There are many cases in recent times where towns and villages have been deliberately flooded by humans where a change in the landscape was required for purposes such as to form a reservoir for fresh water. These are usually well-documented and their history known though folklore and legends may evolve from them.
All around the world there are also legends of towns, cities and lands that have been destroyed or lost, leaving only rumor and myths of their existence and demise. Many such places were rich and successful, well established and populous, making their loss all the more tragic and mystifying. These legends often tell of a catastrophic natural event such as a flood caused by high tides, storms or perhaps covered by sand or snow. Sometimes it is some geological phenomenon such as an earthquake and sometimes this is combined with a natural event or act of war. The loss of such well-established and prosperous places left a deep impression on following generations. Myths and legends evolved to explain the cataclysmic event and very often these were carefully crafted to provide a warning to following generations of the consequences of breaking God’s laws or their excessive pride or hubris.
Myth of Origin
These places were very often situated on a site that became transformed by a disastrous natural event in t a new feature of the landscape. An inland town situated in a valley may be covered by a watery lake. A town situated by the sea may be flooded and drowned by the waves or covered by sand becoming a massive dune. A town in the mountains may be covered by snow and ice becoming a glacier. The story created to explain the disaster may be mostly fictional but based on some historic cataclysm like a powerful storm, earthquake or other natural disaster that actually happened. Sometimes these myths and legends can help archaeologists and scientists investigate real disasters that happened long ago. In some cases such disasters are well documented from the time but the legends and myths evolve after.
These events when combined with the mysterious origin of some well known feature in the landscape create a compelling story that can have a profound and lingering effect on those it is told to. Especially when the narrator is a local priest or who uses the story to impress upon their audience the consequences of offending the Almighty. Although such myths and legends are often designed to uphold Christianity, other religions and philosophies have also used such techniques for this purpose. In some case it is pagan deities or spirits that have been angered in some way by rulers or citizens. Although warnings may be given they are ignored invoking the wrath of the powerful divinity to wreak some form of divine retribution.
Once divine retribution is invoked the fate of the town is sealed. Often it unfolds as a weather event such a rain, sand or snow storm. Once divine retribution manifests the end is inevitable. All that will remain will be the myths and legends of a once rich and prosperous society that was drowned, buried or destroyed along with most of its population. Perhaps a lake or some other feature of the landscape appears where the town once stood.
From this a talented storyteller can weave a tale that will work quietly among following generations for centuries that impresses and extols the danger of angering the all powerful deity. In this way a naturally occurring catastrophic event such as a storm or earthquake may be transformed into something altogether more sinister and in many ways more dangerous. Very often it becomes the judgement of God that is dispensing retribution for wrongdoing on an immoral and corrupt society. This and similar themes are quite common in these legends. Warnings of impending retribution and vengeance are offered in an attempt to change people’s behaviour but are ignored. Punishment is inflicted often destroying that society in its entirety not just the perpetrators. Sometimes a few are saved but often the innocent perish along with the guilty.
There is a concept of collective guilt that runs through generations until some chosen time when punishment is enacted. Sometimes vengeance is suspended for several generations and the deviant behaviour forgotten by people. Sometimes it becomes part of normal behaviour. Nevertheless, the Almighty works at his own pace and punishment eventually arrives when least expected with devastating consequences. This does seem harsh on those who were not born when the original sin was committed but it seems there is an expectation to strive to recognize and put right the wrongs of the past. The message is that the sins of one, even when committed in the past, must not be tolerated either at the time, or perpetuated in the future. What is sown will eventually be reaped in a time and in a way that suits the Almighty. This obligation to right and discontinue past wrongs does not mean that they be wiped from history or that they should be. It is important to keep records of such wrongs and our attempts to right them to monitor our own evolution and to make sure we do not make the same mistakes again.
The All-Seeing Eye
There is a sense that the individual and collective behaviour of people is being watched by some all-seeing eye. It sees and knows all our deeds and looks into our hearts and minds making judgements upon us. Legends such as these warn that we are always being watched and judged and even our innermost thoughts are known to the Almighty. They emphasize we must remember and obey the laws of God and will be held answerable for any transgressions at anytime in the present or future no matter how long ago the indiscretion. Furthermore, we have a collective responsibility that runs through the past, present and future to keep ourselves and others in society on the straight and narrow. The message is the all-seeing eye sees everything and in a manner and time that suits the Almighty we will reap what we sow and then –
The fabled Firebird from Russian and Slavic mythology and folklore is a magical, mysterious bird, both rare and elusive and the inspiration of many folk and fairy tales. Its plumage is the color of red, yellow and orange flames of fire or maybe like the setting or rising of the sun.
According to tradition it appears from the east lighting up the sky causing all the creatures of the world to fall silent in deference to its glory. The Firebird appears in many stories as a blessing and a bearer of good fortune but it can also be a harbinger of doom for those of a wicked disposition. However, for Alexis, the hero of this story, the finding of the feather of the Firebird is the catalyst for inner growth and strength. He is sent on a journey completing a set of difficult tasks bringing out his own inner resources to win through. In doing so he rises from lowly beginnings to a prominent position in the world.
Finding the Feather
In this story our hero is a young man who despite being rather naive is true of heart and courageous and it is he who finds the feather. For those who find a feather of the Firebird great changes befall them. To pick it up sets off a life changing chain of events putting their life at risk and bringing them real fear. When Alexis finds the feather he does not listen to the warning of his horse of power and decides to pick it up and take it to the Tsar. From then on his problems snowball and for the first time he begins to experience real fear.
The Firebird is usually said to represent the whole truth, or enlightenment of the world. Princess Vasilisa represents love. The finding of a single feather from the Firebird represents the finding of a single grain of truth. If the whole truth is desired then the whole Firebird must be sought to gain enlightenment. The Tsar is not satisfied with a feather but demands the whole truth, represented by the Firebird and sends Alexis to bring it back. Yet, he is not satisfied with the whole Firebird and demands love in the form of Princess Vasilisa. Again, he sends Alexis to find her but does nothing himself to win her love.
Although the Tsar seeks enlightenment and love he never does anything himself to find either and consequently never finds them. Enlightenment comes from the experience gained from completing the journey and the tasks of the quest and love is earned by the way others are treated along the way, yet he never learns this.
Animal Helper – The Horse of Power
As with other Firebird stories our hero has a wise animal and magical helper who accompanies him on the quest. In, The Feather and the Firebird, the magical animal helper is a horse of power who has the gift of speech and foresight and is named Perdun.
Perdun warns against picking up the feather, which is only a small part of the truth. The horse is important to our hero as it represents his own natural wisdom – his gut instinct which he suppresses. It is the suppression of his inner instinct that gets him into trouble in the first place. As he learns to listen to and trust his horse of power, or gut instinct, he at last triumphs.
So when our hero embarks on his quest at the command of the Tsar who is not satisfied with part of the truth but craves the whole truth the Tsar is making a huge mistake. He does not experience the journey and the hardships so he remains none the wiser, but the hero through the trials on his journey learns the whole truth and the world is his. On the way he finds love while the stay-at home Tsar never does.
While the Tsar ends up with death the hero is rewarded with marriage to Princess Vasilisa and becomes the new Tsar, His own inner resources have grown to the point where he recognizes that the Firebird, like the truth and enlightenment, is something that cannot be caged and sets it free to roam the world as it should. Perhaps one day, somewhere, someone else will find one of its feathers and embark on their own journey of discovery.
Beowulf was originally written in Anglo-Saxon times as a poem in Old English by an anonymous writer. It tells the story of its heroic protagonist, Beowulf, who embodies the much revered Anglo-Saxon qualities of strength, courage, heroism and virtuous behaviour. It is these qualities, blended with fictional, legendary and historical elements that make Beowulf the ideal role model for the Anglo-Saxon warrior aristocracy. Presented her is a retelling of the story after his arrival in Denmark to his triumphant return to Geatland drawn from the sources below.
Beowulf comes of Age
The story of Beowulf begins in a part of Scandinavia called Geatland that was a land of tall mountains, narrow valleys and a long rugged coastline. It was populated by a brave and virtuous people called the Geats who were ruled over by King Hygelac and his wife Queen Hygd, the Wise and Fair.At regular times King Hygelac would call his earls and warriors to his great hall for feasting and drinking. These were popular and events that brought together his people from distant parts and helped bond his nation to him and each other. At these events the stories of their valour and that of their of their ancestors were told by the bards and sometimes one of them might be called upon to tell of a heroic deed they had performed. Young Beowulf would sit in the great hall taking in all of the stories. He was the son of the king’s sister who from a very young age had caught the eye of his uncle for his physical stature and strength.
One night a great feast was held in the king’s hall and all of the bravest and renowned warriors and noble of Geatland gathered to enjoy the festivities. As the evening progressed, King Hygelac stood up and introduced a visiting minstrel, whom he named as The Wanderer, and asked him to sing a song.The minstrel brought a stool before the king and sat down and began to play his harp. He sang of the wild northern lands and of the forbidden mountains that were home to beasts and demons far more dangerous than any of those found in Geatland. He told of terrible dragons and of their slaying by brave men and he told of the sea serpents and wild things of the sea.
The Song of Grendel
The song of The Wanderer began to change and took on a darker and more disturbing tone. It told of King Hrothgar of Denmark and of the terrible calamity that had struck that land. He sang of a demon that was part animal, part man and part all terrible creatures and the name of the demon was Grendel. He told how Grendel had appeared one fearful night, twelve years ago after a great feast in the great hall of King Hrothgar that was called Hereot. After all had ate and drank their fill and the king and queen retired to their own apartments his earls and warriors lay asleep in the great hall. As they had lain peacefully sleeping unaware of any pending peril, Grendel had come and forced aside the great door and carried away thirty of the sleeping earls, murdering and devouring them.
This had caused great sorrow throughout the land and although there had been many attempts to kill Grendel he violently defeated and killed all of his attackers showing no mercy at all.Now no one dared to sleep in the great hall of Heorot because Grendel often visited it and wreaking his havoc wherever it was in use. He has killed most of the young and vigorous warriors of the Danes who has dared to stand up to him and now all that remained were defenseless women, children and the elderly. Beowulf was now completely taken with the song and a fire sprang up in him lighting up his blue eyes. As he listened he knew what he must do. Springing from his seat he thumped the table shouting,
“My King and Queen and earls of Geatland, in days gone by King Hrothgar of Denmark was the friend of Ecgtheow my father in his hour of need. I, Beowulf, the son of Ecgtheow, will slay Grendel for King Hrothgar in thanks for his friendship to my father and the glory of Geatland!”
The Wanderer stopped his song and throughout the hall a silence fell. King Hygelac stood up and commanded silence and turning to Beowulf said in a voice that all could hear,
“Beowulf your time has come to prove yourself. You have been blessed with the strength and vitality of thirty men and you should use your powers to help everyone. Hrothgar, our friend and neighbor has great need. Go now to Denmark and prove yourself and slay Grendel!”
King Hygelac ordered that Beowulf should be given suitable equipment for his purpose and told him to choose fourteen comrades to accompany him. These should be such as Beowulf, young men who had come of age and in need of proving themselves.At last suitable equipped and attired the company made their way to the harbour where a ship had been prepared. At sunrise the next day Beowulf and his company set sail on their great adventure.
Their voyage across the sea was not to be an easy one as they sailed into a great storm. At last they came safely through and arriving on the shores of Denmark they pushed their ship up a beach. There they met an old man who welcomed them and showed them the path to the great hall of King Hrothgar of Denmark and promised to stray and guard their ship until their return.
The Hall of King Hrothgar
Beowulf and his company followed the path through dense forest for many miles until the came into a long valley. At the far end of the valley stood the once fair hall of Heorot. As they passed through the valley they saw the deserted farms and the homes of the people while all around there hung the stench of death like the very land rotted. There was no sign of humans so Beowulf led his company onwards towards the great hall. until at last came to it gates.
Three times Beowulf knocked upon the gates and at last a frightened gatekeeper appeared and nervously asked what business they had at the hall. Beowulf requested the man go to King Hrothgar telling him that a band of warriors from Geatland had arrived wishing to speak to him and were asking for food and lodging.
The gatekeeper hurried off and presently Beowulf saw the king approach in the company of a band of elderly warriors. King Hrothgar was now an old man himself with a full beard of flowing white and eyes that told of days of fear and sorrow. As he approached he opened his arms wide saying,
“Welcome strangers, I can see by your bearing you are friends and here on some errand to my sad and unhappy kingdom. Therefore, speak of your errand and who you so that I may help you as I can.”
Stepping forward Beowulf loudly proclaimed, “I am Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow whom you befriended and KIng Hygelac of Geatland is my uncle. We come to Denmark to slay the demon called Grendel and free you from his terror.”
Then Hrothgar looked long and hard at him and said, “Ecgtheow was my friend and brother-in-arms. You and your friends are very welcome in Denmark but I warn you Grendel comes often to Heorot and is hungry for young men to devour. Now come rest and tonight for the first time in twelve years there will be feasting in Heorot and Queen Wealhtheow the Beautifulwill pass to you the drinking-horn as is our tradition of friendship.”
For the first time in twelve years the great hall of Heorot was made ready for a great feast and fires were lit cooking meats of every kind. When all was ready the king and queen arrived followed by a great company and took their seats in the hall according to rank. Their number had been greatly diminished by Grendel and now it was mostly old men who sat with the king and queen. It was not a very joyful atmosphere for fear dwelt in the hearts of all those present of the evil of Grendel.
King Hrothgar sat at the head of the assembly with Queen Wealhtheow the Beautiful. In a place of honour below the king sat Beowulf. Beside him on the right his right sat Aescher the king’s most trusted advisor. Next to him on his left sat Unferth, whom The Wanderer had sang about that night in Geatland in his uncle’s hall. At the word of the King the feast began and as the drinking-horns were passed around many oaths were uttered encouraging the slaying of Grendel. It was only Beowulf’s company of Geat warriors that were joyful and as the drink flowed they began boasting of the prowess and courage of Beowulf.Aescher endorsed their praises of their leader but Unferth became increasingly sullen and silent never offering a single word of praise as was the Danish custom.
Beowulf noticed this and turning to him said, “You keep very quiet Unferth, the son of Ecglaf, tell us of your deeds of valor that we may give praise to you. Come, tell us and then I can drink from the cup with you!”
