16/08/2018: legends and myths from world religions
For this week’s theme we have the most perfect collection: the National Art Slide Library’s UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) World Art Series, featuring wonderful paintings and illustrations from across the globe, many of which focus on the representation of founding myths and stories from religion.
The Series was produced for “art lovers, educators and students” and was originally published in the New York Graphic Society between the late 1950s and early 1960s and featured images from 18 different countries, from Australia to (then) Yugoslavia.
Each country is accompanied by a set of index cards and booklet offering a brief explanation of the sites visited and the images taken. The booklets greatly inform the descriptions given in the following selection:
The Mimi spirit people are beings found in the myths and folklore of the indigenous Australians. Supposedly the first inhabitants of the continent they lived in rocky escarpments and taught the indigenous tribes how to hunt and cook. Due to the longevity of sea-turtles, the animals are often symbolically associated with endurance, long-life the history of the Earth and fertility.
In this image, Ardashir can be seen arriving at the beautiful palace of Ardawa, the last Parthan King. Gulnar, a slave girl, looks down at him from the window and falls in love. They later run away together and following a great battle Ardashir is crowned the King of Kings, founding the the Sasanid Dynasty.
Rikiku, or better known as Vajrapani is one of 5 Bodhisattvas that protect Buddha. Vajrapani is often depicted as a fierce three-eyed being wreathed in flame and is said to symbolise the Buddha’s tremendous power. Vajrapani is also often depicted brandishing a thunderbolt in one hand, representing the strength of true enlightenment, and a lasso in the other used to reign in wayward demons. Vajrapani is considered the protector of the Buddha and is the inspiration behind the Nio, muscular guardians of Buddhist temples in Japan. They are the protectors of the temple and said to be manifestations of Vajrapani.
It is thought the frescoes found at this site are all types of prayers and religious observances with a number of gods depicted as showering gifts on humankind, such as in the image above where the Rain God, Tlaloc is dropping precious jade raindrops from the heavens.
Having found out more about this Series I think I am totally in love with it! A new favourite in the archive, for sure.
Natalie and David.
09/08/2018: witches, wizards and magic!
What better way to start #folklorethursday than with a coven of witches!
The witch is a fascinating figure in folk tales as her character inhabits a complex space where she can be either embodied as the wise old crone cum fairy godmother or evil stepmother/force intent on destroying the happiness of the protagonists.
The evil witch is perhaps the most plentiful in the literary fairy tales we know today, as seen in these wonderful illustrations:
The construction of the evil witch is thought to have been born out of ages-old patriarchal fears of female power. The concept that a woman would prefer to live alone, or by independent means (without a man) is enough to condemn her as a witch and encourage others to perceive her as a monstrous threat, as indicated in this quotation, From ‘The Baba Yaga’ in The Amber Mountain, 1976.
“Baba Yaga was a very old woman. She lived in a little wooden house near the forest and she kept a cat called Mruchek and a goat called Bruchek. It was said by many that she was a witch, and one magic word from her toothless old mouth could turn a man into a toad.”
However, the Baba Yaga, a witch of Eastern European origins, is truly a multiplicitous figure as she appears in numerous stories sometimes kindly, wise and funny and in others as evil and cruel.
Other good witches include Cinderella’s fairy godmother whose magic assists the heroine’s liberation from servitude and I would also include a number of witches from some lesser known nursery rhymes:
Whether benevolent or malevolent, witches are undoubtedly some of the most interesting and powerful characters in the folkloric canon.
02/08/2018: food, feasting and folk festivals
The Special Collections team consider themselves a trio of foodie gluttons, so this week’s @folkloreThurs certainly appeals to our epicurean tendencies. Searching through our local history collection we have found a couple of customs and traditions associated with food and festivals.
First up, ‘Unlucky Eggs’ from Leicestershire and Rutland Notes and Queries Vol II 1893: According to local superstition it is extremely unlucky to either bring eggs into the house or take them out from it after dark. A Rutland farmer’s wife is quoted “I cannot imagine how she would have been so foolish” on hearing that her neighbour brought duck eggs into the house after sunset as this would result in them never hatching.
And second, from Bygone Leicestershire, 1892,we have the region’s rather modest version of Oktoberfest when as part of the Easter (not the same time of year, we know!) celebrations wooden beer bottles are “poured out of a sack and scrambled for by the crowd”. A game then ensues where the beer becomes the property of the men of any village who can succeed in kicking the wooden bottles 500 yards or so across a river or brook. Any left over is then drunk during the festival at the market cross.
