Tag Archives: Folklore

Names of the Wind — Nick Hunt

 

ELSEWHERE – A JOURNAL OF PLACE recently featured a piece by Nick Hunt who’s book “Where the Wild Winds Are” (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) was published in September 2017.

 

PHOTO: THE BORA IN FULL SPATE ON THE SLOPES OF MOUNT MOSOR, NEAR SPLIT, CROATIA, BY NICK HUNT

 

Nick “set out to follow four, which seemed an appropriate number for winds, drawn by the romance of their names but also intrigued by their effects; Europe’s great aeolian forces are said to influence everything from architecture to mythology to psychology.”

It’s fascinating to discover just how much mythology and folklore is attached to the wind, and how Nick found some of these stories to contain truth, and was a witness to their effects.

The Helm – Britain’s only named wind – blows down the western slopes of Cross Fell, the highest point of the Pennines, with enough force to destroy stone barns in the nearby Eden Valley. According to local legend the summit was formerly known as Fiends Fell, until the air-dwelling demons – whose howling caused such terror in the parishes below – were exorcised by a wandering holy man.

The Helm itself takes its name from a long white cloud called the Helm Bar (a helmet for the mountain’s head) which acts as a harbinger of this freezing north-easterly. I camped for four days and nights up there, scanning the desolate moorland and waiting for the cloud to form; when it did, the demons returned to haunt me with a vengeance.

My second wind was the Bora, which led me down the Adriatic coast from Trieste in north-east Italy through Slovenia and Croatia. Fierce enough to sink ships and hurl fish from the sea, the Bora is also credited with helping defeat the last major pagan army to oppose the Christianisation of Rome – turning the arrows of the troops back towards them in the air – despite the fact that it takes its name from the pagan god Boreas, ancient Greek avatar of the cold north wind.

It is celebrated for bringing good health, in stark opposition to the southerly Jugo, which muddies the sky with a yellow haze (taking its name from the Slavic word for ‘south’, this is the local variant of the many-named Sirocco, whose other appellations include the Khamsin, the Ghibli, the Sharav, the Marin, the Leveche and the Xaloc).

During my three-week walk I found myself in a tug-of-war between Jugo and Bora, north and south, clear skies and humid haze. At last I met my quarry on a snow-covered mountainside above the Croatian city of Split; appropriately enough for a god, Boreas froze the blood in my veins and knocked me off my feet.

The etymology of the Foehn, which I chased across the Swiss Alps, perhaps also stems from the divine – it may derive from Favonius, the Roman god of the west wind – but locally it has earthier names: Schneefresser, ‘Snow-eater’, Maisvergolder, ‘Corn-goldener’, and Traubenkocher, ‘Grape-cooker’, in tribute to its warming effects. Associated with clear skies, sunshine and the coming of spring, it is also blamed for causing headaches, nosebleeds, insomnia, anxiety, depression and a host of other ailments; antique maps depict the Foehn as a puff-cheeked face blowing out not air, but showers of human skulls.

I tracked this ill-omened force for a fortnight from one deep valley to another, acting on meteorological tip-offs and snatches of local lore, until eventually catching it in the heart of Haslital. After experiencing three days of relentless roaring heat – incongrously thundering from snow-capped summits and glaciers – I woke one morning so depressed that I could hardly move. It felt as if everything in my life had gone disastrously wrong, and it took me most of the day to understand the cause and effect. The legends and old wives’ tales were true: I had fallen victim to Föhnkrankheit, the notorious Foehn-sickness. As soon as I escaped that valley, the symptoms disappeared.

My final wind was perhaps the best-known, being something of a household name far beyond its native range: the bitter breath of the Mistral, which blows, according to superstition, for three, five, seven or nine days southwards down the Rhone Valley from Valence to the Gulf of Lion. Its name comes from the Latin magistralis, which means ‘masterly’, and it certainly dominates the land; the farmhouses in its path are built with windowless north-facing walls to protect against its blast, and lines of closely-packed cypress trees are planted as living windbreaks from east to west.

Like the Bora and the Foehn, the Mistral makes a clean sweep of the sky and helps create the vibrant light that has attracted generations of painters to the south of France. But there is a price to beauty; this ‘wind of madness’ is notorious for driving people crazy. Vincent Van Gogh, who lived in its path for two years in the town of Arles – during which time he cut off his ear and committed himself to the local asylum – referred to it in his letters as ‘a nagging malice’, ‘pestering’, ‘merciless’ and ‘the devil’, even as the conditions it brought inspired some of his greatest works.

