Sir Galahad the Perfect Knight

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Sir Galahad first appeared in medieval Arthurian romance in the Lancelot-Grail cycle of works and then later in Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory.  He was the illegitimate son of Sir Lancelot and Elaine of Corbenic and became one of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table.  When he came of age he was considered the best knight in the world and the perfect knight and was renowned for his gallantry and purity becoming one of only three Knights of the Round Table to achieve the Holy Grail.  The other two were Sir Bors and Sir Percival.  Pieced together here is a brief look at his early life and how through his immaculate behavior he rose to such an exalted status  achieving the Holy Grail and a spiritual dimension which remained frustratingly out of reach of King Arthur, Sir Lancelot and most of the the other Knights of the Round Table and concludes by comparing his achievements with those of King Arthur and Sir Lancelot.

King Pelles

King Pelles the lord of Corbenic the Grail Castle, in the land of Listeneise  and was Galahad’s maternal grandfather.  He was also one of the line of the guardians of the Holy Grail. In some Arthurian romances  Joseph of Arimathea brought the Grail to Britain and gave it to Bron, his brother-in-law, to keep safe and Pelles was descended from Bron. In some versions of Arthurian romance Pelles is also known as the Fisher King or Maimed King.

Pelles had been wounded in the legs or groin resulting in a loss of fertility and his impotence was reflected in the well-being his of kingdom making it infertile and a Wasteland. This is why he was sometimes called the Maimed King.  The only activity he appeared able to do was go fishing.  His servants had to carry him to to the water’s edge and there he would spend his time fishing which is why  he is sometimes called the Fisher King.   Galahad was important to King Pelles as he was the only one who could heal his wound.

Elaine and Lancelot

King Pelles had a daughter named Elaine and he had been forewarned by magical means that Lancelot would become the father of his daughter’s child.  This child would grow to become the world’s best and most perfect knight and be chosen by God to achieve the Holy Grail.  He was the chosen one who would be the only one pure enough to be able to heal his wound.  There was a problem though. Lancelot was dedicated solely to Guinevere, his true love and would never knowingly sleep with another woman.   Nevertheless Pelles was desperate for the liaison to take place and decided to seek magical help from Dame Brusen.  She was one of Elaine’s servants who was skilled in the art of sorcery to help his cause.  She gives Pelles a magic ring for Elaine to wear which gives her the likeness of Guinevere.

Elaine wears the magic ring and transforms into the a double of Guinevere.  Lancelot is fooled by the masquerade and they sleep together.  When he discovers the deception he is angry and ashamed and threatens to kill her.  She tells hims she is with his child and he relents but leaves Corbenic.

Elaine in due course gives birth to his son who she names Galahad.  This is the name Lancelot was baptized with when he was born.   It was the Lady of the Lake who fostered and raised Lancelot in her magical realm and it was she who named him Lancelot du Lac, or Lancelot of the Lake.

The madness of Lancelot

holy_grail_tapestry_the_failure_of_sir_launcelot

Soon afterwards Elaine goes to a feast at Arthur’s court.  Although Lancelot is also there he refuses to acknowledge her, making her sorrowful and lovelorn.   She calls her servant Dame Brusen to her and tells her how she is feeling and asks for her help.  Dame Brusen tells Elaine that she will fix it so Lancelot lies with her that night.  Pretending to Lancelot that Guinevere has summoned him she leads him to her chamber, but it is Elaine waiting there for him in bed in the dark and again he sleeps with her.

While he is with Elaine, Guinevere summons him and is furious to discover he is not in his bed chamber and even more so when she discovers him lying with Elaine in hers.  She tells him that she never wants to see or talk to him again and will have nothing more to do with him.  Lancelot is so upset and disturbed at what has happened and with Guinevere’s admonishments that madness takes him and he leaps out of the window running off into the wilderness.

Lost in madness and consumed by grief and sorrow he wanders alone through the wild places before he eventually reaches Corbenic where Elaine finds him insane her garden. She takes him to a chamber in Corbenic Castle where he is allowed to view the Holy Grail, but only through a veil.  Nevertheless this veiled sight of the holy relic is enough to cure him of his insanity.  Although he sees it through the veil, having committed adultery he is not pure enough so he can never be the perfect knight that achieves the Grail.

When his son is born he finally forgives Elaine but will not marry her and instead returns to the court of King Arthur.  The child is named Galahad, after his father’s former name and given to his great aunt to bring up in a nunnery.  Merlin foretells that Galahad will be even more valiant than his father and will achieve the Holy Grail.

Galahad’s quest for the Holy Grail

It was not until Galahad became a young man that he was reunited with Sir Lancelot, his father, who makes him a knight.   Lancelot then takes Galahad to Camelot at Pentecost where he joins the court.  A veteran knight who accompanied him leads him to the Round Table and unveils an empty chair which is called the Siege Perilous or the Perilous Seat.  At the advice of Merlin this seat was kept vacant for the knight who was to achieve the Quest for the Holy Grail.

This was his first test or worthiness as this chair in the past had proved deadly for any who had previously sat there who had hoped to find the Grail.  Galahad sits in the seat and survives.  King Arthur sees this and is impressed seeing that there is something special about him and leads him down to a river  where there is a floating stone with a sword embedded in it which bears an inscription  which says,

“Never shall man take me hence but only he by whose side I ought to hang; and he shall be the best knight of the world.”

Galahad tries and takes the sword from the stone and Arthur immediately declares that he is the greatest knight ever.  Arthur invites Galahad to become a member of the Round Table which he accepts.  Not long after the mystical presence of the Holy Grail is briefly experienced by those at King Arthur’s Court and the quest to find the grail is immediately begun. All the Knights of the Round Table embark on the quest leaving Camelot virtually empty.  Arthur is sad because he knows many will die or not return and fears it is the beginning of the end of his kingdom.

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Galahad mainly traveled alone and became involved in many adventures. In one he saves Sir Percival when he was attacked by twenty knights and rescued many maidens in distress.  Eventually he meets up again with Sir Percival who is accompanied by Sir Bors and together they find the sister of Sir Percival who takes them to a ship that will take them over the sea to a distant shore.  Sadly when they reach the shore Percival’s sister has to die that another may live.  To ensure she gets a fit and proper burial Sir Bors takes her body back to her homeland.

Sir Galahad and Sir Percival continue the quest and after many adventures arrive at the court of King Pelles and his son Eliazar.  Pelles and Eliazar are holy men and take Sir Galahad into a room to show him the Holy Grail and they request that he take it to a holy city called Sarras. After being shown the Grail, Sir Galahad asks that he may he may choose the time of his own death which is granted.

While he is on the journey back to Arthur’s court Joseph of Arimathea comes to him and he experiences such feeling of ecstasy that he asks to die there and then.  He says his goodbyes to Sir Percival and Sir Bors and angels appear and he is carried off to heaven as his two friends watch.  Although there is nothing to say that the Holy Grail will not once again be seen on earth it was said that since the ascension to heaven of Galahad there has not been another knight with the necessary qualities of achieving the Holy Grail.

Galahad’s achievement of the Holy Grail

Sir Galahad and the quest for the Holy Grail is one of the later stories that appeared as Arthurian romances grew in popularity.   The thought is that King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were not pure enough to achieve such an important religious task. Galahad was introduced into the fold as one of the few who had the purity and personal qualities to qualify him as worthy enough to achieve the Holy Grail.  Just as when Arthur drew the sword from the stone and became the chosen one, Galahad did the same and also became the chosen one. He chose the kingdom of God whereas Arthur built a kingdom on earth.  In taking up the quest for the Holy Grail the priority is to the spiritual rather than the earthly life and Galahad fulfills the spiritual dimension of Arthurian romance and becomes the example for his contemporaries and those coming after him to aspire to.

© 03/05/2016  zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright May 3rd, 2016 zteve t evans

Ancient symbols: The puzzle of the Three Hares

Three hares sharing three ears,

Yet every one of them has two!

Ancient German riddle

Dreihasenfenster (Window of Three Hares), Paderborn Cathedral – Author: ZeframGFDL

An ancient symbol

The three hares is an ancient symbol that is found in many religious places, buildings and caves ranging from the British Isles, Germany, France and other parts of Europe to the Middle East and parts of China in the Far East.  In Britain the symbols are mostly architectural ornaments or found in church roofs and sometimes on ceilings of private homes.  In Europe they are found mostly in churches and synagogues.   It is also used as a motif in heraldry, jewelry, ornaments, tattoos and other works of art. It has been wrought in many different materials and can be thought of as a puzzle, a topological problem, or a visual challenge, and can be found in stone sculptures, wood carvings, paintings, drawings and metal work.

Threefold rotational symmetry

Essentially the motif consists of three hares, or rabbits, chasing each other the same way around a circle.  There is a threefold rotational symmetry with each of the three ears being shared by two hares.The ears form a triangle that appears  at the centre of the circle, where, instead of there being six ears visible, there are only three, even though individually the hares all show two.  Occasionally a Four Hares motif is found in some places which is a similar but shows four ears, instead of eight, even though all the hares have two ears, making a square in the center.

The Tinners Rabbit’s

In  the county of Devon and other parts of the  south west England the motif is sometimes known as the Tinner’s Rabbits. This refers to the trade of tin mining that was once an important industry in the area. The theory was that a tin miners trade association or union that used the Three Hares motif as its emblem was the patron to a number of churches.  This might explain its high proportion of representations in churches in the area.  However, the motif is also found in parts of England with no association with tin mining, though it could have represented some other association that patronized these churches, but the theory is not accepted by everyone and the truth remains elusive.

Sacred symbols

The symbol is similar to the triskelion the triquetra and the triple spiral, or triskele. The meaning of the motif is unknown today though it is believed to have a number of symbolic and mystical associations and was possibly something to do with fertility and the cycle of the moon in paganism.   Its presence in Christian churches is thought to symbolize the Trinity though this cannot be proved and the fact that it is found in so many different countries over such a wide distance it may in fact have more than one meaning or purpose depending on the culture where it is found.

Buddhist connections

The Three Hares motif seems to have spread from the Far East westwards between 600 AD and 1500 AD.  The earliest known examples comes from the Sui Dynasty of China where it was found in sacred caves used for temples from the 6th to 7th century.  From there the motif was believed to have become connected to Buddhism and possibly spread along the Silk Road to the Middle East and eventually to Europe.

A researcher named Guan Youhui, now retired from the Dunhuang Academy, spent 50 years studying the patterns and symbols that are found in the Mogao Caves.  He believed the Three Hares motif represent “peace and tranquility” while others think they may represent “to be”.

The Three Hares can be found in “Lotus” motifs and Mongol metalwork from the 13th century.  It has been found on a copper coin from Iran dated 1281 and on other artifacts from diverse origins.

The spread of the motif

TIt is a mystery to how the Three Hares motif is found over such a large range from China the Middle East, Europe and the British Isles.  Although the earliest examples are found in China it is unknown why it occurs in so many diverse countries.It is possible it  spread along the great trading route of the Silk Road to other regions of the world but it could also have developed independently in different places with different meanings attached to it.  In the first instance it may have incorporated in the design of silks and artifacts simply because it was a pleasing design or it had some special significance.  With the second instance the majority of the occurrence of the motif are found in churches and synagogues in Germany and England, implying some religious significance was attached to it.

