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.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Museum curator brings folklore to a new generation

Well here's a story that's sure to warm your hearts. A new lottery-funded project in Cambridge is set to explore the writings of folklorist Enid Porter, curator of the Museum of Cambridge between 1947 and 1976.

Porter travelled the country recording cultural traditions, her notes being the focal point of the community project that will involve communities and schools in a celebration of her findings.

There will be a bigger celebration in July 2014 to present what the project has uncovered and findings will be made available online.

Cllr David Harty, the council’s cabinet member for learning, said: “The Enid Porter notebooks contain a unique collection of folklore of national significance, specifically collected in Cambridge and its surrounding towns and villages.

“They will form the basis of some really exciting research into how these traditions fit into our modern lives - transcending time and technology.

“The lottery money allows this project to take place and bring together schools, community groups and local historians together so we can learn how the past reflects in our modern world.”

Read more here.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Russian police officer nominated for award after trapping spirit in a jar

It's been a while since we've had some kooky folklore news on the blog, but this one's been worth the wait. According to a local newspaper in Russia, a police officer has been nominated for an award after helping a local elderly man out after he complained his house was being used as a playground by an evil 'domovoi'.

In Slavic folklore, domovoi are benevolent spirits that inhabit every household. They help out around the house and are generally pleasant unless you manage to piss one off and disrespect by not looking after your house properly- then it gets nasty.

Knowledgeable about the lore, the officer recommended the man trap the domovoi in a glass jar. Two days later the man returned to the officer with the jar and thanked him, telling him that the spirit had been trapped and he had experienced no disturbances.

You can read the full story here.

Aside from being house guardians and rapscallions, domovoi are also viewed as oracles, their behaviour forewarning people of future tidings. If you're a woman and your hair is pulled, then that's taken as a warning of an abusive man, or if the spirit wept then there would be a death in the family. A domovoi is said to make the sound  "He! He! He!, Ho! Ho!, Ho!" when excited or happy, which is actually kind of terrifying.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Fairytale Traveler's Monster A Day is coming this October

Why reserve Halloween for just one day when you can spread it over an entire month? That's what we in the Fairytale Traveler family will be doing in October with Monster A Day.

Christa, myself and the other writers on the blog will be examining some of the strangest and most terrifying ghouls, ghosts and other things that go bump in the night as well as the places they come from every single day up to October 31st.

So get ready, folklore lovers. We're coming to get you! Muhahahahahaha!!

Monday, 23 September 2013

It's Autumn!

This weekend the Autumn Equinox came around which means that the BEST season ever is here. Seriously, I love Autumn so much - the colourful leaves, the orangey glow in the sky, Halloween! It's all just fantastic.

What's your favourite part of the season?

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

5 Creatures From African Folklore With A Taste For Blood

Today we're delving into deepest Africa where legends and traditions are alive and well. Africa has some fantastic folklore, but today I want to talk about specifically about beliefs in bloodthirsty monsters. So turn on the light and watch the door - here are five creatures from African folklore you wouldn't want to cross on a dark night...

5. Sasanbosam
Image: Beth Stiner
Many cultures have their own unique take on the vampire myth but the Sasanbosam is one of the more bizarrely terrifying ones. A particular belief of the Ashanti of Ghana, West Africa, the Sasanbosam is described as a human with bat features, such as a whopping 20ft wingspan. If that weren't horrifying enough, the creature is also said to have an emaciated and horned body with hooked feet that allows is to ensnare passers-by as it sits in trees...waiting. Oh, and they have teeth made of iron - just in case you weren't already rethinking going outside ever again.

Sources: and

4. Eloko
Image: Victor P Corvella
When you go down to the woods today then you'd be buggered if you came across an Eloko. These dwarf-like ancestral spirits are furious with the living, possessing piercing eyes and grass on their bodies rather than hair. According to lore, Biloko (Eloko's plural) live deep in the Zaïre rainforest guarding treasure - rare fruits and game. Oh, did I mention that their mouths open as wide as the human body, allowing then to eat you whole? Picture that, if you will and I guarantee you won't be walking through woods anytime soon. Unless you're an expert hunter with an amulet, then you're probably also going to fall under the Eloko's spell cast by little bells they possess.


3. Rompo

One thing folklore does really well is to mash a bunch of different animals together, sprinkle on some horror and produce some weird abomination. Meet Rompo, a creature said to have the head of a hare, ears of a human, rear legs of a bear, front arms of a badger and a skeleton body. While rompos tend not to attack the living, they will totally go to town on devouring human corpses like M&Ms. The rompo could also change the colour of its skin to match its surroundings or a predator.


2. Bultungin (Werehyena)

There are various incarnations of the belief in werehyenas throughout Africa, but one aspect that does tie them together is that they're utterly terrifying. Bultungin is Kanuri for "I change myself into a hyena" and apparently it was widely believed that there were whole villages populated by people who transformed into flesh-hungry beasts.

Ethopians believe that blacksmiths are actually wizards or witches with the ability to change into a hyena while the people of western Sudan believe that the creature would specifically target lovers, making it the prototype Jason from Friday 13th. They also believed that the werehyena would be a woodcutter, healer or blacksmith. The Korè cult of the Bambara people in Mali actually dress up as werehyenas, wearing masks and roleplaying, effectively 'becoming' the creature. This disturbing act is used to prevent people from wanting to pick up werehyena habits (like eating people, I guess) in daily life.


1. The Kishi

So you've just met a nice guy, you've been on a couple of dates, maybe held hands and you're ready to go back to his house for "coffee". You step into his cosy apartment and he puts some smooth jazz on because that's the kind of charmer he is. He tells you he's going to slip into something more comfortable and before you can question that line he turns around to reveal HIS FACE IS ALSO A HYENA'S FACE, OH MY GOD. Congratulations, you're dating a Kishi and you're about to be eaten.

Yes, Angola has this twisted bastard in their roster of demonic entities. The Kishi has two faces, one on the front which is an attractive man, and one on the back which is a horrific hyena monstrosity. It's like that scene in Harry Potter except it makes you want to crap yourself. The man face would charm the lovely lady and then the beast face would eat her face. Delicious.


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Midnight Folklore and The Fairytale Traveler are joining forces

Got a wicked cool announcement to make. I introduced you guys to The Fairytale Traveler not so long ago, a great twist on the standard travel blog where the author, Christa, journeys the world to places of cultural and folkloric interest. Well, Christa kindly invited me to start writing for her blog with a view to cover UK folklore destinations. This is super awesome.

