Saturday, 30 November 2013


Fairyland is generallly believed to be a beautiful place where perpetual summer reigned. Gervase of Tilbury tells how a Derbyshire swineherd followed a sow through a cave and came to a country where all were reaping, though the Derbyshire hills were covered in snow. Sometimes this fairy land was lit by supernatural means, no sun or moon being visible.
In a Cornish folktale, a young woman called Cherry from Zennor, takes service with an unknown gentleman who brings her to an underground country lit by a strange and lovely light. Here she has to tend a little boy and it is not until she rubs some of his ointment on her own eyes that she realises she is in faerieland. As soon as her master knows that she can see him as he really is he transports her back to Cornwall, leaving her on the exact spot where they first met. And she is never again able to find her way to his house.
Numerous stories tell of people who have danced with the faeries for they thought was just a few hours and in fact was a year and a day. Two men met the faeries in a lonely place; one joined in with their dance but the other returned home. When his friend did not appear, he was accused of murder but managed to stave off arrest until a year and a day after meeting the faeries. He escaped taking a knife with and headed back to the place where they met the faeries. There he saw his friend dancing tirelessly in the faerie circle. He flung his knife into the ring seized his friend and manged to drag him away. His friend was astonished to hear what had happened, as he though he had only been dancing for a couple of hours.
A more tragic tale is that of King Herla who was invited to the wedding of the faerie King. Herla and his men attended the magnificent feast held in the palace which was entered through a cave. After three days of feasting Herla prepared to leave for home. The Faerie King gave him a small hound and warned him that none of his company must alight from their horses until the hound leaps to the ground. When Herla reached his home he found everything changed, old landmarks had changed, the people spoke a strange language and his family and friends were not to be found. He asked a shepherd for news of his Queen and the man replied that he knew nothing of her except that two hundred years ago there was Queen of that name whose husband had disappeared and never seen again. In the meantime the Saxons had invaded Britain and were now the rulers of the country. The three days in faerieland had been three hundred years on earth and the world that Herla knew had vanished. At this terrible news some of his men leapt from their horses and were immediately turned to dust. The rest with the King at their head wandered hopelessly through the land seeking refuge. Some say that they can still be met riding over the hills, but according to Walter Map they all plunged into the River Wye and perished in the reign of Henry II.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Folklore of Mistletoe

Mistletoe is one of the most popular plants for decorating the house at Christmas along with Holly and Ivy, and apart from been used as a decoration the plant has  healing properties as well.

This is an excerpt from 'Faerie Flora'
The mistletoe that grows on the oak was sacred to the ancient Celts. it would be cut on the sixth night of the new moon at midsummer and the winter solstice by white robed priests. Using a golden sickle or knife the plant would fall into a cloth held by members of the order, taking care that the sacred plant did not touch the ground. Traditionally two white bulls would be sacrificed at the same time.
Sprigs of mistletoe would be distributed for the protection of homes against thunder and lightening.
The plant was considered to be one of the most magical as the Celts believed that it bestowed life and fertility and the white berries contained the sperm of the gods.

Decorating the home with mistletoe is an important part of the Christmas festivities; this is a survival of the Druid traditions, but the 'kissing under the mistletoe' has its origins in the Greek festivals Saturnalia, which is usually held during the Yule season to celebrate the birth of Saturn.
One berry is removed with each kiss until none remain; any young girl standing underneath a bunch of mistletoe could not refuse to be kissed otherwise she would not be married in the following year. In some parts of England it is customary to burn the mistletoe on the twelfth night, otherwise all the young people who had kissed beneath the mistletoe would never marry.
In Worcestershire kissing bunches were kept hanging from the beams all year until replaced by new ones at Christmas. The old bunches were then burnt, a steady flame indicates a faithful husband and a spluttering flame an irritable one!
In times past Mistletoe was forbidden in churches as it was seen as a heathen plant; but at on time in York cathedral it received full honours. It was ceremonially carried to the high altar on Christmas Eve after which a universal pardon and liberty for all was proclaimed at the four gates of the city for as long as the branch lay on the alter.
The mistletoe  is known as the plant of peace; especially to the Scandinavians it is sacred. This has its origins in the legend of Freya/ Frigga the Goddess of beauty, love and marriage. Frigga was the wife of Odin. Legends tell that when she shook out her bedding snow would fall to earth. She was also the goddess of divination and she forsaw the death of her son Baldur.  He was shot by a dart made of mistletoe and died, for three day every element of the earth, air fire and water tried to revive him. But it was Frigga who managed to restore him to life, her tears of joy turned into the white berries of the mistletoe. And for ever after warring factions would make peace under a branch of mistletoe.
The practice of this strange custom in York using the plant makes sense when you realise   the city was for nearly a hundred years the capital of the Scandinavian  Kingdom founded by Halfdan in 875.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Cristmas tree

