Faeries, Faeries, quite contrary

flying pixie manDuring research for one of my WIPs I came across this lovely book “Faeries, Elves and Goblins – The Old Stories” by Rosalind Kerven, a National Trust book published under their Folklore banner. It not only has beautiful illustrations by Arthur Rackham and other acclaimed artists but also contains a very interesting collection of stories and a wealth of information about the Little People living under hills, in meadows and ancient groves.

I had never realised how wicked some faeries, goblins and elves could be – just read King Herla’s story or the plight of poor farm boy Tom Tiver, when he meets goblin Yallery Brown, and you’ll know what I mean!

Not all of these nightly creatures are wicked though and some are rather helpful to humans, provided said men, women and children are deserving of their magical interference. I also didn’t know how many different kinds of faeries existed in the folklore catalogue of mythical creatures populating the British Isles – there’s a veritable legion of them.

fairy on islandThanks to J K Rowling we all know about Cornish Pixies, and if you aren’t friends with Hermione Granger it’s probably not a good idea to invite a Cornish Pixie into your house for tea. But did you know there were pixie populations in Devon and Somerset, too? Would a Devon Pixie have a different accent than a Cornish one? Would a Somerset Pixie offer you a pint of scrumpy if you asked nicely?

Do you know what a Greenie or Grey Neighbour is or have you ever come across Henkies, Hobs or Hogmen before?

Hands up, who’s heard of Phynnodderees, Portunes or Trows? Ever come across the Siofra, Spriggans or Grogachs after a particularly boozy night out?

I’m especially intrigued by the stories that mention faerie folk living under hills and mountains, for it ties in with my research on Arthurian legends – not the medieval 12th and 13th century romantic versions we usually get to see on telly or on the silver screen, but the “real” 6th century AD legendary King Arthur and Merlin characters mentioned in various historical documents (which may be fictional accounts and not about real people at all but hey, us folklore fanatics take what we can get).

To me, faeries belong to the Dark Ages, the time when the Romans had left the British Isles and Britons had to fend for themselves – and according to legends, Arthur and Merlin were probably the last remaining defenders of the Celtic way of life, before the invading Saxons and their nasty new-fangled religion destroyed the magic that had once permeated every aspect of Brythonic life. King Herla’s story in particular stands out – it’s almost as if the storyteller is referring to the Romans, making them faerie folk who promised a land of golden opportunity, patronage, friend-and kinship and then simply vanishing into thin air.

excalibur out of waterSo if you want to learn more about these mischievous creatures of the night, these laughing, chanting, giggling dancers and musicians with their gem encrusted halls, their faerie gold and silver bells, their colourful clothes and strange sense of humour, have a peek at Rosalind Kerven’s book. It’s perfect night time reading material.

 

(source for animations: heathersanimations.com)

Medieval Cooking for Vampires (Beginners Part 3)

While I’m not in favour of advocating fast food for humans, this culinary concept is not always a negative one.

Reading up upon medieval spells and remedies I was surprised to learn a medieval person’s diet was actually quite different from what I thought it would be. Far from all the yummy ham, capons, chickens and roasted piglets we see King Arthur, his knights and Queen Guinevere consume in the BBC’s Merlin series, most medieval people didn’t eat meat very often and getting a protein rich diet would have been quite rare for an average girl like Willow the Vampire.

Cooking lessons for humans would have been very different from today. For a start, carrots were either white or purple but not orange (not introduced until 17th century), no doubt pretty confusing for colour-blind witches and warlocks at the time. How do you tell such ingredients apart from radishes or mandrake?

Parsnips, onions, turnips (of Blackadder’s Baldric fame), apples, wild garlic, watercress, cabbage, beetroot, leeks, beans, eel and various cheap dried meats would augment a meagre diet that consisted mostly of “gruel” type broth made from barley, acorns, rye or buck wheat.

Even in the 10th century, a full four centuries after Arthur had first complained to Merlin about the outrageous practice of serving salad to his meat-loving king, bread as a daily household ingredient was relatively rare – grinding wheat was time-consuming labour for women and in any event, most households were grindingly poor.

Health issues in general were addressed with a haphazard approach. If it didn’t kill you and you survived the cure, the “healer” would be set up for life and make a good living. If you died, the healer was probably going to die too – at the stake, accused of sorcery! The remedy might not actually do you any good, but survival often depended on faith rather than the physician’s skill. With regard to food production, a medieval Vampire Council was particularly concerned about the high death rate among human infants and their mothers.

