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Spirits of Storm and Shadow

Many stories told across Brittany warn of the dangers that await those traversing the lonely places after dark. While the desolate moors and uncultivated lands were always closely associated with the ghostly activity of the dead, the creatures that traditionally inhabited these areas in Breton folklore were the wicked children of the night. The night belonged to the dead but it was a dark realm that they shared with dangerous spirits who were not of the race of men and whose encounter could be fatal for us mortals.

Previous posts have looked at many of the creatures that roamed the Breton night, so, I shall not repeat the old tales of supernatural black dogs and magical korrigans here. Instead, I propose to highlight some of the less well known but equally feared spirits that haunted the dark shadows of the night here. In times past, the doors of isolated farmhouses were not shut as prevention against thieves but to protect against the entry of these malevolent spirits.

Fairies Brittany Korrigan Demons
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While it might sound contradictory to modern sentiment, the Bretons of yesteryear did not fear the night or the behaviour of those beings well known to them, such as the spirits of the dead or the mischievous korrigans; there were prayers, amulets and charms aplenty to assure their safety with these creatures. What the rural Breton peasant feared were the dangers inherently hidden by the enveloping darkness.

Young children here were once commonly threatened by their parents with stories of vague croquemitaines such as the ‘Gentleman of the Night’ who might take them unless they returned swiftly home. However, other ill-defined creatures seem to have carried more sinister overtones; the Aëzraouant was a protean spirit said to inhabit ponds and springs, where it tried to attract passers-by with the lure of gold lying under the water. Those imprudent enough to succumb to the Aëzrouant’s deception were thought to have been quickly seized and dragged to its underground lair; a crystal palace where the unwary child was chained forever and subjected to a lifetime of the hardest labours.

Brittany - brous - fairies - demons - aezrouant
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Another poorly defined creature here was known as Brous; supernatural beings that were said to gallop all night through the thickets and forests, killing and devouring dogs and other small animals. Like werewolves, these were sometimes claimed to have been dishonest men who were condemned to transform at night and live as beasts during the hours of darkness. Some accounts say that they were people who had been cursed by the local priest for not having returned property they had once stolen.

Breton tales also tell of Rounfl; giant ogres that dwelt in caves, as high as a church, dug out from the sides of mountains. These creatures are portrayed as formidable enemies who had mastered dark magic so as to lock away their souls from their bodies. They were also notorious cattle thieves and lovers of human flesh who could only be defeated by the rare bravery and ingenuity of resolute souls.

Brittany - giants - Rounfl - fairies - korrigan
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In Brittany, ponds and springs were usually only associated with female korrigans; malevolent creatures such as the Aëzraouant were more typically associated with marshes, bodies of stagnant water or the edges of pools and fords. However, another exception was the Teuz ar Pouliet; a mischievous creature noted in the west of the region that dwelt in the waters and low burrows. This creature was said to be able to make itself invisible or to assume any shape it wanted although its true appearance was said to be that of a small male dwarf, dressed in green. These attributes are all shared with korrigans and it is likely that this creature really belongs within that category of magical beings but clearly its local notoriety was once strong enough to ensure it retained a distinct identity.

Other diminutive folk that were regarded as discrete from the race of korrigans were also noted across the region. The sea caves found on the north coast of Brittany were reputed to be home to a race of little men known as Fions. These men – there were no female Fions – performed the functions of servants to fairies and were said to be so small that their swords were no longer than bodice pins.

Brittany - fions - fairies - korrigans
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Along the south-eastern coast, mysterious little creatures were said to live in caves and rocky burrows; to the west, these dwarves were known as kouricans but distinctions between them and the race of subterranean dwarves called Duzig are often vague at best. Several parishes in western Brittany retained legends of both creatures, suggesting that these were popularly regarded as two separate beings. Certain caves in the far east of the region, bordering Poitou, were believed to be home to a species of little folk called Fadets. Although noted for their ugly and hairy appearance, the fadets were not considered harmful to humans. Interestingly, these creatures were not considered supernatural beings like the korrigans but a race of men who had occupied the land before them.

Not all dangers were tangible; in central Brittany stands a mountain known as Mont Saint-Michel and it was around this desolate place that it was believed all demons cast out from the bodies of men were banished. If, at night, any one were to set their foot within the circle they inhabit, the hapless traveller was said compelled to begin running and unable to stop doing so for the rest of the night. All who passed this lonely spot, even in daylight, were reported to have immediately suffered with heavily chapped lips.