At this Unferth stood up and slamming his fist on the table cried, “Beowulf! Who is this Beowulf but a beardless boy who stands before us telling us he will save us from Grendel? Who are the beardless boys who accompany him over the sea? Does anyone think that what so many good Danes have failed this stripling will succeed? Let him and his friends return to Geatland instead of laughing at our sorrow and loss!”
Beowulf felt his anger burn hot for this was the same Unsferth the Wanderer had sung about who had not dared to fight the demon himself. Beowulf rose, but knowing the words of his accuser to be false spoke clearly and softly without anger, “Take back your words they are dishonorable. I come in friendship offering to rid Denmark of this vile Grendel. Unferth, tell us of your great battle with Grendel?”
A murmur of approval of Beowulf’s words from Danes and Geats ran around the hall and KIng Hrothgar stood up and said, “Having listened to the quiet words of Beowulf I know he is a hero. There has been too much sorrow these last twelve years and makes us bitter and say things we do not mean. Beowulf, forgive us!”
Then Queen Wealhtheow the Beautiful took up a jewelled cup and filling it with wine passed it to Hrothgar who drank from it and then she took it to Beowulf. He drank and she went around the company of Geatland and thanked them for coming to Denmark in their time of great need and asking each to drink. When they had done so she went around the king’s earls and they also drank to the king and queen and the death of Grendel.
Then the festivities were reopened with much good will from both Danes and Geats. While the Danes praised the glory of King Hygelac and Queen Hygd, the Wise and Fair, the Geats praised KIng Hrothgar and Queen Wealhtheow the Beautiful. At last Hrothgar rose from his chair and taking his queen by the hand said, “Now it is time for us Danes to go to our beds and leave Beowulf and his company alone and pray their sleep be untroubled.”
He led his queen out through the great door of Heorot followed by all of his earls and retainers and the Geats were left to face the night as the great fires slowly burnt out.
The Demon Grendel
Beowulf ordered that the doors of the hall be secured and his companions made them so well no mortal man could have entered. With the doors safe the company spread their cloaks over the benches and lay down to sleep. One of Beowulf’s favorite companions named Hondscio took it upon himself to lay next to the door vowing to be the first to do battle should Grendel choose to appear. Soon all except Beowulf were sound asleep. He had vowed to stay awake and lay still and quiet listening as silence crept over the hall. He could hear the breathing of his comrades but little else.
Outside fog was forming and hiding the moon. Slowly all sounds died away and even the wind stopped its sighing and all was silent. As the fog crept across the land and wrapped itself around the hall, despite his vow, Beowulf became very drowsy. He fought to stay awake but his limbs felt heavy and his eyes closed and he sank into a deep slumber.
Outside the fog thickened and completely obscured the moon and tightened its hold upon the hall. For a second the fog parted and a gigantic black shape loomed and slowly moving towards the great hall and stood before the door in the weird light.
Inside, unaware of the horror that lay outside, Beowulf and his company slept under the bewitchment Grendel had wrought upon them. Beowulf fought hard to break the spell and desperately tried to crawl out of the nightmarish pit he found himself in.
Outside Grendel slowly brought his strength to bear silently pushing the door open despite its securings. Beowulf, fighting hard, crawled from the pit and saw the door wide open and fog streaming in. He saw the great shape of Grendel bend down and picking up the sleeping Hondscio tear his limbs from his body and now he saw clearly the nature of the demon he faced. It resembled a gigantic but twisted and deformed man yet there was something beast like about it. Its body was covered in grey scales that rattled when it moved and a pale light flickered from its eyes. Struggling to his feet he watched in horror and disgust as it crushed the body of Hondscio and greedily ate his remains. Then it turned its vile gaze around the hall until it fell upon Beowulf. Slowly the monster moved towards him.
Beowulf, full of loathing and disgust shook off the spell and ran at the beast. Clashing together the two grappled to gain a hold on one another. Although the claws of Grendel were strong and dug into his flesh, Beowulf was quicker and slipped easily from his hold. As Grendel sought to grasp, hold and tear his opponent apart, Beowulf moved quickly around him dodging his grabbing hands. While his company lay in spell induced sleep he and Grendel engaged in a deadly hand to hand fight for life.
Grendel tried to grasp and crush the head of Beowulf who in turn evaded him and continued to seek some advantage or weak spot. At last Grendel managed to grab Beowulf but his quick turn forced both of them to the ground and for a split second the demon experienced fear and doubt. Like a true warrior Beowulf sensed this and quickly took advantage of this lapse and managed to grasp him briefly by the throat, but its scales prevented him from taking a killing grip.
Then Grendel thrashed out and almost gained the advantage but Beowulf grasped hold of his arm and giving a quick twist jumped behind the brute pushing it high up its back causing it to scream in agony. The two fell to the floor and Beowulf continued to grip his arm wrenching this way and that until he felt the muscles and sinews weaken and give way and he pulled the arm free from its socket. Grendel stumbled up and through the door disappearing into the fog leaving the exhausted Beowulf clutching his severed and bleeding limb. With the spell broken his companions awoke and gathered around in wonder and horror.
As dawn broke people slowly appeared at the great hall to see how the Geats had fared though they expected the worse. Soon a great crowd of people thronged the hall and they were astounded by what they saw. Hanging high from one of the roof beams was the massive severed and bloody arm of Grendel. Upon the king’s dais stood Beowulf wearing a scarlet cloak his blue eyes flashing fire and his fair hair shining like gold like some god of old.
King Hrothgar was sent for and quickly arrived and said, “Give thanks now to Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, to be sure, this is the end of Grendel and his terror. Hail, to Beowulf hero of Geatland!” Then Queen Wealhtheow praised him and called on the servants to prepare a great feast. The celebrations went on all day and into the night and Beowulf was greatly honored by all.
Vengeance of the Water Witch
The next day a messenger rushed in his face white with fear, body shaking and eyes wild and kneeling before the king said in a trembling voice, “Sire, I have just run as fast as I could from Heorot; The good and wise Aescher has been most terribly murdered. His head has been severed from his body and his limbs crushed to a pulp.”
With that Hrothgar and Wealhtheow, accompanied by Beowulf, hastened to the great hall. They found the mangled remains of Aescher amid a scene of great destruction and the severed arm of Grendel had been removed. Queen Wealhtheow cried, “This is the revenge of Grendel’s mother. In our gladness at the defeat of Grendel we had forgotten her evil presence. Unless she too is slain she will wreak unending devastation upon us. Beowulf, we implore you to hunt her down and slay her too!”
On hearing this Beowulf called his company to him saying, “Come, let us finish this evil once and for all before night comes,” and begged Hrothgar for horses and hounds to hunt down the monster. Then Unferth, stepped forward from the crowd and said, “Beowulf, I am put to shame that I have ever doubted you. Take with you my sword. Its name is Hrunting. It is a magical sword and will be of help to you. Forgive my foolishness and let us be friends.”
Gladly, Beowulf embrace Unferth and taking the sword he and his company mounted the horses that had been brought for them. He called for the dogs to be set loose and they soon picked up the powerful scent and raced away on the trail with Beowulf and the Geats and King Hrothgar and the Danes following on behind. The dogs ran over hill and fen for many miles until at last they reached a small dark mere. Strange and slimy things moved in its depths and putrid vapours rose from its surface. The dogs stopped at the water’s edge and Beowulf and his company rode up. Throwing off his cloak and unbuckling his sword he cried, “I go into the mere alone. Wait here until I return!”
All of his companions protested, each wanting to accompany him but he would not allow it. He embraced his followers in turn and paid homage to King Hrothgar and turned and ran into the dark water holding Hrunting before him. The mere covered him and he found himself sinking into the cold darkness. To his surprise the water was deep and as he sank through the darkness he entered into light. Looking down he found he was being dragged by a most vile hag. Her hair was a mass of twisting and hissing snakes. Her mouth was filled with long green fangs and her eyes burned red like hot coals. She held him by her skinny arms and dragged him into the cave.
Quickly, looking around Beowulf saw he was in a cavern with a great fire at one end. Huddled in one corner was a dark mass that he knew to be Grendel and now he knew this to be Grendel’s mother who now gripped him. In that cave at the bottom of the world Beowulf grappled with the fiend striking her with his sword but it could not pierce her skin while she clawed at him trying to reach his throat. She cast a spell and he found the strength ebb from his body. He managed to trip her off balance and threw her in the air, but she fell on top of him and he felt her claws around his throat. Confident she had him in a death grip she relaxed a little and for a split second the spell lifted.
Quickly, he threw her from him and staggered to his feet and moved to put his back to the wall. There he found driven into the wall the hilt of an old sword. Grasping it he heaved with all of his might and pulled it free. As she attacked he struck a blow that cut her clean in two. Turning to Grendel he cut off his head and then threw both bodies into the fire. Clasping the severed head of Grendel he ran to the cave’s mouth and into the mire and surged upwards through the water until he reached the surface where his friends were waiting.
His companions were still there but King Hrothgar and the Danes had gone for he had been absent for a very long time. He was greeted joyfully as they all crowded around wanting to hear his story, but he would tell them nothing. Instead he showed them the head of Grendel as proof of his victory. With that he commanded them to mount their horses and they returned to Heorot and King Hrothgar.
When the company arrived back at Heorot bearing the head of Grendel, Hrothgar was delighted Beowulf had survived and even more so to see the head of the demon he carried. He presented all of the company with rich gifts of fine swords and weapons and chests of gold, silver and precious jewels rewarding Beowulf the greatest of all.
Having achieved all he had set out to achieve Beowulf thanked the King and Queen of Denmark and took his leave deciding to sail for home with his company. He led the company back along the forest path and at last they reached the beach where the old man still sat guarding their ship. With all aboard he gave the order to set sail for Geatland.
Return to Geatland
King Hygelac was delighted to welcome his nephew home bearing riches from his exploits in Denmark. After hearing of his heroics in freeing Denmark of its monsters he acclaimed Beowulf the greatest hero of his people. The minstrels made songs of his bravery and heroism and he became famous throughout the northern lands but there were still further exploits written in the stars including a great flame dragon for him to overcome.
This work is a retelling of a kaiden, a traditional Japanese ghost story from a collection retold by Grace James titled, Japanese Fairy Tales, and called The Peony Lantern. There are also versions called Kaidan Botan Dōrō. In many ways it is passionate and romantic yet has more than a hint of horror involving necrophilia while hinting on the consequences of the karma of the two main characters.
The Peony Lantern
It is said that by the strong bond of illusion the living and the dead are bound together. Now, there was a young samurai who lived in Yedo. His name was Hagiwara and he had reached the most honorable rank of hatamoto. He was a very handsome man, very athletic and light on his feet and his good looks made him very popular with the ladies of Yedo. Some were very open about their affections, while others were more coy and secretive. For his part he gave little of his time and attention to love. Instead he preferred to join other young men in sports and joyous revelries. He would often be seen socializing and having fun with his favorite companions, very much the life and soul of the party.
The Festival of the New Year
When the Festival of the New Year came he was to be found in the company of laughing youths and happy maidens playing the game of battledore and shuttlecock in the streets. They had roamed far from their own neighborhood to the other side of town to a suburb of quiet streets and large houses that stood in grand gardens.
Hagiwara was good at the game and used his battledore with impressive skill and technique. However, the wind caught the shuttle after he had hit it taking it way over the heads of the other players and over a bamboo fence and into a garden. He ran after it but the others cried, “Leave, Hagiwara, let it stay! We have plenty more shuttlecocks to play with. Why waste time on that one?”
Hagiwara heard them but answered, “No my friends, that one was special. It was the color of a dove and gilded with gold. I will soon fetch it!”
“Let it stay!,” they cried, “we have a dozen here that are dove coloured and gilded with gold. Let it stay!”
Hagiwara stood staring at the garden. For some reason he felt a very strong need for that particular shuttlecock and did not know why. Ignoring his friends he quickly climbed the bamboo fence and jumped down into the garden. He had seen exactly where the shuttlecock landed and thought he would be able to retrieve it quickly, but when he went to the spot it was not there. For some reason he now considered that particular shuttlecock was his most valuable treasure. He searched up and down the garden, pushing aside bushes and plants, but all to no avail. His friends called him again and again but he ignored them and searched feverishly around the garden for the lost shuttlecock. Again his friends called, but he ignored them and continued searching. Eventually, they wandered off leaving him alone searching the garden.
He continued searching into the evening ignoring the glorious spectacle of the setting sun and as dusk fell gently he suddenly looked up. To his surprise there was a girl standing a few yards in front of him. Smiling, she motioned with her right hand while in the the palm of her left she held the shuttlecock he had been searching for. He moved eagerly towards her but she moved back still presenting the shuttlecock to him, but keeping it out of reach, luring him into him into following her. He followed her through the garden and up three stone steps that led into the house.
On one side of the first step a plum tree stood in white blossom and on the third step stood a most beautiful lady. She was dressed in celebration of the festival in a kimono of patterned turquoise with long ceremonial sleeves that swept the ground Underneath she wore garments of scarlet and gold and in her hair were pins of coral, tortoiseshell and gold.
O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew
On seeing the the beautiful lady, Hagiwara immediately knelt before her in reverence and adoration touching his forehead to the ground as a sign of respect. The lady smiled down on him with shining eyes and then spoke softly, “Welcome, Hagiwara Sama, most noble samurai of the hatamoto. Please allow me to introduce myself and my handmaiden. My name is O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew and this is O’Yone my handmaiden. She it it is that has brought you to me and I thank her. Glad am I to see you and happy indeed is this hour!”
Gently raising him she led him into the house and into a room where ten mats were placed upon the floor. He was then entertained in the traditional manner as the Lady of the Morning Dew danced for him while her handmaiden beat upon a small scarlet and gold drum. They set the red rice for him to eat and sweet warm wine to drink as was the tradition and he ate all he was given. It was getting late when he had finished and after pleasant conversation he took his leave and as she showed him to the door the Lady of the Morning Dew whispered, “Most honourable Hagiwara, I would be most happy if you came again.”
Hagiwara was now in high spirits and flippantly laughed,“And what would it be if I did not return? What is it if I do not come back, what then?”
