Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Throw the Salt...and blind the devil

"At the Cafe La Mie" by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1891
Having just baked a Muscadine pie in celebration of the Full/Harvest/Super/Lunar Eclipsing Moon, I got to thinking about the legend and lore of the foods we eat. Something so much a part of our everyday lives is bound to get tied up in our tangle of hopes, fears, joys, and sorrows. Perhaps that is one of the things that marks us as 'human." I mean, after all, what other creature stops to ponder which way to eat the food before them. They just eat! On second thought, I know plenty of people who never spend a moment on culinary contemplation-- they just dive in. But, if you want to be on the safe side, read this compilation of a few food related superstitions. There just might be a "kernel" of truth hidden there!

Salt: Spilling salt is bad luck. (Perhaps this began in the days of yore when salt was a very
"Salt Shaker" photo by Garitzco via Wikimedia Commons
expensive and treasured commodity, not only for flavor enhancement but for longterm food preservation.) Once you've spilled the salt, to prevent the devil from stealing your soul--bad luck in anyone's book--you must take some salt in your right hand and throw it over your left shoulder. This effectively blinds the devil and thwarts his soul-stealing plans.

Bread: The devil shows up here as well. This time he sits on top of your unbaked bread as you put it in the oven preventing it from rising properly. The solution? Cut a cross into the top before baking and that pesky kitchen-dwelling demon has nowhere to sit. Hot Cross Buns, anyone?

"Carton of Eggs" photo by By Gisela Francisco via Wikimedia Commons
Eggs: An obvious symbol of fertility. Broken eggs are a normal part of farm life but don't just toss them on the compost pile, scatter them in your fields to encourage an abundant crop. If you crack open an egg and find you are blessed with a double-yoker, it means either someone you know is going to get married...or have twins...or both. And once you've cracked that illustrious shell (any egg, not just the double-yoker) be sure and completely crush the shell so a witch cannot gather up the pieces, make them into a boat and sail out onto the sea with the intent of stirring up terrible storms.

Rice: Another symbol of fertility and the reason for tossing it at the happy newlyweds as they leave the wedding celebration. Better than throwing eggs at them.

Noodles: In China, long noodles represent a long life so cutting them cuts your life short. Remember when you were a kid and got those hard looks from your mother when you delighted in sucking up your spaghetti noodle in one long, uninterrupted slurp? Well, little did you know you were preventing premature death! Now, that's using your noodle.
"Pouring Tea" by William Worcester Churchill (1858-1926)

Tea: It's bad luck to have more than one person pour tea from the pot. Perhaps that's the origin of the quaint British custom of asking "Shall I be Mother?" when offering to serve the tea.

Coffee: If you find bubbles in your brew, catch them on a spoon and eat them so you will come into money. (How do you eat a bubble?)

"Black-eye Peas and Collard Greens" photo by Leslie Seaton
 via Wikimedia commons
Black-eyed Peas and Collard Greens: This one, I grew up with here in the South. Eating black-eyed peas and collards on New Year's Day brings you wealth all through the year. Peas represent coins and collards represent the folding stuff. Of course with inflation, you have to eat a heck of a lot of peas and collards these days.

Apples: Cut open an apple and count the seeds. That's how many children you'll have!

Onions: To keep evil spirits out of your house, stick pins into a small onion and set it on your windowsill.

Pie: Bake a pie made with Muscadine grapes on the day of the full Harvest Moon in
"Kate's Good Luck Muscadine Pie" photo by KL Wood
September and you will have good luck for the rest of the season. Eat all of it the day you bake it and you will have good luck for the rest of the year. OK...I confess...I made that one up. But, hey, superstitions have to get started somewhere and it's a good excuse to eat pie. Some might even say having pie is the result of good luck. Hmmm...which came first, the chicken or the egg? Better just bake your pie and eat it too.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Ogopogo...Canada's Nessie

"Late Winter Sunrise, Lake Okanagan" photo by Extemporalist (Own work)  via Wikimedia Commons
If you're exploring British Columbia, Canada and someone looks at you with wide eyes, pointing toward Lake Okanagan and crying, "Ogopogo!" they probably don't mean "Oh, go pogo," as in a grab the nearest pogo stick and hop around. They are, more than likely, alerting you to the fact that a lake monster has made an appearance and you best skidaddle or...grab your camera. Ogopogo is Canada's version of Scotland's famous Loch Ness Monster.