Brittany - fairies - fadets - sea witches
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The region’s other lonely places, such as the windswept coasts, also gathered legends of sinister happenings and strange creatures lurking in the darkness. A stretch of rocky coast near the northern town of Tréguier was once believed so cursed that no one ventured there at night and it was avoided, as far as possible, even during the hours of daylight. This half a league of coastline was said to be the domain of a fallen angel that jealously guarded their loneliness.

Some 70km (43 miles) east, a portion of steep coast near Cap Fréhel was thought to be the lair of the Devil for it was assured that no one had descended to the sea there without experiencing some accident or other. The Devil was also said to haunt the south coast Île d’Arz; on stormy nights he was sometimes seen seated on a rock on the seashore, exciting the waves with his voice and howling into the wind.

While many in the far western département of Finistère once blamed mermaids for causing storms and high waves, the people who lived a little to the east along the coast of Tréguier attributed such phenomena to the Dud-a-Vor (Sea Men); little black demons who roused the storms and were sometimes seen dancing on rocks before the most violent winds struck. Some local legends talk of people having seen other storm casters known as Tud-Gommon (Seaweed Men), described as small human-like beings, clothed in seaweed, who walked on the waves.

Brittany - dud a vor - fairies - korrigans
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Sailors from the same part of Brittany also once spoke of thick fogs at sea being inhabited by little black demons known as Diauwlo Bihan (Little Devils) who deliberately led vessels astray so that even the most experienced mariner could not recognise their route. The shadows of such creatures were reported to have been seen joyfully dancing in the mist before the outbreak of a sudden squall or immediately before a ship failed upon a reef; their presence was not to warn of approaching danger but to celebrate the imminent disaster they had set in motion.

The appearances of these malevolent creatures were almost always linked to tales of the storms that they liked to orchestrate in order to cause shipwrecks and some accounts from the northern coast tell that just before a storm, the sailors witnessed a small white dwarf dancing on the sea rocks. Another mysterious character who was sometimes noted to appear in the midst of storms off the north-west coast was an evil spirit known as the Red Witch. Local legends describe a small man, red in colour, who walked the seashore at night spreading fear amongst the families of fishermen through his command of the elements. It was said that this sorcerer excited thunderstorms by striking the waves with blows of his staff and that anyone who dared to disturb his loneliness was immediately cast into the waves.

Brittany - Red Witch - Witches Boat - fairy
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The old folktales rarely associate witches and sorcerers with the sea and shore but, like the Red Witch, there are a few notable exceptions. For instance, some tales claim that, on certain nights, one could see small boats steered by solitary women riding the waves in the Bay of Audierne off Brittany’s west coast. These were the Bagou-Sorseurez (Witch Boats); sinister vessels that were said to be driven by widows from the nearby Île de Sein who possessed the Evil Eye.

It was believed that these sea-faring witches tried to manoeuvre their boats towards those of the fishermen sailing the bay in order to tell the captain a terrible secret. If the captain were to reveal it, he and his crew would be doomed to the waves the next time they put to sea; if one of the captain’s men spoke of having encountered the witch, he was cursed to die within the week. One local legend asserts that as recently as 1890 a young sailor who had seen a witch boat had the imprudence to speak of it to his friends when he arrived ashore. The next day, having set out for the port of Brest, he fell overboard and although he was brought out of the water immediately, he was dead.

Brittany - Witches Boat - fairies - catouche
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Around the Cap Sizun peninsula in Douarnenez Bay, the most wicked of these witches was given the rather enigmatic name Catouche. (This French word literally means cartridge and may possibly be a corruption of some Breton word; the French language having made little popular imprint in this part of Brittany until the 20th century.) This witch was said to have been seen at daybreak wandering near the seashore, soaking wet and carrying an empty kelp basket. How else could this forlorn sight have been explained but that she had ridden the waves at night; her basket having magically transformed into a boat, her kelp stick into a mast and her apron a sail!

The notion of witch boats and the long-standing tradition of witches on the Île de Sein seem to have been expanded upon in other old tales. These tell that the widows of this isle who had been born with the gift of enchanting wielded a most formidable power; the ability to curse a man to certain death. It was said that these women sailed at night in a boat that was also their kelp basket, controlled by their kelp stick that served as both oar and rudder, to attend the Sabbaths of the Sea. Those cursed by these witches were believed sure to die within a certain time if they had not repaired the damage that had caused their damnation. In order to affect their curse, the witches were required to attend three Sabbaths of the Sea, on each occasion making an offering to the demon of the wind and sea of an object that belonged to their intended victim.

