In previous centuries nightmares were believed by some to be caused by supernatural beings. The medical condition sleep paralysis was blamed on witches It was described as being witch-ridden or hagridden – a term referenced by J.K. Rowling for the beloved character Hagrid in Harry Potter The experience is accompanied by a feeling of weight on the chest and hallucinations, which gave rise to the notion of pressing demons such as the incubus and succubus.
In some parts of Northern England it was thought that sleeping in moonlight could make you blind, cause birth defects or alter mental health. Many thatched cottages have extra thatch extensions projecting over upstairs windows to protect moonshine from falling on sleeping inhabitants. 🌚🌜
Today, people hang horseshoes for good luck without realising that a century or more a go they were considered powerful apotropaics – or ‘warding away’ objects against witches. Here we have a representation of two separate traditions: because iron weapons aided the Iron Age Celts to vanquish the bronze-using peoples who proceeded them, the belief arose that iron was a powerful protection against earlier inhabitants & their gods, which in time became represented by faeries, goblins, witches ect. – therefore iron was a protection against witches. 🧙🏻♀️ The second tradition is connected with the moon goddess – the horseshoe resembles a crescent moon so a house with this talisman was under the protection of the moon goddess. 🌚🍀🤞
1804 postcard of the Merry Maidens Stone Circle in Cornwall – legend has it that these stones were once a group of young girls who, while walking in the fields on a Sunday, began to dance to the music of two pipers – who were of course evil spirits in disguise 😈 – and the young dancing girls were turned to stone in a flash of lightning.⚡This stone circle is one of many examples of a common theme of revellers being turned to stone for having fun on a Sunday when they should be at church!
Our ancestors left behind numerous clues in the buildings we continue to live in today of how they attempted to protect their homes and families over the last 500yrs. Like the human body, a house was believed to have vulnerable points where witches 🧙🏻♀️ faeries 🧚🏻♀️ and evil spirits 👹 could enter more easily. In Scandinavia and the Alps 🗻 venomous adders 🐍 were buried alive under thresholds to ward off unwelcome visitors, such as witches & thieves. Poor snakes!
In Tudor times, divination and astrology were common practices and the casting of #horoscopes was taken very seriously. In a letter to her grandmother, Arbella Stuart (1575-1615), a claimant to Elizabeth I’s throne, mentions that she has enclosed her hair, which was cut on the “sixth day of the Moon”. This lunar precision was necessary as the hair was going to be used astrologically to cast a horoscope to foretell Arbella’s chances of becoming Queen of England.
In Victorian times, in some parts of northern England, it was considered a sin to point at the moon, while gentlemen would touch their hats 🎩 and young girls would curtsy to the new moon. The new moon shining on your purse would keep you poor; only make wine 🍷🍷🍷 in the dark of the moon; calves weaned during a full moon produce the best milking cows 🐄; and sleeping in moonlight can make you blind. 🛌
A common home protection folklore practice was to conceal shoes behind walls and in chimneys. Why the shoe? 👢 It’s the only garment we wear that retains the shape, the personality, the essence of the wearer. According to footwear historian June Swann on a number of occasions she found that the bereaved had no problem dealing with the deceased’s belongings, until it came to the shoes, and then would ask, “Would I take what we want for the Northampton Museum and dispose of the rest?” Most hidden shoes have been discovered around fireplaces, hearths, and chimneys 🕯️– understandable when the hearth was the centre of the home before 21st century heating made most rooms habitable in winter. ❄️
The link between shoes and good luck might have come from the tale of unofficial Saint John Schorne. He performed the remarkable feat of conjuring the #devil into his boot. 👢 This legend may have resulted in shoes being seen as spirit traps. 👻 After his death in 1313, Schorne’s legend became quite famous and was the second most popular pilgrimage in England, generating so much money it was appropriated by the Crown 👑 and moved to Windsor in the 15th century. Shorne’s legend is also thought to have led to the creation of the jack-in-the-box 🤡 – which is called ‘diable en boîte’ (‘boxed devil) in French. *Image: St Helen Gateley, Norfolk from Flickr, 15th century.
Boys and girls come out to play,
The moon doth shine as bright as day;
Leave your supper, and leave your sleep,
And come with your playfellows into the street.
Come with a whoop, come with a call,
Come with goodwill – or not at all.
Up the ladder and down the wall,
A half-penny loaf will serve us all;
You find milk, and I’ll find flour,
And we’ll have a pudding in half an hour.
Now, it’s possible that children might sing such a rhyme to ask their playmates to come and join them outside, but there’s something slightly sinister about this jaunty ditty. 😈
It’s far more likely that this rhyme is a warning against leaving the safety of your bed. 🛌🏻 Night 🌃 was the time of witches 🧙🏻♀️ faeries, and evil spirits. 👻 The moon🌜 in particular was seen as intensifying their power and tempting forth even more dangerous creatures, like werewolves. 🐺
The poem is a siren call to children to leave the safety of their homes and come out to play with their enticing magical playmates with the promise of a faerie pudding. 🎂 But as any child who knows their fairytales 📜 can tell you, faerie time passes at a completely different rate to normal time. ⏰ One night spent playing with your new friends, and you could come home only to find that everyone you had known died of old age. ⚰️☠️ Source: Jack Albert ‘Pop Goes the Weasel: The secret meanings of nursery rhymes’
Image: ‘Fairy Islands’ from the book Elves and Fairies, 1916, Ida Rentoul Outhwaite
In the 1986 classic Labyrinth (i.e. best film ever) Sarah’s dog ‘Merlin’ is also Sir Didymus’ mount ‘Ambrosius’. 🐾 In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain Merlin is called Merlin Ambrosius 🧙♂️— revealing the dog’s secret identity.