Folklore and Superstition

In Welsh culture, professional sin-eaters attended funerals to ritualistically eat a meal over the corpse to absorb the deceased’s sins. Every sin stayed with them until their own death, and they were often social outcasts because of the spiritual uncleanliness they accumulated. One has to wonder if sin-eaters would eat the sins of other sin-eaters, passing the spiritual debt down for generations. Image: Two Old Ones Eating Soup, Francisco Goya, 1819

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The Ovinnik is an evil spirit of the barn from Slavic folklore. He may set fire to your grain and burn down your barn unless you placate him with roosters and pancakes (bliny). A warm touch from an Ovinnik on New Years Eve is auspicious for the year ahead, but a cold touch portends misery. Photo: Natalie.sk. Sculpture: Anton Shipitsa

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A superstition of the American South: the first person who walks into your house on New Year’s Day will be like your chickens that year. If fat, the chickens will be fat, and vice versa. From North Carolina Folklore Journal, July 1966 Issue. Image: Brent Moore via Flickr CC-BY-NC

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In Irish folklore, a changeling is a fairy child that was left in place of a human child stolen by the fae. Changelings often appear exactly like a human children but with strange differences such as long teeth, a full beard, uncanny intelligence and odd behavior. Jinn from Arabic folklore are also known to steal human children and replace them with changelings. Image: Titania and the Changeling Child (detail) by John Anster Fitzgerald, 1832-1906

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The Björketorp runestone in Sweden is famous for being among the tallest in the world—and the ancient curse inscribed on it. The monument’s purpose is unknown, but the curse is clear: destroy the stone and be doomed, like the farmer who was burned alive trying to remove it. Image: Sveriges Montelius, 1877

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Chort is a demon from Slavic folklore, son of Chernobog, who is trickster figure in folktales. It often tries to trick people into selling their souls, but is easily outsmarted. Sometimes Chort acts as a force for good, and gives heroes magical items, or takes villains to hell. Image: Wikimedia Commons

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In an Indian folktale, a Bodhisatta, known as the Prince of the Five Weapons, meets a demon, known as The Demon with Matted Hair, in a forest. Before it could devour him, the prince defeats the demon with discourse and reason, and turns him benevolent. Image: John Batten, 1892

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Rangda is the Demon Queen of the Leyaks, flying heads with dangling entrails, such as a heart and lungs, from Balinese folklore. They have long tongues and fangs, drink the blood of new born children, and feast on corpses in graveyards. At day, they appear human.

Image is an edit of a photo by Yves Picq, CC3 Attribution

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In Bengali folklore, a Shakchunni is the ghost of a married woman. They usually wear Shankha, the coral or shell bangles that they were given as a part of their wedding ceremony. In this picture, from a classic folklore book, the Shakchunni is spreading cow dung mixed with water.

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