Just an hour's drive north of Oroville, Washington, the British Columbian town of Penticton anchors the southern end of Lake Okanagan an impressive  body of water snaking its way 135 kilometers (83 miles) north toward Vernon. As is common among many of the lakes harboring the world's legendary water monsters, Lake Okanagan is very deep--800 meters (2,624 feet.) The lake sits among the magnificent natural beauty of glacial mountains as well as miles of beaches and parks lining its shores.

Unlike Scotland's monster which goes by the affectionate pet name of "Nessie" and is thought of as a
Photo of Lake Okanagan First Nations People (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)
shy, benevolent creature, Ogopogo is the stuff of fearsome legend and nightmares. The native population of Canada, its First Nations people, have long told stories of attacks by Ogopogo. An account from 1860 tells of a First Nations person who lost his horses to the ravenous monster.  He was walking them along the lakeshore when Ogopogo (which First Nations people call Naitaka--Lake Demon) suddenly emerged from the water and snatched his horses away. Because of that incident, First Nations people often kept a small live animal in their boats when crossing the lake so they could throw it overboard to appease the monster if it were to rear its terrifying head.
"Rattlesnake Island" photo by Extemporalist (Own work)  via Wikimedia Commons

Ogopogo has been described as resembling a giant log, about 15 meters (50 feet) long, or a finned, round-headed whale. With possible footprints found on its surface, a small island due east of Peachland, British Columbia is thought to be the monster's terrestrial home. It's name is Rattlesnake Island but is known locally as Monster Island.

1990 Canadian Postage Stamp
The fact that Lake Okanagan's monster lacks Nessie's cuddly perception does not keep Canada from honoring it. An artist's portrayal of Ogopogo was featured on a 1990 postage stamp. I wonder what kind of letters those stamps graced. Probably not Christmas cards or Valentines!

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Following in Big Footsteps...Big Foot Legend and Lore

"Peyto Lake" photo by KLWood
When my husband and I spent several months wandering around in the wilds of the far north and west--Canada, Alaska, Washington, Oregon--it was easy to imagine all kinds of creatures prowling about unseen, watching us and our two little dogs. Usually we were on the lookout for mountain lions, wolves, moose, black bears and grizzly bears (all of which we encountered in the wild except for the mountain lions. We only saw mountain lion warning signs along a trail in Washington where one had recently been spotted.) We spent a fair share of our time alone on back trails singing at the
"Wrangel-St Elias Moose" photo by KL Wood
tops of our lungs so as not to surprise one of these lovely large beasts. The one critter of which we saw neither hide nor hair was Big Foot AKA Sasquatch. In my recent research I have discovered that Big Foot isn't just the product of overactive imaginations of backwoodsmen perhaps out on the trail a little too long. There is a long history and tradition of tales of big, hairy man-like creatures throughout the cultures of Native American and First Nation Peoples of the northwest. 
Native American tribes all over the continent have stories of wild, hairy people of the woods and plains but those outside the northwest tend to be the opposite in stature and known as Little People.

"Alaskan Grizzly" photo by KLWood
The Big Foot (Big Feet?) as described by natives of the northwest pretty much match the classical image we have of the creature--hairy, smelly, six to nine feet tall, strong, reclusive, elusive and night-foraging. The Athabaskan people of Alaska know of a creature called Wood Man/Woodsman. Wood Man is usually a solitary being who sneaks around quietly, remaining hidden from humans and does no real harm although he can be mischievous, stealing items from the villages. They have even been known to come to the aide of their stronger-brained but weaker-bodied human neighbors. In some tribes he is known to be more aggressive, stealing children and attempting to mate with humans. Depending on local tradition, he is either one immortal being, as believed by the Ahtna people, or is part of a larger community of male and female Wood Men. None are considered in any way sophisticated and communicate only with whistles, grunts, and sign-language. 

