Folklore Thursday

29/08/2019 #Mythological Creatures

For today’s @FolkloreThurs, we present the jackal headed God of the Dead, Anubis. As ‘Guardian of the Scales’, Anubis measured the heart of a person after death, deciding the soul’s fate. From The Book of the Dead, 1913.

By Volunteer Emma

15/08/2019 #Fairies, the Fay and Little People

Queen Titania

For this weeks #FolkloreThursday, we present the Queen of the fairies herself, Titania. Titania was made popular in fairy lore by Shakespeare in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. However, this was not Titania’s first appearance in literature, as her name has a long and powerful history which undoubtedly influenced Shakespeare’s presentation of his strong, independent fairy queen.

It is suggested that Shakespeare took inspiration for the name Titania from the Roman poet Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’. Ovid gave the name Titania to the female deities Latona, Pyrrha, Diana and Circe, powerful goddesses descended from the Titans. Titania has been particularly linked to the goddess Diana, the Roman version of the Greek goddess Artemis. Artemis is said to be a goddess of nature, particularly over water and spring courses. This has led to her being called Limnaia, or the Lady of the Lake, a name we have come to associate with Morgan Le Fay or other fay maidens. These natural links become apparent in ‘Midsummer’, as Titania’s quarrel with Oberon affecting the natural world, preventing crops from growing and harvest from happening.

But the magic of Titania does not remain with Shakespeare’s presentation, her powerful name being used in literature and around the world. Edmund Spenser’s ‘Fairie Queen’ (1590) is made a descendant of the original Queen, Titania. Not only that, Titania has now surpassed earthly bounds, with Uranus’ largest moon being named after Shakespeare’s fairy queen.

By Volunteer Emma

01/08/2019 #Trees and Woodlands

The Tree of Knowledge

For this week’s #FolkloreThursday theme I’ve chosen the Tree of Knowledge from the Christian creation story, ‘Genesis’.

Placed in the garden of Eden, the Tree of Knowledge was provided by God as a test for Adam and Eve. Commanded by God to not eat the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve’s disobedience led to what is known as ‘the fall’ of humans from heaven.  The Tree of Knowledge is not simply representative of knowing information, but rather recognising the difference between good and evil. It represents Adam and Eve’s choice of submitting to God’s law or pursuing moral autonomy. It is this idea of autonomy that Satan used to tempt Adam and Eve, giving them the power to know the difference between good and evil rather than having it dictated to them.

There are various interpretations of this event with some believing that it is suggested that in time, if Adam and Eve had submitted to God, they would have had access to the forbidden fruit, giving them godlike power that would allow them to rule over creation. Other approaches view the ‘the fall’ as inevitable as humankind’s quest for knowledge and moral sovereignty are innately linked to societal progress.

‘Adam and Eve’ by Antonio Biggi, 1870. From A/05 Engravings After Raphael

By Volunteer Emma

04/07/2019 #Animals

The Pegasus: A Symbol of Hope

For this week’s animal theme, what could be better than exploring Pegasus, the mythological winged horse from the Papers of Andrew Logan collection. Being interested in Roman and Greek mythology from a young age, Logan was enamoured with the fantastical Pegasus, the beautiful winged horse who sprang from the severed head of the Gorgon. This inspired his collection of Pegasus statues, the first of which was created in 1980. One has been created each decade since, and the images below show the creation of and finished Millennium Pegasus. The Pegasus was commissioned for a roundabout in Dudley and is made of bronze with a glass inlay on the wings. For Logan, the Pegasus was both a symbol of imagination and hope, connected to the idea of the future. “Mine has four feet on the ground and it has either landed or taken off- it has the potential for both. It is about where we come from and where we are going.”- Andrew Logan

The Millennium Pegasus, Dudley Roundabout. Image taken from Magic Moments Exhibition Booklet, 2002.

See below for images of how how the Millennium Pegasus was designed and constructed.

