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

Northumberland Folktales: Dunstanburgh Castle and the Ghost of Sir Guy the Seeker

dunstanburgh-castle-1900444_1920(1)

Pixabay – Dunstanburgh Castle by – tpsdave – CC0 Public Domain

Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle is now a ruined castle situated on a remote headland in Northumberland.  It is associated with many myths and legends and a spooky folktale concerning a good knight who becomes caught up in an endless search for a beautiful woman he once found asleep on a crystal plinth deep within the castle.

Although long ruined Dunstanburgh Castle is steeped in history and was once a garrison against the threat from Scotland and was fought over during the Wars of the Roses.  It was built by Earl Thomas of Lancaster early in the 1300s who was one of the richest men in England, very influential and for a few years after the Scottish defeated Edward at Bannockburn the effective ruler of England. He was one of the leaders of the barons in their opposition to King Edward II, who was also his first cousin and had served at his coronation.

Edward had a friend named Piers Gaveston who was a great favorite of his and this had caused resentment among some of the barons, including Thomas.  They had plotted together and had him executed which understandably angered the king. Thomas was involved in many other intrigues and Edward was out for revenge which he eventually got.  After leading a failed rebellion against Edward, Thomas was captured, tried and executed.

Secret Tunnels

Maybe because of its history,  remote location and the imposing look of its ruins a number of legends have grown up around the castle.  There is a long-standing local tradition that there is a network of tunnels running from the castle to some of the villages and hamlets nearby.   The tunnels were said to run to a number of cellars and barns where there were trap doors that let unknown men travel to and from the castle unseen.

The Legend of Sir Guy the Seeker

Perhaps the strangest legend about the castle is the story of Sir Guy the Seeker. A similar legend is found in other parts of Great Britain and M.G. Lewis in 1809 published a poem called Sir Guy, the Seeker, a poem based on the legend.  According to the legend, in the days when knights were virtuous and chivalrous there was a good knight named Sir Guy.  One evening he happened to be traveling nearby and as the sun was going down a storm began to brew in the darkening sky.  On hearing the rumble of thunder and as the rain began falling in torrents he looked around for shelter.  In the distance, he saw the jagged ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle black against the sky and decide to seek shelter there.

As he approached the ruins he realized they stood on a high cliff with their backs to the sea but could not see a path that led up to it.   With no way up and the rain lashing down he looked around for alternative shelter and found a cave.  He entered and took off his sodden cloak and jacket.  Inside it was dark and as his eyes grew accustomed he saw a softly glimmering light floating slowly towards him from down a passageway.  As the light came nearer it changed its appearance to form the terrifying figure of an ugly old warlock. “Follow if you dare ad you will find beauty beyond belief!,”  growled the warlock.

Although Sir Guy was alarmed at the apparition he was also intrigued and not without courage and followed the warlock along miles of dark damp passageways deep beneath the ground. There were many twists and turns and steps that went up and steps that ran down but at last, they came out in the very heart of Dunstanburgh Castle.  As he followed the warlock into the courtyard the night was dark and somber.  Looking around he saw an army of knights and cavalry asleep on the ground.

The Sleeper on the Crystal Plinth

Towards the center of the courtyard he saw a crystal plinth and reposed upon it seemingly fast asleep was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.  All around the plinth the most horrific images of skulls, skeletons, snakes and monsters were depicted.   To the left of the maiden lying alongside her was an ancient calling horn.  On the other side lay a sword.   The warlock beckoned Sir Guy over to the plinth and said, “The fate of the sleeper is in your hands.  You must choose either the horn or the sword to awaken her.  Choose now!”

The Choice of Sir Guy

Sir Guy had no idea which to chose and paced up and down trying to make his mind up.  At last, he went to the plinth picked up the horn and gave it a mighty blow.  The sound echoed around the courtyard and the knights awoke from slumber.  Drawing their swords they rushed at Sir Guy who expected death instantly as they struck at him.  Instead, the blades passed straight through him without marking or cutting his flesh and then he awoke outside the cave soaked through with the warlock standing over him saying, “Shame on you Sir Guy for choosing the horn.  A warrior would have chosen the sword!”  And then turned and vanished into the cave.

