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.

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.

research

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.

research

Spain: Royal Palace of Madrid

In late August 2019, I visited Madrid, the capital city of Spain. Although Spain still has a royal family, the Royal Palace of Madrid is no longer occupied by the Spanish royal family and is open to the public on most days. You can read more here about my visit to the Spanish capital and the interesting history I learned while exploring Madrid.


Part of my visit to Madrid was to see the Real Palacio de la Madrid, built on the foundations of the Alcazar of Madrid, a medieval fortress, expanded into the massive royal palace, the residential palace of the Spanish royal family but now only used for administrative purposes.


Across from the royal palace, a short walk through the impressive golden gates is the beautiful Cathedral of La Almudena which stands opposite the royal residence separated by the wide ceremonial courtyard of the palace and above the plateau and sprawling gardens below. From the arched balconies of the main courtyard, the palace overlooks the royal woodlands and the expanse of gardens below.


During my visit to the palace, I was particularly interested in the museum collections of the Real Armeria de Madrid, an impressive collection of medieval and Renaissance weaponry and armor. The collection contains many original pieces from the Spanish royal family, collected over the generations including detailed displays of armory and weaponry throughout the late Medieval and Renaissance periods and into the late 19th century. In the lower floor of the Royal Armory are the historical parade armor worn by various kings and princes of the royal family, including pieces commissioned by Queen Isabel I of Castille including her own parade armor and that of her husband Ferdinand II of Aragon, both historically remembered for her campaign to unite southern Spain under Catholic rule, ending the last Islamic dynasty in Spain with the fall of Granada and the expulsion and persecution of non-Catholics in Spain.

Writing

Ragnarok Dreaming: Characters

During the writing my latest Fantasy novel-in-progress, Ragnarok Dreaming, I created character collages for the central characters. These are useful visual aids representing important character aspects and themes. Ragnarok Dreaming is inspired by Norse myths and incorporates aspects of Australian legends.


Loki: The shape-shifting trickster from Norse mythology, Loki is a giant from Muspelheim but bound like a brother to the god Odin, leader of the Aesir. In Ragnarok Dreaming, Loki is rescued from Ginnungagap, a timeless void, waking in female form in an Australian dreamscape of legendary beings


Odin: The god Odin is well known in any mythological inspired Fantasy novel, but in Ragnarok Dreaming, Odin plays the role of the cautious leader, always trying to prevent catastrophe and maintain the balance of order above chaos.


The Norns: the Norns are three central female figures in Norse mythology but neither gods nor giants. The norns tend Yggdrasil and maintain balance in the nine realms. In Ragnarok Dreaming, Loki suspects the norns were responsible for exiling him in the Ginnungagap.


Wahn: Although not a continuing main character through the entire novel, Wahn is inspired by the indigenous Australian legends of the Crow, a Trickster god who acts to preserve those he favours but always through own motivations. In Ragnarok Dreaming, Loki encounters Wahn whole memory returns and self-identity, shaping how Loki will react to later events in the novel.


Freya: The Vanir goddess Freya is a Vanir goddess who dwells close to the lands of Odin and other Aesir gods. Unlike the Aesir, Freya is associated with natural elements but is also the leader of the Valkyries, claiming a portion of the dead who are not favoured by Odin to form her own host of warriors. In Ragnarok Dreaming, Freya is openly hostile toward Loki and controls much more magical power than she allows Odin or the Aesir to understand. In Ragnarok Dreaming, Loki suspects Freya of scheming to undermine the Aesir.


Anjea: Although appearing only in the beginning of Ragnarok Dreaming, Anjea is inspired by the figure from some indigenous Australian legends, a being who gives life and physical form crafted from the earth. In Ragnarok Dreaming, Anjea is the responsible for finding Loki’s lost spirit amid the void of Ginnungagap and fashioning a new physical form.

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Native American War Horse

During my research into indigenous North American customs and cultures, I came across reference to the markings painted on the war horses. There are many Amerindian cultures and tribes which exist today and many more that have been lost. I acknowledge with respect, that these symbols are not exhaustive nor do they belong to a single tribe. The markings explained below will have different interpretations specific to each tribe.
The markings painted on a war horse signified aspects of the warrior’s prowess, symbols defining the number of enemy horses captured, the number of battle honors earned and wounds received in battle. Other markings like the red handprint signify a completed mission while the red handprint on the shoulder symbolizes the warrior’s oath of vengeance and the intended completion of his mission, to be interpreted as the impending death of his oath-sworn enemy. Other markings are specific to the war horse, offering protection in battle. There are several sets of markings painted around the hoof, eye and nose imbuing the war horse with increased ability to sense and see danger, to be faster and stronger.

