By Carolyn Emerick
Celtic Guide, Volume 2, Issue 6 (2013)
Introduction: Folklore is an integral part of any cultural heritage. Sometimes written off as childish fairytale, folklore deserves to be recognized as a valuable treasure trove of information about our own past. The tales and legends of folklore are the result of oral tradition handed down by mouth through the generations. Because literacy was reserved for the upper echelons of society, regular folk used memorization and recitation to transmit knowledge and stories.
Thus, storytelling was an important art form, as well as essential form of entertainment.
The Orkney Islands possess a folkloric tradition that is both unique and fascinating. As a small archipelago situated at the cusp of the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, much of the folklore naturally involves tales of fisherman, sea voyages, and legendary creatures emerging from the waters. Due to the settlement of Orkney by the Norse, the lore of the Islands bears a stronger resemblance to Scandinavian tradition than Celtic.
However, because of the geographic distance from Scandinavia, as well as probable minor influences from the Picts, Orkney’s folklore evolved a flavor of its own, with mythic creatures that are not found anywhere else.
The landscape of a place surely must influence the folklore of any region. In folkloric circles, much is said about the landscape of Iceland as an influence on Norse folklore. Iceland is teeming with hot springs, geysers, volcanos, and fjords. This mystical environment, they say, must fuel the imagination to invent tales of elves and their magical dwellings.