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English Myths & Legends 101

When it comes to myths and legends, the other countries of the British Isles are often seen as “richer”. Scotland, Ireland, and Wales are simply perceived as more mysterious. However, this seems a little unfair as England has a lot to offer, too, when it comes to fairies, scary creatures, and legendary heroes. Here are a few examples that you might or might not have heard about.

Fairy Dogs and magical pathways

When you walk in a forest, you often come to crossings, and might remember something about taking the path less taken. For certain crossings, there might even be a path that is indeed less taken, as some have an invisible path that would enable you to not just enter a different part of the forest but also a different world altogether. At some of those crossings, you might meet a rather strange looking dog. If he managed to bark at you three times, then you would be in some trouble – so you might want to avoid strange looking, mythical dogs when you come to crossings in English forests – unless you would indeed be interested in being lost in some magical other-world.

Ghost of a hunter

If you ever fancy a visit to Windsor Forest, you might encounter the ghost of Herne the Hunter, who lived during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Unfortunately, after some offense he committed, he decided to hang himself. Since that moment, he is said to patrol the forest. Locals say he is there in times of need, and would always be a guardian of Windsor Forest to make up for the mistakes of his past.

Jack O'Kent

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Jack O'Kent is a folk hero who apparently managed to trick the devil. He asked the devil for help to build a needed bridge over a river. The devil agreed, but as you might suspect, he did not agree without asking for a high price. Jack O'Kent would have his bridge as long as he agreed on one thing: The devil would be allowed to take the soul of the first person to cross the bridge. Jack O'Kent agreed quickly. But he did trick the devil: Instead of walking over the bridge himself, or having an unsuspecting peasant walk over it, the trickster threw a bone when a dog was close. The dog took the bait, ran over the bridge, and so the devil received the soul of a dog. After all, he had not been too specific about whether it had to be a human!

Church Grim

There isn't actually anything grim about the church grims. They are a little like the Scottish brownies, but as the name says, they only live in churches. They come out at night and sweep the church, sometimes also ringing the bell. Church grims are, of course, quite popular with priests. They save them a lot of time and keep the church looking neat!

King Arthur and Merlin

King Arthur and Merlin are two of the most famous mythical heroes of English legend. There have been novels, plays, movies, and many pieces of art that were inspired by King Arthur and the legends surrounding his life and deeds. Merlin, a wizard, has received just as much attention, even with movies solely focused on the life of the fascinating character – sometimes as a young man, sometimes as the old wise wizard. There are many places in England where you can delve deeper into the legends surrounding King Arthur. You can visit his probable place of birth, visit castles, and check out the place where he was supposedly buried.

Stonehenge

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Of course, Stonehenge is a big drawing point for people who are interested in the more mythological side of England. Stonehenge is very old – but not the only stone circle in the British Isles. There are a few different theories on how Stonehenge has been erected, how it was used, and what the real purpose behind it was. It could have been a site for ritual sacrifices (as that's what people in the past did to keep the gods and goddesses happy), an ancient calendar, or a site to watch the movement of the stars.

Wookey Hole Witch

Wookey Hole is famous for the petrified witch in one of its caves. Apparently, the evil witch (as they were of course all evil) lived in that cave, and the people of the area became a bit nervous. So they asked a priest from Glastonbury to come and help them. Add a bit of holy water, and the people did not have to worry about the Wookey Hole Witch any longer. The holy water did put an end to her days – and you can actually still go and visit her remains.

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