The Ghost of Sir Guy

From that day forward the legend says that Sir Guy lived a cursed life.   He became obsessed with the beautiful woman sleeping on the crystal plinth.  To try and mollify the shame he felt he spent the rest of his life searching the dark tunnels below Dunstanburgh Castle for her.   He never found her and was said to have died still searching for her.   The ghost of Sir Guy is said to be still wandering the ruins of the forlorn castle forever seeking out the sleeper on the crystal plinth in the hope of finding and rescuing her.

© 20/03/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright March 20th, 2017 zteve t evans

 

 

Cornish Folktales: The Witch of Treva

The following is a modified version of a Cornish folktale called The Witch of Treva from Popular Romances of the West of England  by Robert Hunt  revised and edited by zteve t evans

There was once a an old woman who was deeply skilled in the arts of necromancy and lived in a tiny hamlet called Treva in Cornwall.  She could make powerful, spells, incantations and charms and people in the neighborhood were terrified of her.

Nevertheless, although the local people held her in fear and awe her husband remained singularly unimpressed by her witchery and refused to believe in such things.  Instead he was more concerned about the housekeeping and the cooking especially when he came home from work when he would demand his dinner the instant he came in.

One day after a hard day’s work he came home looking forward to a good dinner which he expected to be cooked and ready, on the table for him to tuck into as soon as he walked through the door.  Imagine his shock and annoyance when he discovered there was no dinner.  In fact there was no meat, no vegetables or potatoes or any other kind of food in the house at all.

Read more

 

Canarian Folktales: The Legend of Gara and Jonay

La Gomera, view towards Teide

From Wikimedia Commons – La Gomera, view towards Mount Teide – Image by Tamara Kulikova – CC BY-SA 4.0

La Gomera

La Gomera is one of the seven Canary Islands which are an autonomous community of Spain situated to the west of Morocco in the Atlantic Ocean  The original inhabitants before the arrival of the Spanish were the Guanche people who were believed to be related to the Berber people of North Africa.   Although much of their culture has been lost some still exists and can be found in legends and traditions of the islands.  Roughly situated in the middle of the island is the Garajonay National Park which is a mountainous region of lush wild evergreen laurel forest. There is a folktale said to be of Guanche origin that tells how the Garajonay National Park was named after two lovers named Gara and Jonay.

The Legend of Gara and Jonay

Gara was a princess of Agula that was known as a place of water on La Gomera and looked across the sea to Mount Teide on Tenerife.  Jonay was a prince and the son of the Mencey of Adeje a ruler of Tenerife known as the place of fire.  This was because of the great volcano Mount Teide that the Guanches called Echeyde or Hell, that was situated on the the island.  Presented here is a retelling of the legend of Gara and Jonay garnered from several other versions.

Los Chorros de Epina

chorros_de_epina

From Wikimedia Commons – Chorros de Epina – Photo by Noemi M.M. – CC BY-SA 3.0

On La Gomera, there was a tradition that there were even places where magic waters could be found.  These waters had special properties beneficial to health and good fortune and were said to be able to foretell the future.   One such place was called Los Chorros de Epina which is a natural spring that local legend says has healing powers and can also reveal the future to an extent.  The spring water is fed through seven wooden tubes which turn the flow into seven jets of water each of which has different attributes.

According to tradition men should drink from the odd numbered jets starting from left to right and women should drink from the even numbered jets.  It was said the first two pipes were for health, the next two pipes were for love and the next two were for fortune. The seventh jet should only be used by witches.  It was a tradition that the Epina jets were visited by local girls to discover who their future husband or lover would be.  They would take a drink and look into the water. If it was clear they would meet their true love within one year.  However, if it appeared cloudy then the girl would not find a lover.

Princess Gara went to the jets and took a drink and looked into the water.   At first, she just saw her reflection in the clear water.  Then to her alarm, her face turned into a fiery ball like the sun and the water bubbled and hissed as steam rose and the flames tried to mix with the water.  This frightened her and she went to a wise man of the island named Gerián, to ask his advice.  He told her that this was a bad omen saying fire and water could not mix and warned her of trouble brewing in the future.

