Five things we’ve learned about fairies through writing this blog

By Jade Westerman, Exhibitions Assistant at Palace Green Library

 

Our first step on the trail into the world of fairies was creating the exhibition Between Worlds: Folklore and Fairy Tales from Northern Britain. Between Worlds considered the various types of fairy folk that had existed in Northern British literature, history, and art. Our goal was to try to dispel the popular belief that fairies were pretty little creatures dancing at the bottom of the garden.

When we started this blog to run alongside the exhibition, we thought we would be prepared for all the weird and wonderful folklore and fairy facts that came our way. I’m happy to say that that was most certainly not the case…

Just as Between Worlds came to an end, so must this blog. For our final post, we thought we’d round it all up by telling you the top five fairy and folklore facts we found most interesting:

 

Folklore Fact No. 1:

Fairy_door_at_Red_Shoes_Ann_Arbor_Michigan_close-up

Photography by Dwight Burdette: close-up of fairy door at Red Shoes, 332 South Ashley, Ann Arbor, Michigan, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fairy_door_at_Red_Shoes_Ann_Arbor_Michigan_close-up.JPG

Homes are a safe haven for many of us, and landscapes are sacred to fairy folk too. The consequences of trespassing on their land is dire and often deadly, depending on which stories you believe. Whether it’s from setting up camp, walking into a fairy ring, or crashing one of their parties, many unsuspecting mortals have been whisked away or had their lives threatened.

Even in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the unsuspecting humans find themselves the play-things of the fairy king and queen, Oberon and Titania, especially after waltzing into their woodland (see Prof. David Fuller’s piece on Shakespeare’s play).

One of the most prominent examples is Thomas the Rhymer, who played a significant role in the Between Worlds exhibition. The romance between Thomas and the fairy queen is famous, with many people regularly trekking to Eldon Hills to visit the location Thomas was gifted his prophetic powers. To read more about this extraordinary story, check out Dr Victoria Flood and Poppy Holden’s posts.

 

Folklore Fact No. 2:

As folklore and fairy tales are rooted in the supernatural, it has been easy to manipulate them for one’s own purposes. Fairies have been the foundation of numerous hoaxes, including the famous Cottingley Fairies: a story of two young girls who nearly managed to convince the world of the existence of fairies.

Myths, folklore and fairy tales have always been a key tool for learning throughout history, and have often been manipulated for this purpose. One of the more surprising posts we received was on the adaptation of fairy tales by the Nazi regime. Many of the us know that there are variations of the story of Little Red Riding Hood, whether it’s the child-friendly or Brothers Grimm versions, but very few of us recollect a Nazi officer as the hero of that story. More on these sorts of tales can be read about here.

 

Folklore Fact No. 3:

Just as in our own human societies, fairy folk – both good and bad – have their own customs and etiquette too!

If you were to find yourself facing head-on with the Faerie Host, Andy Paciorek informs us that you should shout ‘God Bless you’! He also recommends throwing your left shoe at them (but if that doesn’t work, then you’re going to have to fight them with only one shoe on…).

We believe the general rule is try not to disturb them if you don’t need to. Don’t break a fairy ring if you ever come across them and, if you do want to draw a fairy in, then try using something shiny. But if you want to keep them away, then you should keep yellow flowers outside your house or have some iron objects lying around.

Read Pollyanna Jones’ eight tips on how to socialise with a fairy here.

 

Folklore Fact No. 4:

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Groac’h or Water Witch. © Andy Paciorek

The prominence of certain fairy types differs from region to region. Here in Northern Britain, we have hob goblins, fairies who abduct children and adults alike, and even fairy folk royalty (see Rosalind Kerven’s post on the ancient fairies of Northern Britain), amongst many others.fairy folk royalty (see Rosalind Kerven’s post on the ancient fairies of Northern Britain), amongst many others. But then in Scotland, there’s the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, described by author and illustrator Andy Paciorek as good and bad fairies. In County Durham itself, there’s the Water Witch, which waits by the water’s edge, luring in small children to feast on their flesh and bones.

 

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Illustration by Helena Nyblom for ‘The Seven Wishes’ from Among Pixies and Trolls (1913) by Alfred Smedberg, https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pixie_(folletto)#/media/File:I_samma_ögonblick_var_hon_förvandlad_till_en_underskön_liten_älva.jpg

Our friends at the Museum of Magic and Witchcraft explained that Cornwall has a variety of fairies, but their most prominent is the piskie. The piskie runs rampant causing mischief and mayhem along its path. Like most fairies, in order to fend the piskies off, you need some iron. Otherwise, they’ll steal anything shiny and play tricks.

