All About History
From the outside looking in
Another supernatural tale that was met with credulity and scepticism concerned the so-called donas de fuera (or ‘ladies from outside’). The term applied to a race of fairy-like female creatures, often described as strikingly beautiful and possessing animal hands or feet, and the human beings who associated with them.
The donas’ home was Sicily, which, because the island was a Spanish vassal at the time, brought them to the attention of the Spanish Inquisition. Again, the Inquisition appears to have been more interested in investigation than overly harsh punishment — between 1579 and 1651, 65 people, including eight men, were allegedly accused of involvement.
Positive and negative activities were attributed to the accused group. On the one hand, it was suggested that those who offended the donas might have illness inflicted upon them. On the other, those linked to them were renowned for their charismatic healing skills and performed other beneficial duties, such as blessing houses, in their close communities.
The existing legal records suggest that the donas were much discussed, which suggests that those involved were far from bashful about advertising their supposed gifts. Indeed, the associates of the donas — overwhelmingly made up of old, poor women — secured food and payments for their services, and intimacy with the fairy creatures was widely seen as a privilege. Only those with sangre dulce (‘sweet blood’) could expect to be instructed in the wide range of magical practices.
A number of women brought before the Inquisition admitted that they had concocted their stories and others told of re-enacting supposed encounters with the fairy folk in order to impress potential clients. The notion of night-flying spirits with extraordinary gifts was one of the recurrent themes in the earlymodern supernatural world-view and in some places, notably Scotland, a link between fairies and witchcraft was deeply embedded. Fairies at this time were not perceived as the harmless sprites who inhabit the modern popular imagination.