English Folklore: The Forgotten Death of Mischief Night

English Folklore: The Forgotten Death of Mischief Night

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In the post-war years of the 1950’s through to the late 1980’s (when it began to be usurped by Halloween) Mischief Night was the “big” night before Bonfire Night, whereas Halloween on the 31st was very much a non-event. The 4th November was even the night we had carved lanterns, called Punkie lanterns (“Give me a candle, Give me a light, If you don’t, You’ll get a fright”) only they were carved out of turnips or swedes, rather than pumpkins.

A traditional turnip Jack-o'-lantern from the early 20th century. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

But, where did it come from?

Although Bonfire Night can be traced back to the early 17th century (in fact it was one of the few public festivities the Puritans didn’t ban during Cromwell’s time) November’s Mischief Night activities were not widely mentioned until the 1850’s. Victorian folklorists suggested its popularity spread from Yorkshire, because Guy Fawkes was born in York and he was up to mischief on the evening of the 4th November, when he was preparing the gunpowder in the undercroft beneath the House of Lords, which is where he was captured.

Painting showing the arrest of Guy Fawkes by the Royalist soldier Sir Thomas Knevet; Guy Fawkes (1570-1606) had been attempting to blow up the Houses of Parliament in the attack in 1605.

Guy Fawkes Night (or Bonfire Night) is a celebration held in England on November 5th each year to commemorate the capture of Guy Fawkes in the early hours of 5th November 1605, when he was caught preparing a large bomb intended to blow up the House of Lords when King James the First was due to open a session of Parliament later that same day. Fawkes was part of a conspiracy, known as the Gunpowder Plot, in which a small group of dissident Roman Catholics hoped to destroy the Protestant monarchy. (This was the era of the Religious Wars in Europe.) It is traditionally celebrated with bonfires and fireworks parties - the American equivalent would be the Independence Day or 4th of July celebrations. There is a suggestion that Guy Fawkes Night was a Puritan replacement for the older, mid-autumn Samhain fire celebrations.

Spectators gather around a bonfire November 2010, Staffordshire, England. ( CC BY 2.0 )

However, was is at this point that folklore, custom and tradition took an interesting twist, for the earliest reference of Mischief Night was in 1791, in a school play that appears to have been encouraging children to get up to tricks on “Mischief Night” but here’s that catch: The Mischief Night referred to here was part of the traditional May Day celebrations that took place six months earlier in the year! (In Germany, Mischief Night still takes place on the 1st of May.)

So what happened? Folklore historians suggest that, among many other things, May Day was an important children’s festival and on May Eve, they would make their way around towns and villages carrying garlands, while visiting houses and singing, in the hope of collecting money to spend during the May Day festivities. Add in the May Gosling tradition of playing tricks on people (very much like April Fools jokes a month earlier) plus related rural traditions, such as “bringing in the May” which was being written about (and complained about) as early as 1240 AD, and it is easy to see how this was an earlier manifestation of trick or treating. (A date in the mid-13th century also takes the tradition much closer to the Viking era.)

Death Omens: A magical mystery tour through weird British history

My Nan would tell me that seeing a solitary magpie would mean bad luck was coming. There is even a weirdly jolly if somewhat morbid rhyme for it:

“One for sorrow,

Two for joy,

Three for a girl,

Four for a boy,

Five for silver,

Six for gold

Seven for a secret,

Never to be told.”

So, if I see one lone magpie I have to follow it until I find another one, or I am convinced I’ll have bad luck (seriously, I once spent an hour hunting for a second magpie. The fear is real) In some parts of the UK, instead of following the magpie, you salute it (which tbh feels like the laziest form of meaningless superstition).

So whats the deal with magpies? Well, the magpie has long been associated with death and bad luck in the UK as far back as the 16th century, with some version of the rhyme being almost as old.

Historically speaking, death was a much more common occurrence before the age of medicine and more understanding around the mechanics of our own biology, so people looked to nature for ways of foreshadowing coming troubles. Which gave birth to many of the superstitions we still have today.

This continued to be backed up through the centuries, particularly when we hit the Victorian era, thanks to the their obsession with the occult. In fact almost everywhere you go in the UK, you’ll find a new or slightly different centuries old death superstition.

So lets embark together on a magical mystery tour of Britain’s fascination (and fear) of death and the symbols that may just herald its arrival…. starting with:

The History of the Dullahan in Irish Folklore

Lately I’ve been probing another folkloric rabbit-hole. Specifically, I’ve been digging into the history of the dullahan, a being of Irish fable generally portrayed as a headless horse-rider or coach-driver. Regrettably, a lot of the online sources on this folkloric entity are badly-researched, with the frankly awful Wikipedia article – which, incredibly, uses a page on Cracked.com as one of its main references – being typical. So, I decided to do some of my own research into the cultural history of the dullahan.

The earliest references to the dullahan that I’ve managed to trace is in a 1802 text on comparative linguistics by Charles Vallancey, entitled Prospectus of a Dictionary of the Language of the Aire Coti, or Ancient Irish, Compared with the Language of the Cuti, or Ancient Persians, with the Hindoostanee, the Arabic, and Chaldean Languages. The book includes a section in which Vallancey compares terms from Irish and Arabic folklore amongst other things, he compares the Irish dullahan with something called a “wulahan”, which is apparently an Arabian demon:

The Dullahan or Wullahan is a terrible bug-bear at this day the peasants hear him in the night dragging a heavy chain through the villages and along the roads this is the wulahan, or Satanas of the Arabs…

Leaving aside Vallancey’s linguistic theories, the most notable thing about this rather brief, vague description is that it includes no mention of the dullahan being headless.

Skipping forward roughly a quarter of a century we come to the second earliest text that I can find referring to dullahans: Thomas Crofton Croker’s book Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland (I should mention that there is an authorship controversy surrounding the book in question, with Croker allegedly failing to credit his collaborators, but that’s outside the scope of this post).

Croker’s multi-volume book began publication in 1825, although the edition I accessed on Google Books is from 1828. There are many later editions, and I notice that the exact selection of stories varies between them on top of this, some editions include the stories themselves but lack Croker’s commentary. The 1828 edition is divided into five sections: “The Merrow”, “The Fir-Darrig”, “Treasure Legends”, “Rocks and Stones” and – yes – “The Dullahan”.

Croker’s Dullahans

The book’s dullahan section includes four prose stories, one ballad and (in the 1828 edition, at least) Croker’s commentary, which quotes some additional narratives relating to dullahans and other headless apparitions. Of the four prose stories, the only one to actually use the term dullahan is entitled “The Good Woman”.

The hero of this macabre but humorous tale is Larry Dodd, “a hard working and, occasionally, a hard drinking, Dutch-built, little man, with a fiddle head and a round stern”. While out riding on his horse, he encounters a woman who hurries past him

Her figure, considering the long strides she took, appeared to be under the common size—rather of the dumpy order but further, as to whether the damsel was young or old, fair or brown, pretty or ugly, Larry could form no precise notion, from her wearing a large cloak (the usual garb of the female Irish peasant), the hood of which was turned up, and completely concealed every feature.

The gallant Larry offers the woman a ride on his horse, and without saying a word, she climbs up and sits herself behind him (folklorists will note that this is an historical example of the phantom hitchhiker motif). He speaks to her during the trip, but still she is silent. When Larry dismounts the horse to see to a loose shoe, the woman begins to make an abrupt exit towards Kilnaslattery church (a place I can find no reference to outside of this story):

Her feet touched the ground without making the least noise in life, and away she bounded like an ill-mannered wench, as she was, without saying “by your leave,” or no matter what else. She seemed to glide rather than run, not along the road, but across a field, up towards the old ivy-covered walls of Kilnaslattery church—and a pretty church it was.

Larry hopes for a kiss in return for the transport he gave her, and chases after the silent woman through the churchyard, “stumbling over head-stones and foot-stones, over old graves and new graves, pieces of coffins, and the skulls and bones of dead men — the Lord save us!—that were scattered about there as plenty as paving stones”. When he finally catches her, this is just the beginning of his ordeal:

Larry Dodd sprung forward with open arms, and clasped on them—a woman, it is true—but a woman without any lips to kiss, by reason of her having no head! […] staggering like a drunken man, he rolled against the broken window of the ruin, horrified at the conviction that he had actually held a Dullahan in his embrace!

When he recovered to something like a feeling of consciousness, he slowly opened his eyes, and then, indeed, a scene of wonder burst upon him. In the midst of the ruin stood an old wheel of torture, ornamented with heads, like Cork gaol, when the heads of Murty Sullivan and other gentlemen were stuck upon it.

Larry watches, frozen with fear, as headless figures dance to eerie music:

It was strange music to dance by nevertheless, moving to it, round and round the wheel set with skulls, were well dressed ladies and gentlemen, and soldiers and sailors, and priests and publicans, and jockeys and jennys, but all without their heads. Some poor skeletons, whose bleached bones were ill covered by moth-eaten palls, and who were not admitted into the ring, amused themselves by bowling their brainless noddles at one another, which seemed to enjoy the sport beyond measure.

Larry did not know what to think his brains were all in a mist, and losing the balance which he had so long maintained, he fell headforemost into the midst of the company of Dullahans.

