Author: Elizabeth Wilson

Wassails, Snails and Thin Otherworldly Veils: Halloween Folklore and Traditions

What are you doing for Halloween? Dressing up and demanding sweeties from your neighbours? Going to a party? Or scoffing that Halloween’s become too commercial, what with all those plastic pumpkins and spider-ful shop window displays? We all know that the 31st October is the time when ghosties and ghoulies are out and about frightening us all, but there’s more to this time of year when the veil between worlds is at its thinnest (allegedly). Plenty of fortune-telling traditions, and rituals designed to protect yourself from the spirits, have grown up around the end of October, going centuries back...

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Gowld a Gowpens: the 50th Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering

Have you ever been to a muckle fligarishon? Or had some gowld a gowpens? Well, this weekend at the fiftieth Northumbrian Gathering in Morpeth, Northumberland you can lowp till ye cowp (or at least find out what that means). The whole town will be taking part in the muckle fligarishon (big party) as dancers, writers, musicians, performers, artists and storytellers gather to celebrate the richness of Northumberland’s traditions and their gowld a gowpens (overflowing gold riches). Since its inception fifty years ago, the festival has aimed to “continue Northumberland’s traditions”, which it does through a variety of lectures, workshops...

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Can’t See the Wood for the Trees: The Mysterious Meaning of Medieval Penis Trees

Ok, stop me if you’ve heard this before: “What shall we think about those witches who somehow take members in large numbers – twenty or thirty – and shut them up together in a birds’ nest or some box, where they move around like living members, eating oats or other feed? This has been seen by many and is a matter of common talk… …A man reported that he had lost his member and approached a certain witch in order to restore his health. She told the sick man to climb a particular tree where there was a nest...

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Demonising Women: The Enduring Medieval Conception of Witchcraft

Think of a witch. Any witch. I’m willing to bet you’ve imagined some hideous old crone, bent over a cauldron with black pointy hat perched on her head and a black cat skulking about nearby (or a pretty teenager with a wisecracking cat like in the seminal ’90s programme, Sabrina the Teenage Witch). The image of the dangerous female sorcerer has been ingrained in western culture since the Early Modern witch craze in Europe, and the later panics about witchcraft in America. But harmful magic was not always gendered in this way. Our current preconceptions and ideas really began...

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Vikings in York: The Jorvik Viking Festival

Grab your horned hat – hoards of Vikings are descending on York! Luckily, this time they’re not invading but here to celebrate the last of the Viking kings in York, Eric Bloodaxe, at the 32nd Jorvik Viking Festival. Across half term (20th to 26th February), the centre of York is home to a living history encampment, combat demonstrations and a 10th Century traders market where you can pick up wares from Viking craftsmen around the world. Various lectures and activities by academics from both the University of York and further afield promise to aid anyone wishing to explore Norse...

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