Christian use of the Three Hares

The Three Hares motif is found in a number of churches in some European countries.  In  Lyons, France the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière   and in Germany, the Paderborn Cathedral display excellent examples of the use of the motif.The southwestern parts of England has the most examples and the Three Hares Trail can be followed to see them.  They are often placed on carved wooden knobs, or bosses in a prominent position in the ceilings or roof of medieval churches, giving weight to the idea that they had some special significance and not just the trade symbols of masons or carpenters. The Dartmoor area has a number of Three Hares motifs found in churches. A fine example of a carved wood boss can be seen on a roof boss in the church of St Pancreas, Widecombe-in-the-Moor, near Dartmoor, Devon.

In Christianity there are at least two possible reasons why it it placed in churches.  The first is that in ancient times the hare was believed to be a hermaphrodite that reproduced without sexual intercourse and in doing so retained its virginity.  As such it became associated with the Virgin Mary and its image used in illuminated manuscripts and paintings of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus.

The second reason is that the motif  could be representative of the  Holy Trinity.  The three ears from the three hares form a triangle in the centre of the motif possibly representing One in Three and Three in one.  Triangles and interlocking rings were quite often used to represent the Holy Trinity.

Intriguingly the Three Hares symbol is often found next to the so called Green Man symbol.  Like the Three Hares symbol little or possibly less is known about the Green Man.  It is speculated to be an Anglo-Saxon symbol though many people think it may be a far older originating Celtic times.   What it is doing in a Christian church is unknown.  Some speculate that the two together are meant to show the difference between the divine and the earthly nature of humans.

An ancient German riddle

Curiously the motif is found in many of the more well known wooden synagogues in the Ashknaz region of Germany dating from the 17th and 18th century along with the following riddle:-

Three hares sharing three ears,

Yet every one of them has two.

Coat of Arms of Hasloch – Public Domain

The meaning of the Three Hares motif

The hare is an animal that is involved in many myths and legends in many different cultures around the world.  The Three Hares motif can be found from Britain across Eurasia to China and was found in Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and Hindu cultures.   If there was a thread that linked them all together, or a common meaning attached to the motif, it is lost now but it is intriguing to find it in such diverse places.

Symbolism of the Three Hares

But there may be something that they may all have in common. The use of symbols or icons, or imagery helps make learning and remembering important information easier especially for people who cannot read or write.  The use of images is an invaluable aid for people in such circumstances as they convey meaning and information quickly and easily.  The paintings in the caves of Mogao Caves of China to the churches in the English countryside appear to be intended to convey some, but not necessarily the same message, or idea. The symbol of the Three Hares was at least one possible way that the information was conveyed.  What exactly the message was is not known but if one looks at the places and the cultures that they are found in it could be that ideas will naturally spring to mind.   Could it be that by looking at and thinking about the puzzle the beholder is being deliberately placed in a situation where they have to use their own knowledge and experience in combination with the location and culture the symbol is found in to make sense of it in the world that they find themselves in?

One last question

There is probably no right or wrong answer, but do you think The Three Hares symbol has a meaning; does it change with culture and location, or is it just an attractive image used for decoration?

© 06/05/2015 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright 6th May, 2015 zteve t evans

Greek mythology: Gaia’s revenge

Gaia the Earth Mother

Gaia – Public Domain

In Greek mythology Gaia  appeared out of Chaos and was the primal Mother Goddess who gave birth to the Earth and the universe.  According to some sources she was seen as the personification of the Earth and the mother of all.

Ouranos the god of the skies

Ouranos was the personification of the sky or the heavens in Greek mythology and is also known by his Latinized name of Uranus. He was also known as Father Sky.  Sources differ but  Hesiod in his work Theogony says that Gaia was his mother while other sources say his father was Aether.

Gaia gave birth to Ouranos who became the sky crowned with stars and of equal splendor to her and made so as to fully cover her. She then created the mountains and the sea. After the universe had been formed the next task was to populate it.

The birth of the Titans

Ouranos was not only her son but her husband too. Gaia united with Ouranos to give birth to the twelve Titans, six male and six female and the first race upon the earth. Their sons names were Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus and Cronus, and their daughters names were Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe and Tethys.

The birth of the Cyclops

Ouranos and Gaia then produced the Cyclops, who were named Brontes, Steropes and Arges. These were giants with one eye in their foreheads and who possessed incredible strength.

The birth of Briareus, Cottus and Gyes

Their next offspring were three monsters who each had one hundred powerful arms and fifty heads. They were known as the Hecatonchires, or the Centimanes, and their names were Briareus, Cottus and Gyes.

Ouranos regarded his children with horror and revulsion and was also thought to be fearful of their strength, and possibly usurping him. As soon as they were born he imprisoned them in  the earth, which was inside Gaia who was the Earth goddess.

Gaia’s revenge

Victory, Janus, Chronos, and Gaea – by Giulio Romano – Public Domain

Gaia was distraught at this, and feeling great sorrow for her children and great pain for herself planned vengeance against Ouranos. From her bosom she manifested a sharp sickle and asked her children to join in with a plan she had made to set them free and wreak vengeance. The plan was to castrate Ouranos when he visited her at night. Only Cronus agreed to help her and she gave him the sickle.

When evening fell Ouranos returned to rejoin Gaia. While Ouranos was asleep, Cronus and Gaia mutilated him, cutting off his genitals and throwing them in the sea. From the blood that seeped from the terrible wound onto the earth sprang the Furies, the Giants and the ash-tree nymphs. From what was thrown into the sea the goddess of love and desire, known as Aphrodite, was born.

Cronus becomes king of the gods

With Ouranos now impotent and the sky separated from the earth, Cronus liberated his fellow Titans, but not the Cyclops and Hecatonchires, and became king of the gods. Later he too was to be deposed by his son Zeus, who became the chief god of the Greek Pantheon.

References and attributions

Copyright 25/03/2015 zteve t evans

British Folk Songs: The Ballad of John Barleycorn

Barley has a long association with human society because of its uses for food, drink and medicine that goes back some 12,000 years.   Used for animal feed and to make bread for human consumption, it is also used to make popular alcoholic drinks such as beer, barley wine, whisky and other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

Beer is the oldest and the most common of all alcoholic drinks and after water and tea the third most popular beverage.  With its ancient importance, barley has given rise to many myths and is the source of much folklore and many people think that hidden in an old traditional folk song of the British Isles  called John Barleycorn, lies the story of barley.

Barley – Public Domain Image


The Ballad of John Barleycorn

A traditional British folk ballad, called John Barleycorn, depicts the lead character as the personification of barley and its products of bread, beer and whisky.   The song is very old and there are many versions from all around the British Isles.  The song does have strong connections with Scotland with possibly the Robert Burns version the most well-known though the song goes way back to before the times of Elizabeth 1st.

Different Versions

In the song, John Barleycorn is subject to many violent, physical abuses leading to his death.  Each abuse represents a stage in the sowing, growing, harvesting, malting and preparation of barley to make beer and whisky.

In many versions there is confusion because it is brandy that is consumed even though brandy is made from grapes, rather than whisky or beer made from barley.   John Barleycorn is also a term used to denote an alcoholic drink that is distilled such as a spirit, rather than fermented like beer.

In some versions of the song there is more emphasis on the way different tradesmen take revenge on John Barleycorn for making them drunk.  The miller grinds him to a powder between two stones.  However John Barleycorn often proves the stronger character due to his intoxicating effect on his tormentors and the fact hat his body is giving sustenance to others making humans dependent upon him.

Through the savagery inflicted upon John Barleycorn the song metaphorically tells the story of the sowing, cultivating and harvesting cycle of barley throughout the year.  The ground is ploughed, seeds are sown, and the plant grows until ready for harvest. It is then cut with scythes, and tied into sheaves, which are flayed to remove the grain.

Pagan and Anglo-Saxon Associations

Wikipedia says that some scholars think that John Barleycorn has strong connections with the pagan Anglo-Saxon character of Beowa also known as Beaw, Beow, or Beo or sometimes Bedwig. In Old English ‘Beow’ means ‘barley’ and ‘Sceafa’ means ‘sheaf.’ From Royal Anglo-Saxon lineage, Beowa is the son of Scyld who is the son of Sceafa in a pedigree that goes back to Adam.

Many scholars also think that there are strong associations with Beowa and Beowulf and the general agreement is that they are the same character.  Some scholars also think that Beowa is the same character as John Barleycorn while others disagree.

The Golden Bough

Wikepedia says, Sir James George Frazer, in his book, ‘The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion’  asserts that many of the old religions of the world were derived from fertility cults which had at their core the ritual sacrifice of a Sacred king who was also known as the Corn King, who was the embodiment of the Sun god.  Each year he went through a cycle of death and rebirth in a union with the Earth goddess, dying at the harvest time to be reborn in the spring.

The Corn King

The Corn King was chosen from the men of a tribe to be the king for a year.  At the end of the year he would then dance, or perform thanksgiving and fertility rituals in the fields before being ritually killed.  So that the soil would be fertilised his body was dragged through the fields to enable his blood to run into the soil.  It may be that he may then have been eaten by the tribe in completion of the ritual.

As well as other uses, the barley was made into cakes which would be stored for the winter and were thought to hold the spirit of the Corn King.  Around the time of the winter solstice when the sun was at its weakest and as it started to strengthen, the cakes would be fed to children giving them the spirit of the corn king.

Christianity

There are also theories that possibly an earlier form of John Barleycorn represented a pagan rite before the rise of Christianity. There are suggestions that the early Christian church in Anglo-Saxon England adapted this to help the conversion of the pagan population to Christianity.  This is a tactic that was used with Yule and other pagan festivals and traditions.   In some versions of the song, John Barleycorn suffers in a similar way to Christ, especially in the version by Robert Burns.

After undergoing ritualistic suffering and death, his body is ground into flour for bread and drink. Some scholars compare this with the Sacrament and Transubstantiation of Christian belief though not all agree.

Popular Culture

We will probably never know the true origins and meaning that are hidden in the story of John Barleycorn but the song and its mysteries still have a powerful effect on people today.  Many popular musicians and folk artists have performed versions of the song in the recent past and it is still a popular song today.

In 1970, the progressive rock group, ’Traffic’ made an album entitled, John Barleycorn Must Die, featuring a song of the same name which went on to become a classic.

The song is popular with recording and performing artists and a favourite with audiences. Folk rock bands Fairport Convention and Steel-eye Span and many other rock and folk artists have recorded versions of the song ensuring the story of John Barleycorn is still sung and celebrated, so that even though the meaning may be lost in time, the story lives on.

References and Attributions
File:Hordeum-barley.jpg From Wikimedia Commons 
Read the lyrics HarvestFestivals.Net - John Barleycorn
AudioEnglish.org -John Barleycorn
The Golden Bough - from Wikipedia
Sacred king from Wikipedia
Frazer, Sir James George -  The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion
Traffic - John BarleyCorn  
Mainly Norfolk: English Folk and Other Good Music

The Popular Legend of Lady Godiva

The popular legend of how Lady Godiva rode naked on horse back through the streets of Coventry to save the people from a crippling and unjust tax known as the Heregild, is one of the most renowned stories in British folklore. The Heregild was a tax imposed on the English by the Danish King Canute to pay for his body guard.