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Norse Gods: The Vanir

Much of the information about Norse mythology is gleaned from the historical texts called the Eddas. As recounted in the Eddas, two separate hosts of deities initially existed, the Vanir and Aesir . These two hosts waged several unsuccessful wars against each other until they united as a single host, combining their strength against the giants. The union of the Vanir and Aesir was then strengthened through marriage alliances. The deities of the Vanir are introduced in this first post, while a second post discusses the Aesir.


The Vanir:

A host of Norse deities almost exclusively associated with the natural elements. These included affinities with the seasons, celestial bodies, and the sedir, a magic associated with women that included foretelling the future. The war between the Aesir and Vanir was settled with an exchange of hostages before several marriages permanently united them.


Njord:

Njord was a prominent god among the Vanir and the father of sibling deities, Freya and Freyr. Njord was embodiment of the winds, especially those winds close to shore. Associated with fishing, Njord was symbolic of the bounties from the sea and often invoked by fishermen. Njord was also invoked by sailors returning from sea voyages hoping for the safety of the shore. Njord was often depicted as an older man, features marked by exposure to the harsh weather of the sea winds.

Freyr:

Son of the Vanir god Njord and sibling to goddess Freya. As with the deities of the Vanir, Freyr was associated with natural elements and was the personification of summer. Freyr was the embodiment of abundance and wealth, associated with harvests, hunts and forests. Freyr was also associated with some aspects of warfare and was often depicted with a golden sword, radiant like the summer sun. More commonly, Freyr was associated the wealth and abundance of good harvests and the bountiful summer forests.

Freya:

Daughter of Vanir god, Njord and sister of the god Freyr. Similar to her sibling, Freya was the personification of Spring. Freya was associated with lovers and with the association of spring, she embodied fertility. Commonly, Freya was depicted as a beautiful maiden and often wreathed in garlands of flowers. There was a darker aspect to Freya that associated her with battle and death. Freya is the leader of the Valkyries, the female warrior spirits who take the souls of honoured warriors slain in battle. Freya was also the archetypal völva, a practitioner of the ancient Norse magic, the sedir, which had many shamanistic qualities and was both revered and feared for the gift it offered of foresight. Freya first taught the sedir to the Norse gods and, by extension, to the mortal realm of Midgard.

research

Norse Gods: The Aesir

Much of the information about Norse mythology is gleaned from the historical texts called the Eddas. As recounted in the Eddas, two separate hosts of deities initially existed, the Vanir and Aesir. These two hosts waged several unsuccessful wars against each other until they united as a single host, combining their strength against the giants. The union of the Vanir and Aesir was then strengthened through marriage alliances. The deities of the Vanir were introduced in an earlier post, while this post discusses the Aesir.


The Aesir:

A host of Norse deities that are very different to the Vanir and, considered by many scholars, to be the more recent in Norse mythology. The primary deities in the Aesir are almost exclusively male and associated with warfare and aspects of community and family life. Lesser gods in the Aesir are associated with craftsmanship but all have specific personality traits that would be invoked during prayer.


Odin:

The principal leader of the Aesir. Odin was also the eldest of the gods and the father of many lesser deities. Odin was the embodiment of a leader protecting his dependants through wisdom and seeking knowledge. Odin was also often invoked by leaders before battle as Odin was associated with victory in battle. Odin’s quest for further wisdom to improve his leadership and maintain it, led to many sacrifices including the offering of his eye to gain the foresight he required. Odin was the real leader of the Norse deities and was an exemplar of how rulers should sacrifice themselves for the furthering of their dependant community and family.

Frigg:

Goddess among the Aesir and wife to Odin, who in Odin’s absence from Asgard, became the leader of the Aesir. As the only principal goddess among the Aesir, there is curiously little written specifically about Frigg in the Eddas. Frigg was the embodiment of a virtuous Nordic wife, associated with the household and invoked by married couples for her embodiment of love and marriage. Frigg was commonly depicted as wife, mother and leader but her elaborate clothing revealed a darker aspect to her. Frigg’s powers were like those of Odin, associated with the air. Frigg was responsible for the discovery of flax and her spinning distaff was capable of enacting her fickle mood where she would spin the clouds into her clothing, all as changeable as the weather.

Thor:

A god among the Aesir, the embodiment of thunderstorms and the personification of physical strength. Thor was the son of Odin and often associated with warfare and, like Odin and the god Tyr, these three gods formed a triad of gods often invoked during battle. Where Odin’s powers in warfare are related to qualities aspired for strong leadership, Tyr was invoked for strategic planning and swordsmanship. Thor, on the other hand, was admired for the brute strength and fury he possessed, a battle-rage and lust that could sustain armies and inspire victory. Thor is rarely described or praised for intelligence but his powerful strength and warhammer were often used to save the Aesir and Vanir from attacks by the giants, their common enemy.

research

Bone Arrow & Lakota Language

Bone Arrow does not attempt to retell indigenous North American folktales or legends, but many names for individual characters were carefully chosen to reflect the personality or motivations.