I won't stop writing for Midight Folklore - if anything it'll spur me on to writing more for this blog. Christa has written a lovely announcement post here.

Friday, 13 September 2013

The origins of Friday 13th

It seems that Friday 13th has struck me down. I'm lying in bed with a jumper on looking like a sallow lump of pale flesh. Hello, ladies.

Good job I'm not superstitious then, but because it's such a notorious day I thought I'd talk about where it might have come from and why people tend to fear it so much in some countries.

The most popular theory is that the belief comes from the Last Supper having 13 people at the table, as in the Christian religion Judas Iscariot was the betrayer of Christ. Also, Jesus was apparently crucified on a Friday, the same day that Cain slew Able. However, I find this theory to be quite a strange one, especially when you consider that Italy, a country jam packed with Catholics, actually considers the number 13 to be lucky and rather Friday 17th to be the unlucky day.

"It stands to reason that pagan people would have considered Friday as actually quite a fortuitous day"

The next reason could have been that on Friday 13th October 1307, King Philip IV ordered the arrest of the Knights Templar. Again, this one doesn't sit right with me. This particular event probably wouldn't have been a catalyst for such a global wave of superstition - it seems far too obscure and impersonal. In fact, I don't think Friday 13th has a singular origin at all - I'd posit that common folklore beliefs about the day Friday and the number 13 came together and amalgamated into sort of an 'ultra' unlucky day. Hell, we don't even have documentation of Friday 13th being an unlucky day until the 19th century, so that's a bit of a giveaway.

You would have to look to the origin of the word Friday to find out why it could be deemed as unlucky. As an good student of mythology knows, Friday is derived from the Norse goddess Frigg, the goddess of fertility and marriage. It stands to reason that pagan people would have considered Friday as actually quite a fortuitous day, particularly on a wedding occasion. But like most other things, when the pagan Teutonic peoples were Christianised, the new religious order turned Frigg, whose sacred animal was a cat, into a witch - a woman of evil magic.

"It's not unlikely that these unfortunate days were created as a result of demonising Frigg"

It's probably no coincidence, then, that Friday held a negative significance to Christians. As I said before, Jesus was supposed to have been crucified on a Friday. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden on a Friday and died on a Friday, apparently. It's not unlikely that these unfortunate days were created as a result of demonising Frigg.

So we have Friday down, but what about 13? The Last Supper hypothesis seems like a good one, but really we have to go back again to Norse mythology to discover some crucial details. According to the legend, 12 gods feasted in the great banquet hall in Valhalla. Loki, the trickster god, showed up uninvited, being the 13th guest at the table. Also at the table was Balder, the pure. He was invulnerable after his mother Frigg spoke to every living and non-living thing and asked them to promise that they would never harm her son. However, she thought the mistletoe to be too inconsequential to speak to so did not. Loki caught wind of this and convinced Balder's blind brother Hod to have a go at throwing mistletoe at Balder. Loki guided his arm and threw the mistletoe at Balder, killing him instantly, an event that followed a great mourning by the gods as Loki slipped away.

You can see the parallels here between the Norse religion and the Christian story. Both involve a traitor killing the purest of people. Both have 13 people dining around a table. This could very well be the origin of where the superstition of 13 came from.

Could it be that we have Norse pagans to thank for Friday 13th? It's definitely a possibility, but I'd be interested to hear what you think.

Now, back to bed for me.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Hinterland could be the best new TV show for folklore lovers

We have no shortage of folklore/mythology based series coming to our TV screen in the near future. Supernatural returns for its ninth season of contemporary folklore antics, and we have BBC's Atlantis to look forward to at the end of the month. In 2014, however, BBC Four and BBC Wales will begin airing one of the most promising folklore-tinged shows: Hinterland.

Set in the green and isolated heart of Aberystwyth, Wales, this new detective show promises to become a vehicle for old traditional Welsh yarns, doing what Scandinavian dramas have done for Norse mythology.

The premier episode features Devil's Bridge Falls, a gorge with three bridges. The first bridge was built in the 11th century by, according to local legend, the Devil himself. The story goes that a wily old woman met the Devil when he was coming to Wales for the first time, having caught wind of its breathtaking scenery. The woman's cow had wandered across the river and she couldn't get it back, so the Devil, being the nice guy that he is, told her that he will build a bridge to the other side but on one condition: he must keep the first living thing to cross the bridge. The woman agreed.

The next day she went with her trusty dog to the river where, lo and behold, there was a brand spanking new bridge. The Devil said to the women, "now it's time to honour your side of the bargain". The woman began walking towards the bridge but quickly pulled out a piece of bread and threw it onto the bridge. Her dog chased after it, much to the Devil's dismay, becoming the first living thing to cross the bridge. The Devil was pissed that he was outfoxed by an elderly woman so he vanished, never to return to Wales again.

The location Hinterland is set in couldn't be more barren and beautiful, the perfect place for legends to cultivate. The noir drama promises to be atmospheric and will play out in four feature-length episodes.

Hinterland/Y Gwyll airs in S4C in October and BBC Four in 2014.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Midnight Folklore blogs for Quail Bell Magazine

Well this is just a bit exciting, isn't it? Last week I received an email from the lovely Christine Stoddard, editor of the fantastic Quail Bell Magazine. Quail Bell is all kinds of awesome, covering folklore, history, art and more. Anyway, Christine wanted to use an article or two from Midnight Folklore for Quail Bell, which is amazing, so you can now find my 3 Twisted Russian Folktales To Fuel Your Nightmares over there .

You can't tell, but I'm doing a little dance.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Corn dollies: icons of the harvest

It's September, which means that Autumn is about to rear its colourful head and the harvest will begin. The season held special significance to the pre-Christian peoples, particularly in Europe, as it meant the closing of a bountiful season of growth and the reaping of its rewards.

Pagan Europeans believed that the corn was imbued by a living spirit - the Corn Goddess, who would have nowhere to live once the corn had been harvested. Because of this, people commonly took the last sheaf of the season and fashioned it into a plaited dolly in order to keep the Corn Goddess safe through the dark cold winter.

Here is a wonderful extract from The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer detailing the process of driving out the corn spirit:

"The last sheaf is carried joyfully home and honoured as a divine being. It is placed in the barn, and at threshing the corn-spirit appears again. In the Hanoverian district of Hadeln the reapers stand round the last sheaf and beat it with sticks in order to drive the Corn-mother out of it. They call to each other, “There she is! hit her! Take care she doesn’t catch you!” The beating goes on till the grain is completely threshed out; then the Corn-mother is believed to be driven away."

