Folklore is an ongoing body of work chronicling the mythology and legends found deep in our history. Demonic grimoires, folk traditions and horror stories are brought to life in stark monochrome on canvas and paper, as artist Katie Marland uses her background in natural history illustration to inform the creation of something uncanny, twisting the ordinary into the preternatural.
Katie Marland is a Bristol-based fine artist and illustrator. She studied at Bristol School of Art, Camberwell, and The Royal Drawing School, where she recently completed her masters. Her work is research-led, characterised by close observational drawing, obsessive detail, and dark themes. She can be found most days haunting the halls of local museums.
Folklore is open at The Vestibules, Bristol City Hall, 13th - 16th September 10-6pm. It will then travel to the Folklore Library & Archive in Devon from October 10th to December 16th.
Please scroll through or click the images to explore the exhibition.
In medieval times, the village of Sockburn in Durham is said to have fallen under siege from a great, winged serpent, bringing death and destruction to the small parish. Sir John Conyers, the son of a local wealthy family, ended the beast’s reign with a swing of his falchion, which for many years remained part of the initiation for each new Bishop of Durham, at which the words would be spoken:
"My Lord Bishop. I hereby present you with the falchion wherewith the champion Conyers slew the worm, dragon or fiery flying serpent which destroyed man, woman and child; in memory of which the king then reigning gave him the manor of Sockburn, to hold by this tenure, that upon the first entrance of every bishop into the county the falchion should be presented."
The worm is thought to be the inspiration for Carroll’s Jabberwocky.
A folk tradition carried out around the time of Christmas, the Mari Lywd is a costume made of a horse’s skull on a pole, a sheet, and often ribbons, bells and colourful decorations. Should the Mari come to your door, she and her accompanying party will sing songs or - more traditionally - engage in pwnco, a battle of (often rude) verse between the inhabitant and the Mari, with whoever’s verses are stronger or patience is greater being the winner. Should the Mari win, or the homeowner relent, the party is granted entry to the home and permitted to raid the pantry and alcohol supplies within. Upon taking leave, they will issue a Mari Ffarwel, thanking the inhabitants for their hospitality and often bestowing a blessing for the new year.
The barghest is a common figure in British folklore, that of a large black dog, with fierce teeth and often glowing red eyes, foretelling of great tragedy, an omen of death, or simply feeding upon unsuspecting travellers to the area. On the 4th of August, 1577, the congregation of The Holy Trinity Church in Blythburgh were visited by one such beast, in this event known by the name of Black Shuck. The creature burst through the doors at a clap of thunder, running up the nave and killing two people, a man and a boy, collapsing a steeple as he did so. As the dog retreated, it left black scorches on the door that can be seen in the church to this day. Records for that time show a strong electrical storm occurring in the area on that date.
Described in The Lesser Key of Solomon, a grimoire of demons and their summoning spells, Asmoday, the thirty-second spirit is a great king of Hell, said to have three heads: that of a bull, that of a man, and that of a ram. He has webbed feet, and rides upon a great infernal dragon. The grimoire notes that the summoner must invoke Asmoday only while standing, and with their hat removed, or else they will be deceived. He teaches the arts of mathematics, astronomy, geometry and all handicrafts. He makes the caster invincible, and shows them the location of treasures.
Described in The Lesser Key of Solomon, a grimoire of demons and their summoning spells, (edited, in later editions, by the infamous English occultist, Aleister Crowley) Forneus is the thirtieth spirit described, said to be a mighty marquis taking the form of a great sea monster. He makes men knowledgeable in rhetoric, speaking tongues, and creates a good name for the summoner, making them beloved by enemies and friends alike.
Beyond the realm of British folklore, Feral pays homage to the new mythologies and lore being crafted today. Old Gods of Appalachia is among a multitude of modern podcasts that draw inspiration from the folklore and history of their land, crafting new stories from the old and bringing folklore to a new generation upon which it might otherwise have been lost. Feral depicts a creature resurrected by the character of the Dead Queen, described by writer Steve Shell as “a possum with three impossible mouths open and screaming, with teeth like needles”.
Described in The Lesser Key of Solomon, a grimoire of demons and their summoning spells, the thirty-sixth spirit is Stolas, a great prince of Hell appearing in the form of an owl, or night-raven, gifting knowledge of astronomy, herbs and precious stones.
Black Annis, Black Anna or Cat Anna is a fabled hag of the Dane Hills caves. She is described as having blue, almost see through skin, a shock of tangled black hair and long, terrible claws made of iron. She uses her long arms and sharp talons for digging a cave into the sandstone cliffs and snatching children, and it is said that local cottages are built with small windows so Annis can only get one gangly arm inside. Her cave entrance is obscured by a pollarded oak tree, upon which she dries the skins of her victims before slinging them about her waist. The tales of Black Annis taking the form of a beastly cat sparked a local ritual that lasted until the late 18th century, in which bait was dragged before a pack of hounds, starting at Annis’ Bower and ending at the mayor’s door, each Black Monday. The bait in question was a dead cat soaked in aniseed.
The cockatrice, first mentioned in the Bible in Isaiah chapters 11, 14 and 59, is tied closely to - if not synonymous with - the basilisk. A creature said to be born of a rooster's egg hatched by a toad or snake, the cockatrice possesses the head of a cockerel, wings of a dragon and a serpent’s tail, with the ability to kill with a single look. In late-medieval bestiaries, it is repeatedly stated that the only thing that can defeat a cockatrice is the bite (or, on occasion, stench) of a weasel.
Now a common term for scarecrows in parts of Scotland, the Tattie Bogle was once said to be a mischievous bogeyman of sorts, living out in potato fields and either attacking passers-by or causing blights on the crops.
The Lincoln Imp is a grotesque, calmly perched on one of the archways inside Lincoln Cathedral. Legend has it that he was sent inside the holy building by Satan, with the intention of causing havoc, but was turned to stone by an angel and forced to stay inside the cathedral forevermore. He has become a symbol for the city of Lincoln.
The legend of Digging Tim tells of a tiny scavenger and treasure hunter, akin to a brownie or elf, living in the cavern under an old oak tree, coming out only to seek gold coins. Digging Tim would set about his task, only to tire and leave to rest before finding the gold. This presents an opportunity for anyone who might think to follow him to dig the extra half inch into the dirt and retrieve the spoils. This is warned against, however, in the tale of a farmer who tried to steal Tim’s treasures, only to be cursed by a nearby fairy for taking the fruit of another’s labour, and nearly crushed by a stone.
An interpretation of the Llamhygin, or water spirit, the water leaper is said to have the head of a frog, the wings of a bat and a long, lizard-like tail with a stinger on the end. Encounters with the creature have been given by local fishermen, often describing it as mischievous but generally harmless, at worst stealing catch straight from their lines. Other accounts take a more sinister tone, describing the creature as allowing itself to be hooked, and upon surfacing letting out a deafening shriek, almost causing those within earshot to faint, landing them in the waters of the Llan Glâs, where farmers purposefully do not send their dogs to retrieve drowning sheep, knowing that something there pulls them to the bottom, never to be seen again.