The Author and Big Foot (photo by the author's husband, Bill Ahearn)
The creatures are known by many different native-language names as well as Wood Man, Hairy Man, and the more violent varieties known as Bush Indians and Stick Indians.

Whatever you call them, I think you might not want to surprise or startle them anymore than you would a bear or a moose. So, I invite you to take a page from our backcountry hiking songbook and when you find yourself alone in the deep, dark northern wilderness fill your lungs with the fresh, wild air and SING! Our song of choice? "We All Live in a Yellow Submarine." Worked wonders.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Feeling Hawkish...the hawk in Native American lore

"Red Tailed Hawk" photo by KL Wood
On August 15, 2015, my husband, mother, and I attended the Nansemond Pow Wow held on tribal land recently returned to the Nansemond people by the city of Suffolk, Virginia. We were invited to experience this amazing event by the head male dancer whom we met at our home this summer in Edenton, North Carolina. The drumming and singing and dancing were spectacular and touched a deep-seated connection within me. Although we know nothing about her, family lore has it that my great-great grandmother was Native American. Physical connection, or not, I certainly felt a spiritual one, especially with their relationship to the natural world and its deeper other-worldly relation with animals. One of the highlights of the day, for me, was the opportunity to pose for photos with a gorgeous, female red-tailed hawk. As she was held aloft behind me, the wind from her beating wings wafted against my head stirring my hair in her avian breeze. I loved it!

"Male Dancers" photo by KL Wood
The hawk is an important symbol of many Native American tribes across the continent. It is seen as a protector in the skies and associated with the elements of rain, wind, lightning and thunder, known by some as the Thunderer. Iroquois tradition has the Thunderer armed with a bow and flaming arrows as it fights a continuous battle against the forces of evil.

The author's Power Animal for the day.
 The feathers of the red-tailed hawk are considered sacred by many and used in religious rituals and ceremonies. They are worn as an honored part of Native American regalia. (One of the things I learned at the Pow Wow is that the appropriate name for the traditional clothing worn at such an event is never "costume," but always "regalia"--a costume being an outfit one wears when pretending to be something they are not.)

The hawk is a "Power Animal" or "Spirit Animal." The best definition of Power Animal I have found is at . Here is a quote from the website: "Power Animals are strongly associated with the Native American Indian belief in Animism that is a belief based on the spiritual idea that the universe, and all natural objects within the universe, have souls or spirits.  Power Animals are believed to be a supernatural power that embodies, attaches or conveys influence empowering a person with the powerful traits and characteristics of the animal. The doctrine of this belief is that everything is alive, and possesses an inherent virtue, power and wisdom. Power animals represent a person's connection to all life, their qualities of character, and their power. Power Animals are  regarded as guides who appear in dreams or Vision Quests in the form of an animal. Power Animals, or spirit guides, walk through different stages of life with a person, teaching and guiding them,
"Pow Wow Dancers" photo by KL Wood
and in some instances protecting them."

As a Power Animal, the hawk is a Messenger and represents Guardianship, Far-Sightedness, and Strength. Coming into such close contact with the beautiful red-tailed hawk, I could feel how she would symbolize all those qualities.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Close Encounters of the Wolfish Kind...Amarok of the North

By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Ever since I stroked the thick, coarse hair of a wolf in "goodwill ambassador's clothing," I have had a fascination with wolves. Many years back in my college days at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, a group of people dedicated to preserving and protecting wolves brought a pair to campus for a hands-on experience. They also showed us an informative and heartrending film about the plight of the wolf in the wild--how it was hunted down for its coat or for its undeserved reputation as a savage killer. I would like to think such actions are now a thing of the past but, having recently encountered a man in Alaska who bragged about how many wolf pelts he bagged on a regular basis, I am disheartened to know such exploitation still exists. OK. Now that I've gotten that particularly bitter pill out of my system, I will share the Inuit mythology of Amarok, the Wolf God. 

Amarok is a wolf-being of enormous stature, far larger than normal wolves. It is thought the
By Scott Flaherty [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
basis for Amarok may be in the real life interaction between the Inuit people and now-extinct animals, particularly the Dire Wolf, a formidable predator that prowled the northern landscape until the end of the Ice Age. It was about 25% heavier than the largest of modern wolves. Skeletal remains put them in at about five feet in length, from head to tail, and between 150 and 200 lbs. 