The Festival of Beñesmen

The festival of Beñesmen was a popular and important festival in the Canary Islands. The Mencey of Adeje, who was one of the kings from the neighboring island of Tenerife, visited La Gomera to take part in the celebrations and with him he brought his son, Prince Jonay.
There were many competitions taking place where the young men of the islands competed against each other, showing off their physical prowess to the girls hoping to impress them.  Jonay took part in many competitions and excelled in all and caught the eye of Gara who cheered him wildly.   Her cheering caught the eye of Jonay and as their eyes met they fell in love.

Every day Jonay would sail across to La Gomera from Tenerife to see Gara.  Their love blossomed and spent many happy hours together walking in the enchanted laurel forest.  After a time the two lovers asked their family for permission to marry which was gladly given and the engagement was publicly and formally announced and all the people rejoiced.

Fire and Water

During the night, Mount Teide the great volcano on Tenerife began sewing forth flame and lava.  A great plume of smoke rose high in the sky and the sea turned red as blood and bubbled and heaved.  As the volcano became increasingly fiery and the sea more dangerous the people grew afraid.  Gerián the wise man who Gara had asked for advice went to see her parents and told them of what she had told him of the vision at the Epina jets.  He warned them that fire and water cannot mix and told them about her relationship with Jonay.  Then he went to Tenerife to see the Mencey of Adeje and warned him of his son’s relationship with Gara.

The two families forbade their son and daughter to meet again.  The lovers were devastated and heartbroken but reluctantly obeyed their parents.   This appeared to satisfy the volcano which ceased spewing out lava and flame and as Mount Teide grew quiet the skies cleared and the seas became calm and the people were glad.

Despite the appeasement of the volcano Jonay could not get Gara out of his mind.  One night while his parents slept he stole down to the sea and tied two goatskins around his waist which he had inflated.  Plunging into the sea he swam from Tenerife to La Gomera in the night.  Gara was overjoyed to see him again and the two vowed that never again would they be parted.  Gara’s parents soon missed their daughter and began searching for her.  Realizing they had been discovered the two lovers fled through the tangled laurel forests of La Gomera until they reached the highest mountain.  The same morning in alarm, Gara’s father called out his army who quickly hunted the two runaways down and by evening had them surrounded.  The setting sun set the sky aglow turning the sea as red as blood.

A Vow of Love

Knowing they would be caught and forced to separate the two made a vow of love.  Jonay took his knife and cut a straight branch from one of the laurel trees and sharpened both ends.   The two lovers positioned the spike to press upon their hearts.  As the soldiers surrounding them advanced the two lovers pressed together in one final embrace and as the fiery sun sank into the bloodred ocean, fire and water became one.

© 07/03/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright March 7th, 2017 zteve t evans

Cherokee Folklore: The Strange Legend of Tsuwe’nähï and the Secret Town

pilotmtfromva8910

Pilot Mountain, North Carolina – Image Credit: Wahkeenah – Public Domain

In his book Myths of the Cherokee People (1902) the American ethnographer, James Mooney (1861-1921) compiled a large bank of folklore, legend, and mythology of the Cherokee people that provides a remarkable insight into how they viewed and made sense of the world around them.   Some of these legends tell of a secret or invisible tribe of Cherokees who live either inside Pilot Mountain or in some hidden valley only reached by passing a concealed entrance in the mountain’s side.  The following work is a rewrite of the legend called Tsuwe’nähï: A Legend of Pilot Knob from Mooney’s book that tells of these secret people and their hidden town.

Lazy Tsuwe’nähï

There was once a lazy man whose name was Tsuwe’nähï.  He lived in an old town called Känuga that was situated on the banks of the Pigeon River.  He was too lazy to build his own house so instead, he lived with friends and relatives moving frequently from one to another.   Although he liked to spend all of his time in the woods he never bothered to hunt to bring back game as thanks to those who kept him through their good nature.

At last the good nature of his friends and relatives ran thin and they tired of him living off their generosity and they told him so.  Tsuwe’nähï pleaded for a last chance and asked them to prepare some parched corn for him to take on a hunting trip.  He promised them he would bring back deer, or some other kind of game, telling them if he failed he would never bother them again.

So his friends and relatives gave him a pouch with enough corn to sustain him on his hunting trip and he headed off into the mountains.   Many days passed, and weeks turned to months but he did not return and everyone thought they would never see him again.  Then one day he appeared in the town with a strange tale to tell.

