research

Australian Tawny Frogmouth Folklore

The tawny frogmouth is a species of nocturnal bird native to much of Australia. It is well known in Australian landscapes for the staring red-gold eyes, the camouflage resembling a branch or broken tree stump and it’s seemingly unworried response to human presence.

I was walking in the early morning at a pine forest near where I live and was fortunate enough to spot a tawny frogmouth camouflaged against a pine tree trunk.

Although the tawny frogmouth is often considered like an owl, it is more related to a nightjar but many Australian nocturnal birds share similar symbolic roles in indigenous fables and folklore.

Among the indigenous cultures of the Noongar from Western Australia, the nocturnal birds like the tawny frogmouth and owls were associated with the shamanic powers of the ‘clever men’ and the opposing dangerous forces of night:

Traditionally associated with the dark totem, the owl was believed to be a totemic familiar of the ‘boylya-man’ or sorcerer (”clever man”) and the darkness of night was perceived as a dangerous time when ghosts and supernatural spirits were ever-present.

Owl Beliefs in Nyungar Culture by Ken Macintyre and Barb Dobson.

The shamanic healers of many different indigenous Australia nations and cultures are sometimes known ‘clever men’ and in the Noongar cultures of Western Australia, the clever men were sometimes associated with the nocturnal birds to protect their tribe:

It is not uncommon to hear stories of how certain bulya or ‘clever’ men were believed to have the ability to transform themselves into a night bird such as the owl or mopoke and under this guise were able to watch over and ‘police’ campsites at night time to ensure that the inhabitants were safe from intruders, and also to act as a deterrent against young men becoming involved in sexual transgressions prior to initiation, or breaking the incest taboo. Culturally, the owl may be viewed as an agent of social control in that it is able to fly silently throughout the night, and aided by its powerful, penetrating night vision, is able to watch over people’s night time activities and then report back to the ‘clever man’ to whom it is considered a type of “familiar spirit’

Owl Beliefs in Nyungar Culture by Ken Macintyre and Barb Dobson.

Short Stories, stories

Curses, Storms & Talismans

A constant interest and inspiration in my writing and daily life is the environment. Recently, Australia has suffered some of the worst bushfires on top of a lengthening drought. While I was travelling in Europe from August-October 2019, I started thinking about a possible new idea for novel. First, I needed to write a short story exploring some of the themes and characters. The idea for this story took shape from the the reliance of many early nomadic cultures on the environment. I wondered how a magical way to harness that power could play a vital role in securing the survival of one group over another. I drew inspiration from some of the marvellous artefacts, histories, fairytales and fables I encountered while travelling through European museums. I found inspiration in folktales of magical objects imbued with a spirit like stories of the jinn from Middle Eastern folktales or silver treasure in Celtic folklore. In many of these cursed object folktales, the powerful object, more accurately the entity within, are beholden to the will of a mortal.

research

Iceland's Yule Trolls

In Icelandic tradition, the Yule lads are thirteen trolls who arrive one at a time on each of the 13 days before Christmas and depart in the order they arrived, on the days after Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve, the troll witch Gryla leaves the mountains to seek any children who had been ill-behaved or were without the protection of their parents, taking them back to the mountains where she cooks them into a stew for her lazy husband.


The thirteen Icelandic Yule Lads are described with the acts they are infamously known for tormenting human communities. More can be found at the Smithsonian Magazine here


Sheep-Cote Clod: He tries to suckle yews in farmer’s sheep sheds
Gully Gawk: He steals foam from buckets of cow milk
Stubby: He’s short and steals food from frying pans
Spoon Licker: He licks spoons
Pot Scraper: He steals unwashed pots and licks them clean
Bowl Licker: He steals bowls of food from under the bed (back in the old days, Icelanders used to sometimes store bowls of food there – convenient for midnight snacking?)
Door Slammer: He stomps around and slams doors, keeping everyone awake
Skyr Gobbler: He eats up all the Icelandic yogurt (skyr)
Sausage Swiper: He loves stolen sausages
Window Peeper: He likes to creep outside windows and sometimes steal the stuff he sees inside
Door Sniffer: He has a huge nose and an insatiable appetite for stolen baked goods
Meat Hook: He snatches up any meat left out, especially smoked lamb  Candle Beggar: He steals candles, which used to be sought-after items in Iceland


Since 1746, the Yule trolls became less scary and presented as more mischievous, trickster characters who were depicted as jolly Santa Claus-like figures who left gifts for the well-behaved children and potatoes for the ill-behaved ones. The Yule trolls as they had been described in early traditions and folktales described them as emaciated and clothed in rags. There is a current movement in Iceland to return the Yule Lads to their original descriptions and depictions as the vagabond and desperate orphans accompanying Gryla.

