Not Mine: A Scottish Changeling Story

In preparation for a field trip, I was browsing through the Statistical Accounts of Scotland to learn about some of the towns I would be passing through. On the whole, statistical accounts do not make the most exciting reading material. They’re mostly overviews of the state of each place in terms of things like population, education, local industries, public health, and climate. I soon gave up hope of finding any juicy folklore. But then I came across a small former fisher town on the Moray Coast. The old account was very short, but it included a story about a nearby stone marking the spot where a chief had been slain during an argument over a round of cheese. By far the most drama I had yet come across, so I was instantly invested and then had to look at the later account to see if the mysterious cheese fight was mentioned further. It was, and with a whole lot more besides…

Welcome to 18th century Ardersier, where the beaches are either flat and sandy or overgrown with ridges of heather. If you can clearly see the Ross-shire hills in the morning, rain will come later in the day. If they are hazy, it will remain dry. In winter, you can hear the cries of visiting seabirds, and there is a small loch where white water lilies grown in such abundance that you can barely see the surface of the water.

The stories of the elderly are heard, and savoured. Old words are always true, when the young are too young to know different. Maybe this is why the belief in faeries remains strong beyond credence. They are said to revel in the moonlight around a nearby knoll, and everyone knows that a sickly child is a changeling. Frayed, desperate parents, trying anything to get back their loves and their lives…

 

TRIGGER WARNING: Post-natal depression and child death

 

changeling illustration
Changeling image from Copenhagen National Museum. Image in the public domain – source

Not Mine

My love would not have loved this. It was the fae’s child, not hers. Her gentle smile would not have graced her lips if she had looked upon it, I am sure. Those lips which tasted of all the blood in the room when I last touched them. After her screams ceased, and the screams of this creature began. Screaming, screaming. The midwife took it away, and I held her, who had left me for this.

It screamed. Every day, and every night. I tried everything a father could. I bathed it, and kept it warm. I soaked rags in milk for it to suck on, and nestled it in my arms as I stumbled through delirious lullabies. Nothing soothed it. It refused sleep, and denied me the same. She wouldn’t have wanted to hold it, either. Nasty, writhing thing. Not a child, but a demon.

It was the midwife who said it first.

Changeling.

The word slithered through the village, house to house. Changeling, changeling, changeling.

“Oh, aye,” said my neighbours. They heard its screams as well as I did, in the night, keeping their own children awake.

I took it to the healer. She rubbed it with salves, and burned St John’s Wort. It screamed more. Back home, it was sick. Then it ate everything, so I stopped feeding it. All the milk in the village turned sour overnight. I laid mistletoe and iron shears in the cradle. It shrank away from them, glaring at me between unearthly shrieks, with brown eyes that were like her’s but also not. They held no warmth, and reflected none of the hearth’s soft light. Slitted, weepy things, all dark and empty.

Weeks passed. A cow died. A crop spoiled. It rained. Changeling, changeling.

When my neighbour’s daughter fell ill, a knock came at my door.

“Take it. You know where. Take it now, before anything happens to my Elspeth.” Other faces peered out of doorways, nodding and murmuring in agreement. “The knoll, only way…” I shut my door.

It was a bright autumn twilight. No clouds, just an endless, sharp sky, pale blue fringed with red and orange. A twilight before a frost, when a waning moon would rise, and ice and silver would leach all life from the countryside. A night to carry away what was no longer desired.

I swaddled it in a blanket and left the house. The faces watched me go. Some cast their eyes down as I passed, others bore into me to make sure that I went. I felt them on my back long after I was beyond their sight.

To the knoll. Where the fae gathered and revelled in the moonlight. Where the chime of bells could be heard, and our cattle refused to graze. Small and unassuming, but a portal to Elfhame if ever there was one. Everyone knew it, and pretended they didn’t.

As I crouched and laid it on the grass, I could almost feel their unseen eyes watching me. They were in the stirring breeze, tugging at the blanket as I settled it around the creature. I paused for a moment, gazing at it, wondering. Thoughts drifting, as they do when you have not slept for so long, and you cannot tell right from wrong. Holding her. Holding her body. Tears. My tears, falling on its skin. Faces, on thresholds. Only way. The fae were watching. They must want it back. It was their fault, not mine.

I left it there. I left it screaming. I walked home. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, I would hold my child. Her child. A real child. I slept.

In the morning, I buried a frosted corpse.

 

University of Aberdeen Creative Writing Society anthology 2019

‘Not Mine’ is based on events recorded in Ardersier’s 1845 Statistical Account. There was a father with a sick child, which he and his neighbours believed to be a changeling. To rectify this, he took them to Tom Eanraic (Henry’s Knoll), a local hill said to be where faeries gathered, and left them there overnight. It was believed that when he returned in the morning, he would find the faeries would have reclaimed the changeling and returned his real child. However, in actuality he returned to find the child had perished. The other characters and details given here are my own creation, speculating about how this tragic situation may have unfolded. ‘Not Mine’ was also published in Ex Libris, the University of Aberdeen’s Creative Writing Society Anthology 2019.

 

Scottish Witchcraft: Grissell Jaffray

Grissell Jaffrey memorial mosaic
Grissell Jaffray memorial mosaic, Dundee. Image my own.

 

Three centuries, yet still binding

She isn’t here anymore

At the plaque

Or on the patterned floor

Binding which need not have been done before.

 

A spirit restrained

Sent to the flames

The spirit of a woman, a mother, a crone

In this city she made her home

Names and confessions, freely given

Knowing there was nothing left worth living.

 

Bind the demon

Which was never present

And remains not

Nevertheless, ink stains

Mark the spot

A cross for a witch is no crime at all

When alleys are dark, and minds are small

When you ask for God to rest a soul

Which is already resting

In its own way

After all.

 

Grissell Jaffrey memorial mosaic
Grissell Jaffray memorial mosaic, Dundee. Image my own.

Grissell Jaffray was the last woman executed for witchcraft in Dundee in 1669. Originally from Aberdeen, she moved to Dundee and married a burgess. They were respectable, prosperous people, and had a son who was a successful seafarer. Few details of Grissell’s trial were kept, so it is unclear why she was accused of witchcraft and what her supposed crimes were. According to legend, on the day of her execution, her son’s ship arrived in the harbour at Dundee. He saw the smoke from the fire, and sailed back out of the city never to return.

The mosaics of torches and a plaque with her name, year of death, and the word ‘spaewife’ (Scots word for a female seer, and perhaps a softer way of saying ‘witch’) can be found on Peter Street in Dundee’s town centre. When I saw the plaque, it had been defaced with graffiti which inspired me to write the above poem. There is also a stone in The Howff, a cemetery in Dundee, which allegedly marks the spot where Grissell is buried. People often visit it to leave her small offerings for good luck.

 

Japanese Folklore: Sacred Trees and the Takasago Pines

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the University of Essex’s Myth Reading Group to run a session on Japanese folklore. The group is part of the university’s Centre for Myth Studies, which aims to support and promote the study of myth.

For the past two terms, the Myth Reading Group has been focusing on trees in mythology. My session was about sacred trees in Japanese culture and the story of the Takasago pines, which I previously explored in the article I wrote for the Centre for Myth Studies blog earlier this year.

Old man and woman sweeping pine needles
19th century fukusa (type of Japanese cloth) depicting the Takasago pine tree story. Image in the public domain – source

The Takasago story is a popular noh drama (type of classical Japanese theatre) about two pine trees which were planted by the kami (Shinto deities) from the same seed. One stands in Takasago, and the other in Sumiyoshi. A Shinto priest visiting Takasago meets an elderly couple beneath the Takasago pine and asks them about the tree. They tell him about it being related to the one in Sumiyoshi, and that the man travels between the two places to care for the trees and be with his love. The distance between them is insignificant, because their hearts are the same. They also tell him that pine trees are special, because they are unchanging. Where other trees turn brown and shed their foliage in the autumn, pine trees remain evergreen. The priest then asks the couple for their names, and they reveal that they are really the spirits of the Takasago and Sumiyoshi pine trees temporarily in human form.

The priest meets the couple again in Sumiyoshi, and they have a feast to celebrate the relationship between humans and kami.

Aerial view of Takasago town
View of Takasago from Mount Takamikura

In Japanese culture, pine trees are revered as symbols of longevity and believed to ward off bad luck and evil spirits. You can often find them in the grounds of Shinto shrines, where visitors will tie omikuji (paper fortunes) to their branches. If the fortune is bad, the pine tree will help to negate its effects. Some larger shrines also mark their perimeters with pine trees to keep out negative energy.

Two ancient pine trees stand in the grounds of Takasago Shrine. They are nicknamed ‘Jo’ and ‘Uba’ (loosely translates as ‘old man’ and ‘old woman’), and many couples visit them to ask for blessings for a long and healthy relationship.

Image from the Centre for Myth Studies Twitter

Some of the trees around Shinto shrines are especially prestigious. These trees are called ‘goshinboku,’ which means ‘god trees’ in English, and they are trees where kami are believed to live. You can tell a goshinboku because it will be marked by a shimenawa (rope made from woven rice straw) and shide (lightning bolt-shaped strips of paper).

As well as living in goshinboku, kami also use these trees to travel between the heavens and the earth. Some, like the pine trees in the Takasago noh play, are also reported to have been planted by kami.

