Folklore and Wisdom from Nature

A good friend recently gave me a book entitled Lore of the Wild: Folklore and Wisdom from Nature. The author is Claire Cock-Starkey and the illustrator goes by the name of Aitch. My friend said, “I thought you’d enjoy this, Melannie. You might even use it on your blog.” She was right on both counts!

The 80 page book is a collection of folk tales, beliefs, and superstitions from all over the world. Most are gleaned from nature, that is, from animals, birds, bugs, flowers, trees, weather, etc. Some pages contain specific stories such as how clouds were invented and why the trees whisper. All the pages are filled with amazing artwork which one reviewer called, “Stunning. Lush. Beautiful.” Though the book is sometimes marketed as a children’s book, several reviewers cautioned that some of the stories and illustrations are on the “dark side” and might not be suitable for children under fourth grade.

Let me share some of the wisdom from this book. Then I’ll tell you why I enjoy reading folklore.

How did the robin get its red breast?

+ How did the robin get its red breast? One Christian tradition says that the robin burnt his chest while fanning the flames to keep baby Jesus warm in the manger. Another says the kindly robin tried to peck away the thorns from Jesus’ crown of thorns as he hung on the cross. The blood of Jesus forever stained his red breast.

+Who is the king of the birds? The birds decided that honor should go to the bird who flew the highest. At first it seemed the eagle had flown the highest. But the tiny wren had snuck a ride on the eagle’s back. When the eagle got tired, clever wren took off from his back and flew even higher! When they both came back down to earth, the wise owl declared the wren as king. The eagle got so mad he hurled the tiny wren to the ground, injuring its wing. That’s why today wrens cannot fly much higher than a hawthorn bush!

+ In ancient Greece, if a bee landed on your head, you were going to be a great success. If a bee landed on the lips of a baby, it meant the child would grow up to be a great speaker or writer.

I hope a bee lands on your head!

+ In the Native American Blackfoot tradition, butterflies are bringers of sleep. That’s why mothers embroidered butterfly symbols onto children’s blankets and clothing.

+ The thistle is the national symbol of Scotland. It became that after an invading Norse army, trying to sneak up on sleeping Scottish troops, took off their shoes. One unlucky invader, however, stepped on a thistle and cried out in pain, thus waking the Scots and saving them from attack.

+ Lilies of the Valley were thought to be created when fairies hung their tiny drinking cups on stalks while they danced.

+ Rosemary was known as the “friendship bush” in England. If you planted one in your garden, you were guaranteed many friends. (I have one in my living room where I often have my friends over!)

+ In Europe the oak tree was considered sacred and powerful. Sick people walked around the tree several times to be cured of their illness.

+ In Finland, if you needed courage, you were supposed to go and hug a pine tree. It was thought that pine trees had lots of courage to stay green all year long.

Need courage? Hug a pine tree!

+ If you brought holly into your house before Christmas Eve, it would cause family arguments.

+ In Japan the cherry tree is sacred. Its lovely but short-lived blossoms remind everyone to cherish each passing moment.

+ If a cat’s whiskers stand out stiffly, good weather is expected; if they droop, it will rain… “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning”… The woolly bear caterpillar can predict the winter weather. If the black stripes are wider than the brown, the winter will be cold. If the brown is wider, the winter will be mild.

+ Bad luck: In Mexico, it is bad luck to sweep your house at night… In the Philippines, people were told not to wear red during a storm, because red attracts lightning… In China sharing a pear with a friend spells the end of that friendship. That’s because the word for “pear” in Chinese sounds very similar to the word for “separate.”

+ Good luck: To actually see a hen lay an egg is good luck… In Germany, to see a weasel sitting on a roof is good luck… In many cultures, a cricket chirping inside your house is a good omen… Hearing a cat sneeze in Italy is good luck.

Have you heard a cat sneeze lately?

+ If you wanted to compel a person to tell the truth, just put a garland of bluebells around their neck.

Why do I enjoy reading folklore? Because folklore is so imaginative… It also reminds me how attentive to the natural world our ancestors really were… And like our ancestors, we too continue to: look for cures for illnesses, try to protect ourselves from invading armies, worry about droughts and storms, try to insure enough food for our families, sustain our courage to face life’s challenges, and hope our children will find success and happiness in the future. Many times our lore is intertwined with our religious beliefs too. The stories we tell help us to ponder the great mysteries that imbue all of creation.