Special Collections and Archives at Cardiff University also had an folklore exhibition running at the same time as ours here at Palace Green Library. Lisa Tallis explained that they wanted to focus on the darker side of Welsh folklore, looking at demons and devils. She speaks of fairies such as the Bendith eu Mamau (Their Mothers’ Blessing), who are known to both bless favoured humans and steal new-borns from their beds.

 

Folklore Fact No. 5:

Folklore and fairy tales aren’t just a thing of the past or creativity to be inspired by the fairy and mythological folk. They still inspire people today, from writers to musicians to artists.

Many authors who have contributed to this blog are still inspired by the stories of fairy folk (the list of authors and their blogs can be viewed here). Adam Bushnell discusses in his post a few modern works that have used folklore and myth as the foundation of their narratives.

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The Brothers Gillespie performing at Palace Green Library Cafe ©Ross Wilkinson

The Brothers Gillespie performed for an audience here at Palace Green Library, playing many songs inspired by the folklore they’ve accumulated on their travels. They’re influenced not only by the likes of Nick Drake and other modern musicians but also the folk songs and fairy tales of old. Many singers today still perform the traditional folk ballads, such as one of our contributors Poppy Holden.

The enchanted atmosphere and landscapes the fairy tales create provide some  fantastic photo opportunities (read James Brown’s blog on his ventures into the fairy landscapes of Melrose, Aberfoyle, Middridge and Inglewood):

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We hope you’ve all enjoyed reading this blog as much as we enjoyed putting it together! However, we couldn’t have done it without the help of all those who made some fantastic contributions:

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Seelie or Unseelie?

By Andy Paciorek, author and illustrator of Strange Lands: A Field Guide to the Celtic Otherworld & Black Earth: A Field Guide to the Slavic Otherworld.


Foreword

The fairy doors within the Between Worlds exhibition were home to numerous types of fairies to discover: Banshees, Selkies, Hobglobins, and Brownies. However, these are not the only fairies in the North. In this post, author Andy Paciorek discusses – both through stories and his own illustrations – the darkest fairy folk of Northern Britain.

 Jade Westerman, Exhibitions Assistant at Palace Green Library


“We should naturally attribute a less malicious disposition, and a less frightful appearance, to the fays who glide by moonlight through the oaks of Windsor, than to those who haunt the solitary heaths and lofty mountains of the north.”

Sir Walter Scott

Should we? Is it the case that, when it comes to Otherworldly denizens, it is indeed grim (or Grimm) up North?

It is a matter of course when dealing with the Hidden People that care must be taken, for all are capricious; they may appear genteel and kindly, but like a golden coin made in payment by such folk, their manner could change as dramatically as the precious metal turns to a dry and dusty dead leaf. Their very nature is in question – what are they? Some theories suggest that the faeries are fallen Angels or alternatively the spirits of the deceased. If the latter, then any necromancer will tell you that you cannot trust the dead; if the former, well they are not even trusted by God. If they are neither of these but are indeed a curious species unto themselves, then in all circumstances their ways differ to those of most humans. Strange and dangerous encounters with the (not always so) Good Folk have been recorded across the British and Celtic isles. The more I dwell upon Scott’s comment, more malevolent entities of the North creep into my mind like insidious earwigs.

To the Scots, there was a clear distinction between the natures of the not so bad and the not at all good faeries. The benign belonged to the Seelie Court – the blessed, the joyful. The others – the malevolent, the blighted, the demonic ones – were the Unseelie Court. Also known, in hushed tones, in various places by myriad other names, such as the Host, the Spirit Multitude, the Sounds of Infinity – the Unseelie Court manifested first as an ominous, brooding, black cloud sweeping across the darkened, crepuscular northern skies.

lion fairy

© Andy Paciorek

As the sinister horde approached, writhing among their number were a multitude of the vilest Fay beings imaginable, hollering and snarling hexes and curses. Also, perhaps to be spotted amongst their number, were the lost souls of the deceased who had passed over from their wicked lives.

Soaring through the air, the vicious maelstrom of the Unseelie Court would damage crops and dwellings and inflict injury upon both man and beast with a flurry of elf-shot (people who found Neolithic flint arrowheads would in the past sometimes identify these as the weaponry of fairie forces). Other unfortunate folk could find themselves snatched into the air by the grasping fingers of the Multitude. They may become roughly compelled to join the Court in their unholy practises or simply dragged along for a nightmare ride before being unceremoniously dumped many miles away from where they had been abducted. Some victims would be found alive; others less so.

