Foxes-By Angelique Duncan

After the rise of Christianity and the abandonment of animal spirits and totems, many animals once held in high regard for their enchanted qualities were reduced to suspicion and even thought of as evil. The fox has been a victim of this fate. In literature and fables they often take the role of trickster or antagonist, depicted as treacherous and dishonest creatures. At times they are synonymous with deception, cunning and manipulation. However the fox wasn’t always painted in such a negative light.

Once upon a time foxes were held in great reverence. The fox has its place in mythologies ranging from ancient Greece to numerous legends from Asian and the Orient. They are prominent in the folklores of Nordic, Gaelic, Celtic and European cultures. The Native Americans and Eskimos acknowledge foxes for their magical qualities in their story telling. Pre Christianity, they were considered Gods of the Forest, symbols of prosperous agriculture, protectors and punishers of wrongs and loyal companions held with respect.

Foxes in ancient tales were often helpers who used their high aptitudes to guide humans or assist other animals. They were associated with intelligence, adaptability and rationing skills. Often depicted as finding a clever way to assist in a dilemma or out smart an adversary. The term to be “sly like a fox” comes from these observations of fox behaviors.

It was thought that a fox could out wit opponents by anticipating and planning for their next moves well in advance. Foxes have been said to be one of the most strategic of animals in their ability to evade predators and hunters. Foxes will seek shelter when they smell or sense danger long before of a predators approach. Foxes will use their tales to cover and disperse their own tracks and will leap in zig -zags touching their paws to low and high places to throw off their scent. Foxes have been attributed with psychic powers for their ability to foresee inclement weather by baying and whimpering before signs of rains or snowstorms.

The term vixen is used for a female fox, and in modern times has become equated with women of trickery. It was believed Foxes were shape-shifters. Often taking the form of a beautiful woman. To be “foxy” comes from the Celtic folklores of sleek attractive women, often referring to red heads of high intelligence, who would change into foxes. In many of these romantic legends as well as friendship tales, the fox is loyal and often will either save or change their companions life to the better as a way of showing gratitude for a debt or righting a wrong.

Due to the belief Foxes were shape shifters with high intelligence and psychic ability it was thought that they were companions to witches; or perhaps themselves witches. Foxes have historically and in almost every culture been attributed to have magic powers. A Finnish belief is that an enchanted fox is responsible for the aurora borealis or foxfire. The legend is told that a magical artic fox runs each night so fast in the snow that as his tale swishes back and forth it creates sparks that are captured with snow crystals that fly up into the night sky creating the Northern Lights. Another legend says that the lights are caused by a fox who leaps and runs over the mountains tossing snowflakes into the air changing them to the lights in the sky.

Who knows if the foxes are actually Gods watching the forest, shape shifting witches or magical creatures? Only they truly know. Should you make the acquaintance of a fox, be kind and respectful for they may become your next loyal companion or they may even save your life. However, do not cross them it is likely you will not out wit a fox.

Illustration “Twilight in Fox Hollow” provided by and Copyright Art By Sarada. To see more of V.Sarada Holts art and where to buy, visit her artist page Art By Sarada.

Angelique Duncan is proprietor of Twilight Faerie Nostalgic and Capricious Objects. Check out her artist page to find links to her shops and vintage inspired traditional holiday art. Visit again next month for more traditions and folklore.

The Origins of the Christmas Elf

Origins of the Christmas Elf-By Angelique Duncan

Legends, traditions and stories about elves have existed for centuries. They find their first mentions in Norse, Scandinavian and Celtic folklore. However the Elves and their associations with the Christmas season is a fairly recent holiday tradition, becoming part of our popular contemporary culture of the United States only within the late nineteenth century.

As with many of the lost magical races; the Elves have shared traits and qualities that mingle with and confused with other enchanted species. Depending on the region and type of Elf, their descriptions and purposes vary. The imagery of Elves range from older bearded men to young and hairless, some have said they have eyes that glow when it is dark and some say they have one eye like that of a Cyclops. Consistently they are described as having pointed ears and being of small stature. Some legends say they are shape shifters and even capable of becoming invisible.

They are believed to be supernatural in their powers and capable of magic. Some believe that nature Elves have unique youthful beauty with slender bodies and narrow features. It is believed that Elves are ambivalent towards humans and may choose to help, sabotage or ignore them upon their whim. Most mythologies consistently tell of Elves as protectors against evil who guard over innocence, such as small children and animals and often bearing gifts.

In Scandinavian folklore the Elves are known as Tomte, Nisse, Tomtenisse and are often confused with gnomes. They are said to have long white beards, wear comfortable clothing or tunics and most always have a hat, usually of bright red or blue that is pointed or knitted. They are said to have pointed ears and eyes that can reflect light giving the illusion of glowing eyes. At tallest, reports say that they stand 3 feet, while some say they are of the same description but not more than 5 inches tall with smooth hairless faces and big round eyes, with four fingers

It is said that like gnomes or brownies that the Tomte live in barns or in hidden places within a homestead acting as a guardian over the home. They protect small livestock, pets and the children from any evil that may try to enter the family home. It was widely believed that the Tomte or House Elves are spirits of relatives who returned to help guide their family, some saying that they are the collective spirits of ones ancestors embodied as one small being as a reminder you are being watched over and protected.

When treated with dignity and respect they will help around the house and yard bring good fortune. It is customary to leave a bowl of buttered porridge out for ones Tomte as a sign of appreciation. Also it is common etiquette to always give warning when something is spilled or fallen to “look out below” to the Tomte as so they won’t get hit or spilled upon. The Tomte reward their family with small gifts if they were considered worthy in virtue.

Tomte are offended by ill behavior such as swearing, laziness, crass or lewd humor and tackiness. They do not accept gossip or lies and absolutely will not tolerate disrespect or harm to animals. To do so results in retaliation. If witnessed by a Tomte or Elf he will fight to defend the animal. Many believed that a bite from a Tomte is poisonous and results in going mad and that the only method to heal such a wound is from a magical healing source.

