More Celtic Mischief: Meet the Korrigan

Korrigans01Are Korrigans real? They’re supposed to be the playful cousins of Ireland’s Leprechauns, and another Celtic legend of old. Cryptozoological reports of these mysterious creatures pervade Brittany in Northern France, an ancient Celtic settlement. Let’s see if the Korrigan are real or a figment of the very fertile Celtic imagination!

The Korrigans live in Brittany, France. The name Korr refers to dwarves in that region, but the feminized version, Korrigan, refers to a fairy or dwarf-like spirit. Descriptions of them conflict so it’s hard to know what these creatures are really like.  Let’s try to figure it out.

GallicenaeOrigins

According to Pomponius Mela (born somewhere around 43 AD) who wrote extensively on the geography of the known world at that time, “Sena in the British sea, opposite the Ofismician coast, is remarkable for an oracle of the Gallic God. Its priestesses, holy in perpetual virginity, are said to be nine in number. They are called Gallicenae, and are thought to be endowed with singular powers, so as to raise by their charms the winds and seas, to turn themselves into what animals they will, to cure wounds and diseases incurable by others, to know and predict the future; but this they do only to navigators who go thither purposely to consult them.”

According to the website sacred-texts.com, these ladies were further mentioned in Breton poetry throughout the ages and a whole romance and nostalgia about them was advanced. Did they become what we know today as the Korrigan? Possibly.

Korrigans02patrick-jezequelDescriptions

Here are the descriptions that I found during my research:

— Tiny mischievous creature with great strength. They are like fairies but able to move huge rocks into weird places, they make people do silly things by whispering in their ear, and in general create a lot of mischief.

— According to Wiki, they are a fairy or dwarf-like spirit.  They quote Theodore de Villemarque who describes them as separate from dwarves. Yet on the other hand, they mention Walter Evans-Wentz who claimed there was no distinction between these fairies and dwarves.

— There also seems to be some demonic associations in other definitions that claim they can’t tolerate seeing the Cross and that they can’t name all the days of the week “because of the sacredness of the full week.” They are also supposed to hate priests, churches, and the Blessed Mother.

Korrigans03— Wiki sights a Breton poet, Ar-Rannou who states there are 9 Korrigans. That harks back to the original legend  of the Gallicinae – there were 9 of them also. In one of his poems he describes them this way, “[those] who dance, with flowers in their hair, and robes of white wool, around the fountain, by the light of the full moon.”

This association seems to have turned things around for the Korrigans because other sources regarded them as water-sprites and sirens. They supposedly inhabit springs and rivers and are described as “lovely, lustful golden-haired women” who, like mermaids, try to lure men to their death.

Their skills include predicting the future, changing shape, moving at lightning speed, singing and combing their long hair, and haunting fountains and water wells.

— They’ve been accused of stealing children and leaving changelings in their place. Tradition says that they lurk near dolmens on Halloween night, waiting for victims. What the heck is a dolmen?!

Dolmen: a structure usually regarded as a tomb, consisting of two or more large, upright stones set with a space between them and capped with a horizontal stone. Per the dictionary.

Korrigans06Confusion Abounds

I think what’s happened here is two-fold. A lot of the legends and folklore of Wales and Cornwall were embraced by the early Bretons.  Why? Because they are all Celtic. In fact I read that Brittany was settled by people from Wales and Cornwall. Next, Christianity showed up and people were told their former gods were untrue and were subsequently relegated to lesser creatures like fairies and such by the local people.

Another website, timelessmyths.com, stated that these early Celtic “fairies” weren’t the types of fairies we picture today. They looked like humans, didn’t have wings, but they did have magical powers. They also never aged, so they seemed eternal. This is similar to the original story of the Gallicinae that we discussed earlier in this article.

Korrigans04The aspect of the Korrigan stealing human babies and leaving behind a changeling seems to have come from Scandinavian folklore originally (per scared-texts.com). But it is conceivable that this notion would have been heard by and influenced the Celtic peoples over time since they are geographically relatively close together.

It almost seems like the Korrigan mythology is an amalgam of a bunch of different creatures!

Today’s Breton

I’m fortunate to have a dear friend who is a native of Brittany and still lives there today. Natalie explained that today, to the current residents of Brittany,  the Korrigan are small fairies that look like humans. They have pointed ears and they like to get into mischief, playing tricks on people and making fun of them.

Her grandfather told her that the Korrigan didn’t like men coming home late by wooden paths after a night out drinking, so they would do things to scare the men. And you can only see these mischief makers at night, unless you’re in a very deep dark forest during the daytime.

She said they’re close in spirit to the Irish leprechaun, not surprising as both Ireland and Brittany share Celtic roots.

Natalie has never seen one, but I know if she does, you’ll be reading about her account right here in CryptoVille!

Happy St Patrick’s Day everyone!

Korrigans05

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