O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew flinched and then stiffened and her face grew pale and drawn. She looked him directly in the eye and laid a hand upon his shoulder and whispered, “It will be death. Death for you, death for me. That is the only way!”
Standing next to her O’Yone shuddered and hid her face in her hands.
Perplexed and very much disturbed, Hagiwara the samurai went off into the night wandering through the thick darkness of the sleeping city like a lost ghost, very very afraid.
He wandered long in the pitch black night searching for his home. It was not until the first grey streaks of dawn broke the darkness that he at last found himself standing before his own door. Tired and weary he went in and threw himself on his bed and then laughed,“Hah, and I have forgotten my shuttlecock!”
In the morning he sat alone thinking about all that had happened the day before. The morning passed and he sat through the afternoon thinking about it. Evening began to fall and suddenly he stood up saying, “Surely, it was all a joke played on me by two geisha girls. They will be laughing at me expecting me to turn up but I will show them. I will not let them make a fool of me!”
Therefore dressing in his best clothes he went out into the evening to find his friends. For the next week he spent his time sporting and partying and through all these entertainments he was the loudest, the happiest, the wittiest and the wildest, but he knew things were not right. At last he said,“Enough, I have had enough! I am sick and tired of all this charade!”
Leaving his friends he took to roaming the streets alone. He wandered from one end of Yedo by day and then back again at night. He sought out the hidden ways of the city, the lost courtyards, the back alleys and the forgotten paths that ran between the houses, searching, always searching, for what he did not know.
Yet, he could not find the house and garden of the Lady of the Morning Dew although his restless spirit searched and searched. Eventually finding himself outside his own home he went to bed and fell into a sickness. For three moons he ate and drank barely enough to keep himself alive and his body grew weak, pale and thin, like some hungry, restless, wraith. Three moons later during the hot rainy season he left his sickbed and wrapping himself in a light summer robe set out into the city despite the entreaties of his good and faithful servant
“Alas, my master has the fever and it is driving him mad!”wailed the servant.
Hagiwara took no notice and looking straight ahead set out with resolve saying,“Have faith! Have faith! All roads will take me to my true love’s house!”
Eventually he came to a quiet suburb of big houses with gardens and saw before him one with a bamboo fence. Smiling, Hagiwara quickly climbed the fence and jumped down saying,“Now we shall meet again!”
Hagiwara the samurai stood in shocked silence staring at it. An old man appeared and asked,“Lord, is there something I can do for you?”
However, he was shocked to find the garden was overgrown and unkempt. Moss had grown over the steps and the plum tree had lost its white blossom, its green leaves fluttered forlornly in the breeze. The house was dark, quiet and empty, its shutters closed and an air of melancholy hung over it.
The Lady Has Gone
“I see the white blossom has fallen from the plum tree. Can you tell me where the Lady of the Morning Dew has gone?” Hagiwara sadly replied.
“Alas, Lord, the Lady of the Morning Dew has fallen like the blossom of the plum tree. Six moons ago she was taken by a strange illness that could not be alleviated. She now lies dead in the graveyard on the hillside. Her faithful handmaiden, O’Yone, would not be parted from her and would not allow her mistress to wander through the land of the dead alone and so lies with her. It is for their sakes that I still come to this garden and do what I can, though being old now that is but little and now the grass grows over their graves.”
Devastated by the news Hagiwara went home. He wrote the name of O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew, on a piece of white wood and then burned incense before it and placed offerings before it. He made sure he did everything necessary to pay the proper respects and ensure the well being of her spirit.
The Festival of Bon
The time of the returning souls arrived, the Festival of Bon, that honors the spirits of the dead. People carried lanterns and visited the graves of those deceased. They brought them presents of flowers and food to show they still cared. The days were hot and on first night of the festival Hagiwara unable to sleep walked alone in his garden. It was cooler than the blazing heat of the day and he was thankful for it. All was quiet and calm and he was enjoying the peacefulness of the night. It was around the hour of the Ox, that he heard the sound of footsteps approach. It was too dark to see who it was but he could tell there were two different people that he thought were women by the sound of their footsteps. Stepping up to his rose hedge he peered into the darkness to catch sight of who it was approaching. In the darkness he could make out the figures of two slender women who walked along the lane hand in hand towards him. One held before them on a pole a peony lantern such as those the folk of Yedo used in their traditions to honour the dead and it cast an eerie light around them. As they approached the lantern was held up to reveal their faces and instantly he recognized them and gave a cry of surprise. The girl holding the peony lantern held it up to light his face
“Hagiwara Sama, it is you! We were told that you were dead. We have been praying daily for your soul for many moons!” she cried.
“O’Yone, is it really you?” he cried, “and is that truly your mistress, O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew, you hold by the hand?”
“Indeed, Lord, is is she who holds my hand,” she replied as they entered the garden, but the Lady of the Morning Dew held up her sleeve so that it covered her face.
“How did I ever lose you?” he asked,“How could it have happened?”
“My Lord, we have moved to a little house, a very little house in the part of the city they call the Green Hill. We were not allowed to take anything with us and now we have nothing at all. My Lady has become pale and thin through want and grief,”saidthe handmaiden.
Hagiwara the samurai gently drew his Lady’s sleeve away from her face but she turned away.
“Oh, Lord, do not look upon me, I am no longer fair,”she sobbed.Slowly he turned her around and looked into her face and the flame of love leapt in him and swept through him but he never said a word
As he gazed upon her the Lady of the Morning Dew shrank away saying,“Shall I stay, or shall I go?”
“Stay!” he replied without hesitation.
The Green Hill
Just before dawn Hagiwara fell into a deep slumber, eventually awakening to find himself alone. Quickly dressing he went out and went through the city of Yedo to the place of the Green Hill. He asked all he met if they knew where the house of the Lady of the Morning Dew was but no one could help him. He searched everywhere but found no sign or clue as to where it could be. In despair he turned to go home, lamenting bitterly that for the second time he had lost his love.
Miserably he made his way home. His path took him through the grounds of a temple situated on a green hill. Walking through he noticed two graves side by side. One was small and hardly noticeable but the other was larģe and grand marked by a solemn monument. In front of the monument was a peony lantern with a small bunch of peonies tied to. It was similar in fashion to many of those used throughout Yedo during the Festival of Bon in reverence of the dead.
Nevertheless, it caught his eye and he stood and stared. As if in a dream he heard the words of O’Yone, the handmaiden,
“We have moved to a little house, a very little house in the part of the city they call the Green Hill. … My Lady has become pale and thin through want and grief,”
Then he smiled and understood and he went home. He was greeted by his servant who asked if he was alright. The samurai tried to reassure him that he was fine emphasizing that he had never been happier. However, the servant knew his master and knew something was wrong and said to himself,“My master has the mark of death upon him. If he dies what will happen to me who has served him since he was a child?”
The faithful servant of Hagiwara realized someone was visiting his master in the night and grew afraid. On the seventh night he spied on his master through a crack in the window shutters and his blood ran cold at what he saw. His master was in the embrace of a most fearful and terrifying being whose face was the horror of the grave. He was gazing lovingly into its eyes and smiling at the loathsome thing while all the time stroking and caressing its long dark hair with his hands.
Illusion and Death
Nevertheless, Hagiwara was happy. Every night the ladies with the peony lantern came to visit him. Every night for seven nights no matter how wild the weather they came to him in the hour of the Ox. Every night Hagiwara lay with the Lady of the Morning Dew. Thus, by the strong bond of illusion were the living and dead merged and bound to each other
Just before dawn the fearful thing from the grave and its companion left. The faithful servant, fearing for his master’s soul went to seek the advice of a holy man. After relating to him all that he had seen he asked,“ Can my master be saved?”
The holy man thought for a moment and then replied, “Can humans thwart the power of Karma? There is little hope but we will do what we can.”
With that he instructed the servant in all that he must do. When he got home his master was out and he hid in his clothes an emblem of the Tathagata and placed them ready for the next morning for him to wear. After this, above all the doors and windows he placed a sacred text. When his Hagiwara returned late in the evening he was surprised to find he had suddenly become weak and faint. His faithful servant carried him to bed and gently placed a light cover over him as he fell into a deep sleep.
The servant hid himself that he may spy on whatever might come to pass that night. With the arrival of the hour of the Ox he heard footsteps outside in the lane. They came nearer and nearer and then slowed down and stopped close to the house and he hears a despairing voice say,
Entry is Barred
“Oh, O’Yone, my faithful handmaiden, what is the meaning of this? The house is all in darkness. Where is my lord?”
“Come away, come away, mistress, let us go back. I fear his heart has changed towards you,”whispered O’Yone.
“I will not go. I will not leave until I have seen my love. You must get me in to see him!” whispered the Lady of the Morning Dew.
“My Lady, we cannot pass into the house – see the sacred writing over the door over the windows, we cannot enter,” warned the handmaiden.
The Lady wailed and then began sobbing pitifully, “Hagiwara, my lord, I have loved you through ten lifetimes!” and then footsteps were heard leaving as O’Yone led her weeping mistress away.
It was the same the next night. At the hour of the Ox, footsteps in the lane were heard and then a long pitiful wail followed by the sound footsteps disappearing back down the lane as the ghosts departed sobbing and crying.
The next day Hagiwara got up, dressed and went out into the city. While he was out a pickpocket stole the emblem of Tathagata but he did not notice. When night came he lay awake unable to sleep but his faithful servant, worn out with worry and lack of sleep dozed off. In the night a heavy rain fell and and washed the sacred text from over the round window of the bedroom
The hour of the Ox crept round and footsteps were heard in the lane and entering the garden. Hagiwara listened as they came nearer and nearer until they stopped just outside.
The Power of Karma
“Tonight is the last chance, O’Yone. You must get me inside to my lord, Hagiwara. Remember the love of ten lifetimes. The power of Karma is great but we must overcome it. There must be a way you can get me in to see him!”said the Lady mournfully.
Inside Hagiwara heard them and called out,“Come to me my beloved, I await you!”
“We cannot enter. You must let us in!” she cried.
Hagiwara tried to sit up but he could not move.“Come to me my beloved!”he called again.
“I cannot enter and I am cut in two. Alas, for the sins of our previous life!” wailed the Lady.
Then, O’Yone grasped the hand of her mistress and pointed at the round window,“See, Lady, the rain has washed away the text!”
Holding hands the two rose gently upwards and passed like a mist through the round window into the bedroom of the samurai as he called out, “Come to me my beloved!,”
“Verily Lord, verily, I come!”answered the Lady.
The next morning the faithful servant of Hagiwara of the most honorable rank of hatamoto found his master grey lifeless and cold. By the side of him stood a peony lantern that still burned with a pale, yellow flame. The faithful servant seeing his master lying still and cold wept saying, “I cannot bear it.”And so the strong bond of illusion bound together the living and the dead.
The theme of the abduction of Queen Guinevere runs throughout Arthurian tradition and is taken up by numerous medieval writers. Caradoc of Llancarfan mentions it in his version of the Life of Gildas, as does Geoffrey of Monmouth, in Historia Regum Brittaniae, (History of the Kings of Britain). The theme is also taken up by medieval French poets Chrétien de Troyes and Robert de Boron, and in the work of Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur. Here we look in brief at various versions of the abduction and then discuss ideas about how they may have been influenced by pagan elements and may be distant echoes of the dramas of ancient gods and goddesses before the arrival of Christianity.
Caradoc of Llancarfan
Probably one of the earliest examples of the abduction of Guinevere comes from The Life of Gildas, By Caradoc of Llancarfan (c.1130-1150). Guinevere’s abductor is the evil King Melwas of the Summer Country, or Somerset. He may have been an early prototype for Chrétien de Troyes Méléagant, and Malory’s Meliagrance.In this story Guinevere is abducted and violated and Arthur, who is referred to as a tyrant, spends an entire year seeking her out. Finally learning she was being in held by King Melwas in Glastonia, or Glastonbury. He raises a vast army intending to free his wife but as the two sides were about to clash, the cleric, Gildas and the clergy step between them. Gildas persuaded the two kings to parley and negotiated that Guinevere be returned to Arthur in peace and goodwill preventing a bloody battle to free her.
Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth names Mordred, Arthur’s nephew and illegitimate son, as the villain who attempts to covet Guinevere. Arthur had left Britain in Mordred’s stewardship while he went off fighting the Procurator of Rome, Lucius Hiberius, leaving Guinevere at home. While he was out of the country with most of his army, Mordred seduced Guinevere and claimed the crown from Arthur forcing him to return to Britain and fight. This culminated in the catastrophic Battle of Camlann where Mordred was killed and the badly wounded Arthur taken across the sea to Avalon to recover and the end of the Arthurian realm.
Chrétien de Troyes
In Lancelot, Le Chevalier de la Charrette, also known as Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, by Chrétien de Troyes, Lancelot is the hero of the story who saves Guinevere from the Méléagant, the evil son of King Bagdemagus. In this story he races to the rescue of Guinevere having a series of adventures along the way. These include having to suffer the indignity, for a knight, of riding in a horse and cart driven by a dwarf that was carrying criminals to their execution. He then had to scramble over a sword bridge whose edge was turned upright and razor sharp. Although sustaining serious wounds crossing the bridge he was still ready to combat Méléagant, but Guinevere at the request of King Bagdemagus stopped the fight.
Later he was forced to fight Méléagant after the badly wounded Sir Kay was accused of raping Guinevere while she slept. Sir Kay was too bad wounded and had no strength available for such exertions and had been wrongly accused. Blood had been found on her sheets and because he was laid recuperating in the same room as her, he was blamed. In fact the blood was from Lancelot who had kept an illicit tryst with the queen and slept with her. Lancelot, knowing, but not admitting the truth, stepped in to fight and clear Sir Kay who was too weak to defend himself.
Malory’s, Le Morte d’Arthur
In Malory’s, Le Morte d’Arthur, wehn the month of May came, Guinevere decided she would participate in the age old tradition of a-Maying in the woods and fields of Westminster. Therefore, she set off with a party of ladies-in-waiting, along with servants and ten lightly armed Knights, who she insists wear all wear green. Sir Meliagrance, a name probably derived from the Méléagant in Chrétien de Troyes work, had long lusted after the queen and with 160 men-at-arms attacked the small company. Although her knights fight valiantly they are lightly armed and hopelessly outnumbered. To prevent their slaying she agreed to surrender provided they are spared and remain by her side. Meliagrance agrees but she manages to send a messenger boy to Lancelot telling of her abduction and requesting his aid.
