Lammas: welcoming the harvest

We are in the middle of the dog days of summer, when the gardens are full of beautiful flowers, the fields are full of grain, and the harvest is approaching. The hot days of August are upon us, much of the earth is dry and parched, but we know that the bright reds and yellows of the harvest season are just around the corner. Corn has been planted, tended, harvested and consumed for millennia, and so it’s no wonder that there are myths about the magical properties of this grain.…

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Lake Toyoni: Japan’s Naturally Heart-Shaped Lake

Nestled in a remote area of Hokkaido island, surrounded by lush forest on all sides and untouched by human civilization, Lake Toyoni (豊似湖) is a hidden gem among Japan’s many tourism attractions. It is a freshwater lake at about 260 m elevation in Erimo town located in the southeastern distriction of Tomakomai city. Up until a few years ago, it was virtually unknown to most Japanese, but a popular television commercial featuring an aerial view of the heart-shaped natural wonder turned it into a popular tourist spot virtually overnight. Of…

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The Spirit of the Grain Fields

Harvest is the most important time of the agricultural calendar. Not only in past, the fortunes of farms, families, and even entire communities were tied to its outcome. And thus, unsurprisingly, harvest has developed its variety of deities, traditions, and superstitions which are found in almost every farming culture worldwide. Ever since the first farmers planted their crops over 10,000 years ago, people have had an anxious wait for summer. Will there be enough hot weather to ripen the corn? Will an unlucky spell rot the grain in the fields?…

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Porphyry Island – Canadian Lighthouses of Lake Superior

Just east of Thunder Bay on Lake Superior’s northern shore, Canada, lies the volcanic Black Bay Peninsula that separates Black Bay and Nipigon Bay, and consists of over 300 distinct lava flows. Porphyry Island is the last in a chain of islands that stretch southwest from the peninsula and is named for the island’s igneous rock, known as porphyry, that contains quartz and feldspar crystals. Another unique peculiarity of the island is the presence of the so-called devil’s club, a shrub with a spiny stem and large leaves. Porphyry Island…

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Devil’s Pulpit: a strange rock with a sinister reputation lurks within the crimson waters of this Scottish glen

The real name of the gorge in Scotland is Finnich Glen. The name Devil’s Pulpit comes from a rock formation that looks similar to that of a church pulpit, even if the red coloured water seemed more satanic than saintly, to early visitors. Originally, the name “the Devil’s Pulpit” referred only to the rock that sometimes pokes above the rushing stream, and some say it is where the Devil stood to address his followers, with the crimson current swirling at his feet. Others say Druids held secret meetings there, hidden…

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Buck Moon: July’s Full Moon

A moon-flooded prairie; a straying Of leal-hearted lovers; a baying Of far away watching dogs; a dreaming Of brown-fisted farmers; a gleaming Of fireflies eddying nigh, — And that is July! James N. Matthews (1852–1910) As we already know, full Moon traditional names come from a number of places, including Native American, Colonial American, and European sources. Traditionally, each full Moon name was applied to the entire lunar month in which it occurred and not only to the full Moon. July’s long and hot summer days are filled with the…

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The remains of Buchanan Castle in Scotland

The eerie remains of Buchanan Castle are located west of the village of Drymen in Stirlingshire, central Scotland. Interestingly, although it bears the name of the Buchanan Clan, none of the Buchanans ever lived there. And in fact it is not even related with them, except that the original castle on the site (Buchanan Auld House) was the ancestral seat of Clan Buchanan for several centuries. Historically, the old house and surrounding lands had been the property of the Clan Buchanan but passed to the Clan Graham in the late…

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Wat Phu Tok: the most dangerous temple in Thailand?