Holding on

© Andy Paciorek

To avoid such an experience, should one see the Faerie Host approaching through the air, then some of the following words might protect from injury or death – to exclaim “God Bless you” at the gathering storm. To hurl your left shoe at the Unseelie Court or to wear a sprig of Rowan. These tokens might protect, but we stress the word might.

However, not all of the malevolent fays and otherworldly entities of the North Country were gregarious. Others were solitary, but no less savage.

Briefly, I will outline merely some of these strange and sinister beings.

Armed with a wooden flail tipped with poison apples, the Fachan is a one-legged, one-eyed, one-armed fiend of the hills of Western Highlands and Argyllshire. Plumed at the neck with an array of blue feathers and clothed only in rough fur scraps, oddly the Fachan has been considered by some to be a folk-memory of the Celtic seers of olden times, who, with one arm outstretched, one eye closed and standing on one leg, would in such a manner commune with the Otherworld.

Along the English-Scottish borderlands, particularly in the locality of old forts and castles and their ruins, lurk the Red or Bloody Caps. Named after their headwear, which is dyed in the blood of their victims, these fiends, armed with halberds or pikestaffs, wear cumbersome iron boots, which is curious as most fairie breeds intensely fear iron. Red Caps may sometimes serve as familiar spirits to sorcerers and warlocks versed in the blackest of magical arts.

57. red-caps

© Andy Paciorek

Numerous rivers of the North are haunted by Groac’h or Water Witches. In the county of Durham and its neighbouring county where the River Tees flows, children playing on the water’s edge may fall foul of the green haired, sharp tooted water harridan Peg Powler. Seducing the children with brightly coloured trinkets placed on the bank side, she will grab them with her strong, sharp, spindly fingers and drag them beneath the surface to drown and sometimes to provide a feast of blood, bone and flesh to the hungry Water Witch. In the River Skerne, a tributary of the Tees in the Darlington area, dwells Nanny Powler, Peg’s equally nefarious sister.

 

86. groach

© Andy Paciorek

 

Many more weird and wondrous entities and creatures can be found within the pages of Strange Lands: A Field Guide to the Celtic Otherworld and Black Earth: A Field Guide to the Slavic Otherworld, both written and illustrated by Andy Paciorek. More information can be found here and on Goodreads.

Andy Paciorek is an artist and writer drawn mainly to the worlds of myth, folklore, symbolism, the supernatural, decadence, curiosa, forteana, anomaly, dark romanticism and otherworldly experience.

His solo books, Strange Lands: A Field Guide to the Celtic Otherworld and The Human Chimaera: Sideshow Prodigies and Other Exceptional People are to be followed by Black Earth: A Field Guide to the Slavic Otherworld.

He has produced art work for numerous projects, such as Harper Collins’ Element Encyclopedia and Art for Mindfulness series, Cumbrian Cthulhu and has worked on books by several notable writers including Dr Bob Curran, John and Caitlin Matthews, Chris Lambert and Dr Karl Shuker.

He is the creator of Folk Horror Revival multimedia project and Wyrd Harvest Press, and you can find their Facebook and Twitter here.

 

 

Although Between Worlds: Folklore and Fairytales from Northern Britain is now closed, you can still view and contribute to our collection of favourite sayings, customs and folklore in the comments section. Visit Palace Green Library’s website for more information on our future exhibition programme: https://www.dur.ac.uk/palace.green/.

Neighbourly Devils – Fairies, witches and demons

By Lisa Tallis, Assistant Librarian of the Special collections Archives, Arts and Social Studies Library, Cardiff University


Foreword

Whilst Palace Green Library’s Between Worlds exhibition looks to dispel modern misconceptions of fairy folk in Northern Britain, Special Collections and Archives at Cardiff University chose to delve right into the dark side of Welsh folklore.

Here, Lisa Tallis tells us about the special collection currently on display in the Arts and Social Studies Library at Cardiff University (on show until 31 March 2018). The exhibition studies the folklore, myths, and history surrounding spiteful fairies and demons in Wales, looking at first-hand accounts, poetry, and artwork from the fifteenth century up until modern times.