On hearing the news Lancelot immediately set off in pursuit. Meliagrance, realising he would follow, set a trap for him and archers killed his horse. Lancelot was forced to hijack a horse and cart carrying wood for the fires of Meliagrance’s castle. From this he was given the name, Knight of the Cart. On arrival at the castle gates he shout for Meliagrance demanding he come down and face him. On learning Lancelot is at his gates Meliagrance begs Guinevere her forgiveness for his behaviour and begs that she protect him from the enraged knight. She agrees and persuades Lancelot to put his sword away. Lancelot agrees and she leads him to the chamber where the ten knights are kept.
They are both so glad to see each other they agree on a secret midnight tryst. Lancelot appears at her window at midnight and Guinevere tells him she would prefer it if he was inside with her. Although the window is barred Lancelot pulls the bars out cutting himself in the process and climbs in through the window. The two slept together that night and Lancelot stole away before Sunrise, replacing the bars of the window as he left.
The next morning Meliagrance seeing blood on the sheets of Guinevere’s bed accuses her of sleeping with one, or more, of her wounded knights. Lancelot, without revealing the truth, challenges Meliagrance to a fight to clear the queen’s name. Meliagrance brings a charge of treason against Guinevere believing she had slept with one or more of the knights. Although innocent of this accusation, Guinevere had slept with Lancelot which is not revealed to him, but he was not one of the individuals accused. The case is brought before King Arthur and he reluctantly agrees she must be burnt at the stake unless Lancelot proves her innocence by defeating Meliagrance. In the resulting duel Lancelot slays Meliagrance proving her innocence of the charges brought against her and freeing her.
Mordred’s Attempted Abduction
In Le Morte d’Arthur, Mordred, Arthur’s illegitimate son and nephew by his sister Morgause, covets Guinevere, but does not quite manage to abduct her. Mordred lied to Guinevere telling her4 Arthur had been killed by Lancelot and claimed the throne for himself intending to marry her. Guinevere persuaded Mordred to allow her to go to London so she could procure all the things a wedding needed but instead locked herself in the Tower of London with her entourage. Although Mordred tried to persuade her to come out his efforts were cut short by the news that Arthur had arrived back in Britain with his army. Consequently, he was forced to leave Guinevere and confront Arthur, resulting in his own death and Arthur being severely wounded and taken to Avalon.
Gods of the Round Table
Some scholars of Arthurian legend and romance see many of the stories of King Arthur and his knights, in legend and medieval romance, as being dramatizations of the adventures of Celtic gods and important natural events. They believe there was a special relationship between the king and the gods and the king and the land and to ensure the fertility of the land the king was wedded to the goddess of the land.
David Dom, in his book King Arthur and the Gods of the Round Table proposes that Arthur, Guinevere and the main companions of the Round Table to be a the distant and distorted memories of the old Celtic gods and Arthur is seen as representing a Solar God. To complicate matters, these stories were overwritten, or influenced by various culture over time, including Roman, English, French and European medieval Christianity and modern thinking. It centers around the idea that Arthurian legends and stories originally were dramatizations of the deeds and adventures of ancient pagan gods with the King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table making up the pantheon, being a part of it.
There is an intriguing idea that the stories of the abduction of Guinevere are echoes of earlier pagan traditions centered around the annual cycle of the seasons in Northern Europe. One of the ways this annual cycle may have been dramatized was in that the seasonal changes were due to the activities and adventures of the gods. In both Malory’s version and that of Chrétien de Troyes, Guinevere is abducted in the spring, and in Malory’s it is while she is celebrating May Day, or Beltane, the time of the renewal of vegetation. Many scholars see this as evidence that the kidnapping was originally a season myth with Guinevere being a goddess and her abductor a god. In the original versions by Chrétien de Troyes , after being abducted Guinevere was take across water – an indication that she was leaving the Earthly world for the Otherworld – and her rescuers had to cross the water to reach her in that world. After her rescue Guinevere and Lancelot became lovers which also happened in the spring, around Beltane.
This comes after the bleak barren days of winter and is seen to represent the marriage of the god and goddess heralding the end of the dark, bleak period of winter and the greatly looked forward to renewal of vegetation and fertility to the Earth. In the Chrétien de Troyes version the entire episode takes place over one year, tying it further to the annual seasonal cycle. The abduction stories while only hinting at pagan influence on the surface have been heavily overwritten with Christian influences which tend to cover up the inherent pagan elements of the loves and romances of the gods. To pursue this further it is worth taking a look at the annual cycle of seasons for Northern Europe and what follows is a very simplified version of one of the many versions
In winter the days are cold, dark and short. Vegetation dies and crops do not grow and food becomes in short supply. In some pagan northern European societies winter was thought of as the imprisonment of the eternally young, Earth goddess in the depths of the Earth by the aging winter solar god. As winter progressed the power of the Sun god waned as the Sun rode low in the sky. As his power waned he became more like a malignant god of the underworld and feared the arrival of a young, potent Sun god who would steal the Earth goddess from him. Desperate to preserve his own power and survive, he imprisoned the Earth goddess in the underworld to prevent anyone from stealing her. The imprisonment of the Earth Goddess resulted in a loss of fertility and renewal being withdrawn from the Earth, causing dramatic and disastrous consequences for humanity.
In spring the young Sun god arrives and takes a higher path across the sky providing longer days, more daylight and warmer weather. His youth, strength and virility defeats and supplants the aging Sun god and frees the Earth goddess from imprisonment. With a more agreeable climate and the freeing of the goddess the Earth returns to life and seeds germinate, plants bud and grow and animals breed. The young Sun god takes the eternally young Earth goddess for his bride around the time of the festival of Beltane, commonly held on the 1st of May, or halfway between the March, or vernal equinox and the summer solstice, or midsummer, when the Sun’s power is at its height.
As the days grew longer and warmer, with the marriage of the Sun god and the Earth goddess the Earth is fertilized, plants grow and thrive and harvest time arrives which is the product of this marriage. The young Sun god has reached the heights of his power at midsummer and the coming days will see his power decline.
With the decline of power of the now aging Sun god there is a steadily decrease in sunlight and warmth, the days grow steadily shorter, vegetation begins to shrivel and die. The cycle of the previous years repeats and slowly and inevitable the aging Sun god loses his strength, vigor and virility just as his predecessors had and just as those who come after him will.
As his strength and potency diminish he appears lower in the sky, days become shorter and darker as winter sets in. In a desperate attempt to keep his beautiful and eternally young wife he imprisons her in the underground. The Sun god reaches his lowest and weakest point at midwinter, or the Winter Solstice and is defeated by the young Sun god who frees and marries the Earth goddess. This cycle must continue eternally to bring fertility, renewal and growth to the Earth.
In the version of the abduction of Guinevere by Chrétien de Troyes the drama was played out over one year with Meleagant, Guinevere’s abductor representing the doomed and aging Sun god and Lancelot the virile and potent, young Sun god.
Goddess of Sovereignty
There is also an idea that Guinevere was either an ancient Goddess of Sovereignty, or a representative of one. A Goddess of Sovereignty was an aspect or servant of the Earth goddess, also known as the Earth Mother or Mother Earth and Goddess of the Land, in some cultures.
Those who follow this idea point to the fact that the story begins in May which is around the festival of Beltane. It is at this time of year the everywhere is green and fertile and in celebration Malory tells how Queen Guinevere decides she will go a-Maying. Those who see Arthurian characters as divinities, see Guinevere as representing a Goddess of Sovereignty that bestows the sovereignty of the land onto the King, who in this case is Arthur. As such his role is taking care of the land and inhabitants ensuring it remains fertile. To do this she needs a strong, virile king but in these stories Arthur is usually portrayed as aging and losing power. Lancelot being the younger and more potent of the two may be seen by a Goddess of Sovereignty as an ideal replacement, but despite his love for Guinevere he remains loyal to Arthur not wanting the crown.
It may also be the case that simply being in possession of a representative of the goddess would be enough to give authority to the claim of kingship. This would make Guinevere a valuable prize for anyone who would be king and helps explain her numerous abductions, especially Mordred’s interest in her. It also explain why, for the most, part Arthur appears reluctant to acknowledge, or deal with the situation of her affair with Lancelot until he is forced into it.
The affair with Lancelot may not have been about Guinevere’s alleged sexual promiscuity but more about her fulfilling her role as representing a Goddess of Sovereignty. Furthermore her abductions may not necessarily have been about love, lust or desire for her as a woman, but more about possessing the representative of the goddess. For all of that these are just ideas and theories and it is up to each person to decide what it means to them.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
The Canary Islands are a popular holiday destination for many people from the United Kingdom and Western Europe and the most southerly of the autonomous communities of Spain. One of the most popular tourist attractions is Mount Teide, an active volcano on the island of Tenerife, whose last eruption was in 1909 and is visible from many parts of the island. A cable car takes tourists part of the way to the summit for the journey completed on foot with a permit. Those who have undertaken the trip to the top will probably understand why it meant the same to the Guanches as Mount Olympus meant to the ancient Greeks. It was the home of their gods and believed to hold up the sky.
ORIGIN OF THE GUANCHES
The Guanche people were the first known inhabitants of the Canary Islands. Their myths and legends still resonate through the ages giving small glimpses of these remarkable people. Some of their traditions and folklore still endure adding depth, color, and flavor to the modern culture of the islands. The Guanches inhabited the islands long before the arrival of the Spanish and are descendants of the Berber people on the African mainland who migrated to the islands about 1,000 BC or possibly earlier. Although the Guanches became culturally and ethnically assimilated with the Spanish, remnants of their original culture still survive today. For example, the people of La Gomera still use a traditional whistled language to communicate with each other over distances, and some of their mythology, legends, and traditions persist. Presented here is a brief discussion of their pantheon of gods and other supernatural entities and a look at some of the Guanche traditions found today.
The supreme god of the Guanches of Tenerife was Achamán, their creator and father god, whose name means “the skies.” He was the immortal omnipotent creator of the land, air, fire, and water. All living creatures owed their existence to him. Achamán lived in the sky but would sometimes manifest himself on mountain tops to look upon the world he had created.
In Guanches mythology, Guayota was the equivalent of the Devil and shared similar characteristics to other divinities around the world associated with volcanoes. For example, in Hawaiian mythology, the goddess Pele, like Guayote, had her home in the Hawaiian volcano of Kīlauea and was believed to be responsible for causing eruptions. Guayota lived inside the peak of Mount Teide, known as Echeyde. It was a place similar to Hell and the entrance to the underworld and abode of certain lesser demons.
THE BLACK DOGS OF GUAYOTA
These lesser demons were called Guacanchas, or Jucanchas, depending on the island, and took the form of wild dogs with shaggy black coats and red eyes said to be the offspring of Guayota. On Gran Canaria, they were known as Tibicenas and made their home in the depths of hidden caves in the mountains. At night they emerged to ravage livestock and attack people they encountered. Guayota often appeared as a monstrous black dog leading a pack of these supernatural hounds across the countryside.
THE ABDUCTION OF MAGEC
In the Guanche pantheon, the god of the sun and light was called Magec and was the most important of their divinities. Although the gender of Magec is ambiguous, the name means “possess radiance” or “mother of brightness.” According to Guanche legend, Guyota kidnapped and imprisoned Magec in Mount Teide. With Magec incarcerated inside the volcano, the world fell into darkness. The people grew afraid and prayed to the supreme god Achamán to free Magec. Achamán heard the people and fought and defeated Guayota setting Magec free restoring sun and light to the world. He imprisoned Guayota in the volcanic crater of Mount Teide, where he has remained trapped ever since. Whenever Mount Teide erupted, the people would light fires on its slopes to taunt and frighten Guayota.
Another important goddess of the Guanche pantheon was Chaxiraxi, considered the Sun Mother and the Great Celestial Mother and associated with Canopus, the star. She may have evolved from Tanic, a goddess worshipped by their Berber ancestors. Mediation between Chaxiraxi and humanity was the task of minor gods or spirits called Maxios, or sometimes Dioses Paredros. These were also the guardians of hallowed places on Tenerife and were also the domestic spirits of the home. In recent times the worship of Chaxiraxi has been revived by the Church of the Guanche People, whose aim is to practice and promote the ancient religion of the Guanches.
ACHUGUAYO, THE FATHER OF TIMES
Achuguayo was the god of the Moon and the “Father of Times” who controlled time and seasons. According to tradition, he lived in the mountains, sometimes coming down to hear the prayers and supplications of the Guanches conducted under sacred trees or in caves in the mountains.
The Guanches had many sacred places that needed to be maintained, believing their maintenance kept Heaven and Earth in balance. Hallowed places may have been rocks or caves, such as the Cave of Achbinico, or natural features in the landscape where a variety of offerings were left. On Tenerife, the most important of these hallowed places was Mount Teide. Many offerings of tools and clay pots or vessels have been found, hidden in small nooks and natural cavities in rocks around the National Park Las Cañadas del Teide.
They left in the hope of appeasing or pleasing the gods or help the donor become one with nature. These votive offerings were often crude figures or sculptures which were idols and associated with health, fertility, animals, or people and often used by families. The Guanches on Tenerife had four major ceremonies; the proclamation of a new Mencey, a ceremony to relieve drought, their New Year Festival, and their Harvest Festival or Great Annual Festival of Beñasmen.
THE PROCLAIMING OF THE NEW MENCEY
Tenerife had nine small kingdoms, each ruled by a Mencey, the Guanches equivalent to a king, and the highest official in each realm. At times for the good of all the kingdoms, they needed to meet together. When a ruler died, the title did not necessarily pass from father to son. Sometimes it passed from brother to brother, but it was the task of the Council, known as the “Tagoror” that elected a new king
The proclamation came at a ceremony involving the oldest bone of the ancestor of the dynasty. This relic was venerated and carefully guarded and bought before the new Mencey for him to kiss in a special ceremony. Afterward, the members of the Tagoror recognized him as the new king, each saying,
“Agoñe Yacorán Iñatzahaña Chacoñamet” (I swear by this bone of He who made you great).
