Folklore and Mythology

The current topic is how/where paganism and the Christian Church came together.

Scout & Guide HQ
3rd Monday in the month
10:00am - 12.00pm 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, please bring your own refreshments.

2024 Meeting Dates:

Monday 15th July

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.

Last Updated on June 21, 2024

20 May 2024 – Arrival of Christianity to Britain

In the session we continued to look at the impact of the arrival of Christianity to Britain considering the early saints.

There is archaeological evidence of Christianity in Britain dating back to the late 200s and it gradually spread.  In the early 400s the Romans left and people who arrived in the south-east and north-east after they left were pagan, so Christianity was reduced.  However, this did not happen in the west, where it consolidated and expanded.   Roman-style Christianity then slowly expanded in the south-east and east, while British/Celtic Christianity remained strong in the west.  The Celtic form had a more mystical approach and was perhaps more open to the folklore. Up until the eighth century, the British church remained independent of Rome

In early medieval times people were still following the pagan ways. The Roman church had an aim to convert all heathens to the faith so in 601 instructions were sent by the Pope to the British Clergy to take over existing pagan sites.  In 669 a letter from a different pope was sent which instructed them to clamp down upon existing pagan practices.

We looked at the ways the Church did this using the early saints and religious converts.

The lives of the saints were written by Monks in various centres, these were not historical documents.  They were in a position to be able to manipulate the stories.  There was not a lot of concrete information on the early saints and they filled in with the folklore.

1/.  St Brynach – had very little known about him.  He probably lived in the second half of the fifth century, studied in Ireland and then moved to Wales as a missionary and was credited with founding the Church at Nefyn.  In The ‘Life’ written by the monks he outsmarted a Celtic wise woman, created a healing well, built a church in ancient woodland and followed a white sow to a site in the Nefyn Valley where he built another church.

This story had ancient sites and echoes of Celtic stories.  A saint can do anything a Celtic hero can do.  It also made the stories understandable to the people who read about them.

2/. St Cadoc.  Again there were very few facts, he was brought up in a Christian home and then came under the influence of a hermit.  In the ‘Life’ Cadoc had royal origins and was very like a Celtic hero.  He changed the colour of cattle in a clash with King Arthur and won against him.

King Arthur had a difficult relationship with the church at the time, in the early days he was pagan.

3/. St Carannog – had an encounter with King Arthur who was so influenced by Carannog he persuaded a local chieftain called Cato to provide land on which Carannog built a church.

4/. St Padarn – also encountered and overcame King Arthur.

5/. St Illtyd – founded a monastic centre in Llanilltyd.  According to ‘Life’ he was a cousin of King Arthur and was a warrior but gave up his warrior life to live as a hermit after St Cadoc caused his men to be buried alive.

6/.  St David – very little is known about St David, he trained under St Illtyd at Llanilltyd and founded a monastery.

In the ‘Life’ his mother is Non a granddaughter of King Uther Pendragon, his father is a Prince and his birth is surrounded by portents, omens and strange phenomena, prophesied by Merlin.  He trained as priest and followed an austere lifestyle, had a magic bell and horse.  He travelled widely.  He was directed by an angel to Glyn Rhoslyn where he defeated the druid Boia and his wife in a way which echoed the old testament plagues or Celtic Mythology.  There he built a monastic settlement, the origins of St Davids.

Last Updated on June 3, 2024

15 April 2024 – Arrival of Christianity to Britain

In the session we started to look at the impact of the arrival of Christianity to Britain

1/.  According to the early histories, Christianity reached Rome in the year 60 CE, when Paul arrived to preach the gospel.  Christianity reached Britain in the late 200s CE, during the years of Roman occupation.  With the end of the occupation in the early 400s and the arrival of pagan Angles, Saxons and Jutes, Christianity declined in the south east and eastern parts of the country, but continued in the west.

In the year 597 Pope Gregory in Rome sent Augustine on a mission to convert the pagans in Kent. Roman-style Christianity slowly expanded in the south east and east, while British/Celtic Christianity remained strong in the west.  Up until the eighth century, the British church remained independent of Rome.

2/.  According to the folklore tradition (as opposed to the historical account) Christianity reached Britain in a number of different ways:-

i/. Long before St Augustine’s mission, Christianity was brought to Britain by St Paul (version favoured by the British church).

ii/. Long before St Augustine’s mission, Christianity was brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea.  Joseph founded the first church in Britain at Glastonbury (version favoured by the British church).

iii/. Long before St Augustine’s mission, Pope Eleutherius in Rome sent St Fagan and St Dyfan to Britain. They revived Jospeh’s church at Glastonbury and spread the faith from there (favoured by the Roman church).

iv/. Christianity was brought to Britain by the Welsh princess Elen of the Hosts (version favoured by the British church).

The British church favoured versions i, ii, & iv because they cut the Roman church out of the picture. The Roman church favoured iv because it gave the credit of spreading the faith through the country to Fagan and Dyfan.

Last Updated on May 4, 2024

18 March 2024 – Dragons

In the session we continued Dragons.

We looked at folklore stories and legends from various parts of the country concerning dragons and their preferred habitat of woods, pools, wells, and hills. We considered the theory that originally the dragons could have been pagan gods or spirits that were venerated at these various natural sacred places. On a similar theme, the many encounters recorded between the dragons and the saints could represent a battle between Christianity and paganism.

We also traced the links between the dragons and Norse and Celtic myths, and suggested a possible link to earlier cycle of the seasons and creation mythology, with the dragon representing winter, or an original chaos and anti-universe force.

Last Updated on March 24, 2024

19 February 2024 – Plant Lore and Dragons

In the session we completed Plant Lore and started Dragons.

1/. Plant Lore

i/. Fern/Bracken

Has protective powers against evil, storms.  Protective amulets could be made from the dried and treated root of the Male Fern dug up on Midsummer Eve, a ritual had to be properly followed.  These looked like hands.

This led us to a rather gruesome side topic of healing and protective hands. There were gifted healers who could heal by touch.  These healing powers also applied to dead hands, which were best obtained from an executed person, a hand from the ordinary dead could be used but were not as powerful.  The ‘Hand of Glory’ was a charm used in the United Kingdom and most of Europe by sorcerers or occultists.  Cut from a criminal body and dried and pickled until hard it could be used as a holder for a candle made from dead man’s fat and other things, which had the power to stupefy any person who sees it, as if dead and unable to move, so was used as protection.

According to Nicholas Culpeper Adder’s tongue fern cures snake bites, ailments of the tongue, cuts & wounds, sore eyes, stomach aches & toothache

Fern seeds (bracken spores) will bring good luck, find hidden treasure, detect veins of gold, aid fertility, foretell marriage etc.  if collected following a strict ritual on Midsummer Eve, these could not be collected by hand, a hazel rod had to be used.

ii/.  St John’s Wort

It has been used as a treatment for various ills for a very long time and its name is now associated with St John the Baptist, a Christian church reference.

