Saturday, 31 December 2016

The traditions of Hogmanay

It's the last day of the year (finally!) which means in Scotland folks will be gearing up for the Hogmanay festivities.

While the etymology of the name is contentious, many historians think Hogmanay was influenced by Norse traditions, dovetailing with Yule - the shortest day of the year. In fact, in the Shetland Islands far north off the coast of Scotland New Year is referred to as Yules, demonstrating this tie.

Hogmanay is a time of great celebration and traditions and folk beliefs vary throughout the country. Gifts are widely given on the day, with special attention paid to the first to pass the threshold after midnight. They would be given coal, salt, shortbread, a black bun and whisky to ensure good luck in the house for the coming year in a practice called first footing.

Another tradion was people dressing in cow hide, running through the village bring whacked with a stick. The stick would be wrapped in animal hide and lot, the smoke driving away evil spirits. In the Highlands some would, and still, carry out saining on New Year's morn - a blessing on the household or livestock by sprinkling blessed water from a local living and dead fjord (a river crossed by both the living and the dead) in each room of the house. They would then set slight a bungle of juniper branches and waft them throughout the house, causing a spiritual fumigation. The windows would then be opened to allow the New Years air.

Fire plays a large role in festivities around Scotland. In Stonehaven near Aberdeen fireballs are swung on long metal poles, paraded down the main street, held aloft by multiple people.

So to all celebrating today, happy Hogmanay and Yules - may your 2017 be fantastic. Remember to clean the house before midnight, otherwise it's bad luck!

Thursday, 29 December 2016

The fabric of magic is woven into our existence

I can say with full certainty that the world we inhabit is inherently magical. To walk through a natural structure crafted from giant trees that have thrived since modern comforts were inconceivable is to witness magic. Magic, to me, is a feeling. It's also a fabric that overlays the physical world - a membrane forged of collective psychology, of stories thousands of years old.

A few months ago I was sunning myself on the Greek island of Crete, looking out into the azure sea at a dragon. At first glance this rocky structure looked much like an island and I'm sure to the untrained eye it could easily be mistaken for one. But locals knew differently. The shape was definitely dragon-like - a creature that has been turned to stone and sits in the sea for eternity. "Nonsense," you might say. But can this membrane of folklore not allow this island to be both a physical geographic place and a dead serpent at the same time?

For me, magic exists alongside the mundane. These stories of supernatural beings and brave heroes form an overlay on this scientific world. One shouldn't exist without the other when it comes to analyzing the world around us. It's important to know that the Devil's Arrows are both a megalith erected by pagan ancestors and the literal weapons of a dark being. There is no use in 'debunking' the latter because the story is just one part of what makes these stones what they are today.

I used to subscribe to the materialistic school of thought - that the only importance lied in physical things that we could evidence. Everything else can be discounted. I am not religious but I know gods walk the earth within this magical membrane. Our very weekday names have been shaped by Woden, Freya and Saturn - can we ignore them as if they don't play a part in our world experience? Absolutely not.

I believe that life is much richer when we make room for the magical, the sublime. Over the past few years I've softened my position as a staunch atheist and have sang songs of and drank to the old gods. Not because I think they're listening, but because of what they represent.

As the world becomes a more uncertain place it's important to remember that it's also wonderful and brimming with secrets. While certain people want to tear others apart, we must remember that our shared stories, this fabric of magic, brings us together, no matter where you are in the world.

Folklore Now returns for 2017

After a year long haitus, Folklore Now returns with brand new content covering mythology, urban myths, magick, mythology, fairy tales and folklore.

I'm also looking for contributors who fancy doing one-off or regular posts (unpaid - like me!) - so if you fancy it get in touch.

Don't forget to follow @welovefolklore on Twitter where I update daily. Here's to an exciting 2017 full of magic.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Exploring the ancient palace of Minos, home of the Minotaur

The sun beat down on me as I passed through the metal barriers separating a sea of tour guides vying for my attention and a tranquil stone path up to the palace ruins. The Palace of Minos in Knossos, Crete, is a place of mystery and wonder, although being over 3000 years old there isn't much left to see.

Set in a mountainous backdrop, the Palace of Minos is the most famous Minoan palace and was occupied for the best part of 700 years, a beautiful structure with striking red pillars and lovingly reconstructed fresco paintings. As I wandered around the ruins that used to be stock rooms, halls and communal areas, my mind went into overdrive thinking about the legendary resident of the palace: the Minotaur.