Many would keep a small figurine or statue of a Tomte or Elf on their mantle or bookshelf to remind the household that their ancestors were watching and to invite the spirits or relatives in. However after the rise of Christianity the practice of leaving invitation to the spirits of deceased ancestors became frowned upon. The figurines were seen as keeping false idols and an invitation to the devils spirit. People began hiding the Tomte or abandoning them all together for fear of persecution. Some say that the Tomte and Elves went into hiding during this era, abandoning their homesteads and human families.

The Tomte were associated with the Winter Solstice and became the Swedish and Norwegian equivalent of Santa Claus. The Tomte were depicted often with or riding a pig or goat. The pig was considered a symbol of fertility and good luck and the goat was the Tomtes predecessor to the Yule holiday, known as The Yule Goat. Tradition had it that the Yule Goat would knock on doors delivering presents. It is thought that the Christmas gift bearing Tomte combined the two mythologies to preserve Pagan folklore of the ancestral spirits visiting the home.

Around the 1840’s in Denmark the Tomte or Nisse Elves took on the name of Julenisse, a singular Elf-gnome like creature who is said to live in a forest and comes riding a goat door to door to deliver gifts at Christmas. With the rise of the Santa Claus tradition, Julenisse eventually replaced the Yule Goat and took on a more Santa like appearance in his depiction. Following with the tradition of the Tomte, it is customary to leave a bowl of porridge for Julenisse in gratitude for his gifts.

It was during the Victorian era that Elves became associated with Christmas in the USA, the United Kingdome and Canada. In the poem A Visit from St. Nicholas written by Clement Clarke Moore, St. Nicholas is referenced as an Elf. St. Nicholas gradually was replaced in popular culture by the jolly image of Santa Claus and there after Elves became popular in Christmas literature and imagery. The legends arose out the many stories and folklores of the existence of magical Christmas Elves that lived at the North Pole. They are usually described as very dainty with pointed ears and clad in green. The magical Christmas Elves are said to live in Santa’s workshop as toy builders. They tend to Santa’s flying reindeer, bake, and over see all things Christmas through out the year until Christmas Eve when the toys are delivered by Santa.

So perhaps the Elves find their place in Christmas through literature and fairy tales as the stuff of myth. Or maybe they are the spirits of our ancestors who try to protect us, unseen. The Elves, as we call them, seemed to have evolved from the Scandinavian Tomte traditions of long ago to find their way into popular European and American holiday culture.

There are those however, who believe that the Elves are real and still here, just in hiding. Studies done in Iceland in the last decade by the University of Iceland’s Faculty of Social Sciences reveal that overwhelming as a nation, the Icelanders believe that ghost are among us and that the Elves, known as the huldufolk or hidden folk, roam the country side, hiding in rocks and caves safely obscured to most humans.
Perhaps they are still here and maybe once a year on a cold winters night they return to check on us. When you leave out the plate of cookies and milk for Santa Claus set out a little bowl of porridge with butter, just in case to invite them in and let them know you still believe.

Angelique Duncan is proprietor of Twilight Faerie Nostalgic and Capricious Objects. Check out her artist page to find links to her shops and vintage inspired traditional holiday art. Visit again next month for more traditions and folklore.

The Turkey

The Turkey-By Angelique Duncan

When one thinks of Thanksgiving images of the proud, plump turkey is immediately to follow. The nostalgic symbolism of this magnificent bird at Thanksgiving is so synonymous with the celebration that the holiday is often referenced as “Turkey Day”. How did the turkey become our national symbol of Thanksgiving? The bird has a rich and noble history worthy of acknowledgment as one enjoys their harvest feast.

The turkey was once revered by Mexican and South American tribes as a sacred bird and in some tribes like the Aztecs, Toltecs and Myans was appreciated as a God. The mythologies and symbolisms varied from tribe and region based on observations of the turkeys’ traits and behaviors.

In some Native North American cultures the turkey symbolized fertility, virility as well as pride. The male turkey will show it’s decorative plumes and strut in an elaborate mating dance to attract the female of the species. The dance of the turkey is seen as prideful and arrogant with grand confidence. This mannerism was often imitated by tribes before battle with the wearing of full turkey feather robes and headdresses.

The turkey was also known for being a bird of great wisdom and a messenger of warnings. The turkey has been said to have a sixth sense for awareness of its environment and can warn of danger and predators. They will fluff their plumes and take an aggressive stance if they feel threatened; well before the danger presents its self. The fowl will become intensely protective and never holds back in attack or when confronted with battle.

Turkeys will roost in trees and elevated spaces away from predators and to have a vantage point to oversee their territory. In the sleeping flock one turkey will be “appointed” look out to give warning of danger. Turkeys have very specific calls, gobbles and screams that have meaning for communication among the flock, creating a fairly sophisticated bird language of signals.

To many tribes the turkey was considered a rain spirit for their ability to predict the change in weather. When rain is eminent turkeys will puff their ornate plumes and fluff their feathers and give calls and dance. The rain dances of many North American tribes are an emulation of the turkey’s rain dance.

Tribes attributed the turkey with the symbolism of bounty, sacrifice and generosity. The turkey was given between tribes as a gift of bounty and goodwill. Being one of the hardest of the large fowl to successfully hunt and its ability to feed many when caught, the wild turkey was often the game of choice for ritual and celebratory meals of the Native Americans. Unlike the modern domestic turkeys raised for quantity of meat who are sluggish and cannot fly, wild turkeys can run at speeds up to 25 miles per hour and can fly short distances at 55miles per hour. Making them quite the challenge to catch for a predator or hunter. The turkey was present for harvest meals as a special bounty, well before the arrival of the pilgrims to American soil.

The turkey arrived at its namesake as a matter of mistaken identity from Spanish explorers who discovered the bird thinking they were returning to Europe with Guinea fowl from Turkey. Given the bird was acquired unknowingly from the wrong continent; it was named for its origin of discovery. And so the name was given to the North American fowl after a country the bird had never traveled from.