Jade Westerman, Exhibitions Assistant at Palace Green Library


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To coincide with the Welsh Government’s Year of Legends, Special Collections and Archives decided to curate an exhibition based on the theme of myths and legends. As the Assistant Librarian, I was aware that our collections were incredibly rich in materials relating to these themes, especially works on folklore and Celtic myths. The fairies were an ideal subject since they touch upon so many aspects of these themes, from the supernatural to their almost human characteristics and conducts.

Appropriately, we launched the exhibition on Halloween with a fascinating talk by Professor Diane Purkiss entitled ‘Darkness Made Visible: What Are Fairies?’. A supernatural setting for our exhibition – Neighbourly Devils – was a welcome spin, for as the title suggests, one of the themes that I was especially keen to highlight was the darker side of these intriguing beings.

Known variously as Y Tylwyth Teg (The Fair Family) and Bendith eu Mamau (Their Mothers’ Blessing), so called because of their bestowing blessings on selected mortals whom they favoured, the fairies could also invoke fear as they reputedly stole new-born babies from their cradles and replaced them with their own ugly offspring known as changelings.

Goblins Dazzy Walters

‘Jennet Francis struggles with the fairies for her baby’, illustration by T. H. Thomas from Wirt Sikes, British Goblins (London, 1880).

Naming them by a harsh epithet was known to invoke their anger, and it was essential to show them kindness as they were known to punish those who failed to do so, quite severely in some instances. Fairies were considered secretive people who lived in caves, hollows, or ‘sepulchral mounds’ – a ‘Between Worlds’ existence certainly. They were believed to have supernatural powers that enabled them to hear what was spoken in the air and whisk people away on otherworldly adventures.

 

Hence we have on display an edition of Ellis Wynne’s Gweledigaethau y Bardd Cwsg (Visions of the Sleeping Bard). First published in 1703, this classic piece of Welsh religious prose describes how it was the ‘Tylwyth Teg’ who ‘lifted me on [to their] shoulders’ and took the bard on his otherworldly journey where he witnessed scenes of earthly vice, death, and hell.

This belief is also expressed in a small book of Welsh folktales named Ysten Sioned (Sioned’s Pitcher), based on the character of a beggar woman who would collect any charities offered, no matter what they were, in her pitcher. So too this book gathers together an eclectic mix of Welsh tales and traditions, one of which relates to Ellis Wynne and the popular belief that he was whisked away to the top of Moelfre mountain by the fairies who then took him with them through ‘the whole world’.

ysten-sioned

Extract from D. Silvan-Evans, Ysten Sioned (Wrexham, 1894), relaying the popular belief that the fairies have taken Ellis Wynne away from them.

It is interesting that Ellis Wynne initially mistook the fairies for a bunch of ‘witsiaid-melldigedig’ – accursed witches. This brought to mind the story of the ‘old woman of the mountain’ recorded by the author and Independent minister, Edmund Jones (1702-1793) in his Relation of Apparitions of Spirits in Wales (1790), which we also have on display. This apparition, believed to be the ghost of a witch named Juan White, would haunt Llanhyddel mountain in Monmouthshire, leading travellers astray.

Goblins Old Woman

‘The Old Woman of the Mountain’ by T. H. Thomas. Frontispiece from Wirt Sikes, British Goblins (London, 1880), where various versions of the tale are recorded.

Again, what’s interesting is this connection between fairies, witches, and ghosts because they do share certain characteristics. Like fairies, witches were known to punish those who had caused them offence and were also believed to be able to transport people on supernatural journeys, while fairies were thought to be spirits of the dead who would converse with witches or cunning folk. However, the one figure that does bind them all is of course the Devil!

Some people in Wales believed that fairies were the souls of Druids who, not being Christians, could not enter heaven but were too good to be cast into hell and therefore condemned to exist in limbo. For many others, however, their origins were far more ominous. Several sources portray fairies as spiritual beings of demonic origin. In 1677, the Puritan Charles Edwards describes them as neighbourly, or friendly devils (cythreuliaid cymdeithgar), a phrase that lent itself very well as an exhibition title as it captures their mischievous and demonic nature.  Edwards explained how these ‘vermin of darkness’ used to appear as a visible ‘swarm’ to drag people away to their merriments. Edmund Jones was also in ‘no doubt’ that fairies were ‘evil Spirits belonging to the Kingdom of darkness’, while an anonymous author of an early eighteenth-century tract against witchcraft and conjuration claimed they were spirits that were conjured by cunning-folk, and argued that it was forbidden to seek help from those who converse with ‘the dead’ (y meirw). The author was under no doubt that that such spirits were, in fact, devils.