Lady Godiva, by artist John Collier – Public Domain Image

According to the legend the event happened on a market day and had profoundly beneficial consequences for the people of Coventry.

The problem with legends is that there are often more than one versions of the same story and events that happened in the distant past get changed and exaggerated until it is difficult to discern the accuracy of accounts.  This article presents a version of the popular legend of Lady Godiva as it exists today and has been put together from a number of other versions.  It is the first of a planned series on the subject each of which will present different view points on the legend, such as the historical and pagan contexts of the story.

The Heregild Tax

Earl Leofric was a powerful lord loyal to King Canute and owed his position to his goodwill.  As such he was not prepared to risk losing that goodwill.  He strictly imposed the Heregild on the people and made sure it was collected

Lady Godiva was also rich and owned valuable land and assets in her own right in the area and was very fond of the local people.  One of those assets was the town of Coventry. She was a devout Christian and was renowned for being pious, virtuous and faithful to the Christian Church and its ideals.  In comparison, it was said that Leofric, although thought to be a Christian, did not hold quite the same religious convictions as his wife.

Leofric’s Challenge

Lady Godiva could see the suffering it was causing to her beloved people and persistently begged Leofric to put an end to the tax.  With his patience running thin through his wife’s continuous pestering he is reputed to have told her that she would have to ride naked through the streets of Coventry before he would repeal the tax.. He probably said this out of exasperation, thinking his very prim and pious wife would never do such a thing. However, Leofric badly underestimated his wife’s devotion to the people and her determination to help them.

Lady Godiva takes up the Challenge

Godiva took up the challenge and rode naked on a horse through the streets of Coventry.  There are a number of variations to the legend, but one says that the people of Coventry were so grateful to Godiva, that they kept to their homes and covered the windows and no one took advantage of the situation to try and peek at her.

Peeping Tom

Another later variation tells how she had sent out messengers to clear the streets in front of her as she rode. All the citizens of Coventry obeyed except for one who tried to peep but was immediately struck blind.  His name was Tom who was a tailor, and from that day on he became known as Peeping Tom.

In Coventry’s Cathedral Lanes Shopping Centre there is a rather peculiar carved painted wooden effigy said to be a depiction of Peeping Tom.  Its eyes are blank possibly because the paint has worn off or possibly for other reasons. Either way, Lady Godiva completed the ride veiled only by her long golden hair which was long enough to cover her body, leaving only her face and legs visible.

Leofric Keeps His Promise

It seems her husband, Leofric, was so impressed that his demure and pious wife would dare to do such a thing for the people of Coventry and so amazed that no one had seen her that he changed his own religious convictions.  He regarded it as a miracle and keeping his word to his wife he repealed the hated Heregild and founded a Benedictine monastery with her, although no trace of this remains today.

The grateful people of Coventry held an annual fair keeping alive the story of Godiva and her heroism.  Unfortunately this was banned during the Reformation.

The Godiva Procession

Around 1678 the fair was revived with a representative of Lady Godiva riding through the streets on a snow white horse accompanied by a man making lewd and suggestive gestures.  The Godiva Procession is an annual event which takes place in June.

Future Articles

Although the naked ride of Lady Godiva is one of Britain’s most famous legends there is no proof that it actually happened though Godiva and Leofric were both historical and important figures in their day. It is still debated whether this was the same Godiva or a different person.  Historically, back in the days when the event was supposed to have happened Coventry was just a small settlement and nothing like the city we know today. Many scholars think that the legend has its roots in pagan ceremonies such as the May Queen.  These and other ideas will be dealt with in future articles.

References and Attributions
Lady Godiva - From Wikipedia 
BBC – Lady Godiva 
LIBER GENTIUM MEDIEVAL BIOGRAPHY - Lady Godiva - the eleventh century Coventry legend
Image - File:Lady Godiva by John Collier.jpg - From Wikipedia - Lady Godiva, by Artist, John Collier (1850–1934) Credit line Photographer, user:Hautala

The Legend Of Madelon And The Christmas Rose

The legend of the Christmas Rose tells the story of how a young shepherdess named Madelon, through her love and devotion, came to give the baby Jesus a gift more precious than gold, frankincense or myrrh.

Madelon and the Christmas Rose - Public Domain

Madelon and the Christmas Rose – Public Domain

The Christmas Rose

The Christmas rose (helleborus niger) is actually a perennial herb and grows in the cold, snowy mountains and high valleys across Europe. The flowers are white and star-shaped and tipped with pink. It is also known as the Snow Rose and the Winter Rose as it blossoms in the mid-winter season when most other vegetation lies dormant and covered by snow.

The Legend

The tradition tells how the shepherds, while watching their flocks, were visited by an Angel who was leading the Magi to the birthplace of Jesus. The Angel told them of the birth of Jesus who would be known as the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings and the Saviour of their people. Overjoyed, the shepherds left their flocks to visit the new born king taking him such gifts as they could afford and were befitting of their status such as, honey, fruit and snow-white doves.

Madelon

Now on that cold winter night when Jesus was born, the shepherds were not the only ones out on the hillside tending their flocks. A young shepherdess, called Madelon, was also out tending her family’s flock and had witnessed the arrival of the Angel and the Magi and heard what the Angel told the shepherds.

Love And Devotion

Hearing the news, the young girl’s heart became full of love and devotion and filled with faith. At a distance she followed the Angel, the Magi and the shepherds to the stable where Jesus lay in the manger, cared for by Mary and Joseph.

The Magi Give Baby Jesus Wonderful Gifts

She watched as they entered the stable and the Magi laid their wonderful gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense before the baby Jesus. She watched as the shepherds gave their gifts of honey, fruit and snow-white doves. Realizing she had nothing to give she rushed back to the hillside to try and find flowers that she could lay before him.

Madelon’s Tears

Finding none on the snow covered hillside she became full of shame and despair and began crying. As she cried her tears fell down her face onto the snowy ground around her. Seeing this from on high the Angel came down and touched the ground and a bush of the most beautiful winter roses sprang forth at her feet.

A Precious Gift Of Pure Blooms

The Angel told her, “No gold, no frankincense, no myrrh, is as precious, or as fitting a gift for the Prince of Peace as these pure blooms that are born from the pure tears of love, faith and devotion.”

The ancient pagan origins of Christmas – The festival of Saturnalia

Christmas in the modern world is a time of revelry, eating and overindulgence of drink, the giving of presents, carol singing and much more.  The Roman festival of Saturnalia is believed to have been a forerunner of the Christmas we know and celebrate today giving us many customs and traditions that we use and enjoy.

Dice players – Author: WolfgangRieger – Public Domain Image

The Roman Festival of Saturnalia

An early forerunner to Christmas was the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia.  This festival was held in honour Saturn an agricultural deity who reigned during the Golden Age. This was a time of peace, when all was prosperous and plentiful.  A time when people’s needs were met with out having to work and every one lived in a state of social equality with one another.  The festival commenced on the 17th December to the 23rd of December. Saturnalia could be celebrated anywhere in the Roman Empire not just Rome.

Saturnalia was time of great feasting, making merry and revelry with copious amounts of drinking and over indulging in food. People went out in the streets singing from door to door.  It was a time for the giving and receiving of presents. The revelry was supposed to reflect the conditions of the Golden Age.

During Saturnalia leaves and branches of evergreens were fashioned into wreathes and carried by priests in processions.  Gambling and throwing dice, which in ancient Rome was discouraged became permitted for both masters and slaves over the duration of the festival.

Public buildings and squares were adorned with flowers and lit with candles. Candles may have represented the search for truth and knowledge and also the return of the sun after the winter solstice.  In later times the 25th of December by the Julian calendar, Romans celebrated Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus, or the “Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun.”

Role reversal during Saturnalia

During Saturnalia roles were reversed between master and slave, with slave becoming the master and the master, the slave.   Some reports from ancient sources say slaves and masters ate at the same table together.  Other reports say the slaves ate first and others say that the masters served the slaves their food.  No doubt it was the slaves who did the actual preparation and clearing up.

Slaves were also said to be allowed to show a certain amount of disrespect to their masters but in reality it was probably more of an act.  This is because the role reversal was temporary, only lasting through Saturnalia so slaves still needed to be wary of upsetting their master too much.

Dressing for Saturnalia

As can be expected during important festivals people like to dress up and wear their best clothes and Romans were no different.  During Saturnalia men set aside the toga, their usual garment, in favour of Greek styled clothing.  They also wore a conical cap of felt called the pilleus, which was a token of a freedman.  Even slaves were allowed to wear the pilleus during Saturnalia.

Giving presents during Saturnalia

December the 23rd was known as “The Sigillaria and on this day presents and gifts were given.  Against the spirit of the season the value of gifts given and received was a sign of social status.   These might be candles, items of pottery, wax figurines, writing tablets, combs, lamps and many other such articles. Sometimes bird or animals were given.  The rich sometimes gave a slave or an exotic animal of some kind.  Children were given toys.

The Lord of Misrule

The ruler of Saturnalia and the master of ceremonies was called Saturnalicius princeps and was chosen by lot.  A similar figure is seen in medieval times presiding over the Feast of Fools and was known as the Lord of Misrule.  He would issue absurd and whimsical commands which had to be obeyed, hence creating chaos and (mis)rule and an absurd world.

The influence of Saturnalia on Christmas today

Many historians and scholars see the festival of Saturnalia as being as one of the original sources of many of today’s Christmas practices.   The giving of presents, carol singing, the lighting of candles and the use of evergreen plants for decorations all continue to this day.   The practice of eating and drinking to excess and the carnival atmosphere that prevails over the season are reminiscent of the festival of Saturnalia.

References

BBC – Did the Romans invent Christmas? By Jayne Lutwyche  – BBC Religion and Ethics

Saturnalia – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Public Domain Image – Dice players. Roman fresco from the Osteria della Via di Mercurio (VI 10,1.19, room b) in Pompeii.Author – WolfgangRieger

Natural Folklore: The Northern and Southern Lights

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights

This image or file is a work of a U.S. Air Force Airman or employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image or file is in the public domain.

The northern lights and the southern lights are natural phenomena that occur in the night skies over the polar regions of the planet. Today, we know they are caused by gas molecules in the atmosphere colliding with solar particles. This releases energy as light and creates colourful displays of light that display in fold-like shapes, streamers, rays, arches and many other amazing forms.

The northern lights are also known as ‘Aurora borealis’ and the southern lights as ‘Aurora australis.’ In Roman mythology Aurora was the goddess of the dawn, so Aurora borealis means ‘dawn of the north,’ and Aurora australis means dawn of the south.

They can be very beautiful and awe-inspiring and at the same time mysterious and even frightening. Many different cultural and ethnic groups who lived in places where they are seen have developed many myths and legends to try and explain and make meaning of them in their own terms.

The Fox-fires of Lapland

In the language of the Finnish people the northern lights are known as “Revontulet.” In English this means “Fox Fires” and comes from a very old Finnish myth which says that the lights were produced by magical snow foxes whose swishing tales sent snow spraying into the skies.

North of Finland, Norway and Sweden live the Lapp people in Lapland. This is a huge area within the Arctic Circle which ranges across parts of all three of these Scandinavian countries. The Lapps are closely related to the Finnish people. Their traditions say that the lights are the shining souls of the dead.