Nicholas Culpepper believed it was a treatment for fevers & palsy, bruises, wounds, vomiting, bleeding, internal obstructions, melancholy & madness, and to get rid of intestinal worms.

If collected in the proper way on Midsummer Eve it would foretell marriage.

iii/.  Mandrake (Mandragora)

There are a lot of legends about it.  It has physical attributes which can make it look like a crude human figure.

Nicholas Culpepper thought it looked like a carrot/parsnip.  He thought the leaves could be used in ointments and other applications and the dried root could be used as an emetic.

According to folklore it is a dangerous plant that screams when it is pulled up causing the person to drop dead or go quite mad. One could use a hungry dog to pick the mandrake by tying a thread to the loosened mandrake and then to the dog, putting some meat by it, letting the dog loose and running. The dog would pull out the mandrake and it would be the dog that died.

The dried root was said to promote fertility, cure insomnia, to relieve pain and promote visions.

2/. Dragons

Prominent in Britain and large parts of the world.

The terms dragon, worm and Serpent are interchangeable.  They can be composite beasts, with scales, legs, snake like, forked tails with optional wings and are formidable.  Found by or closely associated with water, seas, rivers, lakes, bottom of wells, caves, dens in woods, high ground.

They were not always hostile to humans, in the East they are associated with good luck and prosperity, the New Year Dragon in China and Japan.

In western lore they are mostly hostile to people.  We started to look at why there were so many stories in the folklore and why there was a split between eastern and western folklore.

Last Updated on March 15, 2024

15 January 2024 – The Green Man

In the session we covered the Green Man.

There are traditions relating to the Green Man in France. Switzerland, Germany and across continental Europe as well as Britain.

They are mostly in religious settings such as churches and cathedrals and spread between late 1100’s – early 1500’s.

They were located in all parts of the church, the choir, roof, chapels, private chapels, roof bosses, sacristy which showed that they were accepted by the church authorities as well as the carvers and congregations.

We looked at why they were so popular and possible origins.  Were they supposed to ward off evil spirits, products of the imagination of the workmen who created them, linked to the Tree of Mercy mythology, reminders of the consequences of sin?

These seemed too simplistic for the widespread use of the images within the churches and across both Britain and Europe and felt it was likely to be the co-opting of pagan beliefs by the church.  The church had to work reasonably hard to get the people to join them.

We looked a number of likely examples of these including Jack in the Green which Lady Raglan was convinced was the origin of the Green Man.  The term the Green Man was coined by Lady Raglan in the 1930’s, prior to that they were known as foliate heads.

May Crosses which were done on May Day.  Not all were benign, the Burry Man from South Queensferry was sinister and involved the proper following of a ritual and discomfort for the man dressed as the Burry Man.

Last Updated on January 26, 2024

18 December 2023 – Trees and Other Plants

We continued the topic of trees in Irish Celtic Mythology under trees and plants in the landscape.

In the previous session we had covered under the Chieftain Trees oak, hazel, holly and apple trees, leaving ash, yew, rowan, birch and elder to be covered in this session.

i/. The Ash Tree

The tree was powerful and magical, Yggdrasil which holds the world together is an Ash.

It is protective against evil influences, can be used for divination and has healing powers.  The healing powers involve rituals which need to be followed closely.

ii/. The Yew Tree

Yew trees can live for a thousand years and are evergreen.  The lower branches can grow into the ground and grow up from there. They are a symbol of eternal life and the renewal of life.  These too can be used for divination to tell the future and be used to douse for lost goods.  Often found in church yards they may have already been there on a pagan site and co-opted in, or a symbol of the regeneration of life.

Some ancient yew groves exist today, they are dark and gloomy.  It was thought that you could see the spirit of someone as they departed if you held a yew stick, yew trees were seen as a doorway to the other world.

iii/. The Rowan (Mountain Ash)

Gave protection from evil influences of all kinds.  An example was rowan twigs protected babies in cribs.  To stay on the good side of fairies the tree should be protected.

iv/. The Birch Tree

Was associated with the return of summer, growth and fertility in animals and people.  Jumping over a birch besom was part of the marriage ritual.  It was used as a symbol of the woman of the house. It also had protective powers against evil influences including witches, a twig at the threshold gave protection.  Contradictorily it was believed witches used birch brooms to fly at night.  It was also credited with the power to raise the wind and storms.

v/.  The Elder

There were two different views of the elder, possibly one more ancient.

The elder was seen as an ill omen to be feared, in Christianity it was the tree from which Judas Iscariot hanged himself.  It was considered an unlucky tree, wood from it would be kept separate and should not be brought into the house and its wood should never be burnt.

The older pre-Christian lore associated it with positive powers.  The change over may have been due to propaganda being used to persuade people away from the elder’s original venerated status.  Here the burning of the wood may have been seen as disrespectful, permission was sought before a tree would be cut.  It was viewed as being inhabited by the Elder Mother/Owd Gal/Old Lady rather than witches, these had powers to protect from witchcraft.  It was also considered to have all kinds of healing powers, treating bites, rheumatism, erysipelas, wounds, burns etc.  The dried and powered pith was sometimes given if a person was bewitched.


The next session will look at some traditions relating to the Green Man.







Last Updated on January 5, 2024

20 November 2023 – Trees and Other Plants

We broadened the topic of the landscape by looking a trees and plants starting with trees.

1/.  Trees live for a long time, are big, strong with a lifespan beyond those of humans.  They move and make noises with the winds

Most ancient civilisations would have sacred trees, they were venerated. We have a love for trees now but they have ancient sacred memories associated with them too.  Genesis has the tree of life and tree of knowledge so have been seen as wise.  Irminsul the tree of life venerated by the Saxons may be the origin of the English Maypole.  Yggdrasil, the world tree from Norse Mythology held the universe together.

Not all tree were good, The Wild Wood of Northern Europe has a dark ominous view of them.

2/.  Trees in Irish Celtic Mythology

The Chieftain Trees were the most important and included oak, hazel, holly, apple, ash, yew and fir.

i/. Oak – we looked at the Oak in detail, as it was the most important.

It has a powerful spirit, in winter the spirit goes to the mistletoe which is frequently found on it.  A protector against lightning, for the God fearing.  Links to Thor.  Associated with fertility and thus with marriages.  Newly married couples would dance around Marriage Oaks.  Couples would marry in church and process to the oak tree.

Healing powers – an iron nail driven into the oak would cure tooth ache, water from hollows in the tree would cure ulcers.