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Iceland's Monstrous Yule Cat


In Iceland, the Yule Cat, Jólakötturin, is a traditional monstrous figure that purportedly prowls the countryside on Christmas Eve devouring those who did not receive new clothing items for Christmas.

There are many debates over the origins of the Yule Cat in Icelandic tradition which does not appear to be mentioned in written form before the 19th century, however, some Icelandic traditions state new clothes are a reward for children who complete chores on time by Christmas Eve. The truth about the origins of Jólakötturin is probably complex and for whatever reason, does not appear openly in historical texts.


In modern Reykjavik, an illuminated sculpture of Jólakötturin has recently been established in honor of the Yule Cat tradition in Iceland.

reads, Recent Reads

The City of Brass

The City of Brass is the first installment in the debut fantasy series The Daevabad Trilogy by American author S. A. Chakraborty based on early Islamic folklore and legends. The City of Brass follows female protagonist Nahri, a con-woman and thief who grew up an orphan on the Cairo streets during Ottoman-French occupation. Nahri has never believed in magic, thinking her unusually accurate abilities to sense illness and talent for languages an extension of her ability to deceive and read a mark. When Nahri attempts a risky healing, she uses a language remembered only from her childhood and accidentally summons Dara, a legendary but mysterious and dangerous warrior djin. In summoning Dara, Nahri also attracts the attention of the deadly ghouls controlled by the destructive ifrit. Fighting for their lives, Dara takes Nahri and flees across the vast expanse of desert, certain the ifrit search for her. In flight across the endless desert landscape, Dara tells Nahri of the legendary city of Daevabad, the tall gilded brass walls of the legendary djinn fortress. Nahri follows Dara, the haunting memories of ghouls and ifrit spurring her to trust Dara even though it has been centuries since he had been within Daevabad and the inconsistencies of his story worry Nahri at the reception they might receive.
The City of Brass was a powerful fantasy debut with the unique Islamic folklore and legends providing an adventurous flair that can only become stronger with the continuing installments in the series.

Short Stories, stories

Folklore & Nature

Human survival has always been dependent on the natural environment and many mythologies show links between folklore and human fear of environmental instability. I was curious to explore folklore dealing with how past and present cultures attempt to explain and avoid disastrous environmental fluctuations. As human survival is so clearly linked to a stable environment, natural disasters like floods, drought and severe storms have been explained by many different folktales, explaining how appeasing supernatural forces could avoid climatic catastrophe. Long and short-term disasters were often viewed as societies or specific families who had failed to appease the supernatural beings who had power over the environment. Such examples occur throughout different cultures and folklore but the common themes involve a bargain between the mortals inhabiting lands under the power of supernatural beings, whether they are the Fair Folk of Irish folklore, the jinn of the Middle East or powerful spirits of Japanese folklore. According to folklore, a bargain with these supernatural beings can protect the land from poor harvests, drought, floods or harsh winters. I am exploring how these bargains could occur over generations with supernatural beings acting as guardians for a specific family and the effect for the environment when reneging on such a bargain.

Short Stories, stories

Haunting, Horror & Shadows

I have always been inspired and drawn to the very dark Gothic-style horror of the Victorian era, where classic works like Frankenstein, Dracula and The Turn of the Screw combine with the dark tales by Edgar Allan Poe and H.P Lovecraft influencing generations of horror writers. To those classic works, I often include the eerie descriptions of landscape and physical surroundings from Victorian era poets like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Blake and William Butler Yeats which evoke supernatural atmospheres based on physical surrounding as much as characters.
From similar thematic foundations, I wanted to write a modern horror story about hauntings, where the surroundings were as much a haunting as the ghost itself. I was interested in a manifested haunting, a demonic shadowy being, feeding on the vulnerable, where an increase in societal despair, drug addiction, homelessness and suicides are the traces of the demon’s presence. I was interested in using a contemporary Australian setting, choosing the wintry city streets of Melbourne and a ghost caught in “limbo” between the veil of life and death.