Upon seeing Larry, the disembodied heads call out in welcome, and one dullahan offers the visitor a brimming cup:

“’Tis capital stuff,” he would have said, which surely it was, but he got no further than cap, when decapitated was he, and his head began dancing over his shoulders like those of the rest of the party. Larry, however, was not the first man who lost his head through the temptation of looking at the bottom of a bringing cup. Nothing more did he remember clearly, for it seems body and head being parted is not very favourable to thought, but a great hurry scurry with the noise of carriages and the cracking of whips.

When Larry recovers his senses, he finds himself outside the church in the daylight, his head back on his shoulders. But his horse has disappeared, presumably stolen by the dullahans, and so Larry trudges home to face the wrath of his wife Nancy.

“Of the young woman I know no more than I do of Moll Flanders”, says Larry after being heavily scolded. “but this I know, that a woman without a head may well be called a Good Woman, because she has no tongue!”

Out of the four main stories included in Croker’s dullahan section, the only one to provide a definite origin for its spook is “The Headless Horseman”, where the title character is revealed to be the ghost of a man who had lost his neck in life. Protagonist Charley Culnane, out riding at night, witnesses a weird apparition – the disembodied head of a horse:

The head, apparently, of a white horse, with short cropped ears, large open nostrils, and immense eyes, seemed rapidly to follow him. No connexion with body, legs, or rider, could possibly be traced—the head advanced—Charley’s old mare, too, was moved at this unnatural sight, and, snorting violently, increased her trot up the hill. The head moved forward, and passed on…

The horseless head is followed by a headless horse, ridden by another otherworldly figure:

A figure, whose height (judging as well as the obscurity of the night would permit him) he computed to be at least eight feet, was seated on the body and legs of a white horse full eighteen hands and a half high […] his vision failed in carrying him further than the top of the collar of the figure’s coat, which was a scarlet single-breasted hunting frock […] see further he could not, and after straining his eyes for a considerable time to no purpose, he exclaimed, with pure vexation, “By the big bridge of Mallow, it is no head at all he has!”
“Look again, Charley Culnane, said a hoarse voice, that seemed to proceed from under the right arm of the figure.

Charley did look again, and now in the proper place, for he clearly saw, under the aforesaid right arm, that head from which the voice had proceeded, and such a head no mortal ever saw before.

It looked like a large cream cheese hung round with black puddings no speck of colour enlivened the ashy paleness of the depressed features the skin lay stretched over the unearthly surface, almost like the parchment head of a drum. Two fiery eyes of prodigious circumference, with a strange and irregular motion, flashed like meteors upon Charley, and a mouth that reached from either extremity of two ears, which peeped forth from under a profusion of matted locks of lustreless blackness.

Once again the story goes in a humorous direction, with Charley challenging the headless horseman to a race. This turns to be exactly what the spectre had hoped for:

“A hundred years it is since my horse and I broke our necks at the bottom of Kilcummer hill, and ever since I have been trying to get a man that dared to ride with me, and never found one before.”

The horseman then vanishes, but not before promising Charley supernatural assistance in any future horse-races.

The Death Coach

So far, we have seen two distinct varieties of headless spook in the stories collected by Croker: the merry church-dwelling dullahans of “The Good Woman”, and the headless horseman. The remaining stories deal specifically with a third variety: a headless coachman.

In “Hanlon’s Mill”, a story that Croker attributes to A. H. B. Clonmel , hero Michael Noonan sees an apparition of a headless coachman while riding by horse and cart at night:

[H]ow was Mick astonished at finding, close along-side of the car, a great high black coach drawn by six black horses, with long black tails reaching almost down to the ground, and a coachman dressed all in black sitting up on the box. But what surprised Mick the most was, that he could see no sign of a head either upon coachman or horses.

The apparition passes, and later turns out to be an omen of death: the following morning, Mick hears that his friend – a Mr. Wrixon – is fatally ill.
“The Harvest Dinner” is the story of Paddy Cavenagh, who was returning home at midnight after visiting a boisterous party when he “saw the fairies in real earnest”:

The side of the moat, you see, that looks into the field was open, and out of it there came the darlinist little cavalcade of the prettiest little fellows you ever laid your eyes upon. They were all dressed in green hunting frocks, with nice little red caps on their heads, and they were mounted on pretty little long-tailed white ponies, not so big as young kids, and they rode two and two so nicely.

The fairies run off in the direction of an old church, and Paddy then sees something else emerge from the moat – a coach pulled by headless horses and ridden by headless people:

[W]hat should I see but a great old family coach and six coming out of the moat and making direct for the gate where I was standing […] the gate flew open without a soul laying a finger to it, the instant minute they came up to it, and they wheeled down the road just close to the spot where I was hiding, and I saw them as plain as I now see you and a queer sight it was, too, to see, for not a morsel of head that ever was, was there upon one of the horses or on the coachman either […] as it passed by me, I peeped in at the quality within-side, and not a head, no not as big as the head of a pin, was there among the whole kit of them, and four fine footmen that were standing behind the coach were just like the rest of them.

Paddy is unafraid of being noticed by this strange party (“when I saw that they’d no eyes, I k new it was unpossible they could ever see me”) and watches as they head off to the same old church as the red-capped fairies.

Next we have a ballad, entitled “The Death Coach”:

‘Tis midnight! — how gloomy and dark!
By Jupiter there ‘s not a star! —
‘T is fearful! — ‘t is awful! — and hark!
What sound is that comes from afar?

Still rolling and rumbling, that sound
Makes nearer and nearer approach
Do I tremble, or is it the ground? —
Lord save us! — what is it? — a coach! —

A coach! — but that coach has no head
And the horses are headless as it:
Of the driver the same may be said,
And the passengers inside who sit.

The ballad goes on to state that the coach’s wheels “are of dead men’s thigh bones/And the pole is the spine of the back” while “Two hollow skulls hang up for lamps”. The description has a touch of humour alongside the macabre imagery:

With people thus headless ‘t is fun
To drive in such furious career
Since headlong their horses can’t run,
Nor coachman be headdy from beer.

Very steep is the Tivoli lane,
But up-hill to them is as down
Nor the charms of Woodhill can detain
These Dullahans rushing to town.

The head puns continue to the end.

Croker’s Commentary

Croker spends much of his commentary on these stories talking about headless ghosts in folklore from outside Ireland – for example, in his comments on “The Headless Horseman” he mentions various items of macabre folklore relating to horses, including an alleged sighting of an English ghost in the form of a headless horse. However, he does find room to divulge further stories from Ireland describing headless entities similar to the ones described in the main five stories of his book’s dullahan section. Commenting on “Hanlon’s Mill”, Croker states that

Another legend of the same district [Castletown roche] relates, that a black coach, drawn by headless horses, goes every night from Castle Hyde till it comes to Glans Fauna, a little beyond Ballyhooly, when it proceeds up the valley, and then returns back again. The same coach is also reported to drive every Saturday night through the town of Doneraile, and to stop at the doors of different houses but should any one be so fool-hardy as to open the door, a basin of blood is instantly flung in their face.

The appearance of “the Headless Coach,” as it is called, is a very general superstition, and is generally regarded as a sign of death, or an omen of some misfortune.

Croker quotes a series of excerpts involving similar legends elsewhere in Europe. The first is from one Dr. Grimm regarding a legend of lower Brittany about carriquet an nankon – a hearse drawn by skeletons said to visit the fatally ill. (I can find no other texts including the phrase “carriquet an nankon” – or even “carriquet au nankon”, as it is rendered in later editions of Croker’s book – but there is almost certainly some connection to the Ankou of Breton lore). The second excerpt is an 1826 Glasgow Chronicle report about visions of “carts, caravans and coaches going up Gleniffer braes without horses, or with horses without heads.”

Returning to Ireland, Croker reports on “a coach, sometimes driven by a coachman without a head, sometimes driven by horses without heads” that “was frequently observed at night driving furiously by Roper’s Rest” following a clergyman’s suicide. He concludes by giving examples of another motif, that of the wild huntsman, one variation of which – Graen Jette of the Danish islands – is said to ride with his head under his arm.

Discussing the ballad of the death coach, Croker writes that

The Death Coach is called in Irish “Coach a bower.” The time of its appearance is always midnight and when heard to drive round any particular home, with the coachman’s whip cracking loudly, it is said to be a sure omen of death.
The following account of the Dullahans and their coach was communicated to the writer by a lady resident in the neighbourhood of Cork:–

“They drive particularly hard wherever a death is going to take place. The people about here thought that the road would be completely worn out with their galloping before Mrs. Spiers died. On the night the poor lady departed they brought an immense procession with them, and instead of going up the road, as usual, they turned into Tivoli: the lodge-people, according to their own account, ‘were kilt from them that night.’ The coachman has a most marvellously long whip, with which he can whip the eyes out of any one, at any distance, that dares to look at him. I suppose the reason he is so incensed at being looked at, is because he cannot return the compliment, ‘pon the ‘count of having no head. What a pity it is none but the Dullahans can go without their heads! Some people’s heads would be no loss to them, or any one else.”

Croker then brings up comparable folklore from Denmark and Wales. Note that the story provided by the unnamed Cork woman is – alongside “The Good Woman” and the ballad of the death coach – one of only three narratives included in the book that actually use the term “dullahan”.

This brings me to Croker’s commentary on “The Good Woman”, in which he talks about the etymology of the word dullahan:

Mr. O’Reilly, author of the best Irish Dictionary extant, respecting the name Dullahan thus expresses himself in a communication with the writer.