Corn dollies come in a range of different varieties depending on their geographical location, such as the Norfolk Lantern, the Cambridge Handbell and the Yorkshire Spiral. Each is exquisite and beautiful, often found hanging in rural homes to this day.

Some variations were large, using a whole sheaf, resulting in some remarkable artefacts like the Straw dog of Orkney and the Lame goat of Skye.

There are still people who practise the craft of corn dolly making, such as The Guild of Straw Craftsmen - check the site out, it makes for an interesting read.

Nowadays, corn dollies are used as more of a fashion statement, as you can sometimes see them dangling from necklaces or used as earrings. They're also used in modern interior design to invoke that rural atmosphere to a home. You may also find that they're still given to children at Christenings or to mark a birth.

If you fancy making your own corn dolly this season then the Eden Project has a nice short tutorial for making simple ones here

Monday, 9 September 2013

Why you should totally be reading: The Fairytale Traveler

Frequent readers of Midnight Folklore will know how much I love sharing other great folklore blogs around the internet. There's an unfortunate dearth of them, but when you find them they are usually fantastic and The Fairytale Traveler is no exception.

Written by Christa Thompson, The Fairytale Traveler covers world folklore, in particular esoteric locations and curious locales. Not only does Christa provide some stunning photographs, each post is extremely interesting and well-informed. I mean, just check out this gorgeous post on the Lost Gardens of Heligan and you will see what I mean (it also helps in this instance that I have an extreme soft spot for mysterious gardens).

I can't recommend The Fairytale Traveler enough. Just stop what you're doing and go read it.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

"Where there are no people, there is hell": a look at Syrian folklore

We now know that America will be launching a violent attack on Syria, whose regime has decayed to deadly turmoil in recent years as a result of the Arab Spring.

It's easy to see the harrowing scenes on the news and view Syria as another war-torn nation, one that you can only sympathise with. You never see the vitality, the colourful vibrancy of Syrian culture - their customs and folk beliefs. To many Syria will just become another Middle Eastern nation doomed under a brutish regime and one that must be saved by the west.

Song and dance play a large role in Syrian culture, especially at parties and celebrations where the dabke (or dabkeh) dance is commonly performed. This line dance is accompanied by a drum called a tabla or a band. Movements feature rhythmic stomping which is said to originate from house builders having to compact the dirt and straw of the roof in a uniform way. The song Ala Dalouna (translated to Let's Go and Help) spawned from the dance in order to make labouring more light-hearted.

The Syrians' love for elaborate celebration can also be seen in their plethora of vibrant and energetic festivals that run throughout the year. Take the Desert Festival for example, designed to keep alive the traditions of the Badiya (Syrian desert) in Palmyra. There's also the Latakia Memory Festival, which revives the ancient traditions and culture of Latakia over three days, complete with carnivals, a wind surfing competition and the Phoenecian boats contest. These, along with other celebrations like the Damascus Flower Show, Syrian Song Festival and Jasmine Festival makes for an exciting cultural calender bursting with national pride.

And if one is talking about Syrian folklore it would be remiss to leave out the rich tapestry that is Syrian mythology. Looking back at pre-Islamic Syria, we find deities like Atargatis - The Great Mistress of the Northern Syrian Lands, known commonly as the 'mermaid goddess' for her fish body. To Atargatis doves and fish were sacred, with doves being emblematic of love and fish being symbolic of water fertility. It is said that Syrian men would castrate themselves in honour of her. There is also Manuzi, the weather god, whose consort was Liluri, goddess of mountains, and who were said to be appeased by the sacrifice of bulls.

Under the spectre of war it's difficult for people to see past the armed troops marching through dusty streets and the bodies strewn on the ground, victims of heinous chemical attacks. But don't for one second reduce Syria to a new desert wasteland in your mind. These people have incredible, beautiful traditions that have stayed in their hearts for generations.

Monday, 12 August 2013

3 Twisted Russian Folktales To Fuel Your Nightmares

The Russians have given us a lot, such as vodka, bears and snow, but they also have some super creepy folktales. While us westerners tell fairytales to young children that are full of whimsy and far-away lands, the eastern take on these stories is a little more, shall we say, horrifying. These tales, or Skazkas, would be told to fellow adults more than kids because of their pant-wetting nature.

Here are three Skakzas that may be unsuitable for children.

3. The Death of Koschei the Deathless

We're off to a good start with a contradictory title, but that's how they rope you in, isn't it? The Death of Koschei the Deathless is about the titular Koschei, a villain who cannot be killed by conventional means. His soul is kept inside a needle, which is an egg inside a duck, which is in a hare, which is in a locked iron chest, which is buried under an oak tree on the island of Buryan in the middle of the ocean. So, it's pretty secure, then.

The hero of the tale is Ivan Tsarevitch, who leaves home after his parents die and his sisters get married. He comes across a warrior woman called Marya Morevna whom he marries and they go off to live in a castle. Marya announces that she is to go off to war but while she's away Ivan isn't to open the door of their dungeon. Big mistake, because Ivan obviously opens it as soon as she's out of the door. In the dungeon he finds an emaciated Koschei, all chained up and nasty. Koschei asks the gullible Ivan for a drink of water, which he agrees to and fetches him 12 buckets which he drinks. The water brings back the villain's powers, so he vanishes into thin air, presumably leaving Ivan utterly pissing himself in terror.

Ivan discovers that Koschei has kidnapped Marya, even though she's an awesome warrior woman, and chases him down. Because Ivan is clearly a little weakling, unlike his wife, Koschei kills him, stuffs his carcass in a barrel and chucks him into the sea. Again, this one's not really for kids. Fortunately Ivan is resurrected by his sisters' husbands who happen to be bad-ass wizards who can also transform into birds of prey. They tell him that he needs to get a magical horse from Baba Yaga, a witchy woman who tests him. He passes the tests, finds Koschei, kills him and burns his body. Again, not really one for the kiddies. It begs the question of how he managed to kill the immortal with physical weapons, but who am I to judge dead Russian storytellers?

2. The Enchanted Tsarevich

We've all seen Beauty and the Beast, the timeless tale of a beautiful book nerd who gets into bestiality and does a duet with a French candle. Ok, so it's been a while, but I promise you that the Russian version is even more disturbing.