Some stories were attached to existing traditions.  Oak Apple Day 29th May took existing traditions appropriated by the Royalists to commemorate the restoration of Charles II.  This was very popular, sprigs of oak were worn on coats, sprigs in churches, houses.  The origins were probably from May Day.

ii/. Hazel – hidden knowledge.  9 hazel trees surrounded the Celtic Well of Knowledge.  Hazel rods were used to search for hidden things, suspected thieves, water, minerals, metals.

iii/. Holly – Protective, belonged to the fairy folk.   Not generally allowed in churches due to their pagan associations.  If cut one had to apologies to the tree.

iv/. Apple Tree – Symbol of youth, strength, and healing.   An ancient symbol of fruitfulness and fertility.  Apple trees should never be cut down and should be honoured.  There was a tradition of wassailing the apple where an offering of cider-soaked bread would be made.  These were serious ceremonies where the whole family from eldest to youngest were expected to attend but are more light-hearted in modern times.

Last Updated on November 27, 2023

16 October 2023 – Hill Figures, The Glastonbury Zodiac and Mazes

We continued the topic of hill figures in the landscape.

1/. We discussed the possible link between hill figures and folk legends concerning giants

The Long Man of Wilmington was said to be the outline of a giant who was killed in battle.  A figure that was once at Plymouth Hoe was said portray the giant Gogmagog, who was killed in combat with Brutus’ champion Corineus.

In the 1950s, the archaeologist T. C. Lethbridge carried out a prolonged investigation of the Gogmagog Hills in Cambridgeshire, in search of a hill figure of the same giant.  He claimed to have discovered several figures, but his claims have largely been dismissed.

In a similar fashion, in 1929 Katherine Maltwood claimed that she had discovered the figures of a huge prehistoric zodiac marked out by roads, lanes, field boundaries, watercourses and earthworks in the area around Glastonbury.  The centre of the zodiac was occupied by a figure of King Arthur at Glastonbury Tor.  Mrs Maltwood’s claims have largely been discounted.

2/.  We also considered the ancient mazes – convoluting pathways cut into the turf, or marked out by rocks and stones – that have survived in Britain and on the continent.  The purpose of these mazes is unknown, but it has been suggested that some of them may have been used by church men as paths for contemplation; or they may have been used for ritual dances, with the dancers spiralling in and out of the maze along the paths.

Last Updated on October 28, 2023

18 September 2023 – Rivers, Lakes and Springs Folklore and Hill Figures

1/. We continued the topic of features associated with the British Landscape.

We completed our discussion of folklore associated with inland water, and legends that connect Celtic goddesses to rivers as the sprits of the water.  We questioned if there was a connection between these, the waters are dangerous, there are obvious warnings contained.  It is possible that there are folk memories of the goddesses and spirits from pagan times.

There were beliefs that rivers demanded a quota of drownings over a period of time, some said per year, others every seven years.  We also looked at the importance of the recovery of the bodies of the drowned.  There were rituals used to locate where the bodies were.  It was important for the bereaved to bury them and show respect.

We looked at the folklore related to Aine an Irish Celtic sun goddess/earth mother/mother earth figure and the creation of Lough Gur in Ireland.  She created the lough as a young woman by leaving the top off a well or she was caught by St Patrick as an old woman as she was urinating and that created the lough.

There are many stories in mainland Britain where women left the lid off a well creating lakes and lochs.  Very few of them related to men.  They may have been warnings to protect your precious water source, the water gods could also be dangerous.   Possibly there are links to the memories of the great flood myth which has lots of stories all over the world.

2/. We started a new subtopic of hill figures in the landscape.

White Horses

Most existing white horses are from the late C18th and early C19th due to them becoming fashionable.  These were mainly in Wiltshire due to its topography and the chalk.  A few of these may have earlier figures underneath or Iron Age forts or enclosures nearby.

The white horse at Uffington is the oldest surviving horse.  It is 120 metres long.  It has a stylised shape.  It predates the Norman Conquest in 1066 and the most likely contenders for its creators are the Celts around 1000 BCE.  There is a hill fort by it which is likely to be of the same time.

The stylised shape of the horse is quite common in Celtic metal work and the Atrebates tribe have them on their coins.  It may be dragon not a horse.  There is a Dragon Hill just opposite and the story is that the dragon was killed by St George and the grass did not grow where the blood was spilt.

Human Figures

We looked at two the 180ft Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset and the 230ft Long Man of Wilmington.

There a number of theories of the origins of the Cerne Abbas Giant.  It had an Iron Age enclosure above it and it is likely to have been involved in fertility rites.  We looked at possible dating information/clues for it; the best guess being Celtic.

The Long Man of Wilmington is possibly Saxon or Romano British.  The figure may have had more detail such as eyes as it was almost lost in the turf and was reinstated by white painted bricks.  There is a giant legend associated with it where two giants fought and the figure is the outline left in the hillside of the one which was killed.

We’ll finish this sub topic next time and start a new one.

Last Updated on September 19, 2023

21 August 2023 – British Rock Formations Folklore

We continued the topic of features associated with the British Landscape.

In the session we carried on with our discussion of folklore associated with stone circles, standing stones, burial chambers etc; petrification legends, stones that are impossible to count, stones that have the ability to move.

Many standing stones and stone circles are said to be able to move, to drink from nearby streams or to dance. It is suggested that originally it would have been the people who visited the stones who danced, or poured water over the stone as an offering.

Long Meg and her Daughters are said to be a coven of witches who were turned to stone by the Scottish magician and alchemist Michael Scott.

Callanish Stone Circle on the island of Lewis is said to be giants who were turned to stone by St. Kieran. There is also a folktale concerning a white cow that appeared out of the sea at a time of famine. She gave milk to all, until a malignant witch milked her dirty and the cow vanished.  Possibly offended by the greed and disrespect that the witch had shown.

We also began to consider folklore connected to inland water, and legends that connect Celtic goddesses to rivers as the sprits of the water; Boann and the River Boyne, Sinnan and the Shannon, Deva and the Dee, Sabrina and the Severn etc.

Last Updated on September 2, 2023

17 July 2023 – British Rock Formations Folklore

We continued the topic of features associated with the British Landscape.

In the previous session we had broken the topic into three parts and completed the first section of rocks and rock formations with healing properties.

i/. Natural Rocks and Rock Formations & Stones with Healing Powers

ii/. Natural Rock Formations & Stones with Powers of Fertility

iii/.  Natural Rock Formations & Stones connected to Oath taking etc.

In this session we completed the second two groups and started a new section of Stone circles, Standing stones etc.