Before shrines were built, places of worship were merely natural sites were it was believed kami were present. These were often groves of trees or mountains, called yorishiro. Also, the kanji for shrine 社 (jinja) and forest 杜 (mori) are very similar. It’s possible that they could have been used interchangeably or meant to mean one and the same thing.

Tree with rice straw rope and paper lightning bolts tied around it
Goshinboku in Nara

In her story ‘The Wind in the Pine Tree,’ Grace James writes in slow, dreamy prose about a pine tree planted by a kami on the beach in Takasago. It becomes home to a host of nature spirits, and also dark, mysterious creatures from Yomi which is the underworld in Japanese mythology. As the wind blows through the tree’s branches, it disperses the voices of the spirits and positive energy which draws lovers to it. The end of the story repeats this imagery, implying that it is a never-ending cycle of the tree sending out this mystical wind and drawing more positivity to it. The story is only one small part of its steadfast, evergreen life.

Having worked in Takasago, I can definitely vouch for the importance of pine trees in this city. I often found myself picking fallen needles out of my shoes, and many of the local mascots were based on pine cones. During school events, some poor teacher or student would draw the short straw of wearing the pinecone mascot costume and parading around the track in 80% humidity (thankfully never me!) It’s wonderful to see how the story of the pine trees shapes the identity of Takasago, and has made it a place of cultural and folkloric significance.

Pinecone mascot
Takasago Senior High School’s mascot

It was a joy to share this topic at the Myth Reading Group. Thank you to Pietra Palazzolo, executive of the Centre for Myth Studies, for inviting me to do the session. Also thank you to the Myth Reading Group members who attended, and for your enthusiasm during the discussion. It was lovely to meet you all, and I hope to attend more of your meetings in the future!

Sources

Divination and the Veil Between Worlds

Halloween, or Samhain as it is traditionally known, is an auspicious time of year when the veils between worlds are thin. This means that all manner of supernatural creatures can pass through them to visit Earth – both friendly and unfriendly! Be sure to leave offerings for the spirits of visiting ancestors, and carve a Jack o’ Lantern to scare away the less civilised guests.

Jack o' lantern
Carve a pumpkin to scare away malevolent spirits. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The weakness of the veils also means that Halloween is an excellent time for divination. Messages from other planes are more accessible, and the dark, reflective atmosphere of autumn makes it the perfect season for asking those deep questions.

Whether you are just after some seasonal fun or seriously looking for answers, divination is an intriguing pastime.

Most of us hover in that liminal space between both wanting and not wanting to know what our futures hold – especially when it comes to love. A hint of a future romance, however small, is enough to give us hope and set us daydreaming. As the Wheel of the Year is turning towards winter, things are ending. Joy can be found in seeking new beginnings.

On a night when anything is possible, when the dead return, supernatural creatures roam free, you can disguise yourself with a costume, and we do extraordinary things like carve vegetables and light them with candles… why can’t the shape of an apple peel or a reflection in a mirror not also be a premonition of love?

Take a ball of yarn and toss it so it unravels. Begin to wind it up, and an apparition of your future lover will appear to gather the end. Or drop it out of an open window and ask the night who is holding the other end. The wind will whisper their name to you.

At midnight on Halloween, light two candles and gaze into a mirror. Brush your hair. An image of your future lover will appear behind you in the reflection.

Halloween mirror divination
Vintage Halloween card. Image in the public domain – source

Peel an apple so the skin comes off in one piece, then using your right hand throw it over your left shoulder. The shape it lands in is the initial of your true love.

If you have more than one suitor, designate some nuts for each of them and place them in a fire. The suitor represented by the first nut to pop is the truest. If you are in a relationship, burn nuts with your partner to see your love’s future. If they burn calmly together, you will both stay true. If one is engulfed by flames, the owner of that nut has the strongest feelings. If one cracks or explodes, the owner of that nut will be unfaithful.

vintage Halloween party
Halloween party image from 1903 showing divination games. Apple bobbing was also a popular game with various rules like whoever first picked up an apple would be the first to marry. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Finally, my personal favourite, if you want to find a partner, walk blindfolded to a cabbage or kale field and pull one out of the ground. The size, shape, how much earth is on it, and how easy it is to pull up will reveal clues about your future lover. Remove the blindfold and walk home, and you may catch a glimpse of them on the way. If not, balance the cabbage on top of a door and whoever it falls on you are sure to marry!

Halloween cabbage field
If you trip over a cabbage on the way does that also foretell something? Photo by Kat Sommers.

Of course you can also use more common methods to discern the future, like tarot cards, pendulums, and crystal balls. Whatever method you choose, have a happy Halloween and may all your visions be bright!

Sources

Japanese Folklore: Sakaiminato’s Yōkai Road

Tottori may be Japan’s least populated prefecture in terms of people, but if it’s yōkai you’re counting then it will come out on top. In the city of Sakaiminato, they have taken over the streets with their somewhat disturbing charm.

In Japanese folklore, yōkai are mischievous supernatural creatures akin to spirits or demons in Western culture. The artist and writer Mizuki Shigeru brought them into the limelight with his 1960s manga series GeGeGe no Kitarō (ゲゲゲの鬼太郎). Shigeru’s work tells the story of a boy named Kitarō, who fights to make peace between the worlds of humans and yōkai, along with his… unusual allies. Most notably Medama-Oyaji, an anthropomorphic eyeball who is also the reincarnation of his father, and Neko-Musume, a young girl who can alter her facial features to resemble a sinister-looking cat.

Mizuki Shigeru Road yōkai
My new friends: Neko-Musume (left), Kitarō (right), and Gashadokuro (giant skeleton waiting patiently to drink my blood)

Mizuki Shigeru spent his childhood in Sakaiminato. To celebrate his work, the area around JR Sakaiminato station and the main road leading off of it has 153 bronze statues of yōkai. You can purchase a guidebook at the station (in Japanese only), which lists each one with some information about it. There are also spaces for collectable stamps, found outside of shops and restaurants along the road. Already being an avid collection of Japanese train station stamps, I was so on that! More so than the elementary school children I frequently found myself queuing with…

I took photos of some of the statues, which I shared on Twitter with the hashtag #dailyyōkai during the summer. For those who missed it, here’s a recap. Just click on the images to make them bigger. All images my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mizuki shigeru Road yōkai shrine

In Japanese folklore, it’s sometimes hard to define where yōkai ends and yūrei/obake (ghost) begins. Strictly speaking, the term yūrei should only be used for human spirits and obake for things which are possessed (like the chōchin-obake in my photo above). But in reality, these terms are often used interchangeably and there is much overlap of attributes between all three. This difficulty with defining them makes yōkai a subjective set of creatures, adding to their mystery and appeal. Each has their own identity, composed of their own power, purpose, and motivation. This makes yōkai very relatable – when we are stressed at work we can blame the isogashi, or when our bathroom needs cleaning we can wish for an akaname to appear. And I am sure after a terrible date we can sympathise with the Hari-Onna!

Mizuki Shirgeru Road yōkai
Street art of Kitarō with his yōkai allies

After living in Japan for a year, I thought I was impervious to the stranger sides of Japanese culture. I caught myself watching this Funassyi video and not even flinching; a giant fairy pear running through a minefield seemed perfectly normal. But after visiting Sakaiminato, I’ve discovered that there is still a lot left in this country capable of making me wonder ‘why is this even a thing?!’ Like the sagari – Ghost horse heads which spontaneously drop out of trees and scream at people? Okay. It’s Japan. Don’t question it. Embrace the insanity.

What’s your favourite yōkai? Tweet it to me @amyelize

For more about yōkai, read my tsukumogami post. These are a specific group of yōkai comprised of possessed household objects. Watch out for the boroboroton!

 

Scottish Stories: The Selkie Folk of Orkney

North of Caithness, on the islands of Orkney, the ocean is a magical place. The seals are its people. Those angels, who fell from heaven and landed amongst the waves.

Sometimes they come ashore to moult or have pups. Sometimes, on the night of the solstice or during a full moon, you will catch a glimpse of them dancing upon the sand.

Westray, Orkney, Scotland
Westray. Image my own.

Their sealskins will be laid upon the rocks, and their bare, human skin will shimmer in the half light. You will probably hear their laughter before you see them; soft and mellifluous, like the tinkling of seashell wind chimes.

Find somewhere to hide. Hush, now. Watch them dance. Hands clasped, damp, salt-matted hair flowing. The deceptive, lithe grace of their legs could make you believe they always had them.

But the selkie folk always return to the water…

Seals on Westray, Orkney, Scotland
Westray. Image my own.

Maybe you will fall in love, and be tempted to snatch one of their skins…

Aye, peedie selkie. Come with me, to my house, on the land…

You reach out and grasp the closest one, clutching it to your chest. But the selkie folk have seen you… they scatter, and within seconds have disappeared into the ocean. All except one. She searches, spinning around and around, looking under the rocks and amongst the seaweed.

Oh, where is it? My skin, my precious skin!

Then she sees you.

Come with me…

And of course she will come; what other choice does she have? In time, she will learn to be content. She will cook and clean and sew, and be a good mother. Although be warned, your bairns may have webbed fingers and toes.

But let me warn you, such marriages never have happy endings…

Westray, Orkney, Scotland
Westray. Image my own.

No matter where you hide it, one day that selkie wife will find her sealskin. Then she will run, out of the house and along the beach, her last human footsteps pressed into the sand the only trace of her left to follow. They will lead to the shore, where she will stand and gaze upon the place of her human life. She will smile; a smile which is a thank you and a goodbye and an I love you all at once.

