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Spirits of Storm and Shadow

Many stories from across Brittany warn of the dangers that await those traversing the lonely places after dark. While the desolate moors and uncultivated lands were always closely associated with the ghostly activity of the dead, the creatures that traditionally inhabited these areas in Breton folklore were the wicked children of the night. The night belonged to the dead but it was a dark realm that they shared with dangerous spirits who were not of the race of men and whose encounter could be fatal for us mortals.

Wolf Leaders and Werewolves

In considering the real dangers to rural lives and livelihoods once posed by wolves it is not surprising that this animal occupied a unique place in the popular imagination of rural Brittany. For centuries, the wolf was the villain of countless folktales passed down through the generations and the beast’s victims of choice were always young lambs: innocent children watching-over their sheep or virtuous young girls travelling through the woods after dark.

Fantastic Beasts of Brittany

The thick forests, lonely moors and windswept beaches of Brittany were long said to carry heavy dangers for the unwary traveller abroad in the Breton night. Local legends tell of frightening werewolves, menacing black dogs, murderous horses, sinister black cats and hungry basilisks but there are tales of many other, more ambivalent, fantastic beasts.

Water Horses and Magical Mares

Venerated here since antiquity, the horse long played an important role in the popular religious and secular traditions of Brittany. The beast was more than a mere symbol of power and prestige or a useful descriptor for the state of the ocean waves; it was an integral part of the farming unit and the object of unique rites, superstitions and enchantments. Many of the region’s legends associate the horse with water and death; just like the notorious water horses found elsewhere in the folklore of the Celtic fringe.

Witchcraft in Brittany

In the 17th century, the division between natural and supernatural differed markedly from our modern-day notions. The concept of the natural world was not restricted to things corporeal and observable but included the incorporeal and unobservable. It was not considered irrational to believe in the existence of spirits causing natural effects and it was widely accepted that demons and witches existed in nature, acting according to its laws.

The Phantom Washerwomen of the Night

The Phantom Washerwomen of the Night stand out as one of the most striking and baleful characters in the rich folklore of Brittany; spectral women doomed to spend eternity labouring over their laundry from sunset to sunrise, terrifying unfortunate souls in the darkness.

Creatures of the Breton Night

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.

Pages from a Breton Spell Book

A handwritten book of spells set down in Brittany during the 18th century contains a varied collection of spells and enchantments to be used in order to gain good fortune, riches or love. These spells provide a fascinating insight into the popular mentality of the rural population of Brittany before the Revolution.