Natalie and David
26/07/2018: Folktales and legends from around the world
For this week’s @FolkloreThurs treat we have selected this wonderful book, Great Swedish Folk Tales illustrated by John Baur, 1966.
While geographically Scandinavia only includes Sweden, Norway and Denmark, in folkloric terms the tales of Iceland and Finland also share many motifs and characters, such as trolls! However, a story common to all cultures is that of the changeling.
In changeling stories a human child is taken and replaced with a demon or fairy and is indicative of deep-seated parental fears surrounding child and infant illness and mortality. In Swedish folk tales we also find the changeling story but instead of a fairy, a human baby is swapped with a troll.
In Scandinavian stories trolls are often big and hairy and not especially attractive – a circumstance that leads a troll father to become infatuated with the pretty blonde blue-eyed (of course) infant human princess. While his wife is a devoted mother to their own troll baby the father manages to convince her to swap their baby with the royal baby.
The troll mother, however, is not overly impressed with the new arrival:
Each child grows up in their new home – the royal princess believing herself to be the daughter of the trolls and the troll princess believing she is a member of the human family. Later, each is betrothed but the troll princess finds the ways of humans constricting, her fiancé the Duke annoying and longs to escape to the forest while the human princess dislikes living in caves, sleeping on hard beds and is repulsed by her troll fiancé even if he is also a Duke.
On the eve of their wedding night the changeling princess, longing for freedom, decide to take a walk into the woods. Unwittingly passing each other they eventually walk into their mother’s arms and are happily reunited.
While this is only one troll tale the book is filled with many more, such as ‘The Four Big Trolls and Little Peter Pastureman’, ‘The Troll Ride’ and ‘The Queen’:
As is our #custom to stock take once a year, while organising our enormous treasure trove of a slide collection, aka the National Art Slide Library, given to DMU in the 1990s, we discovered this gorgeous box of illustrated children’s stories dating from 1900:
Ali Baba and his Forty Thieves
Absolutely beautiful – I think we will see more of these when the theme is right!
Natalie and David
28/06/2018: Heroes and Heroines
This week the Special Collections team have chosen a well-loved hero or heroine for @FolkloreThursday‘s theme, giving us the chance for a multi-vocal blog post.
First up, is Katharine with ‘The Marriage of Sir Gawayne’
After king Arthur betroths his loyal knight to a hag, Gawayne is surprised to discover after their marriage that she is in fact a beautiful maiden and that he must make a choice to either have her be beautiful by night or day. He says he would prefer her beautiful by night while she prefers to be beautiful by day. Realising the impasse, Gawayne grants his wife autonomy to choose herself and thus breaks the curse restoring the maiden’s true form 24/7.
Second is Natalie:
Having written my PhD on the history and trajectory of the folk tale ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ I could not resist the opportunity to include this fabulous peep show boook from, 1975:
The heroine of the tale can be considered a shifting archetype as unlike many other tales there are several endings for the story: the escape where she tricks the wolf and runs home (a defiant autonomous heroine); death in which Granny and the girl are eaten (the fallen woman consumed by transgression for deviating from the path); or rescue by the woodcutter (the good girl returned to the patriarchal fold).
There could be a feminist theme emerging…
And finally, David:
The classic tale of Beowulf is the tale of the adventurer Beowulf who journeys to Geatland seeking adventure. On his arrival he finds the king is troubled by the monster Grendel, the King pleads with Beowulf to slay the monster and its mother.
The story continues and recounts his life from adventurer, to guardian and finally to king of Geatland and details his heroic deeds until his death at the hands of a monstrous fire drake.
Such a wonderful theme this week – could spend all day researching heroes and heroines!
The Special Collections team.
21/06/18: folklore of the Sun, stars and seasons
For this week’s theme we have returned to an old favourite, the College of Art diaries. With themes for each year the images below include anthropomorphic representations of the seasons and astrological signs and scenes of the seasons around Leicester.
College of Art diary, 1949
College of Art diary, 1961
This diary has A lovely front cover showing the Sun for the summer solstice.
College of Art diary, 1953
Make sure you catch lots of sun (with sun cream) on the longest day of the year.
14/06/2018: folklore of cities and urban spaces
For this theme we have consulted magazine “Leicestershire and Rutland Notes and Queries” (1889-1891) which is rich in stories of customs and legends of this area.
The magazine provides an interesting story about the foundation of Leicester, which is said to have been established by King Lear or Leir – he of the Shakespeare play.