These names in Bone Arrow are adapted from the Lakota languages, part of the Siouan language family. The Sioux form a group of indigenous Native American tribes sharing many connections of tradition, language and history. That said, the Siouan language family includes tribes from the Great Plains, stretching into southern Canada.

None of the languages in the Siouan language family are exactly the same. The Dakota and Lakota languages are closely related and speakers can understand each other fairly easily. The same is not true for the Nakota language group who are the next most-related language group to the Dakota-Lakota. The Nakota language group includes speakers from the Assiniboine and Stoney languages. Nakota speakers cannot easily understand the speakers of Lakota or Dakota despite being closely-related languages. This alone, emphasises the complexity and advanced networks between Amerindian tribes of the Great Plains.


I do not speak any of the Lakota languages nor have any training in linguistics. I thank the linguistic anthropologists for allowing insight to the Lakota languages so I might use a few words in Bone Arrow. My own research was basic but appreciate the fabulous bilingual resource from the Lakota Language Consortium and their efforts to share Lakhota with the next generations and anyone willing to learn. I also owe thanks to Native American Languages Net for sharing select words, phrases, folktales and resources from many indigenous tribes of the Americas.


Here are some of the names for important characters in Bone Arrow with their pictorial meaning in Lakota:

Writing

Behind Bone Arrow: Folktales

I am often asked what motivated me to write Bone Arrow, a Fantasy novel inspired by indigenous North American folktales and legends. My inspiration behind Bone Arrow is discussed in a first post, a second post explains the cultural inspiration and this final post details folklore inspiration.


Bone Arrow includes many folklore references to several different Amerindian legends but does not aim to retell or recreate these. Instead, the vivid fables from many Amerindian cultures are the history and memories of these indigenous peoples. While all of the Amerindian legends and folklore traditions offered keen insights into acutely aware and adaptive cultures, a few were particularly special to me. In my research for Bone Arrow, I found Amerindian legends and folktales had a deep resonance for me that was unlike anything I’d encountered before. Many of the folktales have been preserved through oral traditions with changes reflecting the adaptations to conditions over generations.


Part of my research for Bone Arrow included these collections of Amerindian legends recorded into text as told originally in the form of oral stories. These include Tricksters figures, stories of reincarnation beliefs and the myriad of folklore beliefs and legends, revealing the distinct stories specific to the different geographical areas inhabited by the indigenous people of North America and Canada.

The Ijiraq is a humanoid mythical monster from the Inuit legends of northern Canada. Possessing powers making them visible only from periphery of eye sight, they dwell in frozen lands far from humans. The areas where the Ijiraq are believed to inhabit also contain underground fissures containing hydrogen sulfide gas, inducing hallucinations and mental confusion in high doses. A strange side-effect of the gas can include visual loss in the center of sight, reducing vision to peripheral eye sight. The exposure to harsh landscapes and the real risk to loss of life if straying from safety into the volcanic marshes of the arctic tundra are possible causes for the development of such a monster in local folklore.


Several indigenous Amerindian cultures have legends of Wakinyan, the Thunderbird, a massive black bird that appears physically to look like an Eagle or a Raven and in some legends is the northwestern coast, the Trickster figure, Raven is very similar in appearance. Legends of the Thunderbird stretch along much of the western coast and plains of North American and Canada. the Thunderbird is a respected mythic figure, the bringer of storms, both real and metaphorical. Wakinyan, as the physical manifestation of a storm possessed great wings that represented the clapping of thunder, while the silver eyes were a source of lightning. As such, the powerful totem was often the source of many ceremonies, rituals, dances and prayers for successful rain, the defeat of an enemy.


Many folktales have is a strong philosophical quality like many fables but a focus is often placed on the physical surroundings. The landscape where such legends and folktales were born remains a challenging environment and, one which many of the different Amerindian cultures consider with great respect. This is a two-fold sense of respect for an inherent wariness is clear when regarding the environment which is necessary for survival and the potential cause of destruction.The legend of the the wendigo, a humanoid monster of the Great Lakes region, is a common folktale among the Ojibwa and Algonquin indigenous peoples. It is a complex fable warning of the harsh realities of winter, starving, madness and the bitter cold weather. The wendigo was one of the first folktales I encountered and had a profound influence on the writing of Bone Arrow.