Hyrcinian Birds

I’m writing this in the last minutes before going on holiday, which is terrible rushed typical-despicable-me-timing, but there we are.

Every single time I think of the Hyrcinian birds, I forget both their name and how to spell it, despite the fact that I’ve used them in each book of my trilogy… and first came across them over four years ago. That’s not even going into how on Earth you pronounce it, on which topic I’ll kindly say ‘every man for himself.’ You’re welcome.

The Hyrcinian birds are surprisingly hard to find many details on, and it’s a beautiful bit of luck that I stumbled across them at all. It was somewhere on the internet, and although I’ve scoured many times since, I can no longer find the original post… so from here on out, it’s mostly tidbits and what I remember.


The birds, along with several other curious creatures, are said to originate in the ancient Hercynian forest. Primarily from the Roman Empire, maps suggest that it stretched across Southern Germany until the early centuries A.D. – now, only parts remain, one of which is the Black Forest. The birds are most commonly said to guide travellers through their forest, by the use of their wings; they glow like mysterious colourful beacons in the dark, and help to light the paths.

Pliny the Elder: ‘In the Hercynian Forest, in Germany, we hear of a singular kind of bird, the feathers of which shine at night like fire.’

No bird was ever identified, but in medieval folklore, the birds took on a kind of notoriety, even if by that point, their forest was mostly gone. They have also been called the ‘Ercinee.’ This image is the closest I can find to something ‘genuine,’ originally from a 15th century English bestiary.


In WHITELAND, I’ve used the Hyrcinian birds largely in their traditional role. They guide honest travellers through the forest, with eerie, coloured lights on their wingtips, to wherever it may be best for the travellers to go; it is very rare to see them, and even rarer still to gain their help. Because there are no real photos or images, I’ve always imagined them like this:

‘Setting the sky alive with colour, deep shade after deep shade… The lights are dancing where the stars should be, the slow wings beating as they rise through the night. It is beautiful, dreamlike; and as suddenly as it started, it stops.

‘Raven-dark, twenty feet high. The bird hovers, its silhouetted head angling down, and as she watches it, it watches her. Larger than an eagle, as refined as a stork. Its eyes are a pressure, hoping for her comprehension, and slowly, slowly, it arrives.’

Personally, I love the idea of the Hyrcinian birds. If I ever saw them in the forests of Germany, or any forest at all, I’d be captivated for life.


The Pliny quote is taken from ‘Luminosity in Birds,’ by W. L. McAtee.

The description of the birds is taken from WHITELAND.

Black forest image courtesy of: http://www.bicycletouringapocalypse.com/the-black-forest/

Hyrcinian bird image courtesy of: ‘Hercinia,’ http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast539.htm










The Huldra are one of the more well-known folkloric creatures, and I’m using them as the intro to my research because they play a major part in WHITELAND… a subtle presence, even if they stay mostly in the background. They were also the first creatures I really became aware of, back in 2012 when folklore started to grab me.

‘Huldra’ is the usual Norwegian name; in Sweden they are also known as the ‘skogsrå’ or ‘Tallemaja,’ and in Sámi as the ‘Ulda.’ The basic story behind them is that they are the ‘hidden folk’ of the forest, appearing as beautiful blonde-haired women – bar their tail, which can either be that of a cow or a fox. Sometimes, their backs are also hollow, or formed from rotted bark, and they can appear naked, in innocent-looking dresses, or disguised as pretty farm girls.Huldra

Their goal is basically to seduce men, and lure them back to their ‘lair’ – it sounds primal, or animalistic, but the way I’ve always seen them, they are. Deep in the woods, the ‘lair’ can be a cave, or underground, or something else entirely, as long as it’s hidden. What they do then varies hugely from tale to tale – the men can be kept as slaves, as lovers, married in a church so the huldra’s tail falls off (at which point she becomes an intolerably ugly human), or simply seduced and killed.

Continue reading “Huldra”

The folklore explosion

Both my interest in folklore and WHITELAND were sparked by the same thing: seeing a film called CHANGELING in a DVD rental shop.


Yes, that’s how long ago this was. I’ve still never seen that film, but I went back to my uni room, suddenly intrigued by the concept of a changeling, fell upon folklore, and never stopped falling.

That sounds like I cheesily fell in love, but the idea is solid… I hope. The beautiful beautiful artwork of Kay Nielsen was one of the first things I found, and which inspired me and WHITELAND pretty much instantly – particularly these two images.

Kay Nielsen led me onto the collection of tales in EAST OF THE SUN, WEST OF THE MOON, which he illustrated in the early 1900s, and which I managed to get an amazing hardback copy of the other year (so amazing that I’m almost afraid to touch it.) With the illustrations, and the general ideaof the tale THE THREE PRINCESSES OF WHITELAND – traversing worlds and battling anything if something you love is lost – the writing rocket took off.

Continue reading “The folklore explosion”