From legends of witchcraft to myths about fairies, Guernsey has a veritable feast of folklore history interwoven into its locations; and even into its street names.
“Folklore is not magical, mystical or make believe” explains Annette Henry, an expert on Guernsey folklore, “It is simply the way people live. It encompasses our beliefs, language, customs, employment, leisure time, diet and education. We are making folklore at this very minute!”
In the past, the people of Guernsey would grind down locally-grown plants to make potions to distribute to the community in the form of ‘alternative therapies’, or interpret animal behaviour as warnings of impending danger or disease.
Superstitions and legends are intrinsically linked and form part of Guernsey’s rich folklore. One such legend is that short dark-eyed locals are said to be the descendants of fairies, known locally as “pouques”. As the story goes, many years ago, the king of the fairies met a beautiful Guernsey woman and took her home to fairyland. So taken were the other fairies by her beauty that an army of fairies sailed to Guernsey and killed all but two of the Guernsey men in a terrible battle, who survived by hiding in an oven. The fairy men married the Guernsey women, and only when they returned to fairyland did the two Guernsey survivors emerge from hiding to become the ancestors of the tall people of the Island, whilst the shorter dark-eyed ones were descended from the fairies.
“Le Creux es Faies” - the Fairy Cave, was once believed to be the entrance to the underground world where fairies lived. This passage, located at the L’Eree headland on Guernsey’s west coast, was in use until around 1000 BC as a “passage grave” and can still be viewed today.
The headland between L’Eree and Perelle has had a long association with witchcraft. The Trepied dolmen at the Catioroc, was believed to be the meeting place for the Islands’ witches who would supposedly dance with the devil in the Middle Ages.
You can still see evidence of these superstitions in the lanes of Guernsey. Some old cottages have stones projecting from their chimneys, which are said to be seats for witches to pause on as they fly about the night. The Longfrie Pub, in St Pierre du Bois, actually has a model witch doing just that.
Halfway up Tower Hill, in St Peter Port, there is a plaque dedicated to three women who lost their lives after being accused of witchcraft. In an 80-year period, from 1560 to 1640, 44 people were burnt at the stake and 35 were banished from the Island for heresy.
Visit our shores to uncover a wealth of stories, discover more at visitguernsey.com