Unlike ordinary wolves, Amarok does not hunt in a pack but is the quintessential "Lone Wolf." It is said he is quick to kill anyone who is foolish enough to hunt alone in the dark of night. Perhaps he is just culling the herd as real-life wolves do when they kill the weak and sick, an action that increases the health and strength of the herding animals. Instead of pulling out the weak caribou, he is eliminating the weak-minded humans! (And, of course, I mean weak-minded in the sense of foolish--not mentally challenged.) 

By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Although Amarok is known as a fearsome deity, there is at least one story told of his kindness. There was a young Inuit boy who was chided and bullied by people of his village due to his stunted growth and subsequent frailty. In frustration he called out to the Lord of Strength to help him. Amarok appeared and wrestled the boy, easily pinning him down with his heavy tail. In the struggle, several small bones fell from the boy's body--bones which, Amarok explained, were prohibiting his growth. He told the boy to return each day and he would wrestle with him to build up his strength. The boy trained with Amarok until he was so strong he overcame three large bears with his own hands. That duly impressed the other villagers who then held him in highest regard.

Although I did not get to see a wolf, myself, on our journey through Alaska, my husband
Wolf Print by Copper River, Alaska by KL Wood (author)
encountered one at dusk while walking our two small dogs. We were the lone campers by the Copper River near Wrangell St. Elias National Park and I was busy inside our little travel trailer making us cups of tea. Bill burst through the door and practically threw the dogs in ahead of himself. He had seen what at first appeared to be a very large dog closely monitoring their progress but, when it disappeared into a ditch and then reappeared ghost-like much closer to them, he realized it was a wolf. Tawny and gray, with intent, intelligent eyes focused on our little, black shaggy pups. The next morning, I saw and photographed large canine-type paw prints just a few yards from our trailer. When the larger of our dogs, Betsy--weighing in at 25 lbs, stepped on the ground, she barely made any indentation at all. As you can see from my photo, the wolf's 4-inch long prints made a very visible impression. Wow.

Lessons learned? Don't go out hunting...or walking your dogs...alone at night (or at dusk) in the northern wilderness. Unless, of course, you are that wolf-killer I mentioned earlier, then...go ahead, make my day. All Hail Amarok! 

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Real Tickle Monster...not so funny!

 "A-maze-ing Laughter" by Yue Minjun, Vancouver, British Columbia-
photographed  by Antony Stanley via Wikimedia Commons
As we swelter in the deadening heat of summer, my thoughts return again to the colder regions of the far north-- Canada and Alaska (although I hear it's been a long, relatively hot summer up there as well this year!) In researching Inuit legend and lore, I ran across a particularly diabolical creature aptly named "Mahaha."

Why aptly named? Well, because Mahaha tickles his prey to death. Literally! Any of us who have ever fallen victim to aggressive ticklers who were unrelenting, even when we gasped for breath and begged them to stop, can imagine the unique horror of being tickled into twitching oblivion. Gives me the shivers just thinking about it. Those murdered by malicious Mahaha are usually found with agonized, twisted smiles contorting their faces. 

So, as a public service announcement to those of you lucky enough to go wandering the cooler lands up North, this summer, I am posting this all points bulletin, below.

Perpetrator's Name: Mahaha
Perp's Warning Sound: Giggling (usually from behind the victim)
Perp's Build: Scrawny with long bony fingers and razor sharp nails
Perp's Skin: Blue and icy cold
Perp's Eye Color: White
Perp's Hair: Long and Stringy, hanging over his face
Perp's Clothing: Nearly none and always barefoot
Perp's Strength: Powerful muscles
Perp's Weakness: Easily tricked
Last seen: Being swept away downstream in a strong current after his intended victim invited him to lean over for a drink of water and then pushed him in. 
Author and Husband, Kenai Fjords, Alaska, 2011

Enjoy your respite from the heat, fortunate northern adventurer, but be on alert. That giggle you hear sneaking up behind you just may be the excited delirium of Mahaha, the real Tickle Monster! 