The Strange Tale of Tsuwe’nähï

He told his friends and relatives that he had followed the trail towards the mountains and as he passed across a ridge he had met a stranger.  They greeted each other in a friendly fashion and stopped to talk to each other.  The stranger asked him where he was going out in the wilds on his own.   Tsuwe’nähï told him that his friends had relatives had driven him out of their homes telling him he was lazy.  He told him that he must bring back game to share with them or they would not have him back and ruefully he explained he was not a very good hunter.  The stranger smiled at him and said, “Come and visit my town. It is not far and you will see that you have relatives and friends there.”

The Secret Town on Pilot Mountain

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Big Pinnacle of Pilot Mountain – Image Credit:AnDrew McKenzie – CC BY-SA 3.0

Tsuwe’nähï was very grateful for the offer.  He was ashamed about how he had lived off his family and friends for so long and did not want to return empty handed, so he accepted.  The stranger led him towards the mountain called Tsuwa`tel’da which is also known as Pilot Mountain or Pilot Knob.   Eventually, they came to a bare rock face and the stranger led him to a hidden cave and gestured and said, “Please follow me!”

Tsuwe’nähï followed the stranger into the cave and down along a passage that ran into the heart of the mountain,  Eventually the passage opened out into a wide and beautiful valley. Looking down into the valley Tsuwe’nähï saw a great town thronged with many people.

Tsuwe’nähï and the stranger walked down the valley towards the town.  The townsfolk seeing him coming ran to meet him greeting him in warmth and friendship and showed him to the house of their chief.   The chief greeted him warmly and told him he was welcome and offered him a seat beside the fire.  Tsuwe’nähï gladly accepted and sat down but was surprised to find the seat moved underneath him.  Then he looked down and saw there was a turtle’s head poking out of its shell and realized he was seated upon the back of a huge turtle and jumped up in surprise.

“It’s alright,” said the chief, “he is only looking to see who you are!”   Tsuwe’nähï sat down gently and carefully and the turtle drew its head back into its shell. He was then offered food the kind of which he was accustomed to and he was encouraged to eat and drink his fill.  When he had finished the chief took him on a tour around the settlement and introduced him to many of its people.  Eventually, Tsuwe’nähï grew tired and was allowed to rest.  After he had rested the chief led him back to the mouth of the cave he had entered the strange country from and showed him the path that led back to the river telling him,  “Although you are going back to the place you call home you will never again be happy there. Nevertheless, you have seen us and whenever you are ready you can come to us as you now know where we are.”

Tsuwe’nähï Returns Home

The chief turned and left. Tsuwe’nähï made his way back down the mountain path towards the river following it until he found his way back to Känuga.  On his return, he told his story to his family and friends but none of them would believe him and laughed calling him foolish.   After his return, he would often go off alone into the forest sometimes being away for several days at a time.  When he came back he would tell folk he had been visiting the hidden people on Pilot Mountain but still, no one believed him.

Then one day after returning from such a trip he told a group of friends about his visit to the hidden people.   Most laughed at dismissed his story and walked away but one man stayed and told him he believed him and would like to go with him to see for himself the next time he visited the hidden people on Pilot Mountain.

At Last Someone Believes Him

Tsuwe’nähï was pleased that he had, at last, found someone who would listen to him and readily agreed to his company. A few days later he took the man into the forest and the two of them made their way to Pilot Mountain.    After a good trek, they decided to make rest and Tsuwe’nähï said to his companion to remain at the spot and set up camp while he went on ahead telling him he would soon return.

So his friend set up camp and waited for the return of his guide.  While he waited he did some hunting and set up a fire to cook his game.  After two days and two nights the man heard  Tsuwe’nähï approaching but although he appeared to be alone he was talking to someone else close by him.  Although he could see no one the man heard the voices of two girls who were talking to Tsuwe’nähï and he to them.

As Tsuwe’nähï stepped into the firelight he greeted his friend and said,  “Look I have returned with friends and they say that in two nights time there will be a dance at their town and they are inviting us to go.”  

