Folklore & Nature: The Death Flower

Death, loss, separation and abandonment – the many symbolisms of one flower

The story of the red spider lily begins with a beautiful autumnal scene in late September during the Buddhist holiday of Ohigan. It’s this period of time just before the autumn equinox, that has given rise to one of the most fascinating folklores of any flower in the world. In Japan, Ohigan is a time to return home to visit graves and pay respects to ancestors. It also happens to coincide with the brief flowering time of the red spider lily (Lycoris radiata), which unusually blooms in the autumn. Because of the flower’s association with Ohigan (お彼岸) and the autumnal equinox (彼岸), it’s known in Japanese as Higanbana (彼岸花).

Spider Lily by Kawarazaki Shodo

The…

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Folklore & Nature: Fairy Butter

In Little Langdale the Busk and the Forge, the latter place only separated from our parish by the Brathay, were regularly visited by fairies — harmless little beings it would seem, of the house-goblin class, for their principal occupation seems to have been churning butter after the family had retired for the night. They were, however, rather thriftless little folk, for near the Forge it was common to find bits of butter scattered in the woods, dropped, it would seem, by the uncanny churners in their morning flight.

Hawkshead: the northernmost parish of Lancashire by Henry Swainson Cowper

There are many reports of fairy butter from around the UK and Ireland in folklore. In Scandinavia the same phenomenon was known as ‘troll’s butter’ while in Wales it was called ‘Menyn Tylna Teg’ and was…

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Folklore & Nature: The Fairy Egg

The strandline is full of wonderful treasures. On the shoreline of the Hebrides the strandline might reveal skate egg cases, barnacle geese attached to driftwood, Aristotle’s lanterns or perhaps, a fairy egg. Residents of the Scottish Isles and other northern coasts, found the large, brown fairy eggs mysterious. Nearly hand sized, the buoyant eggs were hard like wood, flattened and sometimes heart-shaped. In addition to fairy eggs, they were also called strand-nuts or sea-nuts. In the Faroe Islands and Norway they were known as elf-kidneys. Their origins were a mystery. Some early naturalists believed they came from mysterious underwater plants like coral, seaweed or even a sea tree. Corals were often pulled up by fisherman so the world of underwater ‘plants’ was somewhat known, if still not fully understood. Other people believed they were the flotsam…

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Folklore & Nature: The Night Bird

Ná déin é, ná déin é

If you happen to be on cliffs in the Faroe Islands, Scotland, Ireland or notably, the Isle of Man, at night during the summer, you may find yourself surrounded by an eerie moaning cry. Look as you may, the source remains hidden in the dark night. The ominous moaning sound has been the source of great speculation for centuries and created a belief the source of the noise was associated with death.

But can Waldron’s story (‘Description of the Isle of Man,’ 1731, Manx Soc., vol. xi. p. 67) of the spirit which haunted the coasts have originated in this noise. , described as infernal by modern writers ? ‘ The disturbed spirit of a person shipwrecked on a rock adjacent to this coast wanders about it still, and sometimes makes so…

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The Lady Who Loved Insects

Written in twelfth century Japan, the short story The Lady Who Love Insects was likely meant as a cautionary tale but has since become an inspiration for Hayao Miyzaki when creating his iconic Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. In the The Lady Who Love Insects, the Lady is extremely eccentric and refuses to conform to the normal societal appearance of her position. She leaves her teeth unblackened, her eyebrows are unplucked and natural, her hair loose and she generally ignores the traditional fashion.

 “It is the person who wants the truth and inquires into the essence of things who has an interesting mind.”

The Lady Who Loved Insects
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

But perhaps more eccentric than her appearance,…

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Folklore & Nature: Mother Carey and her Chickens

Well, ah fare you well; we can stay no more with you, my love—
Down, set down your liquor and your girl from off your knee;
For the wind has come to say:
“You must take me while you may,
If you’d go to Mother Carey,
(Walk her down to Mother Carey!)
Oh, we’re bound to Mother Carey where she feeds her chicks at sea!”

Anchor Song by Rudyard Kipling

It’s not clear where Mother Carey got her name from, but what is very clear is that sailors did not want to encounter this mythical sea deity. Mother Carey was the very personification of storms and the dangerous sea and sailors feared her. She was known to bring storms and cause shipwrecks sending…

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