Winter Solstice: The Yule Log

In Scandinavian countries each year during the Winter Solstice it was tradition to heave a huge log into a large hearth to commemorate the sun’s return.

Picture of Yule log courtesy of Rocksweeper.

The Yule log was usually an Oak log however, Ash was also used in order to grant wisdom and good fortune.

The women would gather to bless and cleanse the home from negative spirits. The oldest male and family members would seek out the ideal large Yule log for the hearth. They would have to anchor large ropes around it and drag it back to their home. It was considered a bad omen to cut the log from a living tree.

The Yule log was rubbed with ale, mead or whiskey and dressed with greenery.

Ornamental shapes were carved into the log, often in the image of Holda or Cailleach for the Celts, her image represented the cold, darkness and death, once tossed upon the hearth winter was exchanged for heat, light and life.

The Yule log was kept lit throughout the Winter Solstice to prevent evil spirits from entering the home and represent welcoming the Solar year.

Many ghost tales were told in front of the warm fire as well as toasts and wishes made. Over the years folks often tie their prayers and petitions to the Yule log before it is tossed into the fire. Sometimes part of the Yule log is saved for the next winter.

Source & Reference:

*Grimm, Jacob (James Steven Stallybrass Trans.) (1882). Teutonic Mythology: Translated from the Fourth Edition with Notes and Appendix Vol. I. London: George Bell and Sons.

*Picture of Yule log cutting in Public Domain.

Advertisements

Opera dei Pupi

Sicilian Puppet Theatre, Opera dei Pupi
dates back to the 15th century. Traditional Sicilian Folk Art uses wooden marionettes on strings and metal wires instead of hand puppets.
These marionettes vary in size from small to large.

They comprise Frankish romantic poems one for example is The Song of Roland.

The donkey carts that are used are painted with detailed scenes for the various tales that are performed by these colourful wooden marionettes.

Presently there are only a few troubadours that still travel and perform.

Source & Reference:

  • Giuseppe Guarraci “Ernesto Puzzo e l’opera dei pupi nel siracusano” AICS 2011
  • Pictures in Public Domain

Jataka Tale: The Hare in The Moon

Jataka Tales are folk tales from India, they tell of the reincarnated lives of Guatama Buddha who was the founder of Buddhism, he taught over a 45 year period. He lived in the eastern part of India sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. His given first name was Siddhartha a Prince, who came from a royal family. He could not stand to see the suffering and toil of the poor and wished to help them.

405px-Bhutanese_painted_thanka_of_the_Jataka_Tales,_18th-19th_Century,_Phajoding_Gonpa,_Thimphu,_Bhutan

Guatama Buddha taught a Middle Way between drastic self-restraint and extreme permissiveness. He is the main character in Buddhism. He ascended to peak illumination he had accomplished Buddhahood. He shared his teachings to his students to help stop the suffering and rebirth in this world. He passed down oral tradition and writings of these teachings and tales were written 400 years later.

The Jataka Tales from India tell of the many previous lives of Buddha. They teach morals similar to the Greek Aesop’s Fables. In these tales Guatama Buddha is referred to as Bodhisattva,” since he has not yet accomplished his full-blown Buddha enlightenment. The Hare in The Moon originated from the Pali Canon as the Sasa Jataka and in the Jatakamala of Arya Sura. The famous Man in the Moon that forms the moon’s face was seen as a Hare image in the moon in Asian culture.

Sit back and enjoy this endearing tale of a very charitable Hare and his three friends.

330px-Rabbit_in_the_moon_standing_by_pot

The Hare in The Moon

Once upon a time the Bodhisattva was reincarnated as a hare. He inhabited a lush green forest among soft grass and fancy ferns, amidst crawling vines and succulent indigeous orchids. The lush beryl woods was framed by a beautiful blue-green river like an Aquamarine gem stone.

This particular jungle was a spiritual refuge for mystics who wander far away from the world to heed their spiritual calling and to reflect on it. These mystics survived on the food given to them by the benevolent villagers. The villagers gave alms joyfully as it was considered their divine duty.

The Bodhisattva hare was blessed with three companions, an otter, a monkey and a jackal (sometimes a fox in other versions) The three friends looked to the hare as their leader. The wise hare taught them the gravity of the giving of alms, how to observe the holy days and keep the moral laws. The Hare on the Hallowday encouraged his friends to be generous and give their own food when a hungry person in need asked for food.

