research, Writing

The Skogsrå

The skogsrå is one of the important genii loci, the spirit of the Forest from Scandinavia. She will appear to hunters mostly but also to some travellers through the forests of her domain.

The Skogsra is often described as human-like being, but with something uncanny about her. She’s often very beautiful but will have a tail or a back formed like a (rotten) tree trunk. The first morph (a tree trunk back) is common in Denmark, mid- and southern Sweden, but the tail is common in western and northern Sweden and Norway. Normally, the Skogsra has a a cow’s tail, but she can sometimes have a fox tail.

The Skogsra sometimes doesn’t appear to forest travellers as a young woman, but as an old and ugly hag. But these appearances are quite rare.

The Skogsra often approaches and tries to seduce men by various ways.

In folklore material, two types of men were most often approached by the Skogsra – charcoal-burners and hunters. Both of these groups of men were alone in the forest for long periods at a time.

In exchange for sexual encounters, a man might actually became her lover and the Skogsra could help him and grant rewards – like making sure his rifle never missed, and waking him if the charcoal stack was about to burn down. Both these are blessings made possible by the Skogsra and when the men are within her forest.

References

https://folklorethursday.com/folktales/skogsra-and-huldra-the-femme-fatale-of-the-scandinavian-forests/

research, Writing

Folklore of the Cursed Aye-Aye

In Madagascar, a highly unusual endangered nocturnal lemur is associated in regional as taboo or fady. The bizarre habits, secretive nature and distinctive appearance of the aye-aye fills some Madagascan peoples with the horror and dread at the sight of it. This has often lead to the slaughter of aye-ayes.

In other regions of Madagascar, it is considered fady to eat certain lemurs, which means that local taboos can actually shield and protect specific species. The aye-aye’s most striking features likely lead to its persecution.

Aye-ayes are medium-sized nocturnal lemurs and are mostly black but have large, highly mobile ears for tracking minute sounds. They’re also the only primate with continuously growing incisors which make them look rodent-like. Most notable of the aye-aye’s unusual physical features is it’s long, thin middle finger which is used to tap rapidly on decayed wood where their sensitive hearing helps detect insect larvae beneath. They then gnaw holes into the wood with those rodent-like teeth and use the long, skeletal-like finger to skewer and scoop out insect larvae.

According to the local views of fady, anyone who has an aye-aye point its long spindly finger at them, will be met with ill-fortune.

But the aye-aye’s eating habits may also contribute to their unpopularity with rural villages. Aye-ayes raid common Madagascan crops like coconuts, lychees, and mangos. This has led to viewing the aye-aye as a crop pest. But aye-ayes also eat seeds from the ramy tree (Canarium spp.) which grow tall and undisturbed near tombs in the Samanioana region where it is considered fady to cut them down. Aye-ayes are found in the peaceful sacred burial sites and surrounding forest, nesting and foraging without much human disturbance. Unsurprisingly, the aye-aye’s preference for the areas surrounding tombs may have inadvertently caused villagers to associate them with death and bad luck.

Other regions only consider the aye-aye fady when it enters a village.  Locals feel uneasy about an animal intentionally displacing itself from its home in the forest to enter a village. Essentially the unnatural act of entering a “human space” from the forest is what creates the bad omen.  They believe the only reason an aye-aye would display such unusual behavior is to foretell illness as the harbinger of death.

The degree of fady varies from village to village and the response to an aye-aye sighting. Regardless, fear is ingrained into this fady. In some northern regions of Madagascar, locals fear any sightings of an aye-aye. If an aye-aye is spotted in the forest, locals believe someone in a nearby village will fall sick and possibly die. If an aye-aye is found in the village itself, sometimes the entire village is abandoned as everyone living there won’t risk sickness and death. Unfortunately, the most common response to seeing an aye-aye is to kill it, hang the carcass or tail from a pole by a crossroads hoping that by moving the aye-aye further from the village, it will protect everyone from sickness or death. There’s also belief that passers-by may unknowingly carry the bad luck away with them when travelling past the carcass.

Aye-ayes are an essential part of Madagascan biodiversity. The challenges of habitat loss, persecution as a crop pest and the damaging effects of fady accelerate their declining numbers. Because aye-ayes are very rare, sightings of one only reinforce the fady through storytelling. One conversationist intended to rewrite that story.

The late primatologist, Dr. Alison Jolly, authored a children’s book titled, “Ny Aiay Ako” (Ako the Aye-Aye) with the book distributed to children’s schools throughout Madagascar to teach and inspire a love of these lemurs. The book’s protagonist, an aye-aye named Ako, transforms fear into fascination and children are inspired to protect this unusual lemur. In fact, the success of the first book led to a six book series, each about a different species of lemur.