1.1  Natural Rock Formations & Stones with Powers of Fertility

These included examples of ensuring female fertility and for easing childbirth and one example of male fertility from Boho, Enniskillen.  Then we looked at stones relating to good harvests, fine weather, or good catches at sea.  In one example in the Western Isles Scotland weather stones were treasured by families and clans; these stone were not always big and were looked after in houses, kept wrapped (often in flannel) and washed in water or milk.

A lot of these stories were in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

We discussed why stones might have been used in these rituals.

1.2   Natural Rock Formations & Stones connected to Oath taking etc.

We looked at number of these which covered marriages, inauguration of kings, oaths and agreements.

If the stones were not respected there could be consequences.  The Deity stone in Penmaenmawr, North Wales it was told that if a person blasphemed or used bad language within arm’s reach of the stone it would strike them.  In the legend it was told someone had challenged this, used bad language and had been found battered and trampled to death beside the stone.

We looked at why stones may have been used for this, perhaps because they are fixed and a constant and somehow these attributes could be borrowed by the process used.  The use of stones in this way goes back at least as far as the Celts.

2/.  Stone circles, Standing Stones etc.

These go back a very long way, certainly to 3500-1000 BCE.  They are all over the country and there are lots of examples in Cornwall which has areas which have not been inhabited so remain undisturbed.  Not all have folklore attached.

There were a number of common themes such as petrifaction of people who failed to observe the sabbath or are duped by the devil, the number of stones being impossible to count, consequences of trying to count them, offerings being made.  There was impact of Christianity on the folklore.

One example in Rollright, Oxfordshire covered a stone circle which had stories relating to a king and his Knights being turned to stone, the stones being impossible to count and the king someday coming back to life.

Last Updated on July 17, 2023

17 April and 15 May 2023 – Heroes in Greek Mythology and British Natural Rock Formations Folklore

In the sessions we the completed the topic of Odysseus, and started themes associated with the British Landscape.

1/. Odysseus

Odysseus was part of the Greek Army which besieged Troy for 10 years.  After Troy fell Odysseus set off for Ithaca, however there was a prophecy that it would take him another 10 years to return.   He fell foul of Poseidon by blinding one of Poseidon’s sons and gloating about it.  That enabled Poseidon to curse him so that he would arrive home with nothing, on a borrowed ship.

On the journey back he annoyed a number of other gods and was beset by storms and lost his men and his ship.  He landed on the Island of Ogygia where Calypso a sea nymph fell in love with him at first sight.  She offered him a place to stay and immortality if he stayed with her. They had 2 children and he stayed for 7 years but he stilled dreamed of Ithaca.

Not all the gods and goddesses were against him and with the help of them including Leucothoe and Athene he made it back to Ithaca as foretold.  Here he was reunited with the faithful Penelope but not before more intervention from the gods where he fought off suitors.  She had been expecting him back after the siege of Troy had been broken.  She had been pursued for marriage and had kept her suitors at bay as she waited for the prophecy of his return to be fulfilled.

There are two versions of Odysseus’s death, one where he died peacefully and the other, after intervention from the gods, he was killed by his son Telgonus who did not know who he was.

Odysseus was a complicated character.  He was at times loyal, resourceful, silver tongued, wise and cunning as well as having warrior characteristics.  He was also a leader with no respect for his men, and a liar.

The ancient Greeks liked this though and regarded him as a tactician and heroic warrior.

The Greek gods and goddesses were very hands on with him and impacted his life.

2/. Exploring the British Landscape

We looked at folklore about how the landscape was used and the impact on the landscape starting with rocks.

Rocks have always been regarded as special places, sacred with associations with old gods.

This is the same all over the world with examples such as Mount Fuji, Uluru and Everest.

The links to giants and the devil may have been the pagan gods venerated at the time, downgraded and surviving in folklore.

We broke the topic into 3

  • i/. Natural Rocks and Rock Formations & Stones with Healing Powers
  • ii/. Natural Rock Formations & Stones with Powers of Fertility
  • iii/.  Natural Rock Formations & Stones connected to Oath taking etc.

i/. Natural Rocks and Rock Formations & Stones with Healing Powers

We looked in detail at a number of these which are spread across the country.

These could be rocks with holes in which could be passed through.  Not all had holes or arches

Sympathetic magic where the strength of the rock can be transferred by contact with it by squeezing through, touching.

By following exacting rituals, it has to be difficult, or it wouldn’t work.  Repeating actions a number of times, in the direction of the sun etc..

These may be preserving folklore memory at these sites.  Some sun worship.  Similar beliefs could be attached to man-made structures.

Last Updated on June 14, 2023

20 March 2023 – Heroes in Greek Mythology

In the session we the completed the topic of Heracles and started on Odysseus, who is the last Greek hero we shall cover.

1/. Heracles

Heracles’ twelve labours were a way of atoning for his madness (imposed by Hera) for breaking the code by killing the defeated King of the Euboeans and desecrating his body.  Whilst in the throes of this madness he killed six of his own children and their partners.

Heracles’ final and most challenging Labour was to go down to the Underworld to bring back the guard dog Cerberus.  He accomplished this formidable task with help from the goddess Athene, and with that the gods declared that he had cleansed himself of the sin of killing his children.

Heracles’ Labours were at an end but his adventures continued and his hot-headed nature continued to get him into trouble.  After Eursytheus insulted him, Heracles killed three of Eurystheus’ sons in his rage.  He murdered a guest in his own house and when the Oracle at Delphi refused to tell him how he could be absolved of this crime he desecrated the holy shrine.

Nevertheless he kept the favour of the gods and when he died (killed by the poison of the Hydra by way of her son Nessus the Centaur) Zeus welcomed his immortal spirit to Olympus.  Acclaimed as the greatest of the Greek heroes, he was a hero with flaws.

2/. Odysseus

A formidable warrior with many hero characteristics.  He was the son of Laertes the King of the island of Ithaca and Anticleia.  Anticleia’s father was Autoclycus the son of Hermes.

Having received the prophecy that if he went to Troy, he would be gone for 20 years and return penniless and alone Odysseus tried to avoid going to Troy which was not usual warrior behaviour.

Odysseus is resourceful, silver tongued, wise and cunning as well as having warrior characteristics.  He was also a leader with no respect for his men, and a liar.

The ancient Greeks liked this though and regarded him as a tactician and heroic warrior.

Next session we shall complete the story of Odysseus and start a new folklore topic relating to natural features.

Last Updated on April 4, 2023

20 February 2023 – Heroes in Greek Mythology

In the session we continued our topic of heroes from Greek mythology by looking at Heracles.

The Greek myths credit Heracles as being the greatest of all the heroes.

