Folklore and Mythology

The current topic is other world beings looking at giants in British mythology and folklore.

Remotely for July possibly Scout & Guide HQ from September
3rd Monday in the month (from July 2021)
10:00 whilst held remotely, 09:45 at Scout & Guide HQ
  • Leader: June Jones - 01695 726696

This is an interactive group where input is welcome.  Each session is 2 hours long and includes a short comfort break.

2021  Meeting Dates:

Monday 19th July – Remotely 10:00

Monday 16th August – No session

Monday 20th September – at Scout & Guide HQ 09:45

Note sessions may be restarted at the Scout and Guide Hut from September 2021 at 09:45.

If you would like to be involved, please contact June Jones.

New members are always welcome, so if you are interested, please contact the Leader.

21 June 2021- Giants in British Folklore and Mythology contd

The meeting continued looking at how giants connect to the natural world and feature in the landscape in British folklore.

The Role of the Giants in Folklore:-

1/.  So far in the topic the giants we have looked at have been relatively benign and involved in engineering type projects, providing an explanation for the landscape and large buildings or structures.

We recapped Wade’s Causeway, North Yorkshire:- constructed by Wade and his wife Bel.

Churches at Putney & Fulham, London, were built by two giantess sisters who only had one hammer so threw it across the river which according to vulgar tradition was the source of the place names, they called out instructions to each other ‘put it nigh’ and heave it ‘full home’ when they wanted the hammer.

The Wrekin, Shropshire:-

(a) created by two quarrelling giants

(b) created by a Welsh giant who intended to destroy Shrewsbury but was outsmarted by a cobbler who met him on his way to do the deed.  The cobbler had with him a large number of worn out shoes in need of repair and told the giant he had worn  them out walking from Shrewsbury and it was too far for the giant to get to.  The Wrekin is the large shovelful of earth the giant was carrying to dump on Shrewsbury and left behind when he abandoned his trip.  There a lot of tales of cobblers and tailors outsmarting giants.

2/. Some tales of giants have origins in real people and the tales grew over time, they were larger than life characters

Llowes, Powys:- the castle at Hay-on-Wye was built by a giantess called Moll Walbee.  Matilda/Maud de St Valery:- the real life counterpart of Moll Walbee; married to William de Braose who built Colwyn Castle and Painscastle in the time of King John.   She was a very shrewd woman who successfully defended Painscastle against the Welsh.  She features in Welsh folktales as a giantess and her husband a giant.

Piers Shonks:- in real life the Lord of the Manors of Brent Pelham & Barkway in Hertfordshire; according to folktales (a) he was a giant (b) he killed a dragon.

Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke:- possibly the real life counterpart of Jack o’Legs , a giant who was said to live at Weston, Hertfordshire.

3/.  Some giants were not so well respected or benign

St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall:- a giant stole the people’s cattle, sheep & hogs, the giant would wade across the causeway and seize them and tie them round his waist.

Portreath & Godrevy Point, Cornwall:- a giant called Wrath captured and ate fisherman and sank ships.  He lived in the sea.

Blackgang Chine, Isle of Wight:- a giant named Chale captured, roasted children over a charcoal fire and ate them.  This continued until both he and the Chine were cursed by a holy man.   There is no giant there now but it remains a forbidding place.

Nether Stowey & Stogursey, Somerset:- giants who lived under a huge mound of earth terrorised the local people, grabbed cows and the like and then developed a taste for human flesh.  They were eventually overcome but people were always wary of the area, a dangerous place to be around.  It is suggested that these sort of tales were harking back to creation mythology; chaos and destruction being overcome.

3/.  Heroes and Giants

These tales go all the way back to Babylonian myths, Odysseus and the cyclops etc.  It can be traced into folktales but on a more modest scale.

Jack:- killed the giant who lived on St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall by digging a pit, a stone was put over the hole.  The giant stood on the stone and fell into the pit.  There are a lot of stories of Jack the giant killer.

Sir Bevis of Hamtoun (Southampton):- according to a C13th romance killed a dragon and fought a giant. He spared the giant’s life and accepted him as his servant. In some accounts, Sir Bevis was a giant himself.  This tale includes a horse called Arundel, which may have originally been Hirondelle which was a popular name for heroes horses.

Tom Hickathrift:- an enormous man who killed the giant who lived on the Smeeth at Tilney, Norfolk.  There is an enormous stone in the church yard reputed to be his grave.  He was dull and lazy at school, grew to a great height, he was 6ft tall when he was 10 years old and ate five normal children’s food.  When he grew up, he took a job in a local brewery transporting barrels of beer.  There was a giant in Smeeth who robbed and killed all who trespassed on the area.  Tom had to take a long detour to avoid him.  Being lazy he decided to take the direct route, ended up fighting and killing the giant.  The giant had lots of gold and silver so Tom was rich for the rest of his life.  This tale may have had its origins in the rights to land disputes.

Sir Guy of Warwick:- according to a C13th French romance, in Saxon times Sir Guy fought a giant called Colbrand who was the champion of a Danish force encamped at Winchester. Guy killed the giant and saved the people from the Danish threat.  He went to the Holy Land and was so affected by his experience  when he returned home he lived as a hermit and begged for food from his wife who did not recognise him.  She died not long after he did and they were buried in the same grave.

 

Next Session.  We shall complete the topic of giants and then move on to the Devil in Folktales

7 June 2021 – Giants in British Folklore and Mythology

The meeting considered how giants connect to the natural world and feature in the landscape in British mythology and folklore.   We started by looking at creation myths and then how they featured in folklore.

1/. The Role of Giants in Creation Mythology:-

1.1/. Irish Book of Invasions:-

We started by looking at Irish Celtic creation myths.  In Celtic myths the world has always been there but they do cover the first beings.  There are a number of written sources which have survived.  The book of Invasions is from 11 Century and uses earlier written and oral sources.  In these myths Ireland was invaded by a succession of races from the Otherworld.  Starting with the Race of Partholon, then the Nemedhians, the Fir Bholg, and then the Tuatha de Danaan. They all tamed and cultivated the land and fought the Formorii who were huge, evil deformed beings who lived in the air or under the sea.  It could be argued that the Formorii is the chaos in creation so fighting these giants is something to keep the universe safe.

1.2/. Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain”, 1136:-

It is assumed the Welsh myths are the same but no written records remain.  However the topic is covered in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain” which was written around 1136.  He made use of earlier transcripts and oral sources.

In his account the first humans were Trojans.  Britain was first settled by Brutus who was descended from Aeneas, Prince of Troy.  Brutus accidently killed his father and was expelled from Italy.  It had been prophesied that Brutus would settle on an island in the western sea inhabited only by giants.  After a long adventure he landed in Totnes.  Brutus drove out most of the giants who were living there, leaving only a few in Cornwall and divided the land between his followers.

Corineus was Brutus’ right-hand man who liked to fight giants for sport.  Brutus set up a fight with the Cornish giant Gogmagog.  During the fight Gogmagog broke three of Corneus’s ribs.  Corneus became enraged and picked up the giant, took him to the coast and threw him into the sea.  The sea was stained red with the giant’s blood and his body was broken into a thousand pieces.

This can be seen as part of the gods/heroes working against the forces of chaos so the land can be settled.

1.3/.  Germanic & Scandinavian Creation Mythology:-

These myths give a slightly different picture.  The universe has a definite beginning.

In the oldest myths the giants worked alongside the gods to create the universe.  The universe was created by the Sky God working with the giant Nokkvi, the helmsman to the moon as it sails across the sky.

The Sky God gave chariots to the giants Night and Day and sent them into the heavens to drive around the Earth.

Ymir the Giant was the first being, made from the meeting of fire and ice in a void.  He fathered the first of the Frost Giants and produced the first man and woman from the ooze under his left armpit.

Audumla the cow fed Ymir on her milk and licked Buri, the first of the gods, out of the ice.

Bor, the son of Buri, married the Frost Giantess Bestla and fathered the gods Odin, Villi & Ve with her.

Odin, Villi and Ve had no liking for Ymir and eventually attacked and killed him.  His blood drowned all but two of the giants who escaped on a boat on the flow of the blood, these giants constantly looked for revenge.  Ymir’s body made the world, his flesh made the soil, his bones the mountains, his blood the seas and the lakes and so on.

2/. The Role of the Giants in Folklore:-

The folklore mirrors earlier myths, some portray giants as being good and others as being bad.  They were generally big and strong and neutral towards humans, sometimes friendly and destructive by accident.  Figures of fun and the centre of amusing tales.

  • Norway, St Olaf entered into an agreement with a giant to build him a church, with the sun and the moon or St Olaf himself as payment if the giant completed the task according to the agreed terms.  St Olaf found out the name of the giant and called his name out to him which so surprised the giant he fell from the roof of the church and was smashed into pieces.  Knowing the name of something gives power over it.

A number of folklore tales involve giants in building projects and as explanations for things in the landscape.  There are lots of tales on this topic and there are lots of them from Cornwall.

  • In St Levan, Cornwall the Iron Age hill fort Treryn Dinas was built either by a giant who conjured it out of the sea, or by the giant Dan Dfynas and his wife An Venna.
  • At Carn Galva, Zennor, Cornwall a giant set up the famous logan (rocking) stone.  This was a nice giant who liked to build up a pile of rocks and then knock them down.  He fought other giants to protect Zennor.  He only killed a human once and that was by accident when he playfully tapped them on the head with his finger tip.  The giant died within 7 years with a broken heart.
  • In Mounts Bay, Cornwall the giant Cormoran and his wife built a stronghold.
  • Lerrin, Cornwall a linear defensive ditch is called the Giant’s Hedge.
  • St Agnes’ Beacon, Cornwall the Bolster Bank linear earthwork was reputed to be built by a giant called Bolster.
  • Norden Hill & Hanging Hill, Dorset were created as the result of a stone throwing contest between two giants.
  • Colwall, Herefordshire a stone by the crossroads was said to have been thrown there by a giant, however it was well known that it was brought from a quarry.
  • Kinver Edge, Staffordshire the stone known as the Bolt Stone was thrown by a jealous giant who had a beautiful wife and saw another giant kissing his wife and threw a long thin stone at the other giant, which is still there today.
  • At Turton, Lancashire the Hanging Stone was thrown from Winter Hill to Turton by a giant.
  • Wade’s Causeway in Yorkshire is a Roman road which linked four Roman camps.  It is said to have been built by a giant called Wade out of stones brought by his wife Bel in her leather apron.  The apron gave way and heaps of stones were left.

There are a number of reasons for the tales.  In some stories the real reason things were in the landscape was already well known and the tale told for amusement or entertainment.  In some cases the knowledge may have been lost and made up by less educated local people.  Others hold echoes of past mythology.

Next time we shall look at more tales of giant, some not well disposed to humans.

17 May 2021 – Otherworld Folklore Creatures Associated with Water

The session completed the topic looking at Seal People (Selkies), Sea Trows, Water Cattle and Kelpies.

1/.   Seal people’s (Selkies):-

In tales from the West of Ireland and Scotland their normal environment is the sea, they can shed their skin and take on human form.  This happens at dawn and dusk and on special days.

People used to claim they were descended from Selkies who bred with human men whilst in their human form.

One tale was of a young crofter/fisherman who saw a Selkie in the act of turning into a woman, he stole her skin so she could not revert and go back to the sea.  He took her home to be his wife and they lived together and had children.  She always wanted to return to the sea and one day found the skin the young man had left and went back to the sea and was never seen again.

There was another tale of the Selkie Bride from long ago on the coast of Scotland where a beautiful human form Selkie was left behind by her own kind when they were startled by a man.  He kept her skin even though she begged for it as he had fallen in love with her.  She was trapped and had no option but to agree to live with him.  He kept the skin in a crook in the chimney.  They were married and he truly loved her and she grew to love him too and they had 7 children.  She pined for the sea and the children would sometimes see their mother on the beach.  One of the children asked her why and she replied that she was born in the sea and your father has hidden my seal skin.  The child knew where the skin was and moved by his mother’s distress brought the skin to her.  She put the skin on and went into the sea.  The fisherman’s heart broke in two and he realised how wrong he had been.  They missed her for the rest of their lives, they often saw a seal close to the shore and they never went hungry as every time they went fishing, they had a net full of gleaming fish.

2/.  Sea Trows from Shetland:-

These looked like human beings, they were mortal and very beautiful men and women with super natural powers.  They lived in the sea down below any fish.  The only way they could come up was by putting on the skin of an amphibious creature, once on shore they could take the skin off but they could not return if they lost the skin.

Samuel Hibbert in his book ‘A Description of the Shetland Isles’ says these were fallen angels who took refuge in the sea but records show these stories were there before Christianity.

They were fond of the Skerries and would revel in the moonlight protected by the turbulent water around the islands.

There are connections to Celtic Mythology, from the other world, using water as a way to cross over and shape-shifting

3/.  Water Cattle:-

These are stories from the Celtic parts of Britain, Scotland, Wales and Coastal Ireland.  In the Highlands of Scotland and Wales they are fairy cattle whose real homes are under the water and belong to the fairy folk.  They are brown with no horns.  One tale was of a fairy cow which was bred with a normal bull.  When it had come to be of no further use they were about to butcher it when it was called home by a green woman, the cow sped away and took all her offspring with her.

4/.  Horses/Kelpies:-

Kelpies were most often horses but they could also take on human form.  Old men, young men, young women.  They would go courting and could be recognised by the waterweed in their hair.  They haunted fords and rivers especially at night in storms and when the rivers were full.  They were dangerous and malevolent beings.  They delighted in the drowning of men, distress of sailors as a ship went down.

The White Horse of Spey was ready saddled with reins dangling to lure tired travellers to ride it, then would gallop off into the water.

When the Conon River in Ross-shire was in flood it would appear as a woman or as a horse.  The woman was described as being very tall and dressed in green.  Her face was distorted by a malignant scowl.  They would leap out from the water beside travellers and beckon them into the water.  The traveller couldn’t resist and could not be saved.  One tale covers a man being saved from drowning and taken to a church but later found face down in a trough.  It was his fate.

Such was the belief in Kelpies that on one occasion some people were stuck on a sandbank in the Solway Firth and the people on land did not try to save them as they assumed it was kelpies and they could not be saved.

There were lots of these stories, with the majority resulting in mutilation with fingers being chopped off to loosen grip on reins in order to escape or drowning.  On occasion the Kelpie could be outwitted.

These stories were a way of explain natural phenomenon.

 

Next time we shall start a new topic of Giants.

19 April 2021- Otherworld Folklore Creatures Associated with Water

The session looked at mermaids and church bells and then other creatures.

1/.  Legends Concerning Mermaids & Church Bells:-

Examples

  • Llyn Cerig Bach, Anglesey:- around 140 Iron Age metal objects discovered in the lake in 1943
  • Llyn Fawr, Rhondda Valley:- Bronze & Iron Age metal objects found in the lake in 1911.
  • Bosham, Sussex:- church bell said to have been looted by the Vikings and then lost in the harbour.

These legends were common and may have had their origins in the old folklore of water spirits, goddesses.  They hark back to pagan beliefs and old religions.  The legends concerning church bells obviously come about with Christianity and are perhaps related to the struggles to get Christianity accepted.  Metal is linked to the old beliefs and church bells may be dim memories of offerings in the past.  Several the stories pick up on the theme of virtue and sin.  Although it is set within a Christian context a number of the stories involve wise men and pagan like rituals which must be strictly adhered to or they will fail.