When the lights are in the skies people are expected to behave in a solemn and respectful way. Children were also expected to be solemnly too out of respect for the departed ones. To show disrespect would bring down bad luck, sickness and the risk of death.

The shamans of the Lapps painted runes representing the fires on their on their drums to help them attract and capture their magical energy. They were also believed that the lights had soothing powers over conflicts and arguments.

There was also a belief that if you whistled when the lights were active they would come to you and take you away with them.

The ride of the Valkiries

A red aurora of this magnitude is rare, and in this image it complements the green colour. Image taken at Hakoya island, just outside Tromsoe, Norway. October 25th, 2011 by photographer Frank Olsen

A red aurora of this magnitude is rare, and icomplements the green colour. Image taken Hakoya island, Norway. October 25th, 2011 by photographer Frank Olsen. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Norwegian folklore tells that they were the souls of old maids who danced and waved across the skies.

While in other parts of Scandinavia and Germany the belief was that it was the Valkiries who had taken to the air when the lights appeared.

In Scotland, which also has strong Norse links, the lights were sometimes referred to as “the merry dancers.”

Warriors battling in the skies

In other parts of the world the aurora borealis was believed to be heroes or warriors battling in the sky. In many places further from the Arctic and Antarctic Circles the lights are a rare occurrence and when they did appear they were seen as signs of coming war or sickness and were harbingers of doom.

Eskimo beliefs

Among some Eskimo tribes of Greenland the lights were connected with dancing. In some parts of Greenland the lights were thought top be the souls of children who had died at, or soon after birth.

In Labrador, young Eskimos believed the lights were the torches lit and carried by the dead as they played a kind of ball game in the skies with the skull of a walrus. They would dance as the lights played across the skies.

Spirits of animals

Aurora image taken at Hillesoy island, Norway. September 2011. Author Arctic light -Frank Olsen, This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

In eastern parts of Canada, the Salteaus Indians, along with the Kwakiutl and Tlingit tribes of south eastern parts of Alaska the lights were thought to the spirits of humans. Tribes living along the Yukon River thought that the lights were the spirits of animals such as elk, deer, salmon, seal and whales.

While to some Native American tribes of Wisconsin, North America, they were a bad omen as they believed the lights were the ghosts of the enemies they had killed who were now seeking revenge.

Everlasting love

Many cultures around the world looked up at them and made their own meanings and stories to explain them but here the last word goes to the Algonquin Indians. They believed the northern lights were the fires of the great creator god, Nanahbozho. After creating the world he retired to the far north. There he builds great magical campfires which light up the northern skies to remind them of the everlasting love he holds towards them.

References
 Causes of Color - Legends and myths of the aurora Folklore
 Accessed 04 September 2013
 
this is FINLAND - Beliefs on indigenous people
 Accessed 04 September 2013
 
Aurora (astronomy) - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Enduring Appeal of Robin Hood

The legendary adventures of Robin Hood and his Merry Men are among the best known and popular folk tales of the British Isles.  In different forms of adaption they have won worldwide fame and popularity.  As well as the swashbuckling action there is the popular appeal of a hero with the highest ideals and integrity who robs the rich to give to the poor.

Public Domain Image

Medieval forest

A working class hero

In earlier versions of the legend his status was that of a yeoman who had fallen foul of the law through injustice.  In this role as a working class hero he successfully cocks a snook at the law and authority, gaining much sympathy and support from the peasants and yeomanry who saw themselves as oppressed by an all powerful royal hierarchy.

Sherwood Forest

In Robin’s day Sherwood was one of the Royal Forests and was subject to the Forest Laws.  These were designed to protect the game such as deer, boar, wolves or hares and game birds for the benefit of the king.

The penalty for breaking them was notoriously harsh. People living in or around a Royal Forest were subject to these laws and they were believed to be the cause of much resentment.  The forest and everything in it belonged to the king and he alone could give permission for its use.  This would only be given to his barons and noblemen on license and at a price.  Ordinary people could not hunt, clear or cultivate land within in its bounds.

Although not all of their former rights were taken they were much more restricted in what they could do.  Punishments for breaking the law included being blinded in both eyes or to have the hands cut off.  Not surprisingly, this would probably be a cause of massive resentment among the ordinary people who would have wanted to supplement their meagre livelihood from the free forest resources of meat, wood and land.

In Robin Hood the people found a hero who was one of their own and who successfully stood up against their oppressors.  Robin not only broke the law and got away with it he made the authorities look foolish.

Robin of Loxley

In later versions he becomes a lord who had been dispossessed by the notoriously unjust King John for his support of King Richard who was away on the Crusades. This also had the appeal of the righteous lord who in loyally upholding the true monarch’s law in his absence is wronged by the usurper King John.

Robin Hood and Little John by Louis Rhead Public Domain Image

The Merry Men

The Merry Men were his followers and fellow outlaws.  Their number varies from 20 to 140 over time. Any one who wanted to join had to fight Robin and beat him.   Most of what we know about them comes from the ballads about Robin Hood. The term ‘Merry Men’ is a generic term used to describe followers of leaders such as outlaws or knights.  ‘Merry Men’ were followers of any one who commanded a following.   Little John, Will Scarlet, Much the Miller’s Son, Alan-a-Dale and Friar Tuck are the most well known of Robin’s Merry Men.   Maid Marion was his famous love interest.

Robin’s enemies

His arch rival was the Sherriff of Nottingham aided and abetted by Sir Guy of Gisbourne.    Under the cover of Sherwood Forest he and his Merry Men rang rings round these two as they tried their hardest to capture them.

The monarch of the time is generally considered to be King John while his brother, King Richard was absent at the Crusades.  In the ballad ‘A Gest of Robyn Hode,’ the king is named as ‘Edward.’   As the legend of Robin Hood seems to have grown over centuries it is difficult to be exact.  Who ever was the king they would have been expecting and pressing the Sheriff of Nottingham to capture and punish Robin Hood.

The Royal Forests were huge and not just areas of woodland, but included heath and scrub lands, often with human settlements within or around its boundaries.  Conversely, preserving these wild areas for game also provide perfect cover for outlaws to hideout in while living off the land by poaching the King’s deer and game.

Robbing the rich and giving it to the poor is one thing, but robbing the King’s deer would be unforgivable, especially if it was King John’s who was notorious for his tyranny and cruelty.   The Sheriff would have been under enormous royal pressure to capture Robin.

“Depiction of a medieval hunting park” from The Master of Game Public Domain Image

The origin of the Robin Hood legends

It is very difficult to find any real evidence relating to the origins of the Robin Hood legends.  He is briefly mentioned in ‘Piers Plowman’ written 1377, by William Langland.  Most of the legends are mentioned in ballads from the 15th – 16th century. The oldest are ‘A Gest of Robyn Hode,’  ‘Robin Hood and the Monk,’ and ‘Robin Hood and the Potter.’

Another source is the Percy Folio which is a collection of English ballads compiled by Thomas Percy in the 17th century.    Many of these ballads are believed to go back to the 12th century.  There are also many other later ballads that have Robin Hood as the central figure or mention him in some way.

Where was Robin based?

Where Robin Hood was based is a matter of contention. Sherwood Forest is the most cited place but there are other areas that also have a claim to be his territory.  Barnsdale in Yorkshire also has strong associations with him and many places in England have places names and public houses that bear his name as do Scotland and Wales.  It may be that he could have actually travelled to other districts as a fugitive to escape the clutches of the Sheriff of Nottingham and places he stayed at were named after him.

Was Robin Hood a real person?

The Roll of the Justices in Eyre, Berkshire record that in 1261 a gang of outlaws, including someone named as William, the son of Robert le Fevere was seized without warrant.  This cross references with another official document of 1262 records in the King’s Remembrancer’s Memoranda Roll of Easter that pardons the prior of Sandleford for the seizing of the chattels of a fugitive named William Robehod without a warrant.    William, the son of Robert le Fevere and William Robehod are widely thought to be the same person, though not necessarily the legendary Robin Hood, though many think it possible.  Some scholars think ‘Robin Hood’ may have been a generic nickname for medieval outlaws.

Robin Hood as a forest spirit

There is also the theory that Robin Hood was actually a part of a much older tradition.   Some theories associate him with mythological figures such as Robin Goodfellow.  In later times his character appeared in some May Day festivities the May King along side Maid Marion.  In folklore the May King was a male youth chosen for his physical perfection who would be given rights to impregnate the females of his choice in the community.  His reign lasted from one year or seven years after which he was ritually sacrificed in the belief that this would bring fertility to the people and their crops.

Green Man from Southwell Minster Public Domain Image Author: MedievalRich

Robin Hood and the Green Man

He is also associated by some people with the ‘Green Man.’   The ‘Green Man’ is a term first used by Lady Raglan to describe an emblem carved in stone on the walls of her local church  Since then many other such Green Men have been found carved in the wood and stone of other old churches and ancient buildings.

No one is certain of its meaning but it is often found in churches in or around the edges of forests and woodlands. It is usually a face or head with leaves or branches sprouting from the mouth and entwining the head.   Many people think it was a pagan symbol representing a spirit of nature.  It is also thought to go back to Celtic times and may be a representation of the god Cernunnos.

There are a number of representations of the Green Man in the Chapter House of Southwell Minster which was built around 1100. and well within Robin’s Nottinghamshire territory.

The enduring appeal of Robin Hood

It is likely that unless other reliable evidence comes to light that Robin Hood will remain as elusive as was in medieval times.  Nevertheless his appeal and popularity are enduring and his legend continues to evolve into modern times.

Maybe we all need someone to stand against authority, steal from the rich and give to the poor.

Paradoxically, despite his outlawry he still maintains a reputation for purity of intent and honesty. He is seen as someone who is bold and courageous and a beacon of hope to the oppressed.  Some how, law breaking seems more forgivable if there is a noble and just cause behind it, carried out by someone with a pure and honest disposition.

References

Robin Hood

Merry Men

World Wide Robin Hood Society

BBC Robin Hood and his Historical Context By Dr Mike Ibeji

The Enigma of the Green Man – Theories and Interpretations

Experience the Robin Hood Legend in Nottinghamshire, UK

Bisclavret The Werewolf And The Beastliness of People

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Bisclavret (The Werewolf), is a Breton lai, by a medieval female writer and poet known as Marie de France.  It is one of twelve narrative poems known as The lais of Marie de France. Many of the lais were derived from Breton folklore and legends with Celtic influences and elements of the supernatural all interwoven together. She claimed the lais were based on ballads she had heard from troubadours and minstrels.

In the poem translated Judith P. Shoaf, Marie explains that  Garwalf is the Norman  name for a werewolf and Bisclavret, the Breton name.  However, Bisclavret, although still a werewolf, is significantly different from the Garwolf, displaying more restrained and disciplined behavior than the wild savagery  usually associated with such beasts. (1)

Marie’s lais tell stories that move in and out of the supernatural and real world exploring complex emotions and morals that wreak havoc in the human condition.  The lai of Bisclavret tells of a shape-shifting baron whose perfect world is marred by what he deems to be a terrible and shameful affliction.  To hide his shame and in a sense to protect his own humanity from the perceptions of others, he keeps this a secret. This work presents a discussion of what it means to be human and then provides a version of the story concluding with a discussion on the humanity and “beastliness” shown by the main characters.