Brittany - witch boat - fairies - bolbigueandets
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On the south coast of Morbihan, sinister boats were also associated with magical dwarves known as bolbiguéandets. In some accounts these creatures formed part of the race of korrigans but others claim they were a distinct breed of little people whose backs were covered in algae due to their living half immersed between the rocks of the cliffs and shore. These dwarves loved to announce storms and shipwrecks but they were also reputed to force weary travellers to enter a mysterious black boat, crowded with the ghosts of the dead. When fully loaded, this boat was said to sail with the swiftness of an arrow for an unknown island. Alas, this land is never recounted by any human passenger as they always fell into a deep sleep as soon as the ship had cast-off, only to awaken at dawn still dozing on dry land.

With some 3,000km (almost 1,900 miles) of coastline, it is little wonder that the seashores of Brittany were rich in legends of fantastic creatures and unnerving hauntings. In the area of Cap Sizun, indistinct dwarves were reported to roam the dunes at night, taking the appearance of stray fires. If any man had the effrontery to call out to them, they would run up to fight with him! On the north-eastern coast, a rather poorly defined creature known as Saint-Nicolas was said to have been armed with sharp claws with which it tore the faces of any young boys it happened to meet on the beach at night.

Brittany - Gros-Jean - fairy - jetin - saint nicolas
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Near Saint-Malo, a character known as Gros-Jean (Big John) watched for those who lingered alone on the seashore. Those children who tarried too long near the sea were said to be at grave risk of being taken by him and locked in a barrel where he kept his prey confined, giving them nothing to eat and drink but seaweed and salt water. To the west, a strange shadow was said to wander around the rocky shore near Plestin-les-Greves; this spirit was drawn to tardy travellers who were gradually but steadily led towards the sea which quickly swallowed them up.

Returning to the east, the lands surrounding the Rance and its estuary were traditionally held to be the home of a race of cave-dwelling little people known as jetins. Although no more than half a metre/yard high, these creatures were reputed to have the strength of giants and amused themselves by throwing the ancient standing stones or menhirs about the fields or by playing tricks on their human neighbours to whom they were generally benign. Some have suggested that the jetins were the only little people to remain in Brittany after the departure of the fairies.

Brittany - jetins - fairies - fions
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The fairies in this part of Brittany were quite distinct from the other sprites and female korrigans noted here and across the rest of Brittany. As with the jetins, these sea fairies were generally reported to be benign to any humans that treated them respectfully but ruthlessly punished those who cheated or otherwise wronged them.

As ever, exceptions to this happy state of affairs exist for the unwary traveller. Around the bustling port of Saint-Cast le-Guildo, the northernmost promontory, the Pointe de l’Isle, was said to be the domain of fairies who whipped human trespassers with the long strips of seaweed. Some 12km (8 miles) directly across the Bay of Saint-Malo lies the Goule aux Fées, just north of the once fashionable resort of Dinard. Popular tradition attests that those people who, at night, dared to venture on the clifftops here risked being seized by a ferocious whirlwind that would drag them down into the cave below, where they would be devoured by the evil fairies chained there.

The fairies of this region and along an associated coastal strip about 130km (80 miles) long were notably different from others found in Breton folklore and are fully deserving of their own post; an undertaking high on my “to do” list!

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Published by Bon Repos Gites

Enjoying life in Kalon Breizh - the Heart of Brittany.

148 thoughts on “Spirits of Storm and Shadow

  1. You always post such great images. Now I wait to find out what happened to the fairies since you mentioned that they “departed”! I am curious if other parts of France have as many superstitions and legends. I have never heard of so many anywhere else but maybe it’s only that they have not been so well documented.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Many thanks! I am happy that you liked them! 🙂
      Yes, all the fairies were said to have departed on the same night!
      I am certain that each land has similarly rich veins of folklore and superstitions – we just need to unearth them and then separate the modern from the old! 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Spirits of storm and shadow very interesting article to read and scary also 🌹🙏😮👍🏼
    My young age days my grandma will tell about these stories and night don’t allow go
    Outside also 👏🏼👍🏼 So I’m always never go alone dark places , the scariness still i got 🌝
    Thank you for sharing this great post and grace wishes 🌹🙏💓🌹

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Thank you so much for this lovely reply message and the
        11 scary photos specially the second photo terribly scared one😦
        The castle, the moon and the fire and darkness and loneliness 😩
        atmosphere superb fearful 👻😊

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Fascinating. I think humankind are just a bunch of fraidy cats. You hear tales of the Headless Horseman, the 3 Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the wailing of the wind in Ireland of the wind being the wailing of the Banshee. Even in North America, there were tales of the Bogeyman or Boogeyman to get children back home safe. I know I feel a tingle in the dark of a forest. Thanks for telling the tale. Allan