Then, she will slip into her sealskin. Even after so many years, it’s still a perfect fit. Hands and feet turn into flippers. Eyes turn glossy black and beady. A splash, and she is gone. The selkie folk are the people of the sea, and they always return to the water.

Later, there will be two of them, reunited, frolicking in the sunset-stained waves. You will stand on the shore with the children, watching. Smiling.

Thank you. Goodbye. We love you.

 

Sources

Japanese Stories: Ise Grand Shrine and the Thankful Dog

It is said that dogs are our best friends, and if this story is to be believed then that is certainly true. In the city of Ise, on the south east coast of Japan in Mie Prefecture, you will find many shops selling little charms in the shape of dogs. You will also see people walking their dogs along the path to Ise Grand Shrine, and well-kept water bowls outside most establishments.

These things are homage to the Okage Inu (thankful dog) of local legend, who it is said made a pilgrimage to Ise Grand Shrine in his master’s stead. Whilst visiting Ise, I found a small booklet of this story and managed to translate it into English (Japanese reading skills level up!) Generic writer disclaimer – I have added some of my own details to flesh things out, since the translations are very basic and more like a list than a story. So this is my own version of it. As far as I can see, this story is not well-known outside of Japan. So I am happy to share it!

Ise Grand Shrine thankful dog
Image my own

犬のおかげ参り – The Dog’s Thanks

What to do, when you live deep in the country and your husband is gravely ill? When you want to visit the shrine to pray for his health, but you cannot leave his side? When your old bones creak when you walk, and the shrine is so far away…

A wag of a tail. A sloppy, affectionate lick on his master’s feverish cheek.

ワンワン!ワンワン!*  I will go, I will go!

Send the dog. Problem solved.

Carrying a banner proclaiming his mission, the faithful dog set out for the shrine. Not just any shrine, either. He was bound for Ise Jingu, the soul of Japan, the most sacred Shinto shrine of them all. It is there that Amaterasu, the Goddess of the Sun and the Universe, is enshrined.

It was a long journey, but that is not a problem for a Shiba Inu’s spirit. His enthusiasm and loyalty would carry him all the way.

Shiba Inu
Shiba Inu Kazumi by Maja Dumat. CC BY 2.0

He did not stray from the road – no chasing rabbits, or exploring thickets (I’m sure that those of you who have walked dogs will know what a feat this is – their attention spans are not always the most reliable…)

On the way, the Shiba Inu befriended many travellers. For who doesn’t want to stop and pet a sweet, lonesome dog? People donated money to help him, too. He was given a meal, and somewhere to stay for the night.

Finally, he reached the city of Ise. On he padded, through the streets, beneath he torii gate, over Uji Bridge, and along the gravel path all the way to Amaterasu’s house. He bowed (but of course he couldn’t clap, as it is customary to do at Shinto shrines. I am sure Amaterasu understood) and barked his prayers, and in return he received an ofuda (paper amulet) to take home.

Ise Grand Shrine thankful dog
Image my own.

With his mission complete, it was time to begin the homeward journey. Maybe this time he stopped off for some celebratory rolling in grass, or something else dogs do for fun (if it had been my dog, she would not have made it out of the city for stopping to lick everyone’s feet…)

Upon arriving back home, after being made a great fuss of, he presented the ofuda to his master and mistress. Soon his master’s health improved, and the three of them lived peacefully once more. Although, after such a long trip, I am not sure that the Shiba Inu asked for a walk ever again!

Ise Grand Shrine thankful dog
Image my own.

* Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound a dog makes, pronounced like ‘wan wan!’ In English it would be ‘woof woof!’

Read more about Ise Grand Shrine and regional Japanese folklore in my article about the ama divers and sea demons on #FolkloreThursday.

 

Update

So thrilled that this story has now been published by the lovely folks over at Do You Know the Story? and is accompanied by an beautiful illustration by my friend Kimberley Ford. Support them by following on Facebook and Twitter to discover and share amazing stories and artwork from around the world.

Ise Grand Shrine thankful dog

 

Japanese Ghost Stories: Himeji Castle and Okiku’s Well

Where there are castles, there are also stories. Himeji is no exception. This vibrant, serene city is also home to one of Japan’s most famous ghost stories.

Japan has hundreds of ghost stories, known as 怪談 which is pronounced kaidan. Living near Himeji made it was impossible not to learn a kaidan called ‘Banchō Sarayashiki.’ Its English title is ‘Okiku and the Plates,’ and there are many versions of it throughout Japan. It is often performed as kabuki, which is a traditional style of Japanese theatre.

Himeji castle is one of the most commonly cited locations for ‘Banchō Sarayashiki.’ Let me take you there, and introduce you to Okiku…

_____________________________________________________________________________
DISCLAIMER:
As I have said, there are many different variations of ‘Banchō Sarayashiki.’ The one I have written here is taken from the plaque in the grounds of Himeji castle, which I visited and studied myself. In no way do I claim that this is the ‘proper’ version, or that it is my own.
_____________________________________________________________________________

Himeji castle has many names. For over 400 years it has stood, dominating the cityscape with its calm, gleaming white walls. It is called ‘white heron’ or ‘egret’ for its beauty, and ‘miracle’ for its longevity. But for all their majesty, castles are dangerous places for love. They are filled with secrets, and peril. In the 16th century, Himeji was no exception.

Himeji castle
Himeji Castle is famous for its beautiful white walls. Image my own.

Like any good tragedy, this story begins with love. Love between a brave warrior, called Kinugasa Motonobu, and a servant, the beautiful, honest Okiku.

Okiku served a powerful, influential samurai named Aoyama Tetsuzan. He was also the regent of Lord Norimoto, the true ruler of the castle. One day whilst working, Okiku overheard Tetsuzan discussing a plot to kill Lord Norimoto and seize the castle for himself.

Maybe it would have been better if she had never learned of this plot, or if she had ignored it. But when life gives you such choices, you either let them slide and what will be will be, or you take action. And Okiku was not a woman to let anything slide. In that moment, she knew she had to do something. She confided in her lover, Motonobu, and his allies, and they promised her things would be well and that the plot would be foiled.

And indeed it was.

Lord Norimoto was warned of the attack, and he fled the city. But although he was safe, Himeji castle and our lovers were not. In Lord Norimoto’s absence, Aoyama took control. He was furious that Lord Norimoto had escaped, and sought out the traitor. Secrets, secrets in his midst. Who to trust? No-one, no-one.

The only thing awaiting the traitor was death.

Okiku ema boards at Juunisho-jinja
The ema at Juunisho-jinja in Himeji feature pictures of Okiku. Ema are small wooden plaques which people write prayers on and hang in the grounds of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. Image my own.

Fearing for their own lives, one of the warriors betrayed Okiku. They informed Tetsuzan’s accomplice, a man named Danshirō, of her role in foiling the plot.

It was her, the servant girl. Because of her, Norimoto escaped!

Danshirō was a devious, possessive man. He saw Okiku’s beauty, and planned to make her his own. Instead of informing Tetsuzan of the traitor’s identity, he confronted Okiku himself. Secrets, secrets.

Beautiful Okiku, marry me, and your life will be spared.

But Okiku had already given her heart to Motonbu. She refused Danshirō over and over again.

No, no, I will not marry you!

Not a man to give up, Danshirō tried one final time to gain Okiku’s acceptance. He stole one of 10 valuable plates which were treasured heirlooms of the Aoyama family.

It is easy to frame a servant for theft…

All of the plates were here this morning! Who has been in?

Only the servants, my Lord.

What were they doing?

Cleaning, my Lord. They always dust the plates…

Who dusted the plates today?

Okiku, my Lord.

And where is she now?

Okiku was running. From the otemon gate to the honmaru. In the West Bailey, and in all of the yagura. Through the gardens and every kuruwa, and to the moat and back. Running, searching. She crept into Tetsuzan’s rooms and counted over and over again: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9…

Always nine. The missing plate was nowhere to be found.

Okiku's ghost
Painting of Okiku by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1890. Image in the public domain – source

Seeing Okiku so desperate, Danshirō seized his chance.

Marry me, Okiku. This is the last time I will ask you. Marry me, and I will return the plate and clear your name.

But how could anyone agree to such a proposal, when they are already in love with another? Okiku’s love for Motonobu was true, and she was fearless. The reckless kind of fearless which only the strongest love can bring. She took a deep breath…

No, Danshirō. I belong to another, and I will never, ever marry you.

Danshirō’s jealousy and rage overcame him. This woman, who had foiled their plans and defied him, and still refused his affection no matter what he tried. This woman who dared to risk her own life for her love. Well, she need risk it no longer…

Danshirō drew his sword. One swipe was enough. He was fast; so fast that Okiku didn’t have time to scream or run. By the time she realised what he was going to do it had happened, and her blood was spilling out of her.

Where to hide a body? Somewhere deep, which daylight never shines upon and no human eyes ever glimpse…

Somewhere like… a well?

Yes, the well!

Okiku's well at Himeji castle
Okiku’s well in the grounds of Himeji castle. Image my own.

Danshirō gathered Okiku’s body into his arms, and with a last, wistful look at her beauty, a lament to that which he would never own, he threw her into the castle’s well.

Secrets. Leave them to rot in the sombre, damp underground.

Okiku’s absence raised no questions. After all, everyone believed she had stolen the plate and they knew that Tetsuzan took no prisoners. Only Motonobu and his companions continued to fight Tetsuzan. Eventually they were successful. He was overthrown and Lord Norimoto returned to Himeji, and Danshirō’s terrible crime was discovered.