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Now You See Them, Now You Don't...Shadow People of the Inuit

"Shadow Person" photographic illustration by K.L. Wood
What was that? Did you just see something flicker beside you but when you turned your head…it was gone? Optical illusion? Ghostly apparition?

The native Inuit people of the far northern climes of Canada and Alaska might say it was one of the shadow people. Among their many legends is that of the tarriassuit, the shadow people, who live alongside the Inuit in a kind of parallel universe. The origin of the tarriassuit is said to be of Inuit who strayed too far north on hunting trips and found themselves in a strange land halfway between the living and the dead. They could not leave this odd plane of existence and became beings with one foot in the visible and one foot in the invisible world.

The tarriassuit cannot usually be seen by humans but can sometimes be glimpsed from the corner of one’s eye. When they are, somehow, visible they are said to look and act just like contemporary Inuit…same clothing, hairstyles, hunting equipment and modes of
Map of Inuit Dialects per Wikimedia Commons
transportation. (That means snowmobiles in the 21st century.) Some Inuit say you can only see their shadows, hence the name shadow people, but can sometimes hear their footsteps and voices. There are Inuit legends that claim the amorphous creatures become visible when they die.

Although rare, it is said that sometimes humans can cross over into the land of the tarriassuit and even marry shadow people. There is the story of a woman who was wed to a shadow man but after some time she became frustrated with her inability to see her husband clearly. She grabbed a hunting knife and plunged it into the place she thought he stood. The shadow man fell dead to the ground, materializing into a handsome young man.
"Eskimo Figure, near Wrangell St. Elias Ntl Park, Alaska" photograph by Wm. Ahearn

The tarriassuit are thought of as kind, gentle, and helpful beings. The ending to the story of the murdered shadow husband is that, although the tarriassuit felt the need to seek revenge, they restrained themselves, believing it unfair to attack people who could not see them to fight back. This concept of benevolence is in sharp contrast to the tales of fear and horror associated with sightings of what current American ghost hunters call shadow people. I see the difference as how one society accepts and venerates that which is beyond our five senses versus another society (ours) that pushes other-worldly experiences into the realm of superstition and fear.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Hills are Alive...with the Little People

Emerald Green Forest, Roan Mountain, photo by K. L. Wood. 
Spending this week hiking the beautiful wooded trails of the North Carolina and Tennessee mountains, it's easy to imagine otherworldly beings hiding among the craggy rocks and moss covered trees. Walking the paths through the natural rhododendron gardens and emerald green forests of
Roan Mountain State Park, my mother described them as "enchanted" and "fairy land." Seems most civilizations have their own legends involving fairies, dwarves, elves, pixies, leprechauns, etc. The Cherokee, some of whom still live in the mountains of North Carolina, have their own race of lilliputian forest dwellers, the Yunwi Tsunsdi  (pronounced: yun-wee joon-stee,) translated as "Little People."
Rhododendron, Roan Mountain, photo by K. L. Wood

The Yunwi Tsundi are considered benign most cases. They are usually helpful to humans but do not suffer fools gladly especially if they treat the Yunwi Tsundi with disrespect. If you find a knife or trinket in the woods, you must say something like, "Little People, I would like to take this," (since it may belong to them) or you might feel stones being thrown at you all the way home. They like to be left alone and if you hear drums far off in a lonely stretch of forest, do not follow the sound for it may lead you to the Yunwi Tsundi's home. If they discover you on their land they may throw a spell over you to
Young Cherokee Woman Pointing to Smoky Mountains, NC, 1942, AP
disorient you and if you do manage to find your way back home, you will feel dazed for the rest of your life. 

They are said to love music and dancing and resemble handsome Cherokee men and beautiful women and are either black, white, or have the golden skin of the natives. They stand about eighteen inches tall and have hair so long it nearly brushes the ground. The Yunwi Tsundi are divided into three groups: the Laurel People, the Rock People, and the Dogwood People. 