Popular Antiquities

The Fairies by Peter Roberts. Illustration appears in his Cambrian popular antiquities: or, An account of some traditions, customs, and superstitions, of Wales; with observations as to their origin, &c. (London, 1815).

These demonic understandings of the fairies might surprise those of us who are more familiar with the delicate, winged depictions that became popular with the increase in fairy tale publications and the development of Victorian fairy illustration. This is yet another key theme that the exhibition explores as many of the works included featured beautiful illustrations by some of Wales’s most talented artists. Most of these follow the Victorian tradition of romanticising the appearance of fairies, such as Margaret Lindsay Williams’ paintings of the Llyn y Fan Fach Legend, or the lady of the lake.

Llyn y Fan 1 WG30(1917)

He saw a girl sitting on the lake’s smooth surface illustration by Margaret Lindsay Williams, from William Rees, Chwedl Llyn y Fan (The Legend of Llyn y Fan) (Liverpool, 1917).

However, some artists appreciated the darker side of the Tylwyth Teg and created haunting images that reflected this, one of which provided the initial inspiration for the exhibition. So, I will leave you to ponder the following from the proofs of Shirley Jones’ book Chwedlau (Legends) and her description of creating this particular print, and what happened next…

Llen y Werin, Chwedlau Proofs, Artists Books

Shirley Jones, ‘Llên Werin’: Chwedlau: page proofs (Brecon, 2005).

‘Llen Werin, or Folklore, was the final chapter in my artist book, Chwedlau, an exploration into fifteen centuries of Welsh myths, legends and folklore. I thought a fitting image would be of a candle, by which so many of these tales were told. I drew our own candle in its holder, and burnished out this image on a mezzotint copperplate. I left the finished plate overnight, in my studio, protected by a sheet of paper, having decided it needed nothing more added to it. I locked my studio door, as usual, intending to take a print from it next day. But this was when I had a shock: there was now smoke coming from the candle on my mezzotint plate! I hadn’t burnished it out, and no one else could have. And I have never known how it came to be there.’

 

Special Collections and Archives’ exhibition Neighbourly Devils/Cythreuliaid Cymdogol is open until 31 March, 2018, and is available online at neighbourlydevils.weebly.com.

Find out more at www.cardiff.ac.uk/special-collections. Follow Cardiff University’s Special Collections Archives on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: @CUSpecialColls.

 

Entry to Between Worlds: Folklore and Fairytales from Northern Britain is free; opening hours are 10am – 5pm 7 days a week until February 25 2018. For further information about your visit, please visit the Palace Green Library website at: https://www.dur.ac.uk/palace.green/whatson/details/?id=36250

An Interview with the Brothers Gillespie

Foreword

The Brothers Gillespie showcased their musical and vocal talents during a performance at Palace Green Library in November 2017, captivating the audience with songs and stories which brought characters from the Between Worlds exhibition to life. 

This interview with The Brothers Gillespie goes deep into their roots. It allows us to get to know their story and how they created their set-list for the Between Worlds exhibition.

Katie Braithwaite, Project Officer at Palace Green Library


BG fell rock filtered (1)

We are James and Sam Gillespie, brothers raised in Northumberland, specifically Wall in the North Tyne Valley, Hexham and the surrounding area. We are musicians inspired very much by the beautiful wild and troubled lands and histories of these isles we call home. We are drawn to music partly because of its power to create shared spaces of reverence within our cultural milieu, which seems of particular importance given the widespread tendency we are seeing to aggressively rationalise away the sacred or to adopt a posture of all pervasive sarcasm. It’s our belief that it is through our capacity for reverence and listening that we have a chance of hearing and receiving what is really going on between us beneath the chatter and noise. Like the Fairy Realms, for instance, that our ancestors lived their lives in connection with and which the Palace Green exhibition reverently reminds us of.

How did you first become interested in folk music?

We first became interested in folk music as teenagers through discovering the artists of the 60’s folk revival: Bert Jansch, John Martyn, Sandy Denny, The Incredible String Band, Richard Thompson, Anne Briggs, Nick Drake and many others. They carried such a spirit of wildness, freedom and rebel soul that we had up to that point been finding mostly in Rock and Grunge music. Up until then, because of our ignorance of the depth of the tradition I think, folk maybe seemed a bit tame and anachronistic, like Morris men waving Union Jacks and so on. Having said that, our early contact as children with our parents’ tapes of Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, African and other traditional music made a deep and lasting impression on us and blew our minds.