Blueprint Dimension Sketch of the Millennium Pegasus

Construction of the Millennium Pegasus

By Volunteer Emma

21/03/2019 #Rhymes and #Nurseryrhymes

Folklore Thursday is back with the theme of rhymes and nursery rhymes! We thought what better way to celebrate this than with a classic nursery rhyme book from our rare books collection.

Thanks to Old King Cole’s book of Nursery Rhymes from Macmillan and Co. Limited not only do we have some nursery rhymes to share but some fantastic illustrations to go along with them. Here we have the Rhyme ‘This little pig went to market’ accompanied by a wonderful illustration by Byam Shaw.


07/02/2019 #Myths from around the world

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.

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:


Mimi Spirit people and a sea-going turtle, Rock Painting, Cannon Hill, Northern Territory, Australia

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 and the history of the Earth and fertility.


Muiju Rikiku: 1 of 5 powerful Bodhisattvas protecting Buddha’s law. Located in Kongobu-ji a temple on Mount Koya built in the 9th century AD.

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.


Rain God featured in the entrance porch to a patio in Tetitla, an ancient apartment compound found in Teotihuacan.

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.

24/01/2019: #plants and flowers.

January at DMU has been all about health and wellbeing, with a specific focus on our#DigitalDetox campaign that sought to raise awareness about the potential deleterious effects of unrestricted social media use. And, what with many people partaking in dry January I thought it only fitting to mark this week’s #Folklore Thursday theme with plants and flowers that are known for their healing properties or as symbols of health and protection.

Holding crab apple blossoms by day and night(!!) was thought to improve health and wellbeing.

The rather aptly named, Self Heal, has a more practical history and was used to treat wounds.

The Wood Anemone acting as a talisman, symbolises, health, healing and protection.


10/01/2019: Work Folklore

#FolkloreThursday continues and this week the theme is Work folklore. And who better to showcase some work folklore than Cinderella who is forced to work and do all kinds of menial tasks by her evil stepsisters, but is eventually freed of her work by her fairy Godmother.

For our picture this week we looked to our beautiful 3D story book of Cinderella illustrated by Roland Pym. If you would like to see more work folklore then check out our previous post on here!

03/01/2019: New Year Folklore

#FolkloreThursday is back for 2019 for New Year folklore. Our entry this week comes from Scotland and concerns the tradition of ‘first footing’. This involves having the first person enter your house after the new year starts be a dark haired person bearing a gift of whiskey or shortbread. Entering the house with no gifts is considered extremely bad luck for the coming year so make sure to have something on hand!

To celebrate this tradition we found an old advert for Scotch Whiskey from a 1915 issue of The Illustrated London News. We hope everyone has a fantastic new year and discovers more folklore in 2019.

29/11/2018: Winter Folklore

#FolkloreThursday is back and this week the theme is winter folklore! For this theme we thought we would focus on the Ski Club of Great Britain’s collection which contains a variety of winter folklore.

The first example of winter folklore we have to show is this charm depicting the skiing and archery god Ullr both of which can be seen represented in the charms design. The charm would held by a skier and would supposedly help them to ski well and keep them safe.

Another example found in the library depicts the worship of the Sun by Laplanders in the 17th century. Known as Baiwe the sun was worshipped for the light and heat it provided which they (and all of us!) rely on, not only for their own well being, but for their reindeer as well. Images/shrines were often created in hidden places so as to avoid being found by unwanted enquirers that could ruin the rituals to the Sun.


15/11/2018: Natural phenomenon

This weeks #FolkloreThursday theme is natural phenomenon and we thought we would focus on one of the prettiest phenomenons out there, Auroras! To help showcase these magnificent light shows we found two illustrations of Auroras that capture the amazing spectacle on the page.

The First illustration is a more realistic depiction of an aurora, the Aurora Australis specifically, featured in The Heart Of The Antarctic by Sir Ernest Shackleton C.V.O. Studying the Aurora was part of the research Shackleton’s group was doing in the Antarctic and he even goes on to state that information was sorely needed on this relatively unknown phenomenon.

