The health and well-being of valuable livestock exercised the people of yesterday’s Brittany every bit as much as human health. Some of the popular remedies and traditional treatments for animal diseases used in Brittany during the 18th and 19th centuries have survived to us today even if their practice has long since died away.
First set down from the oral tradition in the middle of the 19th century, the tale of Peronnik the Idiot has often been described as a Breton re-telling of Chrétien de Troyes’ 12th century romance Perceval, the Story of the Grail. However, others maintain that the story is truly a surviving descendant of one once transmitted orally by the Celtic bards of old and that the tales of Peronnik, Perceval and the medieval Welsh romance Peredur all share the same ancient, lost source.
As the oldest and most important Christian festival, it should come as no surprise to note that several popular traditions and superstitions once surrounded Eastertide here in Brittany.
Herbs and plants once played a key role in the traditional medicine of Brittany, being employed in a wide variety of remedies to treat all manner of diseases in humans and animals. Most proprietary recipes were tightly guarded, being handed down within the family from generation to generation. However, knowledge captured from the popular memory in the early 20th century and uncovered in the old pages of witch’s spell books and folklore, allow us to construct a Breton herbal pharmacopoeia.
A fascinating insight into the popular mentalities of 19th century Brittany as seen through the critical eyes of a remarkable man; sometime beggar, soldier, farmer, bar keeper, tobacconist and paranoid vagrant. This autobiography is an absorbing account of a “long lifetime of poverty, slavery and persecution” and one that I would recommend.
The history and folklore of Brittany contain many intriguing references to once flourishing cities that disappeared from the face of the earth, having left little or no trace of their ruins upon the land.
People are increasingly turning to natural remedies for their therapeutic virtues. In many cases, we are merely rediscovering what our ancestors had long known and sworn by as effective. Herb and plant extracts have long been traditionally used for medicinal purposes but, in times gone by, other natural products were routinely used.
Born into grinding poverty, Marie Tromel is remembered by history under the name of Marion du Faouët; a Breton Robin Hood who robbed the rich to aid the poor. A colourful character, she raised a family and commanded a notorious band of brigands for more than fifteen years. Arrested four times, having escaped from prison she was hanged in effigy before finally being publicly executed.
The windswept moors and uncultivated lands of Brittany have long been linked with the ghostly activity of the dead. However, the beings that traditionally inhabit these areas in Breton folklore are the malevolent children of the night. For it is not only the dead who inhabit the gloom; dangerous and evil beings, who are not of the race of men, roam abroad during the hours of darkness and to encounter them could be fatal.
Some traditional beliefs and popular superstitions surrounding conception, pregnancy, childbirth and early years growth in Brittany.