It is widely accepted that turkey was served at the first documented Thanksgiving meal, although there is no concrete evidence of this. It has been documented that beef and fowl were served at the first Thanksgiving feast, but no bird is specified. Turkeys are natural to the southeast and southwestern states and would not have been prevalent on the eastern seaboard at that time. Some historians say that the intent was to find and hunt a turkey, but the pilgrims were unsuccessful and stories tell that humble crows and fish were eaten instead. There is a historical letter that was written during the era of the pilgrims that mentions a turkey being served as part of a feast, however the document is not in reference to the legendary supper of Myles Standish fame that is romanticized in the Thanksgiving tradition.

Although turkey may have been served at some feasts, it has been accepted by modern historians, that the turkey did not become the traditional meal of the holiday until much later. Many Americans would serve goose, chicken or quail in lieu of the turkey as the centerpiece of the traditional meal. Turkeys may have become popular due to the aforementioned letter written by a pilgrim, Edward Winslow, which referenced a turkey hunt before a Thanksgiving meal. Some equate the popularity of Turkey at Thanksgiving from a proclamation by Alexander Hamilton that “no citizen of the United States should refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving day”. The turkey was a symbolic bird in the nations beginnings and was advocated by Benjamin Franklin to become the national emblem instead of the bald eagle. The historical quote follows:

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead tree near the river, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labour of the fishing hawk; and when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to his nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

With all this injustice, he is never in good case but like those among men who live by sharping & robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our country…

I am on this account not displeased that the figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the truth the Turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.”

How the turkey became the official sacrificial meat for the modern Thanksgiving meal is truly unknown. However it is now a mainstay of the holiday and one could not imagine Thanksgiving with out turkey. When celebrating all you are thankful for this year and counting your blessings, remember to give thanks to the turkey, a bird of noble and rich history worthy of its own American holiday.

Angelique Duncan is proprietor of Twilight Faerie Nostalgic and Capricious Objects. Check out her artist page to find links to her shops and vintage inspired traditional holiday art. Visit again next month for more traditions and folklore.

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween-By Angelique Duncan

For many of us we long for the first snap of a cool front and the spiced scents and pumpkin flavors of fall. The first fallen leaves are a welcome signal that it is coming. We notice the sun begins to set differently in the late afternoons and the moon hangs more prominently with a greater glow in the night sky. The call of a distant crow and the grackle comforts us. The orange and black is our banner and the grinning carved pumpkin our friend. We are Autumn people and we carry with us, a love for Halloween.

We wait all year to unlock our spooky decorations from their captivity and set them free displaying them about in our homes. To us, those figurines and die cut window cut outs are our familiar family come to visit for a while. We carry out the ritual of selecting the greatest pumpkin; one that is not too tall, not too round but the perfect canvas upon which to carve a creepy or cleaver face to scare costumed knockers who dare grace our porches and stoops. For those who do dare; we fill large bowls with candy treats and give generously to those who will scream “Trick Or Treat”!

Why do we love Halloween? We just do. It is something inside us that is inherent, like the beating of the heart or taking breath into our lungs. We don’t expect others to understand it, and often they don’t. However for us, Halloween is special. It can not be separated from who we are.

To some it is a day of merriment and amusement. It is the joy of hosting costumed parties and Trick or Treat adventures. For children and adults alike, it is a time to dress in masquerade, hide behind the mask and for one night be something one is not. There is something magical to a child, that for one night to be whomever they want to be, staying up late to run the streets in the darkness of night knocking on doors demanding crazy amounts of candy; and the satisfaction that adults must comply with the child’s demands of treats for threat of trickery.

Maybe for some of us celebrating Halloween is a way to capture the exhilaration of childhood memories of happy Halloween’s past that we just don’t want to let go of. October 31st is all the innocence, mischief and wonderment of youth wrapped in one orange glowing holiday.

Perhaps it goes further than childhood back into the antiquity of man to Samhian. Could the love of Halloween route back over 2000 years ago to a slumbering knowledge of ancient bonfire rituals on hilltops that stirs and wishes to be awakened? Maybe some never really forgot the ties to seasons and moon cycles. Perchance the need to celebrate what is now Halloween is a vestige to long gone practices and insights into the spirituality of this realm.

Halloween is second most popular holiday in America, second only to Christmas. The fascination with the day is gaining popularity in other countries as well. Possibly as a passing fad or it is a part of our collective history and culture that demands to be acknowledged. Through out time in some form or fashion, under many names whether as Samhain, Witches night, Beggar’s Night, All Souls Day, Hollow’s Eve or Day of the Dead or Halloween; it has been celebrated. From bonfires and carved pumpkins, sheet ghost and costumes, crepe paper and wax to sugar skulls it takes it’s form.

Autumn people take comfort that that we are not alone, there are others out there. Others who feel the tug of an October wind and come the 31st, they will keep their Jack o lanterns lit for the love of Halloween!

Angelique Duncan is proprietor of Twilight Faerie Nostalgic and Capricious Objects. Check out her artist page to find links to her shops and vintage inspired traditional holiday art. Visit again next month for more traditions and folklore.

The Owls on Halloween

The Owls on Halloween-By Angelique Duncan

Owls have always been associated with Halloween. Often they are depicted as secondary characters in vintage postcards and decorations to other Halloween symbols. Owls can be seen circling overhead or in the skyline with witches, ghost and others familiar spooky icons. However, in recent times they have become more prominent and have become a popular main character in the cast of Halloween imagery.

By virtue that they are nocturnal, they carry an air of mystique. Their appearance has all the features of something mystical; large oddly blinking eyes, a head that turns in an unnatural fashion and sharp claws on their feet. Some scream and screech, some hoot and coo with voices that drift over darkness often heard, but never seen. Depending on the culture and era owls have been perceived to be scary creatures of the night or as wise messengers and protectors.

