jump to navigation
  • Devil Wings Mystery November 21, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    devil wings

    This site has pioneered the study of fairy wings. In the last years a number of posts have pointed to the origins of fairy wings in Britain in the late eighteenth century; looked at fairy wings types; and even looked at how fairy wings were constructed by anxious mothers in the 1800s. Our colleague and fellow-blogger Chris Woodyard has just though thrown one of her interesting stink bombs in our general direction. This image above appears in The Devil in Britain and America by John Ashton, 1896. Ashton gathered together a number of contemporary (i.e. 17C and 18C) images together and used them in his work. Irritatingly though he did not identify where this marvelous image came from. (Or as it happens any others he employed: bad Victorian historian!)

    What the image shows is a typical sabbat. Women and devils are sitting around a table enjoying roast baby. Notice how the women come from different social classes: i.e. the devil is everywhere. All our witch sources would suggest that this meal was followed or preceded by some very unpleasant sexual intercourse. In any case, what caught Chris’ attention were the devils’ wings: huge thanks to Chris for this nod. Now devils, as fallen angels, have wings, but the normal convention, dating back to Late Antiquity, is to give them bats wings. Yet here they seem to have borrowed, as fairies would a century or so later, from the insect kingdom. What the heck is going on? It is always possible that our artist had ingested some fly agaric: it happens to the best of illustrators at some point or other.

    But Chris was not happy with this solution and proceeded to dig out more of these damn moth- or may-fly demons. Here is one from the late 1600s, first half 1700s (undated)? And here is one dated to 1720: though not 100% convinced these are moth/insect wings.

    This is certainly a minority tradition within the greater tradition of lizard noses and bats’ wings. But where does it come from? What does it mean? And does it infect the fairy tradition? drbeachcombing AT gmail DOT com

    30 Nov 2017: Chris S writes ‘When fairies got their wings, those appendages resembled those of insects. Devils with insect wings may come from religious zealots who saw the fairy-faith as heresy with fairies as little devils. Faithful humans, as I presume thinking could’ve gone, can see beyond the glamour and apprehend fairies in their full infernal glory. A little more simple, devils have wings because angels have wings. Devils are naught but fallen angels, much like their boss. Rather than beautiful white wings with proper, snow-white feathers, theirs are from filthy, shit-eating flies and other insects known to nourish themselves with the dead. All the more reason to pound one’s bible and pursue a life of celibate piety, rather than leaving out a nightly saucer of milk and honey for the Good Folk.’