Photo: Scott Malthouse

The palace gets its name from the legendary King Minos, ruler of Crete and son of Zeus. He was a tyrannical king who demanded that youths from Athens were sent over on a ship every seven years to be fed to the Minotaur, a beast he kept in the centre of a labyrinth beneath the palace. The beast had the head of the bull and the body of a man, often said to be the offspring of Pasiphae, Minos' wife, who was magically enchanted by Aphrodite after Minos insulted Poseidon for not sacrificing a pure white bull the god sent the king. Paintings of bulls around the palace really drove the story home as I explored the crumbling structure and the beautiful stone pillars.

Legend has it that when the time came for Athens to send its sacrifices, the prince Theseus decided to go over in place of one of the young people. He told his father Aegeus that he would return in a white-sailed boat if he were to survive, but if he were to perish the boat would return with a black sail.

When he arrived at the palace, Minos' daughter Ariadne instantly fell in love with Theseus and gave him a ball of thread to track his path through the labyrinth. So Theseus went into the underground maze with the thread and made his way to the centre where he faced the ferocious beast. He thrust his blade into the Minotaur's neck, killing him.

On his way back, he left Ariadne on the island of Naxos, but forgot to replace the black sail with white. When his father saw the black sail, he threw himself to his death, presuming his son had perished. Theseus took the throne of Athens, but forever lived with the guilt of what he had done.

The palace of Minos is a beautiful place, evoking the legends that spawned from its ancient existence. I could almost sense the Minotaur deep below me, living in the dark, awaiting its next sacrifice.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Bedding the St Fillan's healing stones

Crikey, is it 2014 already? Happy New Year everyone! I hope you're doing great and 2014 is off to a flying start.

Today I was looking at the folklore news as I do everyday and came across this nice little tradition. In a tiny wee village called Killin in Dundee, Scotland they have just carried out a ritual that has been going since the 8th century. That's likely the same time that Beowulf was written. That's old stuff.

The ceremony is called the bedding of St Fillan's healing stones, which involves replacing the twigs, river wrack and straw that the mystical eight healing stones sit on. They are held in the Breadalbane Folklore Centre, where local schoolchildren helped with the ritual.

St Fillan is the patron saint of the mentally ill and was said to have healing powers as well as a glowing arm, allowing him to read scriptures in the dark. There is a St Fillan's Pool in Stirling, Scotland, in which people were dunked, bound and left on a pew or near the font. If the bonds were loose the following day it as said they had been cured of their ailment.

Stones have been believed to have healing properties for centuries, which has recently evolved into a new age belief regarding crystals.


Monday, 28 October 2013

Cottage company brings fairytales to life

Ever wanted to stay in a gingerbread cottage? Well, you probably can't, but Sykes Cottages has at least made it look like you can stay at the famed fairytale cottage from Hansel and Gretel.

Yep, the company has included the cottage as part of its offering, with features like a 'live-in witch housekeeper' and an 'extra large oven'. Oo-err.

Check out the whole enchilada over at the Sykes Cottages website.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Boggle of Hob Hole, Whitby

This post is part of The Fairytale Traveler's Monster A Day series.

Few places can pull off being both gorgeously picturesque and quietly eerie like Whitby can. It’s a town that blends coastal beauty with an ancient Gothic bleakness, with the ruins of the abbey standing as a sentinel over the streets below.

It’s no surprise then that Whitby is a town steeped in mythology and has been instrumental in bringing to life fictional characters like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Robin Jarvis’s warlock. Almost every night you can find a top hatted tour guide whisking crowds through the dark streets telling tales of the many ghosts that are said to inhabit the port town.

But it’s not just the town that’s soaked in vibrant folklore. Should you venture up the coast midway to the fishing village of Runswick Bay you will find caves tucked into the coastal walls. One such cave is known as Hob Hole, a place where in the past smugglers would stash their contraband.

In local legend, Hob Hole is said to be inhabited by a little mischievous person called a boggle, which is a type of hobgoblin (also referred to as a hob or boggart). Boggles are believed to be malevolent, souring milk and hiding people’s belongings, but the particular inhabitant of Hob Hole was said to have the gift of being able to cure whooping cough. Fishermen’s wives were said to take their sick children into the cave and ask for help, while their husbands were too afraid to do so.

In order to ask for the boggle’s assistance, ninteenth century historian John Walker Ord explained that “The patient was carried into the cave, and the parent with a loud voice invoked its deity:

Hob-hole Hob!

My bairn’s gettin’ t’ kink-cough,

Tak’t off, tak’t off!”

Hob Hole is just one such location where boggles can be found. In fact, the entirely of North Yorkshire is a playground for these creatures, so you’re bound to find similar legends in other areas.