2/. Sea-Living Mermaids:-

There are a lot of these stories.  They probably started as water spirits and had the mermaid label attached later, with Celtic mythology roots.  Water being the portal between this world and the other world.  They often had long blonde hair.  The sea living mermaids had a range of supernatural powers, some could shape change shift, if they married a human they became a human.  If the mermaid was treated well you would have good luck, if treated badly you would be cursed.  Human husbands would live with them for all eternity.  Some mermaids lived in the sea and also had farms on land.

We looked at a number of examples

  • Orkney Fin Folk:- human form but covered in scales instead of skin.
  • Lizzard Point, Cornwall:- in return for his kindness to her, a mermaid taught an old man from Cury the art of charming. She also offered to make him young again if he would go with her, but he declined.
  • Conwy, North Wales:- the town was cursed by a mermaid after the townspeople refused to help her.
  • Padstow, Cornwall:- a sandbank that blocked the harbour was the result of a mermaid’s curse.
  • Isle of Man:- the thick mists that often descended on the island where the result of a mermaid’s curse.
  • The Black Rock, Mersey Estuary:- a mermaid lured sailors to their doom.
  • Mermaid’s Rock, Lamorna, Cornwall:- a mermaid lured fishermen to their doom.
  • Zennor, Cornwall:- a mermaid lured a local man away to be her husband.

3/. Water Fairies:-

Some mermaids were called water fairies and there is a blurred line in their definition.  The water fairies also have their origins in water spirits, Celtic mythology and appear a lot in Welsh folklore.  These would have towns on the beds of lakes, involve magic, time passing at a different rate, aversion to iron.

We looked in detail at

The Fairies of the Mountain Lake:-

“The people who lived near to Beddgelert in Snowdonia used to watch the Fairies dancing in the moonlight on the shores of a certain mountain lake. One night a young man fell in love with one of the Fairy women and he took her off and locked her in his house. She agreed to act as his servant, and then she married him. They had two children and lived together happily for some years. Then one day, when she was helping her husband to catch a horse, an iron bit struck her on the shoulder, iron being anathema to all Fairy Folk, and in an instant she vanished. However, on the Fairies’ mountain lake there was a floating island that was blown about by the wind, and from time to time, the Fairy wife would appear in this island and she would talk to her husband while he stood on the shore.”  Janet & Colin Bord, “Atlas of Magical Britain”, 1990.

and at

The Lake Island in Llyn Cwm Llwych:-

“At the foot of Corn Du in the Brecon Beacons is the tiny lake of Llyn Cwm Llwych which is reputed to be bottomless. In ancient times, it was believed that there was a door in a rock which gave access to an island in the centre of the lake, which was invisible to those who stood on the shore. People who went to the island were hospitably received by the Fairies who lived there, but one day the Fairies were angry with a guest who took away a flower. They closed the door and for hundreds of years it could not be found.

One day some local people decided to drain the lake to see if the Fairies had left any treasure behind. They dug a deep trench and just when they had got to the point where another blow with the pick would have broken the bank and let out the water, there was a flash of lighting and a peal of thunder. From the lake rose a gigantic man, who warned them that if they disturbed his peace he would drown the valley of the River Usk, starting with Brecon town.”

and

The Poet Southey on the Subject of the Fairies’ Enchanted Island:-

“Of these islands or green spots of the floods, there are some singular superstitions. They are the abode of the Tylwth Teg, or the Fair Family….They love to visit the earth, and seizing a man enquire whether he will travel above wind, mid-wind, or below wind: above wind is a giddy and terrible passage, below wind is through brush and brake, the middle is a safe course…In their better moods they come and carry the Welsh in their boats. He who visits these islands imagines on his return that he has been absent only for a few hours, when in truth whole centuries have passed away.  If you take turf from St David’s churchyard and stand upon it on the sea shore, you behold these islands. A man once who thus obtained sight of them immediately put to sea to find them, but his search was in vain. He returned, looked at them again from the enchanted turf, again set sail and failed again. The third time he took the turf into his vessel and stood upon it until he reached them.”  Chris Barber, “Mysterious Wales”, 2000.

and

Wirt Sykes, “Goblins”, 1880:-

“Sailors on the coasts of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire still talk of green meadows of enchantment which are visible sometimes to the eyes of mortals, but only for a brief space of time. In former years, some sailors went ashore on the Fairy islands, not knowing they were such, until they returned to their boats and were filled with awe at seeing the islands disappear from their sight, neither sinking into the sea, nor floating away upon the waters but simply vanishing.”  Chris Barber, “Mysterious Wales, 2000.

 

Next time we shall continue with Seal People (Selkies) could shed their seal skins and assume human form, and Water Cattle/Kelpies

 

29 March 2021- Supernatural and Other World Beings

The session started looking at a selection of creatures associated with the natural world covering mermaids, water spirits, seal people, kelpies, all with watery connections.

Mermaids in Inland Water:-

By late C12th in western art the mermaid had acquired all her familiar features.  In western Christian imagery she was a symbol of lust & desire.

In British folklore, mermaids were associated with water, love, marriage, procreation , danger and also wisdom.

Examples looked at in the session were:-

Atargatis:- venerated in ancient Near East; associated with the River Euphrates; personified the light & aspects of love; by C2nd AD depicted as half woman/ half fish.

Aphrodite:- Greek goddess of love (Roman Venus); born from the foam of the sea: in Roman times depicted as rising from the sea holding a looking glass.

Sirens:- in Greek mythology lured sailors onto the rocks with their beguiling song; depicted as half woman/ half bird.

Child Ercall, Shropshire:- a mermaid guarded treasure at the bottom of her pool.

Rostherne Mere, Knutsford, Cheshire:- a mermaid swam from the River Mersey to the mere every Easter Sunday (by way of an underground channel) and rang a bell at the bottom of the mere.

Marden, Herefordshire:- a mermaid appropriated a church bell that fell into her river.

Black Mere, Staffordshire:- a mermaid lured unwary travellers to their deaths.

East Anglia:- mermaids haunted the fens and inland pools.

River Kinder, Derbyshire:- a mermaid with the gift of immortality appeared in a pool at dawn on Easter Day.

Loch Benachally, Tayside:- the Laird of Lornty escaped a mermaid in the loch.

Girvan Water, Strathclyde:- a mermaid cursed the Lord and Lady of Knockdolian.

Dalbeattie Burn, Galloway:- a mermaid took revenge on a Christian woman.

Monmouthshire:- Nicky Nicky Nye dragged unwary children into rivers.

Fordham, Cambridgeshire:- a mermaid dragged unwary children into her pond.

Rendlesham, Suffolk:- a mermaid dragged unwary children into her pond.

Lancashire, Cheshire, Shropshire:- Jenny Greenteeth dragged unwary children into weed-filled rivers, ponds, lakes.

Piercebridge, County Durham:- Peg Powler lurked in the River Tees.

Frig/Nerthus:- Germanic/Scandinavian Earth Mother.

Rivers Tweed, Dart, Till, Derwent, Ribble:- “demanded” a certain number of lives each year.

There was a discussion on the possible origins of Mermaids in Inland water sources

  • They could have been the goddesses or water spirits who guarded the pools and rivers in the pagan past when these sites were regarded as sacred places. Possibly the legends and tales may contain some dim “folk memories” of the rituals once performed at these sites.
  • On a more mundane level, the mermaid legends would also serve as warnings, to keep adults and children away from dangerous water.

We will have more to say about the mermaids and church bells in our next session (19th April).

 

 

15 February, 1 March and 15 March 2021 – Fairy Folk

The sessions continued and completed the subject of the Fairy Folk/Good People:

For ease of discussion we grouped the tales into 4 categories:-

  • 1/. Stories where they benefit from human kindness and offer a reward.
  • 2/. React to unkindness and disrespect.
  • 3/. Changelings, fairy left in place of a human baby
  • 4/. Adult humans wander into their Fairy Land or are abducted there.

1/.  In the previous session we looked at a number of tales about the first group of The Good People.  There are lots of stories about these and often involved farmers and their wives and their help would be rewarded with little loaves, pats of butter or cheeses.  These stories occurred all over Britain and continental Europe.

2/.  This second group had a less benign flavour to them.  Great care had to be taken to show respect or there could be dire consequences.  Giving way to greed, arrogance and abusing hospitality were often fatal.  They may have been used as morality tales, and perhaps in later versions reflected Christian mores.  They attribute supernatural causes onto natural events, for things at the time there was no obvious explanation such as wasting diseases.

The Midwife at Garth Dorwen

We looked in detail at the story of The Midwife at Garth Dorwen.  Human midwives were often summoned to fairy births to help fairy mothers or assist human women who had been abducted.

An old man and his wife who lived at Garth Dorwen, near Llandwrog went to Caernarfon to hire a servant at the Fair. They hired a girl with yellow hair who was standing a little apart for the others.

The girl, Eilian, would go out into the meadow to spin by the light of the moon.  Here the Tylwyth Teg (the good people) used to come to her and sing and dance. One day in Spring, she ran off with the Tylwyth Teg and no more was heard of her.

The old woman at Garth Dorwen helped women in childbed, and some time after this, a gentleman on horseback came to the door one night when the moon was full, to fetch her to his lady. The old woman rode pillion behind him and they came to Rhos-y-Cowrt. In the centre of the rhos (moor) was an old fortification. Here they entered a large cave and came to a room- and it was the finest place the old woman had seen in her life- where the wife lay in bed.

When the baby was born, the husband gave her ointment to anoint its eyes, warning her not to get it into her own, but one of her eyes happening to itch, she rubbed it with the finger she had used to anoint the baby’s eyes.  At once she saw with that that the fine chamber was a cave, the bed a ring of stones lined with rushes and withered bracken, and the gentleman’s wife none other than her servant girl Eilian; yet with the other eye, she still saw the grandest place that ever she had seen.

Not long afterwards, the old woman went to Caernarfon market and there she saw the husband. “How is Eilian?”, she asked. “She is pretty well, thank you”, he said, “but which eye do you see me with?”. “Well this one”, said she. At once he took a bullrush stem and poked it out.

In this tale Eilian has unusually coloured hair which would make her attractive to the good people.  They were thought to need human blood lines to strengthen theirs.  The spinning, moonlight, full moon, caves, old forts, travelling at night are common themes.  Grand fairy abodes were often revealed to be very modest.  Again there was a great consequence for disobeying, a warning not to cause even accidental offence.

Tom Monahan and the Hurley

We also looked in detail at the tale of “Tom Monahan and the Hurley”, as recorded in Galway in 1945.

Tom Monahan from Doonlaun was one of the finest players of hurling in the district. One bright moonlight night, he was on his way home, and as he passed a field that sloped down from a wood, he was surprised to see two teams of men playing hurling in the moonlight, and as he watched the game, he realised that they must be the Good People. They played wonderfully well and after a time, Tom became so excited that he let out a yell, which alerted the Good People to his presence.

“Would you like to join in?”, they asked. “Indeed I would”, said Tom, and “Have you a hurley?” They handed Tom the finest hurley he had ever seen, and he played as he never had before, and his team won.

“I’ll tell you who we are, now”, said the Good People. “We are from the churchyard beyond, and we are in a great fix, for we have to play our old rivals from Knockmar on this night week, and they have a mortal, the red-headed Paddy Ruadh, to play for them, and he is the best hurler in County Mayo. Will you play for us, to even things up?’ “Indeed I will”, said Tom, ‘but can I have the same hurley?” And it was agreed.

So a week from that night, Tom crept out, telling no-one where he was going, and he found the two teams and his hurley waiting for him. They played and played, and in the end, Tom’s team won. “What would you like now?” said the Good People, “and we’ll give it to you.” “I’d like the hurley that I played so well with”, was the reply. “You’ve asked for the one thing we can’t do. Tis fairy property and we couldn’t give it away.” “Well I want it”, said Tom. “Well you can’t have it”, said the Good People. “Well I must”, said Tom, and with that he walked away, taking the hurley will him.

Well Tom was hardly home before he began to sicken. His mother could do nothing for him, and the doctor could do nothing for him, and all the time, he grew worse and worse. And when he knew that he was going to die, Tom asked them to bury the hurley with him in his coffin. Sure they did it, so maybe he’s still winning matches for Doonlaun now.”

The common themes let us know early in the tale that the good people are involved, moonlight, reference to red hair, the finest hurley, from a church yard, and with this Christian morality.  He paid a high price for breaking the rules of hospitality.

3/.  The third group, Changelings, have a very dark tone to them, especially in the early stories.  The origins of these may have come from disabled babies, sudden illness, congenital disorders and defects, and infanticide.  The changelings survive for a while.  In the later stories, the human parents sometimes get the children back and the fairies don’t abandon their own.

There was a view that changelings were taken to strengthen the fairy stock.  Boys with fair hair and rosy cheeks were prized, they were taken, treated well and in due course took a fairy bride.  Something would be left behind in their place such as a magic block of wood or one of their own.

A changeling could be recognised as they were ugly and wizened, unnaturally knowing, becoming weak, grizzling, moping, and failing to thrive.

Precautions could be taken to protect a child from being taken.  Iron and steel were well known to be repugnant to fairy folk, salt, rowan twigs, crucifix and rosary beads were protective.  These are a mix of pagan and Christian beliefs co-opted into the stories later.  In rural Ireland boys were dressed as girls to protect them from coming to the notice of the fairies until they were old enough to be safe.

These tales were from all over the country with examples from Ipstones, Staffordshire, Fermanagh, Ireland, Kington, Powys, Scotland and Llyn Ebyr, Wales.  The people recounting the tale were often well-regarded members of the community and therefore viewed as reliable.  A way to get the changeling to show itself was to act in an unexpected way, in the tale from Llyn Ebyr eggshell stew was served to the workers.

4/.  The fourth group are those where adult humans wander into the fairy realm or are abducted.  There were numerous examples of these.

These had echoes of the Celtic other world.  Involved journeys near water, at night, at length, through caves, underground, through gaps in rocks, through a door, getting lost.  You were safe if you did not eat or drink.  The passage of time was different.  Behaving oddly or bringing something from this world could be used to escape or rescue a person.  Some tales left the protagonists caught between worlds where they could be heard from time to time outside cave entrances, in the wind etc..

The other world could be recognised because it was beautiful, vibrant and splendid.  In Irish culture it was often the land of youth and health.  It was often shown to be enchantment and not real.

The Fairy Dwelling on Selena Moor

We looked at this tale in detail, it has many of these elements.

A Farmer called Noy once took a short cut on Selena Moor in Cornwall and he became lost.  After wandering for many miles over country that he could not recognise, he came upon a house, outside which hundreds of people were either dancing, or sitting drinking at tables. They were all richly dressed, but they looked to the farmer to be very small, and the tables and cups were small as well.

The farmer was astounded when he recognised a young woman who was serving drinks. She was his former sweetheart Grace, and as far as everyone was concerned, she had died three or four years before.  Grace beckoned him aside, into the orchard that surrounded the house, and told him that she had also become lost on the moor, while searching for a lost sheep.  What her friends found on the moor, what they thought was her body, was in fact a changeling, a stock, put there by the Fairies.  In fact she had wandered around for hours until she came to an orchard where she could hear music playing.  Although the music sounded near at hand, she could not get out of the orchard to find it.

At last, worn out with hunger and thirst, she plucked a golden plum from one of the trees and began to eat it.  At once the fruit dissolved into bitter water in her mouth and she fell into a faint. When she revived, she found herself surrounded by a crowd of little people, who were very pleased to have acquired such a likely looking girl to bake and brew for them, and to look after their human babies.

Farmer Noy asked her about the little people, and she told him that their lives seemed unnatural and sham:- “They have little sense or feeling; what serves them in a way as such, is merely the remembrance of whatever pleased them when they lived as mortals, maybe thousands of years ago.”