Human or Beast?

The shifting of human to beast amid the dark, tangled forest explores some of our primal fears, challenging our concept of humanity.  Is it just the clothing we wear and the adornments, the accessories, and jewelry and the paraphernalia that we think give us status and make us attractive and carry with us that make us human?  Or is it our behavior, our manners, the way we conduct ourselves and the way we treat and think of other people that make us human or worthy of love, respect, and acceptance?

Marie de France lived in medieval times in medieval society with medieval culture and philosophy. Her lais utilize legends and folklore  of her time skilfully woven into narrative poems that tell stories that explore and challenge our understanding of the human condition and reflect the ethos of her times.  But that world of Marie has passed and we now live in the modern world with all its trappings, culture, and philosophy.  What can we make of Bisclavret (The Werewolf) by Marie de France today?

The Story of Bisclavret

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There was once a most honorable and cultured baron who lived in Brittany many, many, years ago.  He was a great favorite of the king and was great friends with all the other barons and lords of the land and they all held him in high esteem.  He had a most beautiful wife who he loved dearly and she also loved him dearly.  All, in all he would seem to be living a perfectly happy and fulfilling life but unbeknown to anyone else he had a most terrible secret.

Although she was very happy with her husband and her marriage his wife had one small concern about him that she did not understand and it worried her greatly.  For three days in every single week, he would leave home and disappear completely from the household and no one knew his whereabouts or what he was doing.  To begin with, she just accepted it as being part of their life together thinking he must have important business somewhere else, after all, he was  baron with land and responsibilities.  As time passed these absences began to worry her greatly thinking maybe he was seeing another woman.  At last, she decided she must ask him where he went to and what he did.

One day after he had returned from one such outing she decided she could bear it no longer and confronted him.  “I have something that is preying on my and I need to ask you something but I do not want to make you angry.  It is for this that I am reluctant to ask,” she said.  He looked at her lovingly and took her in his arms kissing her tenderly.   “Make any request of me that you desire and surely if it is in my power to grant then I will grant it. How could I ever be angry with you?”

“I ask that you place your trust in my love for you and  I beg you to tell me where it is you go  during the days you spend away from me.  I fear there is some trouble you are in and my mind is taken up with worrying about you when you are gone!  Have you another woman you are seeing? Please, please tell me where you go and what you do – I cannot bear it when you are gone for so long, please will you not tell me?”  She looked at him with imploring eyes as tears ran down her cheeks.

He was shocked and pushed his wife away from him.  “For the love of God do not ask of me to reveal this to you. It is a burden I alone must bear and no one can help me.  No good can come of me telling you this it would only cause evil and destroy your love for me bringing eternal damnation and sorrow to me. Do not ask what you do not understand!”

“ It is a cruel joke – do not joke with me I mean what I say in all seriousness. Unless I know where you go and what you do I can never again have peace of mind until I know!” she cried.

He was greatly discomforted by this and was torn between keeping the secret from her or revealing all.  He decided he could not tell her and that she would just have to be satisfied with that. His good wife, however, was a determined woman and did not give in easily. Every time he returned from one of his absences she would approach him with tears in her eyes and beg he tell her where he had been.  Again and again, she begged of him to lay his trust in her love for him and tell her.  At last one day, he returned home and she was waiting for him and again begged him, “My husband please tell me where you have been, please trust my love for you.  Surely you are seeing another woman!”

This time the baron worn down by her persistence and thinking that he could indeed trust her love told her to sit down and prepare herself for a great shock and looked into her eyes and said,“The reason I have to be away for three days every week is because I have to go deep into the forest where nobody goes.  I take my clothes and off run naked.  I kill and eat wild animals and plants and go like a beast in the woods where no one can find me.  I am Bisclavret!”

And as she looked into his dark eyes she saw herself reflected in his eyes and as she listened his good wife turned white with horror and shock as he spoke and sat staring aghast at him.  She would have preferred him to tell her he had taken a lover than this for she knew as all Bretons knew that Bisclavret was the werewolf.  Eventually, she recovered herself and became determined to learn the full truth no matter how terrible about his fearful transformation.

“My husband I know I cannot conceal from you the shock and horror I feel but you know I have never done anything to hurt you and never done anything to make you lose your love and trust in me.  Therefore, I implore you to tell me everything there is to know.  Where do you keep your human raiment when you transform into a werewolf?”

“Do not ask! Do not ask this question!  I can never reveal the place I hide my raiment!  If I am seen taking it off, or if I lose it I must forever remain Bisclavret!  Never could I ever become a man again until it is returned – never! Please do not ask this of me!” he replied shaking and turning white.

His wife hung her head and turned away distraught, “So you do not love me or trust me enough to tell me this secret.  I am your loving wife and what have I ever done to earn such distrust? You no longer trust me, no longer love me?” she cried. “Alas, alas that I have forfeited your confidence! Oh, that I should live to see such a day!” and she fell to weeping bitterly.  The baron looked at his weeping wife with love in his eyes and began to feel ashamed at what he had said.

At last, to ease his wife’s misery, he sat his her down beside him and told her everything. She sat and listened quietly and intently but avoiding his eyes as he revealed the full horror of transformation he went through and the secret place he hid his raiment.  When he had finished he turned and left her but as he was leaving he could not see the fearful look in her eyes as he departed.  Now he had told her his terrible secret his wife’s love for him had died.  She was now terrified of him and began to think of a way to release herself from this cursed husband.  The terrifying thought struck her that he might transform one night while they lay together and as well as fearful she was also revolted at the thought of lying with such a strange unnatural man or was he a beast?

At length, as she pondered about how she had come to this terrible situation she remembered a handsome Knight from her past who had once been her suitor.  He had pleaded for her hand in marriage telling her he loved her more than anything and would do anything to please her.  She had rejected him to marry the baron and he had been heartbroken.

So she went to him and apologized for her past rejection and promised him faithfully if he would help her she would give him her body and soul.  She looked deep into his eyes and told him all about her husband and his terrifying affliction and begged his help.  Realising he still wanted her as he looked into her eyes he readily agreed to help her. That night she gave him her body.  The next day she took him and showed him where Bisclavret hid his raiment when the transformation took him and begged him to steal it and bring it to her.

And so the day came when the baron went off into the forest alone to endure his lonely transformation as he usually did but this time he never returned. His wife, putting on an act of concern, called on their friends and neighbors asking if they had seen him or knew of his whereabout but none did.  Search parties were sent out but no trace of the baron could they find.  They searched for a year and a day and then finding no trace of him abandoned the search.  The lady went into mourning and after an appropriate period married the knight.

And the wheel turned, months passed and the King happened to be hunting in the forest not too far from the lost baron’s castle.  His hounds picked up a strong scent and began baying and yelping and so the King ordered that they should be unleashed.  They sprang upon the trail and were soon locked in a crazed pursuit of some wild beast.  The King or his huntsmen had no idea of the manner of beast his dogs were in pursuit of but followed on behind for many hours.  Eventually, the dogs cornered their quarry and were about to tear it to pieces when a very strange thing happened.

The exhausted beast turned to face the baying, snarling, pack and seeing the King ran to his horse and knelt before it clasping his great paws in supplication and prayer. He looked with pleading eyes into those of the King and its great maw moved as if struggling to speak but no words came out.  The King was astounded.  As he saw the beast in supplication before him and looked into its dark eyes his heart was touched for there was something familiar about the beast and yet unfamiliar and the sight of it making  such a human gesture made him curious.

“Huntsmen, leash your dogs!” he cried, “for this is a beast I have never seen the like of before and will not kill such a wondrous thing.  We will take it back to the palace alive and learn about it!”

So the dogs were leashed and the King and his party returned to the palace with the forest beast following tamely behind the King.

When they returned to the Court the beast was a source of fascination for one and all.  It was friendly and playful and had the most gentle and benign nature.  It followed the King everywhere he went and was like a great friendly playful dog with him.  The King for his part grew to love the beast and would not be parted with it and it would sleep in the King’s chamber at the foot of his bed. A more remarkable beast the Court had never seen or heard of.

The beast turns

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The day came when the King held a great feast and all of his liege lords from all of his dominions attended and among them came the knight who was now the husband of Bisclavret’s former wife.  As soon as he saw his wife’s husband Bisclavret turned from a gentle docile creature into a raging beast and launched a savage attack on him. Fortunately for the knight, the King intervened and ordered Bisclavret to stop.  Reluctantly he obeyed ending the attack and ran behind the King.

Bisclavret made two further attempts that evening to attack the knight requiring the King’s intervention on both occasions.  The King and all the of his courtiers were shocked and puzzled at Bisclavret’s behavior as had only ever seen him like a big playful, friendly dog.   Nobody could understand the sudden change and some assumed that the knight had done something that had threatened Bisclavret but none knew or could say what.  Things calmed down and the evening wore on and the Knight was the first to leave the feast.

Some time later the King went hunting again in the same part of the forest where he had first encountered Bisclavret, taking him with him as he had grown exceedingly fond of the strange creature.  As the evening drew in the King decided they would stay at one of his hunting lodges nearby for the night.   Hearing of the King’s presence not far from her home Bisclavret’s former wife decided she would take a present for the King.

When she was shown into the King’s chamber immediately he saw her Bisclavret changed  from a gentle docile creature into a savage beast.  Leaping upon her he bit her nose off completely mutilating her beautiful face permanently.    If the King and his servants had not intervened he would undoubtedly have torn her to pieces.

Although the King loved Bisclavret and did not understand the change in him he could not allow such savagery to  continue and would have had him put to death. Fortunately one of his wise councilors spoke up, “Wait for surely  something in the past has happened to it that has caused it to react in such a savage manner.  Why is it that the very sight of  these two – this husband and his wife – has caused this usual affectionate and gentle creature to become a raging, savage beast?   Let these two be  brought before you to explain why should it bear them such hatred.  The woman was once the wife of one of your best and loyal barons.  Someone you were greatly fond of who has not been seen, seeming to have disappeared from the face of the earth.  Have them brought before you that you may question them of their knowledge of this matter honestly.”

The King listened to his counselor and thought about what he said.  He could not understand why the creature should have reacted so savagely and he was genuinely very fond of it and did not want it killed unjustly.  “Bring them to me and I will question them as you suggest and we will see what they have to say.”

So the two were brought before him and he questioned them long and hard and they continuously denied any knowledge of a reason why the creature should attack them.   But the King was no fool and as he continued to probe them with questions he could see they were holding something back.  Nevertheless, he persisted determined to get to the truth and at last the woman confessed.

She told the King about her first husband who became Bisclavret and how she had become terrified  and revolted by the thought of him possibly transforming while he lay with her.  Then she told him how she had persuaded Bisclavret  to reveal the secret place where he hid his human raiment when the transformation took him. She confessed she had approached her former suitor to beg his help in stealing the raiment so that he could never again return to human form while she had them and told them that the reward for his help was his marriage to her.   Tearfully she told the King that this Bisclavret was certainly her former husband the baron who had been his great friend.

At last, the King understood and now demanded she provides the raiment that had been stolen and be returned that Bisclavret may dress  in them and once again become human.   The hiding place of the raiment was revealed and they were brought and laid before Bisclavret.  To everyone’s surprise, the beast completely ignored them as if they did not exist.

