Demonizing the fairies: Scottish ministers and preternatural beliefs during the Scottish witch-hunts, 1550–1700

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University of New Brunswick


This study argues that through sermons and their participation in trials for witchcraft, the demonizing rhetoric of the clergy was absorbed by the Scottish peasantry. Consequently, the fairy – belief in which was a major component of Scottish popular culture – went from being perceived as its own distinct entity to a type of demon. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the period between 1550 and 1700, identifying key events in the development of Scottish Protestantism. Chapter 2 builds on these terms by using the written works and sermons of Protestant theologians from Scotland, defining how each perceived the witch, fairies, and Satan as time progressed. While not every theologian during this period saw fairies as demons, the majority viewed these spirits as the Devil's agents. Finally, chapter 3 shifts the focus to the chronological study of testimonies of men and women who were accused of witchcraft, showing how fairies and the Devil became interchangeable entities over time. This chapter affirms that, by the end of the seventeenth century, the Scottish peasantry had reinterpreted these spirits as demons. This study reminds historians of the impact of polemical discourse and its ability to shift culture, considering the demonizing of preternatural traditions changed how people from this period saw themselves and understood the world around them.