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, it really is remarkable how many fantastic creatures we have invented to frighten our little ones or to explain why we sometimes get that tingling feeling while walking through a dark wood! Thanks for reading Allan!! Stay well! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    1. You are most welcome! Thank YOU for reading it! 🙂 Do not be surprised that many of these were previously unknown to you as belief in them was really only confined to Brittany and unlike the korrigan legends did not spread. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Very creepy indeed, but quite on the contrary, I definitely would leave my house once it started getting dard because I know by heart that nothing of all that stands out as true and I also like mystery, adventure and hunting in the darkness of the night! I’ve already done it when going on hunting with my late dad many years ago. All the best.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. That’s right, my friend, you just got my mind. Although, there’s a Greek proverb, difficult to be transferred in English and I’ll try it to give you the meaning, which says something like ”the sentiment of fear is what it protects both animals and people because normal fear makes us be careful and cautious, while being totally fearless sometimes means stupidity and madness…”.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. On the contrary, it is I who thank you to give me the communicative and friendly chance to share thoughts and sentiments with people in all over the world and this is the most amazing thing in our Worldpress world!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Always regarded Mont Saint-Michel as mystically beautiful. As seen in pictures and videos, never been there. Now know this new aspect of its history.
    And Korrigans and Kauricans and the benign jetins, wow a fantastic journey to childhood.

    Thanks for a well researched article again.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are most welcome, I am glad that you liked it! Thank you for reading it too – much appreciated! 🙂
      I think the Mont Saint-Michel you are thinking of is the island with the abbey that marks the border between Brittany and Normandy? The one in central Brittany is rather featureless in comparison 😉 Best wishes to you! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Oh my! What a closetful of fearsome creatures to haunt the land and the mind! Filipino folklore abounds with similar creatures too ! I wish Hollywood would make movies based on these stories. What a deliciously scary prospect!!!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Haha, yes, it is surprising what our minds can create to control us! I have heard some Filipino ghost stories but imagine that there will be masses of interesting folklore there and likely differing beliefs according to the historical accessibility of the particular island?

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Oh my! One has to give credit for imaginative creatures , though seemingly very real at the time. I wonder if some of the tales were contrived to get the children home in time for dinner 😊. A wonderful read Colin, always spellbinding, entertaining, and not just a bit scary. 🤗

    Liked by 2 people

      1. You are right, we simply can’t get into the mindset of our ancestors – no matter how hard we try. We simply do not have the whole lifestyle that would have supported such beliefs anymore. Although, that is no bad thing! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I LOVE coastal storms ❤️

    I would be a witch legend -if I from there – back then lol … I love the power of a coastal storm 🙌

    I love the smell, the way the sky looks, how the storm comes in … yeah I love coastal storms

    Although ya know – totally always wanted to be mermaid lol … I been part fish since age 2 lol ✌️

    Love the water 💦 ❤️ am also water sign so ya know – “flow” lol

    Yeah I be raising my arms and making it storm lol … or pretending to lol

    … as long as they afraid of me and not kill me – I would have some fun lol

    Ahhh to be in time of legends

    Possibly sure could have pulled off legendary status lol ✌️❤️

    A love of storms but angel of death

    The woman by the shore with a storm lol I also have long hair to add to the effect ❤️ And it’s a little red

    Also… am a woman so there is also a power there ✌️😘

    I do like the tale about not suppose to speak of

    Also right up my alley because I like privacy and most are crazy… if can’t handle privacy then absolutely not!!

    Witch weeding them out ✌️😘

    The ones who thoughtful and private shall be rewarded ❤️

    Yeah to be legendary lol … that would be fun ❤️

    Funny thing – I have offer of something coastal and more money

    So. Maybe we see if I be legendary in todays world ? Todays world is much harder 😉

    Back then I woulda totally rocked it 😘😉✌️ ❤️🏰❤️ 🐉 🌊

    Although I will tell you … when I was preteen we used to freak ourselves out with sleep over things lol … such as at midnight – turning around in bathroom with eyes closed and lights off – saying a particular name 3 times and then look in mirror omg yeah lol little bit scary lol

    Is sorta like urban legends ?? Of medieval times ??