First off, the Russians decided against featuring a furry snaggle-toothed beast and instead thought that a three-headed winged snake would be more appropriate. The story goes that a merchant was caught by the hideous creature when he was picking flowers. The snake tells the merchant that for his crime of trespassing that he must give it the first person who greets him when he returns home. When he gets back his daughter rushes out and greets him, unaware of the scaly fate that slithers before her. She then must go to live in an empty castle with the snake beast.

Each night the snake moves his snakey bed closer to the girl until one night they are resting in the same bed. This, my friends, is so goddamn creepy I'm screaming while I type this. In the morning the girl is allowed to go home and see her dad, but it tells her that she must be back that night or he'll kill himself. Need to work on your threats there, snakeybobs. However, the girl stays out too long and, for some reason, rushes back home to find the snake laying on the ground dying. She kisses one of its heads and it miraculously turns into a handsome prince. He manages to heal and they live happily every after. Aww.

1. The Armless Maiden

Ok, this is a gruesome one. In fact, I'm sure The Armless Maiden will soon be a Eli Roth flick. Ready for this?

This story is about an orphaned brother and sister who moved into their own place. The brother opened up shop and got married to a woman who makes Norman Bates look like Mr Bean. One day, the brother told the sister that she could keep the house, but his wife went batshit insane and started breaking their furniture, but blamed the sister. The brother was cool about it and probably said something like "chill, babe, we can always buy more." His wife framed his sister again by massacring his favourite horse, but the brother said that the dogs could chow down on the festering nag head. Finally, things went completely off the rails when the wife gave birth, took the baby and lopped off its head, blaming the sister. Now the brother was all kinds of pissed, so drove his sister in a cart into a bramble and told her to disentangle herself. When she tried he cut off both of her arms and ran off. Keeping down your breakfast?

The sister managed to escape to a merchant town where she fell in love with a merchant's son. After two years he went on a journey, but told his parents to shoot him a letter when his child was born. His wife eventually gave birth to a boy with gold up to his elbows, stars on his sides, a moon on his forehead and the sun near his heart. The grandparents wrote to their son as promised, but the insane sister-in-law invited the messenger around and replaced the letter with one that said that his wife had given birth to a half wolf, half bear. Actually, that sounds pretty bad-ass, but the merchant's son didn't much care for it. He send a letter back saying that the kid shouldn't be harmed until he gets back, but the sister-in-law intercepted the letter again and changed it to read that the wife should be driven away.

So the grandparents gave her the kid and sent her packing. She left and tried to drink from a well, but the baby fell in, probably with a comedy whistle as it fell. Of course, she had no arms to fetch her baby, but a random old man told her to reach in anyway, probably because he was a prick trying to get his rocks off. Surprisingly, when she tried her arms were restored and she picked her baby out of the water. She then went on to the house where her brother, husband and insane in-law were staying. The sister-in-law answered the door and was like "shit" and told the guys that it was just a beggar lady. But the dudes wanted to invite her in to spin some beggar lady yarns because there was no Nintendo back then. When they discovered it was who it really was and that she was carrying the star-spangled baby, her brother tied his wife to a mare.

It returned with only her braid.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

5 Mythical Locations You've Probably Never Heard Of

Everyone has heard of Atlantis, the lost city said to have been swallowed by the ocean and according to the Nazis was populated by super buff Nordic Aryans, not unlike any given issue of Men's Health. Tales of mythical cities and countries have become a staple of legend, populated by super people and weird creatures. But there's a tonne of these mysterious locales that you've probably never heard of before. Here are 5 to delve into.

5. Agartha, the City at the Centre of the Earth

According to legends, Agartha is a great city the resides in the core of the Earth. It's linked in with the belief that the Earth is hollow and filled to the brim with weird people and creatures, a belief that still prevails to this day in some groups.

Alexandre Saint-Yves d'Alveydre, or Lex to his buddies, recorded the first "account" of Agartha, which according to him is situated in the Himalayas. Alexandre stated that Agartha would be revealed to us normal humans when we start doing right by the Ten Commandments. It is unknown if we need to continue with following these rules by the time we've all descended into the hidden city or whether it's just going to be a massive free-for-all.

4. Kyöpelinvuori, Mountain of Virgin Ghosts

Kyöpelinvuori, or Ghost's Mountain in Finnish, is a place that is said to be haunted exclusively by dead women. Specifically, it's populated the ghosts of young virgins who gather on the mountain at the beginning of the afterlife.

At Easter, because the Finnish have decided that their kids obviously don't need to sleep, adults say that Kyöpelinvuori is inhabited by witches that leave the mountain on their broomsticks to scare the living shit out of Finland's children.

Ghost Mountain is related to the Swedish Blockula myth, a legendary meadow where the Devil met with witches on the Sabbath, had kids with them and then married those kids to produce toads and serpents. Textbook devilry, really.

3. Kingdom of Saguenay, Land of the Blond Men

The Kingdom of Saguenay is an Iroquoian legend that tells of a northern land riddled with blond men rich with gold and furs. Sounds fabulous!

Apparently Jacques Cartier, while travelling with the sons of Chief Donnacona, found the Saguenay river in 1536, which, according to the sons, was the gateway to Saguenay itself. French Canadian explorers have tried in vein to find the mythical kingdom but to no avail. According to Donnacona himself, Saguenay is the home to great silver and gold mines, enough to make anyone rich who travelled there.

Some people have speculated that it could have been a pre-Columbian Norse settlement, or perhaps just the Iroquoian Indians just dicking around with the French.

2.  City of the Caesars has ALL the Diamonds

Supposedly located somewhere in Patagonia, The City of the Caesars or Ciudad de los Césares is a mythical city along the lines of El Dorado. According to legend, the city is full of gold, diamonds and other precious stones and found nestled between a mountain of silver and a mountain of gold.

It is said that the city would appear at certain times, making it more difficult to find. To make matters worse, people who come across it are said to forget all about what they saw. This does beg the question of how anyone knows this, considering, y'know, they forget all about it.

1. Cockaigne, Land of Everything

Ever want to go to a place where you could have everything you wanted, societal restrictions were destroyed and nuns would spend their days prancing around showing their butts? Cockaigne is for you then, you big pervert.

According to Herman Pleij's Dreaming of Cockaigne: Medieval Fantasies of the Perfect Life, this is exactly what this utopia is like:

"Roasted pigs wander about with knives in their backs to make carving easy, where grilled geese fly directly into one's mouth, where cooked fish jump out of the water and land at one's feet. The weather is always mild, the wine flows freely, sex is readily available, and all people enjoy eternal youth."