In tribute to her love and bravery, Okiku was enshrined at Jūnisho-jinja. This modest, tranquil shrine is tucked away down a side street, quietly emitting its charm into the city.

Juunisho-shrine, Himeji
Jūnisho-jinja in Himeji. ‘Jinja’ means ‘shrine.’ Shrines are Shinto places of worship. Image my own.

As for the well…

Once the sun began to set and the shadows lengthened, people started avoiding it. There was talk of hearing strange sounds, like whispers, from within, and glimpses of the ethereal figure of a woman.

For the few who dared to venture to the well in the darkest hours of the night, if they listened carefully, they would realise that the whispering voice coming from the well was counting. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9…

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9…

Only to nine, never 10. One missing plate. One restless spirit eternally searching for it, counting every night. Never leaving her watery grave.

 

Japanese Ghost Poetry

For another take on Okiku’s story, have a listen to my poem about her.

 

Japanese Folklore: Sea Demons, Pearls Divers, and Ise Grand Shrine

Ocean folklore kindles my imagination like nothing else.Salty wind, sandy toes, and the scent of seaweed are my home. Ocean folklore kindles my imagination like nothing else.

Earlier this year, I travelled to Mie Prefecture on the east coast of Japan. It is a reserved, quaint place where the ocean’s influence is inescapable. Here is the city of Ise, home to the most sacred Shinto shrine Ise Jingu, and the Ise-Shima Peninsula, which is famous for the ama divers and abalone shells.

During my trip, I learned stories of sea demons, underwater dragon palaces, and the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. I also got off the beaten track and visited a community of ama divers and a sea folklore museum, which was a fascinating and poignant experience.

I wrote an article about my time in Mie and Japanese ocean folklore, which was published on #FolkloreThursday.

Ama divers, Mie, Japan
An ama’s catch. Image my own.

 

Naturally Dyed Eggs For Ostara

With spring arriving, it’s almost time to celebrate Ostara and the vernal equinox. This year, it falls on March 20th. The vernal equinox is when night and day are mostly equal, signalling the end of the dark winter nights.

Ostara is one of the Pagan sabbats, and takes its name from the goddess Ostara. She is a goddess of new life, associated with the spring as this is when the earth awakens after the cold of winter. Take some time to plant seeds, gather wildflowers, or go for a long walk to appreciate the new growth which surrounds us.

Ostara by Johannes Gehrts
Ostara by Johannes Gehrts. Image in the public domain – source

As symbols of life and fertility, eggs are also sacred to Ostara. Decorating eggs is a fun, traditional activity which everyone can take part in. You could paint their shells, or if you want some messy, outdoor fun then these egg seed bombs and confetti bombs look amazing.

I had a go at dyeing eggs naturally using vegetables, and made this little guide from my experience. These make a pretty addition to any picnic, and great homemade gifts!

You will need:

  • eggs – try to find ones with pale shells, as the colours will show up better on these
  • salt
  • onion skins – lots of them! Both red and white work, it just depends on the colour you want the eggs to be
  • beetroot
  • stiff gardening twine or elastic bands
  • flowers/leaves – either dried or fresh will work
  • olive oil
  • saucepans

Prepare the Dye

If you’re using both beetroot and onion skins, you’ll need a separate saucepan for each of them. I used three small beetroots and my dye turned out quite pale, so perhaps use larger ones or add more for a stronger colour. With the onion skins, I just used white ones. It’s up to you whether you want to mix white and red together, or separate them and use a third saucepan. Be sure to leave some of the larger skins out, as you’ll need them to wrap the eggs in later.

Ostara naturally dyed eggs

Fill each saucepan with enough cold water to cover the contents, add a little salt, and put them on a medium heat. Once they start boiling, let them simmer on a lower heat. The beetroot should take around 30-40 minutes to cook depending on the size and quantity, and it will take around 30 minutes for the colour to come out of the onion skins.

Cook the Eggs

Next, hard boil some eggs. To do this, put a saucepan of cold water on a medium heat and add a bit of salt. Once the water is boiling, add the eggs and let them simmer for approximately 12 minutes (or put an egg timer in with them like I did). Once the eggs are done, remove them from the water and put them in a dish to cool. DO NOT remove the shells.

Once the beetroot and onion skins are done, take them off the heat. Remove the beetroot and do with it whatever you like doing with beetroot (for me this was immediately calling for my partner to come and eat it since I can’t stand the stuff, sorry beetroot!) but leave the onion skins in the water. Leave both pans to cool. They don’t need to be completely cold, just cool enough so that they won’t cook the eggs further.

Next comes the tedious bit! Take your cooled eggs and wrap them in the leftover onion skins, securing them with the garden twine or elastic bands. Press the flowers and leaves onto the eggs underneath the skins, and they will take on the imprint of these once in the dye (mine didn’t work fantastically for 3 reasons – not enough beetroot, not enough onion skins left to completely cover the eggs, and I used sewing thread instead of twine which was too loose to hold the flowers in place. So make sure you avoid my mistakes!)

Ostara naturally dyed eggs

Once your eggs are wrapped, check the saucepans of dye. If they’re still hot, you can either wait a bit longer or top them up with cold water. However, bear in mind that adding water will dilute the colour. When you’re ready, place the eggs into the dyes. Make sure they are completely submerged.

Ostara naturally dyed eggs

The Long Wait

Initially I left my eggs for around 1 hour, and by then the onion dye had started to stick to the eggshells but it wasn’t very bright. The beetroot hadn’t done anything (I found out afterwards that if you put the beetroot dye in the fridge it’s more potent, so if yours is also pale try that!) I ended up leaving them overnight, and the following morning they were much better.

Once you’ve left your eggs for a significant amount of time and you’re happy with the results, remove and unwrap them. Pat them dry with a tea towel, and then use kitchen roll to rub a little olive oil on them. This will make them nice and glossy, so the colours look brighter.

And there you have it – beautiful, naturally dyed eggs! They will keep in the fridge for up to 1 week, giving you plenty of time to admire and show off your handiwork before you eat them.

Ostara naturally dyed eggs

There are other natural things besides onions and beetroot which you can use to make different colours of dye. This article uses cabbage, spices, and tea, and this one uses fruit and vinegar. Let your inner kitchen witch run wild and have fun experimenting! Tweet your dyed egg pictures to me @amyelize – I’d love to see them!

 

Japanese Folklore: Lucky Rice Cakes and the Moon Rabbit

Japan moon rabbit rice folklore

Most people know that rice is a prevalent food in Japan. But apart from being a source of nutrition, rice also has cultural and folkloric significance attached to it.

New Year Mochi

Much of Japan’s folklore is based on the concept of animism, due to the ancient Shinto belief that every object has a spirit. This belief extends to rice plants, with many Japanese people believing that they contain good energy. Therefore, eating products made from rice will bring good luck. This is especially true at the beginning of a new year. Mochi, a sticky, sweet cake made from pounded rice, is used as a new year decoration and eaten in early January. This type of mochi is called ‘kagami mochi.’ It is composed of two mochi cakes adorned with daidai (bitter orange) and leaves. It is believed that eating the kagami mochi will bring you strength and luck for the coming year.

Kagami mochi
Kagami mochi. Image in the public domain – source

Mochi making is also popular in January. Many places have events called ‘mochi-tsuki‘ where community members get together to make mochi. As well as the belief that eating mochi is good luck for the new year, mochi-tsuki is a time to come together and have fun!

I was able to attend a mochi-tsuki event in a nearby town, and it was a great experience. I learned how mochi is made, and got to take part in the process. Firstly, the rice is soaked, usually overnight. Then, it is steamed. Fires were lit, and steamers containing the rice were placed over them. After steaming, the rice is moved into a traditional Japanese mortar, which is called an usu. It is then squashed and pounded with a kine, a large wooden mallet. It’s very heavy and awkward to use, and also scary – whilst the pounding is going on, someone has to rearrange to mochi to keep it in shape. Get the timing wrong and they would definitely end up with broken fingers!

Pounding mochi
My friend and I using kine to pound the mochi. Image my own.

After being pounded, the mochi is placed on a tray of flour and separated into small chunks. These are shaped into balls by first pulling them into a circle, then folding the sides together and twisting so they stick. It’s a lot harder than it looks, because the flour makes the outside of the mochi quite dry. But without it, it would be too sticky.

Mochitsuki
Shaping mochi into balls (ie. getting myself completely covered in flour…) Image my own.

After that, flavourings are added to the mochi before eating it. We used kinako (roasted soy bean flour, yum!) and soy sauce. It was wonderful to see people of all ages working together to make and eat the mochi.

Rice is also associated with another celebration later in the year. In Autumn, dango (a sweet rice paste ball similar to mochi) is eaten during harvest festivals called Tsukimi or Jugoya. These festivals take place on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of the Chinese calendar, which is usually a full moon night in August or September. People gather in gardens and at temples to celebrate the year’s crops and the beauty of the moon. Symbolically, dango represents the moon and is eaten as an offering to bring good health.

月の兎 Tsukino Usagi – The Moon Rabbit

Japan moon rabbit rice folklore
The location of the rabbit on the surface of the moon. Next time the moon is full, have a look and see if you can see it! The rectangle is the block containing the pounded mochi. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Besides good fortune and symbolism, mochi has another connection to the moon. In Western countries, there are stories of the man in the moon. But in Japanese folklore, instead it’s a mochi-making rabbit.

