This week’s Folklore Thursday theme is Traditional Tales to celebrate storytelling week. Alice’s mud kitchen has reminded me of the story stone soup. I was first introduced to the story through the wonderful Jim Henson ‘the storyteller’ series. In this version, John Hurt played the storyteller reduced to a beggar. He tricks the castle cook making stone soup and ends up working for the king as a storyteller until one day he lacks for a story. The story originates from Europe and has been retold in many different ways.
The basic story goes that a group of travelers come to a village in the dead of winter. The villagers are fearful of protecting their own food supplies. They are unwilling to share their food with the travelers. The travellers take out an empty cooking pot. From their cart, they bring out a chest. The leader opens the chest and brings out an object wrapped in cloth. From the cloth, the leader brings out a stone and places it in the cooking pot. They collect some water from a stream and add it to the cooking pot. One of the villagers comes to investigate and asks what they are making. “It’s stone soup, but it could do with some seasoning.” The villager thinks they may have some. Before long the soup has vegetables and meat added by the different villagers. In the end, they all enjoy their wonderful stone soup.
In other versions, the stone is replaced with an axe head, buttons, and even nails. The strangers are sometimes soldiers, sometimes a monk and in some pilgrims. William Yeats used it as the basis of a splay ‘The pot of broth’. Shel Silverstein made a song out of it that was later rerecorded by Dr. Hook.
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During the Big Garden Birdwatch, the wren was pretty much in the garden constantly reminding me of a folklore story. Once upon a time, the birds decided they would find out once and for all which of them was the king of the birds. They settled on a competition, the bird who could fly the highest would be named king of the birds. The birds all took flight, flying higher and higher. The small birds were the first to drop out and it wasn’t long until just the birds of prey were left. Finally, just the eagle was left. With no flight left in it, it started to descend. As it did a wren hidden in its feathers flew up higher declaring itself king of the birds.
The other birds were outraged with the wrens trickery and refused to accept the result. The wren laughed at them. It could beat them at any challenge. The eagle challenged it to swoop the lowest. The eagle dived and swept along the ground. The wren dived and saw a burrow it entered winning the contest. However, the birds of prey wouldn’t let it out annoyed at its deceit. It stayed hidden until one day while the owl was distracted it snuck out. From that day on the wren has stayed hidden low down in the bushes to avoid the angry birds of prey trying to take its title of king of the birds.
The wren used to be hunted on the feast day of St Stephen on the 26th December The wren would be killed and paraded around the village on a poll by strawboys. The wrenboys dress in suits of straw and masks and colourful clothes. Several folklore songs were sung as they paraded.
“The wren the wren the king of all birds
St Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze
Her clothes were all torn- her shoes were all worn
Up with the kettle and down with the pan
Give us a penny to bury the “wran”
If you haven’t a penny a halfpenny will do
If you haven’t a halfpenny/ God bless you!”
For a tiny little bird, it has played a large part in the folklore of the UK. For a tiny bird it has one of the loudest songs. Well worth spending time watching and enjoying.
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The seven days are going quickly. After writing about cutting down my environmental impact I saw this article on people who have gone that extra mile. While I don’t think Amy is ready to part with her electric toothbrush it is inspiring to read how other people have made the shift to reducing their waste.
Inspired by Alice’s love of stickman I thought I’d look at some other sources of mystical creatures outside. While the actual wildlife outside brings me a lot of joy I don’t mind adding a fantasy element to journeys outside. After the holiday I am going to be sharing the story Zog by Julia Donaldson. This is the story of a young dragon learning its school lessons. Alongside this, I have plans for setting up a few fantasy elements outside.
Here are three books I’ve found make for excellent inspiration for children’s imagination with the intention of searching for magic outside.
- Fantastic Beasts and where to find them-J.K. Rowling
- Arthur Spiderwick’s field guide- Tony DiTerlizzi & Holly Black
- The Lost Words-Robert MacFarlane & Jackie Morris
J.K. Rowling’s books are probably a bit above Alice’s level at 2 years old but for the five-year-olds at school, the odd entry will inspire some hunting outside I hope. The children have been finding lots of trolls under the bridge (climbing frame) and their interest in unicorns is still high. Hopefully introducing them to a few more beasts may develop their plots a bit further.