Owls are thought to be one of the oldest of the bird species and perhaps their association with wisdom comes with the inherited age of the species. The notion that owls are wise may also come from their association with Athena the Greek Goddess of wisdom. In many cultures they are seen as intelligent, observant and helpful messengers.

Owls and an association with Halloween go way back to ancient Celtic times and Samhian. Owls could be seen flying and swooping near Samhain bonfires. It is reported to have been a common scene. Given the nature of midnight celebrations and the association with the “witching hour” and the presences of the nocturnal creatures, owls became connected to witchcraft through their frequency in legends and symbols of witches.

One folklore states that if one sees an owl flying or circling low during the day they are bringing an omen or news that will affect the person who see’s them. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it is a warning to prepare the person and an action of protection, although foreboding.

Some believed that an owl perched on a house or in a tree near a house is a warning that someone will die in that home or that something evil will happen there. In other folklore it is believed that an owl perched on ones roof is offering protection from evil. Many believe that to see an owl during the day is an omen and to take heed. It is said to see an owl at midnight is bad luck.

It has been thought that owls, due to their wisdom are the familiars of witches and they will carry messages for them. Other myths state that owls are themselves witches that have shape shifted to travel undetected under the cover of darkness.

Over the centuries and continents there have been numerous legends and stories of owls as deities, demons or gods, some benevolent and some of ill intent. Two popular folklores originating from Mexico and Texas is sightings of the Lechuza and of the Aswang. Often in the Autumn and near Halloween. The Lechuza became a popular image during the romanticized Victorian era. It has an unusually large owl body with a human women’s head. The Aswang is just the opposite having a human woman’s body and an owls head. Both are said to be a form of witch transformed. Both are also said suck the blood of their victims. The Aswang is thought to attack pregnant women and steal their unborn child. Rumors have also risen that both the Lechuza and the Aswang steal children out after dark. Some legends report that when one hears an owl screeching or hooting at night they are trying to lure small children out of the house to take away to the woods.

Images of owls exist in almost every culture and the stories attached to them are wide and varied. Sometimes the evil villain, some times the voice of reason, a protector or warrior or wise sage. The owl wears many hats and only they know who they really are and their intent. So when you hear the haunting hoot off in the distance be warned, the owls may be talking to you.

Illustration “Wilbur” Copyright Intricate Knot. To more of Intricate Knots art and where to buy visit her artist page Art For A Gloomy Day.

Illustration “Owlie On The Moon” Copyright Michelle Angelique Duncan. To see more of Twilight Faerie’s art and where to buy visit her artist page Twilight Faerie Nostalgic and Capricious Objects.

Angelique Duncan is proprietor of Twilight Faerie Nostalgic and Capricious Objects. Check out her artist page to find links to her shops and vintage inspired traditional holiday art. Visit again next month for more traditions and folklore.

The Goblins

The Goblins-By Angelique Duncan

The Goblins

The Goblins are related to the Brownies and Gnomes of the British Isle. Often they are called Knockers, Kobolds, Bogart, Boogey or Boogey Man interchangeably. Goblins come from the ground and live in marshes, under bridges, abandoned farms and mines. They are the mischievous and sinister cousin species to the benevolent Good Folk, however the Goblins never learned or refused, to live in harmony with mankind.

Goblins have been described differently depending on region and era. Usually they are said to be humanlike and small in nature. Some folklore says they are under a foot tall while others state they are the size of a small child. Often in ancient stories they are said to be hairy with long arms and large feet or distorted features. Sometimes they are described to have hoofed feet and horns or pointed ears. Some say they have large round eyes that are red or yellow. In modern illustrations they are depicted as humanoid, hairless with greenish or grey skin and with devil like features.

Once it was popular belief that Goblins inhabited caves and mines. Some stories tell that the Goblins would knock to warn the working miners of cave-ins or poisonous gases. However some folklore suggests the opposite, that the Goblins would cause the mines to cave and that they were actually responsible for creating the poisonous gases to get rid of the humans so they could keep resources for themselves.

Folklore surrounding the Goblins states that they are responsible for abducting travelers on dark roads and for stealing pets and children, especially around Halloween. Some believe that Goblins looking for a new dwelling would follow people and take over their homes.

It is said that one should never invite one into your home or adopt a Goblins company. They are destructive creatures that cause misery and ill fortune. Goblins are the ones who make things go wrong. If you find sand in your bed, milk that sours too soon, knocked over things, pulled up plants from the garden, untied shoes and stained linens regularly in your home; you may have a Goblin.

At night Goblins will torment the people they have attached to by pulling the sheets off the bed and rearranging pillows. They have been reported to pinch or poke people while they are sleeping. Other tactics of the Goblins is to put cold hands on people’s feet, tug on their ears or nose or slap ones face while one sleeps.

Their behavior can escalate beyond acts of inconvenient mischief, to acts of terror. Goblins have been said to steal or endanger livestock and ruin crops. They cause harm to small animals and can make them disappear. Goblins are known as thieves and can bring financial ruin. Once it was believed that when a horse gets skittish and spooked or if a dog growls or barks when nothing seems to be there, the animals are aware that a Goblin is present.

Once a home is invested with a Goblin they can be near impossible to get rid of. Goblins are said to follow a family or individual if they attempt to abandon it, often increasing their acts of ill intent out of anger. Popular deterrents to prevent Goblins from entering the home are to hang a horseshoe over ones door or to keep a bowl of salt next to the door. One must be careful to never allow their shoes to lie upside down, as this invites Goblins to your home. Many folklores state the only way to rid oneself of a Goblin is to either outwit them by extreme trickery or by ultimately killing it. Be very careful when traveling near abandoned buildings, bridges or caves. Pay attention when your dog seems to bark randomly. Goblins may be near.

Angelique Duncan is proprietor of Twilight Faerie Nostalgic and Capricious Objects. Check out her artist page to find links to her shops and vintage inspired traditional holiday art. Visit again next month for more traditions and folklore.

