Cornish Fairies: The Spriggans

Apr 15, 2014 by

Cornish Fairies

“It should be understood that there are in Cornwall five varieties of the fairy family, clearly distinguishable—

1. The Small People,
2. The Spriggans,
3. Piskies, or Pigseys,
4. The Buccas, Bockles, or Knockers,
5. The Browneys….”

 

 

 

“The Spriggans are quite a different class of beings. In some respects they appear to be offshoots from the family of the Trolls of Sweden and Denmark.  The Spriggans are found only about the cairns, coits, or cromlechs, burrows, or detached stones, with which it is unlucky for mortals to meddle.  A correspondent writes:  “This is known, that they were a remarkably mischievous and thievish tribe.   If ever a house was robbed, a child stolen, cattle carried away, or a building demolished, it was the work of the Spriggans.   Whatever commotion took place in earth, air, or water, it was all put down as the work of these spirits.

Wherever the giants have been, there the Spriggans have been also.  It is usually considered that they are the ghosts of the giants; certainly, from many of their feats, we must suppose them to possess a giant’s strength.

The Spriggans have the charge of buried treasure.”

Popular Romances of the West of England, Robert Hunt, 1871

read more

Halloween in Cornwall

Oct 29, 2013 by

Halloween in Cornwall is called Nos Kalan Gwav and is celebrated with both ancient Celtic traditions and newer Christian customs.

  October 31st is also known in Cornwall as Allantide (to English speakers), a festival linked to St Allen or Alanus, a minor Breton saint who may have come to Cornwall via Wales. Despite its Christianized name, however, Halloween in Cornwall  has ancient pagan origins.

The Cornish language name for the celebration is Kalan Gwav, meaning first day of winter, and Nos Kalan Gwav, meaning eve of the first day of winter, falls on October 31st, just like Samhain fests in other Celtic countries.

30673f1c9c4f2a827d4242c64bb6cc17


The most common symbol of Allantide is a large red apple.  Apples were given for good luck to everyone in the family, and to wish them good health as the cold winter days began. Apples were powerful symbols of fertility and bountiful harvests to the ancient Celts, so it’s not surprising that the fruit was appropriated by Christians for their Allan Day customs on October 31st:

THE ancient custom of providing children with a large apple on Allhallows-eve is still observed, to a great extent, at St Ives. “Allan-day,” as it is called, is the day of days to hundreds’ of children, who would deem it a great misfortune were they to go to bed on “Allan-night” without the time-honoured Allan apple to hide beneath their pillows. A quantity of large apples are thus disposed of the sale of which is dignified by the term Allan Market.

Popular Romances of the West of Britain, Robert Hunter, 1902.

Halloween in Cornwall sometimes included divination rituals using apples. Young girls wanting to know their future spouse would place the apple under their pillow, in hopes of dreaming about their Cornish prince.  As with other Celtic Samhain festivals, Halloween in Cornwall almost always included building fires.  Gathering around the local bonfire and offering apples to friends and visitors was customary, a tradition from a simpler time that has been lost in our modern era.  These days, I can’t imagine any parent letting a child accept an apple in lieu of wrapped Halloween candy.

Allan apples sometimes were used in games played during the celebrations.  In 19th century Penzance,  apples were hung from a wooden cross shape, decorated with lit candles, in a Cornish version of bobbing for apples:

A local game is also recorded where two pieces of wood were nailed together in the shape of a cross. It was then suspended with 4 candles on each outcrop of the cross shape. Allan apples would then be suspended under the cross. The goal of the game was to catch the apples in your mouth, with hot wax being the penalty for slowness or inaccuracy.

Folklore and Legends of Cornwall, M.A. Courtney, 1890

 

Why not grab some apples, sticks and candles and give this game a try on Nos Kalan Gwav? Be sure to buy large apples–your party guests will thank you. Besides, a little candle wax on the face seems a small price to pay to celebrate Halloween in true Cornish fashion.

 

One of my favorite Halloween songs is This is Halloween, from Tim Burton’s 1993 film The Nightmare Before Christmas. Here’s the song with CORNISH subtitles–Hemm yw Kalan Gwav!

 

read more

Apr 1, 2013 by

Waterfall in Cornwall (St Nectan’s Kieve)

read more

Related Posts

Share This

Mar 5, 2013 by

Cornwall, a proud Celtic nation

read more

Related Posts

Share This

Mar 5, 2013 by

Kernow is the Cornish word for Cornwall….

read more

Related Posts

Share This

Mar 5, 2013 by

March 5th is celebrated in Cornwall as St Piran’s Day, patron saint of tin miners and patron saint of Cornwall(Kernow)

read more

Related Posts

Share This

Mar 5, 2013 by

Swanpool beach near Falmouth Cornwall

read more

Related Posts

Share This