THE RAIN RITUAL
Sometimes there were periods of drought, and the Guanches enacted a ceremony they hoped would bring rain. The people would fast and refrain from dancing and other forms of entertainment. Driving their flocks to high places in the mountains, they separated the lambs from the sheep and the kids from the goats, causing the animals to bleat piteously. The people also cried and wailed, hoping the gods would hear and look mercifully upon them and send rain to ease their plight.
THE FEAST OF THE NEW YEAR
The Guanches followed a lunar calendar, their year beginning towards the end of April or the early days of May. Many festivals with dances, feasts, and sporting events celebrating the arrival of Spring took place.
THE HARVEST FESTIVAL
Another important Guanche Festival was their Harvest Festival, or the Beñasmen, held between July and August. During this time, all conflict and wars between the nine kingdoms ceased, and a truce was put in place, allowing everyone to celebrate together and join each other in feasts, dances, and sporting events. During this period, the Menceys provided food for the entire population while the festivities and celebrations endured. The people wore flowers and leaves and also used them to decorate their villages.
SPORTS AND GAMES
Sporting competitions rook place with various athletic events such as running, throwing, and jumping competitions. There were also more dangerous events, such as throwing and avoiding spears, fighting with poles, and many other types of competitions. There were also wrestling matches similar to those practiced in ancient Greece and Rome. The winner had to throw their opponent to the ground or wrestle him out of the fighting area.
Although the Guanches had few musical instruments, they did use conch shells, small pebbles in clay pots, and beat sticks together to create rhythm and they also sang and danced. In the XVIth century, one version of a Guanche dance called “El Canario” became fashionable in the courts of Europe. Another traditional dance, called the “Tajaraste,” is still performed today.
Queen Semiramis was a mythical queen who appears in many myths, legends, works of art and literature through the ages. She was was believed to have evolved from a real, historical QueenSammuramat who ruled the Neo-Assyrian Empire for a brief period. Here we look briefly what is known of the historical Queen Sammuramat and her transformation to the mythical, semi-divine, Queen Semiramis.
Sammuramat ruled the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the ninth century after her husband, King Shamshi-Adad V, died until her young son Adad-nirari III came of age in 806 BC. It is not clear whether she ruled as regent or in some other capacity but it was only believed to have lasted for five years. According to the myths Semiramis ruled for 42 years as queen regnant but it is necessary to separate the historical from the mythical in thinking of Sammuramat.
Although much of her prestige may have come through being the wife and queen of King Shamshi-Adad V, history shows she briefly had great political influence over a great empire. This stretched from the Arabian Peninsula in the south to the Caucasus Mountains in the north and in the west as far as Cyprus and in the east western Iran. She was highly regarded by her subjects and neighboring states and appeared to have been a good ruler in what ever capacity she reigned. Like many other powerful and famous rulers throughout history her achievements were embellished, exaggerated and added to. In the centuries after her death she became a mythical or legendary figure and given the name Semiramis.
EVIDENCE OF HER EXISTENCE
Not all archaeologists and historians are convinced of the existence of Queen Sammuramat. Those who are point to four pieces of evidence they claim prove she once existed. Two of these are statuettes found in the ancient city of Nimrud in Iraq. These are dedicated to the Babylonian god of knowledge and writing named “Nabu” and both mention her name. The other pieces are two stellae; one from Kizkapanli, situated in modern day Turkey and the other from Assur in Iraq which mention her.
When considered together these show she was highly esteemed and exercised an unusually high degree of political power for a woman of that epoch. The Assur Stela inscription reads,
“Sammuramat, Queen of Shamshi-Adad, King of the Universe, King of Assyria; Mother of Adad-nirari, King of the Universe, King of Assyria.”
FROM HISTORY TO MYTH
The classical historian, Herodotus, in the fifth century B.C. used the Greek form of her name, Semiramis, which helped perpetuate her memory. It is by this name she is perhaps better known today. According to some traditions an entity known as Semiramis was the wife of the mythical Nimrod who reputedly built the Tower of Babel. This entity does not appear to be the same character as the Semiramis who evolved from Sammuramat though there may have been some conflation through the ages.
After her name was Hellenized she became the subject of many enduring myths and legends as an Assyrian queen. In this role she was the semi-divine daughter of the dove and fish goddess Derceto of Askalon, who in shame of conceiving a baby by a mortal flung herself into a lake. Her body transformed into that of a fish while her head remained human. Her baby girl was fostered by doves and grew up to become Semiramis.
In some legends she plays the role of the beautiful “femme fatale” in tragic love storiesbut in others she is a formidable commander and military leader winning impressive battles extending her empire greatly. She is also cast as a great civil ruler who built the walls of Babylon and other monuments throughout her domain.
The Greek scholar, Diodorus Siculus, enlarged upon her legend inventing an exaggerated and inaccurate account of her life and deeds. He claimed Semiramis was born in Ashkelon, now in modern day Israel and was the daughter of the Syrian goddess, Derceto, who many scholars see as a version of the Phonecian goddess Astarte and the Babylonian goddess, Ishtar.
RAISED BY DOVES
Her father was a mortal and her mother in shame of falling in love and conceiving with a mortal man abandoned her baby who was then raised by doves. Eventually she was adopted by the chief shepherd of the king of Assyria and named Semiramis and grew up to be a woman of great and rare beauty and intelligence.
One day while inspecting the royal flocks Onnes, the royal governor of Syria came across her and struck by her beauty gained her adoptive father’s consent to marry her. After the wedding she went to live with him in Nineveh.
When Onnes was sent on a military mission to central Asia to besiege the city of Bactra by King Ninus of Assyria he began to miss her badly. Therefore, he sent a message asking that she join him. When she arrived the siege was still in place but she came up with a strategy and led an attack that gave her husband and his army the victory.
When King Ninus heard about how she had formulated the winning strategy and led the attack he wanted to meet the rare female with such military ability. Ninus was completely besotted by her beauty falling in love with her at first sight. He ordered her husband to exchange his wife for one of his daughters but Onness refused. Ninus was determined he would marry her and subjected Onnes to terrible threats causing him to take his own life. Ninus got his way and Semiramis became his wife and queen of Assyria.
BUILDER AND COMMANDER
According to Diodorus she embarked on a number of large civil projects including the rebuilding of the city of Babylon along the Euphrates River, including the royal palace, the temple of Marduk and the city walls. Other Greco-Roman authors such as Strabo credit her with creating one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon though this is not supported by evidence.
Variations of her name were applied to many ancient monuments in Anatolia and Western Asia often with little or no evidence they originated with her. She was also credited with building the city of Van as her summer residence and may have been known as Shamiramagerd (city of Semiramis).
According to Diodorus Siculus after the completing works in Babylon she turned her attention to the empire. She launched several military campaigns in Persia, Libya and North Africa. Furthermore, in an act of supreme ambition she organized and launched an invasion of India ruled by King Stabrobates. This was an incredibly difficult and risky operation and would prove although she was a capable and formidable commander and general she was not invincible.
Nevertheless, she was very bold and inventive conceiving a daring plan of deception to use against Stabrobates. She instructed her craftsmen to construct a herd of fake elephants by covering camels with the dark hides of buffaloes. In this way she initially managed to give the impression she had a formidable battalion of real elephants to unleash in battle. Initially, this deception was successful in an attack but her enemy strongly counterattacked. Her army was routed with the survivors forced to retreat back over the Indus River. The invasion failed disastrously and she was injured in the fighting.
THE ORACLE OF AMUN
While campaigning in Africa she had consulted an oracle of the deity Amun. The oracle predicted her son Ninias would conspire to supplant and kill her. According to Diodorus this was to come true and after her failure in India on discovering her son’s plot she decided to hand over power peacefully to him rather than fight him for the throne. However, other historians give differing versions of her death. Some say she threw herself on a burning pyre while others say her son killed her.
In Armenian tradition, Semiramis, was often portrayed negatively because of her military successes against Armenia. One of the most well known Armenian legends about her is her romance with a King of Armenia known as Ara the Handsome. Armenian traditions say Semiramis had fallen head over heels in love with him and proposed marriage. To her dismay he refused and in a display of extreme petulance she mustered her army and made war on him ordering her commanders to capture him alive. She was victorious but contrary to her explicit instructions Ara was killed in battle.
Semiramis was reputed to be a sorceress and the death of Ara had left her in an awkward position. She did not want to continue warring with the Armenians who were now determined to avenge their leader. Therefore she came up with a plan to end the war. She openly prayed to the gods to raise Ara from the dead but secretly disguised one of her lovers as him. When the Armenians arrived for battle she presented him to them claiming she had raised him from the dead by her love for him. The deception convinced the Armenians he was alive and ended the fighting. There is also a tradition that she actually succeeded in resurrecting Ara and there is a village not far from Van called Lezk where his resurrection allegedly took place.
INGREDIENTS FOR A GOOD TALE
Her legend has much in common with other myths from the region that tell of great leaders or powerful people. There is the theme of her divine origin being born of Derketo, the goddess and then abandoned at birth to be found and brought up by animal or bird foster parents.
The evolution of Queen Semiramis from Queen Sammuramat provided an example for other female rulers to follow. Her legendary and mythical status was achieved possibly because it was unusual in patriarchal societies for females to be allowed to shine or display their intelligence and talents. According to these traditions, she proved herself to be a as good or better than males in her governing abilities, civil building works and military prowess. This was unusual and may be part of the reason why she was elevated to such status. Her mystique and appeal lasted for centuries after her death and was the inspiration for many works in art and literature. Perhaps because of her legendary beauty and reputation, or maybe, just because she was a woman, she was often cast in erotic and immoral roles.
Over the ages her achievements became embellished and exaggerated and new stories emerged about her. In many ways the little that was known about her added to her mystique and after her death the myths and legends grew. In later times was held as a model for good female rulers who exhibited similar characteristics as her and such as Margret I of Denmark, and Catherine the Great of Russia who were called Semiramis of the North after her.
Throughout the ages the mythical Queen Semiramis evolved a long way from the original historical Queen Sammuramat but such is the stuff that legends are made from.
Presented here is a retelling of a folktale from Welsh Fairy-Tales And Other Stories – Author: Anonymous – Edited by P. H. Emerson. The story is essentially a Faustian pact – a contract made with the Devil – by a roguish character intent on living a debauched and immoderate lifestyle. Although the Devil usually comes out tops in such deals occasionally he meets someone who is a bit too clever for him and comes unstuck. The story is also an etiological folktale giving an explanation of the origin of the phenomenon known as the “will-o’-the-wisp” from many folkloric traditions.
Billy Duffy and the Devil
The story centers on Billy Duffy, an all round drunkard, philanderer and blaggard, a blacksmith by trade and a very good one when he was sober. He worked in his own smithy, which was also his home. He tended to work until he had made just enough money to tide him over extended periods when he partook in his favorite activities of drinking, gambling and philandering. After one such spree, with his money gone, he was staggering home when he said to himself, “Good God, if only I could just get my hands on more booze I would gladly sell myself to the Devil!”
After a few more steps to his complete surprise, he felt someone tap him on the shoulder from behind. Looking around he saw a tall, dark, gentleman dressed in shiny red looking down on him.
“Ahem!” said the gentleman, “What did you say?”
“I said I would gladly sell myself to the Devil for more money for booze!” replied Billy slurring his speech and swaying this way and that.
“Hmm now,” replied the gentleman, “how much money would you want to cover you for the next seven years and at the end of that time the Devil takes your soul?”
“Aw, well now, that’s a good question that I cannot rightly answer when it comes right down to it!” replied Billy.
“Would a bucket of gold sovereigns be enough?” asked the gentleman.
“Best make it three!” replied Billy never afraid to push his luck.
“Ok, three it is and at the end of seven years the Devil will find you. He will then give you three days grace at the end of this period with as much money as you like and then your very soul shall be his for eternity. Do you agree!” replied the gentleman his eyes glittering and a sneering smile forming in the corner of his mouth.
“I would be glad to accept that even if the Devil himself offered it!” replied Billy eagerly.
“Billy, surely you know who I am don’t you?”
“Alright, I guess you are the Devil himself, but I still agree!” replied Billy.
With business concluded the Devil produced a piece of paper and asking him to hold out a finger, pricked it making it bleed and wrote out the contract and a copy of it in Billy’s blood. He made sure Billy had read and signed both papers and giving him the contract retained the copy and promptly disappeared. Billy staggered home forgetting the incident putting it down to the alcohol but when he opened the door to his smithy he found three big buckets brimming with gold sovereigns.
Grabbing a handful and after carefully hiding the rest he staggered back to his favorite pub and began treating everyone to drinks again and again. It was only when he slipped into unconsciousness oblivion that he stopped. The landlord, grateful for such a generous customer, insisted the other drinkers carry him carefully safely home in a wheelbarrow he lent them.
Night after night Billy took a handful of sovereigns from the buckets and spent them in the pubs and bars around town. He paid for all the drinks of his companions and because of his generosity their numbers grew and grew as people flocked to be part of his entourage. He spent freely and refused no one.
One evening an old hermit, dressed in rags and starving approached Billy begging him to buy him food and drink. Billy looked him up and down and invited him to sit next to him, “What can I buy you?” he asked, “You can have anything you fancy that this place sells.”
So the hermit chose a good wholesome plate of food and mug of beer and proceeded to eat and drink it all ravenously. When he had finished he thanked Billy gratefully and left. Billy did not see him again for several months when he appeared in the same pub in the same famished and impoverished state. Once again Billy generously treated him and after consuming the food and drink the hermit thanked him and disappeared.
Several months later he reappeared in the same bar and again Billy brought him food and drink but this time the grateful hermit said, “My thanks to you, Billy Duffy for you have been most kind and generous to me, a poor hermit, three times now. Therefore, out of gratitude I offer you three wishes of your own choice that will come true.”
This took Billy completely by surprise and he said, “Thank you, I am most grateful but I must have time to think about what to wish for wisely.”
“You can take your time and I will call upon you tomorrow, but make sure they are good wishes!” replied the hermit.
The next day the hermit appeared outside Billy’s smithy just as he was leaving for the night out and asked,
“Have you decided?”
“I have,” said Billy.
“Tell me,” said the hermit.