Or how about this doozy by poet George Ellis: "The houses were made of barley sugar and cakes, the streets were paved with pastry, and the shops supplied goods for nothing."

Flying food, free shit, all the sex and wine your body can take. When medieval people dreamed, they dreamed big.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Was Dracula inspired by a Celtic tyrant?

Bram Stoker's Dracula is one of the most enduring work of gothic fiction and a personal favourite, but current research suggests that the famous vampire may have had his roots firmly in Celtic Ireland.

If you were to venture to Glenullin in Co Londonderry, you may come across a tomb called Slaghtaverty Dolmen, or 'The Giant's Grave'- a grave with an intriguing and bloody tale.

According to local legend, the tomb is home to a cruel tyrant called Abhartach, a chieftain who demanded a bowl of blood from each of his subjects which he would guzzle down to quench his ravenous thirst.

There are a number of different versions of his story - including one where Abhartach was a magical dwarf, although also a cruel tyrant.

From The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places comes this chilling description:

"There is a place in the parish of Errigal in Derry, called Slaghtaverty, but it ought to have been called Laghtaverty, the laght or sepulchral monument of the abhartach [avartagh] or dwarf (see p. 61, supra). This dwarf was a magician, and a dreadful tyrant, and after having perpetrated great cruelties on the people he was at last vanquished and slain by a neighbouring chieftain; some say by Fionn Mac Cumhail. He was buried in a standing posture, but the very next day he appeared in his old haunts, more cruel and vigorous than ever. And the chief slew him a second time and buried him as before, but again he escaped from the grave, and spread terror through the whole country. The chief then consulted a druid, and according to his directions, he slew the dwarf a third time, and buried him in the same place, with his head downwards; which subdued his magical power, so that he never again appeared on earth. The laght raised over the dwarf is still there, and you may hear the legend with much detail from the natives of the place, one of whom told it to me."

In other versions of the tale the chief who slew Abhartach is called Cathrain and in others he is called Cathan. It's likely that the name Cathrain came later, as instead of consulting a druid as Cumhail did, he spoke with a Christian saint. 

Dr Bob Curran, a folklorist who studies the legend says that the later version also contains the method of killing Abhartach: "Slay him with a sword made of yew wood, bury him upside down, put thorns round him and put a massive stone on the top to keep him from rising."

Now, we can see this as a relatively familiar way of killing off a vampire, particularly the wooden sword or 'stake'.

Curran himself has suggested that Bram Stoker, a native Irishman, used the legend of Abhartach as inspiration for Dracula. This is obviously different to the common theory that Dracula was modelled on Vlad the Impaler, which is a tenuous one at best considering that the only book Stoker read on Vlad was one that didn't cover the atrocities committed by him.

Personally, there is good evidence to support Curran's theory that Dracula is Abhartach, particular from the latter tales.

Resources: UTV (2013), Celtic Vampire 'Inspired by Dracula'

Joyce, Patrick (1875). The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places. Internet Archive: McGlashan & Gill. p. 319.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Folklore Review - an upcoming newsletter from Midnight Folklore

This is something I've been playing around with for a while, but I think this year is the year I launch The Folklore Review - a quarterly newsletter delving into the world of folklore including submissions from anyone with an interest in the field.

The publication will contain analysis, commentary and news on world folklore, and I want your help, dear readers. Each issue will be themed and I will be taking submissions from anyone interested in getting their articles published.

Watch this space to find out more about the first edition of The Folklore Review and how you can get involved.

Friday, 17 May 2013

The folklore of the internet

Folklore is often seen as something that deals with the past - the way groups of people used to be. Most people don't see folklore as the evolving being it is, something that becomes obvious when you look at the folklore of the internet.

Folklorists have only relatively recently begun to pay attention to cyberethnography, but they have found that there's a veritable treasure trove waiting to be studied on the internet. It's something that's invisible to people who don't study folklore and anthropology, but the internet is filled to the brim with folklore. Even more interestingly, the development of traditions tied to the internet is far quicker than it is in the physical world.

Communities are everywhere on the web. If you can think of it, there's a community for it, from message boards to blogs to SubReddits. Both within and without these communities traditions, artifacts, images, jokes and stories are created, just as they would do within physical communities. Whereas once tales would be spun in the tavern, now it's done via a message board.

Leeroy Jenkins

One of the best places to look for folklore is the MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game). These games best mimic real-world interactions, as you can see representations of physical beings and live out a life as if you would in a physical community. As with a physical community, MMORPGs develop their own legends, language and culture.

One of the more popular tales came out of World of Warcraft, a MMORPG based in a fantasy setting. This tale involves a character called Leeroy Jenkins, who appeared in a 2005 video on a Warcraft movies fansite. The video saw a guild of characters together discussing plans to take on a particularly dangerous part of the game. Suddenly, a character, Leeroy Jenkins, who has missed the meeting decides to run in head first, ultimately leading to the party being slaughtered.

The video went viral, and soon Blizzard, the developer of WoW, embraced Leeroy Jenkins as a character, making reference to him in the game, and creating a trading card and gaming miniature of Jenkins. Leeroy Jenkins has become part of the game's culture, an almost legendary (if tragic) figure unique to WoW.


Leeroy Jenkins eventually became a meme - known throughout the internet as someone who went into a dangerous situation without thinking of the consequences. Memes are another large part of internet folklore - part joke, part cultural artwork - they are some of the most transient fixtures of the cyber landscape.

 The term meme was coined by Richard Dawkins in his book 'The Selfish Gene', in which he described them as "small units of culture, analogous to genes, which flow from person to person by copying or imitation.” This is folklore distilled into a nice little nutshell. Jokes, images, videos and texts created by folk and spread, copied and enhanced over time. Memes are a fantastic example of the way the internet has sped up the folklore process, as memes are created on a frequent basis and as they are on the internet they can spread incredibly quickly. 

These are just a couple of examples as to why the internet is such a fertile ground for folklore study. There is so much more I could talk about, such as recipe sharing, cyber aliases, email hoaxes and more, so I may touch on those in another post.


Thursday, 16 May 2013

I'm a skeptic, but I adore the magic of folklore

Folklore can be pretty fantastical - after all, it often deals with beliefs and traditions dating back hundreds, if not thousands of years. Within folk texts we find strange monsters, literal ghosts, buried treasure, magic and more. All of this gives us a great insight into how certain groups of people used to and, in some cases, still function.

