Looking at folklore through history to understand people's perceptions of nature through time.
Churchyard grims, stacked graves and Judgement Day. How did English graveyards changed in England between the medieval and Victorian eras?
There pass, with melancholy state,
By all the solemn heaps of fate,
And think, as softly-sad you tread
Above the venerable dead,
“Time was, like thee they life possessed,
And time shall be, that thou shalt rest.”
Hello, welcome to the History and Folklore podcast, where we look at different folk beliefs through history and how these beliefs shape people’s perceptions of nature. In this episode we will be looking at graveyards. As this is a huge topic, I will be focussing predominantly on Christian graveyards in England as that is what I have the most experience and knowledge on, and looking at their development, uses and folklore surrounding them.
Graveyards are interesting as hanges that have occurred in them over time often reflect a lot about the society that uses them including such wide ranging things as demographics, life expectancy, religious beliefs, attitudes to death, burial and remembrance, use of symbology, aesthetic design preferences and attitudes to the natural elements within the cemetery. The establishment of new graveyards can tell us about practical, political and religious considerations at the time regarding burial.
Many graveyards that currently exist in England date from the medieval period, and rural graveyards would often have been the first enclosed space to have existed within a parish. Some of these graveyards were established even earlier as burial grounds dating as far back as the Iron Age, and were later adopted and sanctified to be used for Christian burials.
A graveyard would usually be established in the grounds of the parish church, and would be consecrated before being used by the people in the parish. This sometimes caused issues for those living in distant, rural villages as the journey to the parish church could be long and dangerous. In these instances, the people living in these villages could apply to the parish church for their nearby chapel to be granted burial rights. However, as burial services provided a large income for the church or chapel at which the burial took place, these rights were hard won as the parish church would not want to lose the income from these burials. In the cases of burial grounds attached to hospitals often an agreement was made for the hospital to pay the parish church for every burial they conducted. However, disputes over burial rights were common, especially when a new monastery became established in an area.
These religious institutions often wanted to be perceived to be the preferred place for burial, especially by the elite, as this would bring the monastery both prestige and continued wealth from the families of the interred, who would pay for services and prayers for the soul of their deceased relative. These families would then be more likely to choose the same monastery for future burials, as family tradition often dictated where a person chose to be buried. In some cases these disputes got pretty intense and example being in 1392 when the monks of Abingdon actually hijacked a funeral procession and disinterred 67 people from the parish's burial grounds with the aim of reburying them at the monastery.
Because of the loss of income and potential prestige, a compelling argument had to be put forward to justify the creation of a new graveyard and the giving away of burial rights. The most common reason given was that the journey was long and dangerous. In 1427 the people of Highweek complained of having to bury their dead at the parish church, despite being able to perform the burial rituals at their local chapel, meaning they had to undertake a long and dangerous journey for the sole pu
Cosmic reindeer, giants, goats and child-eating cats. Listen to some tales about the creatures that stalk the night over the Yule and Christmas period, and learn a few techniques to protect yourself from them.
This month we look into the history of alchemy and the worldview and aims of early alchemists.
Find out how metal gets married, why poisons are good and how humans reflect the entire universe.
‘From a man and a woman make a circle, then a square, then a triangle, finally a circle, and you will obtain the philosopher’s stone.’
Hello, welcome to the History and Folklore podcast, where we look at different folk beliefs through history and how these beliefs shape people’s perceptions of nature. In this episode we will be looking at alchemy, what alchemists were hoping to achieve, and what alchemical theories can tell us about how people perceived the natural world.
Alchemists are often depicted as eccentric men in dark rooms conducting strange experiments with toxic and expensive chemicals with the aim of living forever or of turning lead into gold. Their experiments are often seen as being haphazard, illogical and dangerous, a stereotype that goes back a long way as seen in a legend regarding Roger Bacon and Thomas Bungay, thirteenth century friars who apparently blew themselves up in an alchemy experiment. This story was later adapted to the stage in a comedy written by sixteenth century playwright Robert Greene. However, alchemy has a complex history and the observations and experiments of alchemists around the world have helped shape our understanding of chemistry, metallurgy and medicine.
It is believed that the origins of alchemy stretch back to ancient Egypt, with Plutarch describing alchemy as ‘the Egyptian art’. It has been argued that the ‘chem’ part of the word alchemy derives from the Egyptian word ‘km’, which meant the black land, a term used to differentiate between the black fertile soil of the Nile valley and the barren desert sand that surrounded it. Assuming this origin, the arabic word ‘al-kimiya’ was claimed by Egyptologist EA Wallis Budge to mean ‘the Egyptian science’, however this origin has been refuted by others who claim that there is no evidence of the word ‘kmt’ ever being used for anything resembling alchemy in Egypt, and it is therefore likely that this supposed translation is a case of folk etymology, where a well-known similar sounding words are erroneously linked.
Others point toward alchemy having a Greek origin, arguing that the ‘chem’ portion of alchemy originates from the Greek word ‘chemia’, which first appeared in the fourth century and was used to refer to the art of metalworking, particularly the creation of gold and silver from base metals.