You had a great performance last year at Palace Green. How did you come across the Folklore you incorporated into your set?

Many of the songs have come to us bit by bit over the last few years. For sure Alan Lomax’s early field recordings from Scotland have provided a really inspiring well of songs and a glimpse into living folklore of the past. One or two of the stories came to us from the Newcastle based Storytelling collective A Bit Crack and the Dreaming the Land Pilgrimage from Lindisfarne to Rothbury, during which James played musical accompaniment to the Hen Hole story. Storyteller Lizzie McDougall of Ross-shire gave some deep insights into the Thomas the Rhymer story. Listening to other musicians playing between the Tyne and the Firth of Forth has been gradual learning through osmosis. So too walking the land and its rolling contours, such as the night we slept on the Eildon hill, a place long associated with Thomas the Rhymer whilst walking St Cuthbert’s way. It’s impossible to definitively say how we came across the folklore such as we have come across, the roots and connections get more and more subtle unfolding outwards into the living landscape. This brings us back to the requirement for deep listening to tune in to the messages of the wind and rivers such as there may be.

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The Brothers Gillespie performing at Palace Green Library Cafe ©Ross Wilkinson

There are so many stories and folklore, but how did you choose the ones you wanted to perform?

Given that the Between Worlds exhibition is devoted to the otherworld, for the Palace Green set we decided to choose several songs about fairies. Many such songs are within the Gaelic tradition and language. Part of our motivation to study the Gaelic language is to be able to fall more fully into this tradition of wonderful songs. We chose otherworldly and fairy songs in English and Scots too, rooted in places in the North of Britain particularly the big stretch of borderland between England and Scotland. We also included some songs we had composed ourselves which we felt had some of this otherworldly spirit within them.

Are any of the stories you performed your favourite or are there any tales you had in mind?

Many of the songs we sang are our favourites! We had so many ideas for songs, stories and poems to learn for this performance that we were limited by time in what we could accomplish. We have decided to treat our involvement with this wonderful exhibition and our performance at the Palace Green library as the beginning of a project and as an invitation for us to deepen relationship with the otherworldly side of the tradition which is so close to our hearts.

Bros Sedgefield 1

The Brothers Gillespie’s next gig date will be 7.00pm on Friday 4th May at the art gallery Gallery 45 in Felton, Northumberland: http://feltongallery45.co.uk/about/.

More about the Brothers Gillespie can be found on their website: http://thebrothersgillespie.co.uk/. Their music can be heard on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/the-brothers-gillespie.

 

Entry to Between Worlds: Folklore and Fairy Tales from Northern Britain is free; opening hours are 10am – 5pm 7 days a week until February 25 2018. Please visit the Palace Green Library website for further information about your visit.

If this blog has inspired you to find out more about fairies and folklore, then why not come along to the final public lecture running alongside the Between Worlds exhibition. Find out more about this exciting free talk here:

https://www.dur.ac.uk/palace.green/whatson/details/?id=37740

The Importance of Fairy Tales

By Adam Bushnell, author of County Durham Folk Tales (The History Press, 2013)


Foreword

Fairy tales have been a key tool in the education of children and adults alike throughout history. These stories have been a way of teaching about ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. These ideas vary from society to society. In this post author Adam Bushnell explores how the governing regime in Nazi Germany manipulated popular fairy tales to express their own principles and beliefs.

Jade Westerman, Exhibitions Assistant at Palace Green Library


Bruno Bettelheim explains how fairy tales educate, support and liberate the emotions of children in his book The Uses of Enchantment. I wholly agree. Fairy tales are powerful developmental tools for children and adults alike. They can have a dark side to them, but generally good overcomes evil. They frequently contain moral messages too and are useful tools for promoting oral storytelling. They follow themes and structures still seen in modern writing. For example, The Gruffalo feels like a traditional fairy tale. It has the rule of three just like Goldilocks, The Billy Goats Gruff and countless others.

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief follows all the rules of the fairy tale too with its triadic structure and themes of good versus evil. Modern books still follow the structure and themes of the fairy tale because they are of everlastingly appealing. The themes can be dark, but children still adore them as they excite and inspire. If I told my publishers I wanted to write a book about a cannibal witch that lived in the woods using sweets to lure children to her home, then they would probably be surprised I was pitching this for children in their early years. Yet Hansel and Gretel is exactly that.