The second image we have chosen is from The Snow Queen by Hans Anderson and features a version of the Northern Lights as a little girl, Gerda, is carried toward the Snow Queen’s palace by a reindeer. This is a much more stylised vision of the Aurora but still captures their unique beauty in the pages of this children’s story.


01/11/2018: heroes and heroines

A wonderful theme for #FolkloreThursday this week, giving us the opportunity to indulge and wax lyrical about our own favourite fairy tales and their protagonists.

First up is David with Peter Pan who as well as loving the story and it’s eternal child hero enjoyed the many film adaptations throughout his boyhood. As well as the potential for fairy-dust inspired flight who ‘can not love’ the alligator with a ticking clock tail.

From Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie. 1911.

From National Art Slide Library’s illusrated junior series: ‘Peter Pan’

Next up is Melissa with another familiar favourite, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’. Again linked to her memories of early reading and animated films, one of her favourite scenes is when the heroine and all her animal helpers do the housework! Bringing order to the chaos of the dwarves’ cottage I can’t help but feel her inner developing archivist is shining through.

While we do not have an image of that chore-tastic scene, we do have these beautiful illustrations from Six Old World Fairy Tales c 1920.

For myself, while many assume my favourite to be ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ there are (as one would expect) much more practical reasons in the formation of a PhD thesis than subjective preferences. I do, of course, love the tale and all its variants but my absolute folkloric favourite is, in fact, ‘Kate Crackernuts’: the tale of a resourceful and determined young woman who saves her step-sister from a curse and her future husband from the fairy realm.

Unfortunately, we do not have any images of Kate and this is perhaps indicative of the fact that she’s not as celebrated as her more passive counterparts, such as Cinderella. However, behind the contemporary popular romance and glitz of this tale lies the power of transformation – a theme that always appeals to children and is my son’s favourite heroine of the moment.

From ‘Charles Perrault’s Fairy Tales’ 1967.

Fairy tale and folkloric hero/ines are often the first protagonists we meet as children – who’s your favourite?


11/10/2018: Ghosts

This week for #FolkloreThursday we are getting into the Halloween spirit with the spooky theme of ghosts! After some searching, we decided on the Story of Yoshitsune and Benkei from Japanese folklore.

In this story a young boy named Yoshitsune is forced to flee his home when his father is killed by the Taira clan. After escaping with his mother he begins to train as a warrior so that he can later take his revenge. Eventually he meets up with the warrior Benkei and after besting him in combat they decide to stick together, becoming a fearsome team and strong friends.

Picture from Myths and Legends of Japan by F. Hadland Davis

The Story takes the two warriors to Dan-no-ura, where a great storm arises, stirring memories held beneath the waves  of a previous battle where the Taira clan who fought appear in the form of Ghostly soldiers that attack Yoshitsune and Benkei. Yoshitsune wanting to avenge his father cries out for an attack but Benkei wisely bids him to lay down his sword and take out a rosary while reciting a number of Buddhist prayers, thus bringing the ghosts and the storm to rest.

This isn’t the only chance to get your fill of ghost stories however, as on a more local note, this month Heritage Sunday features a Halloween Ghost Hunt around @dmuleicester’s The Castle as well as the usual access to other DMU heritage sites,  including Trinity Hospital and the Heritage Centre, the site of the Church of the Annunciation where the arches from the church crypt can still be seen.

Heritage Centre open to the public

As a part of the event, on 28th October, Ruth from Leicester’s Guild of Storytelling will be there narrating tales of ghosts and various creatures lurking in the shadows – have you heard the monks chanting for instance????


04/10/2018: Animals

Folklore Thursday is back again with the lore of animals! Surprisingly, there is a lot to choose from but we eventually settled on illustrations by Edmund Dulac from one of our favourite rare books, Sinbad the Sailor and other stories from A Thousand and One Nights, 1914, and colour painted glass lantern slides from the V&A National Art Slide Library depicting Aesop’s Fables, c 1900.

Animal Tales are a part of the folkloric canon and often provide some form of cautionary tale for the reader such as ‘the dog and his reflection’ from Aesop’s Fables. This story, shown below, cautions readers not to be greedy lest they lose what they already have.