The lost words is a beautiful book for encouraging people to get out into nature. While this one doesn’t have the fantasy element the poems work as spells to summon the various entries. If you want to encourage writing in slightly older children this is an excellent source of inspiration. But for the younger children, there is plenty of enjoyment to be found in the gorgeous illustrations. Alongside this, I plan to use Jackie Morris Tell me a dragon for some furth inspiration. This, again, has beautiful illustrations for inspiration.
For parents and teachers wanting further ideas look on the John Muir Trust website.
The last of the three books, the field guide, is based on the Spiderwick Chronicles series of books. The field guide is another beautifully illustrated book with sketches and paintings of beasts to find and notes on where to look.
Then on top of the books, you need your beast hunting kit. A notebook for field notes. Binoculars and magnifying glasses come in use. Then a pocket wand is always useful. If you don’t own a pocket wand sticks are often available outside. Alice reminded me we need a camera as well to record our sightings.
We’ve got family visiting today but hopefully get out later to look for signs of beasts. Equipped with knowledge of what to look for and kitted up who knows what we’ll find. Hope you all enjoy the last few days of 2018.
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Well the wind and snow hit this week. Alice’s slide has been blown about, but no major damage done so far. My pots are all tucked into the walls and a lot are heavy with grit, so none over yet.
I had a day working from home to avoid travelling in low visibility.
I’ve kept up my bird feeding efforts. I’ve seen a lot grateful birds back and forth to the feeders, though today seems to be too windy for many. Yesterday the seed feeder was emptied by dinner. Today the bird seed feeders are getting blown around too much, so it is all over the ground. To make up for this I’ve put out more fatballs, suet pellets and flutter butter jar feeders.
The weather has even brought in a fieldfare, which I don’t normally get. Times must be hard for birds.
Alice briefly went out, looked unimpressed and turned around to go back in saying, “bye bye snow”. Even double layered snow suits won’t keep her out with the cold. But she got the experience.
Hopefully Spring might get back on track soon and the shoots will recover.
Today’s folklore Thursday was asking about garden folklore, so here is a random snippet.
Lavender in the border, apparently, keeps tigers and lions away. Well I have plenty and no lion or tiger problems in my garden so far.
This week is National Storytelling Week. For folklore Thursday we have been asked this week for one of our favourite folk and fairy tales. This week I have been doing Little Red Riding Hood in school, but for this week I’m going to go with a story I like to use to demonstrate oral story telling. My contribution was first brought to my attention my the notes in Brothers Grimm. It comes from Deutsches Sprachbuch von Adolf Gutbier (German Language book by Adolf Gutbier). It is a very quick story, but it sticks in my head for the rather terrible pun. My retelling may not be accurate to the original, but this is how folk and fairy tales carry on through the years, changing with each telling.
Once there was a chicken and a rooster in a farmyard. The chicken, pecking in the ground, found a little key. The rooster found a little wooden box. The chicken put the key in the box. The rooster turned it. In the box they found a little scrap of fur, a small tail.
This would have been a longer story, but it was only a short tail.
I don’t know if the pun works in the original German, but the story sticks in my head for it. Hope you’ve enjoyed my Folklore Thursday.
It’s been a while since I did a folklore Thursday post. Yesterday, while out for a walk with Alice and Amy, we saw several squirrels and managed a few photos. So they seem a good focus for this weeks folklore. Published a day late as I didn’t finish it for Thursday.
Following on from The Dark is rising reading group the British folklore seem most appropriate. The squirrel is connected to Queen Mab; the fairy queen. First written reference to to her was by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. Mab is presented as something of a hag bringing blistered lips to young women and sometimes interpreted as herpes.
