Monday, 23 October 2017

The Tarr Steps, Exmoor.

The Tarr Steps is a 50 metre long clapper bridge situated on the River Barle in the Exmoor National Park. It is the largest example of its type and is a well known landmark and tourist attraction. The bridge is designated as a grade 1 listed building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument by English Heritage. 

The exact age of the Tarr Steps is unknown, many theories say the bridge dates from the Bronze Age whilst others claim is was built from 1400 AD onward, however most clapper bridges were erected in medieval times. The word ‘clapper’ comes from the medieval Latin word ‘claperius’ meaning pile of stones which is descriptive of this style of bridge, they are constructed from large slabs of rock, commonly granite or schist which weigh between one and two tonnes each, these are supported by stone piers if the bridge is placed across a river, or the slabs rest on the banks of smaller streams. Clapper bridges are mostly found on the moors of Devon and other upland areas of the UK. 

There are several local legends associated with the Tarr Steps, it is said that the devil placed the bridge across the River Barle and would kill any person who tried to cross over, he was eventually confronted by a brave local parson who challenged the devil, he finally conceded and agreed to let people cross the bridge, except when he was sunbathing upon it. It is said he still has the right to sunbathe on the bridge to this day. 

Another legend states that the Tarr Steps will only be damaged in years ending in the number two, and this seems to be eerily true. It was partially ruined by flooding in 1952, and again in 1982, however the worst harm in living memory happened in December of 2012. Cables had been installed upstream of the bridge to protect it from raging flood water, but these were themselves broken by fallen trees. Following weeks of heavy rain, the River Barle had swollen dramatically and the fast flowing waters, filled with debris washed around a third of the bridge away. Some of the slabs travelled a long way downstream, luckily however all the stones had been numbered following previous floods so they can be retrieved and put back into place to keep the bridge in situ. 

The bridge was again damaged during Storm Angus in 2016 however, several thousand pounds had been spent on repairs prior to the storm, with winter coming, and more storms on the way lets hope the bridge stays put for the foreseeable future.

We're back!

After a long break away and a very busy summer, the Dark Legends and Moonlit Myths site is back up and running, we have included our twitter feed and have updated some details generally, so welcome again, and keep an eye open for articles, tweets, news and more!

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Doom Bar.

Doom Bar - a very nice bitter with a background in folklore.

On this day, November 19th in 1911, The Doom Bar in Cornwall claimed two ships, the Island Maid and the Angele, for the latter the entire crew was killed except the captain.

The Doom Bar is a notorious sandbar in Cornwall where the River Camel meets the Celtic sea, and it has posed a danger to shipping for centuries being responsible for over 600 beachings and wrecks since records began in the early nineteenth century, large boats trying to enter Padstow were often given assistance, sometimes by air to guide them in safely. The Doom Bar is now regularly dredged to keep access to Padstow clearer, but it is an endless task as the sediments accumulate rapidly.

Folklore tells us that a mermaid created the bar as a dying curse on the harbour after she was shot by a local man. Tristram Bird (who had bought a new gun) went out to find seals to practice his aim on, but when he saw the mermaid sitting on a rock brushing her hair he was entranced, he wanted her to marry him, but when she declined he shot her, realising after the event that she was in fact a mermaid. She sadly died and cursed the place with a 'bar of doom'. A bad storm raged that night, and when morning came, the sandbar was there, 'covered with wrecks of ships and drowned men'.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

What is Neo-Paganism?

The term "Neo-paganism" encompasses a very broad spectrum of organizations, groups and beliefs. A neo-pagan (sometimes referred to simply as ‘pagan’) religion is a relatively modern faith which has been reconstructed from philosophies , symbols and practices of a much more ancient religion, particularly those influenced by the pre-Christian values of Western Europe that include a wide range of beliefs such as animism, polytheism and pantheism.

The word "pagan" comes from the Latin ‘paganus’, originally meaning "country-dweller" or "rustic" but the term ‘neo-pagan’ appeared first in the 19th century in reference to Renaissance and the classical revival where culture was challenged with a new way of thinking. It has found particular growth in the USA and Britain, but also in many parts of Europe. 

