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Special Edition

Believe it or Not?


Folklore, Witchcraft and Magical Thinking
from the North York Moors, Coast and Cleveland

Believe It Or Not? – a splendidly illustrated collection of stories of the area – offers new perspectives and plenty of surprises!


The North York Moors and surrounding hills, dales and coast are rich in folklore, legend and magical thinking. Stories passed down and elaborated over generations often hold sprinklings of truth and fascinating glimpses into past lives. They offer insights into the thoughts, rituals and fears of our ancestors.


‘Witches’ were real people working within an ancient magical belief system, providing herbal and magical remedies for past communities. ‘Witch posts’ found around a number of houses were believed to protect from evil. Concealed objects such as shoes, spoons, bottles or even ‘mummified’ cats were hidden across homes to avert supernatural or natural dangers, while the ‘Hand of Glory’ – the severed hand of a hanged felon believed to induce sleep – was a useful tool for burglars.


Stories of magical creatures known as hobs provide imaginative explanations for otherwise perplexing events and life’s ups and downs. Dragon lore is common in North Yorkshire, while fairy stories were used to explain natural phenomena. Haunting the local moorland are legends of beasts, giants or ghosts, and tales of mermaids and sea-men are part of a treasure trove of beliefs and superstitions along the coast.


Rituals and traditions are also connected to ancient beliefs. The Lyke Wake Walk was inspired by an old Yorkshire dialect song telling of the soul’s passage through the afterlife. Corn dollies were made with the last sheaf of corn at the end of harvest to promote fertility for the next season, and wassailing the orchards in midwinter was thought to ensure a good crop. Though the origins of Whitby’s ceremony of the Penny Hedge are lost in the mists of time, the event is still alive today, as are traditions of sword-dancing, clog dancing and folk music. Finally, newly introduced folklore, such as the Krampus Run from Europe, is weaving yet more colour into the vibrant local culture.


Believe it or Not?

A5 | 148 pages | full colour

£ 9 (shops) | £ 12 (inc. p&p) 

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