“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!”
It is believed that some of these legends and stories were made up many years ago to keep the islanders away from the hide outs of smugglers and pirates, yet there is no denying that the islanders are a suspicious bunch and everything from the words you use to how you grow your herbs has a meaning.
Also known as the ‘Table des Pion’, the Fairy Ring at Pleinmont on the west of the island is one of Guernsey’s best-known supernatural sites. It is a mysterious circle dug out into the ground and surrounded by stones. Local legend suggests that fairies and elves dance around the stones at night and it is believed that walking around the ring three times while making a wish will see it granted by the fairies, also known as ‘pouques’ to the islanders.
In reality, the ring was used as a picnic bench by island officials when inspecting the coastal defences and tracks up until 1837, and also used as an eating area for servants involved in ‘La Chevauchée’, a formal 18th century procession. However – this might not stop the fairies from visiting!
This is the Fairy Cave that is believed to be the entrance to the underground world where the fairies live. The cave was built in the Neolithic period and lies on L’Eree headland. If you’re brave enough to see what suspicions and legends lie within, you can explore inside the cave.
The witches of Guernsey go against tradition and, according to folklore, fly using their invisible wings instead of brooms. The west of the island is where the witches primarily inhabit and if you look closely, you’ll see ‘witches’ seats’, pieces of granite protruding from walls on the side of some of the houses there. It is thought that the residents built these on the side of their houses to encourage the witches to relax and therefore stop them from terrorising the island with their wicked ways.
Stories suggest that the witches meet at the Catioroc headland on dark Friday nights in a ceremony known as ‘le Sabbat des Sorciers’ where they would dance around and worship the devil in the form of a black goat.
In addition to the ‘pouques’ of Guernsey, the island is also haunted by ghoulish dogs. One story suggests that there is one dog called ‘Tchico’ who roams Tower Hill of St Peter Port during the winter months. Tchico is believed to have chains tied around his legs and if you are unfortunate enough to hear the chains rattle, it is a sign that something bad will happen.
The islanders are a superstitious bunch and there are many ancient cures and remedies that are intermingled with old legends that are still around today.
One of these bizarre remedies involves wrapping an old worn sock around your neck if you have a sore throat as you sleep. The sock must be worn throughout the day to make it sweaty, a result of which making the experience extra unpleasant.
It also is Guernsey superstition that Friday is an unlucky day. This may be due to the witches meeting on this day, but also the belief that Jesus was crucified on a Friday.
Another superstition the islanders believe is that fishermen can’t say the phrase ‘going fishing’ as the fish will hear, and it will be bad luck. Instead, they would need to say, ‘go out in the boat’ or ‘out onto the water’.
Guernsey dwellers also have suspicions about naked flames being lit in the house. A red and orange flame is normal, a green flame indicates the presence of dark magic, and a blue flame suggests a storm is coming.
Also, it may be common knowledge that herbs can be used as ancient medicines, but the islanders have a particularly odd belief that, in order to make the herbs potent, they must be planted whilst uttering swear words!
Folklore resides around the whole of the island – you just need to know where to look! Every year, Guernsey holds a Heritage Festival in the months of April and May where there are an abundance of tours and activities that you can get involved in to find out more about the supernatural goings-on that the island holds. You can also look on Guernsey Guided Tours to see when there are tours running that focus on the island’s history and traditions. Among these tours you would see La Varde passage grave, Le Creux es Faies and The Fairy Ring.
Click here to look at ferries to Guernsey so you can start exploring the mythical island of Guernsey for yourself.