His famous Twelve Labours showcase his many hero attributes.  Heracles used his hero qualities of superhuman strength, courage, and supreme skill as a warrior to accomplish a series of apparently impossible tasks.

The Labours also illustrate some of the flaws in Heracles’ character.  He could be hot-headed and impulsive with a tendency to over-react to situations.  Hercules was frequently unable to control his superhuman powers and got himself into trouble as a result.  It would seem that the Greeks wanted their heroes to be complex characters with flaws and shortcomings alongside their super powers.

Last Updated on February 26, 2023

16 January 2023 – Heroes in Greek Mythology

In the session we continued our topic of heroes from Greek mythology.

We completed the story Theseus.

We did a recap of his origins and how he became the accepted heir to the throne of Athens.

His story was as deliberate amalgamation of three characters and how his story was deliberately used to promote an image of a hero.  Theseus was not content to be a prince he wanted adventures and emulated the feats of Heracles.

He defeated the fire breathing white bull which had killed hundreds of men and took it up to the Acropolis and sacrificed it. Crete and Athens had been at war for some time and Minos the ruler of Crete had the upper hand with a strong navy.  King Minos’s son had been killed and he was due recompense for this, so every year seven youths and seven maidens were sent over to Crete and put in the Labyrinth where they were either killed by the Minotaur or died of thirst/starvation.  The story goes that the tribute fell due and Theseus took the place of one of the youths promising if he survived he would fly white sails on his return to indicate he was alive.  He went to Delphi to consult the Oracle who told him to put his trust in Aphrodite.

The back story to the Minotaur was that he was the half-brother to Ariadne King Minos’s daughter, his father was the white bull who had mated with Ariadne’s mother.  King Minos had a labyrinth constructed to contain him.

Ariadne was smitten as soon as she saw Theseus and offered to help him if he would take her to Athens.  Theseus agreed.  She told him to take a ball of thread with him and use it to find his way back out.  Theseus navigated the Labyrinth and slayed the Minotaur in his sleep and followed the thread back out.

Ariadne guided Theseus and his companions to the harbour where they escaped under the cover of darkness.  They sailed to Naxos where Theseus built a shelter for Ariadne and then left her there, breaking his promise to take her to Athens. When she found herself alone she called upon the entire universe for vengeance and Zeus nodded his assent.

Theseus sailed for Athens where he encountered adverse winds which delayed his progress, it took him some time to get there and he forgot about his promise to put up white sails and left the black sails up.

His father Aegeus watched for his son every day and upon seeing the ship with the black sails swooned and fell into the Aegean Sea and was killed.  Some say Theseus did this deliberately.  The original warning by the Oracle had finally come true as Aegeus died of grief.

Theseus became ruler of Athens killing his opponents and setting up a federation of states, a law court and coins with the image of a bull on them.  The mythology also credits Theseus with more adventuring, leaving counsellors and advisors in place whilst he was away.

His adventures also include encounters with the Amazons and the taking of Queen Antiope with whom he had Hippolytus.  He had an alliance with Deucalion the ruler of Crete, whose daughter Phaedra he married, casting Queen Antiope aside.  Antiope attacked them at their wedding and she was hunted down and killed.

Theseus’ grandfather Pittheus adopted Hippolytus as his heir.

There followed Greek tragedy where gods were offended, Theusus’ wife Phaedra was enchanted to fall in love with her stepson Hippolytus, was rejected, and ended with both of them dying.

Another convoluted story involving abducting Helen of Sparta (later of Troy) when she was very young and the consequences of his actions.  He ended up with Hades inviting him to sit in the Chair of Forgetfulness in the underworld from where eventually Heracles rescued him.  During this time the Spartans marched into Athens and set up a Regent.

When Theseus eventually returned he was seriously weakened and unable to do anything so set sail to Crete, he was blown off course and took shelter on Skyros where its ruler Lycomedes initially welcomed him before throwing Theseus to his death from a cliff.

During his life Theseus showed some very bad judgement, not thinking before he acted with some severe consequences for those around him, offended the gods and treated women badly  (for example Ariadne and Antiope).  This may explain why he did not get a hero’s end.

The next session we shall start on Heracles

Last Updated on February 10, 2023

19 December 2022 – Heroes in Greek Mythology

In the session we continued our topic of heroes from Greek mythology.

1/.  We completed the story of Jason and Medea.   Including Jason and Medea’s ruling of Corinth.

He had a close association with the gods with Hera, Atheni and Aphrodite who intervened in his life.

We again looked at where Jason shared characteristics in common with the heroes from Celtic, Germanic and Scandinavian myths and legends and where he seemed weak.  His partnership with Medea continued to be important.  They used deception and magic.

We also looked at the consequences of Jason’s decision to divorce Medea and take a new wife, breaking the oath he had made to the gods to keep faith with Medea.  This had an impact on the rest of his life.  The trust and protection of the gods was vital.  Even though a number of Medea’s actions are quite brutal she maintained a good relationship with the gods and ended her life immortal in the Elysian Fields whilst Jason’s breaking of his solemn oath to the gods meant they withdrew their favours and he spent his last years wandering, hated by all.  In old age he sat in the shadow of the Argo and was killed when it toppled over on top of him.

2/. We started the story of Theseus.

The early myths started in the bronze age and there were originally three characters called Theseus from different areas.  These became amalgamated into a single person; this was done deliberately when the Lapith clan became the senior clan of Athens around 6th C BC. What people wanted at that time was a hero and it was used for political purposes and promulgated by poets and storytellers.

We looked at the early years with Theseus’s father Aegeus going to Delphi to see the Oracle for advice on how to get a son, travelling to Corinth and meeting Medea and then travelling further with Theseus eventually being born to Aethra and raised by her father philosopher Pittheus.  We looked at the symbols and prophecies involved, he had sandals and sword from his father.  These were symbols of royalty and kingship and were part of the real rituals at the time.

Theseus was precocious, strong, intelligent and cultured.  When his mother judged the time was right for him to go to Athens, Theseus insisted on going down the notoriously dangerous coast road.    He wanted to prove himself and have adventures.  He would only react if provoked and any punishment he meted out would fit the crime.  The tale covers an astonishing list of feats and encounters some of which are very similar to those of Heracles.  We looked at the qualities of heroes to see where he matched up.

Meanwhile in Athens Aegeus had married Medea and she had given him a son whom she wanted to be king, so when Theseus arrived in Athens she plotted against him.   Her plot failed as Aegeus recognised Theseus as his son due to the sword he was carrying.  Medea and her son were given safe conduct form the city.

Last Updated on January 13, 2023

21 November 2022 – Heroes in Greek Mythology

In the session we continued our topic of heroes from Greek mythology with Diomedes (also known as Jason- which means healer).