 Farmer Noy asked if Fairy babies were ever born, and Grace replied just occasionally, and then there was great rejoicing.  Every little Fairy man, however old and wizened, was proud to be thought its father:- “For you must remember that they are not of our religion, but star-worshippers (pagans). They do not always live together like Christians and turtle doves; considering their long existence, such constancy would be tiresome for them.”

When Grace was called back to her work, she warned the farmer not to touch any fruit or flower in the orchard “for your very life”.

Farmer Noy thought that he might find a way to rescue them both; so he took his hedging gloves out of his pocket, turned them inside out and threw them in among the Fairies. Immediately everything vanished, including his lady-love, and he found himself standing alone beside a ruined cottage on the moor.

He was found some time later, dazed and bewildered, by the friends who had come out search for him. When he recovered his senses, he was much surprised to discover that he had been missing for three days.

 

Origins of the Fairy Folk in British Folklore:-

At the end of the topic we looked at the possible origins of the Fairy Folk.  These tales stand out as being a distinctly different set of stories and there are a great many legends concerning them.

(i) they may have been used to illustrate examples of proper behaviour in stories designed to have a teaching function for children and adults.  With Christian morals co-opted into them in later versions.

(ii) they may have been the existing inhabitants of Britain displaced when either the Bronze Age people or the Iron Age Celts arrived and they were pushed to the margins.  The fairies didn’t like iron and the Celts had iron weapons.  However, it is now thought that these peoples were blended together.  There may be echoes of human origins in the long distant past.

(iii) they may have been linked to a cult of the dead, cult of the ancestors.  Glastonbury Tor, Somerset:- St Collen met Gwyn ap Nudd (King of the Fairies, Lord of Annwyn) in his palace inside the Tor.  Fairy Folk and the realm of the dead.

(iv) they may represent a survival of Celtic mythology: originally they may have been Celtic gods & goddesses.   Aine:- wife of the Celtic sea god Manannan Mac Lir; wife of the sky horse Echdae; strong associations with the Earth Mother/ Great Goddess; in Munster venerated at Cnoc Aine as goddess of the dawn and also as Queen of the Fairies.

 

Next time we shall continue with supernatural in the natural world and landscape including the sea and mermaids.

1 February 2021- Black Dog in Folklore continued

The session:

Followed on the theme of Black Dogs and Boggy beasts with other similar beasts by completing the flitting with the boggart and starting with the Good Folk and the Fairy Folk.

1/.  Flitting with the Boggart .  Sometimes the helpful or mischievous boggart would become so troublesome a family would seek to move .  We followed a detailed tale of a boggart attached to a family.  This tale was designed to entertain.

We looked at the development of a story recorded in two different locations.  The story we started with was from Yorkshire recorded in Literary Gazette April 1825, quoted in Katharine M Briggs British Folktale and Legends: A sampler London Paladin/Granada 1977 p122.  The family were being troubled by an unseen Boggart who tormented the children.  This Boggart lived in a closet which had a knot hole in the door.  The children would poke things through, and they would be violently thrown out.  Eventually the family resolved to move out and leave the Boggart behind.  The Boggart hid himself in a large churn and spoke to them as they were travelling to the new home.  The family decided to return to the house they had just left.

This tale bears a remarkable likeness to that recorded by John Roby in ‘Traditions of Lancashire’.  This had some added details such as a worthy old lady recounting the tale but elements of it were almost verbatim.  This was set in Lancashire and is thought to be a more recent version.

These tales often have little gems of old traditions and ancient beliefs.  Knot holes were thought to be a way of seeing things you could not otherwise see, portals.  Holes in stones were believed to be protection from witches.

2/.  Fairy Folk/Good People

They are very much the superior elite of household beings.  These are not the fairies from children’s story books and are more sinister, tricksy, and dangerous and need to be treated with respect.

They would spend most of their time in their own realm but would visit our world for their own purposes or to encounter humans.

Care had to be taken in interactions with them.  Humans had to play fair with them, not be mean-spirited with them, not be disrespectful, not spy on them, not talk openly about them.  They are addressed as ‘Good People’, ‘Hidden People.  Using their names is disrespectful and there is power in using a name.  It was a widespread and ancient belief that using a name gave you power over them.  This is something which comes up in other tales such as Odysseus, Rumpelstiltskin.  It also features in modern day story-telling in films such as Beetlejuice and Candyman.

If they were offended, they would take swift and nasty retribution.

Stories often like morality tales

The lifestyle of the Good Folk was similar to humans and they had a social hierarchy.

There was an aristocracy with a king and a queen.  They would come to this world to hold their feasts, ride or hunt.

There were also ordinary Fairy folk who were small about the size 3-year-old children who looked human like.  They too enjoyed feasting, but they also had to work as farmers and bakers etc..  As part of their work, they would visit markets in the human world.  They could extract money from human farmers’ pockets without their knowledge.

Good people were masters of magic.  They could give gifts which appeared to be of little or no value and turn them into gold etc.  They could not fly using wings but used some magic device such as a cap, belt or spell.  They could appear and disappear at will.

The best time to see them was at dawn or dusk, bright star or moon lit nights.  Out of the corner of your eye between one blink and the next.  Also if you held a 4 leaf clover or had a holed stone.

There are lots of tales and legends which fall into 4 categories:-

  • Stories where they benefit from human kindness and offer a reward.
  • React to unkindness and disrespect.
  • Changelings, fairy left in place of a human baby
  • Adult humans wander into their Fairy Land or are abducted there.

We looked at a number tales about the first group of The Good People and these included :-

  • Scottish Borders:- a poor shepherd rewarded for helping a Fairy Woman and her child
  • Galloway:- Sir Godfrey Mac Cullough rewarded for diverting his drains
  • Lochmaben, Dumfries & Galloway:- a woman prospered after obliging the Fairy Folk
  • Deunant, Aberdaron:- a farmer prospered after redesigning his house to accommodate the Fairy Folk
  • Airlie, Tayside:- cakes baking at the fire were sometimes taken by the Fairy Folk

A common theme was finding Fairy underground homes under houses, tree roots etc.  This may link back to prehistoric workings which had chambers underground and may have been seen as an explanation of that.  There were also memories of offerings made in the past linking back to ploughing and rites to ensure a good harvest.

We looked in detail at Paddy O’Gadhra’s Fairy Shilling Malin Glen, Donegal:- where a Fairy rewarded his help carrying a heavy basket with a shilling which kept reappearing in his pocket even after he had spent it.  Eventually, he started to fear his wonderful gift so he went to the priest in Glencolumcile and told him what had happened. The priest put his stole around his neck and made the sign of the cross on the shilling, and it vanished.  This tale shows rewards for a good deed and the response to Christianity.

We also looked at the Broken Fairy Peel (ref Westwood & Simpson, “The Lore of the Land”):- A peel is a wooden shovel for the removal of bread from the oven.  This was set at Burlow Castle, Ardlington, in Sussex which was well known for fairies, and nobody liked to go by it after dark for fear of them.  One day, a man called Charles was ploughing a field alongside the earthwork, together with a mate called Harry, when they heard a noise under the ground, which was a Fairy, calling for help because she was baking bread and had broken her peel.  “Put it up and I’ll try and mend it”, said Charles, and up through a crack in the dry ground came a little peel, no bigger than a cheese knife. Charles was careful not to laugh at the tiny thing, but mended it and laid it back in the crack. Harry had his back turned during this and when Charles told him about it, he refused to believe it, saying it was nonsense and there were no fairies nowadays.

Next day they were working in the same field and stopped for their lunch, Charles heard the voice again, and saw standing close by the crack, a little bowl full of “summat that smelled a hell and all better than small beer.” He drank it up eagerly and meant to keep the bowl to show Harry, for he was elsewhere again, but it slipped out of his hands and smashed to pieces, so Harry only laughed at him.  But Harry was paid out.  He fell ill and could no longer work, and pined away ’til he was only skin and bone. The doctor could do nothing for him, and he died a year later, at the very same day and hour that the little voice was first heard and when he spoke against the Fairies.

This tale picks up a number of the recurring themes.  A place where you did not venture after dark, located close to ancient earthworks, with the fairy living under ground. A reward for a good turn and showing respect.  Dire punishment for being disrespectful.

Next time we shall continue with Fairies.

18 January 2021- Black Dog in Folklore continued

The session:

Followed on the theme of Black Dogs and Boggy beasts with other similar beasts.  Completing mischievous creatures and then looking at helpful ones.

1/.  We finished off the Hedley Kow.  Kow being the North Country name for a Boggart/Boggle.  This was known for playing tricks, could shape shift and would cause torment.  It could appear at the birth of a child, mocking and taunting those involved.  This was a special time where when new life is brought about and seen as a time where the boundaries between this world and the other were blurred.  It took many forms not all of them animal.

The origins of this type of being go back into history and have been embellished over time.  Tales of shape shifting goes back into Celtic Myths and legends.

2/.  We then had a look at a large number of examples of helpful creatures, these were found all over the country and included:-

  • Brownie of Strathmiglo Castle, Fife, Scotland:- helped the people of the Tower of Cash with the farm work in return for food.
  • Puck:- helped at Old Daniel Burton’s farm at Levenshulme, Lancashire until the farmer criticised his work; left for good when the farmer called down God’s blessing on him.
  • Hobthrust of Manor Farm, East Halton, Lincolnshire:- left after the farmer substituted his usual reward of a linen shirt with one made of hemp
  • Hob Hurst at Dore, Sheffield:- made shoes for a poor shoemaker until the man became too curious and too greedy.
  • Abbey Lubbers:- haunted abbeys where the monks were too fond of their food and drink.
  • Boggart of Wolf Hall, Chipping, Lancashire:- troublesome boggart was laid by a priest under a yew tree by the farm gate.
  • Boggart of Hothersall Hall, Lancashire:- laid under the roots of a laurel tree at the end of the house.
  • Boggart of Syke Lumb Farm, Blackburn, Lancashire:- helpful if treated well, or mischievous if treated with disrespect.
  • Flitting with the Boggart:- boggart attached himself to the family, rather than to the house. Boggart of Boggart Hall and Boggart Hole (Hall) Clough, Blackley, Lancashire. This will be looked at further in the next session.

3/.  There was a sort of common set of rules/themes when dealing with these creatures:-

  • They needed to be treated with respect.
  • Invoking God’s word would offend and cause them to leave.
  • They should not be exploited in what they do for humans, they were willing workers but there were always conditions attached
  • Sometimes they were easily offended by things like the offer of payments as they were nobody’s servant.  We discussed why they may be offended by the offer of clothes.  If they were poor quality this showed a lack of respect, the rules of hospitality said the best quality should be given, and it could be seen as disrespectful to their natural state, these creatures were often described as small hairy men.

4/. Origins

The origins of this folklore lie far back in time and they may have provided a consequence and a reason for things that happened that could not otherwise be explained.  There could have been a teaching purpose behind them.  They may have provided a moral framework as they were willing to help decent humans and this may have been developed as Christianity grew.

References to trees in the tales links back to Norse mythology, Yggdrasil was the tree which held the various worlds together and offerings of milk would be given to nourish it.  Holly is regarded as protective against things evil.

Next session Flitting with the Boggarts and then moving on to The Faery Folk or The Good Folk.

 

4 January 2021- Black Dog in Folklore continued

The session:

Followed on the theme of Black Dogs and Boggy beasts with other similar beasts.

1/.  These occur all over the country and vary from being extremely scary and dangerous, through mischievous, to being helpful.  Although they have similar features to black dogs they are considered as different creatures and occur in the same areas.  They tend to be more than sightings, with more of them having detailed folktales attached.

2/.  We looked at a wide range of examples.

These included:-

  • Monstrous creatures called the Baobhan Sith:- which were vampire like, in the form of beautiful women; haunted lonely countryside in the Scottish Highlands; trapped unwary men and drank their blood.
  • Boggle:- amorphous glowing shape; haunted a lane at Orton, Kirkby Stephen, after dark
  • Buckies:- haunted lonely roads at night in Lowland Scotland
  • Madame Pigott:- haunted lonely lanes around Chetwynd, Hereford & Worcester, jumping up behind horsemen and strangling them with long boney fingers.
  • “The White Bucca and the Black” folk tale from Cornwall where a feisty old Cornish woman gets the better of someone playing tricks upon her. A good example of an entertaining story.

Common themes occurred in the tales and characteristics of the beings.  Long boney fingers, shape shifting.  Locations were frequently lonely, dark, late at night, near to water, abandoned castles, scary places.  They often preyed on travellers.

3/. Ignis Fatuus (Foolish Fires)

Includes: – Lantern Man, Shiner, the Shiners, Jack O’ Lantern, Will o’ the Wisp, Hobby Lanthorn, Kit with the Canstick.  These used false lights to tempt travellers off the paths and into marshes, bogs & other dangerous countryside.  These were linked to marshy places and had a very direct link to the geography of the area so frequently occur in Dartmoor, The Somerset Levels, East Anglia.  Originating as explanations for the ignition of marsh gases before these were understood.

In Northern Europe bogs were special places, seen as the boundary between this world and the other world.  Beautiful Bronze and Iron Age artefacts have been found in bogs and are thought to be offerings.  There is also a history of bog bodies.

We looked in detail at the folk tale of the dead moon, the story can be found in ‘British Folk Tales and Legends: A Sampler Katharine M Briggs London, Granada/Paladin, 1977 pp 21-23’.  We discussed the rituals they had to perform for protection and in order to free the moon.  This tale took place by boggy water a dark and scary place.  The moon is personified as a beautiful woman.

4/.  We started looking at an example of a mischievous being.  The Hedley Kow:- a hob that appeared in various forms and pestered people in Hedley, Northumberland.  This was a shape shifter frequently playing tricks on servant girls in farmhouses whilst they were away from their tasks tangling their knitting, letting the cat at the milk and similar tricks.

Next time we shall continue with more on the Hedley Kow and mischievous creatures and household creatures which are friendly to humans if treated properly.

21 December 2020 – The Black Dog in Folklore continued

The session:

Continued the topic of the black dog in Folklore.

1/.  Black Dogs as Guardians

We looked at many examples across the country.  Guiding people across difficult terrain, protecting from thieves, saving them from cars.  They appear and disappear mysteriously.

2/.  In Classical and Celtic Mythology

Dogs acted as hunting companions to the gods and were also protectors and healers.  Celtic healing shrines have been found with images of dogs.  Dog licks have been associated with healing.

3/.  Black Dog and Bogey Beasts

These are always mischievous, malicious, scary or dangerous.  They have little or no regard for humankind.  They are not always black.

They occurred in forms other than dogs, most often an animal but not always.  They are sighted across the country and are often seen in places which are subject to misty, gloomy conditions.  Again the common themes for these were sightings at bridges, crossroads, graveyards etc. which are mystical crossing points to the otherworld.

The other forms include a cross between rough-coated dog and monkey, a donkey and monkey, a small horse, a headless duck, a bag of soot, white rabbit.

They can be shape shifters.  We looked in more detail at the Pelton Brag County Durham and that was reported to have taken more than one form: like a bushy tailed calf, a white sheet, a naked man without a head, a galloway.  (ref Westwood & Simpson, “The Lore of the Land: A Guide to England’s Legends, Penguin Books, 2006)

Some of the stories start as legends and become folk tales with detailed back stories. One such example is The White Rabbit of Crank from Lancashire.  (ref Terence Whitaker, “Lancashire’s Ghosts and Legends” Robert Hale Ltd ,1980)

It is possible that the references to rabbits may originally been hares, as rabbits were introduced by the Romans.

 

Next time we shall continue with boggarts.