The Laurel People are fun-loving and enjoy playing little harmless tricks on humans. It is said that if you are fishing and feel a strong tug on your line, sure that it is a huge fish, only
Mountain Laurel, North Carolina, photo by K. L. Wood
to reel in a stick, it is the Laurel People pulling your leg and having a laugh. Their hope is that you will laugh, too, and not take life so seriously. The Cherokee say that if children are laughing in their sleep, it's the Laurel People at work (or play, that is.)

The Rock People are considered the mean-spirited ones, even to the point of stealing human children. They are expert at "getting even" but are said to be that way because their space has been invaded. They are the manifestation of what can happen to you if you do not treat others with kindness and respect.

The Dogwood People are the kind and helpful ones. If you wake one morning to go to work in your fields but find your crop has already been harvested and stacked in your barn, it must have been the Dogwood People spreading their goodwill. They like to remain anonymous, however, so you mustn't go out and watch the Yunwi Tsundi at work because the price for such a sight may be death.

So, what do we learn from these Little People? Live life joyfully--always ready to laugh at yourself-- treat others with respect because "what goes around, comes around," and treat others kindly and generously, never looking for recognition of your good works.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Scotland's Kelpie...your final ride

Photo of Kelpie statue in Falkirk by Rosser 1954 via
Wikimedia Commons
It seems many of Scotland's legends center around water-centric supernatural beings. I suppose that makes sense as the land is surrounded on three sides by the sea and is dotted liberally with rivers and lakes (or, I should say, lochs.) One of these creatures that haunts the dreams (or nightmares) of Scottish folk is the Kelpie, sometimes called the Water Horse.

The Kelpie, 1913 by Herbert James Draper
The Kelpie appears as a beautiful black, gray, or white horse, notable for its smooth, cold, almost seal-like hide and always with its long mane dripping with water. It is said to lure folk onto its back and, once in place, the hapless riders find themselves stuck like glue and unable to jump ship when the Water Horse dives into the water. Then woe betide the poor riders because they are then taken to the bottom of the loch where their drowned bodies are eaten by the Kelpie. It's often said that children are the victims of the Water Horse, perhaps because children are drawn to the beauty of the horse-like creature. But...the Kelpie has another way of securing its prey. It is known to do a bit of shape-shifting--taking the form of a beautiful woman who
lures men to her side before transforming back into her true Water Horse self and pulling the men down into the depths of the cold water.

Kelpies are spoken of all over Scotland and are known by different names according to region. In Orkney they are called "Nuggles" (not to be confused with those unmagical "Muggles" of Harry Potter fame) and in the Shetland Islands they go by the wonderful name of "Shoopiltie."

Photo of Chapel House Black Magic by By V8Jess
 via Wikimedia Commons
So, if you're ever walking around a body of water in Scotland and you spy a handsome horse with a dripping mane (or a woman of unearthly beauty...probably nude according to all the illustrations I've seen) resist the temptation to get any closer!

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 



Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Fairy Flags and Bridges...legends of Dunvegan

"Land of the Mountain and the Flood" Photograph Copyright by Kathryn Louise Wood
Well, dear and faithful Reader, while Through the Hourglass is searching for its literary champion,  I have begun work on my next novel which includes a fair dose of Magical Realism and I will be sharing my research into all things magical and legendary. Magical Realism, as a fiction genre, presents what one may think of as supernatural as perfectly natural in the protagonist's world and what one normally sees as ordinary is appreciated as extraordinary. For example, my main character may take the receipt of a leather-bound journal whose text periodically changes (and I'm not talking Kindle or Nook, here) in stride, but is awestruck by the changing colors of a sunset. Having traveled to that most magical of places, the Isle of Skye in Scotland, I am excited about sharing some of its legends and lore and will begin by sharing the stories behind the Fairy Bridge and the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan Castle. I am happy to include some of my own photographs taken during my mystical journey of the misty isle.
"The Fairy Bridge" Photograph Copyright by Kathryn Louise Wood

About three miles away from Dunvegan Castle is a picturesque stone arch of a bridge known as the Fairy Bridge. As with many ancient legends, there is more than one story behind it so I will use my novelist's prerogative and choose the one that most tickles my fancy. Long, looooong ago, the Chief of Clan MacLeod fell in love with a beautiful fairy lady who agreed to marry him. Only problem was that after twenty years of nuptial bliss she must return to her own people (fairy folk, that is.) When the time came, the Chief and his fairy wife bid farewell atop the bridge and she left him a token of her love in the form of a golden, silk scarf. This leads us directly to the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan Castle.