I followed its trail for ten days down an ancient pilgrims’ path on the western bank of the Rhone, ending my travels on the Plain of Crau, a little-known and desolate region classified as western Europe’s only steppe. Two thousand years ago the geographer Strabo travelled there, describing ‘an impetuous and terrible wind which displaces rocks, hurls men from their chariots, breaks their limbs and strips them of their clothes.

Source: Names of the Wind — Elsewhere: A Journal of Place

Nick’s website can be found here

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Evil Twins and Doppelgangers: What Meaning Does the Double Have in Folklore?

(from @FolkloreThurs – link to full article below)
“Norse mythology features a strange type of double in the vardøger. In a weird form of reverse deja vu; the double does everything the real person is going to do before they actually do it. Witnesses report seeing or hearing a person before they physically arrive.The German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe bumped into his double on the road. Goethe was riding towards Drusenheim, and his double approached in the other direction. This second Goethe wore a grey suit trimmed in gold. Goethe found himself on the same road eight years later, riding in the opposite direction. He was wearing a gold-trimmed grey suit.”

Read the full article at the link below.

Source: Evil Twins and Doppelgangers: What Meaning Does the Double Have in Folklore? – #FolkloreThursday

* Interestingly, I’ve had a couple of episodes similar to both of those described in the short excerpt above. At school, I saw a friend of mine enter the classroom, late for class, and flustered. She closed the classroom door with her back, and approached the teacher to apologise for her lateness. And then… I saw a friend of mine enter the classroom, late for class, and flustered. She closed the classroom door with her back, and approached the teacher to apologise for her lateness, and then she sat down at her desk.  I’ve never forgotten seeing that happen. Not sure if it was “with my own eyes” or what though!
And on another occasion, I experienced something that I cannot explain here, that woke me from my sleep but was inexplicable: then in the exact same place, some years later, an event happened that was exactly what I had thought had woken me up all those years previously. Who knows?!

Anyway, I thoroughly recommend the full article liked to above; wonderful stuff.

image: How They Met Themselves by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, approx 1860-1864

Tree Folklore: Birch, the Lady of the Wood – Jo Woolf

All images © 2016 Jo Woolf

(from Tree Folklore: Birch, the Lady of the Wood – #FolkloreThursday)

Beith’ or birch is the first symbol of the Ogham alphabet, representing the letter ‘B’, and ancient birch woodlands are immortalised in many Gaelic place names: examples include Glen an Beithe, Allt Beithe, and Beith in Ayrshire; the old name of ‘birk’ also appears in many parts of Scotland and England. It’s interesting to note that a fungus known as witches’ broom (Taphrina betulina) grows on birch trees, causing dense clusters of short twigs that look like untidy birds’ nests. Having stimulated this sudden growth, the fungus then feeds on the new shoots without inflicting too much harm on the tree itself.Birch with witches’ broom fungus.

Traditionally, birch is said to be full of the light of the warrior-god Lugh, and the old belief in its power to drive out evil is strong and persistent: even in Victorian times, naughty schoolchildren would find themselves on the wrong end of a birch switch; and ceremonies of ‘beating the bounds’, many of which have survived into the present day, involved the ritual tapping of local boundaries with staffs of birch or willow. Cradles made from birch were believed to protect new-born babies from malicious spirits, and in the folklore of the Highlands, it was said that a pregnant cow herded with a birch stick would bear a healthy calf; and if the animal was barren, she would become fertile.

In Norse mythology, the birch was sacred to the goddesses Frigg and Freya, who are believed by some scholars to share the same origin; and in Welsh legend, the tree was linked with Blodeuwedd, the wife of Lleu Llaw Gyffes – interestingly, the Welsh equivalent of Lugh. The Irish warrior Diarmuid and his lover, Grainne, slept on beds of birch twigs when they fled from the wrath of Fionn mac Cumhaill, to whom Grainne had been promised in marriage. “The birch has always been associated with the spirits of the dead and with those that mourn, for, in sympathy with the sorrowing, ‘weeps the birch of silver bark with long dishevell’d hair’.” Trees and How They Grow by G Clarke Nuttall, 1913.