Once again it was the King’s wise councilor who spoke saying, “Can it be wondered at that he refuses to put them on in front of everyone here.  He cannot surely return as a man without feeling great shame and embarrassment at what he has endured.  Surely we cannot ask him to do this in front of us and I counsel you, Sire, that he be taken to your private rooms where he may put on his human form in his own time, in privacy, away from all eyes.”

The King agreed and took Bisclavret to his private room and left him alone.  He later returned with two of his lords to see how Bisclavret was doing.  On entering the room found him returned to the man who he had loved so much and sleeping soundly in his bed.

The King was overjoyed to have his friend back and roused him from his sleep.  When the baron was ready he told his friend the King all about his affliction, the great shame he felt and all that had happened to him.  The king was delighted to have him back and returned to him all that had been taken from him and gave him much more besides.  As for the woman who betrayed him and her lover they were banished forever from his realm and it was said that many of the females in their family line thereafter were born without a nose and so ended the tale of Bisclavret.

Humanity and Beastliness

There are many different interpretations of the story by many different people.   Some are concerned that it paints women in a poor light even accusing the author, Marie de France, of hating women.   Nevertheless, there are many other interpretations and many see it as addressing the suppression of the beast within the human being and it is not certain that humans come out of it looking too good.

It is worth noting the twists that each of the main characters performs which bring out their “beastly” side.  The wife originally portrayed as beautiful  and loving reveals the “beast” in her by betraying the baron.  Although it is understandable to feel fear and be revolted by his condition she does not attempt to come to terms with the “beastly” side of her husband.  Instead, she sells herself by persuading the knight to steal her husband’s clothes knowing this would trap him in the werewolf form, promising her body and marriage in return.  By accepting the proposal and carrying it out he allows his “beastly” nature to get the better of him while condemning the baron  to remain Bisclavret running naked and beast-like in the forest .

The good King is taken very much by the humanity shown by Bisclavret in his wolf form and becomes fond of him breaking down the barrier between beast and human.  The wise counselor although saving Bisclavret and urging the King to put faith in him lets his beastly side come to the fore by advocating torture to Bisclavret’s ex-wife.  The good King by assenting to this allows the beast in himself to come out.  But it is the terrible act of vengeance, the violent disfiguring of his ex-wife and generations of females in her line to come after Bisclavret bites off her nose that emphasize the difficulty of keeping the inner beast in check.  This, surely, is a terrible act of vengeance even though he had suffered so and after he had displayed such humanity in his wolf form.

The days of Marie de France are long gone and here we are in the modern world and as we look around us we may wonder if there is indeed hope.  Can we keep the beast within hidden and in check by fine clothing and good manners and  behavior and all the trappings of the modern digital world, or is it all an act that will eventually reveal itself when the opportunity arises?

What do you think?

© 21/09/2016 zteve t evans

Reference and Attributions

Copyright September 21st, 2016 zteve t evans

Azorean Legends: The Origin of the Lagoon of the Seven Cities

 

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Lagoon of the Seven Cities – Image by Abspires40 – CC BY 2.0

On the island of São Miguel in the archipelago of the Azores there are two lakes known as the Lagoon of the Seven Cities, or Lagoa das Sete Cidades,  in Portuguese,  They are an important source of fresh water and the largest body of water on the islands.  These two lakes are situated in the crater of a dormant volcano and are connected to each other by a natural narrow channel that today has a bridge over it.  Despite the connection, the twin lakes are ecologically different and a natural feature of the island landscape that have evolved a number of myths and legends to explain their origin.

Princess Antilia

A local legend tells that there was once a bad-tempered King whose wife had died and had been left to bring up his daughter named Antilia alone.  The King had greatly loved her mother and he doted upon his daughter.  When his wife had died he had almost exclusively taken on the care and upbringing of his daughter aided only by an elderly nurse.  He loved his daughter dearly and she was the source of all his pleasure and the pride and joy of his life and he wanted to keep her all for himself and kept her separate from other children and people.  Sadly, he would not let her speak or play with anyone else but him, or her nurse, who thought it a shame she could not mix and play with other children her own age.

Nevertheless, years passed by as years will do and the young princess grew into a beautiful young woman.  As a beautiful young woman, Antilia attracted the attention of many handsome young men, as beautiful young women will do.  Her father was jealous of their interest towards his daughter and seeking to keep her solely for himself banned her entirely from leaving the limits of his castle and grounds.  Antilia was disappointed with this ban because she was at an age when she wanted to be out and about exploring the world and making friends with young men and women of her own age.

Every day after his dinner at midday the King would fall asleep and spend rest of the afternoon snoring until evening came and it was time for tea. Every now and then, with the help of her old nurse, Antilia would escape the confines of the castle and its grounds and go and explore the towns and villages that surrounded the castle.  She loved these times of escape and each one seemed like an exciting adventure to her.

The Shepherd on the Hill

One day while she was venturing out along the country lanes she heard the most wonderful music and she followed the sound to see who was making it.  On a small hill, she discovered a young shepherd about her own age sat playing a flute.  Not wanting to disturb the music and perhaps because she was just a tiny bit shy of the handsome young man she hid behind a bush to listen to him play.  For many weeks after Antilia would continue to sneak out of the castle, but now she always made her way to the hill to hear the young man play upon his flute.  There she would hide in the bushes and listen enchanted to the wonderful music he made.

One day he caught her as she hid behind the bush and she feared he would be angry.  Instead, the young man had fallen head over heels in love with her at first sight and he told her so and they became friends and lovers.  From then on whenever Antilia escaped from the castle she made her way to the hill where the shepherd was waiting for her.  There he would play his flute and they would laugh and chat happily together.  In that happy place, they blossomed in the company of each other and one day the shepherd proposed marriage and she readily agreed.

The next day with the help of the old nurse, Antilia escaped the castle early in the morning and met up with her lover.  Together they went to the castle door and knocked loudly upon it.  A servant answered and when he saw who was there quickly went to fetch the King.  The King came to the door to see what was going on and found his beloved Antilia stood blushing and holding hands with a young man.  As the King glowered at him the young man summoned up his courage and nervously, but politely, asked him for his daughter’s hand in marriage.

The face of the glowering King turned red and then purple with rage pulling his daughter indoors and angrily ordering the young man off the castle grounds while slamming the door.  Once inside he berated Antilia and strictly forbade her ever to see or talk to him again threatening terrible retribution if she disobeyed.  Heartbroken, Antilia sobbed all through the rest of the day and all through the night.  In the morning the old nurse went to her and Antilia begged her to help her see her lover for one last time.  Together they went to the King and begged that Antilia may have one last meeting with her love to say goodbye.  After much begging and pleading the King reluctantly agreed.

River of Tears

The heartbroken couple met for the last time on the hill where she had found him playing his flute.  They sat down together and cried two rivers of bitter tears.  The rivers flowed down the hill and formed two beautiful lakes which reached out and connected with each other.  The tears from the green eyes of Princess Antilia formed a green lake and the tears from the blue eyes of her lover formed a blue lake.  The two lakes were united by a narrow channel of water, and are today known as Lagoon of the Seven Cities, or Lagoa das Sete Cidades and although the two lovers could not be together on earth their tears remained together so the world would not forget them.

© 21/09/2016 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright September 21st, 2016 zteve t evans

Welsh Folklore: The Spirit of the Van

Wales is a place of where every lake, mountain, hill or valley seems to have some ancient tradition, legend or folktale attached.  Presented here is The Spirit of the Van which is set in the Vans Pool which lies in the mountains of Carmarthenshire and is a variation of the legend of The Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach.

The Spirit of the Van

The story tells of a beautiful female spirit that appears on a lake called the Van Pool.  She appears in a golden boat in the first hours of New Year’s Day and is dressed all in white and around her waist she wears a golden girdle  Her hair is long and golden and in her hand is a golden oar which she uses to deftly maneuver the boat. Those who have seen her, although admiring her beauty, are struck by the melancholy demeanor and milk- white face of the lovely lady.

Living near to the lake was a young farmer who had heard about the beautiful, melancholy spirit of the lake and became intrigued by what was said about her.  The more he thought about her the more a fervent desire to see her for himself grew upon him.

When New Year’s Eve came he went to the lake and chose a secluded and well hidden spot by the water’s edge where he settled down to await the arrival of the spirit of the Van Pool in the hours after midnight.  The moon was full and mirrored in the calm waters of the lake and he awaited in eager anticipation for the midnight hour.  At the strike of midnight as the old year was passing and the new was being born there on the opposite bank materialized the spirit of the lake in a golden boat that floated gracefully over the water steered by the lady with a golden oar.

The Lady of the Golden Boat

And there on the pool under the moonlight the young farmer beheld his heart’s desire and he watched in awe as she glided around the pool, a vision of loveliness, like a goddess of old. Time passed all too soon and as the stars dimmed the first signs of dawn appeared and his vision of loveliness too began to gently fade.  As she was about to vanish completely, unable to quell his emotions, he called out to her begging her to stay and be his wife.  The Lady of the Golden Boat quickly glanced over her shoulder towards him as she vanished from his sight.

Sadly, the young farmer returned to his home but a change had come over him since those early hours of New Year’s Day when he had seen and called out to the lady in the golden boat. He stopped eating properly and he could not sleep properly and took to wandering around the Van Pool in the night hoping to get but a glimpse of the Lady in the Golden Boat.  In sadness and gloom he neglected his farm and soon everything in his life was going to rack and ruin.

An Offering

At last, he pulled himself together long enough to seek help and he went to see a wise woman who advised him to  make an offering of food to her.  Well, the young farmer was desperate and without having any better plan decided he would give it a try.  He could not bear to wait until the New Year so he thought he would try his luck on Midsummer’s Eve. When Midsummer’s Eve came he took a basket with a generous portion of the best cheese and the best loaf of bread he could afford along to Van Pool in the hope of enticing the Lady of the Golden Boat to marry him.

Although he waited by the poolside all night long she did not materialize.  Nevertheless, he thought that in the spot where he had previously seen her there was a faint shimmering of light and he fancied he heard the faint notes of the most beautiful music. These small signs gave him hope and night after night he would visit the pool carrying a basket of bread and cheese.  When midnight came he would gently drop his offering to the lady into the pool.  Still the lady did not appear but the young farmer continued making this offering to her right the way through the year until New Year’s Eve came around again.

The Lady Appears

Then, putting on his best clothes the young farmer took a basket of the finest cheese and the very best bread he could find along with him for his vigil on the banks of the Van Pool.  At the stroke of midnight he gently dropped his offering of  bread and cheese into the waters of the pool and then waited in quiet desperation as the full moon hid behind a cloud.  Then across the water from the other side he saw a faint shimmering and the Lady of the Golden Boat appeared  gliding sedately towards him.  The boat came alongside where he was standing and the lady stepped lightly on to the shore.

The young farmer was thrilled and by the light of the full moon went down on one knee and proposed marriage.  The Lady of the Golden Boat listened to him and then to his delighted accepted his marriage proposal but laid a strict condition on him.  That condition was that he should not strike her for a third time as if he did she would have to leave him forever. Naturally the young farmer not being a cruel or violent man could not imagine ever striking her so he eagerly agreed.