He had a close association with the goddesses Hera, Atheni and Aphrodite who intervened in his life.

We looked at his origins, and why he was brought up by Cheiron a centaur; he grew up to be handsome, strong, and accomplished.  We included why he was tasked with bringing back the Golden Fleece from Colchis; explored in detail his voyage and adventures in the Argo and the setting up of the Argo and crewing it with an elite crew which included Heracles.

We covered the part Medea played in Jason bringing back the Golden Fleece.  Medea was the daughter of Aeetes the ruler of Colchis and was a powerful priestess, brought into the story by Aphrodite who had Eros shoot Medea with an arrow so she would love Jason.

We looked at where Jason shared characteristics in common with the heroes from Celtic, Germanic and Scandinavian myths and legends and where he seemed weak, in these his partnership with Medea was important.

In the next session we shall complete the story of Jason and Medea as they return to his homeland and start the story of Theseus and the minotaur and labyrinth.

Last Updated on November 22, 2022

17 October 2022 – Heroes in Greek Mythology

In the session we began our discussion of the heroes from Greek mythology with Perseus and his role in killing the Gorgon Medusa and in rescuing Andromeda from a sea monster.

We noted that Perseus shared many characteristics in common with the heroes from Celtic, Germanic and Scandinavian myths and legends – strength, courage, a skilled warrior but also learned in the arts of poetry and music and philosophy, and a close association with the gods.

In one version of Perseus’ adventures he is also portrayed as an honourable man who followed the warrior code of conduct to the letter, lived an exemplary life and died in old age.

However, in a second version of his story, Perseus is less than honourable and is eventually murdered by his cousin whose kingdom Perseus unjustly usurped. We suggested some possible reasons why the Ancient Greeks might have been attracted to the idea of the “flawed” hero.

Last Updated on November 5, 2022

20 June 2022 – Greek Mythology

In this session, we carried on from the last session to say more about the sky god Zeus.

He was a the strong, powerful, dangerous guardian of the universe and leader of the gods.  We reinforced the view that Zeus was not portrayed as a remote god, mysterious and unknowable.  On the contrary he was given a very definite character, with weaknesses as well as strengths, and some quite ‘human’ failings.  He was proud, vengeful, vindictive, lustful and he enjoyed meddling in the affairs of both the gods and men.  On the one hand, he needed to be able to interfere as part of his role as a guardian of the universe, but he also seemed to have enjoyed it as well.

Zeus hurried along the start of the Trojan Wars because he wanted to see the numbers of people on the Earth reduced by a long and bloody conflict.

He gave his daughter Tyche the ability to bring both good and bad fortune to mortals in a totally random way and was entertained by the trouble that she caused.

He fathered numerous offspring with both goddesses and mortal women, the latter with the aim of producing heroes who could help to safeguard the earth.

We also included Aphrodite in the session and discussed the argument that she may have begun her career as a manifestation of the Great Goddess.  When she became established in Greece, she was given a different character, but elements of the Great Goddess mythology are still evident in the Greek Myths.

Last Updated on July 6, 2022

16 May 2022 – Greek Mythology

In this session, we started Greek Mythology by returning to creation mythology.

This involved Zeus and the Olympian gods’ take over of the universe from the Titans.

We made the point that the Greeks portrayed their gods and goddesses as powerful figures but also with ‘human’ failings such as jealousy, vindictiveness, lustfulness etc.

We looked at two contrasting aspects of Zeus’ character as the powerful protector and guardian of the universe and social order but also an unbelievable ‘womaniser’, vindictive and cruel and sometimes petty minded with regard to anyone who offended him.

Last Updated on June 7, 2022

21 March 2022 – The Devil in British Folklore completed

The session completed the topic of the Devil in British Folklore by finishing the sub-topic of the Devil making pacts with humans.

In return for worldly gain, the Devil could claim the souls of his victims.  We covered the ways in which the Devil could be outwitted and the human prey escape his clutches.  He was foiled by an assortment of parsons, school teachers and “ordinary” working people.

Last Updated on April 2, 2022

21 February 2022 – The Devil in British Folklore contd

In this session, we started with the legend of Faust and then traced the same theme of the Devil capturing human souls into British folklore.

There is a common theme of the Devil capturing human souls by exploiting human weaknesses and sins:

  • Being disrespectful of the Sabbath;
  • A love of gambling;
  • Greed;
  • An obsession with hunting and other pleasures.

Disgruntled clergymen feature prominently in the Devil’s prey.

It was also possible to fall foul of the Devil through no fault of one’s own e.g., the Devil objecting to the intended plans for building projects.

We also considered folktales in which the Devil was cheated of his prey by clergymen and others who were too clever for him.

Two aspects of the Devil’s character are evident in these tales:

  • a powerful, dangerous figure
  • a figure of fun who can be relatively easily outwitted.

The first aspect may derive from older mythology concerning the Devil as a pagan god.  The second aspect may derive from later Christian anti-pagan “propaganda”.

Last Updated on February 27, 2022

15 November 2021- The Devil in British Folklore contd

In the session we continued the topic of the Devil in British Folklore in the context of the other world creatures we have been looking at.

We had previously grouped the topic, for convenience, loosely into 3 categories

  • Legends and tales linked to unusual landscape features, very similar to features attributed to giants.
  • Attacks on Christianity
  • The devil looking for human souls, making deals and pacts and collecting his dues for them.

This session we completed looking at the second category of attacks on Christianity including church buildings and then started the search for human souls.

1/.  Attacks on Christianity

There were attacks on church buildings particularly the towers and church bells.   Most of these were unsuccessful.

a/. We looked at examples of the throwing of stones/boulders.

  • The devil stone in Staple Fitzpaine Somerset where a huge boulder was thrown by the devil to try to destroy the church, the stone was left behind and shows the Devil’s claw marks. It was said there was treasure underneath it.
  • Kirby Lonsdale where the Devils’s Punchbowl is said to mark the spot where the Devil destroyed a church using a boulder,
  • Rudston, Bridlington, Yorkshire where there is a prehistoric 25 feet high standing stone in the church yard which was ‘thrown’ by the Devil.
  • Evesham, Worcestershire, the Devil twice tried to destroy the Abbey. The Bishop Egwyn, was watching and prayed.
  • Canterbury, the Devil tried to carry the entire town to hell. Canterbury was rich and sinful in medieval times
  • Mayfield, Sussex – The Devil was sent packing by St Dunstan. St Dunstan was working as a blacksmith when the Devil visited him disguised as a beautiful woman, he spotted the cloven hooves when her dress rode up and he grabbed the Devil’s nose with hot tongs.
  • Auchtermuchty Fife – the Devil tried to carry off people from the church as they were so pious. He came in the form of a Calvinist Minister but was betrayed by his hooves and was thwarted by an old man.

