True Bits in the book
Clinkerbell is an archaic Somerset word for an icicle.
Pliny the Elder (a Roman naturalist) stated that “the same
individual [hare] possesses the characteristics of the two sexes” in Natural
History 81.55. The belief that hares change sex at will lingered in Western
European folklore. The 17th-century polymath Sir Thomas Browne repeated
it in Pseudodoxia Epidemica 3.17 and it was recounted as a living belief
in 20th-century England in The Leaping Hare by George Ewart
Evans and David Thompson.
The commonest ungendered pronouns in use by people who
identify as non-binary or genderqueer are they and their. Ze/zir is a common
Siegfried/Sigurd appears in similar stories in ancient
texts from Scandinavia (as Sigurd) and Germany (as Siegfried). In Germanic
texts, Gudrun is called Kriemhild.
The story about Siegfried killing Fafnir can be found in
the Prose Edda Skaldskaparmal and the
In Ancient Egyptian mythology, the serpent Apep was the
personification of chaos. While the sun barque sailed across the underworld at
night, Set helped Ra destroy Apep to ensure the sun rose in the morning.
The main sources for Ragnarok are from Iceland and date to
the 10th century (Voluspa in the Poetic Edda) and the 13th
century (the Prose Edda). There is disagreement on how far the texts were
influenced by Christianity.
At Ragnarok, the forces against the gods travel in a ship
made from the trimmed fingernails and toenails of the dead. Thor
dies killing the serpent at Ragnarok (Prose Edda Gylfaginning 51).
Odhin flung the Midgarð Serpent into the sea (Prose Edda Gylfaginning
The tale of Melusine comes from 14th-century
Anticyclone Hartmut, (dubbed the Beast from the East by the
media) was a storm that brought a Siberian cold wave to Great Britain and
Ireland in late February/early March 2018.
In Heathen mythology, Loki killed a dwarf named Otter and
had to pay compensation in gold to Otter’s father. Fafnir killed his father and
drove away his brother Regin to possess the fortune. He turned into a dragon to
guard it. Regin forged the sword Garm and induced Sigurd/Siegfried to use it to
slay Fafnir. The main sources of the story are Skaldskaparmal 7 and the
Canine eyes sacrifice the range and brightness of colours
experienced by humans in favour of low-light visibility. They distinguish
shades of grey better than humans.
Canine hearing range is half that of humans for low notes,
but has three times the range for high notes and can hear much quieter noises
than humans. Their sense of smell is between 10,000 and 100,000 times better
than that of humans.
The name Stanley may be derived from the Anglo Saxon words
for stone and a meadow or clearing.
The Home Office letter is a copy of form RED.0001, which is
the official notification of an intent to deport a resident of the UK. This is
the form given to the Windrush generation deportees.
In Finnish mythology, the Sampo was a magical artefact that
brought riches and good fortune to its holder. When the Sampo was stolen, it was
lost in the sea in a battle to retrieve it.
Eris was the Grecian goddess of discord and strife. Apep
was the serpent of chaos in Kemetic mythology.
According to Snorri’s Icelandic account in the Prose Edda Gylfaginning
49, Balder was killed by a spear or arrow of mistletoe. According to Saxo
Grammaticus’ Danish account in the Gesta Danorum, Balder was killed in
battle by a magic sword named Mistletoe. Both were written in the late 12th/early
The tale of Siegfried, Gudrun and Brunhild is told in many
early medieval Scandinavian and Germanic texts. The tricking of Brunhild and
her revenge is central to all versions. Izzy’s story is from the Prose Edda and
the Volsunga Saga.
What Andrew says about alliin and allicin is true.
Chocolate can kill dogs, depending on the level of
theobromine in it. Dark chocolate or cocoa powder is worse than milk chocolate.
According to the 1st-century Greek historian Diodorus
Siculus (Bibliotheca Historica iii 70), the Gorgon Aix was a transgender
fire breathing monster. Their skin is Athena’s aegis. The name Aix means stormy
In Greek mythology, Athena killed Ladon and helped Perseus
kill Medusa. Medusa and Echidna were sisters.
The story about the constellation Draco comes from the 1st-century
Roman author Hyginus Astronomica 2.3. The constellation is most clearly
seen during the summer due to its size.
