Meaning of Black Fairy & other Black Animal Portents in Folklore

Black Fairy

“Black Fairy” is a term that is sometimes used for Irish or Scottish Banshees.  The Black Fairy is a death spirit associated with ancient clans or septs of the British Isles. There were other types of fairies referred to as black fairies, as told by John Walsh in 1566, and later written down by Lady Wilde, who wrote extensively on the fairy races, There be three kindes of fairies, the black, the white, and the green, which black be the woorst.”

            In Appalachia, a female should never be buried in black clothing or else she will return to haunt relatives or the graveyard where she is buried. In pre-Victorian times fairies were always associated with the realm of the dead. In ancient Ireland it was commonly believed souls of the recently dead must first pass through Fairyland before entering heaven.


Black Horses

Black horses were once used to detect the graves of vampires in England and other parts of Europe. It was thought that a black horse would become greatly agitated while being led over the grave of the undead. In Scotland, black horses were linked to the Devil but were not persecuted for it – but they were watched closely for change in mood or problems with temperament. Banshees sometimes rode a black horse. Otherwise, they were preceded by a death coach with two ivory-colored headless horses leading the way.


Black Cats

Because of their faceted, reflective eyes and their nocturnal natures, the feline has always been associated with ghosts, witches and the supernatural. Worship of cats traces to Egypt, where cats were first domesticated, when they became associated with Egyptian gods and goddesses, especially Isis, and Bastet, the cat goddess.

            The favorite familiar among witches has always been the plain domestic cat, at least, since the introduction of witches in fairy tales. After all, cats have a calm and hypnotic nature. In occult lore, cats are known to repel evil spirits, and many who experience the terrifying Night (Old) Hag encounter claim they have far fewer attacks when sleeping with the family pet, more especially the cat.

            Cats are connected to the mysterious influences of the moon, probably because of their luminous eyes, that can only suggest the glow of intrigue and magic.  Since such mystery that suggests such evocative powers, cats, especially black cats suffered the same persecution as witches in the distant past. In 1233 Pope Gregory IX denounced black cats in the “Papal Bull or ‘Vox in Rama’ launching a mass extermination of cats. Domestic felines were burned alive like those charged as witches, and were the targets for many killings. Perhaps the reflective eyes of the cats acted as mirrors sometimes catching shadows. If you gazed into them, some might see the darkness of their own souls reflected there.

            Interestingly, under torture, some Knights Templar confessed to heresy, saying they had renounced Christ and turned to the worshipping of black cats. (Friday the 13th, which notes the massacre of the Knights Templar, is often illustrated on calendars by the picture of a black cat.) Knights Templar worshipping a black cat, of course, was balderdash, but aligned them to the powers of darkness, as an excuse for their eventual execution, if not massacres, by the Church.

            Many dark, ash gray and black cats tended to be born in summer during blackberry season, another association with the Devil since there was a legend that told when Satan was cast out of heaven he lit on a blackberry bush, and while landing on the thorns, spilled urine and his spittle all over the bush, thus, defiling it. Thus, black and dark gray cats were referred to as “blackberry cats” and were routinely killed.

            In Greece and parts of Eastern Europe, it was thought unlucky for a cat to jump over a dead body. If so, it was feared the corpse might be turned into a vampire and seek retribution on the living.

            Domestic cats are native to the deserts of Egypt and Northern Africa, so it is odd they would have developed such legend and lore in Europe. But they became transplanted to Europe after they were hidden away on pirate ships, eventually escaping to the shores of colder climates. Because of their desert origins, cats can go a long time without water, but need a warm, somewhat isolated spot to call their own.

            In the Scottish Highlands, there is a belief in Elfin cats, not used as familiars, such as in stories about witches, but as an actual supernatural black cat of a much larger size than a domesticated cat.


Black Shuck

Appearing as a black dog, Black Shuck is a portent of tragedy or sudden death. Seemingly spectral, and completely black, Shuck is reported to have the same glowing red eyes much like the Banshee. Like most of the supernatural creatures that haunt the British Isles, Black Shuck is strongly linked to the fairies. Sometimes appearing without a head, he is always larger than the average dog.

            A castle in Warwicke, England is said to be haunted by a large black dog – Or as many call him Black Shuck. It is told that many years ago a worker woman stole milk and butter from the castle and sold it on her own. When the owner found out about the theft he promptly dismissed her. As the woman left she vowed to “get them haunted.”

            A short time later, a snarling black dog with smoldering red eyes appeared. The local priest was called in to banish what the castle owner considered to be a demonic dog.  For a while it appeared the exorcism was unsuccessful until the worker woman finally died. Black Shuck seemed to die permanently in that part of England.

            Another legend tells of Charles Walton of Alveston, England meeting a phantom Black Dog over a period of nine evenings. On one startling night, instead of a black dog, a headless woman appeared and swished by him in a long silk dress. Where the ghost's head should have been, eerie red eyes, like those of Black Shuck, coldly glowered. Shortly afterwards, the man’s sister died unexpectedly. In another part of England, near Whitemore Park, a black dog with matted coat and glowing green eyes is reported to wander.

            Alleged witches during the Wild Hunt, or Walpurgisnacht in Germany, were thought to be led by Black Shuck over parts of the British Isles. On the European continent, the Wild Hunt was thought to be led by gods and goddesses rather than dogs or animals. 


--This  article was written by Susan Friend Sheppard, August 2006


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