that two spirits in the form of mice called "Tib" and "Jone" told her that "when she dyed, they must have her soule" (Davenport 1646, 12). Occasionally a witch's confession contains a spirit, defined there as a fairy, making a demand for the soul. The most dramatic example is to be found in the confession of Leicestershire witch Joan Willimot in 1619, Joan claiming that:

    (her master) willed her to open her mouth ... and he would blow into her a
    fairy which should do her good. And that she opened her mouth, and that
    presently after his blowing, there came out of her mouth a spirit which
    stood upon the ground in the shape and form of a woman, which spirit did
    ask of her soul, which she then promised unto it ... the use which she had
    of the spirit was to know how those did which she had undertaken to amend
    (Rosen 1991, 377).

    It is easy to assume that references to the explicit contract for the soul found in such descriptions of fairy encounters are the result of elite intervention. There are, however, close links to be found between the human soul and the fairies in the early modern period, particularly in relation to beliefs surrounding human travel with the fairies or entry into fairyland.

    Transition into the fairy world was believed to occur either "in body" (during which, to mortal eyes, the physical body either completely disappeared or was replaced with a fairy or fairy "stock") or "in spirit." [6] In the latter case, it was only the spiritual part of the human (which in Christian terms would be called the soul) which went into fairyland, leaving the material body behind, an event which generally occurred when the human was dreaming, sick, or in some kind of trance. In 1675, for example, the Synod of Aberdeen recorded that it had received "divers complaints and reports ... by several brethren that some under pretence of trances or familiarities of spirits of going with these spirits commonly called the fairies" (McPherson 1929, 130). This spiritual as opposed to bodily interpretation of human entry into fairyland corresponds with early modern evidence, most frequently found in Scottish sources, connecting fairies and the dead. Many believed that some (or all) fairies were souls of the dead, albeit clothed in some type of astral form. After natural death human souls might find themselves in fairyland; alternatively, living humans taken into or visiting the fairy realm could find themselves unwilling or unable to leave, resulting in the death of the mortal body.

    In the early modern period human presence in fairyland, whether in body or in spirit, was believed to have been actively encouraged by the fairies. Although this fairy enthusiasm was most notoriously associated with the theft of newbores, the fairy was also believed to desire adult human company, this desire prompted by a variety of motives ranging from amorousness to the more practical need for human skills in wetnursing, warfare, sport, music and so on. In 1662 Isobel Gowdie of Auldearn and in 1670 Jean Weir of Edinburgh talked of helping the fairies with their fighting skills (Law 1818, 27; Pitcairn 1833, 3:602-12). On a lighter note, in the seventeenth century the "fairy boy of Leith" claimed that his musical skills were enjoyed by the fairies (Bovet 1975, 104-6). Sometimes fairies were motivated by darker intentions, plotting to keep humans in fairyland permanently against their wishes or to use them as part of their seven yearly teind [tithe] to hell (Pitcairn 1833, 1:163; Briggs 1976, 394). While humans often strayed inadvertently into fairyland, the fairies also actively encouraged human entry, frequently using coercion or intimidation. In 1623 Scottish witch Issobell Haldane claimed that "lying in hir bed, scho wes taikin furth ... wes caryit to ane hill-syde: the hill oppynit, and scho enterit in." Issobell stayed with the "ffarye-folk" for three days until she was "delyveret" from thence by "a man with ane gray beird" (Pitcairn 1833, 2:537). The fairies could also employ more subtle methods, however, such as enticement, trickery and even bargaining, tempting the human with the delights of fairy revelry, the promise of material gain, or the getting of magical help/knowledge and so on. In 1576 Ayrshire witch Bessie Dunlop claimed to have been prey to such gentler tactics, claiming that the "gude wychtis" from the "Court of Elfame" rather politely "baid hir sit doun, and said, `Welcum, Bessie, will thow go with us?'" her ghost familiar Thom Reid telling her that to do so would "make hir far better nor euer sche was" (Pitcairn 1833, 1:53).

    In the context of the spiritual interpretation of entry into fairyland, whichever method the fairy employed to bring the human into their world, and for whatever reason they wanted them there, the fairy would have been in effect desiring and appropriating (for a given length of time) the human spirit or soul. In the same context those early modern individuals who were tempted to enter fairyland voluntarily, for whatever reason, would have been aware that their visit amounted to a temporary, albeit tacit, commitment of their soul (to be used/enjoyed by) the fairies. We have an implicit contract here. Moreover, if the human entered fairyland through some sort of negotiation (and the magical practitioner, more confident and pragmatic about spirits and their ways, was the individual most likely to do this) then we have something very like an explicit contract for the soul. [7] In addition, the spiritual interpretation of entry into fairyland was sister to the belief that on death the human soul could find itself permanently in the fairy world and any humans who believed themselves to have a relationship with a fairy, even if it did not involve visits to fairyland, was likely to have been aware that such a fate was a possibility. It is not illogical to surmise that any prolonged and/or intimate involvement with the fairies, such as that enjoyed by the cunning woman, may have been considered to increase the possibility of such a fate and also to surmise that the issue of the soul's final resting place could have become a "bargaining chip" in such a context. Even if the spiritual interpretation of entry into fairyland, and associated beliefs, were not consciously involved in a witch's fairy/familiar experience, it is not difficult to envisage how they could have been brought into the equation by an interrogator searching out the "Faustian Pact."