According to legend, an old man who lived on the moon decided to visit Earth. He asked a monkey, a fox, and a rabbit for food. The monkey climbed a tree and brought him some fruit, and the fox caught him a fish. But the rabbit, unable to bring anything, instead built a fire and jumped into it to be cooked. The old man pulled him out and praised his kind sacrifice, and as a reward took the rabbit back to the moon with him.

Japan moon rabbit rice folklore
In Japan, moon rabbits are popular images for wall hangings, quilts, and other soft furnishings. Image from Japan Coolture.

Other Asian countries also have moon rabbits in their folklore. In China, the moon rabbit is the companion of the moon goddess Chang’e. Instead of pounding mochi, it pounds the elixir of life. In Korea, the moon rabbit also pounds mochi but stands underneath a gyesu tree (Korean cinnamon tree). They also have a mid-Autumn festival to celebrate the moon, which is called Chuseok.

White rabbits are a popular motif in Japan, and can often be found on things like crockery, linen, and chopsticks. Also, fans of the anime Sailor Moon will probably recognise the name ‘Tsukino Usagi.’ Yes – Sailor Moon herself is literally called ‘rabbit of the moon’ in Japanese! That’s also how she ended up being called ‘Bunny’ in the Italian translation.

Sailor Moon Crystal
Sailor Moon, aka. Usagi Tsukino. She also likes to eat mochi! Image by source, fair use

Personally, I prefer the Asian idea of a rabbit on the moon. As a child, I always found it a little bit creepy to think of the moon as a man’s face watching us every night. Tsukino Usagi is a much-loved and celebrated part of Japanese culture, which combines folklore, food, and nature. Whether eating mochi in January truly brings good fortune or not, it ensures that each new year in Japan begins with community spirit and sharing good food. What a fantastic combination, and hopefully a way for the year to start as it means to go on.

Sources

The Moon Rabbit in Legend and Culture

Jugoya – The Full Moon Festival in Japan

 

Deer Folklore: Faerie Cattle, Sacred Sika, and Our Wild Sides

I feel a close affinity with deer. They can be timid creatures, and this lends them an almost mythical reputation in some places. The elusive deer, somewhere in the woods, quiet and unseen. Maybe watching you. No harm in that. Just watching, and then slipping away. Yet underneath that timidness they hold wisdom, and strength. They know their terrain, and when danger is near, and how to protect themselves.

Deer feature in the folklore of many countries. From my travels, I have come across them in Scotland and Japan. Their stories form a link between our world and the animal kingdom, and affect how we interact with these genteel creatures.

Deer in Scotland

Many Scottish legends associate deer with faeries. For one thing, deer already possess fae-like qualities. Their bodies are lean and their movements graceful, and they prefer to be hidden from human eyes. Yet they tolerate the presence of faeries. In the Highlands, red deer are said to be the faeries’ cattle, providing them with milk. In turn, the faeries protect them by targeting hunters with enchanted arrows. To be hit with a faerie arrow is fateful indeed. You’ll likely get a nasty dose of elf-shot, which can be cured by a healer if you’re lucky. If you’re less lucky, you’ll fall down and appear dead to humanity, but your soul will be carried away to Elfhame, the world of the fae.

If a hunter succeeded in killing a deer, the faeries would torment them. There is a story from the Isle of Mull, about a deer hunter called Big Hugh. After killing a deer at Torness, he was carrying it home with his friend who asked him if the deer was heavy. Big Hugh said that it was, and so his friend stuck a penknife in the deer and then asked again. Big Hugh said it felt so much lighter, he could hardly tell that he was carrying it. The extra weight had been put upon him by the faeries, and the penknife counteracted their magic.

Glencoe deer
Deer in Glencoe, Scotland. Image from Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

Some faerie women also transform themselves into deer, and often encounter hunters whilst in this form. A well-known story from Irish and Scottish mythology tells of Oisín, a great bard of the legendary warriors, the Fianna. His father was Fionn Mac Cumhail, the leader of the Fianna, and his mother was Sadhbh, a woman under a spell which changed her into a deer. Only when in the presence of the Fianna could she regain her human shape. Whilst on a hunting trip, Fionn found Sadhbh and they fell in love. Soon she became pregnant, but their happiness wasn’t to last. The magician who had enchanted Sadhbh returned and tricked her into leaving Fionn. Once more a deer, she ran away and gave birth to her baby boy in the forest. He was found many years later by his father, and named Oisín which means ‘little deer.’

In Scottish folklore, there is a slightly different version of events. Oisín’s mother was a woman called Grainnhe. After being tricked away from Fionn, she was transformed into a white hind and kept under the magician’s power. When Fionn found Oisín, he had a patch of deer’s hair on his forehead. After Grainnhe’s death, her body was released by the magician. The Fianna buried her on the Isle of Skye.

Deer in Japan

In the city of Nara, the old capital of Japan, deer roam free. These are sika or spotted deer, which are native to East Asia and have white spots on their backs. At the end of a lantern-lit path, where Nara Park begins to disintegrate into the Kasuga Primeval Forest, stands Kasuga-Taisha. This Shinto shrine is a sacred place for deer, with a deer statue adorning its temizuya (purifying water fountain) and a variety of deer omamori (charms) for sale. There are four deities enshrined here, one being Takemikazuchi-no-Mikoto, the god of thunder from Kashima in Ibaraki Prefecture. According to Japanese mythology, Takemikazuchi-no-Mikoto came to visit Nara riding upon a white deer. Since then, the deer of Nara were believed to be messengers of the gods. At Kasuga-Taisha you can also purchase white deer figurines with omikuji (fortunes). Apart from being adorable, these also hark back to this belief. They are literally holding divine messages about your future in their little porcelain mouths. Choose wisely.

Kasuga Shrine deer painting
Silk painting of a Nara deer at Kasuga Shrine. Image in the public domain – source

The reputation of Nara deer became so prolific that until the 1600s, harming one was an offence punishable by death. Today they are considered national treasures, and as such are well protected. They are also well fed, since thousands of tourists visit Nara to give them shika senbei (deer crackers). The protocol for feeding a Nara deer is first to bow, and then wait for the deer to bow in return before relinquishing the cracker. However, in practice, I just got ganged up on by a group of excited, hungry deer… so unfortunately I cannot vouch for their manners!

Nara Park deer
Sika deer in Nara Park, Japan. Images my own

Meeting the Nara deer was a profound experience. It was the closest I had ever been to a wild animal, and they were gentle and sweet, but unlike domesticated animals you could simultaneously see their wariness. Their delay before approaching, and how they remained still and poised, as ready to flee at any moment as they were willing to accept my affection. I wanted to reassure them; to make them feel safe. But without their wildness, they wouldn’t be the same. And not all humans bare good intentions, so what good would I be doing if I taught them to trust and then the next people they encountered were less compassionate?

I have made many trips to Nara. My friends and colleagues in Japan jestingly nicknamed me ‘shika-onna‘ (deer lady) because I love them so much. One trip which sticks in my mind is New Year’s Eve 2016. It was around 11pm, and dark. I was alone, just behind Todaiji Temple, and I saw a torii gate leading into darkness. Everywhere else was lantern lit, except for this path. I took it. I crept up a hill gnarled with tree roots and deer tracks. I could hear them, rustling in the trees on either side of me. When I reached the top, there was a small clearing with a closed shrine (I later learned its name is Tamukeyama-Hachimangu). It was only me, with the trees, the stars, and the hidden deer. In that moment, I felt at home with them. Away from the other humans, out in the forest. I wasn’t afraid. The deer were not afraid. I trusted them.

Kasuga Shrine
Torii gate at the entrance of the path leading to Kasuga Shrine, and my deer o-mikuji (thankfully it was a good one!) Images my own

Deer in Fairy Tales

In the Grimms’ fairy tale ‘Little Brother and Little Sister,’ two siblings run away into the forest. The brother drinks from an enchanted stream, and the water transforms him into a deer. His sister cares for him and refuses for them to be separated. Even in death, her spirit returns to check his wellbeing and ultimately break the spell. It’s almost as though they are two parts of one being, which simultaneously cannot be complete alone and cannot co-exist as a whole. In his book The Uses of Enchantment, Bruno Bettelheim writes that ‘they represent the animal and spiritual sides of our personality, which become separated [in the story] but must be integrated for human happiness.’ Bettelheim doesn’t state which way round he intends the roles to be, leaving readers to make their own decision. The deer can represent the ‘animal’ part of us; the part which is wild and carefree, whereas the human sister is the seeing and thinking spirit. But these roles could also easily be reversed: The deer can be seen as spiritual for his innocence and closeness to nature, and the sister animalistic for her contentment with living alone in the forest away from other human company.

Arthur Rackham Little Brother and Little Sister
Little Brother and Little Sister by Arthur Rackham. Image in the public domain – source

Deer are often described as guardians of forests, especially stags who are akin to royalty in the woodland animal hierarchy. The brother becoming a deer comes with a certain amount of status. However, whilst the sister grows into a woman, he remains a fawn. As noted by Heidi Anne Heiner in SurLaLune’s annotations for the story, ‘the sister is the adult figure,’ having to arrange food and shelter and make decisions for them both, whilst as a deer the brother is free from responsibility. Eventually the sister becomes a princess, whilst the brother never gets to rut and have the chance to rule the forest. The spell does more than merely change his physical form. It freezes him in time, taking away his progression into adulthood. This story reminds us of the connection to our animal and spiritual sides, and also the need for learning and new experiences to move forward in life.