Echidnas are known as spiny anteaters. They live in
Australia or New Guinea.
= Greek spirits, lesser gods and other mythological beings.
There are different versions of the story of Medusa. The
best known comes from the 1st-century Roman poet Ovid (Metamorphoses
4. 770). In his version, Poseidon rapes Medusa in Athena’s temple and Athena transformed
her hair into snakes. However, the 5th-century BCE dramatist Aeschylus
(Prometheus Bound 788) claimed Medusa and her sisters all had snake
The sculpture described is Medusa with the Head of
Perseus by Luciano Garbati.
In Southern Slavic folklore, hali (singular hala) are
dragons who bring storms. Their enemies are zmei – benevolent dragons – or the
offspring of male dragons and human women. I made up the bit about hali being
descendants of Aix.
The Old English tale Beowulf famously begins Hweat!
which is a word to make people pay attention. I’ve rendered it as ‘Listen up!’
The other lines Declan recites are my renditions of the beginning of Beowulf.
The length of a re-entry ban to the UK for a deported
person is true.
The Island of Doctor Moreau is a science
fiction novel by HG Wells.
What is said about the UK government’s treatment of the
Windrush generation is true. Anyone who had arrived in the UK from
a Commonwealth country before 1973 was granted an automatic right to remain
permanently. The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 specifically protected
long-standing residents of the UK from Commonwealth countries from enforced
removal. This changed in 2012 although the Windrush Scandal, as it became
known, didn’t receive press coverage until November 2017 onwards.
The hostile environment enforced by the British government
extended well beyond the Windrush generation and their children. It covered
people from European countries and Commonwealth nations such as Nigeria, Canada
In Heathen mythology, the Well of Wyrd or lake Urðarbrunnr (Old
Norse= Well of Urð) lies beneath one of the three roots of the world tree
Yggdrasil. Its water turns things white. See Poetic Edda Voluspa, and
the Poetic Edda Gylfaginning 15-16 and Skaldskaparmal).
The Old Norse names for the three Great Norns are Urðr (what
is), Verðandi (becoming) and Skuld (should/ought to). Skuld is described as a
valkyrie in both the Poetic Edda Voluspa and the Prose Edda Gylfaginning
Aigle is an ancient Greek name meaning light or radiance.
Peeva is a female Bulgarian surname. The male form is Peev.
Hali are from Balkans folklore.
What Declan says about Typhon and his family is from Greek mythology.
Hel and Jormungand (the Midgard Serpent) are two of Loki’s
children. Jormungand encircles the world underwater. Hel’s kingdom is also
Hvergelmir is a spring in Niflheim, under one of the three
roots of Yggdrasil. See the Prose Edda Gylfaginning 15.
Nidhogg is a dragon who lives in Hvergelmir with many
snakes. See the Prose Edda Gylfaginning 16. He feeds on corpses.
In Heathen mythology, Rind’s son was prophesied to revenge
the death of Odhin’s son, Balder. There are two very different accounts of Balder’s
death. Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus (Gesta Danorum book 3) has him
killed in a swordfight while Snorri Sturluson has Loki guide the god Hödr to shoot
Balder with an arrow. (Prose Edda Gyfaginning 49). Earlier poems in the
Poetic Edda place all the blame on Hödr (Voluspa and Baldrs Draumar).
Both Eddas name Rind’s son as the foe and slayer of Hödr.
Hnefatafl (possibly ‘King’s Table’ in Old Norse) was a
popular pre-Christian Nordic strategy board game. It was supplanted by chess during
the 12th century.
Don't mention the war (British idiom) = don't
speak about things that could cause an argument. It was first used in the
popular 1970s British TV comedy series Fawlty Towers, in the episode The
Saxo Grammaticus has a detailed account of the rape of Rind
by Odhin in Gesta Danorum book 3. It was carried out to produce the
child foretold to avenge Balder’s death by killing Hödr.
In Heathen mythology, Eir is a goddess associated with
Dander (Northern Irish idiom) = stroll.
The Grand Tour was the 17th/18th-century
European custom of upper-class young men spending time journeying through
Europe. Greece was rarely included.
Fisherman's Friend is an English brand of strong menthol
Rupert and green are SAS slang. Rupert =
officer and green = non-SAS army.