We discussed why there were these stories.  They show the power of Christianity, the one true faith.  Early Christianity pitted against the Devil, the Devil is relatively easily outwitted.  The Devil may be big and scary but put your faith in the Church and you will win through.  The Devil cannot compete against the church.  The power of the sign of the cross and prayer

b/.  We looked at some examples which went against the usual tales

  • Oxfordshire – The Devil helped two brothers to build churches at King’s Sutton, Adderbury and Bloxham. This featured a hardworking and honest mason Devil, who got no pay back .
  • Warwickshire – the Devil helped at man in a legal battle against a dishonest landlord. The Landlord said, ‘let the devil take me if this is a lie’ and the devil did.
  • Berkeley, Gloucestershire – a witch was taken by the devil when she died despite the efforts of the church to prevent it and her repenting, and her body being wrapped in chains. Do not get complacent, there are dire consequences of sin.  If you put yourself in the path of the devil even the best of the church cannot save you.

In these tales we learnt about the nature of the Devil, he is powerful, resourceful, endlessly scheming against the church, will take you to hell if you let him, relatively easily outwitted by the god fearing and the alert.

2/  The Devil Goes in Search of Human Souls

This is a powerful and scary Devil

  • Widdecombe, Devon. Widdecombe Jack pledged his soul to the Devil and was taken from out of the church.  This a may have been ball lightning and been a tale which evolved from a  real event.
  • Shepton Mallet, Somerset – an old woman was taken by the Devil. She had been working on Sundays.  She went to the priest to ask for help.
  • Aldbury, Herefordshire. Sir Guy de Gravada pledged himself to the Devil in exchange for the secrets of alchemy.

Next Session will look at Faust

Last Updated on January 9, 2022

18 October 2021 – The Devil in British Folklore

This session we continued the topic of the Devil in British Folklore in the context of the other world creatures we have been looking at.

In the previous session, for convenience, the topic was loosely grouped into 3 categories, though there was some overlapping

  1. Legends and tales linked to unusual landscape features, very similar to features attributed to giants.
  2. Attacks on Christianity
  3. The devil looking for human souls, making deals and pacts and collecting his dues for them.

In folklore the devil is very different from the one in the bible.  We speculated on who the devil may be, the origins and purpose of these stories.

  • They are good stories, often it is known these are not why a feature is there, but it is entertaining.
  • Provide explanations of geographical features
  • Memories/echoes of pagan spirits/gods.  These were venerated at sacred sites and it has been suggested this is where these stories have originated.  In cases they may have been changed into the devil by the Christian Church.

1/. Legends and Tales Linked to Unusual Landscape Features

We recapped and finished the legends and tales linked to unusual landscape features, very similar to features attributed to giants and were used to cover unusual things in the landscape by dropping stones, threatening to destroy certain towns etc.

  • Tunstall, Norfolk:- the Devil stole the church bells.
  • Eldon Hole, Derbyshire:- the Devil’s escape route to hell.
  • Cockcrow Stone, Wellington Somerset:- prehistoric standing stone under which the Devil buried treasure.  If you were there at a specific time coinciding with the crowing of a cockerel you could dig up buried treasure
  • Callow Pit, Southwood, Norfolk:- contained an iron chest filled with gold.

There are a number of stories relating to raising the Devil

  • Cymbeline’s Castle, Ellesborough, Bucks.
  • Druid’s Stone, Bungay, Suffolk
  • Devil’s Arrows, North Yorks.
  • Longcompton, Warwickshire; North Leigh, Oxfordshire.

These had rituals involving circling the hills, stones etc for a set number of times, sometimes backwards, counter to the circling of the sun in the sky etc.

The number seven recurs in the tales

  • In Tarrington in Herefordshire the devil can be raised by walking backwards seven times round the preaching cross whilst reciting the Lord’s Prayer backwards.
  • In Stoke Edith in Herefordshire the devil was said to be able to be raised by walking seven times round the church and then looking in through the keyhole.
  • In Chanctonbury Ring (an Iron Age hill fort) in Sussex the Devil could be raised by walking seven times round the hill on a moonless night

We looked at an extract from ‘Folklore, Myths And Legends Of Britain’ Geoffrey Ashe et al, 1973, covering the Horseman’s Word from Scotland.  This covered the initiation into a secret society, which when successful gave control over horses.  This was from around 1870-1930’s.  There were Celtic horse cults which may be the precursor of this.  There had to be an odd number, preferably thirteen, special knocks, oaths taken, a ‘minister’ who oversaw the ritual etc.

2/.  Attacks on Christianity

We started the second category covering attacks on Christianity and how Christianity developed his character.

We looked at several ones relating to churches including

  • Towednack Cornwall:-  the Devil stole the stones from the church tower.
  • West Walton :- The Devil flew off with the church tower but dropped it as it was too heavy.
  • East Bergholt, Suffolk:- the Devil prevented the people building a stone tower attached to the Church.

These often included church bells.  Bells have their own identity and personalities and in bell ringing they have names.  They were believed to drive away evil spirits and protect against storms.  They are also used to mark the important stages of life; birth, marriages and deaths.

Last Updated on November 8, 2021

16 August 2021- The Devil in British Folklore

In the session we started a new topic of the Devil in British Folklore in the context of the other world creatures we have been looking at.

The devil in this context is different from the biblical one, he is not a fallen angel, nor is he Lucifer.

There are different origins and a vast collection of stories and legends.

For convenience the topic was loosely grouped into 3 categories, though there was some overlapping

  • Legends and tales linked to unusual landscape features, very similar to features attributed to giants.
  • Attacks on Christianity
  • The devil looking for human souls, making deals and pacts and collecting his dues for them.

We started with the first grouping

1/.  Legends linking the Devil to unusual features in the landscape covering things like hills, rocks, glacial erratics, including natural and man-made features also covering prehistoric structures.

They come from all over the country and there are a huge selection of them:-

Devil’s Night Cap, Studland, Isle of Wight.

Bronescombe’s Loaf & Bronescombe’s Cheese, Okehampton, Dartmoor.  Bishop Bromscombe was travelling to Widdecombe became lost and hungry was tempeted by bread and cheese offered by a stranger.  The bishop’s servant spotted cloven hooves and pushed the food away which flew into the air and when they landed formed the rocks known as Bronescombe’s Loaf & Bronescombe’s Cheese

Hel Stone, Dartmoor:- used by the Devil in a game of quoits with King Arthur.

Hurdlestones, Somerset:- used by the Devil in a game of quoits with the Giant of Grabbist.

Broad Stone, Tidenham, Gloucs.:- thrown by the Devil in a contest with Jack o’Kent.