Deer have much impact on how we view natural spaces, and the stories which come out of them. Whether they truly are messengers of the gods or not, deer are creatures with flesh, blood, and feelings – not just characters from folk tales. That magical, tenuous moment in Nara when they chose to stay beside me reminded me that, for all our stories about wild animals, the only way to understand them is to see them.

Nara Park deer
Me feeding a sika deer in Nara Park. Image my own.

Sources

  • John Gregorson Campbell, The Gaelic Otherworld, ed. by Ronald Black (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2008). First published as Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland: Tales and Traditions Collected Entirely from Oral Sources (Glasgow: James MacLehose and Sons, 1902)
  • Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment (London: Penguin, 1991)
  • George W. Macpherson, The Old Grey Magician: A Scottish Fionn Cycle (Edinburgh: Luath Press, 2018)
  • Fairy Women & Their Deer‘ on The Faery Folklorist
  • Jo Woolf, ‘Ossian’s Cave in Glen Coe‘ on The Hazel Tree
  • Messengers of the Gods – Deer of Nara
  • Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm, ‘Little Brother and Little Sister’ available online here
  • Heidi Anne Heiner, ‘Annotations for Brother & Sister‘ on SurLaLune

 

Tsukumogami: Japan’s Household Spirits

Imagine going to boil some water, but your kettle transforms into a raccoon and runs away. Or turning a light on, to find your paper lampshade grinning at you and waggling a long tongue. You might have a spirit problem, but these are no ordinary poltergeists. Meet the tsukumogami.

Tsukumogami (付喪神) is the collective name given to a type of yōkai (Japanese spirits or monsters) which are haunted household objects. It’s a Shinto belief that everything has a spirit, so in Japanese folklore it’s possible for inanimate objects to become sentient. The transformation occurs on their one-hundredth birthday, as only after serving people for a century can objects gain souls. If the object has been mistreated in that century, it becomes vengeful and causes havoc for its current owner. So if you buy second-hand things, beware! If their previous owner was unkind, unfortunately you’re the one they’ll unleash their wrath on. Tsukumogami’s powers range from mildly irritating to murderous, and they are known for teaming up to maximise their scare factor. They also like to wander the streets at night to meet others of their kind.

If a household object exists, there is likely to be a tsukumogami version of it. Here are some of the most notorious...

目目連 Mokumokuren (watchful paper screens)

Japanese-style houses feature room dividers called shōji, which are paper screens. If there are holes in the shōji, it is believed that ghostly eyes can fill them and watch the residents of the house. These are called mokumokuren, and although harmless they are very creepy. Mokumokuren literally translates as ‘many eyes.’ They are one of the staple inhabitants of any haunted Japanese house. Thankfully it’s easy to get rid of them; all you have to do is repair the holes.

Mokumokuren
Mokumokuren by Toriyama Sekien. Image in the public domain – source

化け草履 Bakezōri (sandal ghosts)

If you hear noises in the night, then it’s most likely a pair of bakezōri. Traditional Japanese sandals, called zōri, are a type of flip flop made from rice straw. If they are old and mistreated, they are likely to grow arms, legs, and one eye to transform into bakezōri. These tsukumogami enjoy running around in the dark and causing mischief. They also repeat this chant: Kararin! Kororin! Kankororin! Managu mittsu ni ha ninmai!

Managu mittsu ni ha ninmai translates as ‘three eyes and two teeth.’ Zōri have three holes where their straps are attached, so ‘three eyes’ perhaps refers to these. ‘Two teeth’ makes a little less sense, unless they are geta sandals which have two wooden blocks on their soles. The other words are nonsensical.

茂林寺の釜 Morinji-no-Okama (haunted tea kettle)

Iron tea kettles are used in Japan to heat water on stoves to make tea. The Morinji-no-kama is a tea kettle with a spirit trapped inside. A well-known Japanese folktale called ‘Bunbuku Chagama’ is about a tanuki (Japanese raccoon) which transforms into a tea kettle.

Bunbuku Chagama
Bunbuku Chagama – source

やまおろし Yamaoroshi (porcupine possessed grater)

Sticking with the theme of kitchen appliances which transform into animals, this one is my favourite. Purely because it’s so bizarre. The name yamaoroshi is a pun of sorts – yamaarashi is the Japanese word for  porcupine, and oroshi is the word for grater (as in cheese or vegetable grater). Put them together, you get a yamaoroshi. A porcupine grater. Apparently, when a grater becomes dull and can no longer be used, its slicers transform into spines and it grows legs.

I’m confused as to why this tsukumogami even exists, because I’m pretty sure that there’s no cheese in Japan which is actually big enough to grate… I once bought what I thought was a tub of cream cheese, but when I opened the box it was actually individually-wrapped chunks about the size of my thumbnail. You can barely even spread that, let alone grate it! It was a sad day. Also, the rule is that a household object has to be 100 years old to become a tsukumogami. Who keeps a grater for over 100 years?! That would be some random family heirloom. I can just imagine it on the Antiques Roadshow, ‘yes, here’s my century-old grater. Careful, it could turn into a porcupine at any moment!’

Yama Oroshi by Toriyama Sekien. Image in the public domain – source

一反木綿 Ittan-Momen (flying roll of cotton)

If you’re a dressmaker, beware of this one! Ittan-Momen is a long sheet of cloth used to make clothes, which flies around at night and attacks people by wrapping itself around them. Sometimes it smothers them, if it goes for the face. This malicious tsukumogami is most commonly found in Kagoshima Prefecture.

Ittan-Momen, Sakaiminato
Me riding an Ittan-Momen in Sakaiminato, Tottori Prefecture. Much smoother than the shinkansen! Image my own.

提灯お化け Chōchin-Obake (haunted paper lantern)

Chōchin lanterns are the iconic paper or silk lanterns with bamboo frames which are a common sight in Japan. Because of their fragility, when they get old they are likely to split. These splits form eyes and a wide mouth with a long tongue hanging out of it. Chōchin can also become inhabited by vengeful spirits. If such a chōchin is lit, the spirit will be released and attack the lighter.

傘おばけ Kasa-Obake (umbrella ghost)

If neglected, old umbrellas will become kasa-obake. There are one of the most commonly-known yōkai, but strangely there are no stories about them. They only exist in folklore and images. It is thought they were created by oral storytellers in the Edo period, when there was a demand for new folklore characters. Kasa-obake are closed umbrellas with one eye, and they jump around using the handle as a leg.

暮露暮露団 Boroboroton (murderous futon)

Futons are Japanese bedrolls. If they are not well cared for, then they may turn into a Borobororton. When the owner is asleep, the Borobororton wraps itself around them and strangles them in revenge for its mistreatment. It then stumbles around the house and strangles any other sleepers it finds. One of the first things I did when I moved into my Japanese apartment was air the old futons!

 

Boroboroton Toriyama Sekien
Boroboroton by Toriyama Sekien. Image in the public domain – source

Next time you clean your house, think about airing your mattress and giving those old shoes in the bottom of your wardrobe a clean. Hang pictures over holes in your walls, and make sure any rolls of fabric are tightly bound. And be sure to look after your cheese grater. Just in case.

 

Sources

 

Small Ways to Celebrate Imbolc

Imbolc (pronounced ‘EE-muk’ or ‘IM-bulk’) falls on the 2nd February. It is the Pagan equivalent of the Christian Candlemas, and similarly it is also a festival of lights. Imbolc marks the return of the Goddess after her journey to the underworld. With her comes the first signs of Spring – the evenings are slowly becoming lighter, lambs are starting to be born, and snowdrops and daffodils begin to sprout. It is a time to celebrate the light, and focus on the bright times ahead now that winter is dwindling. The word ‘imbolc’ literally means ‘in the belly,’ referring to nature as it waits patiently in the belly of the earth during the last few weeks of cold before bursting through. The Irish/Celtic Goddess Brigid (pronounced ‘Breed’) is also celebrated on Imbolc. She is a Goddess sacred to many things, but most notably fertility, poetry, healing, and fire. The hearth is her domain, and so is the forge – smithery is also associated with her.

Finding time and resources to have a full-blown celebration can be difficult, but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the Imbolc goodness! Here are 5 small things you can do to mark the occasion. Choose one (or more!) which resonate with you, and then you’re all set to have your own little Imbolc celebration.

 

1. Make a Brigid’s Cross

Traditionally made in Ireland on Imbolc, these crosses symbolise the beginning of spring. They are woven from wheat, rushes, or grass. If you cannot get hold of any of those, pipe cleaners, string, or strips of paper make good alternatives. Hang your Brigid’s Cross somewhere in your house to ward off evil and hunger.

Once you’ve gathered your material, this video tutorial shows you how to make it into a Brigid’s Cross:


 

2. Light Candles. Lots of Candles!

Imbolc is a celebration of light. Get your home looking bright and warm with some candles! As it’s also the beginning of Spring, it’s traditional to have a good clean on Imbolc. Dust your shelves, sweep the floors, and throw open all the windows to let in some fresh air. When you’re finished, light a white candle in each room (just make sure you don’t forget about them – it may be a fire festival, but burning your house down would be a bit extreme!) Sit in front of one of the flames and watch it flicker for a few moments, and let it fill you with its peaceful warmth.