His friend liked the idea of a dance at the strange town and readily accepted even though he could not see who else he was talking to.   Then Tsuwe’nähï spoke as if to someone nearby saying, “He accepts and thanks you for the invitation” and turned to his friend and said, “Our sisters ask for some venison”

His friend said, “What parts would they like?” and the girls said,  “Mother has asked us to request ribs,” and although he could not see who was speaking he cut them generous portions of ribs and handed them to Tsuwe’nähï.

“Thank you,” said Tsuwe’nähï taking the ribs and said, “We shall return for you in two days,”  and then turned about and disappeared into the forest night.  The man watched him disappear and listened as the voices faded into the forest and then all was quiet.

Just as he said two days later Tsuwe’nähï returned but this time the man could see he was accompanied by two girls who went and stood by the fire to warm themselves.  The man thought they were very handsome girls but one thing struck him as strange.  He noticed that their feet were not like human feet but more like the paws of a wolf.  As soon as they realized he had seen their feet they sat down to cover them up but said nothing about them and he decided out of politeness not to ask.

The party ate a meal together and then set out along a nearby creek to the trail that led to Tsuwa`tel’da and the hidden land.  They came to a bare cliff face where they entered a cave that was hidden by folds in the rock.  They made their way down a passage which opened up into a broad valley and walked down the path to the town below.  The man was surprised by everything he saw but found his legs became very weak and began to give way under him and he fell to the ground.

Tsuwe’nähï and the girls tried to help him to him to his feet but he could not move so one of the girls ran and fetched a medicine man.  The medicine man told him he could not walk because he had not prepared himself by fasting.  He then took out some old tobacco he kept in a pouch at his side and rubbed it on the legs of the man and placing it under his nose told him to smell it.  After this, the man was able to walk and went with others to the dance which had not yet begun.

The Dance

Tsuwe’nähï took his friend to the townhouse and gave him a seat close to the fire.  His friend looked warily at the seat.  It was covered in the long thorns of the honey locust and he was worried they may pierce his skin if he sat on it.  However, his Tsuwe’näh told him it would be safe to sit on so he sat down and found the long thorns soft and comfortable.

The drummer entered the townhouse and was followed by the dancers and the dancing commenced.  A man followed the dancers around crying, “Kû! Kû!” and Tsuwe’nähï explained that he was not one of the dancers.  He told him that the man had once got lost in the mountains and had gone round in circles calling out to his friends.  Eventually, the hidden people found him and took him in but he had lost his voice and was only able to say “Kû! Kû!” ever after.

Return to Känuga

When the dance finished Tsuwe’nähï and his friend went back to Känuga.  They told the people of Känuga all about the town on Pilot Mountain and how good and kind the townsfolk were.  This time because there were two of them the people listened and some said they wanted to go there.  Tsuwe’nähï told them that they had to fast for seven days while he went up to Pilot Mountain to tell the hidden people so that they could prepare for their coming.  After seven days he returned and led the people of Känuga who wanted to go to the town on Pilot Mountain.  The people who remained behind never saw those who went with Tsuwe’nähï to the secret town again.

© 22/02/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 22nd, 2017 zteve t evans

North American Mythology: The First Hummingbird

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Hovering male rufous hummingbird – Image by Ryan Bushby(HighInBC) – CC BY 2.5

In her book, The Book of Nature Myths (1904) Florence Holbrook collected over fifty traditional Native American myths and legends many of which tell of the origin of how things came to be.   What follows is a rewrite of The Story of the First Hummingbird.

The Great Fire Mountain

In a time when the earth was still young and growing there were two hunters in the forest searching for game.  They had followed the trail of a deer for many days and had traveled a great distance from their village, much further than they or any other villager had ever been before.  When evening came and the sun began to slowly sink and darkness fell all around them they stopped to rest for the night.  Huddling together for warmth they looked out over the western sky and saw a bright light glowing in the distant darkness, flickering, red, yellow and orange.

“What can that be?” said one.

“It must be the moon,” said the other.

“Surely not.  We have seen many moons and we have seen it round and full and we have seen its shapes and it is not like we have seen before.  Could it be the northern lights?”

“We have seen the northern lights and they are not like this,” replied the other.

“Whatever can they be?” said the other.

“Perhaps it is the fire of the Great Spirit and maybe he is cooking?” one asked.

“Perhaps he is angry with us and will punish us with flames!” said the other.

