*Note: because this article touches on topics that I have expanded on in great detail in other articles, I have linked to related articles throughout the text so you can read more.
Our modern conventions tend to view the realms of fairies and witches separately. Witches have been viewed as evil, while fairies are seen as benevolent, cute, and kind. As scholars reevaluate witch trials and the confessions of those accused, we are coming to new conclusions on accused witches. One subject that has been discussed in the academic field of folklore, but has seemingly not seeped into the popular consciousness, is the connection between fairies and witches.
Arthurian legend is filled with epic tales of tragic romance. The ménage à trois of Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot is the story most focused on in contemporary film and literature. Merlin and Vivienne have had their fair share of air time, albeit often as a subplot to the Arthur and Guinevere saga.
But, aside from a poorly received 2006 film, recent media has largely ignored the story of Tristan and Isolde. Since it is a legend that the reader may be unfamiliar with, we shall begin with a re-telling of the story, followed by historical analysis. It should be noted that this tale, like all of the legends in Arthuriana, has many variations.
During the autumn season when imagery of the harvest is all around, it can be easy to forget that the cornucopia of produce yielded is the product of year round effort. Thoughwe, most of whom are removed from the production of our own sustenance, may not be consciously aware of the agricultural calendar,it is something that our ancestors were very much aware of. Until very recently in the grand timeline of human history, the vast majority of human beings participated in agriculture, in one way or another, as well as the age old customs and rituals that went along with it.
November hearkens the coming of that great American harvest feast wherein we express our gratitude for Nature’s bounty, and for the indigenous people whose generous support ensured the survival of the progenitors of our nation. However, when we dig a little deeper we discover that the tradition of Thanksgiving extends far beyond the borders of the United States.
Canada celebrates her own Thanksgiving in October, and Germany’s version, called Erntedankfest, is celebrated either at the end of September or in early October. The November harvest festival that the British-American pilgrims would have been familiar with, prior to their emigration, is the Feast of Saint Martin,or Martinmas.
Tales of Changelings come up frequently in Celtic folklore. The term “changeling” refers to a human being, usually a child but sometimes an adult, who has been taken by the fairies and replaced by a look-a-like. Technically, the changeling is the look-a-like, while the real person is thought to be held captive by the fairies. This topic is briefly discussed in my article “Ten Reasons Fairies are Scary."
Changeling stories come up often in folklore. So, for this edition of the Archivist’s Corner, I have decided to let the folklore speak for itself. Here is a selection of some folkloric accounts of changeling tales from books that are in the public domain. Both books are available for free download on ProjectGutenberg.org.
Scotland is a nation rich in folkloric tradition. Both the highlands and the lowlands preserved distinct cultural folk tradition with influences from Gaelic, Anglo-Saxon, and Norse influences. These cultures, along with the unique landscape and climate of this hilly northern country, fused to give Scottish folklore a unique flavor. Stories of ghosts and spirits are one common feature of Scottish lore.
Celtic folklore is rife with tales of the Fae. According to the lore, to avoid angering the fairies you should always refer to them by a euphemism, such as “the Good People.” The fairies can be friend or foe, though in Celtic folklore they are more often known for their trickery than in neighboring Germanic lore, where elves are quite helpful. Germanic lore did make its way to Lowland Scotland with the Anglo-Saxons. The stories of helpful Scottish brownies, who do chores around the house are analogous with other Germanic domestic elves such as the German kobold and Scandinavian Tomte. Fairies could travel in groups, known as trooping fairies, or be solitary figures, such as the leprechaun.
Trees and wells have been places of wonder, wishes, offerings, and miracles in Britain since time immemorial. In many cases we can only speculate how long folk customs have been occurring. Northern and Central Europeans did not leave written records, apart from pictograms, sparse runic inscriptions or ogham carvings. Add to that, previous generations used materials that erode or decay. The point is that just because there is no record in no way implies something did not occur. But on the same token, it cannot very well be argued that it did occur unless there is hard evidence. This is the conundrum of the historian, but also of the folklorist who studies both lore and folk practices.
Scottish traditional dress is admired the world round. Indeed, Tartan Day celebrates Scottish heritage each year in April in the U.S. and Canada, while Australia and New Zealand celebrate it in July. Individual tartans are identified with different Scottish clans, and we when we hear the word “tartan,” the first image that comes to mind is the famed Scottish kilt. Perhaps it is because the kilt is so unique among modern men’s clothing that it has been the object of such fascination while traditional Scottish women’s clothing is often marginalized as a footnote. Well, this edition of the Archivist’s Corner is turning the tables! Kilt, step aside! Your Archivist has dug through the annals of time to uncover paintings, drawing, and written observations of traditional Scottish women’s apparel from roughly the 18th through the early 20th centuries.
For this edition, being the month of February, I’d like to share some old Scottish love ballads with you. However, these are not the epitome of what we would consider romantic today! But, they depict true emotion, and maybe a strong dose of heartache, while also giving a glimpse of a world gone by.
The Fairy Flag is an heirloom passed down in the McLeods of Dunvegan family for generations. It is held in the Clan’s ancestral home, Dunvegan Castle. This castle has been in the possession of Clan McLeod for over 800 years, making it Scotland’s oldest castle continuously inhabited by the same family.