The Isle of Skye is rich in fairy lore. One of the most magical-looking is the miniature landscape of grassy, cone-shaped hills and whimsical rock spirals of Fairy Glen.
There is no documented folklore linking the landscape to the realm of myth, and there have been no actual sightings of fairies, Fairy Glen is rich in folklore. You can easily imagine the the fairy folk in this landscape.
There is another explanation for the rock formations found at Fairy Glen. The geological formations are the result of a landslip, triggered by volcanic activity on northern edge of the Isle of Skye about 60 million years ago. The resultant lava flow that would have covered northern Skye was 1,200m thick.
To many, this otherworldly landscape was created by the fairies. There’s belief the fairies still live here, hiding in the crevices…Remember it’s important to leave Fairy Glen as you found it: the fairies are watching you.
Unlike the French loup garou, not all werewolves terrorise humans giving into their blood lust. The Scottish wulver of the Shetland islands, just north of the Scottish mainland, is a benevolent werewolf.
The wulver was thought by the ancient Celts to be its own species between a man and a wolf.
Folklorist Jane Saxby wrote extensively about the wulver. It was described as being covered with short, brown hair with the body of a man and the head of a wolf. Unlike the typical werewolf, the wulver could not shapeshift and was considered a gentle, kind-hearted being.
The wulver was solitary, living in a cave dug out from a hillside. Unlike its western European cousins, it wasn’t aggressive as long as left alone. When it did interact with people and was known to be generous and helpful, particularly to those who were lost, guiding travellers to nearby villages and towns.
The wulver was often seen fishing from a small rock in the deep water known as “Wulver’s Stane/Wolf Stone”. The wulver was known to leave a supply of fish on the windowsills of poor families.
It’s been speculated that the wulver folklore may be based on a medical condition like hypertrichosis (‘werewolf syndrome’) characterised by excessive hair covering the entire body. Another belief is that the wulver is an immortal spirit protecting and watching over the lost and poor of the Shetland Islands.
The Irish Faoladh
Similar to the Scottish wulver, the Irish werewolf or faoladh, differs from the typical western European werewolves and the faoladh was often considered “good”.
The faoladh is a man or woman that shapeshifts into a wolf, and is often a protector or guardian of others rather than an unthinking, bloodthirsty creature.
Wolves were hunted into extinction in Ireland but the country was once called Wolfland up until the Middle Ages, due to the amount of wolves roaming there. They feature prominently in Irish folklore with stories of people transforming into wolves passed through the generations.
In some folklore, the faoladh were that of the Laignach Faelad. These were not doomed, kind-hearted or guardian werewolves, but vicious werewolf warriors mentioned in a medieval Irish text called the Cóir Anmann. Here, a tribe of man-wolf shapeshifters were from what is now known as Tipperary Island, followers of the bloodthirsty Irish god, Crom Cruach (the Bowed God of the Mounds.) These ancient mercenary soldiers would fight for any king willing to pay their price. Their brutality in battle made them desirable to any ruthless and desperate king willing to hire them. The price for their services? Not gold, but the flesh of newborns they would feed on.
According to English folklore, Bluebells were often used to call fairies…If you “rang” a bluebell like you would any normal bell, it was believed fairies would come to you. But fairies are notoriously dangerous bargainers and the need to call fairies for aid must be great to risk the summons.
There is another folklore that states if you hear a bluebell ring, somebody close to you will die. Bluebells growing en masse in a field were best avoided.
I was invited to write a story for a dark speculative fiction anthology inspired by Alice in Wonderland and reimagined for an adult audience. One of the most influential characters for me was the Cheshire Cat and his luring of Alice through Wonderland, and not necessarily for the better. In writing a dark version of my own Alice story, I wanted to incorporate a Cheshire Cat-like character while delving into the social inequalities and injustices many women faced in Victorian times.
In reimagining a darker atmosphere for the Cheshire Cat, I became fascinated by Celtic folklore of the Cat Si, a fairy cat capable of shapeshifting between cat and human form. As a cat, they are described as being a back wild mountain cats with a white star-like pattern marked on the chest.