In contrast, animals also feature as fearsome beasts for the hero to defeat, as seen in the tales of Sinbad the Sailor. Here each tale is named after the beast Sinbad must vanquish. Examples include, ‘Sinbad and the Snake’ and ‘Sinbad and the Rokh’. In these stories animals are often depicted as huge versions of their real life counterparts providing a monster for the hero to slay:

Whether animals are depicted as friendly and helpful or villains and monsters it is clear they are an important feature of folklore.

While on the subject of animals and mythical beasts, you might also like to find out more about the hisotry of the DMU and Leicester coat of arms featuring a mythical dragon! No wait, a griffon! No wait, a lion! No wait, a wyvern!

Find out what’s going here

David and Natalie

27/09/2018: Objects

This week FolkloreThursday is bringing us the lore of objects and for our contribution we thought we would showcase some of our fabulous Olympic objects from two of our prestigious sporting collections, England Boxing and Ski Club of Great Britain.

Although medals are commonplace today, when the games first began in ancient Greece, circa 776 BC, Olympic winners would instead be awarded with an olive wreath. The wreaths were made from olive branches taken from the trees that grew around the sacred temple of Zeus in Olympia, the small town where the games were held. The bestowing of a symbolic victory object as a tradition that is continued through the modern Olympic medal, many of which feature the olive branch in their design.

In the following selection you can see the olive branch appearing in modern Olympic medals:

England Boxing

Not all Olympic items reference the olive wreath. Today, we all recognise the five interlocking rings as the emblem of the games. First used in the 1920 Olympic games these rings have become instantly recognisable and some great examples of the rings can be seen in the Ski Club of GReat Britain’s badge collection.

Ski Club Great Britain

These medals are a great way of keeping the traditions of the ancient Olympics alive and visible.

David and Natalie

20/09/2018: Harvest, Mabon and the Autumn Equinox

The changing of the seasons is here! After a long sunny summer I think many of us are looking forward to cooler times (getting out the big duvets and blankets) and counting down the days until Halloween, Bonfire Night and Christmas (at least the kids are anyway, big and small)!

The autumn equinox, occurring on 23rd September is the point when the sun passes over the Earth’s equator. In the following days and months the northern hemisphere will be gradually tilting further away from the sun bringing longer nights and cooler temperatures.

So, to celebrate our cosmic continuity here are a a few items with a harvest or autumnal theme:

A couple of images from our old favourites, the College of Art Diaries, 1948 & 1949:

The personification of autumn, Aug-Sept, 1949.

A Harvest scene, September, 1948

An autumnal poem from The Almanac of Hope, 1944:

And because the apple is a favourite autumn motif – seen in two of the images above -here is a fun tip on how not to share an apple, taken from Children’s Games 1957:

However, it is always good to share your harvest!


13/09/2018: folklore of travel, journeys and transport.

This week’s theme for Folklore Thursday is travel, journeys and transport. Since magical journeys are often a big part of fairy tales we have pored over our collection of books for children and found some alternative ways to travel. These include pop-up fairy-tale books like Cinderella with a pumpkin carriage, Alice in Wonderland and a journey down the rabbit hole and Thumbelina and a ride on a swallow’s back.

We also found fantastic travel themed illustrations from other tales, such as for the old nursery rhyme I saw three ships and a magic black horse from ‘The Story of the Three Calenders’, in Sinbad the Sailor and other tales illustrated by Edmund DuLac.

Finally we have the whimsical story of Tommy’s adventures in a journey through fairyland, where he encounters various familiar characters including Goldilocks and Sleeping Beauty. Little Red Riding Hood lets him ride her wolf, a particularly unusual form of transport, and he walks alongside another famous traveller, Dick Whittington. A Trip to Fairyland was written by Edward Shirley and illustrated by Ruth Cobb, published in the 1930s.

Travel continues to be an important theme of fairy-tales and stories and is the basis of many of the worlds most beloved stories and folklore.


