Walking as a way of interacting with the world

The world is endlessly fascinating. And you can experience it in many different ways. To drive 4 hours along a coastline can present wonder, but going for a walk and observing your local neighbourhood can be fascinating as well. If you slow down and observe while out walking, you will see the fence posts and fruit trees, or old stoves and couches out on the side of the road, whatever your neighbourhood offers, but all of it is a story. The gift of observation is not something that you will see requested on job applications or taught at university, but having an appreciation of anything and everything around you, is a precious gift. Continue reading

A bite to be truly terrified of.

What if the bite from a wild animal could bring on hallucinations, paranoia and fear of water? Would your first thought be that you had been taken over by a raft of microscopic organisms? Rabies is a disease caused by the rabies virus. It is passed on from domestic or wild animals to humans through saliva, usually from bites or scratches. [ref] http://conditions.health.qld.gov.au/HealthCondition/condition/14/217/118/rabies [/ref] In Mesopotamia, 4000 years ago, it was known that there was a link between the bite of a rabid dog and a person’s death [ref] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6082082/ [/ref] There was also a belief in Mesopotamia that dogs became more rabid when a lunar eclipse occurred at the year’s end. Though the link was understood for thousands of years, it took until the nineteenth century for a vaccine to be developed. Even so, it was only effective before full symptoms have occurred. [ref] https://jnnp.bmj.com/content/73/1/82 [/ref] Once the virus reaches a person’s brain it is inevitably fatal, even to this day. [ref] https://www.travelvax.com.au/latest-news/rabies-there-are-no-short-cuts [/ref] It is not hard to see how this real life disease could feed people’s fears and make them think of the supernatural. The case of being bitten and then turning into a twisted, distorted visage… Continue reading

Shrieks in the Forest

Barn Owl, Kent, UK. Photo by Lee Elvin

Forests can be a spooky places. Even during the day, the trees can block out the light and there is a real chance to become lost. But a forest would be all the more scary if blood curdling shrieks came out of nowhere. In Sri Lanka, there are stories of Ulama, a devil bird whose hideous cry is portentous of death. [ref] http://exploresrilanka.lk/2016/01/the-devil-bird-of-sri-lanka/ [/ref] The Ulama is meant to be the spirit of a grief stricken mother whose child was murdered by her husband in the most horrific way. Meanwhile, in Irish mythology, a banshee is the spirit of a woman whose wail or scream is a harbinger of death. The name, banshee derives from old Irish and means ‘woman of the fairy mound’ [ref] https://www.irishpost.com/life-style/exploring-irish-mythology-banshee-170287 [/ref] a reference to the mysterious earthen structures that dotted the Irish landscape. Now, when a person was far from home and suddenly heard screeching and screams on a dark night, it would be terrifying. But there might be a less fantastical source for the screeches. There are multiple theories for what creature makes the cry of the devil bird. While numerous birds have been suggested, in 1968 research by Dr. R.L. Spittel suggested… Continue reading

King James sits down to writes a book about witchcraft

King James was King James the fourth of Scotland, and then in 1603 became King James the First of England [ref] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/james_i_vi.shtml [/ref]. He ruled in a time of political and religious intrigue. During his time he authorized an official version of the bible, the King James bible, which was in use for more than 250 years. But he also personally sat down to write a guide so people could better understand spirits and witchcraft. Originally published in 1597, Daemonologie saw a re-release when he ascended the throne of England [ref] https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/king-james-vi-and-is-demonology-1597 [/ref]. Written in the form of a dialogue, two speakers, Philomathes, who believes in it all and the skeptic Epistemon are engaged in conversation. Fortunately, Philomathes is able to win over his skeptical colleague and educate him not only of witches and magic, but succubae and other demons. In his play, Macbeth, Shakespeare drew heavily on the imagery of witches provided by King James in the Demonology [ref]n https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/king-james-vi-and-is-demonology-1597 [/ref]. This included the potions the witches made, their ability of vanishing and invisible flight, and the ability to raise storms. In fact, King James believed he had been personally affected by a storm raised by witchcraft. In the… Continue reading

Fairies’ homes dotting the landscape

A ringfort in Kilclone townland

Ireland’s landscape is dotted with remnants from earlier inhabits of the isle. Evidence has been found of human activity 8000 years ago from a hunter-gatherer settlement in Ireland and there may be earlier evidence still for human occupation. [ref] https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-35863186 [/ref] So even to someone living in the middle ages, there would have been thousands of generations of people who had inhabited the landscape before.                 Without access to the tools of modern day archeology, what were people supposed to think of these distant signs of people before them?                 Ireland is littered with the remnants of old ringforts. These were fortifications used during the iron and bronze ages, up to around 1000 AD. Circular in structure, they consisted of a raised hill surrounded by a wooden palisade with ditches around the outside. [ref] https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/fairy-forts-why-these-sacred-places-deserve-our-respect-1.3181259 [/ref] A small ringfort would be used by a farmer to protect his family and his lifestock, while a chieftan would have a huge ringfort to protect a village.                 Now all that can be seen of these long ago defenses are contoured circular rises. They are covered in grass, but are too prominent to be dismissed as naturally occurring. To a people far distanced… Continue reading

House spirits


In Germany they speak of kobolds, in Denmark, nisses, in Scotland and the north of England, brownies. [ref] The Fairy Mythology, by Thomas Keightley 1892 pg 200 [/ref] It seems nearly every European culture has a similar house spirit. If the spirit was kept happy they would generally be helpful in small ways, such as keeping the house clean. In the cases of brownies, it was recommended to place a small offering of milk in a corner, or when brewing beer to leave a small part of the wort for the brownie to partake of. If however, the house spirit was offended, they would make trouble, though again, usually in small ways. In a Midsummer’s Nights Dream by William Shakespeare, the character Puck is described at one stage as a hobgoblin, and is accused of the following mischief.  “…bootless make the breathless housewife churn; And sometime make the drink to bear no barm; Mislead night-wanderers, laughing at their harm?” [ref] Midsummer nights dream, by William Shakespeare [/ref] So basically, he makes people not be able to churn butter properly, or brew beer properly, or makes them get lost at night and laughs at their misfortune. So, it’s like having a… Continue reading

Did Giants once live in Sicily?