“Dulachan (in Irish Dubhlachan) signifies a dark, sullen person. The word Durrachan, or Dullahan, by which in some places the goblin is known, has the same signification. It comes from Dorr, or Durr, anger, or Durrach, malicious, fierce &c.” The correctness of this last etymology may be questioned, as Dubh, black, is evidently a component part of the word.

Headless people are not peculiar to Ireland, although there alone they seem to have a peculiar name. Legends respecting them are to be found in most countries.

The correspondent’s full name is not given, but I believe him to be Edward O’Reilly, whose Irish-English dictionary was published in 1817.

If the term “dullahan” means a dark or sullen person, then it seems likely that the word referred to sinister or malevolent spirits in general before coming to refer specifically to headless spirits – presumably after becoming attached to the motif of the death coach and its headless driver. This would chime with Charles Vallancey’s 1802 description of the dullahan simply as a chain-dragging spirit, with no reference to either headlessness or coaches. It’s impossible for me to say when this shift in meaning might have occurred, but I have to wonder if Croker was the person who cemented the association after all, as noted, only three of the narratives in his book’s section on dullahans actually use the word “dullahan” to describe their headless spooks.

I’ll be following this post with a look at how authors like W. B. Yeats drew upon Croker for their own depiction of the dullahan, the possible overlap with Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, and a survey of dullahans in modern pop culture

Trolls in Iceland

Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by John Bauer . No edits made.

Habitually described as big, stupid and greedy&mdashbut sometimes kind and wise&mdashthe trolls of day and night occupy an immense portion of Icelandic folklore. Like elves, trolls become enraged when one does them harm, but one can expect to be richly rewarded when helping a troll in need.

Although they are in general not considered as appealing as their elfin counterparts, trolls are just as capable of extraordinary magical feats and are known to cast terrible spells and enchantments&mdashbut do to their low intelligence, humans can usually free themselves of their enchantments quite easily.

Icelandic trolls live in rocky mountains, deep in the uninhabitable Icelandic highlands. They like the taste of flesh and are known to lure unsuspecting humans into their caves with spells, magic potions or simply by taking them captive. And since trolls are known to steal and eat misbehaving children, troll stories often serve the purpose of keeping mischievous children at bay.

Most trolls can only travel by night and will turn to stone as soon as they are hit by sunlight. Many magnificent Icelandic rock formations are said to be the petrified remnants of trolls who suffered the harsh fate of the sun and derive their names directly from such accounts, for example, West Iceland's Skessuhorn (Troll Woman's Peak) and Tröllaskarð (Troll's Pass) in North Iceland.

According to legend, the three titanic rocks off the beach of Reynisfjara, are the petrified remains of careless trolls who were hit by the light of day while unsuccessfully trying to drag a three-masted ship to land and the Hvítserkur cliff of the Vatnsnes Peninsula in northwest Iceland is said to be a troll that turned to stone after spending too much time tearing down the bells of the Þingeyraklaustur monastery.

Faeries: An Overview

There are other traditions such as that found in English, German and Slavic folklores.

Today, when we think of fairies, we often visualise them as tiny, supernatural beings with wings and glowing with uncommon light in today’s children fairy tales. And they also possessed some sorts of strange magical powers, like Tinklebell in the story of Peter Pan or the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella. The modern fairies, between the 18th and 20th century, comes from oral tradition before they were transmitted into writing.

The fairies are supernatural beings that can be best described by the Greek word – daimon, which means “spirit”. They are not divinity, ie. god or goddess, in the usual sense of the word, and yet they are not mere mortal often, it is easier to classify them as minor divinity.

However, if we look at the idea of fairies, then you would find that have been around a lot longer than everyone expects. Perhaps the earliest form of faeries can be found loosely in the mythical beings in Greek mythology, such as the nymphs, satyrs and sileni. The nymphs from ancient Greek myths can be considered as fairies and they existed as early as the time of Homer writing the Iliad and the Odyssey. Even the river gods in Greek myths can be classified as fairies. These are spirits or minor deities of nature or of the natural phenomena.

And then, there are household or guardian spirits that can be found in Roman religion and mythology, such as the penates, lares and genii.

The Norse versions of the fairies are the wide variety of elves and the dísir that exist in the Teutonic traditions. The Valkyries could also be classified as fairies.

It was during the time of Queen Elizabeth I of England, where William Shakespeare (1564-1616) had popularised fairies in English folklore, in his play Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the characters Oberon, Titania and Puck (Robin Goodfellow). Earlier than Shakespeare, Chaucer (1342-1400) mentioned that the land of Britain was filled with fairies before the time of King Arthur.

In the Arthurian legends, the divine or fairy figures also appeared in abundance. Morgan, Arthur’s half-sister, seemed to be great sorceress and healer, was often called Morgan le Fay her nickname Fay, which means “Fairy”. And then there is this Lady of the Lake. Arthur’s wife, Guinevere, or Gwenhwyfar in the Welsh tradition, also appeared to be a fairy, as well as the sovereignty goddess. Many knights were either born from fairies or they took female fairies as their lovers. Even Merlin was only part mortal.

Then you would discover that that these images of fairies are not the only kind. There were all sorts in fairy tales and folklores. Some are benign, while others are maligned and hostile to mortals. Some were seen as fair, while others were considered ugly and monstrous to look at. They can come in all size and sizes – tall or short, fat or skinny, so there is really no clear definition of fairies may look like. Different types of fairies may also have different types of magical powers.

So, what are these fairies? Where do they come from?

To understand what they are, we should look at some of those found in Celtic mythology and other Celtic traditions. But, then you would discover that fairies are not just confined in Celtic traditions. Many cultures and civilizations have their own versions of fairies.

There are enough kinds of fairies to confuse anyone, because sometimes writers have associated one fairy with a different kind.

In Celtic religion, there was Celtic deities in Gaul (France and Belgium), Hispania (Spain) and Britannia (Britain) during the Roman occupation of these regions or provinces. But the situation changed when Christianity spread to the west and north. These deities that were worshipped before the conversion to Christianity were reduced to the status of fairies in Celtic mythology and folklore.

So in Ireland the gods in the Tuatha De Danann were degenerated to the roles of fairies (eg. Dagda and Lugh), people living under the dune mound or fabled islands, or even within underwater domains. Similar degeneration occurred with old deities in Wales, Scotland and other surviving pockets of Celtic kingdoms (such as Cornwall, Brittany and island of Man).

These earlier Celtic traditions of fairies, the former Irish or Welsh deities were also not fairies in the usual sense. They looked very much like human, in size and shape, except that they have special magical powers and they seemed eternally young, but they don’t have wings. The Dananns or their Welsh counterparts were usually seen as race of fair people. They can die just as mortals can, but their lives could last hundreds or even thousands of years.

The problem is that sometimes, the Christian authors have also turned them into beings serving the Devil, and that the fairies were actually demons. However this view is no longer shared, today.

He wrote two works, which is of interests:

  • The Celtic Twilight (1893, 1902)
  • Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888)

In Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, is not only description of fairies it is a collection of works, poems and prose, from other authors, such as T. Crofton Croker and Lady Wilde.

In this work, he divided the fairies into two broad categories:

Social or trooping fairies are those who lived in large company, like in a clan. The Tuatha de Danann who lived in the sidh, ruled by a king, and sometimes a queen (or both), can be considered as the social fairies. They were often seen feasting, singing and dancing. They can be either benevolent or hostile to humans. Another example of trooping fairies is the Merrow.

The solitary fairy usually avoid large gathering. There are many types of solitary fairy, such as banshee, leprechaun, cluricaune, brownie, pooka, etc.

Generally, they can recognise by the type of jackets they wore. The social fairies wore green jackets, while the solitary fairies wore red ones, but sometimes their jackets are brown or grey.

Scottish fairy folklore can also be divided in the similar fashion of solitary and social fairies.

Another writer, Wirt Sikes wrote in the British Goblins (1880), comparing the Welsh fairies with that of Norse/Teutonic fairies.

Sikes says that there are four types in the Norse tradition: 1) elves, 2) dwarves and troll, 3) nisses and 4) necks, mermen, and mermaids.

While in the Welsh traditions there are:

  1. the ellyllon, or the elves
  2. the coblynau, or the mine fairies
  3. the bwbachod, or the household fairies
  4. the gwragedd annwn, or the fairies of the lakes and streams
  5. the gwyllion, or the mountain fairies.

Here, the classification of Welsh fairies distinguished household fairies from that of the mines, lakes and mountains. Like the Irish tradition, the Welsh can be further divided into solitary and social fairies.

The word banshee may have originated from East Munster, and there are many ways it can be spelt. In Irish Gaelic it could be spelt as banshie, bean sidhe and ben side. The Scottish words are ban-sith, bean-shith and bean sith. The Manx form is ben shee.

It was only in later Irish and Scottish Gaelic folklore traditions that banshee came to mean a female wraith or spirit, whose keening presages the death of person’s in the household. This banshee was tied to a person or family, sort of like an attendant fairy.

She only foretells the pending death of a person. Unlike the Breton fairy woman korrigan, the banshee doesn’t cause a person’s death with her power or curse. Related to the banshee is the Washer or Washer-woman at the Ford, known in Scottish folklore as bean sighe.

According to the Irish poet Yeats, banshee was sometimes accompanied by the Dullahan, a headless fairy coachman. It is also sometimes believed that on these occasion, the banshee is also headless. It has been reported in 1807 that one headless banshee had frightened to death two sentries stationed at James’ Park.