In Thailand, a country where the majority of inhabitants are Buddhist, there are temples scattered everywhere, even on mountains which are not that practical to build a worship place. Welcome to Bueng Kan province, far in the northeastern Isan region. It’s one of the lesser visited provinces, and you will love it if you are in search for peace, nature, and something off the beaten path. Without a doubt, Wat Phu Tok (วัดภูทอก) is one of the most unique, thrilling, (and scary) temples in Thailand. And, above all, a visit…

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The secret history of Closeburn Castle, one of the oldest continually inhabited houses in Scotland~

Closeburn Castle is a tower house and one of the oldest continually inhabited buildings in Scotland. It is located 1 km east of the village of Closeburn, in the historical county of Dumfriesshire. The lands were granted to the Kirkpatrick family back in 1232, with the likelihood that the ancient fortalice was built thereafter. The tower house was probably built in the late 14th century, although some sources give a date as early as 1180 or as late as 1420. In any case, everything about the building was designed for…

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Medb’s Cairn: the grave of a mythological Irish queen?

Perched atop the monolithic Irish hill Knocknarea west of Sligo town, lies Medb’s Cairn, in Irish Miosgán Médhbh, a 5,000 year old burial mound, even though no one is quite sure whose it is. It is about 55 metres wide and 10 metres high, making it the largest cairn in Ireland outside the Brú na Bóinne complex in Meath. It is believed to date to around 3000 BCE, and it is a protected National Monument. In recent years, archaeologists have warned that the ancient cairn is being eroded by hikers…

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The forgotten Benbulben Barite Mines – Ireland

In a beautiful and remote area of Ireland are the remains of Benbulben Barite Mine. The once industrious mine was used to unearth barite ore, a naturally occurring mineral used in cement as an aggregate, or ground down and used as a filler or extender. It’s an agent in the sugar refining process, a white pigment in paint and paper, and used as a weighting agent in oil and gas exploration mining, among many other industrial-type things. Due its chemical stability it can be used to give added value to…

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The ancient origins of the Dog Days of Summer

According to popular folklore: “Dog Days bright and clear Indicate a happy year; But when accompanied by rain, For better times, our hopes are vain.” It sounds good…but what are the Dog Days of summer, exactly? And what do they have to do with dogs? The exact dates of the Dog Days can vary from source to source and probably they have changed over time. However, most sources agree that they occur in mid- to late summer, from July 3 to August 11. This is soon after the Summer Solstice…

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Pescarenico: the fishing village which has kept intact its charm over time

«È Pescarenico una terricciola, sulla riva sinistra dell’Adda, o vogliam dire del lago, poco discosto dal ponte: un gruppetto di case, abitate la più parte da pescatori, e addobbate qua e là di tramagli e di reti tese ad asciugare.» Alessandro Manzoni, I promessi sposi. Alessandro Manzoni mentioned Pescarenico in his most famous work, “The Betrothed” and, thanks to the story of Renzo and Lucia and the ingenious pen of their creator this Lecco’s district, in Northern Italy, has become famous. Manzoni wrote that the monastery of the Capuchins, in…

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The Month of July: holidays, a Summer Triangle and folklore

Traditionally, July is the month that seems to be dedicated to freedom, independence, and celebrations of countries and culture. It is named after Roman dictator Julius Caesar (100 B.C.–44 B.C.), after his death. Julius Caesar made one of his greatest contribution to history: with the help of Sosigenes, he developed the Julian calendar, the precursor to the Gregorian calendar we use still today. Its celebrations iclude July 1, Canada Day, a Canadian federal holiday that celebrates the creation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867. In short, this federal statutory…

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Iona’s Beach: the singing beach on Minnesota’s North Shore

Minnesota, or the Land of 10,000 Lakes, boasts a lot of beaches to choose from, with their pictoresque rocky shores and beautiful sandy dunes alike await visitors every summer. Each offers its own beauty, but there is one beach in particular that is truly unique. It is Iona’s beach, unlike any other in the world as, instead of silky, golden sand, it is covered in smooth pink rocks that, if you know when to listen, sing. The beach sings its signature song as the waves come in and disturb the…