06/08/2018: folklore of legendary places

Despite some initial pondering about which legendary place we should journey to for this week’s @FolkloreThursday theme, in the end I decided that we should all travel to the most magical place of all in folklore – the forest!

The forest features in many folk and fairy tales and acts as a symbolic site of transformation where the protagonist undergoes a a process of individuation in which s/he learns about themselves and their place in the world. Often compared with its mythic counterpart,  the underworld, the journey through the forest becomes a metaphor for the unconscious where we confront our darkest fears, wrestle with temptation and do battle with our inner self in all the wondrous and terrifying forms in which it/they may manifest:

Generic symbolic forests can be seen in ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘Vasilisa the Fair’, ‘The Seven Ravens’ and many many others, but an example of a well-known specific magical forest is the the Forest of Arden, featured in several of Shakespeare’s plays, including As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

In the latter, the forest is the site where the fate of two pairs of lovers (Hermia and Lysander and Demetrius and Helena) is resolved as we witness their escapades, their quarrels, and eventual partner swap as they encounter the mischief of the fairy King and Queen and their entourage.

The image accompanying Hermia’s dream depicts the blurring of the line between civilisation and nature emphasising that the two can never be truly separate. The shadow of our animal past represented by the the forest is a part of our inner being that must be acknowledged if we are to retain our humanity. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1914.

In the western tradition, the forest also acts as an analogy for the Garden of Eden where temptation is never far away…

The lovers after their night in the forest wake to discover their ‘civilised’ clothes (selves) have been shed and they are now aware of their true feelings for the other. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1914.

The journey through the forest is often fraught with danger and unwanted truths so I think the only way to end this magical journey through the perilous but legendary folktale forest is with the words of Puck:

If we shadows have offended             

Think but this, and all is mended,   

That you have but slumber’d here,

While these visions did appear,

And this weak and idle theme,

No more yielding but a dream… 

Although this does negate the importance of the experience somewhat!


30/08/2018: folklore of #teeth, body parts and the body

Due to our blog page being down we are a bit late with this one. Watch this space…

23/08/2016: #rhymes, #riddles, #sayings, #proverbs and #folksongs

For this week’s theme a selection of favourite and local rhymes as well as a proverb that is held dear by any self-respecting archivist…

Pat-a-Cake Pat-a-Cake (Natalie)

A personal favourite, this rhyme reminds me of the hours spent singing songs to my young son and his love of this one in particular (his name also begins with T and so like all carers/parents we adapted the song accordingly) as he fumbled his way through the clapping:

From ‘Young England’s Nursery Rhymes’, c 1890.

Jack and Jill (David)

Jack and Jill was a favourite at school when I was a child, we would sing it as a class almost every week showing that while the rhyme may be very old, it maintains its place as a classic children’s rhyme.

From ‘Young England’s Nursery Rhymes’, c 1890

A Local Rhyme for Easter Time

According to Stephen Butt, in Paranormal Leicester a local chant associated with Victorian school children is still well-known:

Pardon, master, pardon,                                                                                                              Pardon in a pin,                                                                                                                                        If you don’t give a holiday,                                                                                                                    We won’t let you in

The rhyme was sung by the children who had banned their school master from entering the class room until the holiday was granted.

A place for Everything, and Everything in its Place

Anyone working in an archive appreciates the beauty and increased accessibility of a well-organised and tidy strong room and reader room:

Special Collections welcome desk and rare books section

We’ve sneakily doubled this one up for #archivelife too as it is such a joy to behold!

Natalie and David

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:


Mimi Spirit people and a sea-going turtle, Rock Painting, Cannon Hill, Northern Territory, Australia

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.


Gulnar sees Ardashir, Shanamah of Baysunqur – illustrated manuscript, 1430.

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.


Muiju Rikiku: 1 of 5 powerful Bodhisattvas protecting Buddha’s law. Located in Kongobu-ji a temple on Mount Koya built in the 9th century AD.

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.


Rain God featured in the entrance porch to a patio in Tetitla, and ancient apartment compound found in Teotihuacan.

