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.
The small French province of Brittany played a modest but crucial role in the battle for American independence.
One of the strongest claims to be the source for the legend of Bluebeard is the 6th century Breton warlord Conomor, popularly remembered as Conomor the Accursed; a tyrant who is reputed to have murdered all his many wives.
Once common throughout Europe, the arrival of midsummer was celebrated from time immemorial by the lighting of massive communal bonfires, covering the countryside with a multitude of glowing points of light; an ancient practice that continued in Brittany well into living memory.
Brittany has been a great source of inspiration for artists from across the world drawn to the beauty of its natural landscapes and unique quality of light. The women artists who came to draw inspiration from the rich colours and distinctive landscapes of the region have sometimes been overlooked and I highlight some of these pioneering painters here.
Popular belief in the power of witchcraft survived in Brittany, as elsewhere in France, deep into the last century but the spells and curses of the witch were often as benign as they were malignant.
It is not only artists that have taken inspiration from the rich landscapes and unique culture of Brittany; generations of writers and poets have also been stimulated by this enchanting region of France.
The 12th century poet Marie de France remains a mystery to us but her writing had a strong and lasting influence on the development of medieval literature. Adapted from traditional Breton folktales, her tales or lais are a veritable treasure of European culture. This is her lai of the werewolf.