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.

Site re-design

Visitors may have noticed that I've shuffled some furniture around the blog and that things are now more airy and spacious. I hope the new look and the implementation of tabs at the top will make Midnight Folklore a better resource for readers.

I'm always on the lookout for improvements, so if you have any suggestions do let me know.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Jack and the Beanstalk animated story

Jack and the Beanstalk is one of the most beloved of all English folk tales and it's constantly undergoing re-invention, the most recent being the upcoming film Jack the Giant Killer.

Bed company Time4Sleep have gone right back to the roots of the tale with a fantastic animated story - perfect for showing your kids or even learning about the story for the first time.

You can watch/read it here.