Caesarean births were surprisingly common – although the mother rarely survived. The method was mainly applied to save the child so it could receive baptism before death occurred. The understanding of conception was still a rather muddled affair and some bewildering, often occult remedies existed to help childless couples. Childbirth in general was a risky and confusing issue in medieval times:

Charm One: “To make a woman pregnant give to drink in wine a hares rumnet (NB: they probably meant rennet) by weight of four pennies to the woman from a female hare, the man from a male hare and then let them do their concubitus and after that let them forbear; then quickly she will be pregnant and for meat she shall for some time use mushrooms and, instead of a bath, smearing (NB: anointing with oils), wonderfully she will be pregnant.”

It seems hares were generally associated with fertility – personally, I suspect the consumption of wine might have done the trick…although the stink resulting from not washing might be rather counterproductive (pardon the pun). Hare’s tonic aiming to produce a male child consisted of a dried hare’s belly being shredded and then eaten by both partners, washed down with a drink.

Charm Two (for women whose foetus is found to be dead): “The woman who may have a dead bairn (child) in her inwards, if she drinketh wolf’s milk mingled with wine and honey in like quantities, soon it healeth.” An alternative method was to use the heart of a hare which, dried and pounded to a pulp, was mixed with frankincense dust and presumably also washed down with wine. In either case, the woman was more likely to die than be cured.

United Kingdom

United Kingdom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charm Three (for women who lost children early in infancy): “Let the woman who cannot bring her child to maturity go to the barrow of a deceased man, and step thrice over the barrow, and then thrice say these words:

May this be my boot

Of the loathsome late birth

May this be my boot

Of the heavy swart birth

May this be my boot

Of the loathsome lame birth.”

All manner of bizarre remedies existed for ear problems, bladder troubles, chapped lips in winter or year round baldness among men. I particularly like the recipe for getting rid off dandruff by mixing watercress with goose fat and smearing it on one’s head…I also like the advice, how to get rid of insects in one’s ears:

Collect the juice of green earth gall, or juice of horehound, or juice of wormwood, whatsoever of these you choose. Pour the juice into the ear, this will draw the worm out. If there’s dinning (NB: buzzing) in the ears, take oil, apply on to ewes wool, and when going to bed close up the ear with the wool. Remove it on waking.

Don’t you just love the last instruction? You can just imagine dozens of medieval peasants shouting at each other, because they’d stuffed their ears with ewe’s wool and forgot to remove their worm remedy).

Bladder troubles and kidney stones were cured by Dwarf dwosle or Pennyroula, which was pounded and mixed with two draughts of wine. The sufferer would drink this stuff and any stones the sufferer might have would be “forced out” and the healing process would begin in a matter of days.

Male baldness, an affliction the medieval Brit seems to have been particularly cursed with (no change to today’s specimen), was apparently treated with the juice of nasturtium and watercress. Bizarrely, this concoction was not smeared on the balding head, but on the man’s nose…which finally explains why men over forty have such an abundance of nasal hair.

These latter three remedies were excerpts from  Leechdoms, Wortcunning and Starcraft of Early England, collected and edited by Revd Oswald Cockayne in London 1864 (fragments republished in Harriet O’Brien’s book “Queen Emma and the Vikings”, Bloomsbury 2005, where above charms also appear. NB: Revd “Cockayne” was cearly an early advocate of drugs, who had a sense of humour).

Reading about the diet and remedies prevailing in medieval households, I began to wonder, how vampires substituted their meagre pickings. Blood would not have been as nourishing as in later centuries, when vampires like Buffy’s Angel, Drusilla or Spike thrived in Sunnydale.

Trade paperback cover of Buffy: Season Eight V...

Trade paperback cover of Buffy: Season Eight Volume One, written by Joss Whedon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fifteen years on from Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer bloodsuckers have reason to complain about their diet once more, given the high fat, sugar, salt and protein content in human blood. Human fast food outlets and lonely microwave meals in front of the TV are to blame, but humans themselves are not responsible for the introduction of a fast food concept. Vampires might loathe to admit this, but obesity among the fanged community today goes back to a time, when an early medieval Vampire Council introduced a new concept to change their fellow fanged ones’ culinary experience.

Early medieval bloodsuckers were endlessly complaining about the scarcity of decent food. Firstly, because there weren’t enough humans around in a largely rural landscape, which meant the gap between meals could be rather long and secondly, because medieval human blood wasn’t very nutritious and it took several kills to get a satisfactory meal.

Later in the 10th century, when England had been fully Christianized, a network of nunneries and cloisters was erected across the country, a development greatly supported by the Vampire Council. Feasting became much easier and, as far as vampires were concerned, the concept of fast food chains was born.