So the two were wed and she brought with her from the Other-world a dowry of a flock of fine sheep and a herd of cattle the like that had never been seen in Wales before. She also brought with her fine flocks of ducks and chickens and soon his farm prospered greatly and the two lived happily together and were very much in love.

The Christening

One day after they had been happily married for a few years one of their neighbors invited then to a christening.  To the surprise of all those present, halfway through the christening service the young farmer’s wife began crying.  The young farmer was embarrassed at his wife’s behavior and angry at her weeping at what should have been a happy event.  “What ever are you crying for?  This is a Christening and you are making yourself look foolish!”  he angrily said giving her a light pat on the shoulder.

“Alas, my eyes see a baby entering a world of sorrow, pain and sin.  I see nothing but misery and pain for the babe.  There is nothing to rejoice over,” replied his wife who still retained her fairy eyes, “and you have struck me for the first time!”

The anger passed and the young farmer regretted he had struck his wife.  Although it was only a light pat he really did feeling sorry and ashamed of himself because he really did love her dearly.  She let it be and things were soon good again between them because she really did love him as well.

The Funeral

Sadly, some time later they were invited to attend the funeral of the child whose christening they had attended.  Half way through the funeral service the farmer’s wife burst out laughing much to the shock of her husband and all those in attendance. Furiously he asked why she was laughing at such a sad occasion.  Telling her she was making a fool of herself he gave her a light pat to her shoulder and told her to stop weeping.

She answered saying,  “With my eyes I see the child and it is no longer suffering and has left the world of sin and sorrow.  The child is whole, healthy and happy for all time so tell me what is there to weep over?  You have struck me for a second time!”

The Wedding

They went home and the incident was forgotten and they were still very happy together and time passed by as it does. Then one day they received an invitation to attend the wedding of one of their neighbors daughters.   She was a bonny, pretty young girl but she was marrying an old, wizened man, who was rich but miserly.  So they attended the church and half way through the ceremony the farmer’s wife burst into tears.

“What is the matter with you,” her husband demanded, “Everyone is looking at you. Stop making a fool of yourself!” And he gave a gentle push to her shoulder.

“I weep because summer is now bound to winter. I weep because youth is sold for gold.  I weep because this wedding is a devil’s bargain and will bring the girl nothing but unhappiness!” she answered and then looked at him with her eyes full of love and sorrow and told him,  “Alas, now you must remember our bargain.  You have struck me a third time and there can be no other so with love and sadness, I say goodbye for we must part forever!”  

The Parting

With those words she simply turned her back and walked out of the church and back through their farm towards Van Pool.  As she walked she called out the names of  all the sheep, cattle, ducks, chickens and geese she had brought with her when she got married. They all stopped what they were doing and followed her towards the pool.   When she reached the water she did not stop at the edge but continued walking into the pool.  The last the farmer saw of his wife was her golden hair floating in the water before finally disappearing under the surface. Following on behind came all of the farm animals who followed her into the pool.

The farmer was heart broken and would go to the pool with bread and cheese each night making an offering in the hope of meeting his wife again but he never did and died a broken man.

© 13/09/2016 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright September 13th, 2016 zteve t evans

Azorean Folktales: The Girl of Oranges

A folktale from the Azores tells how there was once a Girl of Oranges who lived a solitary and lonely life in a world full of sorrow and dreams.  You see there was once a time when she had been in love with a handsome prince.  They had loved each other with all their hearts and had believed they had been made for each other and were full of happiness and hope for their future together.  Sadly he was taken from her by unfortunate circumstances beyond either his or her control and although life went on for the Girl of Oranges it was never as it had once been.

This had a devastating effect on her and she came to believe that she could never love again.  She looked around and saw lovers walking and holding hands, getting married and raising children and she worried about being on her own for the rest of her life.  It seemed to her the door to happiness had been forever slammed shut and she became anxious and depressed.

She dreamed many dreams and in those dreams created many wonderful scenes of love and came to live in a fantasy world but she could not escape the real world. The strange thing was that the real world she imagined became gray and sad but the beautiful world she dreamed in her dream world never materialized and hope began to fade in her heart.

All around her, she saw many open doors that led into magical realms and many people entered these realms and were happy but as soon as she even thought about entering they were slammed shut.  Despair and despondency fell upon her and she sank into a dark and lonely place keeping herself alive purely by her dreams but she came to no longer believe in love.

Seeing her sadness the gods came to her in one of her dreams and suggested that she go to the oracle to ask her for advice.  She thought that she had nothing to lose and so went to see the oracle seeking her aid.   The oracle was a kindly old woman who had been born with the gift of foresight which she used to help the people.

The girl talked to the oracle about her problem.  The oracle listened to what the girl said and was greatly touched.  She offered her all her sympathy and tenderness and by counseling her wisely and cleverly she succeeded in lifting the spirits of the girl.  Indeed she took her to  another place that was beautiful beyond compare and full of light.  In this place the Girl of Oranges was reborn and she was able to begin to recreate her life again like a beautiful work of art.

The Girl of Oranges looked again at all the doors that had slammed shut and realized that none of those doors had locks and that when she approached one it would open up on its own, or only needed a push.  With this discovery, she began to open the doors and explored the paths beyond and found new and magical places she had never heard of or dreamed about.

One day she opened a door and walked down a narrow path between beautiful flowers and amazing trees and to her wonder she saw lying in the middle of the path a big beautiful orange covered all in gold.  The girl was astounded and ran to the golden orange and excitedly looked at it admiring its beauty.  She looked around but could not find the orangery that it had come from so she went back to the oracle to asked her advice.  The oracle told her that there was a magical and wonderful orangery that the golden orange had come from and that it was a long way down the path from where she had found it.

So she went back through the door and down the path carrying the golden orange in her hand.  She walked and walked and walked along that path and eventually she found the wonderful orangery.  When she found it she discovered that she was suddenly free and knew she was safe.  Looking at the golden orange she carried in her hand she saw that it glowed gently and emitted  a glorious light.  In that light, she saw the face of her beloved and his lips whispered,

                              “Believe!”

© 30/08/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright August 30th, 2016 zteve t evans

Pima Legends: The Great Flood of Cherwit Make

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Pixabay – Image by geralt – CC0 Public Domain

Around the world, there are many myths and legends in many diverse countries that tell of the creation of humanity and how the creator god became disappointed and angry with his creation through their immoral behavior.  To put the earth right and to punish the immoral majority he sends a Great Flood to drown them while saving a few of the worthy to repopulate the earth.  The following is an example of such a legend from the Native American Pima people of Arizona, USA.  It  tells of the creation of humanity by their god Cherwit Make and how he sent a Great Flood against them when their behavior came to displease him.

The Creation

In the sacred traditions of the Pima people, the creator of all humans and animals was Cherwit Make, the earth-maker, who was the butterfly.  Cherwit Make had fluttered out of the clouds in the sky to the place of the Blue Cliffs where the Verde River and the Salt Rivers meet.  From his own sweat, he made humans.  The people thrived and multiplied but grew argumentative and selfish towards one another.    Cherwit Make was disappointed and disgusted at  his creation and decided he would bring about a great flood of the earth to drown them.  Despite his dissatisfaction with them, he thought he would give them a chance to change their ways.

Suha the Prophet

One night, using the voice of the north wind he told them to live in honesty and peace.
Only Suha the prophet heard the voice of the north wind and interpreted the message for his people. They would not believe him and told him he was a fool to listen to the wind.

The next night Suha heard the voice of the east wind which brought the same message but which also warned that they would all be killed if they did not change their ways.  The people laughed and called him a fool again for listening to the wind. The following night Suha heard the same message from the west wind and again the people laughed at him and ignored him.

On the fourth night came the south wind and whispered into Suha’s ear that because he alone had been good and honest he and his wife should be saved from the coming deluge.  The south wind told him to gather spruce gum and create a hollow ball that would be watertight and would float and be their ark and would save them.  When the waters rose they should climb inside the ark and float safely upon the water until it receded.

Suha and his wife set to work gathering the spruce gum which they melted and shaped into a large hollow  ball with one entrance which could be quickly sealed when inside.  They gathered supplies of nuts, acorn meal, venison and bear meat so that they would not starve while the land was in flood.

The Great Flood

When the fateful day finally arrived Suha and his wife were stood by their ark which they had built on a high ledge overlooking the valley below.  From their high place they looked out and saw the people at work and heard the songs of the harvesters and they grew sad to think that it would all soon end.  As they watched, a fist of fire punched downwards from the skies and struck the Blue Cliffs with a thunderous boom.

Then the sky rapidly darkened and the rain began to fall.  Quickly Suha and his wife climbed into their ball and sealed the door shut.  The rain fell in continuous torrents for days on end and the water crept up the sides of the Blue Cliffs.  Their ark was soon taken up by the water and was carried safely for days untold.  Eventually, their provisions ran out and they thought they would surely starve or be killed by the wild buffeting of the water on their craft.  At last, the ark stopped being thrown to and fro by the waves and wind and came to rest on solid ground.  Breaking the door open Suha and his wife gladly stepped out of the confines of the ark.

Superstition Mountain

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Superstition Mountain – Image by Mikesanchez1109 – CC BY-SA 3.0

They found they were high on Superstition Mountain looking over a sea of water. There was cactus growing nearby so they ate their fill.  When night came they went back to the ark, which was their only shelter and slept.  They may have slept for a day, a week, a year even a thousand years, they did not know.  When they finally awoke the water had gone and there were verdant valleys filled with all kinds of plants, birds and animals and there were woods with bears and deer and birds singing in the trees.  Together, they left the ark and went down the mountains to live in the green and fertile valleys below. There they dwelt for a thousand years and from them came a great family of people.

The evil of Hauk

The flood sent by Cherwit Make had devastated the world but not completely cleansed it of evil.  A devil of the mountains named Hauk still remained to haunt and persecute the people.  He had his lair the other side of Superstition Mountain and every so often he would come forth  to steal the daughters of Suha and kill his sons.

There came a day when the men were all out in the fields harvesting maize.  The women remained at home spinning cactus fiber and flax. Hauk came over Superstition Mountain and into the village  and kidnapped yet another one of Suha’s daughters.  When Suha returned home and was told what had happened he vowed to kill Hauk.  He bided his time and watched Superstition Mountain.  At last, he saw Hauk going over the mountain and followed him to his home.

He then put a sleeping drug into the drink his daughter served him and Hauk fell into a deep sleep.  While he was asleep, Suha struck him over his head killing him and causing his brain to splatter over the earth. The greatest part of Hauk ‘s evil was killed but the seeds of evil from his brain fell upon the earth, took root and grew and although it grew, it was less than it had been before.  Suha took his daughter back home and taught his people many good and helpful things.  He taught them how to weave, how to make and use tools and how to avoid and prevent wars and to live in peace.

The Prophecy of Suha

The time came when he knew he must die and on his deathbed, he prophesied that his children would grow arrogant and greedy for wealth and material things.  They would try and claim the lands of others and would wage wars for greed and gain. He told them that when that time came the good would be removed from the earth and live in the sun.  The bad would perish when the flood returned and not one of them would survive.  Slowly and surely the prophecy of Suha unfolded.  Although humans made many great achievements their pride grew and they saw themselves above the creatures of the earth forgetting where they had come from and they thought themselves invincible and above the gods.

