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The Fairies of the Swells II

Visitors to Brittany in the 18th and 19th centuries noted many beliefs surrounding the little folk of the region. This post continues to look at some of the more notable characteristics once attributed to a specific group of fairies, known as the Fairies of the Swells, in the local legends and folklore of northern Brittany.

The Fairies of the Swells

According to Breton tradition, the fairies abandoned Brittany all at once and over the course of a single night. Local legends differ as to when that time was but at the end of the 19th century it was usually said to have been when one’s grandparents were very young or even during the turmoil of the Revolution; dates so distant that nothing then resembled what exists here today.

The Serpent King and the Prince

A long time ago, when magic was commonplace and the fairies still lived amongst us, there was a prince of Poher who had been blessed with six healthy children. This aging nobleman was content that his lands were peaceful and that his wife and children were happy in the realm he had fought so hard to maintain; all save his only son, who seemed consumed with wanderlust and dreams of faraway places.

Medicinal Plants and Healing Herbs

Plants once played an important role in the traditional medicine of rural Brittany, being employed in a wide variety of remedies to treat all manner of ailments. Most of the tried and tested herbal recipes were tightly guarded secrets only handed down within the family unit. Fortunately, many of the old remedies were captured for posterity by forward thinking people keen to ensure the knowledge that had sustained generations of Bretons was not lost forever in the march to the modern world.

The Devil’s Bridges

The legends of Brittany attribute marvellous origins to many of the structures that litter the local landscape. Some Neolithic megaliths were said to have been created by the enchanter Merlin while others were assigned to the magical korrigans and fairies or the giant Gargantua. Many Medieval buildings were, sometimes rightly, attributed to those great builders, the Romans or else to the Knights Templar. Similarly, local lore often attests that various notable landmarks such as bridges, churches and mills were built by the power of the Devil; some were even said to demand a human sacrifice.

Bird Watching in Brittany

Birds once enjoyed a rather colourful position in the folklore of Brittany. They were often attributed with many marvellous qualities, from guarding the gates of Heaven to doing the bidding of witches. However, it was their capacity for predicting the future that bestowed these creatures with such noted significance in the mind of the Breton peasant who looked upon the flight and calls of birds as augurs from the natural world much as the ancient Druids might have done in antiquity.

White Ladies and Phantom Monks

The sunken pathways and ruined castles of Brittany are rich in legends of ghosts and supernatural spirits. Many of these fall into the category popularly known as White Ladies; spectral women wearing white gowns that appear at night to haunt the localities of their tragic death. Sometimes, the circumstances of their deaths are still remembered while others are barely known but a common theme appears to be betrayal or lost love and the ghosts are either lamenting their circumstances or warning of the cruel hand of fate.