Birch can mark the threshold between this world and the next: in The Wife of Usher’s Well, an old ballad which appears in Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, a mother grieves for the loss of her three sons whom she had sent “o’er the sea” – perhaps to find their fortune in war. Superstition decreed that the dead should not be mourned for more than a year and a day, or else their restless spirits might return to haunt the living; but the woman took no heed of this advice, and in the depths of winter the ghosts of her sons appeared, wearing hats of birch to protect them from the physical world which they had left behind

Jo Woolf

  • All images © 2016 Jo Woolf

More at the Source: Tree Folklore: Birch, the Lady of the Wood – #FolkloreThursday

Froger’s Capybara and the Metaphysics of Memes – Blog – The Appendix

Froger’s Capybara and the Metaphysics of Memes – Blog – The Appendix.

“We brought three oxen, a few chickens, a tiger-cat, and another animal quite extraordinary, that the Portuguese call ‘Capivard,’ which has the body of a pig, the head of a rabbit, and thick hair the color of ash: it has no tail at all, and sits on its rear quarters like a monkey. It is almost always in the water, and does not venture onto land except at night when it ravages all of the gardens and trees that have fruit.”

Mandrakes – The Devil’s Apples

If a man suffers from any infirmity in the head, let him eat of the head of this plant: or if he suffers in the neck, let him eat of its neck: or if in his back, from its back: or if in his arm, from its arm : or if in his hand, from its hand, or if in his knee, from its knee: or if in his foot, let him eat from its foot: or in whatsoever member he suffers, let him eat from the similar member of its form, and he will be better.

vitruvian_mandrake_by_vredewyrd-d5079u6vitruvian mandrake by vredewyrd

The mandragora root was said conveniently to resemble the whole human form. It was the stuff of which panaceas are made. And when perchance it did not, then the carver’s art could soon effect a resemblance! Joan of Arc (1411- 1431) was reputed to possess a mandrake mannikin which she carried with her.

http://www.biusante.parisdescartes.fr/ishm/vesalius/VESx1997x03x02x095x105.pdf

images

thanks to http://www.medievalists.net/2013/08/05/the-devils-apples-mandrakes/

Labyrinths and Ritual in Scandinavia

Labyrinth-Danmark-747x1024“In Västergötland, Sweden, a similar type of labyrinth game was reported in 1933: Here, people used to draw labyrinths in the snow on the ice during winter. The paths would be wide enough to skate on. In the center was a girl placed, who was called the “Bride of Grimborg”. Grimborg is a medieval legendary hero well known from many parts of Sweden. According to the song of Grimborg, the hero forced his way through fences of iron and steel in order to reach the beautiful daughter of a king. He had to fight the king´s men three times before the king allowed him to marry his daughter. In the skating labyrinth, a guard, like in the legend, would stand to protect the “castle” – that is, the labyrinth. The guard would try to mislead and stop the young man playing Grimborg, who was trying to find his way to the bride.” http://freya.theladyofthelabyrinth.com/?page_id=356

with thanks to David Metcalfe https://twitter.com/davidbmetcalfe

 

 

 

The Trows of Orkney Folklore

Trows are fascinating creatures found only in the folklore of the Orkney and Shetland islands. Yet, describing them accurately is difficult because sources are not always clear.

Folklorists have long insisted that the word “trow” is a corruption of “troll,” and that Orkney’s Trows descend from their Viking ancestors’ stories of Trolls. Sigurd Towrie, author of the comprehensive website covering all things Orkney (Orkneyjar.com), disagrees with this assessment. He believes there may be a connection with a different creature from Norse mythology, the Draugr. This connection stems from both creatures’ affiliation with burial mounds. The Draugr were undead tomb guardians who harassed any trespassers, whether human or animal, who dared to come too close to his mound. In Orkney folklore, Trows also had an association with mounds. Further, “trow” is pronounced to rhyme with “cow.” Towrie believes “trow” evolved from a now extinct Orcadian word “drow” (also rhymes with cow) which relates to Draugr.

http://www.medievalists.net/2013/06/26/orkneys-terrible-trows/

The Rose of The World – The Metaphilosophy of History by Daniel Andreev

364px-Gamaun

Gamayun is a prophetic bird of Russian folklore. It is a symbol of wisdom and knowledge and lives on an island in the east, close to paradise. Like the Sirin and the Alkonost, the Gamayun is normally depicted as a large bird with a woman’s head.