 

 

7 December 2020 – Black Dogs in Folklore

The session:

Started the topic of the black dog in Folklore, these occur all over Britain and Continental Europe.   Some just have sightings and some have stories added.

1/.  Black Dogs as Portents of Death and Disaster

We looked at many examples including Formby Merseyside, Bunbury Cheshire, Portland Dorset, Norfolk, Ely and more.

The common themes for these were sightings at bridges, crossroads, graveyards etc. which were places associated with being the boundaries between the world and the afterworld, places of transition which feature heavily in Celtic Myths.  In Greek Myths Cerberus is a hound which guards the gates of hell to stop the dead from getting out.    Mythology bleeding into folklore.

The black dogs all have a similar appearance, they are large, shaggy, black and have big eyes.  They are portents of death or disaster.  Many people believed ordinary dogs could predict death.

2/. Black Dogs with Mischievous/ Scary/ Malign Intentions

Examples were from Beetham in the old Westmorland, Manchester Old Church, Peel Castle, IOM and more. Not all the examples were from quiet places, some were in the centre of cities.

These dogs are not portents of misfortune but are scary, may make physical attacks and there is a need to keep a distance from them.  They have more in common with the supernatural bogey which appears in many forms.  They may let the horses out, are mischievous, cause you to go off the path.  They may have no links to the first group of black dogs.

3/.   Black Dogs linked to the Devil

We looked at a case from Bungay, Suffolk of an attack by the Devil in the form of a black dog in 1577.   A this can be found on the internet by looking for ‘A Straunge and Terrible Wunder’ by Abraham Fleming.  It manifested itself inside the church during a terrific thunderstorm, killing two people, injuring others and causing strange damage.  On the same day there was also an incident in Blythburgh and the claw marks remain on the church door there.  Here is a link to online article with photograph of the Blythburgh church door:- https://www.eadt.co.uk/news/weird-suffolk-black-shuck-folklore-1-6503598

This could be an explanation/interpretation of ball lightning from the severe storm.

Next time we shall look at Black Dogs being examples of supernatural creatures such as bogles and as harmless or guardians.

References:-   Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson ‘The Lore of the Land: A Guide to England’s Legends, from Spring-heeled Jack to the Witches of Warboys’.

 

November 2020 – Scandinavian Mythology

Reconvened remotely after a long break due to Covid-19.

The session:

Completed the topic of Scandinavian Mythology

1/.  Recapped the last topic from March covering the origins of Thor and his accessibility to both the gods and ordinary people.

2/.  Freya the Bride – Another battle of wits with the Frost Giants which started with the Mjollnir (Thor’s hammer) which was held for ransom for the hand of Freya.  This involved Thro dressing up as Freya and Loki dressing as Freya’s bridesmaid.  A tall tale where Thor in the guise of Freya eats an ox, eight salmon and drinks barrels of mead.  Thor eventually gets Mjollnir back and slays the giants.

3/.  Thor’s Visit to Utgard.  Another confrontation with the Frost Giants.  A tale you could imagine being spun around a roaring fire.  Whilst on a peacemaking visit to Utgard, Loki and Thialfi and Thor are challenged to contests in eating, running and drinking which are not what they first appear.  At first it seems that they have failed but they have not.  The eating contest was against fire, the running contest against thought and the drinking contest was an attempt to drink the sea.  Far from failing Thor had caused the sea levels to drop and the first ever tide.    The Frost Giant respected them for their efforts and there was a guarded truce.

4/.  The Lay of Hymir – starts with a crisis in Asgard as they have run out of ale and mead.  To brew the ale and mead they need a vast cauldron.  Tyr, part giant, with a father with a cauldron five miles deep travels with Thor to get it.  Cunning is used and great feats of strength.

5/.  In a number of creation myths the forces of chaos are pushed to the edges during creation.  These are represented by the Frost Giants in the Scandinavian myths.  Thor’s role is in keeping this chaos at bay.  There is a need to be alert as chaos could return.  The myths are larger than life but always presented in an understandable way.  The magic and mysticism are low key.

6/.  Discussed what our next topic should be.  We decided for our next topic we should shift away from far away places, “big” mythology and gods & goddess, to folklore that is closer to home.   We shall be looking at Black Dogs and other similar supernatural creatures, including boggarts, bogles, bugganes et al.  Legends and folktales concerning these creatures are common all over Britain, and it will be interesting to speculate as to why they were so widespread. We can also think about possible origins and meanings behind the stories.

The sessions are now taking place remotely and will be the 1st and 3rd Monday of the month at 10:00.  If you would like to be involved, please contact June Jones

March 2020 – Scandinavian Mythology

The session:

Continued the topic of Frey and Freya the twin gods of fertility in Germanic and Scandinavian mythology.

1/.  Frey – means lord

According to Snorri Sturluson he was good, gentle, beautiful to look at, had power over sunshine and rain.  He had a boar which pulled his chariot.  Frey was venerated particularly in Uppsala in Sweden where there were great celebrations including wild dancing, men dressing as women, laying down of weapons. The people doing it believed it was vital to do or Spring would not be able to come again.

We had a look at the story of Gunnar Helming where Gunnar due to a twist in the plot impersonated Frey.  Olaf Tryggvason the King of Norway who has a role in this story features in historical records.

Frey was married to Gerd the daughter of a Frost Giant.  There is a tale about how their marriage came about where gifts were offered and threats given before she gave in and married Frey.  This can be seen as Winter marrying Spring after a confrontation.

2/.  Freya – means lady

Freya is a female version of Frey and they are very similar but Freya also has influence over love and affairs of the heart.  She visited the world of men regularly.  Some say she was married to Frey but in other myths she is married to Odr in perfect happiness.  However she was insatiably lustful and had a passion for jewels.  Loki said that she had worked her way through the men of the nine worlds.  She had a chariot pulled by cats.  She travelled in her chariot to every battle scene.  Odin took half of the fallen to Valhalla and Freya took half to Asgard.  There is some of the Great Goddess Mythology life and death, responsibility for wnter/spring, creator destroyer.

In the story of Dvalin and his Three Brothers, who were dwarves, she is tricked into buying a beautiful necklace in exchange for marrying each of them for a day.  Dwarves were seen as very low status in these myths.  When Odr finds this out he leaves and she wanders the world looking for him, shedding tears of pure red gold.

3/.  Thor

Thunor the Germanic weather god and Thor the Scandinavian weather god are much the same thing.

Thor is a god of the people and a way of explaining the world around them.  He was a huge red haired figure, boaster and drinker, ruler of thunder lightning and storms and by extensions a god of battle.  A powerful protector of the gods.  Protector of humans, giver of good weather for agriculture.

His chariot was pulled by 2 goats.  Thunder rumbled as Thor passed by.  He was married to the goddess Sif who had golden hair like a field of corn.  If brute force was needed they called on Thor, for cunning Odin and Loki.

He had three treasures, a magic strength doubling belt, iron rock shattering gauntlets and a mighty hammer Mjollnir.  If the hammer was thrown it would return to his hand and was his thunderbolt.  The hammer was the most important as it kept the universe safe and secure.

The Greeks, Romans and Celtic people viewed oak trees as sacred, in Germanic myths oak trees are linked to Thor.

When people travelled to live in new places they would take soil from beneath his shrine to scatter on the newly tilled fields to ensure a good crop.

There are lots of tales of battles with the Frost Giants.  These were not presented as monumental battles, much more down to earth and humorous.  We started looking at three tales recorded by Snorri Sturluson’s Prose.

i/ Thor’s Duel with Hrungir where Thor was brought in to use his strength to fight the strongest of all the Frost Giants.

When we re-convene after the covid-19 break we shall look at ii/ Freya the Bride and iii/. Thor’s Visit to Utgard.

References:-

The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson – A 12 century Icelandic historian – there are translations and reference books of his work available online and good bookshops.

February 2020 – Norse Mythology

The session:

Continued the topic of Odin and Frig in Germanic and Scandinavian mythology.

1/.  Odin –

We covered the tale of The Lay of Grimnir in more detail.  In this story Odin visited the world of men under one of his many disguise.  Odin and his wife Frig were very competitive and Frig warned Gerrod, King of the Goths, to beware of a magician who would visit.  This caused Gerrod to seem to break the rules of hospitality and lead to him coming to a bad end but as Gerrod was a cruel and tyrannical king that would have gone down well with the audience.

2/. Frig

Nerthus was venerated as the Earth Mother by the Germanic and Scandinavian peoples.  Frig was originally the earth mother worshipped by the Angles and Saxons.  Borne of the earth itself and married to the sky god so linked back to creation mythology.

Over time the fertility element moved over to Frey and Freya who started out as the children of the Earth Mother Nerthus.  Frig became the goddess of marriage and married love.

The Legend of Baldur

Baldur was the favourite son of Odin and Frig.  He was the best of gods, bright, beautiful and shining, kind and wise.  He was very happy with his wife Nanna.  Baldur had a twin brother called Holder who was the opposite of Baldur to look at; he was dark and blind.  They loved each other.

Baldur could tell the future and started to have bad dreams full of dread, of a shadowy world.

Odin went to the Hall of Hel (the goddess who ruled in the Realm of the Dead) to find out what was going on.  The Hall was set out for a special guest.  Odin was told that Baldur would be killed by Holder.

Frig went to see each and every substance to gain its commitment not to harm Baldur, and this was agreed.

They decided to test Baldur’s new found invincibility and threw things at him, much fun was had and Baldur was unhurt.

Everyone was happy apart from Loki who was consumed with jealousy.  He shapeshifted into the form of an old woman and visited Frig to see if there were any flaws in the plan.  He checked that everything had been covered by asking lots of questions and identified it covered everything that grows out of the earth so it did not cover mistletoe.

Loki made a dart out of mistletoe, gave it to Holder to use, helped blind Holder sight up and the dart went right through Baldur and killed him.

Frig sent an emissary to Hel to negotiate a ransom for Baldur’s life.  The condition of the ransom was that everything must weep for him.  Everything wept apart from an old woman (Loki) so Baldur stayed in the hall of Hel.

This shows some evidence of the earlier role of Frig.  Baldur has a lot of the characteristics of the spring god, but in this story he does not come back, reflecting that the fertility role had already been taken over by Frey/Freya and the concept of an inescapable fate.

3/.  Frey/Freya

We touched very briefly on this and will take it further at the next session.

January 2020 – Norse Mythology

The session:

 We agreed an earlier start time of 9:50 to avoid congestion in the car park, with an earlier finish.

Continued Norse Mythology covering Germanic and Scandinavian mythology with the topic of Odin.

1/.  Odin –

Odin became the Sky God, creator of the Universe, King of the gods.  He provided rules which had to be followed to protect against the chaos which still existed outside the organised world.  He visited Midgard, the world of men, to make sure the rules were being followed.

Over time he took on many attributes, physical appearances and roles, and had many aliases.  He also had magic skills and was a shape shifter.  He was a majestic figure with gravitas and dignity.  He was capricious, lustful and quick tempered and a rule breaker when it suited him.  He was also arrogant and boastful as related in the Song of Harbard.  A god but one with flaws.

He was very successful with women apart from in The Myth of Billing’s Daughter who outsmarted him.  She is portrayed as being duplicitous and treacherous for not wanting to have a relationship with him and using her wits to avoid him, a view which is much less acceptable now.

This was all in the context of a world where gods and men are doomed.  Great warriors would go to Valhall to await the final battle (Ragnarok), to qualify for this they would need to show their skills to Odin but the Norns (the three Fates) had already set down the fates of the gods and mortals.

We looked at two tales The Myth of Mead of Poetry where Odin gains a magic mead from giants by means of shape shifting, cunning and deceit and The Lay of Grimnir where again he did not reveal who he was.

Oden was married to Frig and they had a tempestuous relationship with neither being faithful to the other.

2/. Frig

Originally Frig was the goddess of fertility but her attributes changed over time too and she became the goddess of the home and protector of women whilst Freya became the goddess of fertility.

In February we shall continue Norse Mythology

Further Reading

There is a lot of information available on the internet by using simple searches.  These books are not in print but may be available second hand or from a library.

References:-

Brian Branston ‘The Lost Gods of England’ Thames and Hudson

‘Encyclopaedia of World Mythology’ Octopus Books

December 2019 – Icelandic Sagas and Norse Mythology

The session:

Completed the Saga of Gisli and started Norse Mythology.

1/.  The Saga of Gisli

In the final part of the story Gisli became a warrior hero, honourable and true.  He would have been seen as a popular hero at the time the story originated.  Not all his killings would have been seen as good now but when he was found guilty of a crime magic had been used to prevent people from speaking for him.  His actions would have fitted the social conventions of the time.

In his final confrontation Gisli took a warrior hero’s last stand.  Eyjolf who had been paid to find Gisli discovered his hiding place.  Gisli challenged Eyjolf to attack him.  Eyjolf is portrayed to be a coward in this part of the tale and orders Helgi to attack Gisli first.  Helgi agrees knowing he will certainly die but also tells Eyjolf he must follow him.  Aud (Gisli’s wife), who is portrayed as being strong and brave, attacks Eyjolf injuring him.  Gisli cuts Helgi in two and Eyjolf behaves in a cowardly manner by hiding behind a rock.  Gisli fights valiantly against Eyjolf’s men, killing many of them, but is eventually overcome by his grievous wounds.  The wounds were so bad those there did not know how he fought for so long.

We looked at Gisli’s warrior hero qualities and had a discussion around how he fitted the criteria.  He was a northern hero, existing in an extended family, with family ties and loyalties.  The tale’s scale is more domestic, involving family feuds.

2/. Norse Mythology

This covers Germanic and Scandinavian mythology

This would have been brought to Britain in the 500’s by the Angles and Saxons and in the 800’s by the Danes, Vikings and Norwegians so the stories would have been familiar to the people of Britain.

We had a quick recap of the Creation Myths which generally start with chaos and darkness in a fluid unformed state which had existed for all time.  There was a Sky God who was the father of the gods, he formed the universe and imposed order on the chaos.

In the Germanic and Scandinavian myths little of the original mythology survived.  The Germanic god of winds and storms Woden and Odin the Scandivanian god over time took on the characteristics of the old sky god and the original faded away.

In January we shall continue Norse Mythology

November 2019 – Icelandic Sagas

The session:

Looked at Icelandic Sagas

1/.  Around 700 survived in manuscript form.  Some are based on family history, others covered leaders and battles, early Viking exploration and heroes.  A mix of fact with storytelling.

2/.  The Saga of Gisli – this is a settler saga based on historical records from around 800-1000 AD.  It was written sometime in the C13th.

It is a story with a large cast of characters, a number of whom start with THOR as the first four letters, and is not an easy tale to relate in a few words.  If you enter ‘Saga of Gisli’ in your search engine a number of sites will give you the story in full.

It is interesting to see that the settler story based on the facts produces a cracking story with family honour, conflicting loyalties, revenge, oaths, prophecies, heroes and daring deeds.  It is also a good example of how stories grow and are embellished over time.  It is about a settler society involving families, kinship groups, protection and defence, family honour and reputation.  The society rules were there to protect the good order of society.  Oaths were very important and were seen as a call to the gods.  At the time it was believed that Odin created the universe and natural laws.  Once an oath was broken fate will have its way.

 

In December we shall conclude the Saga of Gisli and start looking at Scandanavian Mythology

September 2019 – Siegfried

The session:

Covered the Siegfried legend featured in the epic poem the Nibelungenlied (the “Song of the Nibelungs”) that was written in the High German language c1200 AD.

1/.  The Nibelungs were a Germanic tribe who lived along the northern reaches of the River Rhine, who possessed a fabulous treasure that was guarded by a dragon.

