Gifts, Hospitality and the Supernatural in Medieval Folklore

de3c1bb65c6e9c5150a1f13ec3e2ab35So, it’s Christmas day, the presents have been opened, and you’re either  spending the day with your beloved family or crammed in with that bunch of assholes with whom you have nothing in common but an accident of birth.

Either way, I hope there were presents in the offing, because as much as we like to shake our privileged heads and lament the commercialisation of Christmas, gifting and hospitality have long been a fairly important part of European culture.

In the Middle Ages, and particularly in the myth and folklore of the Middle Ages, both gifting and hospitality were important motifs.

And since writing about those things would suggest that I had things like social contact or friends, I’ve had to ask the awesome Heather O’Brien of Heathen Undergound to step in and write a little about Christmas and Gifting in the Middle Ages.

Continue reading “Gifts, Hospitality and the Supernatural in Medieval Folklore”

Ebenezer and the Witches: Charity Refused in the Witch Trials

6Welcome to this week’s instalment of Jon and the Magic Shoehorn, where I try and make this blog post in some way Christmassy.

So, in a gesture designed to produce the highest quotient of relevance per minute of effort, let’s talk about Ebenezer Scrooge. While Dickens’ story makes clear that he is a genuinely money-hungry, greedy man with little or no empathy, there is another to Scrooge’s character that is very relevant to one of the driving forces behind the witch trials: the idea of Charity Refused. Continue reading “Ebenezer and the Witches: Charity Refused in the Witch Trials”

Ghosts of Christmas Past: Christmas Ghost Stories, Scandinavian Revenants, and the Medieval Dead in England

werwolfThis post comes with apologies for my not having posted anything last week. I was giving a rather fun lecture on Prospero at the Rose Playhouse, Bankside: a fantastic archaeological trust that also manages to be a  working theatre (despite not being allowed to have toilets, and having very strict rules against heating). I gave the talk with a skilled and patient actor friend, Suzanne Marie, and pending permissions I hope to make the whole thing available on Sound Cloud.

With that out of the way, it won’t surprise any of you to know that my thoughts have turned to Christmas. The decorations are up, I’ve started working my way through my gin-themed advent calendar, and the Christmas telly beckons…

Which brings me around to the main point of this post: Ghosts.

I’ve yet to see a culture with no traditions of ghost stories, but the dark nights of Medieval Britain gave birth to an enchanting culture of ghost stories and monstrous tales rivalled only by the great Sagas of the Northern Tradition.

And so, perhaps time has come to look into the Ghosts of Christmas: in the Northern Traditions, in Britain, and in Scotland… Continue reading “Ghosts of Christmas Past: Christmas Ghost Stories, Scandinavian Revenants, and the Medieval Dead in England”