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.