One Hallowday Sakra, lord of devas observed the four companions from his lofty, palace made from marble built on the peak of Mount Meru. Sakra made a decision to test the friends virtue.  During that day the four companions decided to separate in search for food. The otter discovered seven redfish on a riverbank; the monkey picked mangoes from the trees while the jackal came across a lizard resting beside an abandoned container of sour milk.

Sakra transformed into a Brahman (priest) and he said to the otter, “I am hungry friend. I need some food so I can achieve my priestly duties. Can you help me? The kind otter offered the seven redfish that he had collected for his own meal.

Next the Brahman went to the monkey and said ” I am hungry friend, I need food so I can achieve my priestly duties. Can you help me?The generous monkey donated to the Brahman the ripe mangoes that he had desired to eat for himself.

Again, the Brahman went to the jackal and said ” I am hungry friend, I need food so I can achieve my priestly duties. Can you help me?The benevolent jackal donated to the Brahman the sour milk and the lizard which he had planned to eat for his own meal.

Soon after, the Brahman went to the hare and asked for food, but the hare had no food. The hare only ate the lush green grass that grew in the forest. So the Bodhisattva told the Brahman to build a  fire, and when the fire began burning , he said “I have nothing to give you to eat but myself!” Then the unselfish hare hopped into the fire.

Sakra was still disguised as a Brahman. He was totally surprised and deeply touched by the hare’s chivalrous act. He immediately quenched the fire so the dear hare was not burned from the flames. Sakra revealed his true form to the noble hare. “Dear friend,” he said, “Your virtue will be remembered throughout the ages.” Next, Sakra painted the enlightened hare’s image on the pale face of the Moon for everyone to view forever.

Sakra returned to his magnificent palace on Mount Meru, and the four furry friends lived  out their long and happy lives in the lush green forest. To this day, when you look up at the full moon you can see the image of the self-sacrificing hare.

The End.

330px-Indian_hare_by_N_A_Nazeer

Indian Hare Photo above: credit to N.A Nazeer  Public Domain

 

 

 

 

Sources & References:

*John Strong (2004). Relics of the Buddha. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-11764-0.

*All Pictures and Photos in the Public Domain

 

 

 

 

Icelandic Body Folklore: Necropants

Icelandic Body Folklore of the Nábrók and the Nábrókarstafur.

There are two sides to Folklore. One is light and cheerful like folk dancing and some folk music. Then there is a dark side that presents itself as sheer terrifying like this  Icelandic folklore about real human necropants.
Nábrók means “death underpants!” (No I’m not joking!)
They’re a pair of pants made from the skin of a dead man, according to Icelandic witchcraft, generates a limitless money cache.

The photo below is a replica of a pair of nábrók at The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft.

Necropants_in_Iceland_exhibit

The Magick Ritual:
Legend dictates, in order create your own necropants or nábrók, one has to attain approval from the living person in order to use their skin for this ritual after they have expired.

This gruesome ritual states once the deceased man has been buried, he must be dug up and excoriate in one piece his skin from the waist down.

When you step into the skin of the cadaver the Nábrók will fuse itself to your lower body.

Next, you must pillage a coin from a poor widow and place in the scrotum with the magical sigil,  nábrókarstafur, penned on a scrap of paper.

Then, the coin will attract money continuously into the scrotum as long as no one disturbs the initial coin.

The Christian twist to this is for one that desires to attain salvation, the owner of the necropants must convince an unwary male to accept ownership of the nábrók and pop into the pants immediately.

The nábrók will continue producing coins for ages.
Icelandic Sigil of the nábrókarstafur.

Screenshot_2017-07-19-14-54-57_1500497906008

The magical symbol above, is part of the ritual and at its feet are coins.

-Written by NiftyBuckles©2018

 

 

Source and References:

Sigurður, Atlason (14 November 2005). “Stave for Necropants”. Strandagaldur, Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft.

Puffins in Folklore

When we think of Puffins we visualize a funny, colorful bird wearing a small clown costume. Did you know that Puffins appeared in the thirteenth century Icelandic book Snorra-Edda? Puffins are called lundi by Icelanders and refers to lend, meaning ( lower back and hips) and lund ( muscle that parallels the spine.)

Puffin art by J. Dawson 1980.

puffins

The Puffin/lundi were once hunted for food and they were hit over the head with large clubs. The Puffin population was dwindling much like the now extinct Dodo bird. Historically, the Dodo was a non-flying bird that lived on the island of Mauritius, east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. It became extinct in the mid seventeenth century during the colonization of the island by the Dutch.

