Sunday, 8 May 2011

Iranian President accused of 'summoning djinns'

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been accused by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of dealing in occult magic and summoning magical spirits called djinns to cause harm to his enemies.

Several of Ahmadinejad's allies have been recently arrested following these allegations, including Abbas Ghaffari who is supposedly involved in communing with spirits and performing exorcisms.

It's no surprise that the Ayatollah is giving the President a hard time, considering their tense relationship, but this is a really bizarre story. The Ayatolla has given him the ultimatum to accept a Cabinet Minister or resign. Maybe the President can conjure a new minister from a lamp?

Djinns are prominent characters in Arab folklore and appear in Islamic texts as Jinn. They appeared in English as genies in 1665 in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, which is the more familiar term for westerners. In pre-Islamic folklore, djinns were shape-shifting spirits who wandered in the desert, sometimes turning invisible, and had the ability to drive people mad. The Koran contains a different version of these spirits who were made of fire who could also change their form. Interestingly, in Islam djinns had their own societal structures like humans, with royalty, traditions and law.

Djinn lore has made its way into other world cultures, including the indigenous Guanches of the Canary Islands and even Judeo-Christian mythology. Now we see them in popular culture, such as Aladdin and in various fantasy roleplaying games, video games and films.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Ukranian farmer opens first ever Brownie museum

And I don't mean the chocolate kind. Nicholas Ninon from the village of Zaps in Crimea has opened the first ever museum dedicated to the Brownie - a creature of folklore similar to a hob or goblin.

Apparently there are around 100 exhibits in the museum, with two Brownies (not real ones - unless you're wasted) standing at the entrance.

In Slavic mythology Brownies are known as Damovoi or Domovyk specifically in the Ukraine. They are household spirits, similar to those in English, Scottish, German and Scandinavian folklore, who guards the house from evil spirits and helps out every now and again.

There are various depictions of Damovoi, but they are usually hairy and sometimes quite large. If angered in any way these creatures can become malicious, smashing pots and holding people down in their sleep.

Brownies have quite a varied history, since their legends spread across Northern and Eastern Europe and to the British Isles, so if done correctly, this little museum could be full of interesting folklore goodies.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Hello and thanks to new followers

I just wanted to say thanks to the wonderful Faery Folklorist and the fabulous Ent from Westcountry Folklore for taking the time to follow Midnight Folklore. I hope you both enjoy my posts, as I do yours and perhaps in the future we could do some collaborative research on a folklore topic.

If you know of anyone else who might be interested in folklore, please give them a link to me and let me know so I can link them - I'll be doing the same with your fantastic blogs.

An update on Azerbaijan's folklore copyright

I've delved a bit more into this story and have come up with some interesting things. First of all, there is already a copyright in place on Azerbaijani folklore - the current news is highlighting an amendment to make foreigners pay to use folklore samples. There are actually quite a few countries that have legally protected folklore, such as Tunisia, but have slightly different criteria as to what ownership entails - usually a responsible authority and the community.

The Copyright Agency of Azerbaijan extensively explains that they copyrighted folklore to stop Armenia from 'stealing' it. Yeah, that's pretty much it. They say:

Falsifiers, eager to turn our monuments Stone -fish, Stone-ram, Stone -horse, came from ancient periods as well as ancient Alban lands and monuments into the territory of "Eastern Armenia" equally with misappropriated of our stella and cross-stones, indication stones, monumental masonries and our national decor engraved on their surfaces as well as our other material monuments, Armenianize our national "The history of Albania" by Musa Kalangatly, "The history" by Karakos Ganjali, "Alban chronicle" by Mukhtar Kosa and Rules on "Tradition law". Besides they related Alban alphabet and script, originated from ancient Turkish roots and having the same tone with Gamigaya script to the name of Mesrop Mashtots, who was not aware of Alban language.

Armenia and Azerbaijan aren't the most friendly of neighbours since the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1988. But it's a real shame that the Azerbaijani government have taken this narrow, and somewhat commercial, view of folklore, which is meant to be an evolving process. All great folklore has been merged at one time, such as when the Viking invaders brought Odin to England, which became Woden over time and numerous stories and practises stemmed from that religion. It's something that I'm totally against.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Today the Minehead Hobby Horse sleeps until next year

May Day is one of the biggest events in the English folklore calender, with all sorts of great events going on around the country - from maypole dancing to music and bonfires. This day has a special significance in Minehead, Somerset, as the morning echoes with drumbeats and a strange creature stirrs. The Hobby Horse (or 'Oss, if you're from the area) is a man dressed in a large clothed frame and wearing a colourful yet grotesque mask, who dances through the streets with an entourage of musicians, collecting money from passers-by and whipping those who don't cough up with his rope tail.

Historians and folklorists are unsure of how the tradition originated, but it has commonly been put down to being a commemoration ceremony of a wrecked ship. However other hypotheses include the Horse being an attempt to ward off Viking invaders, or even a phantom ship that came to the harbour without a crew or captain. The tradition can be traced back to 1792 from records in Dunster Castle.

The Hobby Horse dances through the streets for three days until on the 3rd May when the celebration culminates in a game where spectators must escape the Horse's tail whip.

Azerbaijani government copyrights folklore

This is pretty baffling. News came out yesterday that the government of Azerbaijan have discussed placing copyright protection on folklore samples so companies must pay to use them for commercial purposes.

Here's what the story said:

On Monday, the Azerbaijani Parliamentary Cultural Committee discussed amending the Law on "Legal Protection of the Samples of Azerbaijani Folklore."
According to the proposed amendment, legal and physical entities will be obliged to get permission from the government and to pay for samples of folklore for commercial purposes, Chairman Nizami Jafarov said at the meeting.

I agree that folklore should be protected to an extent, but to copyright a culture's folklore is ridiculous. Who is going to determine that a particular sample is unique to Azerbaijan? Many cultures share very similar folklore, and much of what Azerbaijan calls their own folklore may have originated elsewhere - so how would that be policed? Take Tepegoz, for instance. Tepegoz is Azerbaijan's mythical cyclops creature, similar to Polyphemus in The Odyssey. Should an advertiser steer clear of using a cyclops to promote their brand in fear of a lawsuit?

I'm going to keep on top of this story as it develops and we'll see what the outcome is. I hope they decide that this is a stupid move and that folklore should stay out of the realm of legalities.