Many neo-pagan religions observe spirituality that is very modern in origin, while others tend to focus on trying to accurately revive traditional, ethnic religions as can often be found referenced in historical texts and in folklore worldwide, these group often reject the ‘neo’ part of the title as it is seen to modernise their objective unnecessarily . The largest neo-pagan religion today is ‘Wicca’ – a form of modern witchcraft, but there are other significantly sized neo-pagan faiths which include Neo-druidism who draw on several belief systems and inspirations from the ancient Druids and Germanic Neo-paganism which has really grown since the 1970s. 

The fundamental beliefs of neo-pagan faiths are those of peace, ritual, tradition and a reverence for nature, although many groups practice polytheism – a belief in multiple deities – the figure of a ‘Mother Earth’ or ‘Gaia’ goddess is usually the most revered, associated with fertility, growth and rebirth. The misguided, ignorant view  of many is that ‘Satanism’ or ‘devil-worship’ is involved in pagan rituals, these are fundamentally Christian ‘inventions’ and have no recognition in the belief systems of any pagan faith. Many neo-pagan religions incorporate the use of ceremony and magic into their ritual practices and these are more often than not observed outdoors to encompass the power of nature and the moon. There seems to have been a sort of neo-pagan revival in the 1960s and 1970s - Wicca especially was influenced by feminism. 

During the 1980s there was the popular use of the term ‘new-age’ to describe neo-pagan groups and many festivals began to appear to bring people together. Today, any new religion that encompasses nature-worship and/or pantheism (the view that the nature and God are as one) are grouped under the umbrella term of neo-paganism. The development and rapid growth of the internet in the 1990s has aided the spread of the religion throughout the world as people from different countries communicate and share their beliefs on a wider scale. 

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Trolls in folklore and mythology.

We have all encountered trolls in childhood fairy-tales and stories; they have a deep history in folklore and mythology as well as finding a new role in modern fantasy fiction, but are they comedy characters or symbols of a darker power?

A Troll is a type of ogre found primarily in Norse and Scandinavian mythology, generally larger than humans and invariably ugly, they are always very strong, but slow and not too bright, they are often said to have magical powers and they are sometimes depicted as being man-eaters. Trolls are dwellers of isolated mountains, rocks, and caves - the most famous troll of all, from ‘The Three Billy Goats Gruff’ lives under a bridge - normally alone but they sometimes lived in small family groups usually consisting of either a mother and son or a father and daughter.

They always lived in dark places, either because they preferred night time or because they feared the daylight, some legends in Scandinavia tell that trolls would turn to stone if exposed to direct sunlight. There are many landmarks in Scandinavia are attributed to trolls, rock formations, natural statues and features in the landscape where trolls are said to have roamed.

These kinds of trolls were said to probably be descended from the 'Jotunn' of Norse mythology. The Jotunn were giant nature spirits and were the enemies of the gods, they kept out of the human world as much as possible. They were banished to remote hills, forests and mountains away from human settlements, where it is told they awaited the end of the world when they would have the chance to break free to do battle with the gods that shunned them.

In Iceland, trolls are seen a bit differently, they would often treat people well and return favours for favours, only becoming dangerous if cheated or harmed. Like the Scandinavian ones, Icelandic trolls lived in mountains, caves and cliffs, but they lived together in larger groups with more of a social basis, they were said to keep animals, farm their land and hunt as well as holding feasts, gatherings and celebrations. The trolls in Icelandic folklore were said to be very skilled at crafts and were seen more as a strange but valuable member of the world rather than something to be feared all the time.

The modern world thankfully has a place for these giants of old folklore. They are regular characters in role playing games, cartoons, films, computer games and science-fiction and also in fantasy fiction by authors such as J.R.R Tolkien and Terry Pratchett, Tolkien’s trolls holding a very similar, traditional description to the Norse legends, and the ones of the Discworld being more original and comical. Trolls have the ability as characters to be described as scary, evil, pathetic, funny or sweet depending on the situation; their future is looking quite secure.