With nothing else to be done until sunrise, they sat up all night watching as the lights flickered red, yellow and orange in the western sky.  At sunrise, they were astonished to see flames of red, yellow and orange flickering on the distant horizon and thick plumes of dark, blue smoke rising high into the clear blue sky.   They had no idea what the flickering flames could be so they decided they would go and see.  As they drew near they could see the flames and the smoke more clearly and saw they were rising from the crest of a steep mountain way off in the distance.

“It looks like a great mountain of fire, what shall we do?” said one.

“Let’s go a bit closer and see more,” said the other.

So they trekked on until they came so close they could see fire leaping out of splits in the mountainside and flickering around its peak like a fiery crown.

“It is a mountain of fire!  This will be of great help to our people.  Let’s go on,” said one,

They came to the foothills and climbed steadily up the sides of the fiery mountain until they stood right on its to top and looked down into its center and saw a sea of red hot molten rock with flames dancing across it.

One turned to the other and said, “We have discovered the secret of the fire mountain and our people will be so glad to have this.  Let us now go and tell them.”  Quickly, they made their way down the mountain and back through the forest to their village.

 “We have been far, much further than anyone else had ever been from the village and we have discovered a wonderful secret,” said one excitedly to the people who gathered around to greet their return.

“We have discovered the secret of where the Fire Spirit has her home.  We have found where the flames are kept that warm the children of the Great Spirit,” continued the other.

“We have found the fire mountain where the flames dance and the blue smoke rises day and night and at its top there lies a lake of fire and molten rock.  Come with us and we will lead you there,” said the first.

“And we shall never be cold again and always have a flame to cook with!” said the second.

The people were glad to hear this for they suffered greatly in the cold and snow of winter and needed flame to cook their game.  They all agreed it would be a wonderful thing to go and live on the Fire Mountain so they packed up their belongings and made ready to leave.

The two hunters led their people to the foot of the mountain of fire where they set up their village and were glad.  The Fire Spirit looked down and saw them come and was glad for them for she was a kindly spirit.  She knew they would benefit greatly from her fire when the hard, bleak,  months of winter came.  The people lived for many years at the foot of the mountain and gave thanks to the beneficence of the Fire Spirit who gave her flames to stop them perishing in the winter and to cook their food with.

The Dance of the Flames

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Image Attribution Dr. Carlos Costales Terán [CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Many moons passed and the people lived happily in their village at the foot of the Fire Mountain.  Often on summer evenings the children would gaze up to its summit and watch in wonder as the great flames flickered and danced and lit up the night sky and would ask,

“Father, what are the beautiful lights that dance upon the mountain top?” and the father would answer,  “The mountain is the home of the Fire Spirit and it is her flames that dance around the mountain top.  She is our friend gives us her flames to warm us in winter and for us to cook by.”  With that, the children would settle down and sleep safely and gently until dawn.

One night the flames on the mountain danced themselves into a frenzy leaping and jumping upon the molten lake like warriors dancing a great war dance.  In their excitement, they caught hold of great rocks and threw them high in the air.  Great plumes of blues smoke issued from from cracks and gaps that appeared on the mountain and billowed into the sky blackening out the moon and stars.  From deep within the mountain, the throbbing, beating sound of drums shook the ground and the flames danced wildly, higher and higher. In their frenzy, they left the fiery lake at the center of the mountain summit and ran wildly down the mountainside.

The gentle Fire Spirit was alarmed at her excited children and called to them, “Quiet now, calm yourselves, you will frighten the people of the village.  They will not understand that you are just dancing!”

The flames continued dancing wildly and were too excited to listen.  They ran down the mountainside burning flowers and trees and anything else that was in their path. They drove the animals away and hunted them in the woods below and frightened the birds causing them to take to the air.  Burning rivers of molten rock and flame annihilated all that stood in the way.  The Fire Spirit begged and pleaded with them to stop but they would not and headed towards the village.

In the village, all slept soundly unaware of the danger, but the acrid smell of the smoke awoke one of the warriors who looked out and saw the danger.  Crying out warnings he quickly roused the villagers.  In fear, the terrified villager quickly abandoned the village and ran into the forest as the flames descended upon their settlement and greedily ate the homes they had grown to love.

