A Treasury Of British Folklore: Maypoles, Mandrakes and Mistletoe


Title: A Treasury of British Folklore: Maypoles, Mandrakes & Mistletoe

Writer: Dee Dee Chainey

Publishing House: National Trust

Date of Publication:April 5th 2018

Ratings:5 stars

”As we get older, we still sense the wonder of those takes we know from childhood. They whisper to us with every fleeting glimpse of what might just be a fairy in the woodlands, or a giant peering through a crevice in the rock.”

Dee Dee Chainey is a world treasure. She is a cultural icon for those of us who adore Folklore and recognize its vital importance and impact on all aspects of our life, and the way tradition has the owner to many issues we face. The online magazine #FolkloreThursday is a wealth of knowledge of World Folklore and probably the only reason making Twitter useful. This beautiful volume, wonderfully illustrated by Joe McLaren, is a true treasure covering every ”branch” of British Folklore, the dark and supernatural, the human and earthly.

Folklore of the land and the animal kingdom, the seasons, the holy wells, the mountains, and the seas. Giants, witches, kings and heroes, elves and fairies. Ghosts, changelings. Death, birth, work and marriage. Did you know that in Lincolnshire it is unlucky to eat the whole Christmas cake on Christmas Eve? In Suffolk, the lights are turned off that night and I was surprised to find that we have a similar custom in Greece, related to New Year’s Eve. ‘First footing’ is very important in Scotland and one of my favourite British celebrations is Up Helly Aa taking place in Shetland, possibly commemorating the Viking heritage of this beautiful Scottish corner. Beltane, Lughnasadh, Lammas, St. John’s Day and the custom of jumping through a bonfire for luck are well-known festivities, each one steeped in legend.

We are tracing the steps of the Druids. Rocks come alive stull retaining healing powers in Wiltshire, Glamorgan, Argyllshire, Orkney. We stand at the banks of mysterious rivers, full of myths and legendary creatures, waiting for a Scottish Kelpie to appear. Well dressing reassures us of nature’s blessings and in Derbyshire, a drum over water will reveal where a corpse lies. Mystical forests hide centuries-old secrets. Birch woods, chestnut and apple trees, the sacred elder tree, the acorns and yews to ward off thunder and witches, and the mandrake with its dark spells. One of the greatest gifts of Nature, the bee is a companion to be revered and should always be informed of a death in a family, as is the robin that plucked away the sharpest thorn from Jesus’ forehead, easing His unimaginable pain.

We visit legendary places like Glastonbury Abbey and the Mount Badon, where Arthur fought the Saxons. We walk in the steps of Emrys, our Merlin, and his vision of the two dragons, the red victorious and immortalized on the Welsh flag. Boudicca, Robin Hood, Lady Godiva, St. Winifred and a surprisingly ”alive” pantheon that populates a vast wealth of beautiful myths. The Green Man is watching us along with a very particular (and arguably unwelcome…) guest. Only in the folklore of the Czech Republic have I found so many myths related to the Devil. Fairies, elves, goblins, the night raids in Northumberland and the Fairy Flag of the MacLeods of Dunvegan Castle on the island of Skye. Scottish redcaps, will-o’-the wisps, brownies. The Lancashire Witch Trials, John Dee, the ghost of the unfortunate Anne Boleyn and Halloween divinations that reveal a future husband to young women. Customs related to cooking and the gatherings at the table. Selkies, sea legends, and superstitions. Yorkshire harvest traditions and the haunting procession on St. Mark’s Eve of those who are going to die within the year.

This is only a small reference to the plethora of customs and traditions that can be found in this superb volume. Embellished with an extensive Further Reading section and an informative list of folklore events and festivals for each month, Dee Dee Chainey’s work must find a place in your collection.

”Even now, walking ancient pathways, our legends unravel before us. If we listen carefully, we might fancy we can still hear the whispers of giants, witches, fairies, and the ghosts of the warriors that still sleep under verdant mounds. When we gaze over the meadows, we might just glimpse the elf-arrows glittering in the sunlight, peeking through ploughed fields from their hiding places in the ancient brown loam of history.”