“The first is this. In my smithy I have a big sledge-hammer and I wish that whoever takes up that hammer, other than me, shall strike the anvil with it with all their force until I tell them to stop,” said Billy.
“Hmm!” replied the hermit, “that is not a very wise wish. What is the second?”
“The second wish is for a purse that will not let out whatever I put inside it,” answered Billy chuckling.
“Well, that does not seem like a very good wish either!” said the hermit growing perplexed.
“My third wish is this. I have an armchair and I wish that anyone who sits in it will be unable to get up until I allow it,” said Billy looking very pleased.
“Billy, Billy, Billy, these are not wise wishes, you could have so much more just on the asking!” exclaimed the hermit.
“Well now, these are my wishes and I think they are very good wishes so will you grant them as you promised,” answered Billy determinedly.
“Very well, as you insist, they are yours and will manifest exactly what you wish for when ever you choose to use them,” replied the perplexed hermit. With that he left the pub and Billy never saw him again.
Billy spent all his waking hours in his favorite pastimes of boozing, debauchery and having an all round good time and the years rolled by. He ran out of money just before the seven years were up so he returned to his smithy to make money. When his time was up the Devil stepped into his forge saying, “Well now Billy Duffy you now have three days grace and you shall have as much money as you desire. Ask and it will be given.”
Despite being penniless he had great confidence in the Devil and made his way to his favorite pub. Stepping inside, he was welcomed raucously by his friends who were all expecting him to treat them. They were profoundly disappointed when he proclaimed he was stony broke. Nevertheless, he boldly walked up to the bar, slammed his fist down and demanded an empty glass. The landlord was used to Billy’s antics and always grateful for the money he spent in the past and obliged. Holding the empty glass aloft Billy cried, “Fill this glass with money!”
The response was dramatic. After a loud bang and blinding flash Billy was left holding aloft a glass full of money.
“Well, now folks, it seems I am not as broke as I thought. Landlord, the drinks are on me!” he cried.
Although astonished, the landlord wasted no time in filling everyone’s glass. He had no idea how Billy did it but it was very good for business. Billy paid for everyone’s drink that evening and the beer and wine flowed fast and free. After three days of drinking and debauchery Billy’s money finally ran out and he staggered home.
Billy Tricks the Devil
Out of money he was up working in his smithy the next morning when the Devil arrived and told him, “OK Billy your time is up. It is time to go, come along!”
“Alright, just give me a hand here for a minute so I can finish this job. Just give that horse shoe there on the anvil a good hammering while I go and wash my hands.” replied Billy moving to the sink and running the tap.
The Devil, liking to show off, picked hold of the hammer thinking to give the horseshoe three mighty whacks to impress Billy. However, after the third blow he found he could not stop hammering.”
Billy laughed as he dried his hands and locked up the smithy leaving the Devil hammering away at the horseshoe. He did not return for three days and in that time the Devil could not stop hammering away night and day. When he returned Billy found a crowd of people had gathered around the smithy peeping though the window and cracks in the door to see what Billy was up to.
As Billy opened the door he greeted the Devil cheerily who replied angrily, “Billy that is a terrible trick to play on me. You know who I am and you should show me some respect. Make me stop!”
“Well now,” replied Billy, “surely you don’t expect something for nothing, do you? What is it worth?”
“OK! OK!” replied the exasperated Devil, “How about seven more years, twice the money and two days grace where you can wish for what you like?”
Billy readily agreed and the Devil paid up and promptly vanished in a huff. Billy spent the next seven years filled with boozing, gambling and all kinds of debauchery. At the end of those seven years again with out a penny Billy returned to his smithy to work for a living. On the first day of his two days grace he went to his favorite pub and wished for twenty pounds. Immediately a little tubby man entered the bar with a bag of coins and held it out to Billy. Of course that night Billy spent the lot until it was gone. The second night, again Billy wished for money and the little tubby man brought him a bag of coins.
The Devil Takes a Hammering
The next morning he went to the smithy to wait for the Devil knowing he would arrive sooner or later. It so happened that the Devil, remembering how Billy had tricked him before, arrived at the smithy before him. Thinking to outsmart Billy, he turned himself into a gold sovereign and lay in wait on Billy’s floor. When Billy entered he immediately spied the coin and clapped it into the purse he had wished for from the hermit. Laying the purse on his anvil he proceeded to beat it with his hammer with all his might again and again and again.
The Devil could not open the purse to escape and was forced to cry out, “Billy!, Billy!, Billy! Stop! Stop! Stop!”
“And if I do what will you give me?” replied Billy.
“I will give you seven more years, three times more money and one day of grace!” replied the Devil
Billy opened the purse and the Devil flew out and Billy got his money. He carried on spending the next seven years in his usual style. On his last night of grace Billy went to the pub and wished for money. Again the little tubby man arrived with a big purse of gold coins for him but this time warned him that this was his last day and in the morning he would be whisked away to hell. By now the landlord and his drinking partners were all suspicious and the landlord said, “Billy Duffy, I believe you are in league with the Devil. You will give my house a bad name”
“No, no, not at all! More in league against him and your house has always had a bad name!” retorted Billy, “Why else would I be found here?”
The landlord had no answer to such logic but demanded, “Well, what is going on?”
“Oh, you will see in due course, have no fear!” replied Billy. Despite their suspicions his friends and the landlord were all happy to help Billy spend his money.
The next morning Billy began working way in his smithy but the Devil would come nowhere near. Eventually, Billy finished his task and went into his sitting room and started going over papers. Plucking up courage the Devil entered and said, “Right Billy, let us go now and no tricks!”
“Ah, there you are, I wondered where you were. Come and sit down for a few minutes while I pop in the smithy and extinguish the furnace.” said Billy, amiably gesturing to the large comfortable looking armchair.
The Devil Gets His Nose Tweaked
The Devil sat down and relaxed in the armchair which really was very comfortable. Billy went to his smithy, where out of sight of the Devil he heated up a pair of tongs until they were red hot and returned hiding them behind his back.
“Ah, there you are!” said the Devil making to stand up but found he was stuck fast.
With his red hot tongs Billy grabbed the Devil by the nose pulling it and stretching it this way and that. The Devil roared with pain and fire snorted from his nostrils but it only heated the tongs up further. Billy clapped an iron cap over his nose to stop the flames. The Devil continued to yell and roar but he could not move from the armchair. A crown gathered around Billy’s house to see what the rumpus was. Seeing how Billy had the Devil in such dire straits they began clapping and cheering, “Billy’s got the Devil! Billy’s got the Devil! Billy’s got the Devil!”
The Devil, in his predicament cursed and threatened Billy with all the dire consequences he could think of using the vilest and most obnoxious terms. Undeterred, Billy continued tweaking his nose with the red hot tongs. Billy kept him there for days while the Devil shouted and swore. Eventually he realized that if he was ever to be free he would have to be civil to Billy and calmed down.
“Ok, Billy, what do you want to set me free?” asked the Devil as civilly as he could.
“Well, now sir, I think I would like to be free of you for the rest of my life and have as much money as I like whenever I want it,” replied Billy.
By now the Devil would have agreed to anything and everything so he readily accepted Billy’s proposal. As promised Billy set him free from the armchair keeping his side of the bargain. The Devil kept his and Billy had a plentiful and never ending supply of money for the rest of his life. The Devil, fearing some new ruse of Billy’s never once attempted to interfere with him knowing they would meet again sooner or later.
Rejected by Heaven, Barred From Hell
Billy never changed his ways and spent his remaining years as he had all his life in a state of drunkenness and debauchery. He lived to a ripe old age but at last his body could stand the strain no longer and he passed on. First he went to the Pearly Gates where he met Saint Peter who told him, “No Billy Duffy, you cannot enter here. You have lived your life as a bad, bold man and you are simply far too bad for Heaven”
So Billy made his way down below to the gates of Hell. “Who are you?” demanded the gatekeeper opening the gates for him to enter.
“I am Billy Duffy,” he replied, “and Saint Peter says I am too bad for Heaven!”
“And too clever for Hell,” roared the Devil who had just appeared around the corner, “Do not let him in. Lock and bar the gates and keep him out.”
But before anyone could move Billy jumped forward. Grabbing a pair of red hot tongs which was sizzling in one of the plentiful fires of Hell he seized the Devil by the nose with it. The Devil shouted and cursed, “My dose, my dose, not my poor dose again!”
Several demons leaped on Billy and dragged him from the Devil. However, Billy maintained a firm grip on the tongs which squeezed the Devil’s snout terribly, but they pulled so hard the red hot tip of his nose came off.
“Get him out!” cried the Devil, “He is too bad for Heaven and too clever for Hell.”
Will O’ The Wisp
The demons threw Billy out of the Gates of Hell but he still retained the tongs which held fast the tip of the Devil’s nose. It was so hot it evaporated him but the tongs remained in his hands bearing the glowing tip of the Devil’s nose that shone bright in the darkness and was his only guide. Folks traveling at night will sometimes see him as a strange light floating in the darkness. In his lonely wandering he has been seen in many different locations around the world by many different people and became known by many different names. One of the names he became known by is “Will-o-the-wisp” but the Devil has other names for him which we cannot reveal here.
Just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis lies the city of Alton, Madison County, Illinois. One of the city’s calls to fame is the mysterious Piasa Bird. This is a Native American design of a strange bird or dragon-like creature painted on a limestone cliff face above the Mississippi River. The first known Europeans to see it were early explorers traveling along the Mississippi Valley. Although the original mural no longer exists through quarrying activities the existing designs were reproduced from 20th century sketches and lithographs of what once existed. The images have to be restored at regular intervals because the rock face is an unsuitable canvas for painting.
IMAGES OF CAHOKIA
The original murals were believed to be created before the arrival of Europeans, possibly around 1200 CE and perhaps earlier by local Native America people. As the original mural seems deliberately situated to be seen it may have acted as a warning to travelers that they were entering a territory controlled by local people. Also, because of its visibility from the Mississippi river it may have been a warning to canoeists of the dangerous confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers a few miles further on.
Before Europeans reached the New World the region was inhabited by people of the Mississippian culture known as the Mound Builders, from approximately 800 CE to 1600 CE. These people were responsible for building a six mile square urban complex known today as the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. It consists of multiple artificial earthen mounds that were built on a flood plain near of the Illinois, Mississippi and Missouri rivers. At its zenith it was believed to be home to around 30,000 people making it the largest known urban center in the New World north of Mexico. This complex was believed to be the center of a civilization with trading links stretching from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast. It was from these people that the mural is believed to have originated. They also created many other pictographs of animals and birds including thunder birds, falcons, bird-men, monstrous snakes and other subjects. One that has particular relevance to the Piasa Bird was the Underwater Panther, as we shall see.
Other murals have been found in the area and on 27th May, 1921, the local newspaper, The Alton Evening Telegraph, mentioned seven smaller images believed to be of Native American origin. They were painted on rocks some one and a half miles from the Piasa Bird site in the Levis Bluffs region discovered by George Dickson and William Turk in 1905. These were believed to include an owl, a squirrel, a sun circle and a depiction of two unknown creatures in some kind of contest. The rest of the depictions were of larger animals like a lion or coyote.
DISCOVERY BY EUROPEANS
The first known Europeans to see the Piasa Bird were the Jesuit missionary and explorer Father Jaques Marquette and his party in 1664, who saw it painted on a limestone cliff overlooking the Mississippi River. However, the image they saw appears to have changed its appearance in modern time by growing wings. According to Marquette,
“While skirting some rocks, which by their height and length inspired awe, we saw upon one of them two painted monsters which at first made us afraid, and upon which the boldest savages dare not long rest their eyes. they are as large as a calf; they have horns on their heads like those of a deer, a horrible look, red eyes, a beard like a tiger’s, a face somewhat like a man’s, a body covered with scales, and so long a tail that it winds all around the body, passing above the head and going back between the legs, ending in a fish’s tail. green, red, and black are the three colors composing the picture.
Moreover, these two monsters are so well painted that we cannot believe that any savage is their author; for good painters in France would find it difficult to reach that place conveniently to paint them. Here is approximately the shape of these monsters, as we have faithfully copied it.”
On an early map compiled by the French cartographer Jean-Baptiste-Louis Franquelin a mural of a creature is shown (see images) as located east of the Mississippi and south of the Illinois River is shown but this also has no wings. How it acquired wings is not clear but it seems it was first described as bird by Professor John Russell of Bluffdale, Illinois in an article entitled, “The Tradition of The Piasa” in 1836.
THE JOHN RUSSELL LEGEND
Russell claimed the name came from a nearby stream who local Native Americans called the Piasa which meant “the bird that devours men” in the language of the local Illini people. The stream ran through parts of Alton until it was encased in drainage pipes in 1912. He claimed that the depiction was of a huge bird-like creature that dwelt in a cave in the cliffs. It had developed a taste for human flesh after a war had left many bodies lying out in the open which it scavenged upon. According to him to satisfy this appetite it would fly down and attack and devour local people in nearby villages.
He told of a legend of how a local chief named Chief Ouatoga was sent a dream from the Great Spirit revealing how he could kill the monstrous beast. The Great Spirit told the Chief to hide his bravest warriors near the entrance of the cave armed with poisoned arrows. When they were in place he was to openly approach the cave acting as bait so that the Piasa Bird would rush to attack him. Ouatoga enacted the plan and as the creature rushed out of the cave his braves let fly their poisoned arrows slaying the beast.
According to Russell, it was this beast the mural was supposed to commemorate. The mystery is what happened for the creature to acquire wings. However, it is possible that what both Father Marquette saw and what Russell saw was accurate as the wings could have been added after the first sighting although why they were added is not known. It was Russell’s colorful version which stuck although there are claims he later admitted to making up the story.
THE UNDERWATER PANTHER
A modern theory proposes a different origin. According to this the mural depicts a mythical Native American creature known as the “Underwater Panther” but with added wings. Some people think the original wingless depiction of the panther bears a strong resemblance. Versions of the Underwater Panther are shown in petroglyphs, pictographs, and other art forms from the Great Lakes in North America, down to the Andes in South America. There are a great many different Native American cultures and its attributes and meaning vary between them. It is also know as the Underwater Lynx and other names but often referred to collectively as Underwater Panthers.