Today, the Lemur Conservation Foundation (LCF) continues Dr. Jolly’s work with the Ako Project. A set of 21 Ako Lemur Lesson Plans and accompanying Ako Educator’s Guide were designed to highlight the biodiversity of Madagascar. Educators can use activities featuring characters and themes from the Ako book series to teach about lemurs and their environment. Each teaching kit includes all six of Dr. Jolly’s storybooks and the materials needed to inspire a love of lemurs and encourage conservation action in Madagascar. The Ako Project is now worldwide with all lesson plans and materials available to download free on LCF’s website at http://www.lemurreserve.org/ako-project/. For conservationists, this project is the first step to dispelling the damaging folklore by empowering children with knowledge and empathy for the aye-aye.

References:

Folklore Thursday, Madagascar Superstitions & Taboos: Fighting the Aye-Aye Fady, https://folklorethursday.com/folklife/madagascar-superstitions-taboos-fighting-the-aye-aye-fady/

Duke Lemur Center https://lemur.duke.edu/discover/meet-the-lemurs/aye-aye/

research

Isle of Skye: Fairy Glen

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.

research

Legend of the Pussy Willow


“The Legend of the Pussy Willow”

In an old Polish legend, many springs ago, a mother cat was crying at the bank of the river where her kittens were drowning.

The willow at the river’s edge longed to help her, so they swept their long graceful branches into the waters to rescue the tiny kittens who had fallen into the river while chasing butterflies.

Each of the kittens gripped tightly to the willow branches and were safely brought back to shore.

According to the legend, each springtime since, willow branches sprout tiny fur-like buds at their tips where the tiny kittens once clung.

research

Scottish & Irish Werewolf Folklore


The Scottish Wulver

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.

References: Folklore Thursday, Werewolves that Fish and Fight in Battles: The Scottish Wulver and Irish Faoladh in Folklore

reads, Recent Reads

Baba Yaga: The Wild Witch of the East in Russian Fairy Tales

Publisher’s Description

Baba Yaga is an ambiguous and fascinating figure. She appears in traditional Russian folktales as a monstrous and hungry cannibal, or as a canny inquisitor of the adolescent hero or heroine of the tale. In new translations and with an introduction by Sibelan Forrester, Baba Yaga: The Wild Witch of the East in Russian Fairy Tales is a selection of tales that draws from the famous collection of Aleksandr Afanas’ev, but also includes some tales from the lesser-known nineteenth-century collection of Ivan Khudiakov. This new collection includes beloved classics such as “Vasilisa the Beautiful” and “The Frog Princess,” as well as a version of the tale that is the basis for the ballet “The Firebird. “


Review

I recently read the folklore text Baba Yaga: The Wild Witch of the East in Russian Fairytales translated by Sibelan Forrester.

This was a fantastic selection of translated tales about the three different guises of Baga Yaga. The Russian witch who dwells deep in the forest in a house built on chicken legs and travels through the air in a mortar and pestle has many forms. Sometimes Baba Yaga is presented as a helper like the Tsar Maiden tales, while other times she steals naughty children or accepts them from their parents and eats them. Still other tales, she provides advice which can be both blessing and curse. She is a prominent figure in the tales of Vasilisa and is featured in the tale of the Firebird.

Final Thoughts

Baba Yaga: The Wild Witch of the East in Russian Fairytales was a well-translated version of the tales and beautifully illustrated with as many different visual representations of Baba Yaga as there are literary ones within this collection.

Conclusion

An must-have collection for anyone interested in Russian folklore and those surrounding Baba Yaga and her different guises in Russian fairytales. Highly recommended!

research

Folklore of Bluebells

The feared fairy bell and impending death


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.

research, Short Fiction, Writing

Reimagining Alice in Wonderland


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.

Short Fiction, stories, Writing

Näcken Folklore

The näcken is a water being from found in Scandinavian folklore. The näcken is a variant in Sweden of the Norwegian fossegrim, a river sprite that drowns children and unwary travellers in the brook. The näcken can also be bargained with and a mortal learn to play the fiddle with similar enchantment. Once taught, the mortal fiddler will play so beautifully that the trees are said to weep. But like any bargain with otherworldly beings, there is usually a high cost for the skill earned at the näcken’s tutelage.

I was inspired by the folklore of the näcken and similar river sprites when writing a new microfiction focusing on the aftermath of a bargain made between the näcken and a musician. The fiddler now plays with the enchantment the näcken’s skill provided, but those who listenen to him play must dance to their deaths.