The Brownies

The Brownies-By Angelique Duncan

With the coming of Spring comes Spring cleaning. If one is fortunate they will have some help with this annual task from a Brownie. The Brownies are a kin to the gnomes and tomte of Scandinavia and often mistaken as such, however they are a different species of mythological creature.

Brownies originate from the British Isles and regions of Scotland. They are small in stature anywhere from a foot to 3 feet tall. Most stories tell of them being male with varied appearances depending on their region and clan of origin. Some tell they are portly with beards, others say they are slim with pointed ears and small facial features. Other reports are that they have unusually round eyes and noses. They are often seen wearing simple brown or earth tone clothing usually well worn and sometimes tattered from years of work. They prefer to wear some sort of hat. Hence, the name “Brownie” comes from their brown attire and appearance.

There are different types of Brownies who have taken on different responsibilities in the world. Some are tasked with protecting lakes and waterfronts and are known as Kelpies or Shellycoats. The name Shellycoat was given for the seashells they wear as armor. Some Brownies, known as the “Brown Men” are protectors of small woodland animals and wild flowers. They are considered wild brownies and have very rarely been seen by man, as they avoid humans at all cost.

Some varieties of Brownies have taken to living in harmony with humans, if they feel that human is worthy of their service. Some will take residence in a barn and help with the chores and labor outdoors of tending to gardens and livestock and take pride in overseeing the crops. They are content to make a bed of hay and live among the barn animals, to keep a watchful eye over them.

Others are more domestic and will take on household tasks indoors. They help with the general cleaning and washing tasks, mending clothes and watching over family pets. The domestic house Brownies prefer to work at night as to not be seen or have interruptions while they work.

Brownies are noble creatures with a strong work ethic. Generally Brownies are good natured and happy in spirit. In some regions they are known as the “Good Folk” for their high moral standards and values. A brownie will only take up residence in a home with a family they feel is high in virtue. Often they will create a special bond with one family member and pay particular attention to assisting and protecting that person. In some homes the bond is with a pet that they have a special relationship with. Sometimes the Brownie will let their existence be known to only one family member or pet of the home, other times the entire house is aware of their presence.

In return for helping in the home Brownies welcome their own designated place by the hearth for them to enjoy snacks and naps by the fire. Often a Brownie will be content with offerings of sweet bread, porridge or thimbles of honey. They have a particular fondness for cream and will remain loyal for years if it is offered on a regular basis. They are content to make a space in a corner or nook of the house. Brownies will live in attics; between floorboards or under stairs until they are certain they are staying and accept a room of their own. Once a Brownie has been with a family for many years and feels they have a permanent home they will accept their own “room” in the house. They will make a space for themselves in a broom closet, pantry or storage room, making a permanent bed and gather knick-knacks and sparkly things for decoration of their space.

Although the Brownies live a life of solitude away from others of their kind, folklores have been told that twice a year the Brownies will gather with their kin, at the Spring Equinox and again after the fall harvest. It is said the Brownies will gather in a wooded place to have meetings and festive social celebrations. Brownies are highly protective of their females. They will bring back their wives and children to their home once they have established it is safe. The household may never be aware of the female Brownie presence.

Brownies expect respect and acknowledgement of their service to a home, but do not want fussy compliments or praise. They seem to operate under a mutual respect relationship. They are finicky about taking gifts and will become highly offended if offered clothing. It is believed that it is a matter of pride for the Brownies, in that the offering of clothing is an insult to their appearance. Another theory is that to offer clothing is to insinuate that the Brownie is now more human than Brownie and an offense to their heritage of simplicity. Some have thought that once the Brownie has new clothes that they leave because they got what they came for, however this seems unlikely given their high moral fortitude.

Brownies do not approve of lying and stealing. They will not tolerate manipulation or acts of deceit. Brownies are highly offended by gossip and most offended by cheating. If they become aware of such acts they often retaliate with acts of mischief and will try to sabotage the act to prevent it. If the family they have taken up with commits these acts and do not head their mischievous warnings the Brownie will leave in disappointment. Brownies have an expectation that humans operate by the Brownie code of ethics and trust. Once breached, it is very difficult if not impossible to gain back a Brownies trust.

Brownies do not trust established churches. A Brownie will discontinue service to a home if the family they live with tries to have them Baptized or attempt to convert them to the church religion of the house. Brownies will not take up residence in overly religious homes. Brownies distrust anyone who does not enjoy drinking the occasional ale, meade or beer, breaking bread with friends and dancing. They feel that those who are overly religious or pious are usually disingenuous in their righteousness and not to be trusted. It is thought that the distain that Brownies have for the church ties back to their heritage and the history of their ancestors and humans who defended them being persecuted and drove underground during the establishment of Christianity in Europe. Most Brownies are said to view organized religion as hypocrisy, as the Brownies believe that strong morals and values are innate to individuals and come from within.

Brownies are known to be fickle and can be offended without one ever knowing what they have done to offend them. Once offended a Brownie will leave without warning, never to return. Stories have been told that once a Brownie has left a home, ruin will come to that home. Misfortunes will afflict the livestock, crops will become diseased, and the house will begin to fall apart. It is said that fixtures and tools within the home begin to break; important documents will go missing, and troubles of debt or of legal nature will bestow the home. Some say it is a hex that is put on the home by the Brownie for the family’s breach of trust. Others say it is the Karma created by whatever ill action the family took that drove out the Brownie. Some seem to believe that the decay of the home occurs because the family no longer has a Brownie to keep order and protection and is a natural result of loosing the Brownies immaculate services and organizational skills.

So this Spring when you start your annual cleaning if you notice that things are bit tidier than you remember and tasks are finished that you thought were undone; it may be the work of a Brownie. Feel honored if you have been chosen. Not everyone has the good fortune of a Brownie in his or her house. Be mindful though; leave out some cream or cakes for as quickly as a Brownie arrives they may leave.