The source of this information are the ancient chroniclers Matthew of Westminster and Geoffry of Monmouth, as related by Raphael Holinshed, writing in 1509:
Other urban customs are described in the magazine, many of which relate to religious festivals and pageantry through the town’s streets. On St George’s Day, for example, a custom known as the “Riding of the George” involved decorating a statue of the saint on horseback in a luxurious and extravagant manner.
The Corpus Christi Guild, founded in 1349, used to process through Leicester on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. The Mayor and other officials would carry a canopy under which a priest would carry the Host. Banners, crosses and wands were displayed and hymns were sung.
Legends also grow up around famous visitors to towns. Leicester is well known as the last place visited by King Richard III before his death at the Battle of Bosworth. The inn where he is said to have stayed became the subject of many stories. When Richard stayed there it was called The White Boar, but was later renamed The Blue Boar. Richard was said to have left behind “a large wooden bedstead gilded in some places, boarded at the bottom, which became a piece of standing furniture, and was passed from tenant to tenant with the Inn.” A further embroidering of the tale related that in the Tudor period the landlady shook the bed too hard while making it and a gold coin fell out. She discovered it had a double bottom with the gap in between filled with gold coins left by Richard. This good fortune did not help the innkeeper, who was later murdered for her wealth. The bed was later recorded on public display and was thought to be the same as an ancient bed held at Beaumanor Park.
07/06/2018: folklore of birthdays, anniversaries and celebrations
#FolkloreThursday is celebrating its third birthday with an appropriate theme.
We Tweeted them “Here’s wishing you a nice rainy day to gather snails, followed by a big dinner, a little music and a nice nap: Mr Duck’s perfect birthday party (according to Louis Wain, 1903)”
31/05/2018: folklore of arts, crafts and creativity
We’ve found some Japanese customs relating to arts and legends of famous artists for today’s #FolkloreThursday theme, from Hadland Davis Myths and Legends of Japan, 1920.
A common scene in Japanese popular art is the Gods of Good Fortune as passengers on the Takara-bune, the Treasure Ship. The ship contains magical cargo including the Hat of Invisibility, the Lucky Rain-coat, the Sacred Key and the Inexhaustible Purse. On New Year’s Eve sleeping with a picture of the treasure ship under your pillow will bring dreams of luck.
There are several tales where paintings or sculptures come to life, à la Pygmalion, such as the story in which a group of peasants, when annoyed by the destruction of their gardens, investigate the suspected intrusion of a wild animal. On discovering a horse they give chase and follow it back to a temple where inside they find ‘Kanoaka’s painting of the black steed steaming with its recent exertion.’ The artist at once paints a tether into the artwork and the gardens are not disturbed again.
Another such example includes a rather spooky corpse bride tale in which the forlorn couple Sawara and Kimi after declaring their love are separated while the former trains to be an artist and establishes a suitable living for them both. After much confusion, believing kimi has been married off, Sawara marries his employer’s daughter. The pair meet up again by coincidence and Kimi having not re-married is so distraught on hearing of her lover’s new life kills herself. The artist Sawara wanting to capture the beauty of his first beloved produces a sketch on the spot from which he later creates a kakemono (wall hanging or scroll) to hang on his wall at home.
From the first night the ghost of Kimi emerges from the painting visiting her lost love. Unable to bear the visitation Sawara presents the kakemono to a temple where the priests pray for Kimi until her spirit is at peace.
Kat and Nat
24/05/2018: folklore of magical creatures
A belated Folklore Thursday, or Friday, if you will, featuring the fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream in this gorgeous edition illustrated by Heath Robinson, 1914.
18/05/2018: sport and leisure folklore
For this weeks’ Folklore Thursday, discover the god of skiing in our post on Norwegian Constitution Day
10/05/2018: folklore of the gods
Two of the oldest known sacred sites in Greece for #FolkloreThursday today, taken from Art in Primitive Greece, 1894.
For the first, the author’s hypothesise that the Temple on Mount Ocha located on the island of Euboea, was in fact, according to local legend, the site where Zeus and Hera got married and that midsummer festivals would have taken place here to celebrate the godly couple.
The second, the sacred grotto of Cynthus found on the island of Delos is thought to be the location where Leto gave birth to twins, Apollo and Artemis.
