Also known as:
Willies; Wila; Veela; Veles; Vily
The Vilas are beautiful, charming, dancing forest spirits of Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. The many variations in pronunciation of their name indicates the vast territory they inhabit. Depending on region, the word “Vila” may be singular and plural.
Vilas are shamanic spirits: magical dancers, skilled healers, herbalists, and teachers of witchcraft. Vilas are guardians of women, animals, and the forest. They are now most famous as punishing spirits:
• They punish hunters who fail to perform correct spiritual rituals.
• They punish men who betray women or leave them abandoned at the altar.
Vilas have developed a reputation as dread spirits of the forest. To describe something as giving you the willies is to compare it to the shiver of horror evoked by the Willies or Vilas. However, this may be a Christian attempt to discourage previously widespread veneration of Vilas.
No legends describe Vilas punishing or killing women. Instead, some women join the Vilas in the forest to dance and receive instruction in herbalism and other magical arts. Vilas are the sponsors of village sorceresses, midwives, and healers. They teach shamanic arts to women as well as to those men whom they favor. Vilas were the sponsors and guardians of the Balkan hero Prince Marko. Depending on the legend, he may have been suckled on a Vila’s milk in infancy. (The Vila in question may or may not have been his mother.)
The Vilas are literally alluring spirits who seem to prefer passive-aggressive modes of punishment when angered, rather than the sudden strike associated with many Fairies. Their primary weapon is dance. First they seduce men with their beauty and charm, luring them deeper into the forest and encouraging them to join their dance. Eventually when the men tire and have enough or think they’ll move on to activities beyond dancing, they realize they’re literally unable to stop: the Vilas dance them to death. Other legends suggest no seduction is needed; men wandering into the wrong neck of the woods suddenly find themselves compulsively dancing, akin to the Hans Christian Andersen story “The Red Shoes” or the Saint Vitus Dance. Again, the dance ends only with death.
Sometimes dancing has nothing to do with it. Other legends describe men who chance upon Vilas in the forest and, enchanted, fall hopelessly in love forever. Their love is unrequited so the men waste away, eventually dying. That said, Vilas will engage in sacred marriages with mortal men, if it’s what the Vila desires. Individual Vilas have names and unique personalities. Historically some have been venerated independently, especially in Serbia.
Some perceive Vilas and Valkyries as cut from the same cloth because of the resemblance of their names, their shared associations with death, and because both are intensely identified with wolves and swans. Vilas and Valkyries may both descend from primordial swan goddesses.
• Legends of the Vilas form the basis for the ballet Giselle.
• In the Harry Potter novels, Veela are so charismatically beautiful that men find them magically irresistible.
Vilas are incredible shape-shifters who manifest as swans, horses, snakes, or wolves but most famously as beautiful, longhaired women. Sometimes Vilas dance naked; sometimes they dress in diaphanous white. Bulgarian Vilas ride deer, using snakes for bridles.
Although domestic altars may be built for them, offerings and petitions are traditionally brought to the Vila at springs, wells, forest caves, and clearings.
Flowers, ribbons, fruit, pastries, mirrors, hair ornaments, bells
- Swan Goddesses
- White Ladies
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.
Variations: RUSALKA, Samovily, Vily
There is a Slavic myth that when a person is cursed by God or a child dies unbaptized, he will return as a type of vampiric fay known as a vila. When it returns, it will look like a beautiful little girl with long HAIR. Living in clouds, meadows, ponds, and trees, the vila, a very capable combatant, will attack lone travelers. However, like the VELES, offerings of cakes, flowers, fruit, ribbons, and vegetables will prevent its attack. All vile, as they are collectively called, have the ability to control storms and shape-shift into a horse, swan, or wolf.
- Auerbach, Our Vampires, Ourselves, 20;
- Dixon-Kennedy, Encyclopedia of Russian and Slavic Myth, 182;
- Royal Anthropological Institute, Man, 189