Image my own

3. Burn Paper Snowflakes

Paper snowflakes can be made easily by folding small pieces of paper in half, cutting shapes out of the edges with scissors, and then opening them out. Burn them using one of your candles, and as you do so imagine the world thawing and the last of winter’s cold disappearing. Focus on the warmth the candle gives, and remember the feeling of the summer sun on your face.

 

4. Bake a Spicy Loaf Cake

Warms foods are associated with Imbolc, as is dairy because of the birthing of cattle. This spicy cake is one of my favourite Imbolc recipes. Not only is it a festive, yummy treat, it’s also big enough to  to share with your friends and family. The original recipe is from Soraya’s book The Kitchen Witch (which I highly recommend), but I’ve added my own touches to it. If you’re a baking queen then you can add some of your own, too! Also, if you don’t have a loaf tin then any large cake tin will do. The cake will just be a different shape, is all.

loaf cake recipe

 

5. Set Out Goals for the Year

As Imbolc occurs at the start of the Gregorian year, it is a great time to clarify what you want to achieve over the coming months. Write a list of your hopes and plans for the year, and speak each one out loud to give it feeling.

Another way of doing this is with ribbons. Find some long lengths in bold colours. Colours associated with Imbolc are yellow, brown, red, white, pink, and green, so you might want to use some of those. Choose a tree or bush in your garden, or if you don’t have a garden then a large potted plant is also suitable, and tie each ribbon around a branch whilst thinking of something you wish to achieve this year. Be realistic, and don’t wish for anything which will hurt someone else. Focus on yourself, and the positive changes you can make to your own life. Not only will the colours of the ribbons brighten up the grey of winter, they will also remind you of your goals. Leave them in their place, and whenever you reach a goal then untie the corresponding ribbon and thank it.

However you choose to celebrate, I wish you a warm, productive, and creative Imbolc! Embrace the light, and take time to notice the earth stirring. Also, any reason to bake a cake is a good one, right?

 

Halloween: Frights, Lights, and Ancient Rites by Kimberley Ford

Today, Halloween is seen as a time to munch on candy corn and scare the neighbours with the freakiest trick you can find. A time when pumpkins with terrifying faces lurk on porches, and spider webs, black cats and witches are everywhere you look. But why is it that Halloween is associated with being scary? And why do we carve pumpkins?

Scary Spirits: A Short History of Halloween

Halloween has its origins as an ancient Celtic festival of the dead known as Samhain. It is a time when the veil between the living and the dead is believed to be thinnest. This festival is still celebrated by Pagans today, although many also celebrate it as marking the end of summer and the beginning of the new Celtic year which starts on the first of November. It is believed that, on Samhain, those who have died during the year will be able to walk as ghosts amongst the living before their souls pass through to the underworld. Death is respected by Pagans as a natural and necessary part of life rather than something to be feared, so the spirits of recently departed loved ones are welcomed and honoured. Those born during the past year are also welcomed into the community.

In the time of the Celts, Samhain was celebrated with a feast of harvest fruits and vegetables which the spirits of recently deceased relatives were often invited to attend – as well as the sacrificing of animals in aid of helping the spirits on their journey. It was also a time when the presence of these spirits was believed to help priests make predictions about what would happen in the future. During the celebration, people would wear costumes made of animal skins and attempt to divine each other’s fortunes, whilst bonfires were built to scare away unwanted spirits that could also get through the veil. After the festival, homes would be lit with flames from these bonfires for protection and to keep warm. The idea of scaring the unwanted spirits away still lingers today in the way we dress up and place candles inside of pumpkins.

Halloween pumpkin jack o' lanterns
Pumpkin Jack o’ Lanterns by Chris Goldberg. Creative Commons – CC BY-NC 2.0.

Jack of the Lantern: How Pumpkins Became Jack o’ Lanterns

Pumpkins are now so synonymous with Halloween that you can’t get away from them come October, but pumpkins weren’t always used at Halloween. When a mass immigration of Irish people to America occurred in the 1800’s, they brought with them the tradition of carving turnips and other vegetables, such as beets, and placing an ember inside them to ward away malicious spirits. But, upon their arrival in America, they discovered that pumpkins, which they had never seen before, were much bigger and easier to carve. And so, the jack o’lantern as we know it now was born. 

Halloween carved pumpkins
An assortment of carved pumpkins by John Phelan. Creative commons – CC BY-SA 3.0.

The name Jack o’ Lanternactually comes from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack (or ‘Jack of the Lantern’) who invited the Devil to have a drink with him. But, living up to his name, Jack refused to pay for his drink and convinced the Devil to transform into a coin he could use to purchase their drinks. But, once the Devil had become a coin, Jack decided to keep it and put it in his pocket, along with a silver cross which prevented the Devil from regaining his previous form. Eventually, Jack did free the Devil, but only on the condition that he wouldn’t bother Jack for a year or claim his soul if he died. 

However, the following year, Jack tricked the Devil again by sending him up a tree to pick some fruit. Once the Devil was up the tree, Jack carved a cross into the bark so the Devil couldn’t come down unless he promised not to bother Jack for ten more years. Jack died soon after, but God would not allow such a bad fellow into heaven and the Devil, despite still being angry, would not let Jack into hell either as he’d promised not to claim Jack’s soul. So, Jack was sent out into the night to roam the earth with only a burning coal from the flames of Hell inside a carved-out turnip to show him the way. And he’s been roaming ever since.

neep lantern
Turnip lantern. Image taken by Amelia Starling.

People from Ireland and Scotland then began to replicate Jack’s turnip lantern, giving them spooky faces and placing them by doors and windows to ward off the spirits of the dead – as well as Stingy Jack himself. The tradition still continues today, and is my favourite part of Halloween. For anyone interested in the most epic of all pumpkin displays look up the Griffith House in Kenova, West Virginia. Featuring rows of thousands of grinning pumpkins, their glow covers pretty much the whole house, even from the highest roof!

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Kimberley Ford is a Creative Writing graduate and book blogger. She writes YA, and is currently working on her first novel. You can follow her on Twitter @kimwritesthings.


Scary Folklore: Motivating Children’s Behaviour by Kristin

When we read fairy tales and legends we tend to think of them as archaic beliefs that our modern, intellectual society has left far behind. Yet even in this scientific and technological age, there are supernatural characters that are still presented to children as real. Especially at this time of year, I’m fascinated by this holiday season in which we celebrate fear.

Certain folkloric characters are still used to scare children into good behavior. In a conversation a while back, I was surprised to hear one friend say that his mom used to threaten himself and his brother with the Boogeyman if they didn’t behave. I didn’t think that people my age would have been raised to fear him — to be honest I only have vague notions of who he is (and those perceptions mainly came from the Veggie Tales song “God is Bigger than the Boogeyman” and the Oogey-Boogey Man from “Nightmare Before Christmas.”) But the Boogeyman or related monsters are pretty universal – just check out this list of Boogeyman variants and beliefs around the world! Whether children have trouble with eating their food, not staying out after dark, or sucking their thumbs, most cultures have a grotesque monster who might kidnap them and often will try to cook and eat them.

Alongside these male monster figures, we are familiar with related the female version, witches who might lure children in and even try to eat them as well. Another friend, who grew up in Poland, said that as a child she was regularly threatened with Baba Yaga! Though not so well known in America in general, Baba Yaga is definitely well known in fairy tale circles. The witch was a common figure in folk tales in Russia and countries like Poland as well.  Agnieszka recalls, I was definitely threatened about Baba Yaga coming to get me if I misbehaved, that she would take me back to her house on a chicken foot. I definitely believed it and it scared the heebie-jeebies out of me so I behaved! “

Baba Yaga and Vasilisa
Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Fair. Image in the public domain – source

I don’t know how I feel about the idea of parents scaring their children with monsters and villains if they don’t behave. Not only does it sound a little cruel to give them such terrifying lies, but it seems like parents are avoiding the blame for disciplining their children themselves.

And yet, we do see the opposite happening with supernatural characters who get the credit for rewarding good behaviors — most notably Santa Claus (although I recently overheard one mother say, “No way am I going to let Santa get the credit for all my hard work!”). I imagine it would be a little frustrating for parents not to receive thank yous from their children for all the time spend shopping and wrapping and often sacrificing to make Christmas morning wonderful for their kids…

Krampus
A Christmas card from the early 1900s. The text says ‘Greetings from the Krampus!’ In German folklore, Krampus is a horned figure who punishes naughty children at Christmas. Image in the public domain – source

Although not quite as popular, one more character I think most people grew up believing in (at least in America) is theTooth Fairy. And although getting money in place of a tooth would seem like a win-win for children (I used to get quarters, but the Tooth Fairy, from what I hear, has gone up in her giving to keep up with inflation, my students get a dollar for each tooth…) there are some children who are legitimately afraid to imagine some woman entering their room while asleep and taking something that used to be a part of their bodies. It is kind of gross to imagine the Tooth Fairy’s large stash of teeth somewhere and what purpose she has for collecting them all…

I heard one cute story involving the Tooth Fairy. A student of my mom’s didn’t want the Tooth Fairy to come and take his tooth, so he set up his Lego men around the tooth to guard it. When he woke up in the morning, the tooth was still gone, and his Lego men were tied up-with floss 🙂

While that has humor for the adults hearing it, I imagine it might have been somewhat terrifying for that little boy. I admire his creativity in thinking of a way to keep his tooth safe, and yet I would think he felt somewhat helpless when seeing his best efforts thwarted. The fact that the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus only come at night, when we’re asleep, not only gives adults ammunition for getting their kids to actually go to bed on exciting nights, but also is a reminder that we humans, even the strongest and bravest of us, are pretty helpless and weak for that third of our lives when we sleep.

