Category Archives: Folklore

Witch Bottles & Hidden Curses: Objects of Protection; Objects of Vengeance 

By Romany Reagan

Written accounts of witchcraft, witch trials, cunning folk, and folk magic were largely recorded by the Church, with all the prejudices associated with a highly biased account. Given these practices were handed down generation to generation through oral histories as a form of intangible heritage, a one-sided narrative has traditionally developed as our record. Luckily for researchers, instructions for creating witch bottles were written down, and the most common dark magic finds are written curses secreted in walls. Stepping away from the ‘official’ texts to these scraps and personal finds can help us learn from another perspective about these practices, offering a fascinating look at the fears—and sometimes wrathful vengeances—secreted away in hearths and walls by our ancestors.

The following is an excerpt from a talk I gave at the Museum of the Home (formerly the Geffrye Museum) in November 2019, ‘Witch Bottles & Worn Shoes: Home Protection Folklore Practices’.

Continue reading Witch Bottles & Hidden Curses: Objects of Protection; Objects of Vengeance 

Lord of the Dead, Fairy Cavalcade, Psychopomp: The Mysterious Origins of the Wild Hunt & Its Many Faces in Popular Culture

By Romany Reagan

They both turned to stare as the clouds directly above them parted. A shadow grew in the air, darkening as it neared them: the figure of a man, massive and bound in armour, bareback on a red-eyed, foaming brindle horse—black and gray, like the storm clouds overhead. The horse came to a neighing, pawing stop at the foot of the Institute steps. The man looked up at them. His eyes were two different colours, blue and black. His face was terrifyingly familiar. It was Gwyn ap Nudd, the lord and leader of the Wild Hunt. And he did not look pleased.

Lord of Shadows, The Dark Artifices, Cassandra Clare 

Wild Hunt. It crosses our path at scarily unpredictable intervals, often through the sky and nearly always at night. It is very numinous and also doom-laden. Otherwise, no one knows quite what to make of it.

— Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

Numinous & Doom-Laden

I have a guilty secret. At least, that’s what I’m supposed to say before such an admission: I love young adult fantasy novels. Someone with a PhD isn’t supposed to admit that, but what does ‘supposed to’ even mean? According to whom? One of the joys of getting a PhD—I kid you not—was feeling I could finally proclaim my love of pop novels and no one could make fun of me! But then you get this degree and you feel you have to Uphold the Code, or something… 

Well, no more. Hello world, my name is Romany Reagan and I love young adult fantasy novels. I’ve been known to take a break from my high-brow bookshelf to devour Cassandra Clare’s six-book Mortal Instruments AND Dark Artifices series in a go. I even loved all four Twilight books. I know, it’s madness. It’s like having an industrial goth fiancé who likes Dire Straits. 

But I’m not the only one. These books are international best-selling series, so there must be something they’re doing right. Some sort of cultural zeitgeist they capture or inner thrill they ignite in many people. 

In this post I focus my academic eye on analysing one aspect of the pop novel trope—the repurposing of the Wild Hunt myth for new generations. This piece investigates the evolution of the Wild Hunt myth (which features prominently in Clare’s Mortal Instruments and Dark Artifices series, led by Gwyn ap Nudd) from its mysterious multiple origins and how it has evolved over time to stay with us, re-emerging with new relevance in pop novels and video games.

Continue reading Lord of the Dead, Fairy Cavalcade, Psychopomp: The Mysterious Origins of the Wild Hunt & Its Many Faces in Popular Culture

Blackthorn: Dark Mother of the Woods, Crone of the Triple Goddess, Witch Wood

By Romany Reagan

‘The blackthorn full of spines—but how the child delights in its fruit.’ 

— ‘Cad Goddeu’, 14th-century Welsh poem 

The blackthorn tree fascinates because of its inherent duality. On one hand, a folkloric symbol for strength, overcoming adversity, purification, and protection, it is also considered a trickster, bad luck if crossed, and easily used as a weapon in the wrong hands. Blackthorn has, perhaps, the most sinister reputation in Celtic tree lore. 

Continue reading Blackthorn: Dark Mother of the Woods, Crone of the Triple Goddess, Witch Wood

Of Churches & Liquor: Green Man, Jack-in-the-Green & the Revels of May

By Romany Reagan

How is the Green Man linked to the Jack-in-the Green? When was green—instead of red—the colour of lust? And what does any of this have to do with church carvings and pubs? Come with me on a journey through May celebrations of yesteryear. 

Continue reading Of Churches & Liquor: Green Man, Jack-in-the-Green & the Revels of May

An Outlaw Hero for Every Age: The Enduring Legend of Robin Hood

By Romany Reagan

Robin Hood was first the subject of epic legends under different names before becoming a character of country festivals and the Tudor stage. Georgian literature then elevated him to the status of national hero. From bawdy street performance to ecological festivals today, Robin Hood is an outlaw hero for every age. 

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Woodland Magick: Modern Animism & the Folkloresque

By Romany Reagan 

In this post, I’ll share with you some of the investigations into the scientific basis for animistic folklore that I explored for my PhD thesis, which resulted in my two nature audio walks through Abney Park cemetery: Woodland Magick and Woodland Networks

I cannot avoid the conclusion that all matter is composed of intelligent atoms and that life and mind are merely synonyms for the aggregation of atomic intelligence.

– Thomas Edison, 1903

As a metaphysical monism, animism is based upon the idea that nature’s essence is minded.

– Emma Restall Orr, 2012

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Witch Wheels & Old Shoes: Home Protection Folklore Practices

By Romany Reagan

Everyone can identify with the desire to protect our homes. Today, we might use alarm systems or family dogs to keep our domestic spaces safe from human predators, but our ancestors’ fears weren’t only for these terrestrial threats—they felt that their homes could come under attack from unseen forces as well.

The following is an excerpt from a talk I gave at the Museum of the Home (formerly the Geffrye Museum) in November 2019, ‘Witch Bottles & Worn Shoes: Home Protection Folklore Practices’.

Continue reading Witch Wheels & Old Shoes: Home Protection Folklore Practices

Grey Ladies in the Crumbling Stones—Our love affair with the uncanny gothic feminine

By Romany Reagan

Why do the dead return? Why, in the darkness of the night, when all activity has been reduced to a trembling in the distance, do the dead disavow their rest and return to the living? Those who pass from the land of the dead to the living carry with them the promise of a place to come, and that place is haunted. –Dylan Trigg

We love our ghost stories. We love to share them, analyse them, hunt for them, and hopefully even capture them with our cameras. But therein lies the troublesome aspect of ghosts—because our search is the pleasure, there is no joy in the answer.

There is in an excitement in these feelings; as a child, many of us remember the sudden horror, then the thrill, of walking through a cemetery and imagining a hand creeping out of a cracked grave. Or walking through an old ruin, forgetting the heritage of the place to instead imagine deep tragedies of our own invention, wishing for glimpses of the ghostly Grey Ladies who cry for justice amongst the stones.

Continue reading Grey Ladies in the Crumbling Stones—Our love affair with the uncanny gothic feminine

Audio Walk: ‘They Walked in Moonlight

They Walked in Moonlight is an audio walking experience through St George’s Gardens in London, next to the Foundling Museum, taking a journey around the gardens and graves, listening to tales of the moon as told through folklore, legends, and nursery rhymes. The narrative of the walk explores how myth and oral tradition help us process difficult themes in an accessible way. The focus is on the moon, in particular, as representative of the feminine and as a light through personal moments of darkness.