The banshee was sometimes seen as a young, fair woman, especially in Irish texts, while other sources from Scottish tradition described her as an old hag. Her description varied. What is common in both traditions was that banshee had long, unbound hair, and dressed in white, though, sometimes she was seen dressed in a grey cloak over a green dress. Another common tradition is that she can be heard weeping or wailing, that sounds like the keening of mourners. And because of continuous weeping, her eyes were red in colour.

According to the Scottish Gaelic tradition, the bean nighe was a woman who died at child birth. She was described as a woman dressed in green, but can be recognised by her webbed feet. The female figure that presaging death, but they were found at streams or lakes, washing bloodstained clothes of those who would die.

It was better for a person to see her first, before she sees that person. It was possible for a person to escape his or her doom, if the person was brave enough seized her breast and suck on it. The person was then protected because he or she would become a foster-child of this female wraith.

Earlier Irish and Welsh legends, the Washer at the Ford only bore superficial resemblance to the Scottish bean nighe. The earlier washing women in early Irish and Welsh traditions were goddesses, and bean nighe were probably derived from these figures. These antecedent of the bean nighe are the Irish goddess Morrigan and the Welsh goddess Modron.

In the Irish myth, Dagda met such woman washing at the ford of the River Unshin, near Glenn Etin on Samhain night. This lovely woman was beautiful. This was not presaging of Dagda’s doom. Dagda slept with her, and she offered to aid him in the coming battle. Though the name of this woman was not given, she was most likely to be Morrigan, or Badb. Here, she foretold the defeat of the Fomorians. But that was not only the purpose of Morrigan. Morrigan represented the Sovereignty of Ireland. For Ireland to enjoy its wealth and fertility, it required a king to have sex with the Sovereignty Goddess (or Lady) of Ireland. For Ireland to renew its prosperity and the fertility of the land, Dagda was required to sleep with Morrigan each year on Samhain night. See Wedded to the Land in Celtic World.

Failing to reward the brownie for his service, would result in either the brownie leaving the household or at worse, mischievously causing havoc in the house, such as breaking dishes, spoiling milk, and chasing away cattle or other animals from the property.

In Scottish Gaelic tradition, the changeling was called tàcharan or umaidh. In Irish folklore, it is corpán sidhe, síodhbradh or síofra and in Manx it is Ihianoo shee. The Welsh called them plentyn a neidiwyd am arall.

Usually the fairy babies were sickly. One way to recognise them is to place them on a fire and chant a formula. If it is a changeling, it would leave, climbing up the chimney.

According to Yeats, the stolen baby will live in a place of full “good living and music and mirth”.

If a person opened a door, when he or she hears a coach rumbling by, that person may have a pitcherful of blood thrown onto the person’s face. That person is therefore marked for death.

It seemed that dullahan can take off or put on his head at will. The dullahan may even toss his head around like in a gruesome ballgame. Those who watch him pass may lose their eye to his whip. According to Yeats, the cracking of whip is the omen of death.

According to the Norse myths, there are two groups or tribes of elves.

The light-elves, known as ljásálfar, lived in the world called Alfheim, which the Vanir god Freyr ruled. The light-elves were seen as fair. The other group of elves were the dark-elves, dokkálfar, living in Nidavellir, or black elves, svartálfar, living in the world called Svartalfheim. There seemed to be a difference between dark-elves and black elves. The dark elves were described with complexion – black than night – and they were short like the dwarves. The dark elves like the dwarves were known for their invention and craftsmanship.

To the Norse tradition, the elves were spirits or minor deities of the woodland or household. See Of Dwarves and Elves in the Norse Mythology section. In later Germanic folklore, the elves had changed – becoming diminutive in size, like the Celtic counterpart of the fairies.

It was this tradition as household spirits, that the elves were later given in Germanic and Celtic folklore traditions. The closest thing that the Celtic people had to the elves were the ellyll from Welsh tradition.

They were short or tiny, and can be seen as benevolent if pleased, so they would care for the house, doing chores in the night. If they were offended they can become malevolent, disrupting the household, by breaking dishes, spilling milk, keeping the occupants awake at night with their noises, chasing away livestock.

According to W. B. Yeats, the Great Fool, or Amandán Már, resides in the fairy palace. In Yeats’ description of The Queen and The Fool, the fairy queen and the fool in the royal household have great powers.

In Irish folklore, the dullahan and cluricaune were considered to be goblins. And so was the Welsh bwgan.

The korrigan seemed to be Breton version of the banshee. The korrigan was probably a pagan druidess originally. She was equated with gwragedd annwn – the Welsh fairies of the lake and streams.

She tried to seduce mortal who would drink from her water, she would lure him to sleep with her. If the man refused her advance or seduction, she would angrily curse him to a doom. This is what happened to the Seigneur of Nann.

The Seigneur was married to a woman whom he loved. One day, his wife asked for some May-blossoms from the forest. The Seigneur rode out, but during his ride, he became thirsty, and drank the water from a fountain. Here, the Seigneur encountered the korrigan who demanded that he sleep with her. But the Seigneur angrily refused because he was faithful to his wife and rode away after hearing that he would die in three days. The moment the Seigneur rode back to his castle, he went immediately to the church, instead of back to his wife. The priest, his mother and other people kept the secret of his fate from his wife. Three days later, the Seigneur’s mother finally told her daughter-in-law the truth. The wife died of broken heart and was buried beside the Seigneur.

In Breton folklore, she was the most likely suspect in the abduction of mortal infants. As foster-mother of the baby, she would raise it as if the child was her own.

The korrigan has been compared to several figures in mythology and legend. These were most likely antecedents of the korrigan. One of them is the Welsh goddess Ceridwen (or Keridwen). She was wife of the giant Tegid Foel and reside Lake Tegid.

There are two other notable antecedents to the korrigan, but within the Arthurian legend, where they reside either near a fountain or within the lake itself at Broceliande. They are the Countess or Lady of the Fountain, and the Lady of the Lake.

The korrigan was sort of like the Lady of the Fountain in the legend of Welsh Owain or French Yvain. Though the Welsh version in the Mabinogion doesn’t disclose the name of forest or the fountain, Chretien de Troyes had located fountain in the forest of Broceliande.

Owain or Yvain actually married the Lady of the Fountain after slaying her husband. Though the hero wasn’t doomed to die, he lost his wit because a damsel removed the wedding ring from his finger, because he forgot to return to his wife after one year’s sojourn in King Arthur’s court. He roamed the forest as a naked wild man. Eventually his wits was restored and he was reunited with his wife, after many heroic adventures.

The Lady of the Fountain didn’t seem to have any special power like korrigan, but she was lady of otherworldly castle and her fountain have strange power over the weather. See Yvain and the Lady of the Fountain.

The Lady of the Lake is known by several names – Niniane, Viviane, Vivian, Vivien, Eviene and Nimue. Whatever her original name was, by the time of Chretien de Troyes (died in c. 1185), she was seen more of a fairy than a goddess.

The Lady of the Lake exhibited the closest characteristics to the korrigan, but the Lady was more benevolent than the korrigans. The Lady of the Lake was responsible for giving the sword Exicalibur to King Arthur (see Legend of Excalibur, New Sword). She abducted the infant from Queen Elaine (or Helen) of Banoic and raised the infant Lancelot to manhood. She was Lancelot’s tutor. (See Lancelot.)

But most interesting is the Lady of the Lake connection with Merlin, Arthur’s wizard and counsellor. Merlin was infatuated with the lovely Lady of the Lake. Though, Merlin was gifted with divination, he was helpless to prevent his doom. He taught her all his skill in magic in the hope of winning her love, which included hiding her palace and domain either under the lake or in illusionary lake. But Lady of the Lake had no intention of sleeping with the wizard, and she used the last magic he had taught her, to confine or entomb Merlin in or under the large stone. (See Legend of Excalibur, Death of Merlin.)

In Irish folklore, the leprechaun was one of the best known male solitary fairy. They have a lot in common with two other male solitary fairies – cluricaune and far darrig. Like these other two fairies, they are mischievous and known for playing practical jokes upon mortals.

The leprachaun could be spelt lepracaun. In Irish, it is leith bhrogan or leith phrogan.

They dressed in a homely style clothes that looks very ordinary compared to other solitary fairies. The leprechaun was a tiny male figure, with an old, withered face. He was the shoemaker. Yeats says that he was one-shoemaker, because he was only seen making a single shoe.

They also have hidden many treasure-crocks

According to Yeats, whom he listed T. C. Croker as one of his sources, the pooka was either mischievous or malevolent, often taking the shape of horse, offering unsuspecting traveller a ride that was dangerous if not deadly. Other shape it favoured is the ass.

Yeats says that Lady Wilde believed that the pooka was benevolent and helpful like the Scottish brownie.

Animal Folklore: Chasing Hares Through Stories, Myth, and Legend

As a child, I didn’t think of hares as magical. I was brought up in Speyside, in the rural North East of Scotland, and my first memory of a hare was my parents being impressed when our cat dragged home a dead one. As they were never impressed by the numerous rabbits this cat eviscerated on our doorstep, I realised hares must be special and different. My idea of a hare was a real wild animal — hard to hunt, difficult to catch, beautiful to watch — not a magical creature like a dragon or a unicorn. However, around the world, there may be as many magical hare stories as dragon tales, and probably more than unicorns…

I didn’t recognise the magical story aspect of hares until years later, when I began researching shapeshifters and realised hares had a specific magical connection to my childhood home. When I found the amazing (and rather insultingly titled, for anyone who cries themselves a quine) Primitive Beliefs in the Northeast of Scotland by JM McPherson, I discovered stories about witches transforming into hares. The idea of humans becoming hares fascinated me, but I didn’t know what to do with it (fictionally) until I read an old tale in Sorche Nic Leodhas’s Thistle and Thyme about a woman who was turned into a blue-eyed hare by a witch. That image stuck with me for years: a young woman transformed into a hare, not by choice, not as a power, but as a terrifying trap and a dreadful fate (and yet, what a form to be trapped in: the fast, elegant form of a hare!)

