Category: Folklife

A Treasury of British Folklore: Maypoles, Mandrakes and Mistletoe

I began writing 'Maypoles, Mandrakes and Mistletoe: A Treasury of British Folklore' back in April last year.

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A Forest of Folklore: The Easter Egg Tree

Eggs—long symbols of fertility, rebirth, and love—inundate just-budded trees throughout eastern Pennsylvania each spring. While most states celebrate Easter with rabbit figurines, church festivals, and large baskets filled with chocolate gifts, “Easter…

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The King’s Table: Exploring the Storytelling Tradition

#FolkloreThursday's Willow Winsham interviews storyteller Jean Edmiston and her daughter Amanda on their family storytelling tradition, and Jean's new story, "The King's Table".

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Cross Your Fingers – Luck, Lies, & Ladders

The final article in the series exploring common superstitions is ‘fingers crossed.’ Crossing your fingers is a common gesture in English speaking countries for luck or to cover up little white lies,…

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‘The Lost Words’: In a Nutshell

The Lost Words, written by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by me was published in October of last year by Hamish Hamilton. 

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Top 10 Fun Folklore Activities for Children and Their Grown-ups

The joy of folklore is that it can be discovered and enjoyed at any age! Kate Boughton (@bigsmallfolk) shares some fun activities to get children excited about and involved in different aspects of…

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The Four-Leaf Clover: Druids, Eden, and… Handbags?

Generally, clover represents protection, fertility and abundance, but where does the widespread belief in a four leaf clover’s good luck come from?

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Indian Folklore: In Memory of My Lala Who is No More Now

Here Nalin Verma recalls memories of his uncle, from his childhood growing up in Bihar.

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The Lessons of Monsters: As Learned from Cultural Demons Krampus and Namahage

Chris Kullstroem delves into the world of monsters, their cultural festivals and scare tourism...

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Putting Their Faith in the Fairies: BBC Northern Ireland’s Fascination with the ‘Wee Folk’

Fairies were frequently blamed in Irish culture for events out of the ordinary or scenarios that were difficult to explain. An interest, curiosity, and belief in the fairies also holds an association…

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Wishing on a Star: Angels, Normans, and Pinocchio

The exploration into the origins of common superstitions continues with ‘wishing on a star’.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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! 

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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How to Sell Your Wife …

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

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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.’

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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.

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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.

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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…

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