In Greek mythology, Paris was asked to judge which of three
goddesses was the most beautiful. It led to the Trojan War.
St George was from Cappadocia, which became part of Turkey.
He was revered by Muslims as a prophet. One artefact shows him trampling on
serpents and one prominent legend is about him slaying a dragon. According to
Muslim legend, he was killed three times by a Roman emperor and came back to
life. Other legends had his killer as the king of Mosel.
In Heathen mythology, someone called Gullveig was killed by
the Aesir gods three times and came back to life each time. Many people
identify Gullveig with Freyja.
The Oklahoma City bombing (1995) was perpetrated by
anti-government extremists and killing 168 people and injuring over 680.
Anders Behring Breivik is a Norwegian right-wing extremist whose attacks (2011) killed
77 people and injured over 300.
Beaky is used to address Djehuty (Thoth) in the third of
the negative confessions in the Hall of Ma’at, from the Kemetic Book of the
Set was known as the Red Lord, Lord of the Red Land
(Desert), Rage of the Storm and the Drunkard, among other things. He is one of
forty-two judges of the negative confessions in the Hall of Ma’at. Sutekh is
the commonest form of his name used in ancient Egypt, though Set is also used.
In Rodnovery (modern revival of the Slavic pagan religions),
Veles’ festival day falls in February.
An account by the 12th-century Arab or Kurdish
historian Ali Ibn al-Athir states that God sent a great storm when St George
There is strong anti-Turkish feeling in modern Bulgaria,
which used forced assimilation and expulsion of Bulgarian Turks during the late
In Heathen mythology, Odhin, Hœnir and Loðurr create the
first people: Ask and Embla (Poetic Edda Voluspa 17). Many scholars
identify Loðurr as Loki. His contribution was to provide shape and colour to
the first couple.
Cake and arse party (British military
slang) = a job that goes wrong.
Hanging out (British military
slang) = suffering ill effects.
Knocking shop (British slang) =
Abyzou is from ancient Hebrew folklore, Yuxa is from Tatar
(Turkish), Nur-onna from Japanese and Baba Yaga from Slavic. All are wyrm-women
who kill children and men.
In Balkan mythology, a hala took the appearance of a dense
mist or fog, or a black cloud.
Declan refers to Éowyn slaying the lord of the Nazgûl in
Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
Acute heart attack can be treated with nitrates to reduce
Lily pollen is toxic to cats.
A cardiac arrest deprives the brain of blood as long as the
heart isn’t beating. That can cause brain damage.
In Slavic mythology, the Sudzhenitsy (South Slavic) or Rozhanitsy
(Russian and East Slavic) are three goddesses who determine fate. They are often
represented as beautiful young women with candles.
Moirai (Greek) = the goddess of fate.
Leshy (Russian) = a forest spirit.
Elenitsa (Greek) = endearing diminutive of
Agapi mou (Greek) = my love.
Heart disease is the major cause of death in Bulgaria.
Doing my head in (Northern Irish
idiom) = annoying me.
Declan recites part of verse 142 from the Havamal in
the Poetic Edda. The phrasing is mine.
In the ancient Icelandic text Egil’s Saga, Egil
Skallagrimsson used magic to uncover an attempt to poison him by carving runes
into a drinking horn and staining them with his blood.
The runes on the axe are from the Anglo-Frisian Futhorc. The
futhorc rune poem renders eolh (sedge) as a plant that wounds and draws blood.
In the Icelandic Vatnsdæla Saga 44, a magic worker makes
a man forget by having him struck three times on his left cheek with a
Nabrok (Icelandic = corpse britches) or necropants are a
pair of pants made from the skin of a dead man or woman (with their prior
permission) and worn to produce an endless supply of money. The spell for
necropants appears in an early modern Icelandic grimoire. The pair on show at the
Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft is a mock-up. There’s no evidence
the spell was ever used.
According to the Prose Edda Gylfaginning 20 and the
Poetic Edda Lokasenna, Frigg sees the future.
In Heathen mythology, magic was restricted to the Vanir gods
before Freyja taught it to the Aesir gods (including Odhin and Loki). See the Ynglinga
Saga 4. Loki is counted as Aesir according to the Prose Edda Gylfaginning
UK electoral records from 1832 are on view in the British