"Dunvegan Castle" Photograph Copyright by Kathryn Louise Wood
The Fairy Flag, (the remnants, of which, can still be viewed at Dunvegan Castle) was said to be a gift of favor from the fairies to the Clan MacLeod. The most prevailing legend is that the silken banner could be unfurled three times to provide aid to the clan during time of battle or other crisis and the golden flag with its red, woven "elf spots," was indeed used for that purpose. Some say the flag was the parting gift of the Chief's fairy wife and others say it was brought by fairies to enfold a Chief's fretful infant along with a lullaby blessing that was then sung to all MacLeod babies who would, one day, wear the mantle of clan Chief. (The photograph I have included, here, of Dunvegan Castle was one I shot from pasture land complete with sheep and Highland cattle. The good folk of Scotland are generally quite amenable to travelers entering their fields as along as they are careful to securely close the gates upon entering and leaving.) 
"Highland Cow" Photograph Copyright by Kathryn Louise Wood

The Isle of Skye is fairly bursting with such tales and, exploring its green hills, rippling brooks, deep lochs, and rocky cliffs, it's easy to fall beneath its spell where belief in fairies and their magical flags seems altogether reasonable.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Isle of Skye, Scotland--Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown
 copyright and database right [CC BY-SA 3.0  via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Great Balls of Fire! with fireballs in the South

By Haloeffect via Wikimedia commons
When I told my ninety-one-year-old mother about a newspaper article from 1893 New Bern, North Carolina about a night's entertainment by a lantern swinger, it reminded her of a childhood memory. Kerosene balls. Kerosene what? Balls. Flaming. Flying through the air. At that point I sat down and asked for details.

By Sebastian Ritter via Wikimedia Commons
Back in the 1920s and early 30s when Mama was a child growing up on a farm near Swansboro, North Carolina, entertainment was as homegrown as the food on their tables. On special nights like New Year's Eve and the Fourth of July, when more affluent communities paid for fireworks displays, the farmers and fishermen of coastal Carolina gathered on open expanses of farmland or sandy beaches to toss around balls of kerosene-soaked cloth or yarn. Many an old, holey sock was unraveled and wound into a tight sphere, soaked in vats of kerosene for a couple weeks, then dried and ready for fiery fun.

On the appointed night, folks would gather and watch as young men lit the kerosene balls and tossed
them into the inky darkness, usually with bare hands although they might coat their palms with dirt first. As a little girl, standing back out of harm's way watching the fireballs streak through the night sky, she found the display beautiful and exciting. I did an Internet search and found the practice is called fireballing or kerosene balling and often saw it noted as a form of entertainment in rural
By Elmer Guevara  via Wikimedia Commons
Alabama. There's a YouTube video showing a modern-day gathering of Alabama fireball tossers keeping up their family's annual tradition. In addition to tossing the balls into the air and playing flaming games of catch, there was a version called "Hail-E-Over" in which people would stand on either side of a tin-roofed house and toss a fireball over its top. The idea was to keep the ball in the air, lobbing from one side to the other until the losing side allowed the ball to thud to the ground.
Stonehaven Parade By MrPurple , via Wikimedia Commons

The roots of such flaming entertainment may reach back to Scotland. One notable example is the annual fireball parade in Stonehaven on the night of Hogmanay (New Year's Eve.) Balls of fire encased in wire cages are swung overhead from chains as the participants process through the town. The traditional thought is that the fire burns away bad spirits of the old year, clearing the way for the new year. There's even a Stonehaven Fireballs Association!
Quite a bit further south in El Salvador there is an annual Bolas de Fuego or "Balls of Fire" festival in which teams hurl kerosene-soaked flaming balls at each other. Apparently throwing fire around knows no borders!
Bolas de Fuego By Elmer Guevara via Wikimedia Commons

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! (And...Remember, Only YOU, can Prevent Forest Fires!)

