Brittany is a land of lore and legends, seeped in the supernatural. Said to be one of the most haunted regions of France, any journey around the castles of Brittany weaves a dark path between legend and rumour; fear and fright. Unsettling tales of lost innocence and tormented souls condemned to forever haunt the old stones so that we might not forget them.
Tales of ghosts and ghostly apparitions form a rich vein in the folklore of Brittany although, in the Breton tradition, there was once no significant separation between the living and the dead, both were seen as dwelling in two discrete worlds that were in perpetual relation with one another.
For yesterday’s Bretons, the world around them was swarming with signs that, if interpreted correctly, predicted the future. Being prepared for the unknown future and warding off misfortune were constant concerns for our ancestors. Natural phenomena, abnormal behaviour and other irregularities were carefully noted for the favourable or ill shadow they cast over daily life and often regularised as good omens or bad omens and omens of death.
With over 800 islands and islets, Brittany boasts almost 70 per cent of the island bodies of metropolitan France. Some support thriving local communities while others are home to only seabirds and the intrepid traveller. This is a brief sketch of just some of the main inhabited islands of Brittany.
Scattered throughout the folklore of Brittany are references to secret, magical plants possessing extraordinary properties. Grasses that allow you to understand the languages of beasts or to find hidden treasures; grasses that cut iron and those that take you to oblivion!
Sometimes venerated, sometimes vilified; representing good luck or seen as an ill omen. The black cat has long enjoyed a turbulent relationship with humanity and features strongly in the world’s folklore. This is especially true here in Brittany.
The druids of antiquity remain an enigmatic source of speculation. Their roles in Celtic society were as broad as they were integral to daily life; story-teller, sage, teacher, priest, judge, sorcerer and keeper of the tribe’s laws. Yet, little is known about them; they did not share their knowledge and kept no records of their own but their influence lingered longest in the remotest regions of the Celts such as in Brittany.
Brittany has the greatest concentration of megalithic sites in the world. These megaliths range from single standing stones to complex alignments stretching for miles and massive man-made tumuli the size of a small hill. Older than the written word, their meanings remain clouded in mystery, shrouded in superstition and folklore.
In France, books of spells, conjurations and natural magic were known as grimoires and in Brittany the most infamous of such works was the Agrippa; a mysterious and massive book widely believed to have been used by priests to harness the elements, evoke demons and foretell the future.
Forecasting the weather has always been one of mankind’s most vital concerns. The observation of weather patterns and their effect on the cultivation of crops gave rise to many popular folk beliefs and superstitions in Brittany.