Thankfully all the villagers escaped into the forest unharmed though still terrified.  They huddled together and debated what they should do.  The two hunters said they would go up to the mountaintop and see what could be seen and they set off.  When they returned, they shook their heads sadly and one said, “All the flowers are burnt.  All the grass is burnt.  All the trees are burnt and the birds and animals have fled.  Nothing lives on or around the mountain.”

The other said, “It is bare and burnt nothing can live on or near the Fire Mountain.  The Fire Spirit is still there as her flames can be seen in the cracks and the fissures and smoke still rises, though it is much lighter.  We think the Fire Spirit will never again be our friend.”

The Hummingbird is Born of Flame

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Female rufous hummingbird – Photo Credit: Peter Pearsall/USFWS – CC BY 2.0

The Great Spirit looked down and saw what damage the flames had done and he was angry.  “The flames must perish.  No longer will they dance and flicker in the night sky!”

The gentle Fire Spirit trembled for her wayward children.  “Great Spirit have mercy upon them!  It is true they grew wild and out of control, but they know not what they do.  They have burnt the flowers and grass, burnt the trees and driven away the birds and the animals and frightened off your own children and ate their village.  They have been cruel and unkind but they know not what they did.  

For many, many moons, in the coldness of winter, they have given their flames so the people and their children would not perish of cold and they could cook their food.  For many moons, they listened to me and were of great benefit to your children on earth, but in the wildness of their dance, they lost control.  How will your people keep warm and cook if the flames die completely from the earth?”

The Great Spirit heard the pleas of the gentle Fire Spirit and thought for a while but then said, “The flames must perish.  They lost control and were cruel to my children and they and their little children now fear them.  I hear what you say and the flames will not be lost entirely and they will still warm the people.  Because the people once loved them and because they know not what they did, the beauty of the flames shall live and warm and gladden the hearts of whoever looks upon them.”

Taking up his war-club the Great Spirit struck the top of the mountain a mighty blow.  The fires flickered and faded and the smoke slowly vanished and all the flames shrank slowly to condense into one small shining, flickering flame.  It was of such purity and glory and in its heart of hearts one tiny flame flicked with brilliant intensity.  The Great Spirit looked upon what he had done and was pleased.  It was looked like a star from the night sky but much brighter and much more beautiful.

“Although the fire of the mountain must perish this gentle flame shall have wings to fly and all my children will love her as I do myself!”  Thus, spoke the Great Spirit and from the mountain, a tiny bird fluttered up and hovered briefly.  Then it flew swiftly from the mountain into the blue sky.   As the sunshine caught upon its feathers they flickered, red, gold, orange and yellow and all the wonderful colors of the flame flickered from the bird.
So it was from the heart of the fiery mountain the bird of flame called the hummingbird was born and all the children of the Great Spirit that walk upon the earth rejoice whenever they see it.

© 12/07/2016 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright zteve t evans

Sacred Texts – THE BOOK OF NATURE MYTHS BY FLORENCE HOLBROOK [1904] – THE STORY OF THE FIRST HUMMINGBIRD

 

Petrification Myths: Saints, Snakes and Ammonites

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Asteroceras, a Jurassic ammonite from England – Image by Dlloyd – CC BY-SA 3.0

Petrification Myths

There are many petrification myths where people, or living things, are turned to stone for various reasons.  In legend and folklore this often occurs through the action of some powerful individual such as witches by sorcery, or by saints calling upon God, or by some other form of divine intervention when rules have been transgressed.  In the examples that follow it is divine intervention called down by St Hilda and St Keyne that turn snakes into stone to end their infestation of religious sites. The proof of these miraculous events was seen in the existence of what appears to look like petrified snakes coiled up and found naturally in certain places such as Whitby in Yorkshire that was associated with St. Hilda and Keynsham in Somerset, associated with St. Keyne.   In fact these stone snakes were not snakes at all but fossils known as ammonites.  Presented here is a brief description of ammonites followed by the legends of how Saint Hilda and Saint Keyne cleared their respective religious sites of snakes by turning them to stone.