Giants appear in the mythologies of many cultures. This is fair enough. It doesn’t take much to wonder what if someone was taller and stronger than the tallest person you know. But it would also be difficult to doubt the existence of giants if you kept finding their bones everywhere. Sicily is a large island in the Mediterranean and is today, an autonomous region of Italy. Over the centuries, huge bones were found in the mountain caves of the island. One example is documented by the Italian writer,  Giovanni Boccaccio in his book, Genealogia deorum gentilium (Genealogy of the Pagan Gods). Boccaccio speaks of how, in 1342, in a cave in Mount Erice, townsfolk came across the bones of what they believed was a giant. The majority of the bones turned to dust, but three teeth remained, along with one of the leg bones which let the townsfolk estimate the ‘giants’ height. [ref] Myth and Geology edited by Luigi Piccardi, W. Bruce Masse 2007 [/ref]  However, this was far from the only supposed giant skeleton found over the centuries in Sicily. So many bones were reportedly taken from the Cave of St Ciro in 1663, that according to Vincenzo Aurio,… Continue reading

A Mythical Dish For a Roman Emperor

roast chicken

Through any era the extremely wealthy like to use their riches for extravagant displays of consumption. In current times, people will pay huge amounts of money for exotic food stuffs. In China, Nests of the swiflet can fetch huge prices. The birds normally nest in remote cliffs and cave walls and make the nests with their saliva. Once the nests are taken, often with much difficulty, they are sold to be boiled in soups or made into desserts. [ref] https://www.hindustantimes.com/more-lifestyle/here-s-why-edible-nests-made-of-bird-spit-are-a-delicacy-in-china/story-bZlT6jLlGlV0TGcELzF9pI.html [/ref] Meanwhile, caviar is synonymous as a food stuff for the ridiculously wealthy. People will pay thousands for the roe (fish eggs) of the Beluga Sturgeon, so much so that it has driven the species to near extinction. [ref] https://www.theguardian.com/food/2019/oct/16/why-is-caviar-still-on-the-menu [/ref] In ancient Rome, the very wealthy liked to serve the tongues of exotic birds to display their status. The tongues of Flamingos, peacocks, nightingales are all recorded to have been served at banquets. The fact that only the tongue was served proved that the host was so wealthy, they didn’t need to bother with the rest of the bird. [ref] https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/05/20/712772285/the-lavish-roman-banquet-a-calculated-display-of-debauchery-and-power     https://slate.com/technology/2019/01/eat-flamingo-google-autocomplete-question.html [/ref] But what does a Roman Emperor do to show he is the wealthiest of all? If… Continue reading

Will-o-the-Wisps, Strange Lights Glowing In The Swamp

There are not as many swamp and marshlands today as there used to be. In the past, swamps were drained to provide new agricultural land, or to reduce the chance of disease in nearby towns and villages. Europe lost over half of its wetlands. [ref] Dugan, P. (ed.) 2005. Guide to Wetlands. Buffalo, New York. Firefly Books. 304 p.[/ref] 32% of America’s cropland has been artificially drained. [ref] http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~doetqp-p/courses/env320/lec25/Lec25.html [/ref] However, swamps and marshland used to be a lot more common and navigating through one would have been hard at the best of times. At night, it became even easier to become lost. And the last thing you needed were evil spirits to misguide you. Will-o-the-wisps are described as flickering balls of light. To someone making their way through a swamp at night, it might look like a lantern held by another person in the distance. But should the person try and follow the light, they will wind up deeper into the swamp where there are any number of natural hazards that could mean they would never return. Though the phenomenon of strange lights in wetlands occurs in many locations, the interpretation of the lights differs from culture to culture.… Continue reading

Mount Penglai, The Island of the Immortals

The first emperor of unified China, Qin Shi Huang, was not satisfied with having unified a vast nation, or consolidating a bunch of forts and walls together to initiate the great wall of China, or even having a vast terracotta army — he wished to live forever as well. [ref] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/2000-year-old-texts-reveal-first-emperor-chinas-quest-eternal-life-180967671/ [/ref] The Emperor was obsessed with finding the secret to immortality. Later in life he would send expeditions to search for magical herbs that could extend life. There have even been located thousands of documents recorded on wooden slats that detail the progress of the emperors request to all his various provinces. [ref] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-42477083 [/ref] While Qin Shi Huang search for immortality is certainly real, one legend from the time, advises that he authorized Xu Fu, his court sorcerer to set sail with three thousand young boys and girls to find Mount Penglai, the legendary home of the immortals. [ref] Howland, Douglas, Borders of Chinese Civilization: Geography and History at Empire’s End p87 [/ref] The Emperor’s hope was that Xu Fu, could bring back the elixir that would let him live forever. However, despite making two journeys, Xu Fu was unsuccessful. Now, modern day Penglai, on the tip of… Continue reading