03/05/2018: folklore of hearth and home
When thinking about what to include for this week’s #folklorethursday theme we naturally thought of household deities and, of course, Cinderella. But in the end we couldn’t resist the pudgy cuteness of Polly Flinders seen in the image below:
While the origins of the nursery rhyme are unknown its link with Cinderella have been noted in terms of the child’s association with the hearth and the cruel beating she receives for sitting too close. However, it is most likely that we can think about the song as a type of cautionary tale typical of those found in Victorian children’s literature.
In the images we discovered Polly does not look impoverished in the same way as Cinderella and as the song indicates she is punished for ‘spoiling her nice new clothes’ suggestive of a more privileged upbringing. While the illustration above is gorgeous, at close inspection it becomes rather macabre as the two dollies with scorched faces hint at the dangers of an unattended child left in front of an unguarded fire.
A similar scene of danger and punishment can be seen in this later publication and the image below with the fire licking high almost seems to be engulfing little Polly.
The double-sided nature and multiplicity of nursery rhymes and folktales never fails to horrify!
26/04/2018: Fire and heat
This week for #FolkloreThursday we have consulted Donald Mackenzie’s Myths of Babylonia and Assyria c 1915 where we discovered that there are four Babylonian fire gods: Girru, Gish Bar, Gibil and Nusku.
Mackenzie asserts that the Babylonians associated fire with magical properties and purification ceremonies, able to banish demons and cure diseases but he questions whether its was linked to the belief that fire and heat are the vital sparks of life seen in other myths and legends.
However, we would like to challenge this as when Ishtar, a contradictory Mother Goddess linked to the region and associated with love and war, fire and fire-quenching is banished to the underworld the world becomes barren, lacking that ‘vital spark’.
We would also like to challenge the representation of Ishtar here as we think it unlikely she would be white with red hair! A stark example of colonial white-washing in art.
19/04/2018: #Body Lore
According to Jungian psychoanalytical approaches, the transformative power of fairy tales is one of the reasons why they are so popular with children and why we keep on returning to them: unlike the idiom “a leopard never changes his spots” the magical make-overs seen in ‘Cinderella’ and the restoration of human form seen in animal bridegroom tales act as metaphors for the journey of individuation where we can all aspire to change, grow and develop, not just from child to adult but from immaturity to maturity.
Perhaps the most famous and well-known of animal bridegroom tales is ‘Beauty and the Beast’ where the transformative power of love restores the beast to his human form. So, for Folklore Thursday this week, below are two illustrated examples of the story from our rare books collection:
First, from a Victorian Story Book c 1850 these hand coloured illustrations depict the beast as a bear, an animal typically associated with strength, authority and knowledge (cough: patriarchal constructs ahoy)!
Second, from Six Old World fairy Tales c 1920, the Beast can only be described as a chimera, appearing as a combination of part lion, part human, part snake.
While the lion is similar to the bear in terms of it being symbolic of power and authority, the chimera and serpent are forms typically associated with temptation and female evil suggesting a fear of gender fluidity.
From a feminist perspective ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is certainly problematic, but the power of transformation at the heart of the tale should not be confused or conflated with the way it has been represented and illustrated.
12/04/2018: Good and bad Luck
I guess as its Friday 13th tomorrow, a combination of date and day traditionally associated with bad luck in some countries, it is only fitting that this week we explore folklore surrounding good and bad luck for #FolkloreThursday.
According to the book, Amulets and Superstitions, however, it is not only Friday 13th we should be ‘concerned’ about as in fact every day of every week has a period that is considered unlucky. The good news is there is also a corresponding period of good luck!
Luck lore abounds in the natural world, from the way certain flowers are given to the sightings of various animals:
At sea, it is considered lucky to see an albatross but very unlucky to kill one, as most famously told in Samuel taylor Coleridge’s poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, 1834.
So, don’t say we didn’t warn you: do not give daffodils as single stems, do not kill an albatross, especially one that helped you, and mind out for those witching hours every day!
05/04/2018: the #sea and sea-related lore.
For this week’s #Folklorethursday I’ve chosen two beautiful books illustrated by Edmund Dulac with a distinct #sea theme, The Kingdom of the Pearl and Sinbad the Sailor.
In The Kingdom of the Pearl Leonard Rosenthal explores humanity’s fascination with the beautiful gemstone, examining their origins, place in history, and, of course, the myths and legends associated with them.
Formed inside the shell of an oyster after the building up of many nacreous layers, one such myth is that the finest of pearls are only to be found in the deepest waters. Their watery origins has perhaps also led to the belief that ‘pearls foretell tears or bring them upon their owner’ and they are often thought to be the transformed tears of ‘angels, naiads or sirens’.
