Saturday, 31 December 2016

The traditions of Hogmanay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 29 December 2016

The fabric of magic is woven into our existence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Folklore Now returns for 2017

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

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

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