Fairy stories are not just for children though. In Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, she describes her stories as ‘reimagining the fairy tale’. We meet familiar characters from childhood in an adult context. We view the stories in a whole new way. It is magnificent to read.

Fairy tales appeal to all ages essentially because human beings are story animals. We thrive on them in all of their forms, whether news articles, stories in the pub or experiences at work that we share at the dinner table. We communicate through story. We express our inner selves in the retelling of the story. Stories hold great power.

However, fairy tales are something that have been manipulated in the past. The Nazis understood the importance of the fairy tale. One of the first things they did upon rising to power in Germany was to make fairy tales into films and broadcast them in movie theatres across the country. In the Nazi film version of Puss in Boots, Puss is seen standing at the end on a raised platform wearing a swastika armband. The crowd gathered around all chant, “Hail Puss in Boots! He is our Savour! We will live again!”. This was a deliberate attempt to compare Puss to Hitler, with a strong suggestion to children that only a hero should be hailed.

Shortly after the invasion of Poland, the Nazis turned Little Red Riding Hood into a film too, where the heroine is rescued at the end by a swastika-armed, SS uniform-wearing man holding a knife.

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Still of Josef Goebbels’ rendition of Little Red Riding Hood ©Deutsches Filmnstitut (available: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-two/7594061/Nazi-fairy-tales-paint-Hitler-as-Little-Red-Riding-Hoods-saviour.html)

grimm

Frontispiece and title-page of the 1819 edition of Kinder und Hausmärchen by Ludwig Emil Grimm (1790-1863) (Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kinder_title_page.jpg)

At that time, most households in Germany had a German House Book containing the Brother’s Grimm fairy tales. These were often shared by a fire with the whole family. The Nazis rewrote, reprinted and redistributed the book to all households in Germany but this new edition had sinister and subtle changes to the text.

In the original version of the Brother’s Grimm story The Little Magic Table, ‘The Golden Donkey and the Club in the Sack’, there is reference to a ‘yellow stain’ on someone’s trousers to suggest fear and cowardice. In the Nazi version, the yellow stain is written as a yellow star. The same star that Jewish people in the Nazi occupied ghettos were forced to wear.

In another tale, there is a magic fiddle which makes people dance. In the story, the fiddle is used to make Jewish people dance themselves to death in thorn bushes. Hitler wanted to warp young minds into thinking that this was the work of a hero.

Fairy Tales are powerful developmental tools for children and adults alike. As such, the Nazis used it to their own evil ends. Hitler knew of the power of these stories. He knew that children were influenced by them. He knew that if he manipulated them, then he also manipulated children’s minds.

As an author and a teacher, I think that fairy tales are critical in schools and at home. The more we share them in their untarnished form, then they help children, and adults, to understand the way of the world. They contain tragedy, comedy and hope.

Let us hope that the fairy tale will never again be a tool for manipulation, but rather only be used for good.

Adam Bushnell is an author of both fictional and academic books based in Durham. Find out more about his work here.

 

Entry to Between Worlds: Folklore and Fairy Tales from Northern Britain is free; opening hours are 10am – 5pm 7 days a week until February 25 2018. Please visit the Palace Green Library website for further information about your visit:

https://www.dur.ac.uk/palace.green/whatson/details/?id=36250

If this blog has inspired you to find out more about fairies and folklore, then why not come along to the final public lecture running alongside the Between Worlds exhibition. Find out more about this exciting free talk here:

https://www.dur.ac.uk/palace.green/whatson/details/?id=37740

How One Writer Learned to Love Folklore and Chase Magic

By Icy Sedgwick, blogger and author of Harbingers: Dark Tales of Speculative Fiction.


Foreword

Folklore is a part of our everyday lives, still influencing our actions, acting as entertainment in the 21st century, and weaving its way through the history we recount today. In this post, folklorist and author Icy Sedgwick discusses her life-long passion for folklore and how it has shaped her life.

Jade Westerman, Exhibitions Assistant at Palace Green Library


Did you hear the story about the travelling salesman who picked up a stranger in a Las Vegas bar? He woke up the next morning in a bathtub full of ice. The hotel room telephone sat beside the bath, a note taped to it telling him to call 911. It turned out his kidneys were gone, stolen to be sold on the black market.