In his esoteric Christian-Buddhist cosmography Roza Mira, Daniil Andreev maintains that Sirins, Alkonosts, and Gamayuns are transformed into Archangels in Paradise.

Wiki tells us “Roza Mira (Full title in Russian: Роза Мира. Метафилософия истории, literally, The Rose of the World. The Metaphilosophy of History.) is the title of the main book by Russian mystic Daniil Andreev. It is also the name of the predicted new universal religion, to emerge and unite all people of the world before the advent of the Antichrist, described by Andreev in his book. This new interreligion, as he calls it, should unite the existing religions “like a flower unites its petals”, Andreev wrote. According to Roza Mira, there are no contradictions between different religions, because they tell about different aspects of spiritual reality, or about the same things in different words. Daniil Andreyev compares different major religions to different paths leading to one and the same mountain peak (which is God). Andreyev names five world religions, which are Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Zoroastrianism. Andreyev believes in the Trinity of God, but the third hypostasis, instead of being the Holy Spirit, is claimed to be the Eternal Femininity.”

Daniel Andreev, was a Russian poet and religious thinker of the middle of the XX century. His best known book “Roza Mira” (“The Rose of the World”, “Роза Мира”)  is about religion in the modern world. Along with world religions such as Christianity, he also considers mythical revelations of different cultures which together compose the “religion of total”, the Rose of the World. For Daniel Andreev, the Rose of the World is a spiritual flower whose roots are in heaven: each petal is an unique image of the great world religions and cultures, and the whole flower is their joint co-creation with God.

It was while in a Soviet prison that Daniel Andreev wrote the first drafts of The Rose of the World, as well as Russian Gods –a collection of poetry -and The Iron Mystery — a verse play. He had been arrested in April 1947, along with his wife and many of his relatives and friends. He was sentenced to twenty-five years of prison (by some chance the death sentence had been temporarily suspended in Soviet Union around the same time) and his wife was given twenty-five years in a labour camp. All of his writing done previous to his arrest was destroyed.

The Rose of the World and Andreev’s other works had a tremendous impact on contemporary Russian society, with its thirst for a spiritual approach to life. The Daniel Andreev foundation was founded in 1992, and numerous small groups and societies have formed in connection with his works.

In the Introduction to this work he writes:

THIS BOOK WAS BEGUN at a time when the threat of an unparalleled disaster hung over the heads of humanity—when a generation only just recuperating from the trauma of the Second World War discovered to its horror that a strange darkness, the portent of a war even more catastrophic and devastating than the last, was already gathering and thickening on the horizon. I began this book in the darkest years of a dictatorship that tyrannized two hundred million people. I began writing it in a prison designated as a “political isolation ward.” I wrote it in secret. I hid the manuscript, and the forces of good—humans and otherwise—concealed it for me during searches. Yet every day I expected the manuscript to be confiscated and destroyed, just as my previous work—work to which I had given ten years of my life and for which I had been consigned to the political isolation ward—had been destroyed.
I am finishing The Rose of the World a few years later. The threat of a third world war no longer looms like dark clouds on the horizon, but, having fanned out over our heads and blocked the sun, it has quickly dispersed in all directions back beyond the horizon.
Perhaps the worst will never come to pass. Every heart nurses such a hope, and without it life would be unbearable. Some try to bolster it with logical arguments and active protest. Some succeed in convincing themselves that the danger is exaggerated. Others try not to think about it at all and, having decided once and for all that what happens, happens, immerse themselves in the daily affairs of their own little worlds. There are also people in whose hearts hope smoulders like a dying fire, and who go on living, moving, and working merely out of inertia.
I am completing The Rose of the World out of prison, in a park turned golden with autumn. The one under whose yoke the country was driven to near exhaustion has long been reaping in other worlds what he sowed in this one. Yet I am still hiding the last pages of the manuscript as I hid the first ones. I dare not acquaint a single living soul with its contents, for, just as before, I cannot be certain that this book will not be destroyed, that the spiritual knowledge it contains will be transmitted to someone, anyone.
But perhaps the worst will never come to pass, and tyranny on such a scale will never recur. Perhaps humanity will forevermore retain the memory of Russia’s terrible historical experience. Every heart nurses that hope, and without it life would be unbearable.

I’ve only copied a brief passage of the introduction, but the remainder, and the full English text can be found here: http://www.roseofworld.org/book_eng.htm