Over time, those connected ideas of witches, hares, transformation, and choice became the heart of my new adventure trilogy for kids: the Spellchasers trilogy. Once I realised I was going to be spending three books with magical hares, I began to research the role of hares in traditional tales. Though I only scratched the surface, like a hare scratching a form in a field, rather than a rabbit digging a deep burrow, I was amazed at the widespread, varied nature of hare folklore and mythology.

There are hares as goddesses and the companions of goddesses, hares as messengers, as fertility symbols, and as tricksters. Hares are associated with Easter and eggs, with madness in March, with the moon, with the elixir of life, with the last corn standing at harvest-time, with sacrificing themselves in fires, and with shapeshifting and witchcraft.

“I realised hares had a specific magical connection to my childhood home” Source

Some of these links may come from our ancestors’ observations of wild hares. The fire connection may have arisen because a hare’s way of dealing with threats is to hunker down and hide, hoping not to be seen, until the very last moment when it leaps up and runs off. So when stubble in fields was being burnt, a hare might wait until the last moment, then leap up and through the flames in an attempt to escape.

As I hunted for inspiration in traditional tales, I glimpsed many intriguing hares, including:

The Algonquin Great Hare from North America, who brought summer to defeat winter

The hare from Ceylon, who threw himself into the fire to feed Buddha and was rewarded by being placed on the moon

The African trickster hare, who become the American trickster Brer Rabbit when he crossed the Atlantic

The famously fast hare from Aesop’s fables

The Indian hare, who tricked a lion into fighting his own reflection (rather than eating the hare!)

My favourite Welsh hare is the one Gwion became to escape Ceridwen after he accidentally stole the wisdom she was brewing for her son

My favourite Irish hare is the one Oisin injured, then followed to find an underground hall and an injured woman on a throne

My favourite English hare is the one Boudicca kept inside her tunic before a battle with the Romans, so when she let it run free, the hare’s path was read as an omen for her warriors’ victory. Boudicca’s use of a hare feels very appropriate. There are lots of hares in the ancient tales of the British Isles, because the hare is native. The rabbit doesn’t star in nearly as many stories, because the rabbit was brought here relatively recently (in traditional tale terms) by the Romans.

But of all the hares, I feel the strongest connection to the shapeshifting Scottish hares of my childhood home and their sister tales in other parts of these islands. The stories of hares being injured and those ‘bites and rives and scarts’ showing on human bodies, or of hares shot with crooked sixpences transforming into dying old women.

Isobel Gowdie of Auldearn, when accused of witchcraft, claimed to become a hare with the words:

I sall goe intill ane haire

With sorrow, and sych, and meikle care

And I sale goe in the Divellis nam

Ay whill I com hom againe

The dark history of the witch trials and torture associated with these tales reminds us of the nasty reality behind many of the stories we enjoy sharing on #FolkloreThursday.

B ut hare stories aren’t all dark. While digging into my childhood memories for this post, my brother and I recalled how we used to say ‘rabbits’ on the last night of a month and ‘hares’ on the first morning of a new month. Hares and their sudden leaps have often been associated with dawns, new months, and new beginnings — which is good, because I’ve just finished my shapeshifting Spellchasers trilogy, so now I have to decide what adventure to leap into next!

The hare is fast, tricksy and elusive. A single unifying theme in hare lore is equally hard to pin down. Even so, it’s worth chasing the hare through stories, for the pleasure of the occasional glimpse of this fleet, beautiful, magical creature.

Win a copy of The Beginner’s Guide to Curses by Lari Don (the first book in the Spellchasers trilogy) this month plus a £5 voucher to spend on the DiscoverKelpies website for every reader!

The wonderful folks over at DiscoverKelpies have offered a copy of The Beginner’s Guide to Curses (the first book in the Spellchasers trilogy) for one lucky newsletter subscriber this month! Sign up for the #FolkloreThursday newsletter to enter (valid July 2017 UK & ROI only).

DiscoverKelpies have also offered a £5 voucher for every #FolkloreThursday reader to use on their website — find the code in the July newsletter!

‘When Molly finds herself in a curse-lifting workshop with four magical classmates — a kelpie, a dryad, a sphinx and a toad — she’s determined not to believe in it. But it’s true that whenever a dog barks, Molly suddenly becomes a small and very fast hare… How long can she keep not believing?’

Do check out the other books in the Spellchasers Trilogy: The Shapeshifter’s Guide to Running Away and The Witch’s Guide to Magical Combat.

Recommended Books from #FolkloreThursday

References & further reading

Primitive Beliefs in the Northeast of Scotland, J M Macpherson, 1929, Longmans Green and Co.
Thistle and Thyme, Sorche Nic Leodhas, The Bodley Head, 1965

Maori of New Zealand

In Polynesian mythology, people, the elements and every aspect of nature are descended from the one primal pair, the Sky Father and the Earth Mother. It was for this reason that the ancient Maori identified themselves so closely with nature. Before felling a tree (so slaying a child of Tane Mahuta, god of the forest) they would placate the spirits. Searching for food they would not speak of their purpose for fear that the prey might hear and make good its escape.

In the beginning there was only the darkness, Te Ponui, Te Poroa (the Great Night, the Long Night). At last, in the void of empty space, a glow appeared, the moon and the sun sprang forth and the heavens were made light. Then did Rangi (the Sky Father) live with Papa (the Earth Mother), but as the two clung together their offspring lived in darkness. The Sky lay upon the Earth, and light had not yet come between them.

Their children were vexed that they could not see, and argued among themselves as to how night and day might be made manifest. The fierce Tumatauenga (god of war) urged that they kill their parents, but Tane Mahuta (god of the forests) counselled that they separate their father Rangi from their mother Papa and in that way achieve their object. Tane's wisdom prevailed, and in turn each of the children struggled mightily to prise the Sky from the Earth. Rongo (god of cultivated food) and Tangaroa (god of the sea) did all they could, and the belligerent Tumatauenga cut and hacked. But to no avail. Finally it was Tane Mahuta who by thrusting with his mighty feet gradually lifted the anguished Rangi away from the agonised Papa. So was night distinguished from day.

Heartbroken, Rangi shed an immense quantity of tears, so much so that the oceans were formed. Tawhiri (god of wind and storm), who had opposed his brothers in the venture, was fearful that Papa would become too beautiful, and followed his father to the realm above. From there he swept down in fury to lash the trees of Tane Mahuta until, uprooted, they fell in disarray. Tawhiri then turned his rage on Tangaroa (god of the sea) who sought refuge in the depths of the ocean. But as Tangaroa fled his many grandchildren were confused, and while the fish made for the seas with him, the lizards and reptiles hid among rocks and the battered forests. It was then for Tangaroa to feel anger. His grandchildren had deserted him and were sheltering in the forests. So it is that to this day the sea is eating into the land, slowly eroding it and hoping that in time the forests will fall and Tangaroa will be reunited with his offspring.

The creation of woman: When the participants lay exhausted and peace at last descended, Tane Mahuta fashioned from clay the body of a woman, and breathed life into her nostrils. She became Hine-hauone ('the Earth-formed Maid') and bore Tane Mahuta a daughter, Hine-titama ('the Dawn Maid') who in time also bore daughters to Tane.

But Hine-titama had been unaware of her father's identity, and when she found he was the Tane she thought was her husband, she was overwhelmed with shame. She left the world of light, Te Ao, and moved to Te Po, the world below, where she became known as Hinenui-te-Po ('Great Hine the Night').

The children of Tane were plentiful, and increased and multiplied, for death held no dominion over them.

The Mapping of North America Volume II

A list of printed maps 1671-1700

An essential reference work for collectors, dealers, institutions and researchers.

The Mapping of North America II continues on from the first volume in documenting the printed cartographic record of the discovery of the continent from 1670 to 1700. Much has been written on the printed word in relation to America, and many works exist on the cartography of it. None however has attempted to comprehensively detail every known printed map.

612 pages, 270 x 365 mm., bound in burgundy cloth with colour dustjacket. With 12 + 364 map entries, 12 colour plates and 392 black and white photographs. ISBN 978-0-9527733-1-3.

The Maui Cycle in Maori Mythology

The birth of Maui

Maui, fifth of his parents' sons, was born so premature, so frail and so underdeveloped that he could not possibly have survived. So his mother, Taranga, wrapped the foetus in a knot of her hair and threw it into the sea - hence Maui's full name of Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga ('Maui, the topknot of Taranga'). For certain he would have died, but the gods intervened and Rangi, the Sky Father, nursed him through infancy.

As a grown child, Maui returned to confront his bewildered mother and to amaze his family with feats of magic.

The snaring of the sun

Not surprisingly, Maui's four brothers were jealous of the favouritism shown him by their mother Taranga, but when he offered to slow down the sun so that the days would be longer and they would all have more time to find food, they agreed to help.