Ammonites

The name” ammonite” comes from the Egyptian god Ammon, or Amun, who was often represented wearing tightly coiled ram’s horns.  These type of fossils are usually found in tightly coiled spirals, which are indeed,  similar to ram’s horns though usually smaller.  The size of the ammonites varies depending on the period they originated in and with species. Ammonites are extinct marine mollusks that died out millions of years ago and look very much like coiled, headless stone snakes after they became fossilized.  Sometimes they were called Snakestones and there was a belief that if they were broken, inside a headless, coiled snake would be found.

People found them in, or on the ground and along the beaches, in riverbeds and many other places and generally regarded them with superstition.   Sometimes they believed they had magical or healing properties and many strange and wonderful stories were told of their supposed origin.  In the early days of human existence, people did not know where they came from and many myths and legends evolved around them.  Up until the middle of the eighteenth century, the origin of fossils was the subject of myth and conjecture.   It was not until the 19th century that scientific research began to unravel the secret of their origins.

St. Hilda

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St. Hilda monument detail in Whitby. Note ammonites at feet – Image by Wilson44691 – CC0

Among fossil collectors, Whitby Beach is a prime site for finding ammonites. A local legend tells how the Saxon abbess named St. Hilda (614-680 A.D.) rid an area of snake infested ground to found an abbey upon.   For the early Christian church the idea of sharing their sacred ground with snakes was abhorrent because of their connection with Satan, so the site had to be purged before the building of the abbey could take place.  According to the legend, after St. Hilda prayed the snakes began to coil up.  She then used a whip she cut their heads off and their coiled up bodies petrified into stone and she threw these over the cliffs where they landed on the beaches of Whitby and can still be found to this day.

For a long time, local people have carved snake heads on the petrified bodies to make them look more realistic.  They have then been sold as mementos, souvenirs or charms and are still sold today. The favorite type of ammonite used for this was Hildoceras named after St. Hilda, and Dactylioceras.

St. Keyne

St. Keyne lived in the 5th century and is known by several names including Keane, Kayane,  Cenau, Cenedion, Ceinwen. She was a daughter of King Brychan of Brycheiniog in South Wales.  Some say King Brychan had twelve daughters while another source claims he had twenty-four, all of whom were said to be saints.

She was said to possess great beauty and was much sought after in marriage but instead decided to pursue her religion and took a vow of virginity.  The Church of St Keyne, in the village of St Keyne in Cornwall, is also associated with her and has a magnificent stained glass window featuring her holding an ammonite.  There is also a holy well that takes its name from her.

She is also associated with Keynsham, near Bristol, which has a legend that St. Keyne turned all the snakes in the area to stone.  Ammonite fossils are often found in the red sandstone of the area.   In Wales, in Brecon cathedral, she is depicted with ammonite-like snakes all around her.

Saints, Snakes, and Ammonites

The idea of ammonites being snakes that were turned to stone by these saints praying to God may be seen as illustrative of Satan, who is often represented by the snake, being defeated by the power of God through his agents on earth, St Hilda and St Keyne. In those days people had no idea where ammonites came from, or what they really were. It may be that using ammonites and their resemblance to coiled snakes as examples that can be found naturally to emphasize the power of God, may have seemed like a good strategy and indeed, it probably was.

© 01/02/2016 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 2nd, 2017 zteve t evans

Cruel Coppinger the Cornish Smuggler

First Published on the #FolkloreThursday, web site, February 17th, 2016 under the title: Cornish Smugglers:  The Notorious Cruel Coppinger

Cruel Coppinger

One of the most extraordinary and fearsome figures in Cornish folklore and legend was Cruel Coppinger.  He is thought by many to have been a real person who attained semi-legendary status from his brutal, criminal behaviour and leadership of a ruthless band of smugglers and pirates.

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Pixabay – Image by natureworks – CC0 Public Domain

Shipwreck

According to Cornish legend Coppinger was himself a victim of a shipwreck by a massive storm wrecked his ship off the Cornish coast. As was the practice the local people gathered at the shore to see what they could claim when the storm died down. They watched the doomed vessel sinking and the lightning flashes revealed the dark figure of a huge man leaping from the ship and striding through the wild waves to the shore.  On reaching the shore he grabbed the cloak from an old woman, roughly shoving her to the floor and then leapt on the back of a horse a young woman had ridden down to the shore.  With her still sat on the horse and him behind her shouting furiously in some unknown language, the terrified steed fled and naturally made its way to its home with them both on its back.

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