Category Archives: Folklore & Customs

Traditions from around Europe

Danish Troll Folklore

I have had the joy of visiting Denmark recently, and learning about folklore from that beautiful country. One thing I soon realised, is that there are trolls everywhere! Here is a piece looking at a few of the stories, and places associated with these legendary grumpy creatures. Introducing, Trolls of Denmark.

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Witchcraft and Weather

Throughout the ages, sinister forces have been thought to have been able to manipulate the weather. Ships have been wrecked, storms have been called, floods have been summoned. I’ve collected a few stories of accounts of such events, and also look at how this influences us to this day.

Read more in “Storm Callers – The Art of Weather Magic”.

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The Headless Cross Orchard Wassail

This piece was written for Worcestershire Life magazine’s website in January 2014, who asked for a short article on this urban wassail. Their site has since been revamped and no longer features older articles. For the benefit of anyone interested in this event, I’ve decided to host it here instead.

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Worcestershire has been blessed with perfect conditions for fruit crops, the most famous example being the Vale of Evesham where much of the UK’s fruit and vegetable produce is grown. Throughout the county, the familiar sight of blossom filled fruit trees lifts the spirits in springtime. The orchards provide their own unique eco-systems, and despite being a somewhat artificial environment, provide a haven for wild flowers and insects.

In years past,orchards were very important to local economies. The annual fruit harvest brought a bounty in which was enjoyed throughout the year. Apple orchards gave the people the means to make cider, juice, and cider vinegar which can be used as a preserving aid, disinfectant and in medicine.

Sadly, many of the counties orchards have fallen into decline in the last sixty years. Some of this is due to neglect or more popular varieties of fruit being imported from abroad, with another culprit being development and change of land use.

Bucking the trend of this decline, individuals or groups up and down the county are replanting; hoping to raise interest and awareness of the fruit orchards, preserve local fruit varieties, and even provide a “green space” for the local community. One such group is the Headless Cross Green Community Orchard.

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One of the more surprising places to find an orchard of apple and plum trees is in the busy town of Redditch. Yet, the Headless Cross Green Community Orchard volunteers have managed to create a rather magical space, and provide not only an oasis for wildlife, but an important community resource that will be enjoyed by future generations, which will only improve as the trees mature.

Headless Cross Green used to be nothing more than a grassy area next to the car park for the local shops. In 2010, to provide a space for the community and prevent the land being sold for development, local volunteers cleared the area and planted local varieties of fruit trees such as the Doddin apple and Pershore Purple plum. Their hard work paid off, as the Green was awarded the status of Fields in Trust. This permanently safeguards outdoor recreational spaces through a Deed. Since that time, the Green has been used for many local events each year including a May fair, Apple Day at harvest time, and an Orchard Wassail.

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The first Orchard Wassail was held on a snowy evening in February 2012. Bromsgrove’s Town Crier, the Aelfgythe Morris dancers, and local residents met on the green to Wassail the orchard. Each year since, the locals have gathered to carry out this historic tradition in order to help the orchard to thrive.

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But what are the origins of this festival? The first recorded mention was at Fordwich, Kent, in 1585, by which time groups of young men would go between orchards performing the rite for a reward. The word “wassail” is believed to derive from the Old Norse, “ves heil” and Old English “was hál”, literally meaning “be whole”. The term means “be in good health”, or “be fortunate”. It was first used as a simple greeting, then when the Danes started to settle in Britain in the Dark Ages it became a drinking formula. “Was Hail” became a widely adopted toast in feasting halls.

Over time, a different sort of wassailing emerged. As well as toast the nobility or honoured among their society, farmers began to wassail their crops and animals to encourage fertility and boost the harvest. An anonymous record tells us that, “They go into the Ox-house to the oxen with the Wassell-bowle and drink to their health.” The practice continues in Britain today, whereby the trees are toasted to promote an abundant crop the next year. The cider used in the toast would be made from the apples harvested from the same orchard. Or, if an orchard was barren, it would be a practice that cider from a bountiful orchard would be “fed” to the trees, to encourage them.

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You can keep up to date with the Orchard’s events by following them on Facebook. 

 

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The Legend of Birmingham’s War Stone

Now and again I stumble upon something that upon further investigation, reveals a fascinating and forgotten history that gets me very excited! Whilst trying to find out about the “War Stone” in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, I was surprised to learn of a legend between two battling giants, and a castle that has long disappeared from the maps. Have a read, here.

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The Curse of Raggedstone Hill

The Spooky Isles are publishing plenty of chilling stories to keep you entertained this October. “The Curse of Raggedstone Hill” is a legend from the Malvern Hills, and tells of a dreadful shadow that dooms any that fall within it. You can read it here.

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The Legend of Black Vaughan

The Spooky Isles has published an article on Black Vaughan, a terrible character from Herefordshire that caused woe and despair even after death. Read it in full, here.

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The Cornish Festival of Guldize

Whilst the rest of Britain and Ireland tend to have their traditional grain harvest festivals around the start of August, Cornwall celebrates theirs several weeks later. Find out about Guldize, its meanings and origins, and what happens at this festival in my latest article.

 

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Crooker Waits

This folktale from Derbyshire crams in so many references to pre-Christian practices. Fairy elders, water spirits, sacred libations, magical charms, and the fairy-tale theme of good deeds deserving good rewards all feature in this tale. Crooker Waits is one of my favourite stories, and I’ve blended a few versions in my own words to try and tell it anew.

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The Mermaid of Marden

This folktale from Herefordshire in England, describes how villagers take on a mermaid to recover their church bell. What makes this tale unusual is that the mermaid lives not in the sea, but in the River Lugg! Filled with Herefordshire humour and charm, I am sure that this is a story that you will enjoy. You can read it in full, here. 

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The River Daughters of Plynlimon

High in the hills of mid-Wales, the sources of the rivers Ystwyth, Wye, and Severn, are found. This folk tale describes how they decided the routes that their journeys would take. Read it in full, here.

 

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