Some folklore enthusiasts take it one step further and tend towards believing some of the things that they study - whether that's dowsing, time displacement or cryptids. I'm not one of these people. I'm what you might identify as a skeptic, someone who only believes something when presented with sufficient evidence. The scientific method is my constant companion and aids my view of the world, a world where there are a lot of strange things to believe.

So what draws me to folklore - something that tends towards the irrational? To me, folklore provides the world with magic- not real magic with spells and such - but it provides a way to view the world through a different lens. I don't need or want the magic to be real, I think there's enough wonder in the universe without having to invoke mysticism, but at the same time I'm fascinated by people's beliefs in strange and bizarre things. There probably isn't an abominable snowman, but researching yeti myths throughout the world is as exciting to me as learning about exoplanets and quantum physics. We can determine so much about humanity from the study of folklore - specifically about the human part. In history we learn about the big events and figures, but in folklore we glimpse the real lives of real, everyday people - their beliefs and values.

Folklore is magic. Spells may not be real and spirits may not exist - but in the field of folklore these things come to life.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Angels in Havana - an interview with Sarah Bryan of Folk Funeraria

Photo: Angels in Havana by Sarah Bryan
Folklore is interwoven through the tapestry of the world, encompassing almost every part of everyone's lives. There's nowhere where folklore thrives more than through death. 

Sarah Bryan runs Folk Funeraria, a blog looking at grave decorations in the American south. I spoke to Sarah about her fascination with gravestones, folklore and history.

What inspired you to start taking pictures of tombstones and grave decorations?

Though I don’t remember precisely when or why I started taking pictures of gravestones, it was probably as a fairly young child, with my first camera. My mom was photographing tombstones long before that, so I’m sure it has to do with her influence. (My mom, whose academic training is as a medievalist, is a writer and historian of the American Civil War era. She’s a cofounder of Ancestry and Life Stories, which sells family tree kits for kids, including materials for making gravestone rubbings.) I grew up in South Carolina and Virginia, and whenever we would travel and had time to explore historic places, we’d visit the oldest graveyards we could find. It’s a great way to learn a lot about the culture of a place—its history, religious beliefs, ethnicities, aesthetics, language, genealogy—an awful lot is revealed about how people lived by the way their survivors memorialize them. Part of the appeal is the emotional connections one makes in an old graveyard to people who’ve been dead for many years. Most people who have spent time in old cemeteries know that pang of sympathetic grief one feels seeing two large tombstones next to a series of small stones decorated with carvings of lambs—a sign of parents who lost children. Here in the Southern US, one might visit a family burying ground on an antebellum plantation, admire the elaborate decoration and documentation on the landowners’ tombstones, and then realize that the graves of the slaves who worked their land, cooked their meals, tended their homes, and raised their children are only marked with rocks or plain wooden boards, if they’re marked at all. So the appeal begins with that inherent poignancy of remembering those who have gone before us, and how (and whether) they are memorialized.

Also, there is the aesthetic appeal of funerary art. A lot of people, myself included, really like Victorian graveyards, particularly the angel sculptures in their various attitudes of contemplative sorrow or triumphant jubilation. Here in North Carolina the most famous graveyard angel is in the foothills town of Hendersonville, a celestial woman with single-starred tiara, said to have inspired novelist Thomas Wolfe when he wrote “Look Homeward Angel.” The most beautiful and hair-raisingly vivid angels I’ve ever seen are in late-nineteenth-century cemeteries in Cuba. There’s a monument in Havana’s Cementerio Colon to eight medical students who were executed in 1871. Their angel is bursting out of a temple, and the overall effect is of a cuckoo clock announcing Judgment Day. Another one in Havana is crouched down with one hand to her ear and the other stretched out in the universal “hang on a second” gesture, as if she hears some sort of tumult brewing underground. Then there’s this Victorian cemetery in the southern Cuban town of Cienfuegos that is just stuffed to bursting with angels. It’s a Victorian taphophile’s fantasy.

Then of course there are the wonderful eighteenth- and very early nineteenth-century carvings for which New England churchyards are so well known, and which are to be found in old Southern port towns as well. The carvings on these stones often feature depraved death’s heads framed by sickles, or alarmed-looking angel faces with wings sprouting right out where their ears should be. Sometimes there are even portraits of the deceased. My favorite examples of portraiture in this style are found in Charleston, South Carolina, at Circular Congregational Church. They’re slightly cartoonish in a half-creepy but also quite endearing way that reminds me a lot of the medieval Lewis Chessmen.

Much as I love the Victoriana and the colonial and early post-Revolutionary tombstone art, my very favorite grave markers are often the most rudimentary. Whether carved with a chisel into a piece of sandstone two hundred years ago, or with a stick in wet concrete in the 1970s, the markers that appeal to me most are the homemade stones, inscribed with halting, eccentrically spaced, sometimes backwards letters, and vernacular spelling, and perhaps a bit of spare decoration like a simple flower or star. Markers like this were made by people who didn’t have the means to buy their loved ones elaborate, professionally made gravestones, so they made do with what they had, both in terms of materials and literacy. These to me are the most emotionally affecting, because they’re really the proverbial labors of love.
Do you think the type of grave decorations you encounter are more prevalent in the South? If so, why do you think that?

In some cases they are; in other cases they are to be found more widely, or, conversely, only very locally.  There is a lot about funerary art in the South that traces back to African cultures. The most classic example of African American grave decoration is broken crockery or other objects owned by the deceased. I very often see burial sites at which the deceased’s loved ones have left objects that belonged to him or her. I find it hard to tell whether broken objects left on graves were broken intentionally for symbolic purposes, or if they have been subsequently broken by vandals or exposure to the elements. More often than not, the objects I see are not broken at all, but I think that this can still be viewed as a part of the same tradition. Recently, in an African American churchyard in South Carolina, I photographed a grave on which there were several pairs of sunglasses. (I can’t speak for the people who left them there as to what the significance was for them—I presume the man buried there was known for liking to wear sunglasses—but it made me think of the Southern religious songs that refer to death with the metaphor of turning one’s face to the sun, and of an old song that goes, “Lights in the graveyard, outshine the sun.”) I also see tools of the deceased people’s trades left on their graves. For example, in Warren County, North Carolina, in the eastern Piedmont near the Virginia line, there is a very deep tradition of African American brick masonry. In that county, you can see graves decorated with bricks and trowels. It’s also traditional in African American communities, especially along the coast, to decorate graves with seashells. Most often I see conch shells placed on top of gravestones or on the ground next to them. It says a lot about diversity of influences in Southern culture that these burial traditions that are believed to originate in Africa are also to be found in white and American Indian graveyards. In earlier generations, and to some extent today, people of different races were usually buried in different cemeteries, and it’s generally easy to tell if a particular burying ground is white, black, or Indian. But the kinds of decoration won’t always tell you the community’s race, because our funerary traditions influence each other so thoroughly.