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 truly terrifying Desert Fairy from ‘The Yellow Dwarf’, in ‘The Art of Walter Crane’, 1902.

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.

Back cover of ‘The Amber Mountain’ illustrated by Jan Pienkowski and kindly provided on loan to Special Collections by volunteer, Molly.

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:

What a handsome suitor! From ‘Old King Cole’s Book of Nursery Rhymes, 1901.

A witch with a job to do! From ‘Young England’s Nursery Rhymes’ , c 1890.

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.

From ‘Picture Book, No. 2’, 1879

Fortunata from ‘Fairy Garland’ illustrated by Edmund Dulac, 1928. Love this illustration, especially the way the hen is clearly gesticulating while offering advice!

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.

From R Caldecott’s ‘Second Collection of Pictures and Songs’, c 1900. Hmm could it be the contents of his drinking pouch that is making him smile so much.

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:

The trolls and the royal princess

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.

The royal princess on her way to the troll ball to meet her betrothed

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.

‘”My own wild baby” she cried, holding out her arms.’

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’:


19/07/2018: #custom

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:

Aesop’s Fables

Ali Baba and his Forty Thieves

Peter Pan

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.

From Hero Myths and Legends of the British Race, 1920.

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.

From ‘Hero Myths and Legends of the British Race’, 1920.

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.

Sun cover

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.

Statue of St George from the church of Visnums-Kils in Sweden

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.

Image by Hiroshige, held at the V&A, Public Domain, source:

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.

The story of Sawara and Kimi from ‘Myths and Legends of Japan’

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.

Quuen of the fairies, Titania, and her fairy train doing the fairy ’round’ in the Forest of Arden.

A fairy guards the Queen’s bower

Oberon’s story of Cupid’s arrow missing its mark and instead hits a flower creating therein a powerful love potion

King of the fairies, Oberon, administers the love potion

The cheeky Puck


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.

From ‘Art in Primitive Greece’, 1894.

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.

From ‘Art in Primitive Greece’, 1894.

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.

From Old King Cole’s Book of Nursery Rhymes, 1901.

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.

From Little Songs of Long Ago, 1912

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.

From The Puffin Book of Nursery Rhymes, 1968

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.

The wonderfully decorated front cover

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.

Ishtar in Hades

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.

The Beast as chimera

The Beast transformed, shedding his animal body like a 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!

Amulets and Superstitions, 1930

Luck lore abounds in the natural world, from the way certain flowers are given to the sightings of various animals:

The dandelion for instance is meant to bring good luck to a newly married couple when woven into a wedding bouquet. From Wild Flowers, Vol 2, 1853.

And the daffodil should always be given in bunches, as to give a single stem bestows bad luck on the recipient. Image from ‘The Art of Walter Crane’, 1905.

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.

The albatross guides the sailors out of treacherous anatarctic waters

After the mariner kills the albatross the crew are beset with troubles and the mariner is forced to wear the body of the dead albatross around his neck as a way of atoning for the suffering he caused.

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.

Front cover c 1919

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’.

‘The Birth of the Pearl’

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.

Front cover, c 1914

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.

From the first voyage, ‘Sinbad and the 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.

Spinetailed Swallow

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!


22/03/2018: #birds

#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.

Thumbelina is rescued from marriage to a mole by a kind Swallow in this peepshow book from 1976

“Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie” From Aunt Louisa’s Nursery Rhymes, c.1860

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.

Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds

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:

Was not that a dainty dish

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:

08/03/2018: #women and #International Women’s Day 2018

As this week’s #Folklore Thursday coincides with International Women’s Day we think it splendid to combine the two to explore women in folklore!

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.

From ‘The Work of Walter Crane’ 1981

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.

‘The Temptation of Eve’ Engraving by Angelo Biggi

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.

Bluebeard gives the key to his forbidden chamber to his new bride. From ‘Charles Perrault’s Fairy Tales’, 1967.

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:

Extract from Fitcher’s Bird, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimms’ version of Bluebeard in Grimms’ Folk Tales, 1965.

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.