That, my friends, is an urban legend. You could say they’re the modern descendants of folklore. Warnings and information become encoded in story format, passed along through word of mouth, then in print, and now on the internet. In the above example, the warning counsels against the advances of strangers, wrapped in the guise of ‘a friend of a friend told me…’.

Within folklore, such warnings keep us away from poisonous plants, entering unfamiliar places uninvited, or taking items that don’t belong to us. Folklore also teaches us other valuable lessons, if we have the wit to listen. Gawain shows respect and honour to an ugly witch, only to learn she’s actually a beautiful woman who rewards him for his gallant behaviour. Such an example seems almost too apt for these troubled times.

monks-hood

Monkshood, also known as Wolf’s Bane © Icy Sedgwick

It’s the story side of folklore that fascinates me.

These ancient tales, in their technicolour variations, populated by memorable characters, tell us so much about earlier times. They also come with a side helping of magic and wonder. Perhaps fairies really do cavort in the moonlight, gossamer wings fluttering in a gentle breeze. Or perhaps they steal babies and trick humans into doing their bidding.

The stories are filled with heroes and villains, captivating in their bravery or devilry. Look at King Arthur, forever sleeping beneath a mountain, ready to defend Britain when called. Or the murderous redcaps of the Borders, ready to strike humans down and dip their caps in fresh blood.

It was ghost stories that first snared me. Whenever I’d visit a new castle or stately home with my family, I’d paw through the books in the gift shop. If they had a collection of Northumberland ghost stories or folklore, I had to have it. I grew up with tales of the Cauld Lad o’ Hylton and the ghosts of Newcastle’s Keep. I learned about the Grey Man of Bellister and the phantoms of Chillingham Castle. Naturally, I went in search of them, and I’m yet to track down such a spirit… though I haven’t given up trying.

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Chillingham Castle © Icy Sedgwick

Those stories also inadvertently taught me the history of my city and its neighbouring counties. I learned about the Border Reivers, largely neglected by so-called British history with all its pomp and circumstance. The Battle of Flodden Field rubbed shoulders with the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Over the years I’ve developed my own areas of interest.

The folklore of plants is a particular favourite, from the exotic belladonna to the English yew. I suppose it’s one of the reasons why I love J.K. Rowling’s scenes of Herbology lessons with Professor Sprout. Whenever I visit the Alnwick Garden, I always tour the Poison Garden. Although I try to avoid the henbane when it’s in bloom, for its scent is less than pleasant.

Witchcraft and magic captivate the imagination, from hedge witchery to High Ceremonial magick, throbbing with the beat of Egyptiana. But then there are the quieter, perhaps more important, tales of witches and persecuted women. Take Bessie Dunlop, punished for claiming the same fairyland experience as Thomas the Rhymer. The stories of countless women cry with injustice down the centuries.

I think magic is perhaps my favourite. Haven’t we all sat in traffic, whispering an urgent spell to change the light from red to green? Or fervently begged the universe for one last parking space? Tugging on the strings of the universe might sound fanciful, but maybe it’s the birthright of all humans. It’s hardly surprising my dark fantasy stories feature mages, necromancers, and other wild magic.

Witchcraft and magic: a man conducting magic rites, devils and a ghost appearing, and a hunter cowering in terror. Colour engraving. From Wellcome Images (CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

And let’s not forget the ghosts. Whether they exist or not, there’s something exciting about the creak on the stair when you’re home alone. I’ll never forget finding an inexplicable cold spot in the corridor at the old refectory at Brinkburn Priory, tucked away from draughts and other mundane explanations.

Quite frankly, folklore celebrates the weird and the bizarre.

Whether they’re warnings or lessons, the myths and legends of every culture toss a dazzling throw over normality. They tidy away reason and logic, packing them into boxes to be reopened when the magical moment passes.

We need such oddities in our lives, if only as a reminder that the world doesn’t always make sense. And that’s okay.

Icy Sedgwick writes weird and whimsical fiction in the Gothic horror and dark fantasy genres. Based in Newcastle, she also blogs about folklore and the supernatural when she’s not knitting, writing, or exploring old buildings. You can get a copy of her short story collection, Harbingers: Dark Tales of Speculative Fiction, here, or connect on Twitter @IcySedgwick.

icysedgwick-bio-image

 

Entry to Between Worlds: Folklore and Fairytales from Northern Britain is free; opening hours are 10am – 5pm 7 days a week until February 25 2018. For further information about your visit, please visit the Palace Green Library website at: https://www.dur.ac.uk/palace.green/whatson/details/?id=36250.