In Sinbad the Sailor and Other Stories from the Arabian Nights we can read five of seven of Sinbad’s voyages as he encounters magical creatures and visits extraordinary places as well as being repeatedly shipwrecked.
The image below is taken from Sinbad’s first voyage in which he sets ashore on what he thinks is an island but which turns out to be an enormous sleeping whale.
29/03/2018: #nature and wildlife
It has been a long cold winter in the UK this year with more than average snowfall and the #beastfromtheeast, and it looks set to turn cold again for Easter this Sunday. But, believe it or not, #Spring is here and coming from a family of birdwatchers we are all looking forward to the arrival of the first swallows next month as a true sign that the seasons are changing and that the frosts will start to abate. So, I couldn’t resist including this beautiful bird for #FokloreThursday this week.
According to A History of British Birds (1903) “the swallow always makes a friend among us… and is almost as respected and cherished as the Redbreast”. This is most likely not just because he heralds the arrival of warmer weather but bird lore says that if you get a swallow nesting in the eaves of your house they will bring you good luck and prosperity.
Coincidentally, we also included a feature on Nature in our current Newsletter, which will be available online soon – or you can always pop in and pick up a hard copy!
#FolkloreThursday this week has a bird theme. Our feathered friends appear in many traditional stories, fairy tales, nursery rhymes and legends. Below is a small selection from our collection.
The nursery rhyme ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’ is extensively illustrated in this version from R Caldecott’s Picture Book of 1879.
Sing a Song of Sixpence
The first illustration shows a child given sixpence by an elderly relative, the charitable child then passes the coin to an elderly woodcutter in return for a song.
A Pocketful of Rye
The woodcutter is shown heading home and tipping his pocketful of grains over the table, presumably purchased with the sixpence.
The blackbirds are shown in flight and then the woodcutter’s son is seen waiting beside a trap, baited with the rye grains. Beside him birds already caught are held in a wicker basket.
Baked in a Pie
When the Pie was Opened
The Birds began to sing
The women of the household are shown preparing the pie, then the whole family gather for the wonderful moment when the crust is cut open:
To set before the King?
The woodcutter is shown dashing off with the pie, trailed by his hungry family, before handing it over to a palace official who take it to the King and Queen:
The King was in his Counting-House,
Counting out his money.
The Queen was in the Parlour,
Eating Bread and Honey.
The Maid was in the Garden,
Hanging out the Clothes;
There came a little Blackbird,
And snapped off her Nose.
The unfortunate maid is shown hanging out the laundry watched by a patrolling palace guard, who shoots at the blackbird causing it to drop the nose.
But there came a Jenny Wren
and popped it on again.
The rhyme finishes with the maid showing the King and Queen the helpful Jenny Wren:
Female curiosity is a prominent theme in religious stories, myths and legends, and folklore, and is frequently used as a way of reinforcing patriarchal frameworks. Often associated with forbidden knowledge, women’s supposed inability to control their impulses means their curiosity frequently unleashes terrible things upon the world.
However, curiosity is better understood as the impulse to investigate, to discover what is unknown, to use knowledge to create a better world and to challenge the limitations that have been imposed upon us, such as the oppressive social structures of patriarchy and class.
Our first discovery is this engraving of the Greek heroine Pandora by Walter Crane. Pandora supposedly unleashed all the horrors of the world when curiosity compelled her to open the jar in her charge. But in doing so, she also released hope.
In the Old Testament Eve can not resist partaking of the forbidden fruit, the apple, offered to her by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. In doing so, she and Adam gain worldly knowledge but are cast out of Paradise forever.
In the folk tale ‘Bluebeard’, a husband gives his new bride the key to his forbidden chamber with strict instructions not to look inside. Once he has left the castle the heroine can not resist the temptation to peep inside. And this is what she found:
While the discovery varies between versions, (sometimes it is Bluebeard’s seven previous wives – all murdered for disobeying their husband and succumbing to their curiosity) the new bride becomes aware that her husband is in fact a serial killer. Armed with this knowledge she seeks help and avoids death. While the story still punishes female disobedience it undoubtedly demonstrates that curiosity helps us to discover the truth.
The Grimms’ version is particularly pertinent as the heroine’s actions also helps other women. While these are all Western European examples, Special Collections stands in solidarity with all women today. Embrace your “female curiosity”, #pressforprogress and new knowledge to bring about gender parity.