Her chariot is an empty hazelnut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Queen Mab may have come from the Irish Queen Medb. Medb is often represented with a squirrel or magical birds on her shoulders. A fairly promiscuous goddess featuring within the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. Her main part in the story is setting the cattle raid of Cooley in motion. It has been suggested that her name possibly originates from mead, meaning intoxication and linking us nicely back to TDIR. Medb is also connected to the Morrigan, who opposes Medb warning the bull to felle before the cattle raid of Cooley. Again linking us back to Alan Garner’s writing, which has featured much within discussions of TDIR reading group.
Squirrels are often used for a symbol for mischief and anyone who has watched them on their bird feeders can see why. While it was a grey squirrel I photographed and it is an invasive menace to the red squirrel I can’t bring myself to dislike one of the few wild mammals I get to see on a regular basis.
Over days 7 and 8 of the TDIR reading group we’ve been asked two questions by Julia Bird. What are our theological thoughts and what is the significance of the bread and honey?
The church scene indicates the old ones portrayed as older than the church. The other old ones are dismissive of the Reverend’s efforts to hold back the dark. They state it’s only natural he’d try, but futile before freezing him out of the attack. Will comes across as more accepting of the church, but he is still in a position of greater knowledge of the world. The world of the old ones being of an older, greater power. While the book makes use of Christian symbolism it is clear that the light isn’t the same as following the Christian path.
The symbolism of the honey is interesting. Honey being associated with great pleasure it fits well with the light. The land of milk and honey. The light working through joyous emotions. Hawkins requests honey. This may be a throw back to his pleasure working for the light or just a familiar food source from his own time.
Within a biblical context honey has the symbolism of joy and pleasure, “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel (God with us). Butter and honey shall He eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.” Isa 7:14, 15. Honey also signifying truth.
Within Celtic traditions honey and mead, in particular, is the drink of immortality. Within Greek mythology Pythagoras ate nothing but honey giving him knowledge. To look wider, bees have a strong association with rebirth which plays a large part in the story with the seasonal cycles of Winter back into Spring. The dark rising with the winter cold.
Or it could, of course, have no symbolism beyond Susan Cooper having a love of honey.
Sweet, heavenly treat
gift from benevolent gods
Bringing joy and light
Halloween has been and gone. Our Halloween efforts were a little lack lustre, just the traditional pumpkin.
Alice was quite interested in it though. She kept coming back to check it out.
The Halloween Jack O’ Lantern is thought to have originated in Ireland where a face was carved from a turnip or mangel wurzel. Traditionally they were carved into grotesque faces, but now people have made it an art form with intricate pictures being carved into their pumpkins. The face would be placed to ward off evil spirits at Samhain. Samhain being the festival that brings in the darker part of the year. Samhain is a liminal time. A time when the boundary between worlds is weaker. A time the spirits of fairies can return.
Settlers to America changed to using pumpkins as a bigger, easier substitute to carve than turnips. If you’ve ever tried to hollow a turnip in the traditional way it isn’t easy. The Jack o’ Lantern being immortalised as a pumpkin in literature by the headless horsemen of Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow.
The name Jack o’ Lantern has several associated stories. My favourite is Stingy Jack. Jack was a miser. Never paid for anything. He invited the devil for a drink. True to form when it came time to pay he asked the devil to transform into a coin to pay for the round. Jack changed his mind and put the devil coin back in his wallet with a silver cross stopping the devil changing back.
Jack only agreed to release the devil on the condition that he wouldn’t take his soul to hell when he died. The tale goes on with Jack tricking the devil several more times.
When Jack eventually dies he can’t go to hell where he belongs and heaven won’t accept such an unscrupulous individual as Jack. So the tale ends with the devil giving Jack a lit coal to light his way in limbo. Jack places the ember in a carved turnip and has wandered the world since.
The tale has much in common with my favourite Jim Henson storyteller episode the soldier and death. In this story a soldier tricks devils and death ends his days unable to access heaven or hell. Again he is forced to walk the world for evermore. Well worth watching or reading up the folk tale. Maybe one for another Folklore Thursday. For now I’ll leave you with one of the best intros to a TV series.
Legend tells that the robin was once a plain brown bird. When Jesus was dying on the cross the robin flew down and sang into the ears of Jesus. The blood dripped on the robins breasts and ever since robins have had the mark of Christ on them.