Category: Folklife

What Is a Witch? Defining Witchcraft in the ‘Malleus Maleficarum’

The concept of a witch, that is a practitioner of magic, has been part of western folklore for centuries, yet throughout that time it has been subject to continuous reinterpretations.

Continue reading

Magic to Heal the ‘Wandering Womb’ in Antiquity

The idea that the womb wandered about the female body was prevalent in antiquity, even after it was disproven by some ancient physicians.

Continue reading

Lived Folklore in the Fairy Census

The Fairy Census: 2014-2017 is a collection of modern fairy sightings. These have been collected through an internet questionnaire via radio, magazines, newspapers and, crucially, social media. Five hundred men, women and…

Continue reading

The Countryman Magazine: On Sanctuary, and a Medieval Boy Band…

This month, we're delighted that the wonderful folks over at The Countryman magazine have kindly featured #FolkloreThursday in their January edition! 

Continue reading

New Year Celebrations: Herrings in Bonnets at Hogmanay?

In a strange old custom, the Dundee dressed herring is dressed in a crepe paper skirt and bonnet combination in bright colours, tied to ribbons, and carried through the streets and into…

Continue reading

Spilled Salt: Bad Luck or Protection Against Dark Side?

The exploration into the origins of common superstitions continues with spilling salt as a bad omen.

Continue reading

The Nordic Goat of Christmas Past and Present

He used to bleat. Walking upright, a goat the size of a grown man would tramp in from the cold with a sack hanging over his shoulder, bleating.

Continue reading

Winter Folklore: The Creatures of Christmas

From the animals that witnessed the Nativity, to the robins on our greetings cards and Santa’s reindeer, the creatures of Christmas truly animate the magic of the festive season.

Continue reading

Gallows, Germs, or God: Why is it Bad Luck to Put Shoes on the Table?

According to some, leaving shoes on the table is a harbinger of death. This originates from the practice of honouring fatalities in the mining industry.

Continue reading

Dog Folklore: Companion Dogs as Seers, Healers, and Fairy Steeds

When considering dog folklore, we generally think of those stories which feature the Grimm, the Gytrash, or other sinister black dogs roaming the moors in the North of England. But there is…

Continue reading

Family Folklore: How Stories Make Us Who We Are

In the telling of stories, the ghosts of our families still walk, and create a sense of belonging to a vast network of stories that teach us who we are.

Continue reading

Peterborough: Folklore from a Neglected Corner of England

The city of Peterborough in the east of England and its surrounding region is one of the few English areas that has not previously benefitted from a thorough study of its folklore.

Continue reading

Skeleton Folklore: “I Can Feel it in My Bones”

Icy Sedgwick explores the folklore, beliefs, and superstitions associated with the human skeleton in traditional and contemporary cultures across the world.

Continue reading

Kulning, An Ancient Scandinavian Herding Call

Kulning is a high pitched singing technique used by women to communicate with animals and over great distances, most common from 1500 to 1800 in Scandinavia.

Continue reading

Sky Goddesses, Spring Mechanisms, or Sprites: Why Is it Bad Luck to Open an Umbrella Inside?

Madeline D'Este explores the possible origins behind the common belief that the act of opening an umbrella indoors invites bad luck.

Continue reading

Origins of Breaking the Wishbone: Horseshoes, Groins and Chicken Ouija Boards

‘Breaking the wishbone’ is a tradition around the world in the days after a Sunday roast, Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Continue reading

Harvest Folklore

Before the advent of agricultural machinery, harvest time was an important period of physical work and folk tradition and ritual amongst rural communities.

Continue reading

Seven Years Bad Luck? – Reflections, Romans, and Reckless Servants

Bad luck from breaking a mirror has a long history, and the ominous associations are pervasive around the world.

Continue reading

A Brief Tour of European Wedding Cake Traditions

The cutting of a couple’s wedding cake is often the highlight of a wedding reception with newlyweds making their first ceremonial slice into the cake.

Continue reading

Cars, Coins and Cursed Colours: A Brief Introduction to the Folklore of Vehicles

Cars and motorbikes have been with us for over 130 years. In that time they’ve gathered superstitions and urban legends around them like exhaust fumes.

