Wrong Time Bread, Wrong Place Fairies September 19, 2016Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback
Beach wants to introduce today a folklore custom that survived unexpectedly for three hundred years in the dark, before emerging to be briefly photographed by stunned folklorists at the end of the twentieth century. The tradition in question relates to bread. It was believed in south-west England in the 1600s that if you carried bread with you, you would discourage the pixies from misleading you. As the wonderful Robert Herrick put it: ‘If ye feare to be affrighted/ When ye are (by chance) benighted:/ In your Pocket for a trust,/ Carrie nothing but a Crust:/ For that holy piece of Bread,/ Charmes the danger, and the dread.’
Well, actually, no. This is too confidently put. This tradition is actually only reported twice. Christopher Clobery a Devon poet, and a tiresome puritan from a good royalist family, wrote in 1659: ‘Old countrey folk, who pixie-leading fear,/ Bear bread about them, to prevent that harm’. Herrick had published his poem, meanwhile, in 1648: Herrick was a Londoner, but he had worked in Devon as a parish priest from 1639-1647, when he was thrown out of his living after choosing the right side in the Civil War. So we have two references, one certainly from Devon, one very possibly based on Devon traditions.
After this the tradition simply vanishes from Britain. It certainly did not survive to the great British folklore collections of the 1800s (when it could hardly have escaped). However, in the 1960s, English folklorist John Widdowson found himself in Newfoundland (one of Canada’s Atlantic provinces) collecting for a dialect project. While out in the Newfoundland wilds, which had benefited from heavy early settlement from the south west of England (Devon included), he was given bread to put in his pocket by worried locals as he was traipsing off to this or that distant settlement. Folklore collecting began with earnest in Newfoundland in the mid-late 1960s and the custom is frequently attested up until the 1980s (though by then it was more of a memory than a practice). Fairies would not misled you if you had bread in your pockets.
Enjoy for a moment the shock of time and space on your nervous system. A fairy custom that was attested for the first and last time in England in the long Civil War, is reported again at the time of the Sergeant Peppers Album on the other side of the Atlantic.
Other long lasting customs: drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com