28 Feb An Introduction To British Lore
As befits the birthplace of King Arthur and Robin Hood, the United Kingdom is a potent brew of folklore and the paranormal. It’s boasted everything from ghosts to seers, with its natives having a healthy belief in the unexplained. To learn more about this “sceptred isle’s” lore, read on!
The bulk of what we know about Celtic religion is drawn from Roman accounts, particularly Julius Caesar’s, and archaeological finds. We shouldn’t accept everything the Romans say at face value as they had their own axe to grind.
The ancient Celts were a deeply religious people, recognising somewhere in the region of 300 gods. While some appear to have been localised, others, such as the “horned man” Cernunnos, were recognised by all. They seem to have had an animistic worldview, believing everything in nature had its own spirit. Shrines were built by mountains, rivers and trees in recognition of the god living there.
Although Roman accounts claim they engaged in human sacrifice, evidence supporting this is flimsy at best. The majority of Celtic sacrifices seem to have been votive in flavour, with items dedicated to a god by throwing it into a bog or river- most of the artefacts discovered this way are pertaining to war. Since Celts were customarily buried with weapons and other belongings, it’s clear that they believed in an afterlife. To learn more about the religious practises of the ancient Celts, visit Maui Celtic.com.
The UK has an unusually diverse range of native spirits. Possibly the most terrifying is ‘the Black Shuck’, a spectral black dog who roams East Anglia. With a marked preference for graveyards, crossroads and forests, he’s calculated to give wayfarers sleepless nights. While the most famous account dates from 1577, he has been sighted countless times since then.
Another legendary figure is Spring Heeled Jack, the subject of numerous books, poems and plays. This athletic, character is said to be horned, bearded and clawed, with eyes ‘like red fire’. Originally sighted in 1837, he has appeared all over the UK, with the last reported sighting in 2012. There’s plenty of life in the old ghoul yet!
Herne the Hunter, the ghost of Windsor Park, is only marginally less frightening. Said to be have been the keeper of Elizabeth I’s park, he was disgraced for reasons unknown and hanged upon an oak tree. Wearing antlers and accompanied by a pack of demonic hounds, he is believed to be an ill omen, particularly for the Royal Family.
Of course no account of mythical beasts in the UK would be complete without the Loch Ness monster, affectionately known as “Nessie.” To learn more about Scotland’s most famous inhabitant, visit the official Nessie website.
Seers and Prophets
The UK has been home to some of history’s most formidably gifted seers. The earliest prophet who is still known today is Ursula Southill, better known as Mother Shipton (1488-1561). Said to have been monstrously ugly, she was born in a cave that, as Mother Shipton’s Cave, has become Britain’s oldest tourist attraction. Although her most famous prediction was the Fire of London- Samuel Pepys wrote excitedly: “Shipton’s prophecy is out!”- others have been uncanny, predicting events centuries after her death.
Another highly regarded mystic is Dr John Dee (1527-1608). Elizabeth I’s consultant, he dedicated his life to the study of science and magic, with a special focus on astrology and alchemy. The British Museum still holds many important artefacts that belonged to him, such as his obsidian scrying mirror and the ‘Seal of God’ he used while scrying. He continues to be hugely influential, with novels, plays and even an opera inspired by him; he is said to have served as the original model for Prospero in The Tempest.
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