The Scandinavians worshipped goddesses called Nornas or Nornies, and the Fates or fatal sisters; and the doctrine of “witchcraft” extensively prevailed amongst them—hence Milton alludes to this subject in his Paradise Lost, when describing Sin and her attendant demons:

“Nor uglier follow the night-hag when called,

In secret riding through the air she comes,

Lured by the smell of infant blood to dance

With Lapland witches, while the labouring moon

Eclipses at their charms.”

In the Anthologia Hibernica for June, 1794, is given a very curious account of “Witchcraft,” in Denmark, in the Pagan times, taken from the Icelandic Saga. The term applied to witches by Danish writers was Stryga, and it appears that cats were particularly connected with witchcraft amongst the northern nations: that sagacious animal being considered capable of seeing into futurity, and hence the skins of cats were worn by witches, and cats and witches were always represented as companions. Witches were also considered frequently to change themselves into hares, and thus run with great rapidity on their mischievous errands; and there prevailed a belief amongst the common people in Ireland, that they were invulnerable by leaden bullets, and could be shot only by a sixpence or other piece of silver, or by a silver ball. The wizards or male conjurors were also held in high esteem, particularly in Scotland.

The doctrines of witchcraft, sorcery, and necromancy, were probably derived from Druidism; the witches being nearly the same as the Druidesses of more ancient days, and hence Bean-Draoi, or a “druidical woman,” was also applied to a witch. The other terms applied by the Irish were Piseog (commonly pronounced “Pistreoge” signifying witchcraft; and Easarluigheacht, which also meant witchcraft or witchery. Hence Bean-Easarluighe, or Cailleach Easarluighe, signified “a woman or hag of sorcery;” magic, sorcery, and necromancy were also termed Deamhnoireacht, which means “demonism.” In the Erse or Scottish Gaelic, witchcraft was termed Buidseacht, Buidseachas, and also Druideacht—the latter word signifying “Druidism;” a witch was also termed Bean-Buidseach, and a wizard, Draoidh (that is a “Druid”), and sometimes Fiosaiche, which meant a “fortune-teller.”

The doctrines of witchcraft, wizards, warlocks, and weird sisters, were very prevalent in former times in Scotland, of which copious and very curious accounts are given in Sir Walter Scott’s “Letters on Witchcraft and Demonology;” and still more admirable and vivid descriptions of witches and their incantations are given in Shakspeare’s “Macbeth.”

In Ireland, particularly in Ulster, the belief in witchcraft extensively prevailed in former times, and, as stated in the Annals of the Four Masters, an Act against witchcraft was passed in the Irish Parliament held in Dublin, A.D. 1585, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The Evil-Eye, called by the Irish Beim-sul (signifying “a stroke of the eye”), a belief connected with witchcraft, was in former times very prevalent in Ireland, as well as in Scotland and England; and it was believed that certain wizards, witches, and other evil-minded persons had the power of injuring, or even causing the death of cattle, horses, and even human beings, especially children, by their malignant looks. This belief also extensively prevails amongst the Turks and Arabs, and in various countries of Europe; in Italy it is called Mal Occhio. It was also a superstition amongst the Greeks and Romans: by the Greeks it was termed Baskania, and by the Romans Fascinatio; and thus Virgil alludes to it in a passage where the shepherd laments that his tender lambs were bewitched:

“Nescio quis teneros occulus mihi fascinat agnos.”

The doctrines of witchcraft were very prevalent among the Romans; and a famous witch named Canidia, is celebrated by Horace. The term Saga, signifying “a wise woman, or sorceress,” was applied to a witch in the Latin language; and in the English the word “witch” is derived from the Saxon Wice, which also signifies “wise.”

Fairyism has been much connected with the Danes in Ireland, in the traditions of the people; who consider the Danes to have erected the circular earthen ramparts or raths called forts, and that the fairies were left there by the Danes to guard their treasures until their return to Ireland, which is expected to take place at some future time. The opinion that the Danes erected all the raths is erroneous; for, though they may have built many of them, yet most of these ramparts were constructed by the ancient Irish, centuries before the Danes came to Ireland. In the traditions of the people, the Tuath De Danans and Fairyism were connected: and it is probable that, from the similarity of the names, the Danes and Danans may have been confounded with each other, and some of the raths may have been constructed by the Danans in the early ages. The terms Sighe, Sigheog, and Siabhra, were pplied by the Irish to Fairies: hence came the names Siabhrog, “a fairy habitation;” Sluagh-Sighe, “the fairy host;” and Bean-Sighe, “a fairy woman.” The fairies were also called by the Irish Deamhain-Aedhir, signifying “Demons of the Air;” and frequently Daione-Maithe, meaning “the good people”—being so denominated for fear of giving them offence, and dreading their power.