It is clear that the influences of alchemy are varied, and draw from a mixture of technology, philosophy and science from areas and cultures as wide ranging as Iran, India, Egypt and Greece. Metal workers in Egypt were highly skilled and were known to be able to create alloys that mimicked the appearance of gold and silver. They also created a body of knowledge that grouped metals according to their external characteristics which was built on their experience of working with them.
As well as this, the city of Alexandria became an intellectual hub and, following the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great in 330BC, attracted scholars from across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, allowing different ideas to develop and merge. Two theories that developed during this period were particularly influential in the formation of later alchemical practice. The first was Aristotle’s theory on the composition of matter, which adopted an older idea that everything was made up of the four elements of earth, air, fire and water, and built on it by hypothesising that these elements could be changed by the application of heat, cold, wetness or dryness.
The second was a philosophy that originated in Persia and claimed that the human body was a smaller version, the microcosm, of the larger universe, the macrocosm. The microcosm-macrocosm theory claimed that the study of the universe would g
This month we look into the history and folklore of fog including the four (or five) elements, dragons, gods and the dangers that lurk in the mist.
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Hallowe'en Bonus Episode: The Wild Hunt
The Wild Hunt is a band of ghost warriors, witches or demons that stalk through the dark nights skies. But where do these tales originate?
The answer might be more varied than you expect.
This is a bonus episode for the Aloreing Podcast's Hallowe'en playlist. This playlist that will be updated through October with lots of Hallowe'en themed lore from awesome podcasters. To listen to the playlist go to: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6HJI1k5VhdXFsebItKMyqK?si=ec524d63b5b44a05&nd=1
Apologies for any pauses between sentences - I was very tired while recording!
For more history and folklore content:
In this episode we look into the origins of vampire mythology, learn how to properly accomplish the art of dying, discover why you should not answer strange voices in the night and find out what happens when you are buried alive with a reanimated corpse.
For more history and folklore content:
Claude Lecouteux, 'The Secret History of Vampires, Their Multiple Forms and Hidden Purposes (2001).
Katharina M. Wilson, ‘History of the Word ‘Vampire’, Journal of the History of Ideas
Vol. 46, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1985), pp. 577-583
Margaret Baker, Discovering the Folklore of Plants (2019).
Michael Ostling, 'Between the Devil and the Host: Imagining Witchcraft in Early Modern Poland' (2011).
Scott G. Bruce, 'The Penguin Book of the Undead: Fifteen Hundred Years of Supernatural Encounters (2016).
Stephen R. Gordon, 'The Walking Dead in Medieval England: Literary and Archaeological Perspectives (2013).
The Medieval Bestiary, 'Bat' http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast250.htm
Theresa Bane, Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology' (2017).
T.S.R. Boase, 'Death in the Middle Ages: Mortality, Judgement and Remembrance’ (1972).
Zteve T. Evans, 'Bat Myths and Folkltales from Around the World' https://folklorethursday.com/folktales/bats-in-mythology-and-folklore-around-the-world/
‘Vampires fit into no order, no class, or any reckoning of creation. They are neither death nor life, they are death taking on the appearance of life; or rather they are the terrifying grimace of one and the other. The dead reject the night with fear and the living dread it no less.’
Hello, welcome to the History and Folklore podcast, where we look at different folk beliefs through history and how these beliefs shape people’s perceptions of nature. Today we’re looking at the history and folklore behind vampires, their origins and the beliefs and superstitions that surround them.
Vampires have really captured the popular imagination over the past couple of centuries. Over this time the vampire has seen many reimaginings, from early films such as Nosferatu, to later books and television series such as Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Vampire diaries. In Europe, the literary obsession with vampires began in the eighteenth century, with a number of ballads such as Lenore, written in 1773 by Gottfried August Burger.
The beginning of the romantic vampyre genre is believed to be the short story ‘the Vampyre’, written by John Willaim Polidori in 1819. In this, the protagonist Aubrey meets the mysterious Lord Ruthven at a social event and agrees to travel Europe with him, but leaving for Greece shortly after they arrive in Rome when he learns that Ruthven has seduced the daughter of an acquaintance. It is in Greece where he meets Ianthe who tells him of the vampire legend that is well known there.
Ianthe is killed by a vampire shortly after Lord Ruthven arrives, and Aubrey continues his travels with him. When Ruthven is killed by bandits Aubrey promises to lay his body out under moonlight and to not to talk of his death for a year and a day, an oath he regrets when he returns to London to see Ruthven living under another identity, and engaged to Aubrey’s sister.
This story includes many elements that modern audiences are familiar with. A pale, mysterious and high-class stranger, adept at seducing and manipulating those around them, whose body mysteriously disappears after death and who viciously kills and feeds off the life force of its victims.
These concepts are developed in later works, and it is probably Bram Stoker’s Dracula, published in 1897, that has had the strongest influence on the modern perception of vampires and has cemented certain superstitions into modern vampire mythology. In this tale, the vampire Dracul
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