Tanabata: the Japanese Star Festival

Tanabata (Japanese: たなばた or 七夕, meaning literally “Evening of the seventh”), also known as the Star Festival (星祭り, or Hoshi matsuri), is a Japanese festival that celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi, represented by the stars Vega and Altair respectively. According to legend, the Milky Way separates these lovers, who are allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the lunisolar calendar. The festival was introduced to Japan by the Empress Kōken in 755. It originated from “The…

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The story of Dick Whittington and his faithful cat

Born in the 135Os, Dick Whittington was a poor boy even if, eventually, became a wealthy merchant and three-time Lord Mayor of London. According to legend, he made his fortune thanks to the extraordinary ratting abilities of his cat. The story of Dick Whittington and His Cat is the folk tale surrounding the real-life Richard Whittington (c. 1354–1423) and it is not just a fairy tale, but it is part of the folklore of London. Today, near the foot of Highgate Hill is the famous Whittington stone, which is supposed…

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Zhiva: the Slavic Goddess of Life

Zhiva, Dziwa, Zywa, Siwa, or Sewa are all names for the Slavic Goddess of Life. Words that derive from here name are zhizn/zycie/zhyttya, meaning life, zhivotnoye/zywiola, meaning animal/animals, zhivnost – critters, zhivot – stomach, and zhivitsa, meaning tree pitch. Zhiva is an all-Slavic Goddess of life and fertility, although Her cult is more noticeable among Western and Southern Slavs that know her as Vida. Medieval Polish sources mention Her as a daughter of Sventovit and Noncena, respectively deities of day and night, while late Polish sources call Her Dzidzilia (Great)…

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The Irish legend of O’Donoghue on May morning

One of Ireland’s most enduring legends tells us of how O’Donoghue, who was once Lord of the Lakes of Killarney, Ross Castle, and the surrounding lands, can be seen each May-morning upon a white horse gliding over the three lakes. He is accompanied by unearthly music, and attended by an army of otherworldly beings who stew May flowers in their wake, including youths and maidens who moved lightly and unconstrained over the watery plain. The following account of the origins of his May-morning visitations on the Lakes of Killarney was…

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The Inca legend of Lake Titicaca and other mysteries about its origin

We are in Peru. The history of the creation of some local cities is sometimes based on the Inca mythological legends. One of the best known is the myth of the origin of Lake Titicaca, whose main characters are the inhabitants of Puno, a city in southeastern Peru, not by chance located on the shore of lake. Lake Titicaca is the biggest freshwater lake in the world. It is located in the Andes, on the border between Bolivia and Peru, with a surface elevation of 3,812 metres, and It’s always…

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Alps: nightmare creatures of German folklore

Alps are creatures that appear in nightmares in the middle of the night. This mythical creature would appear in the dreams of men and women but prefers to disturb women more. It is defined by the Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch as a “nature-god or nature-demon, equated with the Fauns of Classical mythology…regarded as eerie, ferocious beings…As the mare he messes around with women”. They could manipulate dreams to their liking and would create horrible nightmares, and this is probably why “Alptraum” is the word for nightmare in German which if translated literally…

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Knockers: Mine Spirits of Cornish Folklore

Many miners in the 19th century both in the United Kingdom and America but not only, believed in the existence of more or less helpful mine spirits. The supernatural creatures most commonly encountered underground are the Mine Goblins or Kobolds, in Germanic folklore, characters that sometimes stole miner’s unattended tools and food. This folklore began in Cornwall, England, where miners believed in spirits that lived and worked in mines. The most common of the subterranean British breeds are the Knockers of South-west England and the Coblynau of Wales. They were…

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Pleiades: mythology of the Seven Sisters

In Rome and in Greece, in this period, the Pleiades were remembered, and predictions were made on the illnesses of the season. In short, the Pleiades were the seven sisters who, at the time of their death, were transformed into stars from Zeus. After the spring equinox, the ancients were careful not to expose themselves to the unstable climate of the period to avoid the seasonal ills. Since the ascent of the Pleiades coincided with this period, it was common opinion that the constellation was somehow linked to the climate.…

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Hilaria: the roman festival that commemorated the worship of the Phrygian goddess Cybele and her devotee Attis

In the last several centuries before the fall of the Roman Empire (476 A.D.), Roman devotees of the goddess Cybele celebrated a festival of laughter and rejoicing on this day, March 25. Known as Hilaria, it was considered the day of the resurrection of the god Attis, who had died three days earlier. As the god of vegetation and beloved son and lover of the goddess Cybele, he represented the god-sacrifice who, after dying, rises again (by the hand of the Goddess) as the spirit of spring. Scholars believe that…

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How the Pussy Willow got its name

Spring gets nearer, and a symbol of the season is the Pussy Willow. Salix discolor is its botanical name, and its fuzzy buds that emerge in spring are excellent for floral arrangements or stunning in a bunch by themselves. You can leave a bunch of pussy willow branches in water and they will form roots. You can then transplant these cuttings into your garden, they will grow into a new shrubs and you can take cuttings off them for many more years. But why is it that the pussy willow…