According to Esarey, Costa, Wood, the Piasa and the Underwater Panther are both linked to the legends of the “payiihsa” which was a small supernatural being with big feet with 4 to six toes. It is often found in pottery and rock art “payiihsa” along with images of the Underwater Panther.
A legend from the Peoria people translated by Miami-Illinois language expert, David Costa is now thought more likely to be the inspiration of the depiction. This tells how the cultural hero and trickster Wiihsakacaakwa and a Frenchman went on a boat trip along the river. They had to pass by a cave which they knew to be the home of a supernatural man-eating monster. To the dismay and fear of the Frenchman, Wiihsakacaakwa decided he would be as loud and irritating as possible, ignoring his companion’s pleas not to disturb the monster. The raucous behaviour of Wiihsakacaakwa roused the beast which emerged from the cave finding them in their boat in the river. Taking a great gulp of river water the monster sucked the boat into his cave where he imprisoned them. They discover there are other captives held in the cave and that the monster ate them one by one when he gets hungry. However, the monster, feeling secure in its cave went to sleep.
Wiihsakacaakwa told the others to sneak out of the cave while he piled the gunpowder they had brought with them for hunting, around the monster. After the others had escaped Wiihsakacaakwa blew him up. Having defeated the monster Wiihsakacaakwa decided he liked the cave and made it his home until a pair of twin supernatural dwarfs known as the “payiihsaki,” appeared and drove him out stealing the cave from him.
The belief is the Piasa originated from “payiihsa”, an Miami-Illinois word that is used to refer to two small supernatural entities. The Underwater Panther was often associated with two small supernatural dwarves. From this comes the claim the original Piasa was wingless Underwater Panther which is reinforced by the 1682 map of the Mississippi that corresponds to the descriptions given by Jolliet and Marquette.
Although Russell’s tale was the most colorful and heroic it is the legend of Wiihsakacaakwa that is now considered authentic with the monster possibly the Underwater Panther and the two dwarfs giving their name to the Piasa Bird.
In many places in the South Seas there is a myth of origin of the coconut tree (Cocos nucifera) and its nut. It is a popular and well known tale in Oceania with many different variations found from region to region. Names and details vary from region to region but there is a similar structure and story-line in many of these tales. It should be noted that in the folklore of the people of Samoa there is a legend they call “Sina ma le Tuna” which tells of the origin of the coconut tree and in the Samoan language, “Tuna,” means, “eel.” (1) Presented here are two versions of folktales that deal with this myth. The first is from the island of Savai’I, Samoa and the second comes from American Samoa.
The Savai’l Samoan Version
This folktale begins with a girl named Sina who was famous around the South Seas for her loveliness. The King of Fiji, who was known as the Tui Fiti, heard of her beauty and was intrigued. Although he was much older than Sina he decided he had to meet the beautiful one in person to see if all he had heard was true. Calling on his Mana, which is his own personal magic, he transformed into an eel and swam to the island home of Sina. Discovering the village pool was used by all the villagers as a communal bath he slithered into its waters hoping Sina would come to bathe.
Concealing himself at the bottom of the pool he waited patiently hoping she would enter the pool. Many of the villagers came to the pool to bathe but he remained hidden knowing that these were not the beautiful one he sought. Eventually, the most beautiful girl he had ever seen or imagined entered the pool to bathe. Immediately he knew it was her for such outstanding loveliness could only belong to the famous Sina, the beautiful one, he sought. He lay at the bottom of the pool staring up through the water at her lovely face.
Eventually, Sina felt a peculiar sensation and noticed the eel staring at her. Taken by surprise she became angry, shouting in Samoan, “E pupula mai, ou mata o le alelo!” which means, “You stare at me, with eyes like a demon!” (2). However, after the initial alarm Sina noticed the eel did not look dangerous or aggressive. In fact it actually seemed very nice and friendly so she took it home for a pet.
Many years passed and the King of Fiji lived happily as Sina’s pet enjoying the love and attention she unknowingly lavished on him as an eel. Nevertheless, the king was growing older and with age his magic weakened and he found it harder to keep his eel form. Therefore, he decided that it was time to reveal his true identity and explain himself to her.
He told her how he was the Tui Fiti, the King of Fiji, who had heard of her great beauty and come to see it for himself. To make the long sea journey from Fiji to Sina’s island home he had transformed himself into an eel so that he could swim the great distance. In this way he could wait in the pool until she arrived and he could see her. Once he had seen her he fell in love.
Realizing he was too old and she would rightly reject him he had kept his eel form so that she would not recognize him as an old man. He had been overjoyed when she had taken him as a pet because he would remain always near her and enjoy her love and care. Sadly, because of his great age, his magic had grown weak and he could not keep his eel form much longer and would die. Therefore, he wished for her to plant his head into the ground near her home. Sina had loved him greatly as her pet and was heartbroken when he died and granted his wish.
From his head there grew the first coconut tree. On a coconut there are three round marks which look like two eyes and a mouth. When the coconut is pierced to drink the milk through one of these holes the milk is taken through the pierced hole through the drinker’s mouth. According to the legend, whenever Sina took a drink of coconut milk from a coconut she was kissing the mouth of the eel.
In Samoa in the village of Matavai, in the district of Safune on the island of Savai’i,is a fresh spring pool. This pool is called, Mata o le Alelo, from the words that Sina first spoke to the eel and is still strongly associated with the legend.
An American Samoan Version
Another version from American Samoa tells how the King of Fiji, heard heard of the beauty of Sina and decided he wanted her for his wife. However, she lived on a distant island so using his magical power he transformed himself into a young eel and swam all the way from Fiji to Sina’s island home (3).
One day as she was out foraging for shellfish along the seashore she noticed the young eel looking at her from a rock pool. She thought it looked harmless and had a friendly face and being quite small would make a nice pet. Therefore, she caught it and put it in the container she used for her shellfish and took it home.
She kept it in a bowl in her home and carefully nurtured it and it became very placid and affectionate towards her. Under her care it soon grew too big for the bowl so she placed it in a spring near her home. However, the eel soon grew too big for the spring and she did not know what to do with it. She asked her mother who suggested she put it in the large freshwater spring the villagers used as a communal bath. Sina thought this a good idea as the large pool would give the eel space to grow and be free so she placed it in the pool and it hid its self at the bottom.
All the villagers used the pool to bathe but none of them ever seemed to notice the eel. It would come out of hiding to greet Sina as soon as she stepped into the water. It grew very long and big but was always very affectionate towards her and very playful with her yet no one seemed to notice its presence. One day the eel became too boisterous and playfully wrapped itself around Sina in a loving embrace. This frightened her and after that she would not bathe in the communal pool.
From then on she bathed in the small spring near her home. This was fine at first but somehow the eel found out where she was bathing and appeared in the water as she bathed. Still no one else could see the eel and its behaviour alarmed her and began to make her angry and frightened.
Determined to escape the eel, one morning just before dawn, while her family still slept, she quietly left her home to walk to the next village. It was good distance and she would stop at a spring along the way for a refreshing drink and to cool down and rest. To her dismay at every spring she stopped at the eel would appear staring out of the water at her. This terrified her and she continued journeying from village to village trying to escape the eel. Each time she stopped at the springs along the way it would appear. Where ever she went the eel appeared and it was growing longer and longer and to her fear and bewilderment, no one else could see it.
There came a time when it left a pool she had found it in and wriggled onto the land and followed on behind her like pet dog. Wherever she went it followed her and still no one else could see it. On her wanderings she came across a group of people having a meeting. In desperation she ran and sat between the two lead speakers.
This surprised everyone but the eel had now grown as long as a person. Now everyone could see and hear it and all sat terrified at the strange creature. It slid through the crowd to rest before where Sina was sitting between the two speakers. Raising itself up to look her in her eyes the eel said,
“Sina, my beautiful one, please forgive me! Know now that my true shape is that of a human. I am the King of Fiji. I have used my magic to attain this eel form you see me in now. I took this form when I first heard of your beauty and grace that I might swim the great distance from Fiji to your home on this island to see you for myself.
My intention was to woo you and win your love but I now see that the form I took frightened you and I am sorry. After so much traveling and keeping this form my magic and power is all used up. I am tired and my death draws near. Before I die I wanted to explain these things to you hoping you would think better of me.
In compensation for alarming you I have a valuable gift to offer you. When I die cut off my head and plant it outside your home. It will soon grow into a tree that will be of great value to you and your people. It will have long green leaves that can be used as a fan to cool you in the summer’s heat.
These leaves will also provide good covering for the roofs of your homes. The leaves, bark and wood you will find will have many uses that will be of great service to people. It will also bear a nut that gives food and a nourishing drink. The nut will have three marks that resemble human features. To drink from the nut puncture one of these holes and you will pour its milk from its mouth!”
With that it died. Sina felt sorrry for the King of Fiji and thought perhaps if she had known the full story in the first place things might have turned out differently. She did as he had asked and planted his head. As he had foretold a tree grew from it bearing long green leaves and a large nut. The tree and the nut proved to be extremely useful to humans and became an important part of their lives. It spread beyond Sina’s isle to neighboring islands and beyond often carried by humans and some times carried by the sea. The same tradition of kissing the eel when drinking from the coconut applies to this legend as well.
The following is a retelling of a story of Chinese origin from, “The Romance of the Milky Way, and Other Studies & Stories,” by Lafcadio Hearn. The story tells of a Chinese scholar known as Tō no Busanshi who was a great scholar and a keen gardener. To him the acquisition and appliance of knowledge was the planting and cultivation of a garden that was his soul.
Indeed, he was renowned for his love of flowers of all kinds. He was especially fond of peonies which he cultivated himself spending many hours attending to their smallest needs with great love, skill and patience. Under his loving care and attention the peonies blossomed brightly and beautifully and their leaves dripped green. He would speak to them softly and affectionately whenever he was tending to them. In response they all appeared to gaze towards him, nodding and smiling and displaying their beauty, while appearing to lean towards his love. He thought he could hear them whispering but he could not quite understand what was being said.
One day there came to his house a very pretty girl who begged him to take her into his service in his household. She explained she had received a good literary education and loved learning but had become the victim of unfortunate circumstances that forced her to seek employment. Knowing he was a great and famous scholar she thought she would like to work in his household which was a shrine of knowledge and great learning. She told him she was a hard and diligent worker and asked if could employ her.
Surprised, Busanshi looked at her and thought there was something charming and familiar about her as if he had known her from somewhere else. It was something about the way she gazed and gently leaned towards him. He was more than a little flattered and also greatly impressed by her loveliness. Thinking that for her looks alone she would be an elegant and pleasing asset for his household he took her on as a maid servant. Indeed, she proved to be a great asset her beauty enlivened and brought delight to any room she entered. Her work and industry rate was exceptional and she was very obedient and attentive.
The Maid Servant
As well as her work she was adept and perfectly at home with the etiquette and cultivated demeanor one would expect from a lady of the highest circles. Her literary skills were excellent and she composed wonderful poetry which she expressed with great skill using the arts of calligraphy and painting. She impressed him so much he thought she must have been brought up in the court of some high ranking noble family or great lord. There was something that with all his great learning he could not describe which was so appealing about her. Something about her shining eyes, her smile and the way she leaned towards him. It was not long before Busanshi fell hopelessly in love with her and sought ways to please her.
On occasions he was visited by friends who were also also great scholars. He would send for her that she might entertain and impress them with her loveliness, intelligence and grace. All who beheld her were greatly impressed and further charmed by her gentle and amiable nature.
One day one of his friends, a great academic and teacher of morals and high principles, named Teki-Shin-Ketsu arrived at his door unexpectedly. Busanshi was thrilled to receive such a famous celebrity and called his maid servant to meet him expecting her charm and intelligence to impress the great man. However, unusually there was no reply and she did not appear smiling and radiant as she always had before. In fact, although he called again she did not appear at all.
Busanshi really wanted to impress his great friend with his charming and educated maid servant and was mildly irritated that she did not appear obediently and instantly as she usually did. Perturbed by her non-appearance he went seeking her out. With growing irritation he searched the entire house calling and looking in every room but could find her nowhere.
Greatly disappointed and very puzzled he was returning back to his esteemed guest when he caught a glimpse of her gliding quietly and effortlessly before him down the corridor. Calling to her he hurried after her. On hearing him she half turned to see him but flattened herself fearfully against the wall just like a spider in fear might.
The Peony Soul
As he caught up with her he was astounded to see her appearance change. As she flattened her back hard against the wall her entire body became flatter and flatter until there was nothing left that remained of her but a two dimensional image as if painted on the surface of the wall. This flat image slowly began to fade before his eyes until there was nothing else to be seen but a flat barely visible colored shadow. As he watched in fear and amazement he could still see the faded image of her pretty eyes and her beautiful lips which spoke to him in a whisper,
“Please, forgive your humble maid servant for not answering your call. As you now see I am not human but the soul of the peonies that you love so much and take so much good care of. Because of the greatness of your love and care I was able to manifest into human form so that I might repay your love and devotion.
I have treasured my time with you but now an enemy has come into your home. You and other humans consider him a great scholar and wise teacher of morality. I warn you he is a sly one – a being of no morals and evil to the core. He is my enemy searching for me and I dare not keep this form any longer. I must change back to my true shape and return to the peonies. That is where you shall find me and when the time is right join me. Tend well your peony soul with love and dedicated devotion!”
With that she simply faded into the wall leaving no trace of her form to his bewilderment and great sorrow. He still carried on tending his peonies lavishing great care and love upon them. Softly and lovingly he talked to them and more than ever they appeared to lean towards him. At times when he believed he had no more love to offer they attuned to his feeling and he knew they had always been his lover and would always remain that way and with dedication and devotion he continued with the cultivation of his peony soul.
This article was first published on #FolkoreThursday.com under the title, Exploring the Otherworld of the Celts, on 18 March, 20211, written by zteve t evans.
The concept of a magical, mysterious, “Otherworld” has been a common component in many myths and legends of diverse human cultures all around the world throughout history. The ancient Celtic people also had their own ideas of this enigmatic and ethereal region. Their territories included Ireland, the United Kingdom and a swathe of continental Europe, including areas of the Iberian Peninsula and Anatolia. As such there were variations in philosophies concerning this world and the next from region to region. Presented here is a brief exploration of their idea of the Otherworld and how it appears in different Celtic regions.