Cherwit Make

Cherwit Make, the butterfly, rests on the Blue Cliffs until the time comes when his patience finally runs out and he will unleash the great waters once again.

© 23/08/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright August 23rd, 2016 zteve t evans

The Legend of Saint Winefride and her Holy Well

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St. Winefride – Copy94 – CC BY-SA 3.0

Saint Winefride’s Well is situated in Holywell, Flintshire in Wales and is named after a 7th-century local Welsh woman named Gwenffrewi in Welsh or Winefred, or Winefride in English.   Today it is classed as a grade l listed building and is a major place of pilgrimage for Catholics though all faiths are welcome as are people who have no religion.  The market town of Holywell is named after Saint Winefride’s Well which is an ancient place of pilgrimage and there is a remarkable legend that tells the story of how this came to be

Who was Saint Winefride?

Welsh legend tells that Winefride was the daughter of Tyfid ap Eiludd who was the lord of Tegeingl, a cantref, or division of land, in north-east Wales which later became part of the county of Flintshire.  Her mother’s name was Wenlo and was the sister of Saint Beuno who had associations with the Welsh kings of South Wales.  Winefride was thought to have a brother named Owain.  According to legend, her family were  distant descendants of Vortigern, a warlord of 5th century Britain.

Winefride

The legend of St Winefride is pieced together from information from historical documents and local legend and tradition.  A picture emerges of Winefride at about 15 years old as being a gifted intellectual with a studious nature who was dedicated entirely to the Christian Church and way of life.  Her uncle was St. Beuno, an abbot,  and her mentor.  By all accounts, she appeared to a highly attractive and charming girl with a strong personality who was preparing to dedicate herself to a life of austerity and devotion to the church at an early age with her parent’s consent.  She stayed with Beuno at his church and flourished in her chosen vocation under his mentorship and teaching.

The legend of St. Winefride

As an attractive girl, she naturally had her share of suitors.  When one of the neighboring princes by the name of Caradoc heard about her he decided he would ask her for her hand in marriage.  When Caradoc arrived with his proposition Winefride was alone as her parents had left early to attend the church where Beuno was celebrating Mass.  Although she told him that she was dedicating her life to the church, he begged and pleaded for her hand in marriage and became angry at her polite but firm rebuttals and he began threatening her.  Winefride became frightened and ran to the church where the Mass was being held hoping she would be safe with her parents and uncle there.

It was not to be.  The rejected and angry Caradoc followed and quickly caught up with her on sloping ground and drawing his sword cut her head off.  Her head rolled down the slope and eventually came to rest.  As soon as it stopped rolling a spring of water bubbled up out of the ground.

On hearing of the terrible murder as he was giving Mass,  Beuno left the church and went to the newly formed spring where her head still lay beside it.  Gently and carefully picking her head up he took it back to her body and kneeling, placed it upon her shoulders and covered the dead Winefride with his cloak.  He then returned to  the church where he prayed to God for her and calmly finished the Mass.  After Mass, he returned to her body and once again kneeling beside her prayed to God and then uncovered her body.   Legend says that Winefride sat up as if she had been in deep sleep, her head firmly on her shoulders with only a thin white scar circling around her throat and neck that showed the signs of her decapitation.

Beuno then turned to Caradoc, who had remained nearby, and called upon God to punish him and according to one legend he was struck dead and swallowed by the ground. However, some historians think that he was killed by Winefride’s brother Owain out of vengeance but whatever happened to Caradoc, Winefride was alive again.  After her resurrection Winefride dedicated herself to God and his church, living in poverty and virginity.  She eventually became the abbess of a convent  and chapel was eventually constructed over the spring.

Saint Winefride’s Well

 

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St Winefride’s Well and Chapel, Holywell – By Tom Pennington – CC BY-SA 2.0

There is a tradition that Beuno left Holywell to live in Caernarvon and then went to Ireland.  Before he did so he seated himself upon a stone that now rests in the outer pool declaring that,

“whosoever on that spot should thrice ask for a benefit from God in the name of St. Winefride would obtain the grace he asked if it was for the good of his soul.” (1)

Winefride was said to have promised her uncle that as long as she lived at Holywell every year she would send him a token of her love.  Every year she would make him a sleeveless outer garment called a chasuble that Catholic priests wore when celebrating mass, or some other similar gift made from her own hand. This would be placed in the spring and the stream was said to carry the present to him wherever he was in the world.

When Beuno died about eight years later, Winefride, perhaps fearing the encroaching Saxons, sought a new refuge and with her companions moved to Gwytherin not far from the source of the River Elwy and joined a community of nuns established there.   She lived there as a nun  and an acknowledged saint on earth.  She  eventually became abbess and passed away on 3rd of November between 650 to 660.  Her grave became a place of pilgrimage and between 1136 to 1138 her remains were taken to Shrewsbury Abbey and translated.

Winefride became widely revered and Saint Winefride’s Well, at Holywell, became a popular place of pilgrimage.  It was said to have healing powers and called the Welsh Lourdes and is the only place in Britain that has an unbroken record of pilgrimage for over 1300 years.   Today the well is still open most days of the year and people still go there to bathe and there are daily and pilgrims services and Mass on Sundays. Further information can be found on the website of St. Winfride’s Well.

© 17/08/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright August the 17th, 2016 zteve t evans

The Legend of Saint Kenelm

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St Kenelm’s Church – Image by Geoff Gartside – CC BY-SA 2.0

The earliest known account of the legend of Saint Kenelm was given by a monk from Worcester named Wilfin a derivative of which was found in a manuscript from the 12th century at Winchcombe Abbey.  The legend tells how Kenelm inherited the throne of the English kingdom of Mercia as a young boy and fell victim to the jealousy of his sister  and was murdered by his guardian and became venerated throughout Anglo-Saxon England.

Quenhendra

When Coenwulf, King of Mercia died in AD 819 he left behind two daughters, Quendryda and Dornemilde and a seven-year-old son, named Kenelm who was his heir.  His sister, Dornemilde, loved him greatly and he loved her but Quendryda was jealous of her brother and wanted to be Queen and reign instead of him.   To this end, she brewed a poison and tricked her brother into taking it but the poison proved to have no effect on him at all and he remained hale and hearty.

Frustrated by her failure but still determined to  bring about her desire she hatched a plot with her brother’s guardian.  She gave him money and made him her lover and told him,

“Slay my brother for me, that I may reign’

and he being an evil man he agreed.

The Dream of Kenelm

One night Kenelm had a dream in which he climbed to the top of a huge tree brightly decorated with lanterns and flowers.  When he reached the top he looked out all around him and could see the four quarters of his kingdom.  As he looked he saw three of those quarters bow down before him, but the fourth quarter attacked the tree with an axe bringing it down.  As the tree crashed to the ground a white bird flew out of it safely out of it out of harm’s way.  When he awoke he told his dream to his nurse who was wise in such matters, but she wept and prayed for she knew the dream was an omen of his impending death.

The Murder of Kenelm

It so happened that an opportunity for this foul deed arose while Kenelm and Askeberd were out hunting in the Worcestershire forests.  As Kenelm and Askeberd passed the morning hunting Kenelm grew hot and very tired and told his guardian he would rest for a while under a tree.   He fell asleep and Askeberd set to task digging a grave ready for when he killed Kenelm.  When he was ready and about to do the awful deed Kenelm woke suddenly and told him,

You think to kill me here in vain, for I shall be slain in another spot. In token, thereof, see this rod blossom,’

and thrust his ash staff into the ground.  Instantly the staff took root and branches sprouted and leaves unfurled and it shot upwards to a great height and later became known as Kenelm’s Ash.

Askeberd was not impressed by this miracle and took the boy to the Clent Hills.  As Kenelm prepared himself for death by singing the Te Deum, a hymn of praise, Askeberd struck his head from his shoulders and buried him in a shallow grave he had scratched from the dirt.

Returning to Quendryda he told her the wicked deed had been done.  She then forbade anyone to  ever mention her brother’s name on pain of death hoping that his memory would fade quicker.  As Queen, she then turned to a life of evil and wantonness abandoning herself to the pleasures of the flesh.  For a long time, the body of her brother Kenelm lay hidden and forlorn in that lonely grave in the Clent Hills.

The White Cow

Nearby the grave lived a poor widow who had one white cow which she would leave to graze nearby every morning as many local people did.  Without fail, it would make its way to the spot where Kenelm was buried and lay down beside and not move to either eat or drink but would rise at dusk and make its way home as the other beasts did.  Although it never appeared to eat or drink it appeared to grow fatter and fuller and gave much more milk than any other cow.  The cow followed this routine for years and everyone in the area learned of the cow’s strange behavior and the place became known as Cowbach, or Cowbage.

The White Bird

One day a white bird was seen to fly from the spot where the cow would lie upon and flew all the way to Rome bearing a message for the Pope which said,

‘Low in a mead of kine under a thorn, of head bereft, lieth poor Kenelm king-born’.

The Pope read the message and immediately sent word to the Archbishop of Canterbury to instigate a search for Kenelm.  The Archbishop obeyed and formed a group of monks into a search party. When the search party came to the locality where Kenelm was secretly buried the local people, realizing that the mysterious cow was a sign of where to look showed the searchers the way.  The search party found the grave.  As they uncovered the body a fountain burst from the earth and formed into a fast flowing stream which sped off into the distance.  All who drank from that stream were refreshed and brought to glowing health.

The Burial of Kenelm

The searchers made a stretcher and carried the body of the boy king solemnly back to Winchcombe which at the time was the capital city of Mercia.   When they came to a ford over the River Avon the party was met by monks of Worcester Abbey who claimed the body which was disputed.   Between them, they decided that whosoever of them should wake first the next morning should have the body.  Rightfully this proved to be the monks of the Archbishop of Canterbury but despite the agreement the Worcester monks took to pursuing them forcing them to a hard and exhausting march to prevent their pursuers from catching them.

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St Kenelm’s Spring – Image by John M – CC BY-SA 2.0

It was a hard march and the monks carrying the body of Kenelm were struggled to maintain their lead but eventually they had to rest as they came in sight of Winchcombe Abbey.  Striking their staffs into the earth they were astonished to see a spring of cool clear water leap forth.  From this, they drank and refreshed themselves and feeling fully revitalized pressed on to the abbey.  As they neared the abbey the bells pealed out though no man had rung them.

At the time of Kenelm entering the abbey his sister, Quendryda was reading from a book and asked her servants why the bells were being rung.  On being told of her dead brother’s return she exclaimed,

‘If that be true may both my eyes fall upon this book!’  

As soon as she uttered these words both her eyes fell out of her head onto the book she was reading.

Not long after both she and her lover Askeberd died miserably and their bodies were thrown into a ditch,   The remains of Kenelm were buried with great honor and respect  and many churches were dedicated to him and the date of his feast day was set as  the 17th of July.

Accuracy of the Legend

The accuracy of the legend is open to question in many areas. There are many variations of the story and some historians think the available evidence points to Kenelm being about 25 years old when he died and it is recorded that Quendryda was actually the Abbess of Minster-in-Thanet when her father died.   Nevertheless, there still remain some very beautiful churches dedicated to Saint Kenelm and his spring can still be seen.

© 09/08/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright August 9, 2016 zteve t evans