For reflection:

Do you enjoy reading folklore? Why or why Not?

Can you add any folklore tales, wisdom, superstitions to today’s examples?

I picked a song from the vast collection of American folk music. Here’s Bob Dylan’s song from the 1970s called “Forever Young.” It’s a song I particularly like. It is sung here by his “good friend” Joan Baez with some lovely pictures for your inspiration.

I hope you will comment below or make additions to today’s reflection.


  1. John E Hopkins on May 1, 2023 at 6:03 am

    Good morning, Sr. Melannie…

    First, I so love that Bob Dylan song, but I love it even more when Joan Baez sings it. Just beautiful! Like a sung psalm. Second, a cricket inside the house story (which did not SOUND like a good omen). My wife and I were staying at my sister’s very small condo — one room, one teeny room — when suddenly we hear a cricket chirping, just as we were going to sleep. It was the loudest thing we ever heard, and we couldn’t find it anywhere! Needless to say, not much sleep. Ugh!

    Growing up, I was told it was always bad luck to hurt a ladybug and if you held a yellow flower under your chin, and the yellow reflected onto your neck, that meant you liked butter!

    Thank you for your blog; it always gets the mind buzzing! Hope the retreat went well!

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on May 3, 2023 at 7:41 am

      Dear John, I loved your cricket story. One of our convents in Virginia used to get a cricket inside every now and then. Yes, they’re hard to locate. I think they’ve learned to throw their voices as a survival skill… And yes, I learned the yellow buttercup story too… Thanks for getting our minds buzzing with your fine comments! Melannie

  2. Maureen McCarthy on May 2, 2023 at 3:59 pm

    Dear Sister Melannie,
    Thank you for your weekly posts which are so inspiring and meaningful. I love that you always conclude with a song that resonates with the content you have posted. This week on folklore and wisdom from nature spoke to my heart and tickled my funny bone too. It just so happens that I will be guiding a tour of our motherhouse chapel tomorrow—a first-time experience for me. So it was special to draw close to a beautiful pine tree, visible from where I live, to give it a heartfelt hug and pray for courage. Blessings always!

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on May 3, 2023 at 7:43 am

      Maureen, I hope your chapel tour went well! And I hope that beautiful pine tree shared her courage with you! Thanks for writing! Melannie

  3. Melannie Svoboda SND on May 3, 2023 at 7:46 am

    Dear Readers, I want to send a BIG thank you to the Mercy Sisters in Rochester, NY who offered me such warm hospitality as I facilitated their retreat last week. They were an attentive and responsive group of Sisters and Associates! They enlivened me and inspired me throughout the week! And thanks to my readers who supported this retreat with their prayers! Gratefully, Melannie

  4. Rose on May 4, 2023 at 9:23 am

    I heard the one about the ladybug too. And I always think twice when I see a black cat…where’s he going? There’s also not walking under a ladder, and breaking a mirror. Superstitions more than folklore, I think.

    A couple religious ones: doing something with a St. Joseph statue (can’t remember what exactly) if you’re trying to sell your house. And I knew some teachers who would put a Mary statue by the window in the winter in hope of getting a snow day.

    Oh, and my extended family never needed holly to have an argument at Christmas!

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on May 6, 2023 at 9:47 am

      Rose, Thank you for your worthwhile additions. (I laughed at your extended family NOT needing holly to have an argument at Christmas!) Regarding selling a house. You were supposed to bury a small statue of St. Joseph UPSIDE DOWN on your property if you needed help selling your home. Some Christian book stores used to sell kits of his statue and some prayers to him! (Sometimes there’s a distinct line between genuine prayer and superstition)… Thanks for writing! Melannie

  5. Cathy Peterson on May 4, 2023 at 9:24 pm

    I really enjoyed this issue of your blog as I love tales that offer creative and interesting ways to explain the reasons animals, birds, plants, insects and other things in nature are the way they are.

  6. Nancy Frederico on May 10, 2023 at 8:15 pm

    I know I’m just catching up on reading your blogs Sr. Melannie!!! Side note: Homes are selling like hotcakes!! Thank you St. Joseph!! The end of the story is; once your home sells; St. Joseph should be put in a place of honor in your home.
    Enjoying all your reflections as always!!!

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