Smokey and Me By William Francis Ahearn (Author's Husband)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

18th Century Headache? …sniff this and call me in the morning

Photograph of Webb House Colonial Revival Garden,by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons
In our 21st century lives, we often reach for bottles of pills when illness strikes. Back in the 18th century, however, you were more likely to go out to the herb garden or even forage for plants in the forest to relieve your distress. This week, I’ve gathered a list of some of the commonly used medicinal plants our ancestors depended upon. Some were ingested, some rubbed on the skin, and some strewn on the floor for freshening the air and deterring vermin. You may even have some growing in your own backyard. Think of it as Nature's Medicine Cabinet!

BASIL - Sometimes called St. Joseph's Wort, it was used dried as snuff to relieve headaches and colds as well as a strewing herb.

BEE BALM - Used for bee stings. Tea brewed from its leaves was called Oswego tea and was used as a substitute for Chinese tea imported from England after the 1773 Boston Tea Party (and the 1774 Edenton Tea Party, too, of course!)

CARAWAY - The boiled roots of caraway were eaten by Native Americans and recommended for those with a cold or weak stomach.
Photograph of Chamomile by H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

CHAMOMILE - Infused as a tea for indigestion, gas, and stomachaches. Also used as a strewing herb and insect repellent.

COMFREY - Used as a poultice to heal wounds and reduce swelling.

CORIANDER. The seeds were chewed as a breath freshener.

ELECAMPANE - Used to treat skin diseases in sheep and horses; also as a diuretic and for coughs (for people!)

FEVERFEW - For "female hysteria," melancholia, headache, and constipation.

GERMANDER - For gout, rheumatism, fever, and melancholy.

HOREHOUND - Used to make a cough syrup, often in combination with honey and other herbs. Mixed with plantain for snakebites. Soaked in fresh milk to repel flies.

HYSSOP - Strewn on the floor to prevent the spread of infection; also used to treat respiratory illnesses.
Photograph of Lemon Balm by P. Wagner via Wikimedia

LAVENDER – The oil was rubbed into the temples for headache, strewn on the floor and also used as an insect repellent.

LEMON BALM - Infused as a tea for headaches, indigestion, nausea. Distilled as a treatment to clean and heal wounds.

LOVAGE - Used to treat kidney stones.

MARJORAM –Used  to cure insomnia, nasal congestion, and loss of appetite.

PARSLEY - Seeds used as a diuretic.
Photograph of Pennyroyal by H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

PENNYROYAL - Strewing herb. Flea and mosquito repellent.

PEPPERMINT – The leaves were chewed to sweeten the breath and drunk in tea to aid digestion.

PLANTAIN - (The herb; not the banana-like fruit.) Used as a poultice to heal wounds, and the seeds to prevent miscarriage. 

QUEEN ANNE’S LACE - Used as a diuretic and for kidney stones; the seeds were used for birth control.

ROSE HIPS – Used to prevent scurvy. (Very high in Vitamin C.)

ROSEMARY - Oil used as a rub for sore muscles. Promotes liver functions.

RUE - Externally to cure warts, ringworm, and poisonous bites. Internally as a treatment for colic and epilepsy. Decocted for earaches. (Decoction is the boiling or heating of a plant to derive its concentrated essence.)

SAGE - Used in combination with other herbs for headaches. Decocted and as a mouthwash for sore throats and infected gums.
Photograph of St. John's Wort by Anne Burgess via Wikimedia Commons

SORREL – Used as a poultice for infected wounds. (And to remove stains from linen.)

SPEARMINT – Used as a breath freshener and for indigestion.

ST. JOHN’S WORT - Leaves used to treat burns and wounds. Flowers used as a tincture for melancholy.

STINGING NETTLES - A mixture of the seeds, bayberries, gunpowder, and honey was used for rheumatism.

TANSY - Its seed was used as a vermifuge (to kill internal parasites like roundworms) for children; the root was also used to treat gout.

THYME – Used as an antiseptic and for toothaches, gout, headaches, and to cure nightmares. Sprigs of thyme were placed on lard and butter to keep them from becoming rancid.

YARROW - Leaves were chewed for toothaches.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now!