2/.  It is basically a rewriting of the legend of Sigurd which we covered in earlier sessions, with the same characters under different names, but the writer of the poem has set the story firmly in the early thirteenth century.  There are castles, knights in armour, fair damsels, medieval style battles and so on.  Siegfried and Kremhild (Sigurd and Gudrun from the earlier legend) conduct their love affair according to the rules of “courtly love”.  Otherwise it is the same tale of heroic deeds, and the treasure, and the bickering between Kremhild and Gunther’s wife Brunhild (Gunnar and Brynhild) that leads to Siegfried’s treacherous murder at the hands of Gunther’s follower Hagen.

July 2019 – Sigurd continued

The Session:

Continued the legend of Sigurd the Volsung

1/.  Sigurd disguised himself as his blood brother Gunnar, rode through the magic fire surrounding Brnyhild’s tower, and claimed Brynhild as Gunnar’s wife.  Back in King Gjuki’s kingdom, a fierce rivalry grew up between Brynhild and Sigurd’s wife Gudrun, over the question of hierarchy and which of them had the better husband.  In the end, Gudrun told Brynhild that Gunnar had not been brave enough to ride through the flames to claim her, and that Sigurd had done it for him.  Brynhild was determined to avenge herself on Sigurd for his deceit.  She told Gunnar, falsely, that Sigurd had betrayed him by sleeping with her, knowing that Gunnar would be obliged to kill Sigurd to safeguard his own honour.  Gunnar and Hogni ambushed Sigurd and killed him.  Brynhild did not wish to carry on living, given her humiliating circumstance, and she killed herself.  She was laid next to Sigurd on his funeral pyre and they went into the next world together.

2/.  In this version of the legend, Brynhild and Gudrun’s actions are seen as justifiable.  However, a thirteenth century re-working lays the blame for Sigurd’s death on the female characters – Brnyhild, Gudrun, and a new character, King Gjuki’s queen Grimhild, who was an evil sorceress.  This re-working possibly reflecting the prevailing mediaeval attitude to women.

3/.  We concluded that Sigurd comes across as less principled than the other heroes that we have met.  The people listening to the stories seem to have been happy with that. They wanted their hero to win; how he did that was less important.  In that respect, Sigurd seems to have had a lot in common with the Greek heroes.

4/.  After Sigurd’s death, the story continues with Gudrun and her brothers, and a long trail of revenge and bloodletting to protect family honour and reputation; this is another prominent theme in the Germanic and Scandinavian hero legends.

June 2019 – Sigurd

The session:

Looked at Sigurd and compared him with Beowulf the ideal Germanic Hero.

1/.  The legend of Sigurd started with the Franks in Eastern Germany and by the Rhine and by the late C5th had moved across Europe and would have been in Britain. By C8th it was in Scandinavia and the Vikings would have brought it in too so it would have been well known.  Like many legends the story is added to over time.

2/.  There are several source materials for the legend –The Elder Edda which are thirty four mythical and heroic poems, the Scaldic poems, the writings of Snorri Sturrluson, the Gesta Danorum, the Icelandic Sagas and the works by known historians such as Tacitus, Ibn Fadlan, Adam of Bremen.  There is a lot of further information available in books and on the internet.  J R R Tolkien has written a book about ‘The Legend Of Sigurd and Gudrun’ and you can see the influences of these legends on his works of fiction.

3/.  Das Nibelungenlied (The Song of the Nibelungs)

Like many heroes Sigurd had strange parentage and links to the gods.  He was in the warrior elite of society and a favourite of the gods who granted him favours and privileges.  The Song of the Nibelungs covers his parentage, his father was Sigmund a favourite of Odin and his mother was Signy.  Signy and Sigmund were children of Odin.  There is also a splendid sword which was given to Sigmund, he was the only one who could remove the sword from a tree.  After Sigmund died in battle Odin shattered the sword and the pieces were later retrieved and re-forged for Sigurd.  The warrior elite went to Valhalla after death and spent their time eating pork stew, drinking mead and fighting each day, waiting for Ragnarök the final battle.

4/.  The Legend of Otter’s Ransom

In this tale Hoenir, Loki  and Odin crossed a bridge into Midgard the world of men.  There they saw an otter with a sizable salmon it had just caught.  Loki threw a large stone at the otter and killed it.  They were very happy as they had a good meal.

They sought accommodation for the night at the farmhouse of Hreidmar, this was not freely given.  This is a breach of the usual rules of hospitality.  They told the farmer they had provisions for all so they were allowed to stay.  The farmer was horrified when he was shown the otter and the salmon.  The family were sorcerers/magicians who could shape-shift and the otter was the farmer’s now dead son.

The family plotted to take their revenge.  By using magic to stupefy the gods they were able to tie them up.  Odin asked what was happening and having been told they had killed the farmer’s son asked to pay a ransom, blood money for it.  After their explanation of what had happened Hreidmar agreed.  The ransom was set at the amount of gold which would fill and completely cover the skin of the dead otter.

Leaving the other two gods as hostages Loki went to the underground world of the Dark Elves, borrowing a drowning net from Ran a sea goddess.  In a big pool in the centre he caught an enormous pike with the net.  This was actually Andvari the Dwarf who was a skilful smith.  Andvari had a hoard of gold which Loki took from him in return for his life.  Andvari tried to keep a ring but Loki took it from him and put it on his own finger.  The dwarf cursed the ring and the gold, so that it would destroy whoever owned it.  Loki took the gold and the ring back to the farmhouse, where Odin took the ring and wore it.  They covered the skin with the gold but Hreidmar saw a whisker was still showing and insisted the ring was put on it.  The gods then left.

This is where the original tale ended.  In later versions the full effect of the curse took effect, the family quarrelled over the gold, one son Fafnir became a dragon and killed his father.  He drove his other brother Regin away.  Regin became a smith in Jutland.  Fafnir the dragon went to live in the wilds.

5/.  The Legend of Sigurd the Volsung

Following on from the previous story Regin was bent on revenge on his brother the dragon Fafnir.  He looked for a hero to do it for him.  He offered to foster Sigurd and his mother Signy agreed.  Sigurd had been given some pieces of Sigmunds’s sword.  Regin, a skilled smith, re-forged them into a sword for Sigurd.  Regin trained Sigurd and eventually persuaded Sigurd to kill the dragon for him.

Regin told Sigurd to dig a pit and hide in it to attack the dragon from below, not the usual honourable approach for a hero.  Once the dragon was dead Regin told Sigurd the dragon was his brother and that he wanted compensation/blood money and his share of the hoard of gold.  Sigurd roasted the dragon’s heart for Regin but burnt and licked his fingers whilst cooking it.  Instantly he could hear and understand the birds, who were talking about a plan that Regin had to kill Sigurd and the birds advised Sigurd to kill Regin.

Sigurd took the still cursed gold and set off on his horse Grani, a gift from Odin.  He travelled a long way and ended up in the kingdom of King Gjuki, who had two sons (Gunnar and Hogni) and a beautiful daughter Gudrun.  King Gjuki wanted to keep Sigurd and his gold so plied him with drink and persuaded him to marry Gudrun.  Sigurd and the king’s sons became blood brothers.  King Gjuki’s kingdom grew in success.

The story moved on to involve Brynhild who may have been the sister of Atli (Attila) King of the Huns or a Valkyrie daughter of Odin.  This will be continued in July.

May 2019 – Beowolf

The session:

Started a new topic considering some of the heroes who belonged to the Germanic and Scandinavian people who lived in Britain alongside the Celts.  This will include Beowulf, Sigurd, Siegfried and some of the characters from the Icelandic sagas.

1/  Beowulf as the model for the Germanic warrior hero.  Beowulf, the young warrior from Sweden is eager for adventure so that he can win fame and fortune.  He travels to Denmark where Hrothgar and his followers are being terrorised by the monster Grendel.  Beowulf kills Grendel and also Grendel’s Mother, and returns to Sweden in triumph.

2/.  In the fullness of time, Beowulf becomes the leader of his people, the Geats and we learn that he proved to be the model king- generous, fair, just, honourable and the unfailing guardian of his people.

3/.  He was finally killed while fighting and killing a dragon to protect his people.  Beowulf the warrior hero without a flaw; courageous and honourable to the end.

April 2019 – Merlin completing the topic

The session:

Completed the loose ends from the Arthurian Legends looking at Merlin

1/.  We finished off the story of how Merlin brought the stones of Stonehenge to Salisbury Plain from Ireland, to act as Aurelius’ war memorial to the British warriors who died fighting against the Saxons.  When Aurelius was killed, Merlin transferred his services to Uther Pendragon; and the rest of Merlin’s story we already know.

2/.  For the rest of the session, we discussed the poem “Gawain and the Green Knight” in which Arthur’s knight Gawain is tested by the Green Knight, passes the test and is declared to be a true and honourable man.

March 2019 – King Arthur – Tying up the loose ends

The session:

Started tying up the loose ends from the Arthurian Legends by looking at the origins of Merlin

1/.  Merlin seems to be a composite figure whose story was added to over time.  We covered Llallogen/Lailoken, Merlin/Myrddin, Ambros/Emrys and Merlin Ambrosius.

2/.  In the North of England, Llallogen/Lailoken, was the bard poet to the King of Carlisle and was driven mad by the events at the Battle of Arfderydd.  At the time it was thought mad people could see the future.

This story seems to be combined with the Welsh legends which have Merlin/Myrddin as a wild man and prophet who lived by the River Conwy.

People moved from the North to Wales so it is feasible that these characters could become combined.

The records which exist such as the Welsh Annals and Welsh Genealogy match up with the timelines and geography generally attributed to Arthur.

Merlin is the Latin name for Myrddin.  Myrddin has more than one version of his tale.  Each tale has some mystery for his birth as a boy with no father to the issue of a nun and an incubus.  The progeny of a spirit father would have gifts.  There are different versions for his end in a cave or in a house of glass.

3/.  Nennius has Ambros/Emrys as a boy with no father.  Selected for sacrifice for a fortress which would not stand he talked his way out of it by explaining this was due to a pool underneath and two dragons on red and one white and giving predictions for the future.

4/.  Finally we looked at Geoffrey of Monmouth’s version which brought together a number of different sources.  The sources for Merlin are similar to those for Arthur and include Gildas, The Venerable Bede, Nennius, The Welsh Annals and then added to by Geoffrey.   Geoffrey was the one who really made the connection between Merlin and Arthur.  His Merlin was called Merlin Ambrosius

5/.  We looked at the Prophecies of Merlin which were translated by Geoffrey of Monmouth from the Ancient Welsh long after the time of Merlin.

February 2019 – King Arthur building the legend contd

The session:

Continued Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte D’Arthur”

1/.  Despite previous events the relationship between Guinevere and Lancelot developed and Arthur heard that Guinevere had committed adultery with Lancelot.  Arthur was bound to sentence Guinevere to death and condemned her to be burnt at the stake.  Lancelot got to hear of this and rescued Guinevere just as the fire was being lit.  He took her to his castle Joyous Garde at Bamburgh, Northumberland.  This split the knights between Arthur and Lancelot.  Arthur laid siege to the castle, there were many casualties and eventually the Pope had to intervene.  Lancelot was given safe passage to Brittany and Arthur reclaimed his queen.  Sir Gawain persuaded Arthur to follow Lancelot to Brittany to attack Lancelot whilst leaving Mordred in charge.

2/.  Mordred forged documents to show that Arthur had been killed.  Mordred tried to force Guinevere to marry him.  Guinevere locked herself in the Tower of London and Mordred received news that Arthur was returning from Brittany.  A number of knights were loyal to Mordred and there was the battle of Camlann where 100,000 men were killed.  During the battle Mordred inflicted a fatal wound on Arthur who then managed to kill Mordred.

3/.  The Death of Arthur – Arthur knew that he was mortally wounded and asked Sir Bedivere to take Excalibur and return it to the lake.  Twice he hid Excalibur and pretended to return it to the Lady of the Lake.  On his third attempt he returned the sword to the Lady of the Lake.  Arthur then asked Sir Bedivere to carry him to the water’s edge where a barge arrived to take Arthur’s body.  On the barge were 3 ladies, one of whom was Morgan Le Fay, and they carried off Arthur’s body to the other world to heal his wounds.

Malory tells us that the next day Sir Bedivere came across a hermit at a small chapel near Glastonbury.  He was beside a recent grave and said that a group of women had brought the body of a knight for burial (thought to be Arthur).  Sir Bedivere changed his life and devoted himself to fasting, prayer and penance.  Guinevere entered a Benedictine convent and Lancelot joined Sir Bedivere in his life of prayer.  6 years later Lancelot became a priest and after Guinevere’s death he took her body to the chapel at Glastonbury and buried her next to Arthur.  After Guinevere’s death Lancelot wasted away and died.

4/.  Sir Constantine became king after Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were disbanded.

January 2019 – King Arthur building the legend contd

The session:

Continued Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte D’Arthur”

1/.  The story continued and it was interesting to see the impact on the story of the life and times of Malory, there was a bitter civil war.  Although he used the existing stories as sources he added in his own interpretation and elements to the story.  One particular character “improved” upon by Malory was Morgan Le Fay who in earlier stories was a loving sister to Arthur became an almost James Bond-like villain in her attempts to remove/kill him in his version.

2/.  The concept of Camelot was introduced by Chretien de Troyes and included by Malory.  Malory first suggested that Camelot was Winchester however later in the story writes as if Camelot and Winchester were different places.  The Round Table was also introduced as a wedding present to Arthur and Guinevere and was big enough to seat 150 knights.  Malory set out the rules of Knightly Conduct.

3/.  Merlin was introduced as a magician who could see the future along with his nemesis a water sprite called Nenive/Nimue/Vivienne who was one of the handmaidens of the Lady of the Lake.  She tried to manipulate Merlin, wheedling knowledge from him.  Merlin knew what was going on because he knew everything but was powerless to do anything about it.  Merlin knew his time with Arthur was limited and tried to give Arthur as much information as possible.  He told Arthur to look after his sword as a woman would try to take it.  Once Nenive had gained as much information from Merlin as she could, she trapped him for eternity in a cavern.

4/.  Arthur went on a hunting trip with Sir Accolon and King Uriens of Gore.  They got lost in the forest and found themselves in the other world.  Arthur was faced with having to fight to rescue the others but Accolon gets a secret message from Morgan Le Fay telling him he has to fight a battle to the death with an unknown knight.  She gave him Excalibur which was taken from Arthur while he slept.  Arthur, the unknown knight, agreed to fight and Morgan Le Fay manoeuvred it so that Accolon and Arthur fought each other.  During the fight Arthur realized that his sword wasn’t Excalibur and Nenive took pity on Arthur and made Accolon drop Excalibur so that Arthur could pick it up.  Arthur revealed who he was and Accolon spared him and crossed Morgan Le Fay.  Morgan Le Fay stole the scabbard of Excalibur and threw it into a lake.  Morgan couldn’t resist one final attempt to kill Arthur so sent him a special cloak.  Nenive advised Arthur not to try the cloak on and had it put on a handmaid who instantly dropped dead and then burst into flames.  Arthur then left Morgan Le Fay in the Land of Gore.

Arthur gathered an army and set off to Gaul to kill a giant and then went on to conquer Rome.  Rome had insisted that Arthur should pay taxes to them.

5/.  We considered the story of Lancelot du Lake.  Lancelot became Queen Guinevere’s champion and bound by the conventions of courtly love.  However the relationship between Lancelot and Guinevere moved beyond courtly love and gossip soon started to spread.  To protect Guinevere Lancelot tried to distance himself but Guinevere was unhappy with this.  Lancelot faced many trials.

