Vila (plural vile) is a South Slavic fairy similar to a nymph, female, beautiful and with long blonde hair. Serbo-Croatian: vila, Slovene: vila, Bulgarian: vila, diva, juda, samovila, samodiva, samojuda, Old East Slavic: vila, Slovak: víla.
The vila is known among South Slavs and Slovaks only, quotations about her occurrence among Poles are wrong. Among Czechs, vila denotes a wood spirit (15th century), and ancient place names such as Vilice near Tábor, Vilov near Domažlice, and Vilín near Sedlčany seem to indicate that she was known there as well. In the Chronicle of Dalimil, vila is “fool” (as in Old Polish). Czech: víla appears to be a loanword from South Slavic, because of the vocal length. In Russia, vile are mentioned in the 11th century, but there is doubt that they were truly a part of Russian folklore, and not just a literary tradition. There are common traits between the vile and the rusalki, and Schneeweis holds that they are identical.
The etymology is unclear. Possible explanations are from the verb viti “to wind” and Church Slavonic: vichъrь “whirlwind”; or from Sanskrit: vāyú- “air”, Proto-Indo-European u̯ēi̯o- “wind”.
Among South Slavs, vile are portrayed as beautiful women with long blonde hair. There are three kinds, those living on land and in forests (Serbo-Croatian: zagorkinje, pozemne vile), water nymphs (Serbo-Croatian: brodarice, povodne vile), and cloud or air nymphs (Serbo-Croatian: vile oblakinje, zračne vile). They appear as swans, falcons, horses, or wolves; cloud nymphs appear as a whirlwind. At night, they roam the clouds emitting a terrible noise of pipes and drums. Anyone who calls them becomes stiff and moves only with difficulty. He is stricken by disease and dies within a year or two.
Vile like to ride horses or stags, they go hunting (a parallell to the goddess Diana), dance in a circle dance (Serbo-Croatian: vilino kolo, Bulgarian: samodivski igriška) and seek the love of handsome strong men, assisting them against their enemies. Their fondness for fighting is reminiscent of the teutonic Valkyrie and is unique in Slavic mythology. They possess supernatural powers and are able in the art of healing. They build splendid castles at the edges of clouds. They confuse men’s spirits with their arrows. They steal children and substitute them with changelings. In Slovakia, vile are the restless souls of deceased girls who lure young men into a deadly circle dance.
In Serbian epic poetry, every hero has a vila as an elective or blood sister (Serbo-Croatian: posestrima). The best known is Serbo-Croatian: Ravijojla, a name probably derived from Raphael. Girls can also have vile as blood sisters, and may ask them to improve one’s beauty or to protect a distant lover.
Vile are usually friendly to people, but they can take horrible revenge on those who insult them, disregard their orders, or uninvitedly approach their circle dance. Their general amiability distinguishes them from the rusalki. The folk venerated them by placing flowers, food and drink before caves where they were believed to have lived.
Western European references
In a love song titled Vilja (Vilia), from The Merry Widow by Lehar and Ross, a hunter pines for Vilia, “the witch of the wood”. In some tales, the reason for abandoning their loves is a sad one. The Vila are cursed never to find their true love. If they do, that love will die a terrible death.
For the English-speaking world the wilis are indelibly connected with the Romantic ballet Giselle, first danced in Paris in 1841, with its spectral wilis, young girls who have died before their wedding days, who almost snatch away the hero’s life-breath, but must disappear at the break of dawn.
These wilis have been adapted from a poem of Heinrich Heine, who claimed to be using a Slavic legend. Meyer’s Konversationslexikon defines Wiles or Wilis as female vampires, the spirits of betrothed girls who die before their wedding night. According to Heine, wilis are unable to rest in their graves because they could not satisfy their passion for dancing naked, especially in town squares. They also gather on the highway at midnight to lure young men and dance them to their death. In Serbia, they were maidens cursed by God; in Bulgaria, they were known as samodiva, girls who died before they were baptized; and in Poland, they are beautiful young girls floating in the air atoning for frivolous past lives.
The first opera completed by Giacomo Puccini, Le Villi, makes free use of the same thematic material. It had its debut in May 1884 at the Teatro Dal Verme, Milan, and was revised for a more successful reception at the Royal Theater, Turin, that December.
In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series veelas are stunningly beautiful and charming women, who use magic to lead people into trance via singing and dancing. They can transform into horrific, bird-like creatures, who can bolt fireballs. Veelas appear in fourth book of the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where they assist Bulgarian quidditch team during Quidditch World Cup. The character Fleur Delacour from the book is also a quarter-veela.