Artwork “The Brownie” appears courtesy of Twilight Faerie

Angelique Duncan is proprietor of Twilight Faerie Nostalgic and Capricious Objects. Check out her artist page to find links to her shops and vintage inspired traditional holiday art. Visit again next month for more traditions and folklore.

Trick or Treat!

Trick or Treat!
-By Angelique Duncan

Trick or Treat! The practice of dressing in costumes and going door to door for treats is as old as the holiday of Halloween it’s self. It survives as a traditional custom in modern times from its origins in ancient Gaelic history and the holiday Samhain.

There are varied yet similar thoughts on why trick or treating has been practiced, however despite region and era, there has always been a common thread; costumed people asking for some sort of treat on October 31st.

The ancient Celts believed that on October 31st a veil was lifted at twilight allowing magical forms of beings to re-enter the mortal world for one night. Some believed that this opening was also extended to the spirit world of the dead as well. In the Middle ages it was thought that ghost were allowed to pass from the “otherworld” through openings in sacred grounds that acted as gateways.

Common practice in the 1400’s was to leave plates of sweets and food for faeries and elemental creatures in ones garden or porch. This was done in hopes that passing faerie troupes would take the offerings in exchange for not making mischief or tear up ones crops. This may be the first inclination of sweets used as a bartering tool to avoid tricks.

Spirits who had returned on Halloween night were also left offerings of food. Some documentation from the 15-1600’s suggest that folks would leave food for weary souls as they traveled looking for their loved ones. Samhain was considered New Years and it was customary during this era to hold huge elaborate feast. At these feast plates would be set out and a chair at the table reserved for those who had passed away.

Just as departed loved ones could pass through gateways on Halloween night, it was believed that the wretched could return as well. To pacify these ill intended spirits folks would leave sweets on their porches to appease bad ghost to not haunt them and move on from ones home to the next.

The earliest documentation of Halloween costumes comes from the 1600’s. Men would dress in scary spirit costumes to scare away evil ghost and enchanted creatures. In return for the service of shooing away the bad spirits to make way for the visiting family ghost, people would offer ale and breads to these men. As the practice grew in popularity some would sing or perform for beer and treats. This became known as “guising”. Folks would become opportunistic in the practice and dress as monsters and scary ghost, threatening people’s homes with mischief if treats were not given.

In some regions it was customary for men to go “guising” door to door to farms to gather food donations for Samhain feasts. If the farmer obliged then his home would be bestowed with good fortune through the coming year. If He did not, then he would be met with a curse of misfortune.

With the rise of Christianity the churches advocated the celebration of All Souls Day in lieu of Samhain. All Souls Day falls on November 1, or 2nd depending on region. All Souls Day began as a day set-aside for monks to pray for the souls that were trapped in purgatory. The holiday expanded as a day to pray for all souls of the dead. Folks would go to cemeteries and decorate the graves of their loved ones. Not completely willing to let go of superstitions, the practice of leaving “soul cakes” out for the dead became a common practice. Children would go “Souling” through out village’s carrying candles or lanterns singing and offering prayers for the dead in exchange for soul cakes. It was believed that when a soul cake was eaten after a prayer a damned soul was released from hell.

As immigrants from Scotland and Ireland migrated across Europe and to North America during the 1700-1800’s, the Gaelic Samhain traditions followed. In some regions boys would dress as ghost and demons going house-to-house demanding food and drink otherwise they would wreak destructive havoc and mischievous mayhem. Livestock would be let free from their stockades, crops destroyed and broken windows were common on Halloween night. Although it would be much later in history before the term “Trick or Treat” would be used, the practice of giving treats to ward of “tricksters” was in full swing and in true form of its more modern practice.

The practice of knocking on doors on Halloween night carried on into the 1900’s. Halloween was very popular in the 1920’s as it lent itself for fancy dress up parties and lavish festive feast that were popular during the era. In England and North America the poor would dress in costumes and go into wealthier neighborhoods begging for money and food. Halloween became known as “Beggars’ Night. Soon it became commonplace and children of all ranks would go door to door festively in costumes to receive treats in exchange for not playing pranks. During the mid 1930’s the Term “Trick or Treat” was born and Halloween had become a children’s holiday.

However during the 1940’s with sugar rationing and a generally somber mood created by World War II the festive revelry of costuming and asking for candy became frowned upon and Halloween made a return to Beggars Night. During this conservative era it was believed that Trick or Treating was the practice of poor immigrants and not behavior for dignified, proud American and British children.

After the war ended and the American economy became strong along with upward mobility of immigrants socially, the practice of Halloween parties and Trick or Treating returned in full force. The tradition of knocking on doors in costumes and yelling “TRICK OR TREAT” for candy was the norm. The tricks were not violent and usually took the form of knocking over trash bins, applying dark polish to windows, throwing bath tissue in trees, throwing eggs or other devious deeds of vandalism like smashing pumpkins.

In the late 1980’s efforts were made to take the “trick” out of Trick or Treats. Children older than 12 years of age were discouraged from dressing up and going out on Halloween. Adult chaperons were encouraged and churches and retail establishments would host organized Trick or Treat events. Group Halloween parties for children held indoors in lieu of taking to the streets were commonplace. By the mid 1990’s virtually all the trick was removed from Trick or Treating and Halloween night had become all about the treats. Trick or treating through out neighborhoods made a come back in the early 2,000’s and is holding strong as an annual children’s holiday and night of nostalgia for adults and is widely celebrated in the United States and gaining popularity through out the world.

The acts of wearing costumes demanding treats under threat of tricks still exist as an integral tradition to Halloween. As October 31st approaches remember to leave your porch light on and to have plenty of sweets at the ready. For that knock at the door may be a whimsical child out for Tricks or Treats or it may be a wandering ghost or faerie spirit set free to roam on Halloween night.

Images “Set free on Halloween” and “Trick or Treat” Copyright Michelle Angelique Duncan

Angelique Duncan is proprietor of Twilight Faerie Nostalgic and Capricious Objects. Check out her artist page to find links to her shops and vintage inspired traditional holiday art. Visit again next month for more traditions and folklore.