What's the most interesting thing you've come across when recording folk funeraria?

Everything about it interests me, but among my favorite things to document are gravestone inscriptions that reflect the way local people speak. My favorite example of this is a headstone in the eastern North Carolina tobacco town of Kinston. In Kinston, like in many Southern towns, the old municipal cemetery is segregated; in this case, the black burying ground is across Lincoln Street from the larger white section. On the African American side is an elaborately carved stone depicting the gates of heaven flung open—it’s a very distinctive design that I’ve seen on several stones there in Lenoir County, all clearly made by the same carver. Near the bottom, just above the grass-line, it reads, “NOW SHE REST IN PEACE.” Grammatically, that’s the way many rural and small-town Southerners, especially African Americans, would say that sentence aloud.

Do you have any interest in wider Southern folklore?

Indeed! All of my professional life, and much of my personal life, revolves around Southern folklore. I received my MA in folklore at the University of North Carolina, after completing a BA in American Studies with a heavy concentration in folklore at George Washington University in Washington, DC. I work as a freelance folklorist and oral historian, and have the good fortune to do folklife fieldwork and writing for such organizations as the North Carolina Folklife Institute, the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum, South Carolina Arts Commission, North Carolina Arts Council, and Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. My husband and I are traditional fiddlers and spend much of our time listening to old-time music, and we both work for the Old-Time Herald, a magazine about old-time Southern string band music. (My husband, who’s a native of New England, has taken beautiful photographs of old gravestones over the years, and oddly enough it wasn’t until after we began to live together that we realized we had that shared interest.)

For your readers who are interested in the funerary art of the American South, there are a lot of great resources. A couple of particularly nice websites, with a lot of photos, are John and Retta Waggoner’s, and Tom Kunesh’s Slot-and-Tab Tombs at (The latter has a good bibliography for Tennessee and Georgia gravestone studies.) There are also a lot of good books on the subject. Two wonderful recent titles are Dan Patterson’s The True Image: Gravestone Art and the Culture of Scotch Irish Settlers in the Pennsylvania and Carolina Backcountry, and Alan and Karen Jabbour’s Decoration Day in the Mountains: Traditions of Cemetery Decoration in the Southern Appalachians.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

You should totally be reading Believe In Fairy Stories

It makes me really happy when a new folklore blog pops up onto the scene, which is why I want to shout from the rooftops how much I love Believe In Fairy Stories.

I had the pleasure of finding this blog after discovering the author, Jodie, was linking to Midnight Folklore (thanks Jodie!). Man, was I excited when I stumbled across this gem.

Jodie's been running it since February and already she's got some really great posts for you to have a gander at, including this recent one about The Treasure of Callow Pit which used my favourite book The Lore of the Land as a resource. She also wrote a great post about tattoo folklore, which is something that I hadn't even considered until I read it.

Also, to top off all the awesomeness, Jodie is in fact part mermaid with damn cool hair.

Friday, 15 February 2013

The "Most Haunted Places in the World"

 Gateway Homes have created a world map covering some of the most haunted places in the world. There's some nice folklore in here, though I'm certainly not a believer in ghosts. Still - a really nice design.

Created by Gateway Homes

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

My Northern Earth magazines arrived

Last week I subscribed to an interesting-looking periodical that looked right up my street. Northern Earth is a magazine about folklore and geographical phenomena. While I don't subscribe to the idea of leylines, dowsing and other pseudoscience, Northern Earth does look very folklore-oriented, so I'm excited to get my teeth into it.

Visit to learn more.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Meet Isobel, queen of the fairies

"One thing that I had never found satisfactory during my web search was how to make a head and face for my fairy," says Isobel Adams, a writer who last year took up an unusual hobby. Isobel makes fairies - beautiful little creations sporting vibrant, natural colours and names like Faith and Fable.

"A fairy, according to folklore, is a magical spirit who exists in likeness to a flower, insect, or other small creature. She is a problem solver, helper, fixer, and protector of nature," explains Isobel.

"Ever since I was a child, I was fascinated by the diminutive. Miniature villages, models, dollhouses, and...yes...fairies, always drew my full attention which, if you knew me, you would know that is difficult to do. There was something so, might I say, magical about a world so small and all the little people, or creatures, that may live in it."

Her love of crafting these little creatures spun out of thinking about a gift for her friend: "She is a very creative, artistic friend who is intrigued by the mystical. I didn't want to give her something ordinary and I decided to research making fairies. As I made hers I found that it was a very enjoyable process, one that I didn't mind spending hours doing."

Flora was her first. Her hair is a shock of red and plaited and a collar designed to look like autumn leaves surrounds her tiny neck.

Flora - the first fairy

But the floodgates had opened and Isobel began making more fairies for her friends. Following a tradition of naming her creations with an 'F' name, Felicia, Fable and Faith were born.

"Felicia and Fable were also created as gifts for friends and were made during my time at my cottage by the lake; a perfect place for creating fairies. Felicia was my first blond fairy. The friend she was going to is also blond. I think she could also be called my Summer Fairy," says Isobel.

"I thought Fable was kind of cute sitting there on the mossy stump holding her acorn out as a gift. Faith was made with someone in mind but ended up going to someone else which turned out for the better."

But the queen of the fairies was becoming more ambitious, wanting to move away from the simple faces her fairies up to now had been given: "Autumn Fairy was my last creation and my goal with her was to improve the features of the fairies' faces. I didn't like the simplistic, almost childlike, look on the earlier ones. I was pleased with the way she turned out and hope that my future fairies will be even more improved."

Isobel took inspiration from well-known doll makers, deciding that to make her fairies more visually appealing she would give them larger eyes and more symmetry - the traditional hallmarks of beauty. In practise this consisted of creating larger eye cavities, shaping a more heart-shaped head and using a new colour palette.

"I pulled out a bunch of different items to apply colour, one of them being simple crayons. I started by adding a light pink crayon to her cheeks and was delighted by the result. Then I started adding more definition and colours to the eyes, eyebrows and lips. I also got a simple black in ballpoint pen and outlined the iris and lips. Finally, every fairy needs some sparkle and glitter glue is a lot of fun and adds so much to the eyes."