reads, Recent Reads

Heart's Blood

Heart’s Blood is a Historical Fantasy by Australian-New Zealand author Juliet Marillier, following the young female scribe Caitrin, who after fleeing her own dark past, takes a commission at the derelict ruins of Whistling Tor in the household of the mysterious Chieftain, Anluan.Caitrin soon earns Anluan’s trust and that of his odd household retainers, a mixture of loyal but bound ghosts. While Caitrin translates records from Anluan’s ancestors, she learns the history behind the dark stories of Whistling Tor and the challenges facing the physically weakened Anluan. Yet the darkest but most important horrific secret resides in one of Anluan’s ancestors and past Chieftan of Whistling Tor, a sorcerer who bound the Host – the capricious army ghosts to Whistling Tor and to the will of its Chieftain. Despite the Host being an unbeatable army, the Chieftain must always reside at Whistling Tor to control the Host. For past attempts to lead the Host to battle away from the control of Whistling Tor led to calamitous and fatal consequences for the Chieftain. While committed to her translations for Anluan, Caitrin is soon determined and consumed by the mystery and plight of the Host. Caitrin promises to release the Host by finding a counter-spell to the one Anluan’s ancestor had used to bind the restless ghosts into an army. The promise Caitrin makes to the Host embodies her own love for Anluan. Parallel to the plight of the Host is the personal battles within Caitrin and Anluan to heal the injuries of their own past and confront the fears that have always constrained them.
Heart’s Blood is a beautiful story, emphasising hope and courage and creating genuine characters. Infused in every facet of the story, the half-seen eldritch world continues as a signature theme for Juliet Marillier.

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Namarrgon: Lightning Spirit

Namarrgon is an indigenous Australian creation ancestor, a powerful spirit of the Arnhem Land plateau in the Kakadu region responsible for violent monsoon storms of Northern Australia. In the indigenous stories of Namarrgon, violent lightning and thunder storms each tropical summer are associated with the axes he throws, splitting the clouds to cause thunder and lightning as the axes strike the ground.

” All things in the landscape were left by the creation ancestors. They taught Aboriginal people how to live with the land. From then on Aboriginal people became keepers of their country. “
Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre

Namarrgon resides in the sandstone cliffs of the Arnhem Land plateau but the Creation story tells his travel inland, moving from the coastline toward the sandstone cliffs where he leaves an eye on the escarpment, ever gazing eastward where he waits for the summer storm season. The summer monsoon lightning storms are preceded by vast numbers of Leichhardt’s Grasshoppers, called the alyurr in the indigenous languages, representing Namarrgon’s children. While feasting on the pityrodia plants, the alyurr call to Namarrgon who responds with the lightning and thunder storms of the coming monsoon.

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Legend of the Platypus

The platypus is an iconic Australian native semi-aquatic, burrowing, egg-laying mammal (monotreme) with an unusual soft-bill, webbed feet and a thick “beaver-like” tail covered in a soft fur pelt. An indigenous Australian legend details the origins of these eclectic physical features according to indigenous cultural heritage. The indigenous Australian legend retold in Aboriginal Stories by A.W. Reed, recounts the legend of shared ancient kinship between the groups of the ancestral indigenous  Peoples before they possessed human form.

The legend of Platypus details an argument between the Lizards, Birds and Animals, the totemic ancestors of the indigenous Peoples. The Lizards, Birds and Animals argued over who was more ancient, more powerful and rightfully belonged in the waterhole. The culmination of the debate is the Lizards decide to take the waterhole. The Frilled Lizards use their powers to call a storm, flooding the landscape. While the Birds could fly away and larger Animals flee from the flood waters, the Platypus became trapped and drowned. After the flood and much later, the Lizards, Birds and Animals gather again and realise the few numbers of once-plentiful platypus. One of the Lizards, the carpet snake recounts the sighting of an old platypus living far away. Finally, the old Platypus travels to meet with the Peoples and he tells them of his heritage. The Platypus explains he is the most ancient of the Peoples, related to the first group, the Lizards sharing a semi-aquatic lifestyle but he also shares kinship with the egg-laying Birds, but Platypus also has a fur pelt, claiming kinship with the Animals. The legend of Platypus details the shared kinship between the different and most ancestral Totemic groups from which the later human-form ancestors claimed heritage.