Guernsey folklore possess a rich set of superstitious tales, involving a variety of different supernatural beings, some helpful to the Guernsey folk, some not. In this article we look as a few of these “characters” that our ancestors were sure inhabited and stalked across the island.
You may also like to check out some of our other articles on the folklore & beliefs of our Guernsey ancestors in the sidebar opposite.
The VarouNov 30
The Guernsey Varou was a form of demon or minor devil. This malevolent creature often took human form. It had an insatiable appetite and was prone to over-indulgence and debauchery! It was only later that similarities with the English and European idea of a ‘werewolf’ led to the Guernesiais word coming to mean the same. It is possible that places such as Le Variouf and Rue du Mont Varouf on the island are minor corruptions of this name.
Lé HaptalaönNov 30
No description of what this creature is supposed to have looked like is left , so we can only guess. In past centuries Guernsey used to have many apple orchards. Parents would discourage their children from stealing apples by telling tales of Lé Haptalaön that lurked in the long grass of the oldest orchards It would creep up on unwary children, grab them by the ankle, and drag them away never to be seen again!
Foreign FairiesNov 30
One of several ‘types’ of fairies found in local folklore. ‘Foreigner’ fairies were described as a short but beautiful race with supernatural powers. They were believed to live in a faraway fairyland. In some tales these fairies came to the island by boat, in others they emerged from coastal caves which acted as gates to fairyland. Sometimes they came in peace but sometimes as enemies. One story tells of how marriages between fairy men and local women explain why Guernseymen were so short.
Lé Tchico or La BêteNov 30
Islanders believed that ancient sites such as dolmens were protected by guardian spirits of which this creature, a huge black dog, was one of the common forms. However, reports of monstrous black dogs were a common belief in Guernsey, England and across Europe. They could represent an evil spirit but more often they were just a terrifying messenger delivering a warning of the death of someone close.
Pouques are probably the most traditional form of Guernsey fairy. (see our article entitled Pouques & Other Guernsey Folklore) Local folklore suggests they were cunning, incredibly ugly dwarfish creatures with big heads.
The two most well-known are Lé Grand Colin and Lé P’ti‘t Colin, who appear in many tales. Our ancestors believed pouques interacted with humans. Some were thought to attach themselves to particular people or houses but stayed invisible in daylight. They might only be seen at night when they went about their business. Most were thought to live in a fairyland deep underground, coming up into our world through coastal caves or ancient passage graves. Pouques lent their name to places on the island where they were believed to live such as Le Pouquelah in the Castel parish, which means ‘the fairy dwelling’.
La BicheNov 30
La Biche was a giant spectral nanny goat which was said to haunt a particular corner of La Rue des Grons in St. Martins parish. Local belief was so strong that the section of road became known as Le Coin d’la Biche or ‘The Corner of the Goat’.
Spirit GuardiansNov 30
This was another form of the spirit that local peeple believed protected ancient sites such as dolmens and standing stones. Local folklore tells of how some islanders were tempted to dig into these sites in search of buried treasure. The accounts say that as soon as the treasure had been exposed a monstrous spectral conger eel with flaming red eyes would materialise in the hole! It would coil itself around the burial jars preventing them from being removed. Islanders also thought that such treasure was enchanted. As soon as it was found it would change to empty limpet shells.