Continue reading

The Origins of ‘Touch Wood’: Tree Spirits, The True Cross, or Tag?

The superstition of 'touch wood', or 'knock on wood' is still common today, but what was its original source? Madeleine D'Este explores some possibilities.

Continue reading

Folk Healing & Hypnotism: Arthur Spray, ‘The Mysterious Cobbler’ of Bexhill

Arthur Spray, known as 'The Mysterious Cobbler of Bexhill', wrote an autobiography in 1935 which detailed his famed powers in healing and hypnotism.

Continue reading

Just Hanging Around: The Gallows in English Folklore

The gallows play a dark role in the history of punishment, but also show an important influence in folklore, folk practices, and even everyday language.

Continue reading

The Duality of Modern Haitian Vodou

When the traditional Vodun religion of West African slaves collided in the Caribbean with the incoming Christianity of colonists, Haitian Vodou was born.

Continue reading

How to Sell Your Wife …

How do you rid yourself of a wife who no longer pleases you? Sell her, of course.

Continue reading

Bad Luck comes in Threes: Matches, Murderers or Mathematics

One installment in a series of common superstitions in the English speaking world: ‘Bad luck comes in threes.’

Continue reading

Spinning a Tale: Spinning and Weaving in Myths and Legends

Spinning is a fundamentally human thing, and something that we have been doing since far into the ancient past.

Continue reading

Protection and Punishment: Beliefs About Angels in Tudor and Stuart England

In Tudor and Stuart England, angels were believed to deliver messages, protect the godly, carry souls to heaven, punish sinners, and carry out God’s will.

Continue reading

Dumplings and Dragonboats: The Chinese Duan Wu Festival

When I was a little girl, I used to watch with open-mouthed admiration and puzzlement as my mother prepared the ingredients for the making of zong zi (rice wrapped in leaf). She…

Continue reading

The Folklore of Bells

Folklore shows that bells were not just used to call to prayer or to make an announcement, but also played a role in healing, superstition, and protection.

Continue reading

Wobbly Poets: Joe Hill, Signe Aurell, and Scandinavian-American Laborlore

The songs and poetry of the American labor movement are an example of occupational folklore or 'laborlore', which records worker voices and traditions.

Continue reading

Animal Folklore: A Mole in the Hand

Today, moles are usually unappreciated residents of our gardens and fields, but they are embedded in folklore and for centuries were used in remedies.

Continue reading

Luke Stephenson & Helen Champion: The Clown Egg Register

For over 70 years, the oldest established clowning organization has been painting the faces of clowns on eggs. Each is a record of a clown's unique identity

Continue reading

Bringing Venetian Folklore to the Big Screen: The Plague Doctor

Though we’ve not lost any of our academic appreciation for the hearthside story or campsite tall tale, it cannot be denied that we as a species have moved into the art of…

Continue reading

Folk-Ore: The Magical Power of Blacksmiths and Their Enduring Stories

The folklore of iron and smithing has been common since prehistory, and one of the oldest folktales tells of a blacksmith forging a deal with the devil.

Continue reading

Sheep Folklore: The Life and Lore of the Shepherd

Sheep have been integral to British life for thousands of years, and a long tradition of lore has developed around shepherds and their flocks.

Continue reading

The Clarke Charm Collection: Of Witch Bottles, Witch Cakes and Hag Stones

Clarke’s charm collection reveals a range of uses, including cures for sore throats, the protection of seafarers from drowning, and good luck charms.

Continue reading

Fighting Magic With Magic in Italy: The Good Walkers

The Benandanti were a surprising third party in the fight of good versus evil in Medieval Italy; one that not even the Holy Inquisition could make sense of.

Continue reading

Spring in Southeast Asia: Diasporic Chinese New Year Folklore

Here are a couple of folklore and stories associated with Chinese New Year. I have grown up with these stories as they are part of tradition and culture.

Continue reading

What is First-footing and Can It Improve Your Year?

First-footing as a New Year custom is most common in Scotland and the north of England, but it does have regional, and international, variations.

Continue reading