The Will o The Wisp

The Will o’ The Wisp
-By Angelique Duncan

Will o’ the wisp quite literally meaning the will of the wisp. A thing that is completely hopeless yet perused despite the difficulty and even impossibility of ever finding or catching it. Wisp being a torch made from burning straw.

On nearly every continent a phenomenon exists that has never completely been explained: glowing lights that appear and hover over the ground. Most commonly they have been sighted in marshy places such as swamps, ponds and rivers although there are some regions where they have been seen in the thick of forest, in prairies and desert mountain ranges. Sometimes they are seen in cemeteries. Usually no bigger than a fist, although there have been reports of small lights the size of candle flames and others the size of a melon. The colors vary as well. Typically they are described as white with bluish or greenish tint, although yellows, oranges, violet and red lights have been seen. Despite the variations in the lights that have been described there are two universal consistencies to the phenomenon. First, these lights cannot be captured and when observed they seem to interact with the viewer by following or “leading them”. The second is that they are not completely explained by science.

Early theories explaining the lights are that they are formed from methane gas escaping from the earth and spontaneously combusting as it is released. A more sophisticated theory is that the lights form from a combination of phosphine, diphosphane and methane produced from decomposed organic matter and create phosphoric acid when in contact with water vapor and ignite by photons released when in contact with oxygen. These theories could account for glowing spheres seen in marshes and swampy areas.

Other theories are that the lights are an electrical phenomenon of random ball lightening formed from naturally occurring electricity in the air. One belief is that as fault lines move piezoelectric materials such as arsenic or quartz are heated and escape through water vapor causing an electrical reaction, a possible explanation for the lights seen over desserts and prairies if those elements are present.

The lights have been attributed to being the result of bioluminescence in which luciferin is released and reacts with oxygen to emit a greenish or bluish light. Bioluminescence occurs in fireflies and glowworms and a handful of other creatures and insects. Some fungus and algae’s produce this glowing affect attributing the occurrence of glowing spheres to spores being released in clusters causing the glow affect.

Perhaps to a certain degree one could say that any one of these scientific theories would be a sound explanation for the sightings of hovering glowing orbs over landscapes. Except that in some regions and continents where the will o’ wisp have been seen the aforementioned conditions aren’t present to create them. Another inconsistency is that the descriptions of the lights that have been reported are not exclusively consistent with the light effect that would be produced by the environments and reactions stated by the theories. Witnesses have claimed to see light emitting orbs that are bright enough to illuminate their surroundings and others claim to see faint translucent flickers with their light contained.

Other explanations exist explaining the will o’ the wisp. Their reason for being may be found in folklore and legend. It is widely believed across European counties that the wisps are faeries or magical elemental beings. Depending on the region the mysterious lights are interpreted through folklore as mischievous faeries that use their “fairy fire” to trick travelers into following them, only to leave them stranded in a bog or marsh far from the path the traveler was on. It is said the lights resemble torches or lanterns from a distance causing a lost traveler to be drawn to them in hopes of finding their direction back to their village. One of the most widely held beliefs is that they are faeries who either are mischievously attempting to trick travelers into following them, either to lead them to the faerie realm or merely to guide them from their path and cause confusion.

Others say the lights are not faeries, but wicked goblins of the Pooka or Puca variety whose intent is malicious and wish to kidnap or cause harm to humans by tricking a wandering traveler into following them to swampy places from where the person is never seen or heard from again.

Different versions of this mythology exist in Mexico, South America and Asia. The stories are nearly identical to the European tales yet the explanation as to what the lights actually are differs. In Mexico and South America, the lights are associated as witches casting spells, luring humans to follow them for sinister intent involving witchcraft.

In Asia the lights are believed to be the wandering spirits of the dead. Ghosts who have not passed into heaven, destined to stay on earth. The deviation of the story, being that the lights will appear over open waters to lead fishermen astray from shore. Some believing them to be the ghosts of dead fishermen or people who have drowned and whom wish to bring more souls underwater to live with them.

These stories of “ghost lights” corresponds with Norse and Scandinavian mythologies that the wisp are believed to be guardians of ancient graves, protecting them from desecration by leading people away from the burial spot. In many cultures spheres have been sighted in graveyards and cemeteries.
Some say they are the spirits of the dead looking for companionship by leading souls to their graves where the lights trick them into the misfortune of staying. A similar folklore states that the lights are a warning of a pending death and that a funeral will be held soon. Some traditions tell that the lights will appear close to buried treasure and if one is brave enough to follow the light and survive they will be rewarded with the riches. No one to date has returned from following the floating lights bearing treasure.

In Europe another common theory is that the floating lights are the souls of unbaptized children forced to stay on earth until they receive baptism. The legend goes that a man of faith came across three unbaptized travelers who asked to be baptized and when the man went to baptize them the souls of all the un-saved children of the earth appeared with hopes to pass into heaven. The man spent the entire night baptizing souls until the sun rose. Those who he did not baptize that night are said to be the lights of unbaptized children who wander the earth.
A variation to the myth is that the lights are the souls of scoundrels not allowed into heaven and rejected by hell. Many cultures associate the will of the wisp with the origins of Jack o’ lanterns, that the lights are souls who are trapped in a cold dark hell on earth and have been given only a lump of coal to light their way and keep warm.

Not all mythologies surrounding the wisps are foreboding. Some stories tell that the lights are benevolent in nature. Pixie lights are pixies who live in the deep of woods who if treated kindly and with respect will help lead a lost traveler who has gone astray back to the path home. Hence the meaning the will of the wisp in that only the barrier of the wisp torch will decide one’s fate.

Sightings of explained lights that hover over water and land have been documented through out history and sightings continue to modern day. As to what or who they are there is no solid single explanation. Perhaps they are the elegant result of chemicals and electrical phenomenon. Maybe they are something ancient and enchanting. There isn’t a definitive answer, thus the will o’ the wisp remains a mystery, and that in and of itself is something magical.