Guinevere and her party of knights and ladies were kidnapped by Sir Meleagant.  Guinevere managed to smuggle out a message to Lancelot to rescue her.  After the rescue Guinevere released Sir Lancelot.

December 2018 – King Arthur building the legend contd

The session:

Continued Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte DArthur”

1/.  This was finished in 1469 or 1470 and was printed by Caxton in 1485 (the first of our sources to make it into print).  The setting of the tale is fifteenth century, and Arthur is portrayed very much as a fifteenth century figure.

2/.  Malory lived at the time of the Wars of the Roses and he was greatly concerned about the damage that civil unrest was doing to England, and the danger, as he saw it, that the entire country was about to collapse in ruin.  He portrayed Arthur as the strong king who came to the rescue when the country stood in similar peril in the past; and as the sort of king that England needed in his own time.

3/.  According to Malory, Arthur fought a long and bitter civil war before he could secure the crown and the kingdom, but then Malory tells us that this security did not last.  According to the Cistercian monks, in their reworking of the Arthurian material (the Vulgate Cycle) Arthur’s glory faded because of sexual sin.  According to Malory, Arthur’s court was destroyed because of infighting and treachery amongst his own knights – Malory’s message to his readers being that England is in the same danger now; and if civil unrest could destroy the mighty King Arthur, it will certainly do the same to us.

4/.  Malory used most of the source materials that we have looked at so far, but then he added a lot of extra details and embellishments of his own.  In fact, most of the elements that are associated with the Arthurian legends actually made it into print courtesy of Thomas Malory.  So we have the sword that Arthur draws from the anvil, to prove that he is the rightful heir to the throne; the magical Otherworld sword Excalibur that is given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake; Arthur’s court at Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table; and Arthur’s act of incest with his half-sister Morgause that results in the birth of Mordred who is destined to destroy both Arthur and his kingdom.

November 2018 – King Arthur building the legend contd

The session:

1/.  Completed looking at Chretien de Troyes French Romances (Romance is an old version of the French language).  He produced five Arthurian Romances.  He was influenced by the earlier writers and stories and was under aristocratic patronage rather than working in an ecclesiastical environment so could write a different type of book and add his own details.

He was the first to link Queen Guinevere and Lancelot.  The storytelling in ‘Lancelot or the Knight of the Cart’ employs the rules of courtly love with the female being revered and the male disdained, gallantry, within a deeply Christian context.  It starts with some deep flattery to Marie de Champagne his patron.  The story covers the abduction of Guinevere and other members of the Camelot Court by Meleagant.  Lancelot who is Guinevere’s champion sets off to rescue her.  Along the way he is subject to many trials, temptations and tribulations.  Not all goes well and he suffers conflict and soul searching which at times is at odds with his courtly love ideals.  He hesitates to get into the cart as it is a very low status means of transport linked to the crusades and to losers but he should only have been thinking about Guinevere.  There are suggestions of the other world.

2/.  ‘Vulgate Cycle’ was written just under 100 years after Chretien works.  It is a reworking of the French Romances by Cistercian monks sometime between 1230 and 1250.  The church had wealth and political power and had their own agenda; they rejected the questionable values of courtly love.  They used the Arthurian stories as a vehicle to promote an alternative more Christian/spiritual way of living.  The stories were transposed from the 6th century to the Middle Ages.  Guinevere is used to show the perfidious nature of women, they are sexual, fickle, betraying, and bad tempered; Lancelot is shown as wracked with grief and remorse.  As a result of Guinevere’s behaviour and the failings of Lancelot Arthur’s glory fades.

3/.  Le Morte DArthur, Sir Thomas Malory c1469/1470.  This book was Caxton Press printed so had a much larger potential readership.  There is a mystery as to the real identity of Malory he may have been a noble man who went off the rails and wrote the works in prison.  He may have been a professional gentleman soldier who was a prisoner of war but there is no evidence he was ever knighted so he would not have been a Sir.  Malory read Chretien and the Vulgate cycle and he also knew Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work and the others.  He then added in his own bias and influences.  Malory lived in the time of the War of the Roses and was afraid the country was going to collapse.  Arthur was a strong and resolute king whose power and glory did not last due to unrest within his court.

October 2018 – King Arthur building the legend contd.

The session:

1/. Completed looking at Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain” including:

Arthur’s exploits in Gaul where he killed a giant on Mont St Michel, subdued most of Gaul.

Arthur set off towards Rome but returned home to fight his nephew Mordred who had seized his crown.   Guinevere had broken the vows of her marriage.

He defeated Mordred and his 8,000 strong army in a bitter battle.  Mordred then retreated to Cornwall.

Guinevere gave way to despair and took the vows of a nun.

Arthur’s final battle was at the River Camblan in Cornwall.  Arthur was mortally wounded and carried to the mystical Isle of Avalon.  This happened in 542.  He was succeeded by  his cousin Constantine, son of Cador, Duke of Cornwall.

2/. Other chroniclers of Arthur based on Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work.

Robert Wace – was an Anglo-Norman monk who translated Geoffrey’s History into Norman–French, in verse form c1150.  He introduced the idea that Arthur was not dead but would return, added the first written reference to the Round Table and expanded the chivalry and romance side of the tale.  He dedicated it to Eleanor of Acquitaine.

Layamon – a priest living in Worcester took Robert Wace’s work and translated it into Middle English, in the late 1100s.  He added in a boat and two women who take Arthur to Avalon.  He was influenced by his own time when it was brutal in Britain, he left out the chivalry side of the story and increased the violence involved and the number of casualties.

Chretien de Troyes – based in Troyes at the Court of Marie de Champagne (daughter of Eleanor of Acquitaine) and her husband Henri who were his patrons.  He used Geoffrey of Monmouth and Robert Wace as source material along with other French, Breton and Welsh sources.  He was not part of the clergy.  He expanded the chivalry and romance side of the story.  Romances appeared in 12th Century and were popular with the French nobility.  These were translated in dozens of languages.  He introduced ‘courtly love’ which involved exquisite beauty, morals, nobility, with women worshipped as a goddess by their lovers, platonic in its ideal form, the hero having to show his worth to an outwardly disdainful woman.  The ideal did not always prevail in the stories or reality.

These translations made the story of Arthur accessible to more people as Geoffrey’s work was originally in Latin.  Books were very expensive and were not available to all levels of society.

September 2018 – King Arthur building the legend

The session covered:

Continued looking at Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain”.

It was only in the Middle Ages that the story of Arthur started to take off.

Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote the “History of the Kings of Britain” c 1136.  He was a well read clergyman.  He would have been familiar with early sources and welsh folklore and poetry.  He wrote it as an interesting read with added colour.  The west is Britons, the east was colonised by the Saxons amongst others.

The time at which it was written would have had an influence.  For example the references to the combat style and jousting were relevant to 12th Century not the time Arthur is supposed to have lived.

Arthur was a Christian waging war on pagan Saxons, which reflects Geoffrey of Monmouth’s beliefs.  There were massive Saxon casualties, in the many thousands.  No evidence of such huge losses has been found.

One of the old sources he used was Nennius’s battle list for Arthur.  This list was covered in our March session.  He changed the order of battles, combined and added to it.  Perhaps he had other sources for which we no longer have a record or made things up.

He reports military campaigns involving thousands of men, travelling great distances.  In one case an army 183,000 going to Gaul.  He conquered Iceland and Norway.

The result is a rollicking tale reminiscent of the Celtic warrior hero.

July 2018 – King Arthur building the legend

The session covered:

Making a start on Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain”.

In writing his book, Geoffrey used most of the early Welsh sources that we have also covered, plus Welsh folklore and legends that were current in his own time, plus the Classical writers for his Roman history, plus his own imagination.  He produced a very entertaining mixture of probable history at one end of the scale, through myths and legends, to pure fantasy at the other.  He wanted to tell the story of the history of Britain from a British (i.e. Celtic or Welsh) point of view, so the Saxons get a very bad press throughout.

He starts with the first inhabitants of Britain (a race of giants) and then brings in Brutus, the grandson of Prince Aeneas of Troy, who kills off the giants and takes control of the land.  Brutus is followed by a series of British kings who are all portrayed as great personalities, with Arthur as the greatest of them all.

Geoffrey is the first writer to link Merlin with the Arthurian material, and he also introduces Uther Pendragon and Igerna as Arthur’s parents, and Arthur’s conception at Tintagel.  It is thought that Geoffrey may have found the story of Uther and Igerna in a Cornish legend that has now been lost, but the Tintagel connection would seem to have been his own invention.

According to Geoffrey, Arthur began his campaigns against the Saxons as the King of the Britons and sole commander of the British army.  His first objective was to attack the Saxons in York, to seize loot from them, with which he could reward his own men.  He was entitled to do this because he had a rightful claim to the kingship of the whole island of Britain and all that it contained.

June 2018 – King Arthur is there evidence he existed contd

The session covered:

A number of theories which support the argument that an historical Arthur did exist.

We looked at seven of them

1/. John Morris/Leslie Alcock

Arthur was a late C5th/early C6th Romano British war leader from the Celtic Gododdin people who fought  the Picts and Scots in the north and later moved south west to fight the Saxons.

2/. Graham Phillips/Martin Keatman  ref ‘King Arthur: The True Story’, 1992

Arthur was the grandson of the Gododdin Chieftan Cunedda.  He migrated from the north sometime in the C5th and had his HQ at the old Roman town of Wroxeter.  Arthur being a nickname meaning bear.

3/. Fran & Geoff Doel and Terry Lloyd ref ‘Worlds of Arthur’, 1999

Arthur was associated with the Kingdom of Dumnonia in the south west.

4/. Geoffrey Ashe

He was a Romano British war leader originally called Riothamus

This Arthur took an army from Britain into Gaul to fight the Visigoths on the behalf of Rome.

5/. Alistair Moffat ref: ‘Arthur and the Lost Kingdoms’, 1999

Arthur was a Gododdin war leader based in the north who fought the Picts, Scots, Angles, Saxons and the British kingdom of Strathclyde, had a one off battle in the south at Badon and the battle of Camlann was located at the western end of Hadrian’s wall.

6/. C S Littleton & L Malcor ref : ‘From Scythia to Camelot’, 1994

Arthur’s name was Lucius Artorius Castus a Roman general who is recorded as commanding a troop of Sarmatian mercenaries.  These were from the Russian Steppe Lands, north of the Black Sea.  This theory has the dates as much earlier than the others at around 175 AD.

7/. Howard Reid ref: ‘Arthur the Dragon King’, 2001

Arthur was a king of the Alan peoples who originated from the Eurasian Steppes (Scythia).  Mid C5th he moved his people to Armorica (Brittany) where he fought rebellious Celtic tribes on the behalf of Rome.  The C5th ‘Life of Germanus’ records a meeting between Eothar and the Bishop Germanus.

 

We also looked at what it would mean if he was not real and was always a mythological figure.  He may have started as a god/warrior hero and been given a human persona.  This has happened before as we have seen in the Celtic Warrior hero tradition.

The story of Arthur as well as being popular in Britain also exists in Northern France, Germany and Continental Europe.  He appears in Grail Myths.  Where might the myth have come from?  Possible European connections are shown in theories 4, 6 and 7.  For example Arthur is in the myths and legends of the Alan people.  In Scythian legends Nart Saga Tales there is a mythical figure called Batraz.  His mother was a frog by day and beautiful woman by night, he grew at a phenomenal rate, he had a magic sword, killed a giant, had a chalice of truth.  Wounded in his final battle he cast his sword into the sea and the legend is that he is not gone.

Further Reading

There is a lot of information available on the internet by using simple searches on the writers’ names or the topic.  Some books are still in print others are available second hand.

References:-

John Morris ‘The Age of Arthur: A History of the British Isles from 350 to 650’,

Leslie Alcock ‘Arthur’s Britain: History and Archaeology A.D. 367-634’

Graham Phillips/Martin Keatman ‘King Arthur: The True Story’, 1992

Fran & Geoff Doel and Terry Lloyd ref ‘Worlds of Arthur’, 1999

Geoffrey Ashe ‘The Discovery of King Arthur’

Alistair Moffat ‘Arthur and the Lost Kingdoms’, 1999

C S Littleton& L Malcor ‘From Scythia to Camelot’, 1994

Howard Reid ‘Arthur the Dragon King’, 2001

May 2018 – King Arthur is there evidence he existed contd

The session covered:

The continuation of our search for references to King Arthur in the early Welsh source material.

In the Welsh battle poem “Y Gododdin”( attributed to the poet Aneirin and composed sometime in the early 600s) it is said of one Gododdin warrior that ” He glutted black ravens on the walls of the fort/ Although he was not Arthur”.

In the “Elegy of Gereint” (author unknown) that describes the Battle of Llongborth, we have “At Llongborth I saw Arthur, an emperor commanding the battle”.

We have no way of knowing if these one line references to Arthur were there in the original C7th versions of the poems, or if they were added in later copies, when Arthur had become a well-known figure in folklore.

In the “Spoils of Annwyn”, the poet Taliesin (late C6th) gives us a tale of Arthur and his companions conducting a raid on Annwyn, the Realm of the Dead in the Otherworld, to steal the Cauldron of Plenty (cf Cuchulainn who does much the same thing).  This is Arthur in the context of Celtic warrior hero mythology, rather than telling us anything about Arthur as a possible historical figure.

April – King Arthur is there evidence he existed contd

The session covered:

looking at the early Welsh “Saints’ Lives” that were written by monks at Llancarfan in Glamorgan, in the C12th (although the saints in question lived c500AD), so again a large time difference between when the events happened and when they were actually put in a written record.  Arthur is mentioned in the Lives of St Cadoc, St Carranog, St Gildas and St Illtud, in largely unflattering terms, and in encounters in which the saint gets the better of the pagan and unruly warrior.  This may have been subject to bias on the behalf of the recorders.

discussions that these various sources contain some references that could place Arthur in an actual historical context.  However, there is also lots of obviously mythological material that reflects the fact that by the late C12th, Arthur was a very well-known figure in Welsh folklore. So again, possible historical references overlaid by folklore and mythology.  We are really no closer to answering the question “Was Arthur ever an actual historical figure?”

 

 

March 2018 – King Arthur is there evidence he existed contd.

The session covered:

A summary of the previous session where we discussed the suggestion he was a British or Romano leader from the north.  There was not a lot of evidence for his existence, no mention of him in the 540’s documents by Gildas nor by the Venerable Bede in 730ish.  The earliest mention is 800-900 AD (around 400 years later than he is thought to have existed) in the British Miscellany – the Welsh Annals mention Arthur being the victor at the battle of Badon 518 AD and his final defeat at the Battle of Camlann in 539 AD.

Nennius wrote in Latin circa 800 AD.  He compiled data and did not try to interpret it, just to collect it.  As a result there is often more than one account of things and we do not need to worry about his bias.  This gives us a lot of data.  In Nennius’s the ‘History of the Britons’ he covers a lot of the information discussed in the previous session.  He refers to Arthur as Dux Bellorum, a war leader not a king, that could have been why Gildas did not include him in his reporting as he was only a warrior.  Nennius says it as a fact and lists 12 battles in which Arthur took part and won.  He treats him as an historical figure but also as a folklore hero.

The written evidence is still not there and it is thought likely that Nennius found his information for the battles in an old Welsh poem of which there is no remaining evidence.  If this is true there is a theory that Arthur was alive when it was created which would place it prior to his defeat at the Battle of Camlann which is not mentioned.