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Strawberry Moon: June’s full moon

As we already know, in ancient times, it was common to track the changing seasons by following the lunar month rather than the solar year, which the 12 months in our modern calendar are based on. For millennia, people across Europe, as well as Native American tribes, named the months after features they associated with seasons. However, some years have 13 Full Moons, which makes one of them a so-called Blue Moon, as it doesn’t quite fit in with the traditional Full Moon naming system, even if this is not…

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Midsummer: history, folklore and magic

Litha, or Midsummer, is a celebration that has been observed for centuries, in one form or another. Its exact dates vary among different cultures, but is primarily held close to the summer solstice. The celebration predates Christianity, and has existed under different names and traditions around the world. It is no surprise, then, that there are plenty of myths and legends associated with this time of year. We all have heard of the ancient summer solstice celebrations held at holy places like Stonehenge and Chichen Itza, and we have read…

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Why do fireflies glow?

Fireflies, also known a lightning bugs, have been captivating humans for centuries with their enchanting lights on summer nights. Insects have a vivid history within folklore and mythology. Butterflies, bees, scarabs and other bugs have become symbolic markers of rebirth, purity, life and death, and the firefly is no exception. In ancient Amazonian mythology, their light came from the gods and provided hope and guidance while, in Japanese legend, two species of firefly, the Genji-hotaru and the Heike-hotaru, are associated with the ghosts of the Minamoto warriors and the Taira…

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The Folklore of Bees

In the middle of spring, outside, in addition to the greening of the earth, we notice a change in the local wildlife. Suddenly, squirrels are everywhere, birds are twittering away madly in the trees, worms are popping in the soil and, everywhere you look, life has returned. Among others, you’ll see bees buzzing around your garden, partaking of the rich pollen in your flowers. The plants are in full bloom at this time of the spring, and the bees take advantage, buzzing back and forth, carrying pollen from one blossom…

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Cabo da Roca: the most westerly point of mainland Europe.

We are in Portugal. The diverse heritage and stunning architecture make it a must-see for history lovers, while its very good cuisine is a foodie’s dream and the coastline attracts surfers and beach-goers from all over the world. If you’re planning a break to this fantastic country, don’t forget to stand on the Most Western Point in Europe Okay, technically just continental Europe, but that’s still pretty cool. To do this, you’ll need to head to Cabo da Roca, in the municipality of Sintra. The beautiful coastal trail offers stunning…

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Kanmangafuchi Abyss and the mystery of Jizō statues

Nikko is one of the most popular day trips from Tokyo, and for more than a good reason: it’s got gorgeous shrines, tons of history, and is situated in a really beautiful nature. But besides all the standard stuff you’d see in a trip to Nikko, Kanmangafuchi Abyss (憾満ヶ淵) is probably the most interesting. The area practically untouched by tourists boasts beautiful ravince, rows of shrines, and also a row of stone Jizō statues. How many? Nobody knows for sure, because apparently each time you count them, you end up…

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The Month of June 2021: holidays, curiosities and folklore

“It is the month of June, The month of leaves and roses, When pleasant sights salute the eyes, And pleasant scents the noses.” –N. P. Willis (1807-67) The month of June brings beautiful flowers, delicious fruits and vegetables, and an urge to get out there and enjoy the sunshine. June was most likely named for the Roman goddess Juno, patroness of marriage and the well-being of women, or from Lucius Junius Brutus, the one who drove out the last king of Rome and founded the Republic. Another version says that…

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Rathlin West Lighthouse: a beloved upside-down beacon off the coast of Northern Ireland

A trip to picturesque Rathlin, the only developed island off the coast of Northern Ireland, offers several things including wildlife, a medieval history and more. Three lighthouses guide boats along Rathlin, and the seafaring excitement begins as soon as you leave the shores of Ballycastle. The island is home also of one of the largest seabird colonies in the UK. Every year over 250,000 seabirds such as guillemots (which only come on land to nest and can dive to a depth of 180 metres underwater), razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars (a grey…

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Pine Cone Preserves: a sweet jam made from soft young cones believed to have health benefits in Russia and Georgia.