John Tenniel’s illustration of the Dodo in “A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale”. An illustration from Alice in Wonderland. Public Domain

500px-De_Alice's_Abenteuer_im_Wunderland_Carroll_pic_10

According to Icelandic folklore, Puffins or lundi are able to predict stormy weather. They will fly onto the land two to three days before a gale. Many fishermen would watch the Puffins/lundi to see where they dove into the water, this was a sure sign that many fish were located at that site.

In Inuit culture some tribes would collect Puffin bills and create a musical instrument called “a shaker,” that had magical powers to heal the sick.

The Irish revered the Puffin and would not eat them. The Puffin was believed to be a sacred bird that the reincarnated souls of monks dwelt in them.

According to Scottish folklore back in the nineteenth century a man that was a bit daft was named a Tammie-Norrie, which is a pet name of a Puffin/lundi. In Cornish folklore King Arthur was a reincarnated Raven or Puffin. Legend says King Arthur would appear in said forms to his favorite places.

Photo: Puffins  (public domain)

birds-fratercula-arctica-atlantic-puffin-725x544

 

Source and Reference:

Petersen, Aevar (1976). “Size variables in puffins Fratercula arctica from Iceland, and bill features as criteria of age. Ornis Scandinavica. 7 (2): 185–192. doi:10.2307/3676188. JSTOR 3676188.

Lockwood, W. B. (1993). The Oxford Dictionary of British Bird Names. Oxford University Press. p. 100. ISBN 978-0-19-866196-2.

 

Beannaichte Hogmanay! Celtic Traditions to Welcome The New Year.

Beannaichte Hogmanay!

Happy Hogmanay!

Happy New Year!

Hogmanaybagpipes

The Scottish celebration of Hogmanay is close at hand. Hogmanay is the Gaelic word for the last day of the year, celebrated on New Year’s eve.

This is the time of year when Celtic folks in Scotland gather together to welcome in the New Year and say Farewell or in Scot’s Gaelic, Soraidh, to the old year.

Several sources cite that Gaelic origins grew from French or Norse language or an older version of gaelic. New year ceremonies and mid-winter observance were natural in both Gaelic and Norse traditions. Hogmanay is a larger celebration in Scotland and predates the Christian Christmas. According to Scotland’s own website Scotland.org  The Word Hogmany originated from the Norman French from hoguinan (a New Year’s gift). They  also mention it’s a modification of the Gaelic og maidne (new morning), the Flemish hoog min dag (day or love) or, an Anglo Saxon haleg monath (holy month). The largest Hogmany festival is held in Edinburgh.

Historians also believe Hogmanay originated from a winter solstice festival introduced by the Vikings, for whom the passing of the shortest day was a cause for celebration, given how far north they lived. This Viking influence combined with the existing Gaelic pagan traditions to form the climactic torch parades through Edinburgh and other Scottish cities.

 First Footing:

According to Scotland.org  The ‘First Footing’ – “the ‘first foot’ in the house after midnight is still very common is Scotland. To ensure good luck, a first footer should be a dark-haired male. Fair-haired first footers were not particularly welcome after the Viking invasions of ancient times. Traditional gifts include a lump of coal to lovingly place on the host’s fire, along with shortbread, a black bun and whisky to toast to a Happy New Year.”

Remember to always bring a gift and have dark hair when first footing a home. It will bring good luck!

Redding the House:

Similar to the west’s spring cleaning rituals when a main clean-up is done to prepare the house for the New Year. Sweeping or cleaning out one’s  chimney was a paramount tradition. ‘Out with the Old and In with the New!’ Some folks are skilled in reading the ashes, similar to  tea leaf readings. This is a critical time of year when fire plays a huge vast part in celebrations, it’s only natural to bring a bit of it into the house.

The Saining of the House:

Once the house was clean, the woman of the house would carry a smoking Juniper branch. This is termed smudging or cleansing the home of negative energy or evil spirits that could cause illness.

 Fire Festivals & Bon Fires:

The Vikings may have introduced the use of fire to purify and banish evil spirits which is an ancient custom. Fire is at the center of several Hogmanay celebrations in Biggar, Comrie, Stonehaven, and the largest is at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Festival.

Hogmanay

Auld Lang Syne:

Hogmanay in Scotland includes a warm rendition of Auld Lang Syne, of this endearing poem by the Scottish national bard, Robert Burns or Rabbie Burns. The Scots link arms and hands while they sing this famous poem.

