In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • The Fairy Seers of eastern Serbia:Seeing Fairies—Speaking through Trance
  • Maria Vivod (bio)

The Fairy-Seer

The fairy-seers of Southeastern Europe are (mostly) women who are able to communicate with women-like creatures from the supernatural world. Sometimes the fairy-seers induce a trance state in order to establish communication with these creatures. During their communication with the fairies the fairy-seers can prophesy about future events. The fairy-seers can also deliver messages to the living on behalf of their deceased relatives. Similarly, they advise about how to heal an ill individual or the treatment of that individual can proceed after consulting the fairies. These illnesses are usually a form of so called "fairy-illness"—a disorder that has its origins in a curse or a spell wrought by fairies offended by that individual. In the narratives of fairy-seers, fairies are described as three young, beautiful longhaired women, dressed either in white or in black. The women who can see and speak to the fairies have been chosen by them early on, usually in their childhood or adolescence. By dancing and singing on special days of the orthodox Christian calendar, these women fall into a trance state and then communicate with "their sisters," as these invisible creatures are called by these women.

The fairy-seers are called numerous names in various languages across southeastern Europe. The semantic field of these varying designations is far from identical: sometimes the seers need not enter into a trance to see them, sometimes they fight (nocturnal) battles in the sky to ensure good crops for their region, where they live and work as any normal human being. But there is one common denominator to all of them: they undergo a process of initiation (prompted by these creatures) and the invisible creatures with whom they communicate are females. I choose to use this term in an attempt to cover and to depict a vast range of more or less similar phenomena across the Balkans with an English term, with the goal of creating an "umbrella term" in the English language (nowadays a lingua franca) for working purposes.

The Context

The phenomenon of individuals capable of communication with creatures of the invisible world—vilarkas ("the ones from the fairies"), padalicas ("the ones who fall"), vilenicas ("the ones from the fairies")—and of doing good in their communities of birth in south-eastern Europe has been scientifically analyzed over the past five or six decades from several perspectives. First, as fragments of pre-Christian belief-systems that were mostly to be found in historical documents such as witch-hunt trials (see Ginzburg 1966 for Italy; Klaniczay 1983, 1984, and 2006 for Hungary; Henningsen 1993 and Čiča 2002a for Croatia). Second, as remnants of still existing complex popular belief systems about witches and fairies and the syncretism between these two female benevolent/malevolent creatures (for instance Pòcs 1986 and Zentai 1976 for Central Europe; Bošković-Štulli 1953 and 1960 for Croatia; Đorđević 1952 for Serbia and Yugoslavia). Third, from the ethnomedical standpoint as vestiges of traditional holistic beliefs about human health and its connection to nature and divinities (for Serbia see Tucakov 1965; Radenković 1996; Vivod 2014).Traces of this phenomenon, such as the texts of charms or fairytales, were often analyzed as bits and pieces of the local folklore (for Serbia see: Zečević 1981; Radenković 1996; Šešo 2003; Đorđević 1989).

Oral tradition studies was one of the main fields that produced a detailed description of and provided the most abundant bibliography about fairy-seeing individuals. The texts of charms and songs and healing procedures were one of the topics to which some of the best scientific pieces were consecrated (see Pócs 1985 for the Hungarian speaking region or Radenković 1996 for the South-Slavic population). Majzner (1921), Luka Šešo (2003) and Bošković-Štulli (1953 and 1960) provided actual descriptions and collected narratives from individuals who either knew a fairy-seeing person or someone who consulted a fairy-seer. The phenomenon was usually elaborated from the point of view of the creatures as the most picturesque elements of oral literature and...

Additional Information

Print ISSN
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.