A gaslamp fantasy, where the Victorian era exists alongside magic, seemed the suitable to incorporate fey shapeshifting cats and Victorian social issues. The dark undercurrents of the story developed through the restrictions of freedoms for women where I focused on the ability to choose whether to marry and whom. In keeping with the nature of Alice’s curiosity in the original Alice in Wonderland, this took a dark path into a romantic relationship based on inequality and injustice. Here, it is the Cat Si who leads adult Alice astray through a darker wonderland than she could have imagined.
Christmas is a time for celebration and family gatherings, right? Strictly speaking, yes. But there are darker lores beneath the celebration many of us enjoy each year. The folklore surrounding the Krampus and even Saint Nicholas and the Butcher are grisly territory.
When I travelled to Iceland in 2019 for research, I found a very different set of folklores related to Christmas and the span of Yuletide. The folklore of thirteen Yule trolls who terrorise and disrupt Icelandic life for thirteen days is eclipsed by the arrival of their mother, the cannibalistic troll-witch Gryla who steals away children to cook into stew for her large family in their mountain cave.
Fascinated by this dark and fable-like warning of the dangers around Yuletide in Iceland, I was inspired to write a short story featuring Gryla and the Yule trolls, focusing on the darker natures the Yule trolls reportedly once possessed before modern sanctification of their images.
I am always fascinated by First Nations legends and lore. One of my current research projects has focused on the Inuit legends of the Qallupilluk, monstrous female beings who lurk in the frozen waterways and beneath the ice sheets, snatching unwary children beneath the icy water.
My latest short story examines this legend from the perspective of an outsider, someone who is not of the Inuit, and to whom the legends are foreign, placing her and her child at risk.
In one of my latest research themes, I explored the Ancient Egyptian mythology surrounding Sekhmet, the lion-headed goddess of war and a daughter of Ra. In one myth, Ra is angered by the Egyptian people’s lack of subservience to him and sends Sekhmet as punishment. She devours the armies sent against her until the deserts run with blood, so strong in her lust for war. Sekhmet is finally subdued by wine poured over the bloody sand until her wrath is calmed.
I was inspired by the war goddess Sekhmet when writing a new microfiction which focuses on Sekhmet as a force, her bloodlust fuelling the rise of war in Ancient Egypt.
I have always been fascinated by the folklore of the headless horseman. I first became aware of this harbinger of death in the famous story by Washington Irving The Legend of Sleepy Hollow set in rural region in the state of New York. But the Irish legend of the Dullahan (“dark man”), the headless horseman is a harbinger of death. In the legend of the Dullahan, he carries a moldy severed head under his arm, taking a blood sacrifice (and the head) of his intended victim. According to folklore of the Dullahan, he only speaks once during his furious ride through village and field, and those words are only for his victim, the sacrifice.
The connection between the headless horseman and sacrifice is related to Celtic mythology and the ancient god, Crom Dubh, a fertility god to whom blood sacrifices were made. In county Cavan, the Killycluggin stone is believed to be an ancient representation of Crom Dubh, and like the Dullahan of legend travelling the roads, the large carved stone was found on a main road close to a nearby Bronze Age stone circle.
I was inspired by the Dullahan, this embodiment of Crom Dubh, and in writing a short story, I’ve incorporated these elements of folklore, legend, archaeology and mythology to weave a new tale of this infamous headless horseman.
In writing a flash fiction story, I explored in the legendary Thunderbird, a powerful elemental being, found in many First Nations religions across North America.
The Thunderbird is a being found in many First Nations legends stretching from the desert plateaus and lands, the prairies and plains to the redwood forests and the Rocky Mountains. The Thunderbird is a powerful being, the beating of its wings makes the thunderclaps and gales, the silver of its eyes is the lightning. The Thunderbird also has an association with battle to many First Nations cultures, the bringer of storms both literal and metaphorical. I have a post here on the Thunderbird, or ‘Wakinyan’ in the Lakota-Sioux dialect.
As with any reimagining of a legendary being, I was conscious of cultural appropriation. My own reimagining of the Thunderbird, I focused on the connection between the prairie and desert landscapes, the reliance on the life-giving thunderstorms, and as a being invoked to protect land but also warriors and their horses.