Have you set up your Christmas Tree yet? I haven't, I resist until a couple of weeks before the big day.
Then I crawl into the attic and try and find the boxes of ornaments that have disappeared under a year's
worth of clutter, and why do the wires of the fairy lights always get tangled?
But never;s a bit of waffle about Christmas trees!
The traditional decoration in England was always the Yule Log, the earliest mention of a  Christmas Tree was in 1829. There is a note in Grevilles Diary in which he describes three little Christmas trees he saw at Pashanger. Princess Lieven was apparently responsible for this spectacle, 'as is customary in Germany.'
Prince Albert is usually credited with the introduction of Christmas Trees, starting the custom at Windsor in 1841, although George III's  wife Queen Charlotte introduced a Christmas tree at a party she gave for children in 1800;but the custom did not at first spread much beyond the royal family. Queen Victoria as a child was familiar with the custom and a tree was placed in her room every Christmas. In her journal for Christmas Eve 1832, the delighted 13-year-old princess wrote, "After dinner... we then went into the drawing-room near the dining-room... There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed round the trees.
After her marriage to her German cousin Prince Albert by 1841 the custom became even more widespread throughout Britain.    In 1847, Prince Albert wrote: "I must now seek in the children an echo of what Ernest [his brother] and I were in the old time, of what we felt and thought; and their delight in the Christmas-trees is not less than ours used to be". In 1848 The Illustrated London News described the trees in Windsor Castle in detail and showed the main tree, surrounded by the royal family, on its cover. In fewer than ten years their use in better-off homes was widespread. By 1856 a northern provincial newspaper contained an advert alluding casually to them, as well as reporting the accidental death of a woman in Somerset, whose dress caught fire as she lit the tapers on a Christmas tree. They had not yet spread down the social scale however, as a report from Berlin in 1858 contrasts the situation there where "Every family has its own" with that of Britain, where Christmas trees were still the preserve of the wealthy or the "romantic".
A Saints Day particularly associated with Christmas is St Thomas's Day 21st Dec, although he has no particular association with the day itself it is the Winter Solstice.
'St Thomas Grey, St Thomas Grey
Longest night and shortest day'
Uptil until the second world war women went a 'Thomassing' or  'agooding' going from house to house to beg for wheat to make Christmas cakes and bread. Each householder was obliged to hand over a pint of wheat which was then taken to the village mill to be ground into flour without charge. In return for the donation of grain a sprig of holly or mistletoe would be given. In Staffordshire the clergyman also gave the women each a shilling and in some parishes a collection was taken in Church and called St Thomases Dole.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013


Mumming was also popular around Christmas time especially on Christmas Eve. Popular throughout the country and usually enacted simple stories such as King George who usually kills the Turkish Knight or the King of Egypt or some such villain. St George was the original hero but then appeared as King George, probably influenced by the reigns of the four Georges. He was usually responsible for the death of another character, usually the comic relief, but all was well at the end when a Doctor would appear and restore life to all the characters in the play.
The mummers usually followed this simple ethos of good triumphing over evil or it was the rebirth of spring at the beginning of the year. Originally pagan in origin this has been performed for at least eight hundred years and is now the only example of pre- reformation folk drama left in this country.
The Troupe of  Mummers would walk around the district visiting various houses along the way and performing in their play in the kitchen or hall of the residence, probably imbibing many pints of cider and beer along the way. So by the end of the evening many of the verses and songs would have been rather rude!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Christmas customs now long gone

There was a custom in Gloucestershire that as part of the Wassailers at Christmas they would be accompanied by a man wearing a sack with his head thrust into the hollowed out head of a bull.
" The Bull, shaggy head with horns complete, shaggy coat and eyes of glass, was wont to appear, uninvited, at any Christmas festivities. None knew when he might or might not appear. He was given the freedom of every house and allowed to penetrate  into any room, escorted by his keeper. The whole company would flee before his formidable horns, the more so as towards the end of the evening, neither  the Bull nor his keeper could be certified as strictly sober. The Christmas Bull is now obsolete, but up to forty years ago, he was recognised custom."
 note this was written about the time of the second world war.
'Dorset up along and Down along'
With the onset of the war many customs such as these were put to one side; however once peace reigned they were never resurrected, mores the pity!
Another similar custom was the Hoddening Horse, although  he did not invade houses in quite the same manner he toured the villages with a band of young men and boys, prancing in front of open doorways. He was covered in a white sheet and wore a horses head whose jaws snapped ferociously open and shut on hinges. This was a winter custom, taking place around Christmas in some districts and All Hallows Eve in others.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Ivy Faerie: available as cards or prints, ideal for the festive season!