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Leshy: the Slavic God of the forest

Leshy, literally He-of-the-forest is a tutelary deity of the forests in Slavic mythology. He was depicted a tall, elderly man with a face covered with branches, while in other source his appearance was similar to a typical looking man (mostly he wore a forest ranger uniform and carried a gun or thick staff). According to some sources, though he often has the appearance of a man, his eyebrows, eyelashes, and right ear are missing, his head is somewhat pointed, and he lacks a hat and belt. In his native forest…

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Ancient celebrations of March 1st

March, spring month par excellence, marked the beginning of the Roman year, which did not end in winter, like ours. Nothing gives the idea of a new beginning better than the blooming of the first flowers, used to adorn the altars of Juno Lucina, the goddess who protected childbirth and brought light and fertility. March is named after the god Mars: according to the legend, Romulus chose to call the first month of the year this way in order to honor his divine father. The first day of March in…

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4th January: Fufluns Festival

Fufluns (or Puphluns) was the Etruscan was a god of plant life, grape harvest, happiness, wine, health, and growth in all things, equivalent to the Greek Dionysus and the Roman Bacchus. He was worshipped at Populonia, in Tuscany region, central Italy (Etruscan Fufluna or Pupluna) and apparently he is the namesake of that town. He was the son of the thunder god Tinia and the earth goddess Semia. Taurine sacrifices were performed in his honor, as the bull was the animal consecrated to him. Fufluns is usually depicted as a…

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Celebrate the New Year with a Good Luck Pig!

Around the world, lucky foods for the new year range from collard greens (representing green cash) to long noodles (representing a lengthy lifespan), or lentils (representing money and luck). However, for many cultures, pork is the favorite for welcoming the New Year. From Cuban roast pig to Okinawan sparerib or pig’s feet soup, the pork starts the year as star and, in several cases, pigs serve as annual good luck charms. For istance, in Lancaster County, a node of the Pennsylvania Dutch, locals spend New Year’s Day feasting on roast…

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How the wren became the King of the Birds

Many years ago, all the birds of the world gathered to decide which of them would be their king. After many days of debate, they decided that they would hold a contest: whichever bird could fly the highest would be the king. Thus, on the day of the competition, all the birds took off into the air. The small song birds quickly tired, with their fragile wings unable to carry them far. They were soon joined by the ducks, crows, and many others. In short order, only the strongest of…

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7# The long and curious tale of Poinsettia

Poinsettia plants are native to Central America, especially an area of southern Mexico known as Taxco del Alarcon where they flower during the winter. The ancient Aztecs called them “cuetlaxochitl”, and they had many uses for them, including using the flowers (actually special types of leaves known as bracts rather than being flowers) to make a purple dye for clothes and cosmetics, and the milky white sap was made into a medicine to treat fevers. It is said that Montezuma, the last of the Aztec emperors, was so captivated by…

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6# Why do we kiss under the mistletoe?

Kissing under sprigs of mistletoe, one of the most famous symbols of Christmas, is a well-known holiday tradition. However, this little plant’s history as a symbolic herb dates back thousands of years, and many ancient cultures prized it for its healing properties. The plant’s romantic overtones most likely started with the Celtic Druids of the 1st century A.D. Because mistletoe could blossom even during the frozen winter, they came to view it as a sacred symbol of vivacity, and they administered it to humans and animals alike in the hope…

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5# The legend of the noble evergreen trees

It is Christmas time: fresh Christmas trees are just about on every street corner, or waiting to be cut, taken home and dressed in holiday sparkle. But how did evergreen trees, whether pine, spruce or fir, become one of the symbol of Christmas? There are many legends surrounding the history of Christmas trees and what evergreen trees symbolize. The evergreen fir tree has traditionally been used to celebrate winter festivals (pagan and Christian) for thousands of years. Pagans, for istance, used branches to decorate their homes during the winter solstice,…

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3# The story of Babushka and the three kings

For many, Christmas is a time of merry making and gift giving, of bonding with friends and family and of spending time in the warm glow of love. And, of course, gifts are the most awaited part of the beloved holiday. It is a tradition which, according to legends, has continued since the birth of Christ, when He was offered the first gifts that would later become an important aspect of the celebration of his birth. And like gifts, Christmas stories are also an integral part of the occasion. Every…

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2# The legend of Candy Cane

Along with candles, wreaths, stars, bells and mistletoes, there is another ubiquitous decorative item for Christmas, one of the favorite for children: the candy cane. In fact, it is so popular that it is one of the most visible items in any decoration, from Christmas tree, to restaurants or the shop windows. They can be hung with colorful ribbons and can be used to decorate almost anything, from an entire room to a cake or a tree. The candy cane is simple, eye-catching, and what’s more, it’s tasty. Though candy…

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La Patasola: the vengeful protector of the Andes

Colombia is full of magic and mystery and there is a single village in the country that does not boast its own spirit or superstition, often passed from generation to generation. Some ghost stories have become so entrenched in the national psyche they are known countrywide, by scaring children and keeping errant spouses in their place. Imagine you are alone, deep in country’s central Andean region. Maybe you are cutting down lumber in the lush forests, or prospecting for some minerals, gold, for istance, in one of valley creeks. All…

