Throughout history, using legend and lore, we have sought to understand this night-time adventure. Witches have been condemned as the conjurers of nightmare sleep paralysis and faeries blamed for time loss or sleep-walking; we convince ourselves that ghostly spirits visit us at night with messages of hope or portents of danger.
In this illustrated lecture, Dr Romany Reagan will explore the creatures and meanings that fill our dreamscapes, from mediaeval British horrors to 19th-century curiosities and theories—and how these nocturnal happenings can play out in our waking lives.
Dr. Romany Reagan is an Arts Council England-funded research fellow with Museum of the Home, studying the hidden histories of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, from mediaeval cunning women and herbal witchcraft to 19th-century feminist botany. Her research has explored the layers of heritage within Abney Park cemetery and an occult literary heritage of London’s Stoke Newington area, as well as ‘earth mystery’, psychogeography and folklore, legends and lore from the British Isles.
This event is part of the Museum of the Home’s Festival of Sleep, running from June through September 2022.
The old English 18th century nursery rhyme ‘Boys & Girls Come Out to Play’ 🤾🏻♀️ warns of the dangers of faeries luring children out of their beds. 🧚🏻♀️
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
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!
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. 🌚🍀🤞