Tradition dictates that arms are only linked at the start of the final verse. Folks link hands and arms in a circle, they rush to the middle of the circle while still holding hands at the end of the song. Many other English speaking cultures now practice this tradition.

hogmanystamp

The Scottish lyrics of Auld lang Syne by Robert Burns in 1788, set to the melody of the traditional folk song Raud.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne*?

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup!

and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,

and pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,

frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught,
for auld lang syne.

Here is the English Version.

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne? (long, long, ago)

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!

and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes,

and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream,

from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne

And there’s a hand my trusty friend!

And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

 

 

Sources & Reference:

Scotland.org website

The Concise Scots Dictionary Cambers (1985) ISBN 0-08-028491-4

“The Origins, History and Traditions of Hogmanay”, The British Newspaper Archive

 

 

 

 

Iceland’s 13 Yule Lads, Grýla The Mountain Troll and The Yule Cat

Yuletide folklore would not be the same without Iceland’s 13 Yule lads & Grýla the Mountain Troll & the Yule Cat.

 

Yule Lads or (Icelandic: jólasveinarnir or jólasveinar) the countdown begins!

Hold the Ho ho ho! Santa Claus move over the 13 Icelandic Yule Lads are here to help bring joy and mischief to the children of Iceland 13 days before Christmas. The Icelandic Christmas period is an exciting mix of traditional folklore and religion.
The Yule lads visit children 13 nights leading up to Christmas instead of One large elf (Santa Claus) that visits on Christmas eve. The 13 Yule lads visit each night before Christmas.

In Iceland each child during those nights, place one of their shoes on the windowsill. The well behaved boys and girls, will leave candy from the Yule lads. The naughty children shoes that were placed out for the Yule Lads will be full of rotten potatoes. Yikes!

The Yule lads each have a different personality.

13 Yule Lads names:

1. Sheep-Cote Clod (AKA Stiffy Legs) – Dec. 12: This peg-legged lad sneaks into sheep pens and sucks the milk out of a family’s ewes.

2. Gully Gawk – Dec. 13: Gully Gawk loves milk too, but he steals the foam off of buckets of fresh milk.

3. Stubby – Dec. 14: The shortest Yule Lad, Stubby breaks into a family’s kitchen to lick the burned bits of food off of their pots and pans.

4. Spoon Licker – Dec. 15: As his name implies, this scrawny lad sneaks into kitchen after dinner is over and licks all of the family’s spoons.

5. Pot Licker – Dec. 16: Pot Licker is more aggressive than his spoon-loving brother. He knocks at the front door, then takes advantage of the household distraction to sneak in and help himself to the pots in the kitchen.

6. Bowl Licker – Dec. 17: This lad’s greatest desire is to steal your bowl of food.

7. Door Slammer – Dec. 18: He waits until the town is asleep, then runs around slamming doors for fun.

8. Skyr Gobbler – Dec. 19: Iceland has its own form of yogurt, which they call skyr. Skyr Gobbler is quite partial to it and enjoys stealing it from others

9. Sausage Swiper – Dec. 20: Also a food-stealing lad, this one will take all your sausage.

10. Window Peeper – Dec. 21: He sneaks around at night looking for open windows to gaze into.

11. Door Sniffer – Dec. 22: Always in search of bread, Door Sniffer uses his large nose to find it inside homes.

12. Meat Hook – Dec. 23: In his search for meat, this lad sends his long hook down chimneys to steal what he wants.

13. Candle Beggar – Dec. 24: December is quite dark in Iceland, and this lad makes it worse by stealing precious candles.

The Yule lads are the sons of the mountain trolls Grýla and her husband, Leppalúði. Grýla is a huge, horrifying troll. She has three hundred heads with six eyes on each one. She has two white blue eyes behind her necks. Her teeth looks like burnt lava. Her sacks are so large she can carry away with her 15 tails, 20 naughty childen per sack! Grýla was first mentioned in the 13th century Sturlunga Saga, also mentioned by Snorri Sturluson in the Háttatal section of the Snorra Edda by the 16th century became a type of bogeyman.

By the 20th century, Grýla’s characteristics had merged with Santa Claus. Her sacks are now filled with gifts for children, she hands out on Christmas day. Grýla and her sons the Yule lads accompany her with the Yule Cat.

The Yule Cat, a big feline according to Icelandic folklore, eats children who do not receive new clothes for Christmas.

Sources & References:

*“Jólakötturinn, Grýla og Leppalúði”. jolamjolk.is (in Icelandic). Iceland: Mjólkursamsalan (MS). Archived from the original.

*Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore, Mythology and Magic by Claude Lecouteux.

*Illustrations and photo in Public domain.