Carrying the enchanted jawbone of his grandmother, Maui led his brothers eastwards, to the edge of the pit from which the sun rises each morning. There, as it rose, the brothers snared the sun with huge plaited flax ropes. As they held it still, Maui with the enchanted jawbone cruelly smashed the sun's face time and time again, until it was so feeble that it could but creep across the sky - and continues so to do to this very day.

Maui snares and beats the sun to slow its transit through the sky

The Fish of Maui

Maui's brothers, weary of seeing their younger brother catch fish by the kit full when they could barely hook enough to feed their families, usually tried to leave him behind when they went fishing. But their wives complained to Maui of a lack of fish, so he promised them a catch so large they would be unable to finish it before it went bad.

To make good his boast Maui carefully prepared a special fishhook which he pointed with a chip from the magic jawbone, and then hid under the flooring mats of his brothers' fishing canoe.

At dawn the brothers silently set sail, thinking they had managed to leave their brother behind, and only when they were well out to sea did Maui emerge. The brothers were furious, but it was too late to turn back. After they had fished in vain, Maui suggested that they sail until well out of sight of land, where they would catch as many fish as the canoe could carry. The dispirited brothers were easily persuaded, and Maui's prediction came true. But even when the canoe was so overladen with fish that it was taking on water and the brothers were ready to set sail for home, Maui produced his own hook and line and against their protests insisted on throwing it out. For bait, he struck his nose until it bled and smeared the hook with his own blood. As Maui began to chant a spell 'for the drawing up of the world' the line went taut. Though the canoe lurched over and was close to sinking, Maui grimly hauled all the harder and his terrified brothers bailed the more furiously.

Maui fishing up the North Island of New Zealand

At last Maui's catch was dragged to the surface and they all gazed in wonder. For Maui's hook had caught in the gable of the whare runanga (meeting house) of Tonganui (Great South) and with it had come the vast wedge of land now called the North Island of New Zealand, called by the Maori Te Ika a Maui, 'the Fish of Maui'.

Such an immense fish was indeed tapu (sacred) and Maui hastily returned to his island home for a tohunga (priest) to lift the tapu. Though he bade them wait till he return before they cut up the fish, Maui's brothers began to scale and eat the fish as soon as he was gone - a sacrilege that angered the gods and caused the fish to writhe and lash about. For this reason much of the North Island is mountainous. Had Maui's counsel been followed the whole island today would have been level.

In mythology the feat of Maui in providing land ranks only after the separation of Earth and Sky in the story of creation. According to some tribes not only is the North Island the 'Fish of Maui' but the South Island is the canoe from which the gigantic catch was made and Stewart Island its anchor-stone. Maui's fishhook is Cape Kidnappers in Hawke's Bay, once known as Te Matau a Maui, 'Maui's fishhook'. Throughout Polynesia the Maui myths are recounted and the claim is made by other islands that Maui fished them from the deep. This supports the theory that Maui may have been an early voyager, a creator-discoverer, who seemed to fish up new land as it slowly appeared above the horizon.

Maui tries to conquer death

Maui's final feat was to try to win immortality for mankind. Had not Maui tamed the sun? Could he not also tame the night of death? With an expedition, Maui set out to the west, to the place where Hinenui-te-Po, the goddess of death, lay asleep. To accomplish his aim, Maui was to enter her womb, travel through her body and emerge from her mouth. If he succeeded death would never have dominion over humans. With the bird who went with him Maui discussed the plans for his most daring feat, for which he would take on the form of a caterpillar, his magic jawbone making such transformation possible. But the sight of Maui as a caterpillar inching his way over Hine's thigh as she lay sleeping was altogether too much for the little tiwakawaka (fantail), who could not restrain a chirrup of delight. With a start Hine awoke, realised the plan and crushed the helpless Maui between her thighs.

So died Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga, and so death remained in the world for ever more. You also are mortal - remember that, and mould your conduct accordingly during your brief time in this world.

The Coming of the Polynesian

Origin of the Polynesian

Linguistic, molecular biological and archaeological evidence has established that Polynesia was peopled from Asia. Mitochondrial DNA studies demonstrate that Polynesians and the aboriginal population of Taiwan share a common ancestor, and language evolution studies suggest that the origin of most Pacific populations lies in Taiwan, about 5200 years ago. As the population there expanded, people probably filtered east across the Malayan, Philippine and Indonesian archipelagos and Melanesia. This movement became increasingly isolated from its cultural origins, the culture it carried began to develop independently and recognisably differing cultures ultimately emerged. By about the time the movement reached Tonga and Samoa, perhaps 4,000 years ago, the 'Polynesian' culture may be said to have emerged.

Thor Heyerdahl has argued that the population movement from Asia in fact took place in a northerly direction, then swept east across the Bering Strait and finally reached the Pacific proper by way of the Americas. Central to this thesis is the presence throughout Polynesia of the kumara, a sweet potato native to South America, the distribution of which remains something of a puzzle. The kumara grows from a tuber and so could not have been borne by birds nor, it is clear, could the plant have survived being carried by sea currents across the ocean from South America to East Polynesia. It must have been carried by human travellers. Moreover, not only is the plant found throughout Polynesia, but it is also known by its South American name. Although Heyerdahl's celebrated Kon-Tiki expedition (1947) established that it was possible for Polynesia to have been peopled by way of the Americas, his theory has failed to win general acceptance. Kumara has been radiocarbon-dated in the Cook Islands to 1000 AD, and current thinking is that it was brought to central Polynesia circa 700 AD, possibly by Polynesians who had traveled to South America and back, and spread across Polynesia to Hawaii and New Zealand from there.


In time the Marquesas and later the Society Islands evolved as early centres of Polynesian culture. On one of the Society group, Rai'atea (west of Tahiti), Polynesian culture found its highest form. Many believe that it was this revered cultural centre that was 'Hawaiki', a place much venerated in tradition as the 'homeland' of the Maori people, for it is plain that Maori culture derives from East Polynesia.

The concept of 'Hawaiki', of a 'homeland' from which the forbears of each migratory group had come, is found throughout Polynesia and is applied to differing areas both within and without the region. It may simply have been a general way of describing the area from which the last movement had been made in the course of the settlement of the island groups throughout Polynesia.

To some Maori tribes 'Hawaiki' is a reference to the Cook Islands, possibly because their ancestors came to New Zealand from the Society Islands by way of the Cook group. Maori in the Chatham Islands have even referred to the South Island of New Zealand in this way.

It was on the base of Polynesian culture that the intricacies of Maori culture were structured. Indeed, throughout Polynesia there are common elements in language, legend and place names. The myth of the separation of Earth and Sky is generally constant, and the Maui cycle is common throughout the region.

The coming of Kupe

According to popular tradition (whose authenticity is at the very least questionable) it was the Polynesian voyager Kupe (fl. c. AD 950) who discovered New Zealand, a land he named Aotearoa (usually translated as 'land of the long white cloud' or 'land of mists'). In one of a variety of conflicting legends it is said that in 'Hawaiki' Kupe had murdered the carver Hoturapa and made off not only with Hoturapa's canoe, but also with his wife. Hoturapa's relatives sought vengeance and pursued the guilty pair who, in the course of a lengthy voyage, lived for some time in Aotearoa and named several of its features. Curiously, only some tribes have any traditions of Kupe at all. Those who do generally say that Kupe found the 'Fish of Maui' uninhabited and eventually returned to 'Hawaiki' to give the sailing instructions that, according to popular belief, were followed by migrating canoes four centuries later.

Toi and Whatonga

If Kupe encountered no tangata whenua ('people of the land'), according to popular tradition the next Polynesian voyagers said to have reached Aotearoa most certainly did. Whatonga (c. 1130-90?), so one version runs, was competing in canoe races off 'Hawaiki' when, in a sudden storm, his canoe was blown out to sea. His grandfather, Toi (fl. c. 1150), despaired of his ever returning and so set out to find him. In the meantime Whatonga is said to have returned to 'Hawaiki', to have found Toi gone and in turn to have set out to look for him. The story concludes with the pair being reunited at Whakatane (Bay of Plenty) in c. 1150. Those on Toi's canoe intermarried with local tangata whenua and settled at Whakatane to form the genesis of today's Ngati Awa and Te Ati Awa tribes. Those with Whatonga made their homes on the Mahia Peninsula. The chronology of these genealogies is surely totally unreliable.

Maori Chronology doubted

The Kupe-Toi-Whatonga chronology is based in present-day tradition and, with the 'Fleet' myth, is viewed with scepticism by most historians. However, some genealogies establish Kupe in the 14 C and so would have him living in Aotearoa right at the time that settlement seems to have been established, based on radiocarbon dating - see dating of the appearance of the polynesian rat, below. Toi is placed anywhere from 29 to 42 generations ago, and some conclude that not only were there two Kupe but there were also two Toi - Toi kai rakau, a native-born origin ancestor, and Toi te huatahi, a 'Hawaikian' who never came to New Zealand.

Some early students of the Maori distorted and even at times destroyed material that did not accord with their theories. The works of these historians have passed not just into European folklore but have been 'fed back' into Maori tradition. This is not to discount completely the value of Maori tradition as a clue to prehistory, but to query the status accorded some tradition as authentic Maori tradition.