Aside from their decorating uses, especially in Christmas season, pinecones play an important role in nature and, like all plant parts, they have a very specific function in the plant world. Generally they serve as a protective cover for pine nuts, (a key ingredient in pesto!). Pine cones and pine trees belong to a group of plants called gymnosperms and date back to prehistoric times. There are a group of plants who have naked seeds, not enclosed in an ovary and the main function of a pine cone is to…

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Crackpot Hall: the dramatic remains of an abandoned farmhouse on the edge of a remote hillside in North Yorkshire, England~

On the slopes of Swaledale, near the village of Keld, North Yorkshire, England, stands the shell of a 300-year-old farmhouse. The building, curiously named Crackpot Hall, is an abandoned 18th-century farmhouse shrouded in its own myths and legends. Its name is said to be derived from the Old Norse words for ‘crow’ and ‘cave’ and, not by chance, many of the underground caverns in the area are also known as Pot, meaning a deep hole. An earlier 16th-century hunting lodge is thought to have stood on the site, when this…

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Visingsö Oak Forest: a forest of immensely tall and unusually straight trees planted nearly 200 years ago to build naval ships that never existed

Oak has traditionally been used in shipbuilding since centuries, as its wood is incredibly strong, and if tended just right, the grain is straight and true. Going back even to the Vikings, the slow-growth trees have been used in Sweden for vessels of all kinds, including naval ships. On the lake island of Visingsö, a narrow island in the middle of Vättern, Sweden’s second largest lake, there are hundreds of acres of tall and orderly oaks, all planted with an eye to the long term. As far back as the…

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May’s Full Flower Moon: Full Moon and Bonfire

As we already know, the full Moon names come from a number of places, including Native American, Colonial American, and European sources. May’s Flower Moon name should be no surprise, because flowers spring forth in abundance this month. Its name has been attributed to Algonquin peoples, but also May’s Moon other names tend to speak to the arrival of spring and all that it entails. The Cree names “Budding Moon” and “Leaf Budding Moon” celebrate the awakening of local flora, which really begin to leaf out now in many areas…

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Swaledale Corpse Way: a winding medieval path used by mourners to carry their dead to the nearest church~

There was a time in England when commoners couldn’t afford to hire a horse or a cart to transport their dead, and so they were forced to carry the corpses themselves to the nearest church. This unpleasant situation led to the creation of paths like the Swaledale Corpse Way, now known simply as the Corpse Way or corpse road, a 16-mile medieval track linking the hamlet of Keld with Grinton, farther down the valley, a small village and civil parish in the Yorkshire Dales, in the Richmondshire district of North…

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Devil’s Lake (and its stories): a remnant of the last Ice Age in Wisconsin, this lake is surrounded by fascinating rock formations.

Nestled near the small circus town of Baraboo, Wisconsin, is Devil’s Lake State Park, named for the large lake that sits at its center. The lake is located in the middle of a deep chasm, with no visible inlet or outlet. Its name comes from a misinterpretation of a term from the Ho-Chunk Nation, the region’s Indigenous inhabitants. In any case, on a cool foggy day, it’s not too hard to imagine why, and imagination probably had a lot to do with it. At the time when white trappers, then…

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Osteria Senz’Oste: the utopistic restaurant without waiters or chefs in Veneto, Italy

Italy is known as a gourmet country with a variety of foodie destination, and you can enjoy lots of different dining experiences, some conventional and others more unique and unusual. If you have decided a vacation in Veneto region and you are planning on enjoying some culinary experiences in the area, then you should visit the so-called Osteria senz’Oste. Its name literally means, “restaurant without hosts” and they aren’t kidding. This restaurant offers a very unique dining experience, as it does not have any chefs or waiters present. To get…

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