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? 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.
+ 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.
+ 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.
+ 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.
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.