Image “Will Of the Wisp” Copyright Michelle Angelique Duncan

Angelique Duncan is proprietor of Twilight Faerie Nostalgic and Capricious Objects. Check out her artist page to find links to her shops and vintage inspired traditional holiday art. Visit again next month for more traditions and folklore.

The Secret History of Gnomes.

The Secret History of Gnomes.
-By Angelique Duncan

When one sees a statue of a garden gnome one would never realize the grand and noble history that they hold. Their beginnings are much loftier than the life they hold now, residing in the suburbs among the daises and St. Augustine.

The name Gnome quite literally means “Earth Dweller” and is synonymous with Pygmaei or as we know the term today, Pygmies. Once believed to stand 3-4 feet tall, masculine, strong in physique with long beards. Their possible history reaches back to the ancient Roman Greco era to a tribe in Greek mythology who were secondary deities who co existed with humans. The Gnomes were considered highly skilled in nature magic. Gnomes were seen as benevolent beings that were intelligent and wise, hard working in manual labor, peaceful in nature yet fierce defenders when necessary. They were the guardians of farmland; gardens and small livestock and forest animals. When lands were under attack they rode upon goat back brandishing spears to drive out the invaders.

In Roman mythology they were considered akin to the Roman fertility god Priapus protector of livestock fruit and gardens and considered very virile. It is believed that Gnomes are depicted consistently as male figures in history and rarely referenced as female in that the Gnomes were defenders of the meek and all things worthy of protection. It is believed they were very protective of their women and would defend them to all cost against predators and intruders, and later in history from humans.

In Celtic and Germanic lore, the Gnomes were a tribe attributed with Earth element magic and were defenders of mines and under ground tunnels. It was believed that gnomes could move through the Earth and breath underground with the same ease their human counterparts do above ground in the air. Some associate Gnomes as descendants of the Dwarves of Germanic and Norse legends for the ability to move underground and the belief that Gnomes were skilled miners. It was thought that they helped to build under ground tunnels to hide treasures and riches of the fae folk after the great invasions of ancient Ireland, and from humans in modern times.

The history and genealogy of the Gnomes is also believed to be traced to the Tomte or Nisse of Scandinavian folklore. The Tomote are sometimes believed to be an incarnation of a deceased ancestor of the home who comes back to defended the children and animals of the estate and would help with chores, particularly gardening and farm work. The Scandinavian folklore of the Tomote gave rise to the legend of and has associations with the winter elves who appear at Yule.

The size of the Gnomes is widely accepted as a physical attribute, although some historians and mythologist suggest that their representation of small size was more figurative than literal in that in their possible origins they came form lesser spirits or gods. The modern depiction of Gnomes in literature is significantly smaller than what is written in ancient mythology. The modern accepted stature of a Gnome is 2-3 feet tall and in many instances as short as 1 foot tall.

One theory between folklorist and mythologist is that Gnomes adapted to the world around them. That the Gnomes became smaller to better navigate an ever-increasing population of humans and development. Shape shifting to a smaller size helps to keep them hidden. Others believe that the gradual change of Gnomes appearance was the result of the Christian church marginalizing pagan deities through depictions of art and restructuring of legends to aid in making Christianity more palatable to Pagans. Many descriptions of Pagan deities through the Christian church had their attributes downplayed and magical properties lessened. Benevolent entities and magical creatures of Pagan nature religions were often diminished from noble in spirit to mischievous sometimes comical and in most instances considered dangerous as the Church weaned the populace from their previous beliefs to Christianity. By making these entities appear small made them seem less powerful than the Church and what it’s religious deities had to offer. Stories of Gnomes were homogenized more closely with legend of Dwarves and described as irritable, impatient, war like and ugly in appearance. The Gnomes as stoic guardians eventually faded into the stuff of myths.

The use of small statues of Gartenzwege or garden dwarf has remained tremendously popular through out Europe since the 1600’s. Folks would display a small porcelain statue of a Gnome in there home as a protector. Tying to the legends of the Tomte. It was common practice to keep either a wooden, terracotta or ceramic Gnome in ones garden to act as a guardian to discourage nighttime intruders invading ones crops. A popular folk tale in the 1970’s was that Gnome statues secretly came to life after dark working their gardens, shooing away pests. When the sun rose they returned to their post, turning back to stone.

The industry for lawn statues grew in time with demand for garden gnomes becoming hugely popular in pre Word War II Germany. Most were produced from hand sculpted molds, however declined post war to only a few original family manufacturers. They are now mass- produced all over the world using cheaper materials. The depiction has changed as well. Once the imagery was more sober and wise in appearance however after release of Disney’s ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”, Gnome statues took on the more rounded chubby appearance and became seen as more comical nature. Gnomes have had many depictions in literature and often interchangeable to different small statured magical species, affecting their representation in art and statuary.

Till this day Gnomes enjoy popularity in culture. Garden Gnomes have become a central figure in games and pranks known as “gnoming”. One incarnation of “gnoming” is to steal a Gnome from it’s garden and place it randomly in another so that the Gnome travels the neighborhood, often appearing in unconventional places like on rooftops or inside mailboxes. Another popular fad is to send a gnome with a note attached to travel around the world to see how far it will go and if it will return back to it’s previous location. Some Gnomes become victims of theft that results in a ransom note listing bizarre demands.

Perhaps the existence of Gnome like creatures has existed in so many cultures and mythologies due to their ability to travel great distances undetected under ground. Maybe those cheery faced, pointy hat statues decorating the lawns of the sub-burbs still enjoy late night adventures. Is it possible the reason the petunias were spared from the grasshoppers as the result of the fierce protection of ones garden Gnome? Maybe. The only one who knows is the Gnome, and he is stone faced and isn’t speaking.

Angelique Duncan is proprietor of Twilight Faerie Nostalgic and Capricious Objects. Check out her artist page to find links to her shops and vintage inspired traditional holiday art. Visit again next month for more traditions and folklore.