(HIST051) Introduction to British Folklore

Green Man


Course start date: Monday 23rd September 2024
Course end date: Friday 29th November 2024
Early Bird Price: £135 BOOK NOW

Tutor: Mark Norman
Course Code: HIST051
Level: Non-accredited, non-credit bearing
Assessments/Exams: None. Throughout the course you will be given ideas and questions to respond to in the online discussion area. Participation in online discussion is encouraged, but not compulsory. There will be an opportunity to undertake optional writing and research tasks as an extension for each module. If you choose to do this you will not receive a mark or grade, but you will receive feedback from the tutor on your work.
Duration: 10 weeks
Estimated Student Study Time: 2 – 5 hours per week are recommended, but time spent is flexible and at your discretion.
Price: £150.00
Pre-Requisite Course(s): None
Delivery: Online Distance Learning
Late Entrants: If this course is not full by the start date then late entrants will be accepted for up to two weeks after the start of the course. As a late entrant you can choose to catch up on the material you have missed or you can skip the missed weeks and concentrate on the material at the point where you join the course, but unfortunately we cannot offer fee reductions or course extensions for late entrants.
Recommended Reading**:

Folklore: the basics, Simon J Bronner , Routledge, 2017.
A Dictionary of English Folklore, Dr Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud , Oxford University Press, 2003.
The Land of the Green Man, Carolyn Larrington , Bloomsbury Academic, 2019.

If you buy books using these links, we may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookshops, and which helps us keep our course costs low.

Required Reading**: None

**Please note: All courses are subject to sufficient numbers of students registering before they are confirmed as running. Therefore, after booking your place you are advised not to purchase any texts until you have received confirmation that the course is running.


Folklore has seen a resurgence in interest in the last few years. It is a discipline which resonates closely with so many people because it has aspects which tie in with who we are at a close level – what it means to ‘be’ within a cultural framework. Taking as its starting point a ‘Folklore 101’ approach of what the term ‘folklore’ actually means and how it has been collected and examined, the course continues to look at a variety of aspects of traditional lore from the British Isles each week.

Syllabus Plan

Week 01: What is Folklore?
Week 02: The Black Dog
Week 03: Traditional Witchcraft & Folk Magic
Week 04: Seasonal Folklore and Calendar Customs
Week 05: The Hobby Horse
Week 06: Holy wells
Week 07: Fairies
Week 08: The Green Man
Week 09: Folk Ghosts
Week 10: Household Traditions and Protection

Course Content in Depth

Week 1: What is Folklore?

We begin with a broad overview of the discipline of folklore, both what it means as an academic subject but more importantly, what is means to us as individuals? We will look at where the term originated, how folklore has been collected over the years, and how we consume it now.

Week 2: The Black Dog

The image of the spectral Black Dog has been recorded all over the world, but Britain has the broadest catalogue of variations and the image is an important one here. From the Teutonic Wild Hunt to the Hound of the Baskervilles, we pass through nearly 1,000 years of records and examine the differences in those found is disparate counties around the country.

Week 3: Traditional Witchcraft & Folk Magic

Before we had the proliferation of spell books and love potions in esoteric shops, witchcraft was often a much more solitary practice. This module examines the more traditional pathways and looks at the role of the cunning folk in a society, the herbal remedies and plant lore, divination, charms and other services provided.

Week 4: Seasonal Folklore and Calendar Customs

The wheel of the year is an important concept to the old religions and paths. The turning of the seasons, nature and the landscape are intrinsically linked to so many calendar customs and celebrations. This week looks at a few examples of these.

Week 5: The Hobby Horse

There are very particular types of hobby horses found in processional customs and seasonal events in Britain. How do these differ to those in other countries? What are the origins? And what other types of ritual animals or hobbies can we find?

Week 6: Holy Wells

The landscape is replete with still-standing holy wells, remains and even hints to where they once stood in place names and the like. We look at some of these and the customs such as well-dressing or beating the bounds which are often attached to them.

Week 7: Fairies

A massive subject which could have a course of its own, shoehorned into one module! Week 7 takes a broad overview of the similarities and differences in fairly lore between the regions.

Week 8: The Green Man

The Green Man and the Foliate Head are powerful and important images, and among some of the oldest found in folklore. This week takes a look at the origins, the meaning of the image, and the importance of the colour green in folklore.

Week 9: Folk Ghosts

What are folk ghosts and how do they differ from the alleged hauntings which one could investigate in person? That is the question which is examined in Week 9, with some case studies by way of example.

Week 10: Household Traditions and Protection

For the final module we look at the ways in which people protected (and still protect) their properties from ‘supernatural invasion’. Week 10 looks at traditions such as hanging horseshoes over the threshold or concealing coins under the floor.

Learning Outcomes

This course will help you to develop a basic level of:

  • Understanding of what is meant by folklore and folk tradition
  • Understanding of some key tropes found in British folklore
  • A broad overview of fairies and ghostlore
  • Knowledge of the following features:
    • The Black Dog
    • Folk magic and medicine
    • The importance of the seasons in folklore
    • Hobby horses and ritual animals
    • Holy wells in the landscape
    • The Green Man as a symbol
    • Household traditional protection techniques and superstition