Just knock at a cloister door, pretend you’re a pilgrim and hey presto, you get an instant meal in the shape of some delicious young novice or a Mother Superior showing off the whiteness of her wimple and the crispness of her neck.

International fast fang outlets such as “Murder King”, “MacDrainers” and “Starsucks” were created to cater for the travelling vampire in a hurry. This revolutionary concept made it possible for fanged communities to cover vast distances without worrying where to get their next meal (“Mine’s a double nun with French friar to go. Hold the garlic and relic bones. Extra mustard, if you please”).

The introduction of fast fang outlets helped to preserve vampires to this day. It explains, how 19th century vampires reached Sunnydale in California and later established a colony in Los Angeles, close to Angel’s old hotel.

(animation source: heathersanimations.com, photographs of Llandaff cemetry & Cathedral by Maria Thermann, Buffy book cover photo credit Wikipedia)

Creatures of the Night

Sorcery - animal transformation

Having just returned from a lovely walk in the rare Welsh sunshine, I’m reminded that my Willow the Vampire blog post is long overdue – and that, just like Willow, I’m more a child of the light than a creature of the night, when it comes to being at my best and most creative.

Our internal clock seems to have very much a mind of its own – some people thrive only during daytime hours and are at their best early in the morning, while others are strictly nocturnal and are at odds with the nine to five office routine. In bygone days, when people rose at dawn and went to bed when it got dark, being such a “nocturnal creature” must have given rise to suspicion among neighbours and friends.

Sorcery - Paramour with the devil

In an age, when anybody could be accused of witchcraft and sorcery for any number of idiotic reasons, the mere fact that somebody might be an insomniac could be seen as being in league with the devil. The Würzburg Witch Trials didn’t need sound reasons for accusing men, women and children of sorcery – and those accused had not even the right to defend themselves. Fire and brimstone where suspected everywhere – but particularly in the lives of women.

Typically, only 20 to 30 per cent of those burned for practicing sorcery were male. In Würzburg the percentage is surprisingly high with 40%. Of the 900 or so people who were executed, more than 300 victims were children. After 42 burnings at the stake the mass hysteria and murderous madness finally stopped on 30th August 1629. Even 48 members of the Church had been executed as sorcerers, no doubt denounced by other victims, who knew they stood no chance of survival and wanted a little revenge of their own.

Sleep – or the lack thereof – is a mysterious thing. We need our small death not as practice for the final long sleep but to stay alive and healthy. Doing without sleep for prolonged periods of time has serious implications for our wellbeing and sanity. Sleep deprivation is therefore often used as an interrogation method to wear suspects down and to torture them. It is likely that such methods were also used on those accused of witchcraft and would probably have admitted to whatever they were accused of – especially when being encouraged to denounce other people as being in league with the devil.

The Pendle Witch Trial in Lancaster, UK, in 1612, resulted in twenty people being under suspicion of sorcery, of which 16 were female and just 4 were male. Unlike the Würzburg Trials, the Pendle witches were at least allowed to defend themselves and some were acquitted without trial. There are quite a lot of details about the men and women accused and it seems that in those days just being a little eccentric and muttering to yourself could get you into serious trouble – in which case I’m most certainly a witch and will probably one day end up being tied to a stake.

When I read the description of Witch Demdike, an old woman from Pendle Forest, I think that just being an independent women could get you accused of using sorcery. The old lady might have been a cantankerous old thing, but seemed rather harmless – until some neighbour decided she had said something offensive and therefore had to be a witch.

Being an independent woman seems to have been the most grievous offence in an age, when the Church continuously told everyone that women were in league with the devil, no doubt because the Church wanted to appease male egos about their insecurities…and this is of course still going on today in many countries around the world, where male religious fanaticism always sees evil in women and children, never in themselves. In some countries being independently minded still gets women killed.

Old Mrs Demdike died worn out and aged before she could be brought to trial. Perhaps she was just an old woman who’d had trouble sleeping and liked to walk at night muttering to keep herself company and stop herself from feeling alone – she died in prison as her Christian neighbours could not tolerate anybody who was even slightly different from themselves.

Crossroads in the Happy Valley On the outskirt...

Crossroads in the Happy Valley On the outskirts of Roughlee on the edge of the Forest of Pendle. The grit bin is on Jinny Lane. The spoof pointer to Lancaster Castle is a reminder of the place of execution of the Pendle Witches. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I walk in the bright sunshine I often think of those night time ramblers, those independent women bringing up kids on their own, who might have aroused suspicion in their 17th century neighbourhood and might have been accused of sorcery simply because they were creatures of the night.