White Rocks, Garway Hill, Herefordshire:- failed attempt by the Devil & Jack o’Kent to dam the weir at Orcop Hill.

Stiperstones Ridge & the Devil’s Chair, Shropshire.

Lea Stone, Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire.

Hartforth, North Riding:- Devil’s failed attempt to destroy the town.

Devil’s Arrows (prehistoric standing stones) Boroughbridge, Yorkshire:- Devil’s failed attempt to destroy Aldborough.

Hell Gill Beck, North Riding:- the Devil building a bridge across the beck.

Devil’s Apron Strings, Casterton Fell; Apronfull Stones, Settle:- stones dropped by the Devil when he was building the bridge at Kirby Lonsdale Carl Crag, Seascale, Cumbria:- formed by the Devil when he was trying to build a bridge between Cumbria and the Isle of Man.

Holes of Scradda, Esha Ness, Shetland:- formed by the Devil.

Semer Water, N.Yorkshire:- stone-throwing contest between the Devil and a giant.

Six Hills (Iron Age burial mounds), Stevenage, Herts.:- created by the Devil when he tried to destroy Stevenage.

Devil’s Shovelful (prehistoric burial mounds), Shobdon, Herefordshire:- created when the Devil tried to destroy Shobdon.

Pyon Hill & Butthouse Knapp, Herefordshire:- formed when the Devil tried to destroy Hereford.

Devil’s Spadeful, Bewdley, Worcs.:- formed when the Devil tried to destroy Bewdley.

Cley Hill, Wiltshire:- formed when the Devil tried to destroy Devizes.

Silbury Hill, Wiltshire:- formed when the Devil tried to destroy Marlborough.

Silbury Hill:- formed by the Devil when he was digging the Wansdyke.

Devil’s Ditch, Berkshire; Devil’s Dykes Cambs. & Herts; Devil’s Dyke, Sussex:- all created by the Devil.

Devil’s Churchyard (stone circle), Minchinhampton, Gloucs:- failed attempt by the people to build a church.

Devil’s Den (prehistoric chambered tomb) Fyfield Down, Wiltshire.

This version of the devil had a lot in common with the stories about giants.

  • Large and very strong.
  • In some tales easily outwitted often by a cobbler.
  • Throwing things and missing the intended target leaving large hills or holes
  • The devil did a lot of dropping of things from his stonemason apron, apron ties breaking, this comes up all over the country.
  • Some amusing stories.
  • Earth moving civil engineering type stories
  • Whilst he may not be friendly with humans he is not obviously evil, cunning, nor greatly feared

There are a lot of stories around the River Severn and the boatmen may have been carrying the story as they travelled.

Next time we’ll finish this grouping, and speculate on who the devil may be, the origins and purpose of these stories.

Then we’ll move on to the second category and look at how Christianity developed his character.

Last Updated on August 31, 2021

18 July 2021- Giants in British Folklore and Mythology contd

In the session we discussed the role of the mythological heroes taking over from the gods in their constant battle against the giants.

Gilgamesh from Sumerian and Babylonian myths fought the giant Humbaba, the guardian of the cedar forest. Humbaba was friendly with the gods and was installed as forest guardian by Enlil (the father of the gods). Enlil cursed Gilgamesh for killing his guardian. Possibly we could put Humbaba in the same category as the co-operative giants from the early creation myths?

Fionn MacCumhaill from the Irish Celtic myths was held captive by the Giant of Lough Our on the eve of Samhain, but then later released in a weakened state. Possibly this is a version of the cycle of the season mythology, with the Giant representing winter, and Fionn as the sun god, released in time for spring?

We moved on then to see the way in which the hero versus giant myths filtered down into folklore, with stories of local folk heroes who also killed their giants- King Arthur, Jack the Giant Killer, the humble widow’s son who killed the Red Ettin and rescued the King of Scotland’s daughter.

Last Updated on August 3, 2021

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

Last Updated on July 11, 2021

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.

Last Updated on June 14, 2021

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.

Last Updated on June 6, 2021

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:-


  • 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.”


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.


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


Last Updated on May 9, 2021

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).



Last Updated on April 9, 2021

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.

Last Updated on March 28, 2021

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.

Last Updated on March 25, 2021

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.


Last Updated on February 9, 2021

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.

Last Updated on January 8, 2021

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.



Last Updated on December 23, 2020

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:-

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’.


Last Updated on December 7, 2020

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

Last Updated on December 7, 2020

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.


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.

Last Updated on December 7, 2020

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.

Last Updated on December 7, 2020

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.


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

‘Encyclopaedia of World Mythology’ Octopus Books

Last Updated on December 7, 2020

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

Last Updated on December 7, 2020

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

Last Updated on December 7, 2020

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.

Last Updated on September 23, 2019

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.

Last Updated on July 30, 2019

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.

Last Updated on July 11, 2019

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.

Last Updated on May 30, 2019

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.

Last Updated on May 30, 2019

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.

Last Updated on March 19, 2019

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.

Last Updated on March 19, 2019

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.

Last Updated on March 19, 2019

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.

Last Updated on January 13, 2019

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.

Last Updated on December 5, 2018

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.

Last Updated on November 3, 2018

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.

Last Updated on October 4, 2018

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.

Last Updated on August 6, 2018

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.


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

Last Updated on August 12, 2018

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.

Last Updated on August 6, 2018

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?”



Last Updated on May 2, 2018

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.

Last Updated on March 26, 2018

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.

Last Updated on October 4, 2018

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.

Last Updated on March 12, 2018

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.

Last Updated on March 12, 2018

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.


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

Claire O’Kelly, “Concise Guide to Newgrave”

Last Updated on November 23, 2017

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.

Last Updated on November 18, 2017

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.


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.

Last Updated on November 18, 2017

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.

Last Updated on September 17, 2017

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.


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.



Last Updated on September 17, 2017

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.


Last Updated on July 2, 2017

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.


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 :-

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 Myths


Last Updated on June 5, 2017

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, 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.

Last Updated on March 22, 2017

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.

Last Updated on March 22, 2017

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.

Last Updated on January 22, 2017

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”).

Last Updated on June 9, 2024

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.

Last Updated on October 24, 2016

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 –

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.

Last Updated on October 24, 2016

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.

Last Updated on October 24, 2016

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.

Last Updated on October 24, 2016

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.

Last Updated on October 24, 2016

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 (

Chinese Red Eggs
© Alpha (

Tsoureki, traditional Greek Easter Bread © David Joyce (

Tsoureki, traditional Greek Easter Bread
© David Joyce (

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.

Last Updated on October 24, 2016

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.

Last Updated on October 24, 2016

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.

Last Updated on October 24, 2016