Polly Becker Tooth Fairy
The tooth fairy visits children as they sleep. Whilst her intent is benign, the idea of a supernatural being visiting whilst asleep is naturally scary for some children. Image by Polly Becker.

But really, especially with Halloween approaching, those of us of all ages tend to find enjoyment in trying to scare ourselves and others. Although it may seem like a strange tradition, when people decorate their lawns with skeletons and other scenes that are violent and morbid, each time we watch horror movies, go to haunted houses, or participate in Halloween activities and emerge victorious, we are symbolically conquering our fears. Scary movies are like a personal challenge-will this movie terrify me or will I defeat it? Maybe creatures like the Tooth Fairy, even the Boogeyman and Baba Yaga, provide children with the important rite of passage of realizing they don’t believe/aren’t afraid any more. I didn’t get the sense that my friends who spoke of being threatened as children were upset with their parents or traumatized — it was seen as more of a cultural myth than their parents being cruel.

Did your parents threaten you with a dangerous character when you misbehaved? What lengths did they go to to convince you that those creatures were real? And is it all right for parents to frighten their children unnecessarily?

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Kristin is a Chicago-based blogger who writes about fairy tales on Tales of Faerie.

 

Harvest Time: Folk Horror & Our Fear of the Countryside by Bethany Scott

Something odd happened to Britain in the 1970’s.

The hippie movement was turning sour. Scientists furthered new environmental research and people began looking inward to their country surroundings. Urban sprawls butted against farmland, creating unsettling, unfamiliar spaces, and there was a surge of interest in dark folklore of the British Isles. The mantras of peace and love were abandoned. Innocence fled the fields.

The peak of the folk horror movement in the 70’s left a taste in British mouths that we have never been able to get rid of, most vividly in fiction.

The Wicker Man
Still from The Wicker Man (1973). Image from Cryptic Rock.

The notion of a terror from within toppled the reign of the ghoulish Hammer horrors and set the stage for films such as The Wicker Man and Blood on Satan’s Claw. No one was scared by Gothic castles adorned with clanking chains any more: the real horror was to be found right outside your front door in the piercing sunshine of the summer solstice.

The most effective folk horror fiction puts nameless fears into words. It reminds us of our fear that, for all our quantifiable facts and study, there will forever be a shapeless realm like a veil between ours and whatever dead place lies on the other side. M. R. James was an early example of folk horror’s timeless appeal, penning several contributions to the genre in the early 20th century. His Ghost Stories of an Antiquary usually featured an unnamed narrator sat by a cosy fire in some Oxford clubhouse, relating a woeful tale of horror to rapt companions. James was fully aware of the power of bringing the supernatural into familiar surroundings.

In James’s View from a Hill, a scholarly archaeologist is called to the country to examine artefacts and finds a ghostly abbey, ruined during the Reformation, visible only through binoculars.

O Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad
Still from O Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad (1968). Image from Moonbase Central.

The dark forces still dormant in the fields around the abbey nearly kill him. In O Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad, an affable gentleman named Parkin retires to the seaside for a restful break. On a walk, he finds an ancient bone whistle in a graveyard and, pleasantly unaware of the consequences, blows a note. It heralds the arrival of a featureless spectre that haunts him just beyond his scope of vision. The story was adapted for television in 1968, and traumatised the British public with a dream sequence involving Parkin pursued by the spectre along an endless stretch of bleak Norfolk coast.

Folk horror even pervaded public service announcements which highlighted to children the danger of seemingly everyday situations. These broadcasts have become notorious, and many adults have been unable to shake their memories. The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water was one such film created to prevent accidental drowning, and featured a Grim Reaper-style hooded figure lurking nearby as children swam or attempted to retrieve a ball from a flooded quarry. Needless to say these broadcasts were very effective.

The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water
Still from The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water (1973). Image from Noise to Signal.

The popularity of folk horror continues, with books such as Simon Maginn’s Sheep shining a light on the innate fears unique to British culture to this day. We are an island nation, naturally distrustful of strangers and blanketed by a beautiful yet perilous and often lonely countryside with a pagan past that has left little by which it can be understood. Our increasingly technological lifestyle means the forces of nature, seen and unseen, are more removed from our everyday lives than ever, and that leaves us wondering – were our solstice celebrations really as innocent as we once claimed?

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Bethany Scott is an author living in Scotland with her military husband and three civilian cats. You can follow her on Twitter @bethanyrscott and visit her blog.
 

Travel: Dragon Hunting in Norfolk

In the East of England, there is a Medieval city composed of cobbled streets, secret gardens, and flint churches. Its castle stands on a hill, one of the only ones in the region, for we are deep in big-sky country. If you go left, you will find yourself in Chapelfield, a gleaming, glass shopping centre where all the classiest brands can be bought. If you go right, you will find Tombland, where the aforementioned cobbles are the most ankle-grinding, and the antique shops and cafes stand in the shadow of the cathedral.
 
Welcome to Norwich. A fine city. Old and new, side by side.
 
This summer, Norwich was invaded by dragons. 204 of them, to be precise. 84 large dragon sculptures were painted by professional artists and placed around the city. Trail maps were provided, and thousands of people came to do some hunting. As well as these, 120 smaller dragons were decorated by local schools and displayed in shop windows, around the city’s library, and in Chapelfield. Officially called ‘GoGoDragons!‘, this event was organised by the charity Break. In October, the 84 large dragons were sold at auction to raise money. The statues were on display from June until August 2015, and free to look at with optional donation points. Based on the amount of fun we had dragon hunting, the insane number of people who descended upon the little, middle-of-nowhere city, and the sheer beauty of the dragons themselves, I am sure that Break must have been received a substantial amount.
What I loved most about dragon hunting was the simplicity of it. Go to the library, grab a map, and you’re off! One dragon in particular had a folkloric connection to Norfolk. Meet Luda, who was stationed in Norwich’s Millennium Library.

 

Luda painted by Kieron Williamson. Image my own.

Luda is painted on either side with images of the Norfolk Broads, including the iconic ruin of St. Benet’s Abbey.

Luda painted by Kieron Williamson. Image my own.

Around 30 minutes outside Norwich, there is a village called Ludham. This is by the Norfolk Broads, where in the past winters were harsh and lonely and superstition ran thick. It is from these old days that the legend of the Ludham Dragon appeared. Kieron Williamson, who painted Luda, was inspired by this legend. Not only is his artwork beautiful, it is also a physical representation of a local story.

A strange, monstrous lizard, covered in scales, with huge wings, was seen in the village of Ludham. It only came out after sunset, so the villagers began to stay inside at night out of fear. The lizard formed a burrow, where it chose to live. Every morning, the villagers blocked up the entrance with rocks. But it was all in vain, for come evening, the lizard tore them away and was free. To the villagers’ horror, one afternoon, the lizard emerged whilst it was still daylight. They watched it move away from the burrow, and then someone dropped a single heavy boulder over the burrow’s mouth. Upon its return, the lizard could not re-enter its home. It screeched and roared in anger, until it finally gave up. The lizard took off, over the fields, to St. Benet’s abbey. Then it passed through the crumbling archway, and dug itself down into the vaults beneath the ruin. And it has not been seen since…

St. Benet' s Abbey
The ruins of St. Benet’s abbey, beneath which the dragon could still be living. Image by Ian Russell, Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0. Source

Over the course of the summer, my family, friends, and I, managed to locate all 84 dragons. We spent 4 days trailing around the city, and walked so much that we had to spend another 4 days letting our poor legs recover! After a while, it wasn’t just about finding dragons. It was about discovering our city, and helping others. We found places we had never heard of before. We got lost in a place less than half an hour away from our own hometown, and it was fabulous. There were groups of all ages — children, families, teenagers, elderly people — all together for one purpose. We gave and received directions by talking to them, instead of using Google Maps. We used pens and paper to track our progress. We stopped to read sign posts, and bought refreshments at independent cafes instead of chains.

So, if you take nothing else out of this post (apart from OOOOH PRETTY DRAGONS!), then let it be this: Get out there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being all ‘oh life is terrible these days because kids are all on their iPads and blah blah blah.’ Technology is useful, and whether we like it or not it’s ingrained into our daily lives now. But there is still joy to be found in doing things for yourself, and learning about the places you live in and visit first-hand.

Over those 4 days, I went on a camera rampage and took over 300 photos… oops. Here are some of my favourites. Commence dragon spam!

 

Raptorsfire painted by Jessica Copping. Image my own.

 

Dragons need clothes, too! Aurelia painted by Matt Reeve. Image my own.

 

Dragon or wall? Ascalon painted by Kate Munro. Image my own.

 

The Mother of Dragons painted by Paul Jackson. Image my own.

 

Daisy the Dragon painted by Bridget Parsons. Image my own.

 

Sunbeam painted by Raymond Noakes. Image my own.

 

Drewscilla Dragon painted by Julia Allum. Image my own.

 

Chalk dragons drawn on the streets. Image my own.

 

My favourite dragon of all – GoGoMosaic by Carolyn Ash. So sparkly!. Image my own.

Although they were only around for a short time, the dragons brought colour to Norwich — and also a little bit of magic! Who knows what sort of sculptures Break are planning to do in the years to come, but it seems that they have outdone themselves already. Whatever they choose, I’m sure it will be wonderful. But never quite as wonderful as the year of the dragon.