We looked at the 12 battles referring to information from ‘Arthur’s Britain’ Penguin, London 1971 by, Leslie Alcock who tried to reconstruct the campaign.  The possible sites for the battles were greatly geographically spread which would have meant a lot of travel and did not make military sense and there were time order issues.  There was no consensus on locations and for the first eleven battles the evidence is speculative.  There seems to be very little if any residual evidence for Arthur’s battles.  There is more evidence for the twelfth battle The Battle of Badon.  The Battle of Badon is likely to be in the south given it took place between the Britons and Saxons but this still had five possible locations.

The final battle at Camlann is not mentioned by Nennius but this is covered in the Welsh Annals.  There is considerable debate over the location of Camlann.

Next month we shall consider some slightly later documents written in Latin then onto the mythology of Arthur.

February 2018 – King Arthur is there evidence he existed?

The session covered:

The historical context and where he would fit in to what is known of the people, social and political structures and the geographical location of people and tribes of the time.

There are no surviving early written references to Arthur at a time when the Romans and others kept good records.

When looking at historical records it is important to consider what influences there may be on the writer and their interpretation of events.

There are myths and legends of King Arthur and his followers in Europe as well as Britain.

Traders, warriors, settlers, entertainers etc. moved freely around the west coast of Britain in the time period.  There is an oral tradition of a great warrior hero in the centuries after 500AD which originated in the North of England and down the West Coast 5th C onwards.  Stories of Arthur and resistance appear 960 onwards, 400 years after he may have lived.

There was a discussion on two written references to Arthur in the British Historical Miscellany Welsh  Annals.  The first was to the Battle of Badon in 518 AD and the second to the strife of Camlann in 539 AD which is a long time period after the battle Badon.  Some sources put the battle of Camlann even later which would mean a very long time frame of 21+ plus years between the two battles.  The Miscellany is probably dated c960-970 AD so is from over 400 years after the events recorded.  The consensus is it at least records an early tradition of a warrior called Arthur at the Battle of Badon.

At the next session we shall look at Nennius and the History of the Britons.

January 2018 – The Death of Cuchulainn

The session covered:

Culchulainn’s links to the supernatural and the gods. Tales of him show his ability to move between one world and another, so showing god-like characteristics.  Some tales show him to be descended from the sun god and there are references in the Phantom Chariot to him sailing west for many days.

The three tales in the session covered some common recurring themes and references as such as birds which feature in Celtic mythology.  Bird migration was explained by them moving to the other world and they are seen as messengers and emissaries for the gods.  Green is the colour of the gods.  Water being the delineation between this world and the supernatural, so tales are based on lakes, trips to islands, the magical properties of fords.

The Wasting Sickness of Cuchulainn, this appears in a manuscript of the book of the Dun Cow from 1100’s which covered a story from oral form from long before it was written down. It takes place at Samhain a magical time of year.  Whilst feasting 2 beautiful birds linked by a red/gold chain sing and all who hear it are lulled to sleep.  Cuchulainn awakes and goes to hunt the birds.  They turn into women who whip him until he is nearly dead and leave.  He stayed in bed for a year and then awoke and told his story and goes back to where he was whipped.  The story goes on to involve Fand, the most beautiful woman in the world and abandoned wife a of Manannan Mac Lir the sea god, who wants Cuchulainn and then does not and the story is finally resolved with a drink of forgetfulness so he and Emer (his wife) can go on again as if nothing had happened.

The Phantom Chariot, a story which involves the other world and enchantment and many of the common themes.  It is an epic tale of a raid on a mysterious island where they encounter all manner of mystical beasts which Cuchulainn overcomes eventually coming home with gold.

The Death of Cuchulainn.  Treachery had to be involved as no one could beat him.  Queen Medb had never forgiven him for the cattle raid and she gathered an army against him.  She brought in the triplet daughters of Calitin.  Calitin was a wizard that Cuchulainn had killed along with his 27 sons before the triplets had been born.  They had been raised as witches

There were signs and portents and the Druids tried to keep Culculainn away.  His horse the Grey of Macha refused to be bridled and cried tears of blood.

Three old women cooking a hound on wooden spits invited Culculainn to eat with them.  He was honour bound to do so despite the hound being his totem animal.  This caused serious damage to his strength and fighting ability with half his body paralysed.  He saw his enemies and asked three druids for the three spears he had with him.  These were Medb’s men and they gave them to him by hurling them at him, fatally wounding him and killing Laegh Mac Riangabra his faithful charioteer.  He died after tying himself to a stone pillar so he could die standing.  With his death the glory of the Red Branch of Ulster passed.

December 2017 – Irish Celtic Warrior Hero Cuchulainn

The session covered:

More exploits of the Irish Celtic warrior hero Cuchulainn, the greatest hero the world has ever known.

This session carried on with the story of the Champion’s Portion. After many trials of their strength and courage, Cuchulainn won the contest and claimed the Champion’s Portion.  Consistently, Cuchulainn showed greater strength and courage than the other two warriors, Laoghaire and Conall. However the crucial thing was that he was also an honourable man. He kept his word and stayed to face another giant, when the other two turned tail and ran. That was what made Cuchulainn a true champion.

November 2017 – Cuchulainn

The session covered:

More exploits of the Irish Celtic warrior hero Cuchulainn, the greatest hero the world has ever known.

Cuchulainn was called Setanta when he was born and given the warrior name of Cuchulainn when he was nearly seven years old after he killed a guard hound in self-defence and replaced the hound by defending its owner’s property until a new one was trained.  The hound was owned by a smith called Culann, Cuchulainn means ‘The Hound of Culann’.

The wooing of Emer –  Emer was the daughter of Forgall of Leinster and was the most beautiful woman in Ireland.  Cuchulainn wanted Emer and she set him some trials to win her hand.  It was during these trials he travelled to Skye with the aid of a magical wheel provided by his father Lugh the Celtic sun god.  In Skye he trained with Scathach a great female warrior and became an accomplished warrior and gained Gae Bolga a barbed spear which would split into 30 barbs.  It was also here he had the prophesy that he would live three and thirty years and die at the peak of his glory.  Eventually Emer was his.

Throughout there was a discussion on how he met the list of attributes of the hero.

The Champion’s Portion – We started this rollicking and entertaining tale of the Champion’s Portion.  Bricriu was a Chieftain of Ulster who built the finest house in a year and a day and invited warriors Cuchulainn, Laoghaire and Conall Caernach, amongst others to a magnificent feast with the intention to cause discord.  Though they were wary and set conditions Bricriu managed to set seeds of dissension as the tale progressed.  The Champion’s Portion was a fabulous part of the banquet which would be given to the best warrior.  Bricriu told each of the three warriors they would have it and should send their charioteers to claim the portion as theirs.  The ensuing fight is described in detail with hyperbole, and continues until it is realised that Bricriu had a hand in the proceedings.  Bricriu then spoke in turn to Fidelma the wife of Laoghaire, Lendar the wife of Conall and Emer setting in motion another chain of events which involved unseemly sprinting and the near destruction and restoration of Bricriu’s new house.

This provided the storyteller with more opportunities to illustrate Cuchulainn’s strength and skills.

References:

Wayland D Hand, “Boundaries, Portals and other Magical Spots in Folklore”  Folklore Society, University College (1983)

Claire O’Kelly, “Concise Guide to Newgrave”

October 2017 – Conall Caernach

The session covered:

The exploits of the Irish Celtic warrior hero Conall Caernach, including the story of the Boar of Mac Dathro, in which Conall got the better of the Connacht champion Caet Mag Macha.

There was also a discussion on the part hero/part fertility god aspects of Conall’s character, and the suggestion that he started his mythological career as a god, who was given a warrior hero persona over time, as his story was told and retold.

Started a new hero called Cuchulainn and discussed his unusual origins and childhood – tradition of a triple birth with a human mother and the sky god as his father, setting out for Emhain Macha to begin his warrior training when he was just five years old.

September 2017 – Cattle Raid of Cooley

The session covered:

The cattle raid of Cooley involving Queen Medb of Connacht, her consort Aillil, a young Cuculainn, Ferghus Mac Rioch, Cormac and Conall Caernach.

There are recurring themes of betrayal, loyalty and honour.

Symbolism such as running water at a ford which is linked to magic, wizards could not cross, a crossing point from this world to the other world, so was an access point for gods.

The tale uses exaggeration to entertain the audience and for example to show how great a warrior Cuculainn was.

References:

Marie Heaney, “Over Nine Waves: A Book of Irish Legends”, ISBN: 9780571175185, 1995

As at November 2017, this is available on the internet.

In addition there is a wealth of information on the stories and characters on the internet.

August 2017 – Characteristics of the Mythical Hero

June was away, this was a free group session.

The session covered:

A discussion driven by selecting heroes, this covered Beowulf, King Arthur/Lancelot and Robin Hood, and tying up their characteristics with the list provided. It was interesting to see how many different legends had evolved around each one.

It was a short high level session and it was suggested that these heroes could be discussed further in future.

Characteristics of the Mythological Hero – transcribed from June’s notes

1/. The hero generally belongs to the aristocratic warrior society of his time

2/.  The hero is superhuman, not like ordinary men.  He has superhuman strength, daring, courage, beauty.  The hero also has unusual origins that mark him out as special from birth (e.g. mixed god/human parentage).

3/.  The hero is not just a macho man.  He is cultured as well.  He does not always depend on strength and courage alone; he can use cunning and brain power to get himself out of trouble.

4/.  The hero is usually courteous, kind and fair in his dealings with anyone who plays fair with him.  But whenever he encounters rudeness or unwarranted aggression, or meanness, or cowardice, he will give as good as he gets.

5/.  For the hero fairness, honour, reputation, loyalty, are all-important, and must be safeguarded.  If a hero loses honour, or his reputation he has lost everything.  The hero follows the warrior code of conduct.  He fights strictly according to the rules, and respects his opponents, because his own honour and reputations as a warrior depend on doing just that.

6/.  The hero has a restless spirit.  He is not content to settle for the limitations of human existence.  He longs for adventure and goes to find it.  He tries to fight against his own mortality, and to do great deeds so that his name at least will live forever.

7/.  The hero often dies a tragic and/or untimely death.  He espouses the idea of a brief life filled with glory, again so that his name will live on after he is gone.

8/.  Through his career, the hero often has help from the gods, but this help is not unconditional.  I he offends the gods, they will turn against him.

9/.  The hero is very likely to offend the gods, because he has failings.  He knows the rules, and the importance of following the rules, but he does not always do it.  The hero can be rash, devious, mean-minded, boastful, ungrateful, overbearing, foolish, arrogant.  Worst of all perhaps, so far as the gods are concerned, he can get above himself and forget that while he is superhuman, he is not yet as god.  When the hero steps out of line, one or more of the gods, or Fate, will intervene to bring him back to earth.

July 2017 – Heroes From Celtic Myths and Legends

The session covered:

A recap of some of the information about hero Conor Mac Nessa – the mythological King of Ulster.   Conor possessed all the most desirable qualities in a king- skilled warrior and wise and fair in his judgements, but there was also another less positive side to his character.

The legend of Deirdre and the Sons of Uisnech.  In this legend there was a beautiful girl called Deirdre, a nurse, a Druid, Conor Mac Nessa, a young handsome warrior called Naoise who was one of the sons if Uisnech and a prophecy concerning the future of Ulster.  All did not end well for Ulster via a very complicated narrative involving duty, symbolism, betrayal, and conflicting and unresolvable loyalties.

There were a large cast of characters including Ferghus Mas Rioch a Red Branch champion who was a complex character of prodigious appetites but a strong moral code.  It was suggested in earlier mythology that he was a fertility god who then morphed into a warrior hero.  Ferghus is also featured in the epic tale of the Cattle Raid of Cooley along with Queen Medb of Connacht.

These myths are very early, for example The Book of the Dun Cow was written in the 12th century using language seen in the 8th century.

References:-

Proinsias Mac Cana , “Celtic Mythology”,  Littlehampton Book Services Ltd, 1969

Michael Dames, “Ireland A Sacred Journey”, Element Books; New edition, 2000

Miranda J Green, “Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend”, Thames & Hudson; 2nd Edition,1997

As at September 2017, these are available on the internet.

 

 

June 2017 – Heroes From Celtic Myths and Legends

The session covered:

The introduction of the topic – Heroes from Celtic myths & legends with some general information on the aristocratic warrior society that forms the background to the Hero myths.

Characteristics of the mythological hero – a warrior, handsome, brave, strong, skilled fighter, superhuman with unusual origins, strong sense of honour and loyalty and playing by the rules, a restless spirit, a close relationship with the gods, and  help from the gods in his career.  Alongside all the positives, we also noted that the mythological hero was not perfect, he had failings which often led to his downfall.

Hero Conor Mac Nessa – the mythological King of Ulster.  Conor possessed all the most desirable qualities in a king- skilled warrior and  wise and fair in his judgements, but there was also another less positive side to his character, as in the legend of Deirdre and the Sons of Uisnech, which will covered in the next session.

 

May 2017 – Creation Mythology – Creation Myths of South America

June was away this session so the group did some research and had a discussion.

The session covered:

Maya – This starts with a watery void with grandfather and grandmother deities.  These deities gave birth to twin brothers one of whom was known as the Maize God who married and fathered two sons.  Following a ball game the twins were summoned to the underworld where after a series of trials they were sacrificed.  The Maize God’s severed head magically impregnated the daughter of an underworld god who gave birth to another set of twin brothers who were called the Hero Twins.  The Hero Twins excelled as hunters, ball players and tricksters.  They tricked their half-brothers’ turning them into monkey men who were patrons of all the arts.

In the Maya myth the creation is an iterative process.  The creation is imperfect so the cycle ends and the god tries again.  The first beings were made from mud, the second from wood, third is flesh and the fourth is maize dough which is the current cycle.

Valleys of the Chibcha – These people lived in the mountain valleys of what is now Colombia to the North of the Inca empire.  Their myth starts with darkness then the god Chiminigagua sets the light within him free using a flock of great black birds to disperse it.  Later he sets up the sun in the sky and the moon.  This god did not make man this was done by a female god Bachue and her son and they procreated and their off-spring populated the world.

Inca Creation Myths – These accounts were recorded by priests, from information on pottery, architecture and the legends which survived amongst the native people.  The world started as covered in darkness then out of a lake, the modern Lake Titicaca, a god called Con Tiqui Viracocha emerged.  More detailed information on this can be found via the Crystalinks site, details in the reference section of this post.  Many familiar themes come up.

Inca –  Chac the god of rain who covered the four corners of the world.

Northern Andean Tribes – An all powerful divinity called Sibu who had the power to grow men and animals from seeds.

Rubber Ball – A new item is the rubber ball which comes up more than once and is something of an enigma.  The rubber ball had associated ball courts where sacrifices and prayers were made.

Common South American themes

Dark world, water as a source of people, birds, maize, trees and tree of life.  The South American myths are bird orientated.

Common World Themes

There are common creation myth themes such as a great flood.

Although the land masses were separate, due to climatic conditions there was a greater uptake of water into ice which lowered the sea levels considerably by around 300 feet.  There would have been land bridges which we don’t see today.  Changes in climate conditions would have encouraged people to migrate, taking with them their myths and folklore.  It is estimated that at one point the human population may have dropped to fewer the 10,000 people.

References:-

There is a lot of information available online and in books, some of the sources used in the discussion are listed below.

Link to the map of human migration on national Geographic Site :- https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/human-journey/

World Mythology in Bite-Sized Chunks-M.Daniels-(M.O’Mara Books 2016.) Useful handbook to dip into as reference/guide. Short bibliography & website info.