Autumn Fairy
Isobel has also dabbled in another enigmatic creature of folklore: the mermaid. "The mermaid, which as of yet remains nameless, was created because I found the gorgeous multi-coloured yarn which reminded me of the sea. I wanted to try something different and she is the result. I would like to try more mermaids in the future. Being a Pisces, I can't ignore the mystical water "fairies"."

But her next project is firmly back in familiar, diminutive territory: " I think it's only appropriate that I make a Winter Fairy since we are in the middle of a deep freeze in Canada."

Now her daughter helps her create fairies, an art that perhaps will run on for generations. In essence, in the creation of Flora, Isobel has possibly started something that will last for a long, long time - a skill that can be passed on to others, and in the end, isn't that what folklore is all about?

Thanks to Isobel Adams for sharing her creations. You can learn more about them at her blog Flora Fairies and Mermaids

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Saint Blaise - throat doctor and wolf whisperer

Today is the Feast of St Blaise in the Roman Catholic calender, notable for a tradition known as the Blessing of the Throats. In this ritual two candles are consecrated with prayer, crossed and held against the congregation's throats while the following words are spoken:

"Through the intercession of St. Blaise, may God preserve you from throat troubles and every other evil."

Weirdly specific, right? The earliest reference we have of St Blaise is from the medical writings of court physician Aëtius Amidenus at the beginning of the 6th century where he was invoked for objects lodged in throats. Apparently before he died he witnessed a wolf eating a pig. He told the wolf to release the delicious swine and it obeyed. The owner gave the pig to the starving Blaise but later he would be tortured and killed, dying in 316AD.

E.H Vollet writes about the acts of the saint in the Grande Encyclopédie (1886-1902):

"Blaise, who had studied philosophy in his youth, was a doctor in Sebaste in Armenia, the city of his birth, who exercised his art with miraculous ability, good-will, and piety. When the bishop of the city died, he was chosen to succeed him, with the acclamation of all the people. His holiness was manifest through many miracles: from all around, people came to him to find cures for their spirit and their body; even wild animals came in herds to receive his blessing. In 316, Agricola, the governor of Cappadocia and of Lesser Armenia, having arrived in Sebastia at the order of the emperor Licinius to kill the Christians, arrested the bishop. As he was being led to prison, a mother set her only son, choking to death of a fish-bone, at his feet, and the child was cured straight away. Regardless, the governor, unable to make Blaise renounce his faith, beat him with a stick, ripped his flesh with iron combs, and beheaded him."

The village of St. Blazey in Cornwall is named after Blaise and he's also the patron saint of Dubrovnik in Croatia. In Dubrovnik the supposed body parts of St Blaise are paraded through the streets, including a piece of bone from his throat, his head and his hands.

When depicted, Blaise is often shown with the devices used to torture him: steel combs. In fact, because of the similarities to wool combs, Blaise has become the patron saint of the wool trade. Now that's a leap.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

You think rugby's rough? Check out Jedburgh hand ball [video]

It's a game that's played every 2nd February in the town of Jedburgh, Scotland. Two teams made up of people from two sides of the town face off against each other in a ball game where the goal is to get the baseball sized ball to a certain place in the town.

According to legend, the first game was played after a battle against the English and the ball used was an English soldier's head.

Now that's brutal.

Vittra is Evil Dead meets Scandinavian folklore, gorehounds rejoice

Vittra, or Wither in English, is an upcoming horror film that looks like it owes just a little debt to The Evil Dead, which is also seeing a reboot this year.

But interestingly, Vittra is based on a type of wight that can be found in Scandinavian folklore, a spirit that lives underground, hidden from the realm of human beings. However, if disturbed it is said that the vittra can become ferocious and even kill people by orchestrating 'accidents'.

From the trailer, Vittra essentially looks like a zombie flick, but according to filmmakers Tommy Wiklund and Sonny Laguna, the movie's supposed to be a love letter to old school horror and a reaction to recent self-deprecating horror films like Cabin in the Woods.

"I hate Cabin in the Woods. Scream, however, might be silly but it's clever as it has a valid point about a psychopath being able to copy horror movie plots in real life," said Laguna in an interview with Swedish news site The Local.

Personally, I thought Cabin in the Woods was a pretty clever and loving send-up to the genre and Vittra looks a bit unoriginal, but that's not going to stop me from watching it.

You can check out the trailer below (warning: it's pretty gory).

In the interview, the filmmakers refer to old Swedish maps which still mark some paths as 'vitterstråk', or 'wither trails' where people avoid building houses in fear of disturbing the creatures.

It is said that by respecting the vittra by saying "look out" when pouring out hot water and urinating, warning them to get out of the way.

While the film doesn't look like it's going to be an accurate representation of the folk creature (whatever accurate means in folklore) it still looks worth a watch.

It's Groundhog Day, one of the weirdest prediction events in the folklore calender

Today in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, USA, the largest Groundhog Day celebration will  be underway as the announcement of the coming spring season rests on the shadow of a furry little rodent.

Folklore is full of weird predictive traditions, but few rival the strange practice of watching a groundhog emerge from its burrow to see whether it will see its shadow or not. 

It is said that if it's a cloudy day and it doesn't spot its shadow then there will be an early spring, but should the little critter spy its shadow then there will be six more weeks of winter. 

This prognostication ritual stems from European weather lore, where a badger or bear was the one doing the predicting, but also from Imbolc, an ancient Irish pagan festival that celebrated the coming of the new season, and Candlemas, a feast day on the 2nd February. The latter celebration was a result of the Christianisation of the Celtic traditions and brought along with it a prognostication rhyme:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

In the diary of James Morris, a Pennsylvanian man, dated February 4, 1841, one of the earliest recorded instances of Groundhog Day can be seen:

Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.

But just how accurate are the rodent's predictions? Well, predictably, not very. While the organisers of Groundhog Day celebrations say that it's correct 75% to 90% of the time, a study into weather patterns and predictions over 30-40 years has found that the groundhog is only 37% correct. When you consider 33% is chance, it's not particularly significant.

Nevertheless, Groundhog Days is a great excuse to get together and have some fun. In Pennsylvania, they have a custom known as Fersommlinge, a German tradition where speeches are made, food is served and plays are performed. An additional quirk to this custom states that only the Pennsylvanian German dialect can be spoken during the festivities, and those who speak English must put money into the centre of the table.

In Groundhog Day, we see yet another example of how traditions from the world over can become amalgamated into something brand new. What was originally a celtic tradition became a European one and in turn an American one, evolving along the way. 

But now I leave you with the true purpose of Groundhog Day.