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The stunning statue on the tomb of the legendary Maid Marian

Little Dunmow Church, St Mary, is one of the oldest buildings in Essex, England. The building was originally the chapel of the lady of an Augustinian convent of the 12th century, and inside there is an alabaster tomb depicting one of the most famous women in British history, Maid Marian. Legendary companion of Robin Hood, the literary character was actually inspired by the life and legends surrounding the daughter of a 13th-century Essex baron, Matilda Fitzwalter. Born in the late 12th century, Matilda was the daughter of Robert, Baron Fitzwalter,…

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Drangurinn Rock and the Elves in South-Iceland Folklore

Drangurinn rock is a mysterious giant tuff rock formation that sits below the Eyjafjöll Mountains in the south of Iceland. However, according to Icelandic folklore, it did not get there naturally, but It is said that a semi-legendary outlaw tore it from Mount Hrútafell and dropped it just there. According to the story, a strongman named Grettir Ásmundsson once passed through this area in a bad mood. In his rage, he grabbed a handful of the mountain and flung it westwards onto the lowlands. The rock he threw down is…

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Adze: an insectoid source of misfortune in West Africa

As night settles in Africa, across Togo and Ghana, where the Ewe people lives, the Adze, it is said, slips through keyholes, under windows and around doors, flying to the bodies of the sleeping, appearing as mosquitos, beetles, fireflies, or simply balls of light. They prey on men and women, but especially enjoy the blood of children. For centuries, the Ewe people of West Africa have lived in fear of these creatures. According to the legend, there’s no potion, spell, or weapon that can ward one off, and no cure…

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Pozzo del Diavolo: was this cave created by Hercules’s wrath, the devil, or volcanic activity?

We are in Italy, in Lazio region, above Vico Lake in the beautiful beech forest of Monte Venere, part of the UNESCO’s Primeval Beech Forests of Europe transnational network of protected sites. At 507 meters above sea level, Lake Vico is the highest volcanic lake in Italy and the beech forest of Monte Venere is among the lowest in the country (most beech forests are located above 900 meters). Thanks to its peculiar natural characteristics, the lake offers a rich variety of plant species and different environments, allowing the life…

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August 10th: the tears of Saint Lawrence and the night of the shooting stars

In August, as Earth’s orbit crosses the dust ejected by the comet Swift-Tuttle (the largest object known to repeatedly pass by Earth) provides a fabulous spectacle for viewers on Earth. It is a regular event every year and, as usual, it will reach its peak between the 10th of August (St. Lawrence) and the 12th. Despite talk of “shooting stars”, the Perseids are actually debris (dust and ice) left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle as it goes around the Sun. The comet last reached perihelion, the closest point to the…

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Crater Lake: the deepest lake in the United States, and once the site of epic destruction that lives on in myth.

Crater Lake, Oregon, has been known different names. It was first known, to non-Native Americans anyway, as “Deep Blue Lake,” as named in 1853 by its discoverer, John Wesley Hillman, an American prospector. Later, in 1885, it was dubbed Lake Majesty, and finally Crater Lake. Today Crater Lake and the Crater National Park that surrounds it are popular destinations for hikers and campers, but it was once the site of enormous geological upheaval, and one of the largest volcanic eruptions ever witnessed by humans, so terrifying that it has been…

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Vrykolakas: the greek bloodless Vampire.

The “undead dead” have always been an interesting aspect of global folklore. Many cultures seem to have at least a few popular creatures or mythic beings that are near to a Vampire. However, each culture seems to have its own “version” on the common creature. I didn’t know the Greek Vrykolakas, whose journey from human to vampire, and their life afterwards, is really interesting. While most vampire legends tend to involve drinking human blood as part of the mythos, in Greece, it does not. A person doesn’t become a Vrykolakas…

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St. Senara’s Curch and the legend of the Mermaid of Zennor~

A variety of fish-tailed gods were worshipped by the first civilisations of the Middle East, and the earliest known of these was Oannes, Lord of the Waters, who appeared about 7000 years ago. However, it is unclear what the connection is between these ancient gods and the mermaids that were reported by European sailors from around the 15th century onwards. But sightings were at one time pretty common in Cornwall. British folklore proposes that the mermaid represents an early depiction of the goddess Aphrodite, who was seen as a warning…

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Roche Rock Hermitage: a ruined 15th-century hermitage steeped in myth and mystery~

Roche, in cornish dialect “Tregarrek”, which mean homestead of the rock, is a civil parish and village in mid-Cornwall, United Kingdom. Atop a 20-meters-tall tourmaline granite, outcrop looking out at the atmospheric Bodmin Moor and china clay mountains of St. Austell, stands a suggestive ruined hermitage. Built around 1409, it is dedicated to Saint Michael and has been surrounded by myth and mystery for hundreds of years. The hermitage has two floors, with the top room originally serving as the chapel. Although the west wall is all but gone, the…

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