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    Post Re: The witch's familiar and the fairy in early modern England and Scotland (Emma Wilby)

    The familiar's demand that the witch renounce her Christianity, though not as frequent as the demand for her soul, appears quite regularly in trial records throughout Britain. Essex witch Hellen Clark, for example, claimed in 1645 that her familiar (in the form of a white dog called "Elimanzer") "appeared to her in her house ... and bade her deny Christ, and shee should never want" (Howell 1816, 4:839). Occasionally a trial confession, such as that of Scottish witch Bessie Dunlop in 1576 (Pitcairn 1833, 1:49-58), will feature a fairy, or a spirit closely linked to the fairies, demanding a similarly overt renunciation of Christianity. The strong likelihood of elite interrogatorial intervention on this point, however (as with the promise of the soul), means that such records are not trustworthy evidence that explicit renunciations were a traditional feature of human/fairy encounter beliefs. A conscious but implicit renunciation, however, is likely to have been an integral part of many human/fairy negotiations.

    Any spirit of pagan provenance which had escaped wholesale assimilation into the Christian pantheon was officially defined as an "evil spirit" by most contemporary theologians. In this context, any dealings with such spirits were theoretically a betrayal, or in other words, "renunciation" of the true faith. Such a negative equation was intensified by the fact that fairies, on their part, were often considered hostile towards Christianity. An anecdote recorded in Scotland at the beginning of the eighteenth century describes how a brownie was displeased when his master read the Bible (Martin 1970, 392). Robert Kirk describes this fairy hostility in more detail, claiming that the fairies have:

    no discernible Religion, Love, or Devotione towards God the Blessed Maker
    of all. They disappear whenever they hear his name invocked, or the name of
    Jesus ... nor can they act ought at that time, after hearing of that Sacred
    Name (Sanderson 1976, 56).

    Many early modern individuals must have been aware, to a greater or lesser degree, of these mutual hostilities, and if they wished to avail themselves of fairy powers they must have circumnavigated this problem in some way. Their solutions may not have differed greatly from those used in later centuries by people who believed in fairies. In the nineteenth century, for example, when at sea, fishermen on the Moray Firth:

    would never mention such words as Church or manse or minister. Any
    utterance suggestive of the new faith would be displeasing to the ancient
    god of the ocean, and might bring disaster upon the boat (McPherson 1929,
    70).

    By their silence the fishermen were, for the duration of their journey, making a superficial show of putting aside their Christian allegiances in return for the protection and goodwill of "the ancient god of the ocean." It is not difficult to imagine how, in a different century and different context, this and other types of diplomacy towards non-Christian powers could have been interpreted as a direct renunciation of Christianity. In 1670 Edinburgh witch Jean Weir claimed that she had performed a simple ritual at the bidding of "ane little woman" (almost certainly a fairy) in order that all her "cross and trubles goe to the door." Jean also claimed that she had given the woman silver and subsequently discovered that she had gained miraculous spinning powers. This discovery, however:

    did so affright the declarant, that she did set bye her wheile, and did
    shut the door, and did stay within her house for the space of twentie dayes
    or thereby, and was exceedinglie trubled, and weeped becaus she thought
    what she had done in manner forsaid was in effect the renuncing of her
    baptisme (Law 1818, 27. My italics).

    It is possible that many overt renunciations found in confessions for witchcraft mask the more implicit renunciations common to those negotiating with the fairies. Whoever recorded the confession of Essex witch Elizabeth Francis in 1566, as it appears in a pamphlet, wrote that Elizabeth was advised by her grandmother to "renounce God and His word, and to give of her blood to Satan (as she termed it)" (Rosen 1991, 74). The bracketed phrase "as she termed it" strongly suggests that Elizabeth's version of events may have been rephrased into something more demonologically coherent by either the prosecution or the pamphleteer. The argument for the implicit renunciation, of course, also strengthens the case for the explicit. To entertain the possibility that some individuals may have openly verbalised the normally tacit renunciation, particularly in the context of a believed visual encounter, is not unreasonable. In 1588 Alesoun Peirsoun of Fifeshire claimed that "thair come ane man to hir, cled in grene clathis, quha said to hir, `Gif scho wald be faithfull, he wald do hir guid"' (Pitcairn 1833, 1:163). Alesoun only needed to say "yes" and we easily have, according to prosecutorial perception at least, an explicit renunciation.

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