Apart from being one of the plants brought in for the Christmas decorations the ivy has some interesting folklore surrounding it.
This is taken from my book Faerie Flora;
"This plant brings good luck, fun and happiness, and growing some over the outside wall of your house will deter misfortune.
If you have a house plant of ivy and it dies this might signify that financial problems may be looming.
Ivy is the symbol of fidelity and it used to be customary to hand a wreath of ivy leaves to newly weds. The bridesmaids would also carry some mixed in with their bouquets as it was believed to aid fertility and bring good luck. Wands entwined with ivy are still used in nature fertility rites and in spells for love magic.
For a woman to dream of her future husband she must collect some leaves and recite the following:
Ivy Ivy I love you
In my bosom I put you 
The first young man who speaks to me
My future husband he shall be"

We decorate our houses with greenery at Christmas as did our Roman and Teutonic predecessors as part of their winter festivals.
In some areas it is believed to unlucky to bring Holly and Ivy in before Christmas Eve and all the boughs must be taken down before Twelfth Night.
Faeries and goblins come in with the greenery to shelter against the winter cold; in return for this they would behave and cause no mischief. This is why the boughs must be removed otherwise the more malicious kinds of faeries will be encouraged to stay.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The festive season is fast approaching

Christmas seems to be getting earlier every year, I saw Christmas cards etc for sale in our local supermarket as early as September this year. The trouble with this, it is such a big build up by the time Christmas Day has arrived everybody just wants it over! Just mention 'Christmas' and everybody groans!
This isn't how it should be, we seem to have forgotten that it is a season of joy not just for buying socks and dodgy jumpers.
So I am going to waffle on about old traditions associated with the festive season for the next few weeks to try and get myself in the mood, even seeing the Cocacola ad didn't help!
Well, I haven't made my Christmas cake or pud yet and November is the traditional time for this, apparently.
It was always a tradition in our house to stir the mix for the cake and have a wish, this is usually done with the pudding mix tho. The traditional threepennybit, the ring, thimble and other charms put in to the puddings are auguries of the future; the thimble for the predestined old maid, the ring for those who are to be married within the year and so on. Bearing a flaming pudding into the dining room harks back to the old fire festival of Yule. This festival sprang from the Scandinavian Yule, from which many of our older Christmas customs come from, this was a sun festival when the Yule log was lit once again.
And the mince pies are supposed to remind us of the spices brought by the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem. To eat twelve mince pies between Christmas and Twelfth Night ensures twelve happy months in the coming year. The amount of mince pies consumed over Christmas in our house will probably ensure a decade, at least, of good fortune!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

mermaids monsters and other fishy tails..

Well, I am six months into my new illustrated book about Mermaids; what a fascinating subject!
There are so many subdivisions of mermaids not counting all the water spirits, water monsters, bog spirits, selkies, noks nacks, hoopies etc.
I have to include all of these of course as they are so much a part of the folklore of the country, I think it is only right that I try and cover as many of the watery folk as possible.
Take the Tiddy Mun for example; has anybody outside of Cambridgeshire heard of this one I wonder?
He is a bog spirit that inhabits the fenland of east anglia and controls the flood waters of the area. He was greatly angered when the Dutch came over to assist with the draining of the fens and brought down a plague on the cattle and the children of the area. He was only appeased when the people apologized and gave offerings of water and beer to him.
So any suggestions on little known watery beasties will be greatly appreciated!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Happy Halloween!

The Night of the Dead when the ghosts of all our departed revisit the earth. And a time when all the witches and evil spirits are abroad.
Light bonfires on hilltops to ward off evil spirits and bang pots and pans loudly all around the village to scare away evil spirits.

Hey how for Hallow E'en
A' the witches tae be seen
Some in black and some in green
Hey how for Hallow E'en
As you can see this is a bit late.... but family commitments made it impossible for me to finish so ho hum I will finish now and go on to All Souls Day or Soulmass, 2nd Nov.
This is the day when the dead are especially prayed for
Tindle bonfires burn to light souls out of purgatory, in Lancashire huge fire were built on the hills all around the horizon on Halloween and the next day burning faggots carried around the fields. Blazing masses of straw were carried to high ground and thrown into the air. While the burning embers fell all present would knelt and prayed for their departed relatives and friends. The name Purgatory Field still clings to some of the places where this rite was held.
Soul cakes are given to visitors to the house, a big batch would have been made for this purpose. The gift of cakes was originally intended for the souls in Purgatory who needed human help because they could no longer help themselves. In the early 1900's it used to be the soulers used to adults but it became more common for the children to do the honours.
In Cheshire and Shropshire  the children would go from house to house singing the traditional song;
Soul! Soul! for a soul cake!
I pray you, good missis, a soul cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry,
Or any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for them that made us all.
If no soul cakes are forthcoming sweets and coins can be given instead.