Recent radiocarbon dating of rat-gnawed seeds seems to date the arrival of the first people in New Zealand as definitively around 1280, some 360 years before the arrival of European explorers (Abel Tasman, 1642) (Wilmshurst et al. PNAS 2010). The Pacific rat (kiore) cannot swim very far and hence must have arrived in New Zealand as a stowaway or cargo on polynesian canoes. The rat gnaw marks on seeds are unmistakable and radiocarbon dating of the bones of rats themselves also gives an earliest limit of 1280. This is consistent with other evidence from the oldest dated archaeological sites, some Maori whakapapa (genealogies), widespread forest clearance by fire and a decline in the population of marine and land-based fauna. Most whakapapa yield likely dates several hundred years earlier but they provide weak evidence at best.

Migration from East Polynesia

Tradition continues that two centuries after the expedition of Toi and Whatonga, the Society Islands (Windward and Leeward Islands, including Tahiti) had become so overpopulated that food shortages and war were inducing a number of Polynesians to migrate. In Maori tradition, a number of canoes made the journey to New Zealand, among them the Arawa, Tainui, Aotea, Mataatua, Tokomaru, Takitimu, Horouta, Tohora, Mamari, Ngatokimatawhaorua, Mahuhu and Kurahaupo. It is from these canoes, which some believe arrived in the 14 C, that most Maori claim their descent.

Early New Zealand historians gave rise to the concept of an organised 'fleet' setting sail for New Zealand, but this view has been completely discredited and is without foundation in Maori tradition.

Conversely, it has even been suggested that a single canoe with perhaps 30 occupants, of which half were women, could, with an annual increase of only one percent, account for a population in 1769 of the dimensions described by Cook. According to this theory a single canoe might have landed in Northland, New Zealand, from 'Hawaiki'. Over the generations the 'ancestral' canoes of Maori tradition might have set sail not from the Society Islands but from a Northland 'Hawaiki', and not to voyage across the Pacific but to skirt the New Zealand coastline.

That at least one canoe arrived from East Polynesia, either directly or indirectly, is beyond dispute (and if one could arrive, why not two?). Why it came remains a matter of controversy. Did each canoe which came deliberately set sail for New Zealand? Or did they come by chance over a span of up to three centuries, being blown off course while travelling between groups of islands?

Those who support the theory that migration throughout Polynesia was deliberate rather than accidental claim an extraordinary navigational ability for the Polynesians which would have enabled them to sail vast distances to reach minute destinations. Cook noted that 'the sun is their guide by day and the stars at night . (in a storm) they are then bewildered, frequently miss their intended port and are never heard of more.'

This suggests that the peopling of the farther islands of Polynesia such as New Zealand and Hawaii may have been accidental rather than deliberate - or the product of 'drift voyages' which took place when whole groups were forced to abandon their home islands and simply set sail for wherever the elements bore them. However, there is a considerable body of opinion and evidence to the contrary and the topic remains one of controversy. Maori tradition with its history of ancestral canoes generally opposes the theory of accidental settlement.

Wherever their starting point, some of the ancestral canoes are said to have travelled in pairs for the greater part of the journey, and may have been single-hulled canoes lashed together. This would have given greater stability for an ocean voyage, with the hulls separating for the hazardous business of making landfall, and would explain how the Tainui and Arawa could have arrived at the same place (Whangaparaoa, East Cape) at so nearly the same time that the tribes could argue as to which had arrived first. It would also account for the Aotea canoe's being close by to rescue those in the Kurahaupo when it was wrecked en route.

Animals play an important role.

In other African Legends, animals play an important role in how death came into the world, such as the tale of the lizard that carried the message of death to mankind or the hyena that severed the rope between heaven and earth.

Many stories are based on talking animals with human characteristics, such as greed, jealousy and loneliness.

More Folklore and Legends to read .

Many more folktales are available on this wonderful website WildMoz

Click on the links below for detailed information on these topics relating specifically to Zimbabwe..

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10 Spooky Folktales From Around The World

There's so much more to Halloween than dressing up in costumes and eating the giant bag of candy you bought to give trick-or-treaters. One of the best parts about this time of year is the fact that the spookiness of every day life is not only allowed, but encouraged. Who doesn't love some scary decorations of skeletons propped up outside of houses, or a good ol' haunted hayride?

I certainly love and embrace it all, but one of my favorite things to do this time of year is read ghost stories. Reading about calls coming from inside the house, creepy clown statues that turn out to be murderers, or the cell phone of a man making calls after his death (which is apparently true, and just gave me chills) is truly an awesome way to get into that holiday spirit. After all, how often are we allowed to revel in the terrifying without being considered weird or morbid? Not often.

Sure, it's super-easy to just read the Horrors section of Snopes.com, or a whole mess of creepy novels, but for those who want a bit of international flair thrown in with their spooky, I've compiled a list of 10 scary folktales from around the world. Join me in feudal Japan, by a river in Mexico City, on a train in Stockholm, and several more locations while I spin a creepy yarn for you.

Are you afraid of these ghosts?

La Llorona, The Weeping Woman

Coming at you from Mexico is the tale of La Llorona, or translated "the weeping woman". Legend has it that La Llorona began as a beautiful woman named Maria who drowned her children in a river because her husband left her for various reasons, usually involving boredom or a younger woman. Suddenly full of remorse over what she had done, she threw herself in river as well. Unfortunately for Maria, it turns out that drowning your children in rivers does not give you a ticket into heaven. Cursed to wander riverbanks for eternity, La Llorona weeps as she walks, kidnapping children and drowning them in the misguided hope that her children will forgive her. Often used as a sort of boogeyman to scare young children, it's been said that those who hear her cry are fated for death.

Silverpilen, The Ghost Train of Stockholm

Not a specific story, but more of a recurring character in many Swedish urban legends, the Silverpilen was a strange train — silver instead of the normal green trains — not often seen by residents of Stockholm. Starting in the 1980s, rumors began to spread that the Silverpilen was a ghost train. Legend has it that if a passenger is picked up by the wayward train they would disappear forever, or resurface weeks or even years later with no memory of where they had been. It's said that the cars are either empty, or full of ghosts, and occasionally it's connected with an abandoned train station called Kymling, leading to the phrase "Bara de döda stiger av i Kymling" or "Only the dead get off at Kymlinge." Try not to think about that the next time you're in New York City and waiting for the subway!

Botan Dōrō, or The Peony Lantern

Half-love story, half-ghost story, and wholly terrifying, the story of the Peony Lantern began in 17th century Japan. Although many versions exist, they all follow the same general premise: on the night of Obon (a Japanese festival that honors the spirits of one's ancestors), a widowed samurai named Ogiwara meets a beautiful woman named Otsuyu, always accompanied by a young girl holding a peony lantern. The lovers meet in secret from dusk until dawn, and one day an old woman who has lived by Ogiwara for many years grows suspicious. Spying on the two of them, the old woman is horrified to discover Ogiwara in a loving embrace with a skeleton. Needless to say, he's a bit horrified to discover this as well, but his love for Otsuyu is too great, and the story ends with his dead body wrapped in her skeleton. This story has endured for centuries, having been a kabuki play, the subject of several paintings, as well as several films.

Deer Woman

Stalking the Mid-to-Pacific Northwest is the Deer Woman, a creature that features in the mythology of several Native American tribes, most notably the Chippewa. Her form alternates between that of an old woman or a a deer, but she mostly favors the form of a young and beautiful maiden with the feet and legs of a deer. The Deer Woman often enjoys standing just off the hunting trail, hoping to lure young men over to her so that she can trap them with her magic before it's too late. She is also fond of dancing, known to enter dancing circles to dance the night away, occasionally using her beauty and dancing ability to lure young men out into the forest. According to the Chippewa, she can be chased away with a chant, tobacco, or by simply noticing that her feet aren't human.

Kuchisake-Onna or the Slit-Mouthed Woman

Another ancient Japanese tale, the story of Kuchisake-Onna was revived in the 1970s, becoming incredibly popular and prevalent. The tale is a simple one: You're walking alone on the street and run into a woman wearing a surgical mask, which is a popular enough thing to see when it's cold season in Asia. The woman will ask you "Am I pretty?" If you say no, she will murder you with a pair of scissors that she carries. If yes, she will remove her mask to reveal that her mouth has been slit from ear to ear, à la Heath Ledger's Joker. and then will Jokerize you as well. Although that idea of random ghost murder is terrifying, in 2007 a coroner found records from the 1970s of a woman who chased children, a woman with her mouth slit from ear to ear.

The Human-Eating Tree of Madagascar

The idea of a human-eating tree may seems too crazy to be true, but back in 1874, knowledge of this mystical plant was all the rage thanks to German explorer Carl Liche. In the South Australian Register, Liche had this to say about his experience with the "Mkodo tribe" of Madagascar:

Although carnivorous plants do exist, the Human-Eating Tree of Madagascar, Carl Liche, and the Mkodo Tribe do not, thankfully. However, the concept of Human-Eating trees and other plants still frighten us today, as well it should.