    And the magic of that is – could be truth to it? 😘🤷‍♀️ or at least truth of the imagination and mind of the time

    I love the coastal aspect!! Can’t wait to learn about your fairies

    I am Disney type totally lol – I know (and love) Tinkerbell 😘❤️✌️ love all the Disney fairies

    Don’t really know yours yet?? Or anything about your fairies ?? I know of them but not the tales (am sure is little darker than Disney??) I am curious

    So that will be exciting 👏👏❤️

    You always leave me wanting more! Nice one!! 👏👏

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Haha that is a powerful, elemental image that you conjure – standing on the shore raising or calming the tempest! 😉
      Ooh, that sounds like the Candyman movie – was it that or there was another word used before then? Urban legends are pretty cool – tomorrow’s folklore! 😉
      The fairies here have been in my mind a while but there is a heap of stuff and I have let it sit in the background because I know it will take a lot of sorting. I will do it before the end of the year though! 🙂
      As always, thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts – both much appreciated! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. On Mondays – I would raise storms lol… and by Friday be all gentle lol 😘

        I don’t know the candyman movie?

        Ours was Bloody Mary lol … if you say 3 times and look in mirror you supposed to see Bloody Mary … I was always too afraid to make it to the 3rd one – nope !! I do not need that lol

        Yes ❤️👏 tmrws folklore

        It’s odd to imagine a time where “we” or “our moment in time” is immortalized in history and folk lore – in the same way we look back at other eras and times

        I’m glad you make record of the tales and what was once thought of or believed 😊👏

        Ahhhh lol … your cliff hanger 😄👏 … coming this season … 😄

        Thanks for always being entertaining, interesting and take my mind away with the tales 😊👏

        Totally needed that 😊 also… same to you ✌️

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You are right, it would be fascinating to know what folk will recall of us in a few hundred years although I suppose with there will be no lack of documentary evidence but it would be interesting to think what would we be remembered for!

        Haha, yes, I’m taking your cliffhangers and running with it 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I love when you say that lol …“you are right” 😘👏 … definitely awesome words to use lol

        Hahaha no lack of evidence that’s for sure – very clear picture of our era

        What to be remembered for? Lol that is funny to think of 👏 …oh the suggestions in my mind lol

        Nice job… does make one keep checking for more lol ✌️😘

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Excellent account of the spirits of storm and shadow of Britanny.

    After reading it, one is inclined to say with Snoopy the novel writing beatle of the Peanuts comic strip, “It was a dark and stormy night” and to say along with an Orson Welles radio character of the late 1930s, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.”

    Liked by 1 person

  12. ” This witch was said to have been seen at daybreak wandering near the seashore, soaking wet and carrying an empty kelp basket. How else could this forlorn sight have been explained but that she had ridden the waves at night; her basket having magically transformed into a boat, her kelp stick into a mast and her apron a sail!”

    “Sound like something that would land one in a Salem Witch Trail.”

    Liked by 1 person

      1. When I review the history of the witch hunts they have always sounded like a bunch of self-righteous people who needed to get over themselves. Sadly, it was used to kill people and posses their property too.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Fantastic write! Thank you so much for the detailed explanation of each spirit. Apart from the loup garou, another of the frightening stories I heard when I was a kid was that of the‘croque-mitaine’. Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Oh, I love all your new wee folks! We have Brous here but we call them coyotes… 😉 Likewise, Jetins might be Glaswegians!

    I once went on a glass bottom boat excursion to see a Kelp Forest off the coast of Skye. It was beautiful but otherworldly. I can see why it would inspire legends.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thanks to your post, I’ve learned that croquemitaines means Boogeyman! 😀 Is the Mont Saint-Michel you mention the same famous tourist attraction that’s on an island?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Then that is no bad thing; it is always good to learn at least one new thing a day! 😉
      Ah, no, that island is now on the Breton/Norman border (well, it is disputed haha) but has been part of Brittany in the past. There are several Mont Saint-Michel’s in this part of France and the one mentioned here is in central Brittany. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. They do! Dagydes and spells hidden in earthen ware pots are still found near some farms and near the entrances to fields. I have not seen anything in the papers recently but even 20 years ago or so, there were people accused of witchcraft persecuted for fraud etc.

      Like

  16. This was really good!!! I see why there were so many fears that stems from little people. They were looked at as if they were evil.
    I laughed so hard at the part about chapped lips!!! 🤣🤣🤣

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for saying so! I am pleased that you enjoyed it! 🙂
      I guess that if you grew up with stories of little creatures then your mind would quite comfortably let you see them in the way that children see shapes in clouds? Haha, yes that was a wonderful bit of detail! I have walked that mountain and it can get very very windy, so, chapped lips might have been a thing but what I find fascinating is that that one physical manifestation stayed with the lore all down the years!

      Liked by 1 person

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