September Folklore Sampler: Of Proverbs and Selkies and Mapping the Grim


October 4, 2015 by Paula Reed Nancarrow


At the beginning of September I mentioned a new hashtag on Twitter I enjoy following – #FolkloreThursdays.

My first post in September was on folktales about grief. This was partly in preparation for a storytelling gig I was doing later in the month, but also because I wanted to have some content of my own to post to the folklore thread.  It’s more fun to share other people’s stuff when you have something to share yourself. The guidelines for #FolkloreThursday, which is maintained and moderated by @WillowCWinsham@Seline62442458, and @DeeDeeChainey, are here.

This post is a sampler of a few of the links I found most useful and/or interesting in September.

Like this one from Irish Archaeology, focusing on proverbs heard in County Waterford. There were some I’d certainly heard before (though I’ve never been to Ireland), so often that they were not remarkable, but a few in particular stood out. One –

An excuse is nearer to a woman than her apron. 

– because it was easy to take personally. Another

“Life is sweet” as the tailor said as he ran away from the gander.

because it reminds me of my blogging friend Francis Potts. His tagline at the end of communications is often “Life is sweet.” Now I am wondering what gander is chasing him as he repeats it. And finally this one.

“Ye are all the same” as the goat said to his feet.

because, wuh?

Courtesy Daily Mail.

Courtesy Daily Mail.

Although the more I think about it, the more people come to mind who make such meaningless generalizations, and the wittier it seems.

There were other posts you might expect to find on a folklore thread that were particularly delightful.

Like this drily humorous B’laan myth on the origin of sex differences from the Philippines from Nina Zumel. Or this variant on the devil as a fiddle player in Swedish and Norwegian folklore from Northern Displayers, with the YouTube link to the tune with which this story is associated, which reminded me of my dear friend John Berquist.

Or from this side of the pond, the story of La Llorona, “the Weeping Woman” from the Texas State Historical Association, via Shanna Peeples

I also found some very eclectic material I might not have discovered in any other way.

Like the use of technology to map folktale variants like the Shuck, or Black Dog, Tales. This is a crowdsourced project and updates are made on a regular basis; it’s a whole lot of fun to explore. Nick Stone’s blog itself explains the concept of “public archaeology” and how it’s being done with this particular story and its different iterations, whether the legend is of a single dog, a Were-creature, a shape-shifter of some other kind, or a pack of dogs in a Wild Hunt.

I love Nick Stone’s description of his own passion for this project:  “for me…data is poetry and maps are fine prose.”

#FolkloreThursday hosts sometimes suggest themes to focus on, and this can result in interesting synchronicities.

For example, one Thursday the theme was selkies. Dee Dee Chainey, one of the curators, had a lovely tune on her blog sung by the Corries about the Great Sealchie of Sule Skerrie.

Courtesy Dee Dee Chainey.

Courtesy Dee Dee Chainey. Original By Vernon Hill (Life time: N/A, published in USA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Then Betsy Cornwell posted a wonderful essay on male selkies from writer Amy Hoff. I went back and listened to that folk ballad again after reading Amy’s essay, particularly this section:

it is an interesting commentary on the thought processes of society that the earlier stories are about women with agency enjoying themselves with handsome men of supernatural origin, whereas the later versions (with selkies depicted as women) seem more like an allegory for abuse and possession.

That’s when I noticed the Corries’ version – and the version in Ballads Weird and Wonderful, from which the illustration above is taken – is different from the lyrics Dee Dee includes, in that the final verse is excised:

Twas weel eno’ the night we met,
When I’d be oot and on my way,
Ye held me close, ye held me tight,
“Just ane mair time ere the break o’ day!”

The tragedy is not averted, but we do not end with it. Without Amy’s essay I think that detail might have escaped me.

I also did not think Stephen Vernon was being fussy at all when he refused to drink a wine named Selkie whose label confused that mythical creature with a mermaid. Not. At. All. Bravo, sir! There’s such a thing as principle. In vino veritas, after all.


If you want a comprehensive and regularly updated archive, there’s now a #FolkloreThursday that is automatically generated daily.

Yes, I know. It’s a Thursday hashtag. Why would you need a daily paper?  Because Twitter. The best day to access the paper, which was the idea of Ganfer Haar Finn, is Friday, since it is generated at 12 hour intervals. But because things get retweeted, I’ve yet to see a day go by without a paper being generated.

What I find best about the (and I generally don’t care for automatically generated “news”) is that you can get easy access to all the videos and images that are posted for #FolkloreThursday that day by clicking on the appropriate tab. Some days there aren’t videos or images, but if you click the archive calendar under the tabs you can move backwards and forwards until you find some.

All of which is to say that I had a great time last month, and I think you might too. Check it out! And if you liked the posts and photos in this sampler, please consider following the folk who brought them to my attention.

tyr and fenir

Tyr and Fenir by John Bauer, 1911

9 thoughts on “September Folklore Sampler: Of Proverbs and Selkies and Mapping the Grim

  1. Norah says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Paula. You have provided a lot of interesting links.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ula says:

    Thanks for this, Paula. I will definitely be checking these out and following the hashtag.


  3. Judith Post says:

    You’re thorough! This had to take a lot of time. And you finished with Tyr–one of my favorite Norse gods.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m not sure I knew there were male Selkies. Hmm… Let me think back on that one. Also, love the wine bottle: In vino veritas, indeed. :-D Thanks for all the links. Look forward to checking them out.


    • Yes, and there are a lot of issues around empowerment surrounding both myths that generate some interestingly ambivalent feelings in yours truly. I mean, what does it mean for a woman to take a nurse’s purse for a baby in exchange for the knowledge that she’ll get to marry well and then her husband is going to kill her former lover and son? Is security worth that much?


      • Wasn’t that a common theme? Women (girls, really) making disturbing deals for things they though they wanted for their future? I don’t think I see that too often anymore. Or, you know, at all. Not in my kids books anyway.


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