Davy Jones' Locker

Back in the day, being a sailor was a lot more than knowing which direction port and starboard is, or getting really cool mermaid tattoos. In fact, most sailors (and by this I mean most sailors of British and American persuasion) developed a rich folklore all of their own. There are the usual superstitions: adopting a black cat would bring the ship some luck, touching a sailor's collar would also bring good fortune, but whistling and carrying a banana on board would bring nothing but bad luck to everyone. One of the most well known folktales of the high seas belongs to the story of Davy Jones. Far from being the cute lead singer of The Monkees, Davy Jones was largely considered to be the devil to most sailors, with the idea of being sent to Davy Jones' Locker (another word for a chest or trunk) being a rather ominous euphemism for drowning. While the origin of this deep sea devil is currently unknown, one of his earliest descriptions comes from The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, originally published by Tobias Smollett in 1751:

Hawaiian Nightmarchers

Coming from Native Hawaiian tradition are the Nightmarchers, or huaka'i pō , which means "Spirit Ranks," ghosts of ancient Hawaiian warriors who rise from their grave on certain sacred nights to march out to re-enact old battles once more. Often marching right after sunset or right before dawn, they are known to kill whomever witnesses the march, although there are ways around this. If one of your ancestors are among the ranks you can be spared, but if that is not the case you can also avert your eyes, or in some parts lay face down on the ground to show respect. To respect them will lead to great things, but if you don't it almost always leads to death.


There are many categories of ghosts in Bengali culture, from the Petni (the ghosts of women who have died unmarried) to the Nishi (ghosts who lure victims into danger by calling to them in the voice of a loved one), but the Skondhokatas are a relatively modern invention. These ghosts are exclusively victims of decapitation by train. They often plead the living that stumble upon them for help to find their lost heads, and have been known to enslave those who aren't willing to help, or even turn to violence. Thanks to their lack of brain power (they don't have brains, after all) they are relatively easy to outsmart.

El Chupacabra, or The Goat-sucker

First sighted in Puerto Rico, the Chupacabra (literally translated to mean "The Goat-sucker") is a monster whose description varies, but is often thought to be roughly the size of a small bear. Originally reported in 1995 after a series of mysterious animal killings that drained all the blood from the poor creatures, there have been reported sightings all over North American, from as far north is Maine to as far south as Chile. Still staunchly believed in today, there seems to be no limit to where the creature can travel, and its love of sucking blood through tiny circular incisions is chilling to say the least. The next time you're walking alone at night in North America. beware!


Creatures with vampiric characteristics have appeared at least as far back as ancient Greece, where stories were told of creatures that attacked people in their sleep and drained their bodily fluids. Tales of walking corpses that drank the blood of the living and spread plague flourished in medieval Europe in times of disease, and people lacking a modern understanding of infectious disease came to believe that those who became vampires preyed first upon their own families. Research from the 20th and 21st centuries has posited that characteristics associated with vampires can be traced back to certain diseases such as porphyria, which makes one sensitive to sunlight tuberculosis, which causes wasting pellagra, a disease that thins the skin and rabies, which causes biting and general sensitivities that could lead to repulsion by light or garlic.

Vampire myths were especially popular in eastern Europe, and the word vampire most likely originates from that region. Digging up the bodies of suspected vampires was practiced in many cultures throughout Europe, and it is thought that the natural characteristics of decomposition—such as receding gums and the appearance of growing hair and fingernails—reinforced the belief that corpses were in fact continuing some manner of life after death. Also possibly contributing to this belief was the pronouncement of death for people who were not dead. Because of the constraints of medical diagnosis at the time, people who were very ill, or sometimes even very drunk, and in a coma or in shock were thought dead and later “miraculously” recovered—sometimes too late to prevent their burial. Belief in vampires led to such rituals as staking corpses through the heart before they were buried. In some cultures the dead were buried facedown to prevent them from finding their way out of their graves.

The modern incarnation of vampire myth seems to have stemmed largely from Gothic European literature of the 18th and 19th centuries, about the time vampire hysteria was peaking in Europe. Vampiric figures appeared in 18th-century poetry, such as Heinrich August Ossenfelder’s “Der Vampyr” (1748), about a seemingly vampiric narrator who seduces an innocent maiden. Vampire poems began appearing in English about the turn of the 19th century, such as John Stagg’s “The Vampyre” (1810) and Lord Byron’s The Giaour (1813). The first prose vampire story published in English is believed to be John Polidori’s “ The Vampyre” (1819), about a mysterious aristocrat named Lord Ruthven who seduces young women only to drain their blood and disappear. Those works and others inspired subsequent material for the stage. Later important vampire stories include the serial Varney, the Vampire or, The Feast of Blood (1845–47) and “The Mysterious Stranger” (1853), which are cited as possible early influences for Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), and Théophile Gautier’s “La Morte amoureuse” (1836 “The Dead Lover”) and Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1871–72), which established the vampire femme fatale.

Dracula is arguably the most important work of vampire fiction. The tale of the Transylvanian count who uses supernatural abilities, including mind control and shape-shifting, to prey upon innocent victims inspired countless works thereafter. Many popular vampire characteristics—such as methods of survival and destruction, vampires as aristocracy, and even vampires being of eastern European origin—were solidified in this popular novel and especially through its 1931 film adaptation starring Hungarian-born actor Bela Lugosi. The novel itself is thought by some to have been inspired in part by the cruel acts of the 15th-century prince Vlad III Dracula of Transylvania, also known as “the Impaler,” and Countess Elizabeth Báthory, who was believed to have murdered dozens of young women during the 16th and 17th centuries in order to bathe in or possibly drink their blood so as to preserve her own vitality.

Dracula in turn inspired the film Nosferatu (1922), in which a vampire was first depicted as being vulnerable to sunlight. Other aspects of the movie, however, were so similar to Stoker’s novel that his widow sued for copyright infringement, and many copies of the film were subsequently destroyed. For several decades the vast majority of vampire fiction, whether on page or stage or screen, showed the influence of Dracula. Both the novel and its film version spawned several direct sequels and spin-offs, including the film Dracula’s Daughter (1936) and a number of Hammer films, including Dracula (1958 also known as Horror of Dracula), which starred Christopher Lee in the title role. Vampires became popular characters in pulp magazines and appeared in stories such as the Sherlock Holmes tale “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire” (1924). In 2009 the original author’s great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt published a sequel called Dracula: The Un-Dead using notes and excisions from Dracula.

In the 20th century vampires began to turn from being depicted as predominantly animalistic creatures and instead displayed a broader range of human characteristics. Ray Bradbury explored the sympathetic portrayal of what can be thought of as “monsters,” including vampires, in “ Homecoming” (1946), a story about a “normal” boy with a family of fantastical creatures. The popular American television soap opera Dark Shadows (1966–71) featured a lovelorn vampire, Barnabas Collins. In 1975 Fred Saberhagen published The Dracula Tape, a retelling of Stoker’s story from the misunderstood villain’s point of view. Vampire fiction entered a new era, however, with the sympathetic portrayal by Anne Rice in her novel Interview with the Vampire (1976). Rice’s book introduced the world to vampires that were brooding and self-loathing and squabbled like humans. While Rice’s vampires were more vulnerable emotionally than vampires previously had been, they were less vulnerable physically—susceptible only to daylight and fire and the death of the first of their kind—and possessed superhuman beauty, speed, and senses. Interview with the Vampire was highly popular and sparked a revival of vampire fiction that lasted into the 21st century, and subsequent vampire stories continued to use characteristics established by Rice. Rice herself wrote several more books in what subsequently became known as the Vampire Chronicles, some of which were later adapted for film.

The vampire as a misunderstood romantic hero picked up steam in the later part of the 20th century, particularly in the United States. In 1978 Chelsea Quinn Yarbro began publishing her series of Count Saint-Germain books, the main character of which is a vampire of moral character whose bite is an erotic experience. In many tales vampires are characterized as promiscuous, their appetite for human blood paralleling their sexual appetite. In 1991 Lori Herter published Obsession, one of the first vampire novels to be categorized as romance rather than science fiction, fantasy, or horror. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a television show in which the title character has a star-crossed romance with a vampire, aired from 1997 to 2003. Vampire romances also appeared in the steamy HBO television series True Blood, based on Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse book series. Vampire romance for teens gained popularity at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st, with books such as the Vampire Diaries series by L.J. Smith and the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer. The Twilight Saga, with its high-school romance and vampires that sparkle in the sun rather than bursting into flames, became a cultural sensation, ensuring a vampire trend for years to come. Vampire relationships of a different sort were explored in the novel Låt den rätte komma in (2004 Let the Right One In) by John Ajvide Lindqvist, in which the main characters are a perpetually childlike vampire and a young boy she befriends and helps fend off bullies. The book was adapted for film in Sweden in 2008 and in the United States as Let Me In in 2010.

Vampires also enjoyed popularity as unlikely action heroes. Blade, a half-vampire superhero who first appeared in comic books, was the focus of three films (1998, 2002, 2004). Another popular film series, Underworld (2003, 2006, 2009, 2012), explored an ongoing war between vampires and werewolves. Dracula himself (known instead as “Alucard”—Dracula spelled backward) even became an action hero in the Japanese manga and anime Hellsing. Angel, the vampire with a soul and the love interest of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s title character, became the star of his own spin-off television series in which he acts as a private detective (1999–2004). And the tabletop role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade (first published 1991)—which contributed words such as sire (a vampire’s progenitor) and embrace (the act of making a new vampire) to the vampire lexicon—allowed players to create their own vampire worlds and pit warring vampire factions against one another.

Although vampires had by the 20th century largely become creatures of fantasy, urban myths about vampires continued to persist. As late as the early 20th century, some villages in Bulgaria still practiced corpse impaling. In the 1960s and ’70s a vampire was believed to haunt Highgate Cemetery in London, and in the early 21st century rumours of vampires caused uproar in Malawi and England alike.

Watch the video: 10 Dark English Legends