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Gerald and Demons, Prophets and Fairies

Anything that couldn't be explained by faith was attributed to demons or fairies


This is a series about the journey that Archbishop Baldwin and Gerald of Wales took in 1188 to preach the crusade throughout Wales. Gerald kept a detailed account of the journey and their surroundings, which he later published. The series began with some background posts about Gerald, and is continuing with more interesting facets of his life and work. If you want to read the series from the beginning, go here.

In the 12th century there was no question about whether you were religious or not. The church was a given and threat of excommunication was enough to keep most people in line. At the same time, science was in its infancy, and anything that couldn’t be explained by faith was attributed to demons or fairies. Most people believed that demons were allowed by God to tempt people.

Demons St Catherine of Siena

Demons were invisible but sometimes took human form as incubi and had affairs with human women. This produced half-human children, like Merlin of Carmarthen. The demons would also take the form of women and tempt human men. One Palm Sunday evening, Meilyr of Caerleon met a girl who he had long desired out in the countryside. She was responsive to him but as soon as he began to make love to her she turned into a horrible hairy monster. The shock sent Meilyr mad. He was nursed back to health at St Davids but never lost the ability to see and talk to demons, and sometimes they told him the future, though they were often wrong.

Meilyr saw the demons as horn-carrying huntsmen, especially around churches and monasteries. They often hovered around books which contained misleading statements, particularly Gerald’s rival Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, but they could be driven away by St John’s Gospel. The demons betrayed Meilyr in the end by promising he would survive the Norman attack on Usk Castle in 1174. He did survive the battle, but died of his wound soon after.


Gerald heard of other mysterious beings that were not poltergeists, demons nor prophetic spirits, but since they were tiny, were probably fairies. They lived in the Swansea area (see my book Medieval Gower Stories) until they were driven out in the 19th century. A boy named Elidyr met two of them by a riverbank, and they took him underground to a beautiful twilight land, where he became the playmate of their prince. They had long flowing fair hair, rode horses the size of greyhounds, only ate milk dishes with no meat or fish, and never swore or lied.

Elidyr was allowed to go between the two worlds whenever he liked until one day, urged by his mother, he stole some gold. The fairies chased him and retrieved it, and he could never find the entrance to their world again. He remained ashamed of his action throughout his life, and cried when he told the story to Gerald’s uncle Bishop David, who told Gerald. As to whether the story was true, Gerald wrote,
… if you ask me, I can only reply with St Augustine that divine miracles are only to be wondered at, not argued about or analysed. I will neither put a limit on divine power by denying it, nor strain the bounds of credibility by accepting it… Stories like this can neither be fully confirmed nor rejected out of hand.
Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, and book two Alien Secrets, are out now. Follow her at