The humble honey bee has always enjoyed a close, symbiotic relationship with humanity. Brittany possesses a rich tradition of beliefs and superstitions surrounding bees and beekeeping.
Category Archives: folklore
The Healing Stones of Brittany
The mysterious nature and brooding presence of the thousands of prehistoric megaliths that litter the landscape of Brittany have long fascinated both locals and visitors alike. Veneration of the region’s standing stones and ancient monuments continued for centuries after the arrival of Christianity. Perhaps the mystical aura of these massive blocks of stone retained ancient associations with death and the afterlife or possibly the stones held the folk-memory of a ritual significance once important in the religion of the later Celts? In addition to supernatural forces, the region’s ancient stones were also believed to possess the power to influence the lives of the common people. This is perhaps most clearly manifested in the many folk beliefs and old superstitions that linked the stones with good fortune and those most important, yet often most elusive, fundamental human needs: true love and good health.
The Cult of Rock and Stone
In Brittany, it seems almost impossible to travel more than a few miles without seeing some form of ancient megalith. While many are older than the written word, their real meanings today remain clouded in mystery, shrouded in superstition and folklore.
Some Superstitions of May Day
Representing one of the key stages in the life of the rural peasant farmer, the arrival of May announced the appearance of summer and the renewal of the land. Nature’s re-awakening reminded the Breton farmer of the fragility of the boundary that separated success from failure; the safety and joy of an abundant harvest or the misery of a winter spent in dire straits. Little wonder then that such notions of rebirth and new growth gave rise to superstitions and rituals designed to celebrate and encourage fertility and to protect the community against all opposing forces.
Some Customs of May Day
May Day is known as La Fête du Travail (Workers’ Day) in France and celebrated with a public holiday. It has become an occasion to be seen to campaign for workers’ rights and social justice but the date also carries a much older tradition here; it is also la Fête du Muguet, when sprigs of Lily of the Valley are presented to loved ones. However, in Brittany, the custom of using green foliage to express hope at this time of year extends back to antiquity.
Customs and Superstitions of Easter
Across Brittany, a number of curious customs and strange superstitions were once very closely attached to the principal Christian festival of Easter and the Holy Week that led up to it.
How to Break a Spell
Popular belief in the power of witchcraft survived in Brittany long into the modern era; spells and curses, for good or ill, abounded in the common imagination. Thankfully, the unlucky few caught under the malignant shadow of an evil spell were not always doomed but had recourse to wise practitioners able to undo the spells cast by others and to offer their own charms of unbewitchment.
Brittany’s Tormented Tailors
The Brittany of yesteryear was not without its popular prejudices, chief amongst these was probably the utter disdain, or even contempt, held for those that practiced certain professions, such as notaries, priests, millers, fishmongers, horse skinners, pie carriers and cesspit emptiers. However, the profession that seems to have once aroused the most scorn in the heart of the rural peasant was that of tailor.
Mother of the Korrigans
The most commonly found supernatural creatures in the folklore of Brittany are the korrigans; a race of capricious magical dwarves who live underground surrounded by vast wealth and who venture out at night to play cruel tricks upon the race of humans that robbed them of their ancient, scared lands. Some tales claim that korrigans share the same roots as fairies, some that they are the descendants of the giant first men of Brittany and others that they are tormented souls, condemned to wander the moors in the dark.
The Superstitions of Sailors
The sea has always played an important part in the lifeblood of Brittany; its waters have nourished and sustained generations of Bretons since time immemorial but the price paid has often been so very high. Little wonder then that, in a land once seeped in legend and superstition, those hardy souls that risked their lives upon the roaring waves surrounded themselves in practices designed to preserve them from misfortune.