Mythology – An Illustrated anthology of World Myth and Storytelling “ edited by C Scott Littleton , published by Duncan Baird Publishers . ISN 1-904292-00-3. Second hand copies are available on Amazon from about £4 + p&p, more recent edition for £10

The Maya eight edition Michael D Cole, published by Thames & Hudson ISBN 978-0-500-28902-0

The Mesoamerican Ballgame by Vernon L Scarborough 1993 ISBN 978-0-8165-1360-4

Link to Crystalinks Inca Creation Mythshttp://www.crystalinks.com/incacreation.html

 

March 2017 – Creation Mythology – Creation Myths of North America continued

The session covered:

North America-

The myths of the people of the First Nations, this was an oral tradition so information was transcribed.

In the previous session we covered the Huron and Iroquois myths, they were located north of Lake Erie, around the USA/Canada Border.

The Maidu people were located in what is now known as California.  If you have access to the internet for browsing there is a web site which covers this legend in detail http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/TheCreation-Maidu.html, there are other sites available.  It starts with a dark water filled world with two ‘persons’ floating on a raft, Turtle and Father-of-the-Secret-Society.  The Earth-Initiate came down from the sky onto the raft, his face is never seen but his body shines like the sun.  Similar to the Sky Father in other myths.  From here the land is created by tiny amounts of mud brought up from the sea bed by Turtle.  The Earth-Initiate calls his sister the sun and his brother the moon, he called the stars and they appeared.  Humans were made from the red earth.  Life is made to be easy but when the Earth-Initiate went back above the Coyote brought hard work.  When people die they go to the spirit house in the West.

Tuscarora people are one of the 6 nations of the Iroquois from where North Carolina is now.  It explains how the Sky Holder made the world and the plants and animals.  A long time later he created 6 pairs of humans and told each pair where to live.  The Sky Holder took the Tuscaroras further south towards the Roanoke River, and stayed with them and taught them.  They were the preferred people as he did not stay with any of the others.

Haida people were located along the coast of what is now British Columbia.  The Raven is the central figure who created rocks out of the water so he could rest.  These became the Queen Charlotte Islands.  The Raven made two women from sea shells and only later was a man created by throwing limpet shells at one of the women.

These myths have the common themes such as the ocean/water similar to the primeval sea, a mother earth type figure, sky spirits, good/evil.  There are similarities between the North America and Australia myths where people are seen to have animal ancestors.

February 2017 – Creation Mythology – Creation Myths of Australia and North America

Useful Reference – A. W. Reed Aboriginal Myths, Legends and Fables, 1982, Reed New Holland, Sydney, 2000.

This can be found by searching on the internet and may be available second hand book shops.

The session covered:

Australian creation myths continued-

Great Spirit Father – this was a belief in the south east of Australia, he was  known by a number of names and in the new South Wales he was called Baiame, he was thought, non-corporeal.  He shaped the earth and all on it by thought alone.

The session looked more deeply at two myths associated with Baiame.  Baiame and Marmoo and Baiame and Man.

  • Baiame and Marmoo – how the world created by Baiame was changed by Marmoo the Spirit of Evil and the opposite of all that was good.
  • Baiame and Man – the creation of the world by thought, how day and night were created.  The creation of man incorporating the wisdom and majesty of Baiame and the subsequent creation of woman.

Great Mother Myth – Most of the myths are male dominated but in some parts of the Northern Territories there is the Great Mother.  The Great Mother wandered the Earth in Dreamtime and gave birth to all living things.

Diverse Themes – The Ancestor Myths which are very physical and the Spirit Myths are very different.

The group discussed how this could come about.  It has been suggested ancestor myths are older than the Great Spirit myths and reflect an earlier belief system which was replaced as people became more sophisticated.

An alternative view is that the Great Spirit myths were influenced by contact with Europeans/Christians.  There is a contra view which is that these were likely to be much older than that as they occur in areas where there was little or no contact such as the outback.

North America-

Covering the myths of the people of the First Nations.  This was an oral tradition.

Huron and Iroquois myth. – In 1874 information was recorded from a Huron Chief when he was 70 remembering the traditions from when he was young.  A woman fell from the sky and a Great Turtle  brought earth from the sea bed to make land for the woman to live on.  This grew larger to form a great country which was borne on the back of the Great Turtle.  The woman had twins a Bad Brother and a Good Brother.

 

This topic will be completed next session.

January 2017 – Creation Mythology – Creation Myths of New Zealand and Australia

The session covered:

Common Themes

There are themes which appear in creation mythology which occur in more than one culture.  There are theories as to how these myths became common and widespread.  Perhaps this was spread by travelling people.  They have commonalities with each other which could be explained by similarities in society structure, agricultural environment so could have been used to explain the world.  An alternative view is there is something fundamental within humans which lead to a need to explain things so we do not feel totally helpless.  It formed a basis for discussion at the session.

How would this apply to remote areas of the world such as New Zealand and Australia?

New Zealand Creation Myths

The New Zealand myths, these have similarities with other cultures creation myths in that they started from darkness (Te Kore) and had the sky (Ranginui the Sky Father) and earth (Papatuanuku the Earth Mother) which were separated to create a space between them.  Then followed explanations for the winds and storms, the stars etc.

It is relatively small, with well-connected communities and the myths were relatively uniform across New Zealand and considered learned.

Australian Creation Myths

Australia is more fragmented.  The people were more dispersed, separate and isolated with different languages and dialects, living in very different climates and environments.  There are a myriad different myths and legends for creation.  They are on a more human scale.

Dreamtime and ancestor mythology was widespread.  In this time is not linear, the ancestors are still here, transformed, and are part of the world.  Sudden events happen.

November 2016 – Creation Mythology – Germanic and Scandinavian Creation Myths

The session covered:

Germanic Creation Myths

Creation mythology belonging to the Germanic tribes, including the Angles and Saxons who were settling in Britain from c400AD onwards, and there is a familiar pattern of a Sky God who mated with Mother Earth to produce the various elements of the universe.

Scandinavian Creation Myths

The creation mythology that belonged to the Scandinavian peoples (including the Danes and Norwegians who were moving into Britain from c800 AD onwards) where it is the god Odin who is credited with creating the Earth, the sky, stars, sun, moon, and the first people.  It is suggested that Odin started his career as the Germanic god Woden, a god of wind and stormy weather, and also a god of battle and a god of the dead.  By 800 AD he had also acquired the attributes of the old Germanic sky god, and emerged as the creator of the universe and the leader of the gods.

The Scandinavian creation myths are very dynamic, with an original chaos that is all about two regions of ice and fire that clash together in the Great Void.

The first living creatures were a giant called Ymir and a cow called Audumla who feeds the giant with her milk, and Buri & Bor who are the ancestors of the gods, emerge from out of the melting ice.  Ymir produces a son, who is the first of the Frost Giants.  Bor and the Frost Giantess Bestla produce three sons Odin, Vili and Ve (it is suggested that Vili and Ve are just aspects of Odin, so we would have Odin as the “three in one”).

August/September 2016 – Creation Mythology – Hindu and Greek Creation Myths

The sessions covered:

Hindu Creation Myths-

According to Hindu mythology (in the Rig Vega) Varuna, the sky god and the god of water, willed the universe into being.  He set out the three worlds- the heavens, the Earth and the air in between the two, and “fixed the waters above the heavens”.  Varuna held the heavens above the earth and lets the waters through, little by little, to fall on the earth as rain.  Varuna was also responsible for maintaining the “good order” of the universe- he had a continuing responsibility for the universe that he created.  In later myths (in the Upanishads) Vishnu replaced Varuna as the creator god.

Greek Creation Myths-

In early Greek myths (Pelasgian myths) the goddess Eurynome was the first entity to emerge from the original Chaos.  She created the serpent Ophion, mated with him, then took the form of a dove and laid the Universal Egg.  All the elements of the universe hatched out of the egg.  Eurynome also gave birth to the gods and goddesses known as the Titans, who were responsible for maintaining order in the new universe and for keeping it safe.

In later Mycenaean myths, the goddess Night was courted by the Wind and she laid “a silver egg in the womb of darkness”.  The egg hatched and out stepped the deity Eros (not the same character as the later god of love).  Eros created the sky, sun, moon and Earth, but it was the goddess who ruled the universe.

Other Mycenaean myths, five beings emerged from the original Chaos these were Gaia (Earth), Erebus (Darkness) Nyx (Night), Tartarus (the Abyss) and Eros.  These beings created the various elements of the universe. Gaia gave birth to Uranus (the sky god) and then Gaia and Uranus produced the Titans who were to rule the universe and to make sure that good order prevailed.

Cronos, the youngest of the Titans, killed his father Uranus and took over as sky god and supreme ruler of the heavens and the earth. Cronos and his sister/wife Rhea then produced the next generation of gods, the Olympian gods- Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon and Zeus.  Zeus killed his father Cronos and took over from him as the sky god, ruler of the gods, and supreme ruler of the universe.

Some Greek myths say that the first humans emerged spontaneously from the earth.  According to other myths, the first men were created by the Titan Prometheus from clay and water. The goddess Athene (Zeus’ daughter) breathed life into the figures.  The first woman (Pandora) was created by Zeus (or on Zeus’ orders) to cause trouble for Prometheus, with whom Zeus had a running feud.

Useful References

S. H. Hooke, “Middle Eastern Mythology”, London, Penguin, 1963

Donald MacKenzie, “Mythology of the Babylonian People”, London, Bracken Books, 1996.

The Folklore Society which studies all aspects of folklore and tradition – http://folklore-society.com/

Steve Round, “A Pocket  Guide to the Superstitions of the British Isles”, Penguin, 2004

Steve Round,  “The English Year”, Penguin, 2006

Christina Hole and E & M.A. Radford, “The Encyclopedia of Superstitions”, revised edition published by Helicon, 1995

Brian Day,  “Chronicle  of Celtic Folk Customs”,  Hamlyn, 2000

Two more general books on folklore  and legends from all over the country:-

Jennifer Westwood,  “Albion: A Guide to Legendary Britain”, first published 1985, paperback edition Harper Collins, 1994

Jennifer Westwood & Jacqueline Simpson,   “The Lore of the Land: A Guide to England’s Legends”,  Penguin, 2005, paperback edition 2006.

These can be difficult to find so try your local library which may be able to order them for you or look in second hand bookshops or charity shops.

July 2016 – Creation Mythology – Egyptian Creation Myths

The session covered:

Four Main Egyptian Creation Myths – There are four main traditions for the creation for which records have survived, based in cultural centres along the Nile.  These were Heliopolis, Memphis, Hermopolis and Thebes.  These have similar themes of a primeval ocean to the ones in Suma etc. covered in the previous session

Khum – In addition there is Khnum a creator god who was known all over Eygpt.

Common Themes – There are similarities in these beliefs and stories in the Hebrew tradition as recorded in the Old Testament Book of Genesis which has at least 2 accounts of creation, Jewish folklore with Adam and Eve and a tradition that survives in the Koran where Satan takes the form of a serpent to tempt Eve.

June 2016 – Creation Mythology – Sumer and Babylonia

Topics Covered :

Why Creation Myths Came about – a discussion around the topic.

Location – Near East/Middle East Maps giving an indication for Sumer and Babylonia’s location, roughly where Syria and Iraq are now.

Time Line – Approximate dates to give time context.

Sumerian and Babylonian Creation Mythology – these are the earliest with surviving physical records.  The information based on clay tablets discovered in archeological excavations of temple and palace ruins.  These had multiple gods.

May 2016 – Completion of Spring/Summer Festivals and Festivities

Topics covered:

May Eve – Before 1752, when the Julian Calendar was in place, May Day was later in the year and May blossom was flowering on the day.  Hawthorn was special, representative of the earth mother, fertility and goddess and used symbolically at May Eve.

May Poles – were saplings, often birch, where most branches were taken off and decorated.  These would be set up on the village green and danced around all year.  These were very different from the white Victorian ones we have today.

The May Queen – Originally had a King.  The procession provided a service to bring good luck in return for donations.

May Hobby Horses – In Padstow the Obby Oss is one of the last hobby horses, it comprises of a wooden frame resting on the rider’s shoulders, with a fashioned horse’s head.  With attendants the Hobby Horse would parade around the town.

May Dew – had special curative properties curing consumption and poor sight amongst other, and brought good luck for the year ahead.

Midsummer -rituals involved bonfires, these happened all over Europe with torchlight processions.

August – the first loaves were baked from the new wheat.

Harvest – rituals were pagan, rowdy and unbridled.  The church tamed it down and civilised it.  The Kern Baby or Corn Dolly preserved spirit of the Goddess of the Corn through the winter.

There was a short discussion on Mythology and how it is distinct from Folklore.  Mythology is large scale covering fundamentals such as where the universe comes from.   Folklore is more domestic.

March 2016 – Festivals and Festivities Spring and Early Summer

Topics covered:

Eggs. Associated with Spring and new life by many cultures with painted and coloured eggs being given as gifts by the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Persians and Chinese in pagan festivals celebrating the return of Spring.  Eggs were symbols of Christ’s resurrection for early Christians.

Colouring eggs. Colouring eggs is ancient and widespread, with mysterious reasons to decorate eggs with special origins stated.  Red being a symbol of life, good luck and fortune.

Chinese Red Eggs © Alpha (https://flic.kr/p/a79mA6)

Chinese Red Eggs
© Alpha (https://flic.kr/p/a79mA6)

Tsoureki, traditional Greek Easter Bread © David Joyce (https://www.flickr.com/photos/bobba_dwj/17146723452)

Tsoureki, traditional Greek Easter Bread
© David Joyce (https://www.flickr.com/photos/bobba_dwj/17146723452)

Easter Games.  There were lots of games focussed around the Easter period, often involving young men showing off their strength. Easter Eggs were used in games such as egg tossing, egg-shackling, egg rolling.

Bonfires.  May Day marked the beginning of Summer.  There were many ritual bonfires, seen as good luck, symbols of renewal and purifying.  All domestic fires would be put out and a bonfire lit by a sacred fire kindled in a special way and then domestic fires would be relit from torches from the bonfire.  Fires were lit at other times of the year.  A strict process had to be followed, with lots of conditions.  Need Fires were lit at times of crisis such as Foot and Mouth.

February 2016. Continuing Christmas and New Year festivities

Topics covered:

Dressing as animals. Frowned on by the church but ignored by the people.

Mummer’s plays. Plays of the people. Based on pagan traditions. Players always dressed in disguise as a form of protection.

Yule candle, yule log. To ensure good luck in new year both candle and log must remain lit.

New Year First footing and wassailing. First footing ensures good fortune for coming year. Wassailing 12th day farmers toast crop then return to farmhouse for feasting.

Previous Sessions

Monday 18 January 2016:  Christmas Festivities and its pre-Christian precursors.  There was much symbolism in the use of greenery and decoration from pagan times.

folklore-20160118-01A good attendnance at our third session

 A good attendance at our third session


Monday 21 December 2015:  Halloween and New Year.  This included burning the Clavie in Burghead on 11 January, New Year’s Eve in the old calendar.  The Clavie was a burning tar and peat filled barrel prepared with much custom and ceremony.  It was then carried round the town on the head by some strong male bearers.  This was supposed to be for good luck for the year ahead.  This tradition is still carried out today.

The images below were provided by the Burghead Visitor Centre, the link will take you to the Clavie page.

folklore-20160129-Clavie 3 folklore-20160129-Clavie 2

Burning the Clavie, Burghead, Scotland

Burning the Clavie, Burghead, Scotland

 Anyone wanting to read more information on this can read Christina Hole’s ‘A Dictionary of British Folk Customs’, London, Hutchinson & Co., 1976, pp 48-50.

 

 

 


 

 Monday 16 November 2015:  This was the first meeting of the group.  At this session it was decided that the first topic focus would be folklore and traditions associated with festivals & festivities through the year.