The Celtic Otherworld is sometimes presented as the realm where their deities lived, or the place of their dead and sometimes both. Other stories tell of a magical paradise where people enjoyed eternal youth, good health and beauty, living in joy and abundance with all their needs satisfied. It could also be the abode of the fairies, Twylyth Teg, Aos Sí and many other similar magical entities.
Entry to the Otherworld
The Otherworld is usually hidden and difficult to find but certain worthy people manage to reach it through their own efforts. Others may be invited, or escorted by one of its dwellers, or given signs to follow. Sometimes entry is gained through ancient burial mounds or by crossing over, or under, water, such as a river, pool or the sea. There are also special places such as certain lakes, bogs, caves, burial mounds or hills where access to and from the Otherworld can be gained. Another idea is that the Otherworld exists in a different dimension alongside the earthly one as a kind of mirror-world. At certain times of the year, such as Samhain and Beltane, the veil that separates the two grows thin, or withdraws, making entry and exit easier.
Presented here is a retelling of an Anansi tale found in West African Folktales by William H. Barker and Cecilia Sinclair. Anansi the spider is a trickster who has many roles in the folklore and traditions of West Africa, Jamaica and throughout the African diaspora. He features in many roles in many tales sometimes as a hero bringing knowledge and benefits to humans or as a villain. Anansi tales explore human nature and very often by contrasting his behaviour with that of other characters or situations in the story important lessons are found as is the case in the following story.
ANANSI AND NOTHING
Anansi lived in a rundown shack and his nearest neighbor was someone called Nothing who was exceedingly rich and lived in a grand and luxurious palace. One day Anansi and Nothing decided to go into town with the purpose of both finding a wife. They set off and as they were walking along Anansi became aware of the great contrast in their appearances that revealed their financial status for all to see. Whereas he was dressed in ragged old cotton clothing, Nothing was smartly attired in fine velvet and satin. Anansi was dismayed. He knew there would be competition between the two and women would want to be the wife of the smart and affluent Nothing instead of himself.
After carefully considering the situation he came up with a plan. Nothing liked to be flattered so he told him how smart he thought he looked today. As he expected Nothing was pleased and very flattered. Anansi then gently and very politely asked Nothing, if he may try on his clothing to see what it was like to wear such fine apparel. He promised he would give it back before they reached town.
Again Nothing felt flattered and allowed Anansi to wear his clothes on the condition that they put on their own clothes before they entered town. When they reached the outskirts of town Nothing reminded Anansi of his promise. Anansi made many excuses on false pretexts not to change clothing and refused to comply. All of Nothing’s pleas fell on deaf ears so he had to continue wearing Anansi’s old cotton rags, much to his displeasure and ire.
ATTRACTING A WIFE
At last they arrived in the town center where it was the custom for people to gathee to show off their finest clothes and parade up and down hoping to attract a spouse. Anansi, wearing Nothing’s fine clothing of velvet and satin soon came to the attention of the women. They flocked around him and he had the pick of the best. He was greatly admired and could have had as many wives as he wished but he chose just one knowing he would somehow have to support her.
In comparison, Nothing dressed in Anansi’s old cotton rags was being ignored and worse still the subject of much derision by the women. Eventually, one woman saw more to him than his clothes and offered to become his wife. All the other women laughed and taunted her for wanting to be the wife of such an impoverished and raggedly man as Nothing appeared to be. However she was a woman who knew her own mind and very wisely ignored them.
Anansi chose the most beautiful woman of the many who flocked around him, making the others madly jealous. With the matter of marriage now decided, Anansi and Nothing accompanied by their respective wives, went home. However, when they reached the point where the road split into two paths which led to their new husband’s homes the two wives were in for a surprise.
When Nothing reached the path to his grand house all the servants ran out to greet him and his new wife. All around the house the servants had decorated it in bright colors and inside had prepared a lavish wedding feast for the couple to enjoy. Nothing’s new wife was happily surprised as they dressed her and her husband in fine clothing and escorted them singing and dancing along the path into the house. Anansi, to the shock of his new wife, led her up his path which was but dirt and ashes to his tumbledown shack. There was no one to greet these two newlyweds, no food, no decorations and no servants singing happy songs.
Nothing’s wife was well rewarded for her perceptiveness and judgement. Instead of being the wife of a pauper she was the wife of the richest man in the entire district. She lived in a grand and luxurious house, ate the best food, wore the finest clothes and lived like a queen. In comparison, the wife of Anansi lived in a tumbledown hovel. She was forced to eat the cheapest food and had to wear old cotton rags for clothes.
Nothing’s wife was a generous and compassionate woman. Despite having been subject to taunts and derision by her initial decision to marry the seemingly poor Nothing, she invited Anansi’s wife to visit her. Not because she wanted to get her own back or gloat but because she was kind and generous and wanted to help her.
When she arrived she was very impressed by the luxury and good life Nothing’s wife lived. Furthermore, she saw how wrong she had been to judge a person by the cut and splendor of their clothes. She begged Nothing’s wife for her forgiveness and told her of her miserable impoverished existence with Anansi. Nothing’s wife told her she was welcome to stay in her home if she did not want to go back to Anansi.
When his wife did not return and he discovered why Anansi was very angry. He blamed Nothing and decided he would take revenge by murdering him. He tried several times but without success but then hit on a plan. He persuaded some rat friends of his to dig a deep tunnel just before Nothing’s front door. After they had dug the hole he lined it with knives, spikes and broken glass and finally smeared oil upon the front step to make it very slippery. Then he hid himself in the garden and waited until it grew dark and those in the house had gone to bed. Softly he called through the window for Nothing to come out into the garden to see what was there.
On hearing a voice in the night Nothing got up to investigate but his wife, using her good sense and judgement dissuaded him from going outside. This was repeated for several nights running with his wife stopping him going outside each time. Eventually, he grew angry with the voice when it called again and would not listen to his wife. Angrily, he marched out the front to confront the voice but as he stepped out he slipped and the ground fell away below him and he tumbled into the trap Anansi had set.
His wife and servants heard him cry out and rushed to the front door but his wife stopped the servants from rushing out. Carefully opening the door and looking this way and that she found him dead in the hole pierced by many spikes and knives and cut by broken glass.
CRYING FOR NOTHING
His wife was heart-broken by his death and grieved greatly. In the hope of alleviating her grief, she followed the local tradition of cooking and sharing yams. She took them around to each of her neighbors and especially the children so that they might help her to cry out her grief. This is why when you ask why a child is crying you will often be told, “They are crying for Nothing!”
This article was first published 11 March 2021 on #FolkloreThursday.com titled, Shapeshifters from the Celtic World by zteve t evans.
Shapeshifters are found in most mythologies and folk traditions around the world from ancient to modern times. In such traditions, humans change into vampires, werewolves, frogs, insects, and just any about any other creature imaginable and back again. Sometimes the transformation is controlled by the transformer who shifts shape at will. Other times it is an unwelcome event such as a punishment and sometimes it is forced by a magical spell but there are many other reasons besides. Shapeshifters can be good or bad, often moving the story forward in a novel way or have some kind of symbolism that the teller wants to get across to their audience. There are many different kinds of shapeshifting and here we look at different examples from Ireland, Wales and Scotland that provide differing glimpses of shapeshifters in action in the myth, folklore, and tradition of these three Celtic nations.
In Irish mythology, the Morrigan was a shapeshifting war goddess who could transform into a woman of any age and also change into animal or bird form. She had the power of prophecy and as a war goddess would sing her people to victory in battle. Sometimes she could be seen swooping over the battlefield in the form of a raven or crow and devouring the bodies of the slain.
In the story of the “Táin Bó Cúailnge”, or “The Cattle Raid of Cooley,” the Morrigan appears as a crow to warn the bull named Donn Cuailnge that Queen Medb is plotting to abduct him. Queen Medb attacks Ulster after the bull but is resisted single-handedly by the hero Cú Chulainn fighting a series of duels with her champions at a ford. In battle, Cú Chulainn undergoes a spectacular change in his form described as ríastrad or “warp-spasm” that sees him his body twist and contort into the most grotesque and fearsome appearance terrifying his opponents.
Birds have always played and important part in human culture appearing in the legends, myths and fables of people all around the world. Presented here are five legendary and mythical birds from different parts of the world, each with their own folklore and fables attached.
The Legendary Alicanto Bird
In Chilean folklore and mythology the Alicanto is a strange, mythical, bird that inhabits a strange but very real place known as the Atacama Desert ( Desierto de Atacama) and other parts of Chile, South America. The desert is rich in minerals and ores and according to legend is home to a mythical bird called the Alicanto that is said to eat different ores of metal. Its wings are said to shine at night with beautiful metallic colors and its eyes radiate colorful lights. These wonderful illuminations are said to be caused by the different metals it has eaten. For example, if it eats gold it emits a golden light or if it eats silver its light is silvery and if it eats copper it may be reddish though its wings are often described as being a coppery green. Sometimes it may eat more than one kind of metal resulting in different colors being emitted. Because of the light it emits it does not have a shadow.
Because of the heavy nature of its diet the bird spends most of its time on the ground being too heavy to fly and considered flightless. When it has not eaten for a long time it becomes lighter and can run much faster. It lays two eggs whose shells are made from the metal it eats. According to folklore, miners and prospectors would secretly follow an Alicanto hoping it would lead them to a rich deposit of metal ore or a secret horde of treasure known as an entierros. These legendary hoards were said to have been hidden by indigenous people hiding their treasure from the Spanish. It was also said pirates and privateers such as Sir Francis Drake hid their treasure in the desert.
Hopeful miners or prospectors would follow the light of bird’s wings in the darkness. If the Alicanto became aware of them it turned off the light losing its follower in the thick darkness. If the follower was of bad character and not true of heart the bird would lead them over a cliff to death. One legend tells how a Chilean Silver Rush was sparked on 16 May, 1832 when a miner named Juan Godoy followed an Alicanto to rich outcrop of the precious ore. This event led to a rush to mine silver with many miners striking rich.
The Basan in Japanese Mythology and Folklore
In Japanese folklore and mythology the Basan is a chicken-like bird sometimes called Basabasa, or Inuhōō and also known as the “Fire Rooster”. It was said to have its home on the Japanese island of Shikoku in the mountains of Iyo Province which is now known as Ehime Prefecture. According to old depictions it looks like a large chicken with a large, intensely red comb. It is said to breathe ghost-fire from its beak which is not hot but a cold fire that glows.
They made their homes in bamboo covered mountain recesses but were known to occasionally materialize late at night in human settlements. The wings of the Basan are said to make a strange and unearthly rustling sound when flapped. If a human inside a house hears this noise and looks outside to investigate they will just get a glimpse of the bird as it disappears before their eyes.
The Firebird in Slavic and Russian Folktales
In Russian and Slavic folklore the Firebird is a beautiful, magical bird that is much desired but has a reputation of being both an omen of doom and a blessing for those who manage to find one of its feathers, or capture it. The Firebird is described in various ways but essentially as a bird with brilliant, glowing orange, red and yellow plumage giving it the appearance of fire, hence its name. The feather continues to glow even when one is lost making it a valuable prize for the finder emitting enough light to fill a large room. They are usually depicted in the form of a fiery bird of paradise of varying in size with the story and artist. It is an extremely beautiful bird and although not usually regarded as particularly friendly is not aggressive, or vicious, but is associated with danger. This is because of its role as a bringer of danger to whoever finds it and very often a bringer of doom to those who demand its capture.
The typical structure of a firebird story begins with the finding of a feather by the hero. All though initially pleased with the find the hero eventually begins to see it as the cause of all of his troubles. This is followed by a bullying king or tsar ordering the hero to undertake one, or more, difficult and dangerous quests in search of something rare and valuable.The hero often has the assistance of a magical animal helper such as a horse or wolf who guides him throughout. The final quest is usually for the Firebird which must be brought back alive to the tsar or king. On the quest the hero has a number of adventures and wins the love of a beautiful princess. On return with the Firebird the tsar or king dies and the hero becomes ruler and marries the beautiful princess obtaining his heart’s desire. In many ways it is a rite of passage for the hero who grows in wisdom and maturity throughout until he becomes strong and able enough to become the ruler.
The Boobrie in Scottish Folklore
In the legends and folklore of the west coast of Scotland the Boobrie is a shapeshifting entity that usually appears in avian form. It is also known to take on other forms such as that of a water horse or bull. The Boobrie was said to make a deep bull-like bellowing call described as being similar to that of a common bittern though these are infrequent visitors to the region. When it appears as a water horse it has the ability to gallop over the tops of lochs and rivers as if they were solid land. It was also known to manifest as a huge vampire-like insect in summer that sucks the blood of horses. However, its preferred form appears to be that of an oversized water bird such as a cormorant, great northern diver or the extinct flightless great auk. Although considered mostly aquatic it was known to take to the land sometimes concealing itself in tall patches of heather.
The Boobrie is considered to be a voracious predator. Otters are said to be its favorite food and although it eats these in great numbers it will raid ships carrying livestock having a liking for calves, lambs and sheep. Of course this made it an enemy of the local island farmers of the area. One legend from the Isle of Mull tells how a farmer and his son were ploughing a field beside Loch Freisa. They were using a team of four horses but ran into trouble when one lost a shoe and could not continue.Looking round they saw an unknown horse grazing peacefully close by. Wanting to get the ploughing finished they decided they would try the unknown horse in place of the one that lost its shoe. Hitching it up along side the other three they were heartened to see the unknown horse seemed to take to the task with ease and their ploughing progressed well.
The Anqa of Arabian Mythology
In Arabian mythology the Anqa is large, marvelous and mysterious female bird. It is said she flies far away only returning once in many ages but can be found at the place of the setting sun. She is also known as Anka, Anqa Mughrib or Anqa al-Mughrib. Mughrib, has several meanings such as “strange, foreign,” “distant” or “west sunset” signifying the mystery and fantastical attributes of the bird.
Zakariya al-Qazwini, in his book, “The Wonders of Creation” describes the Anqa as very beautiful with four pairs of wings, a long white neck. He claimed it possessed a small resemblance to every known living creature and they were related to birds that lived alone on Mount Qaf. He also claimed they were wise gaining wisdom and experience through their lifespan of 1700 years and mates when it reaches the age of 500 and an egg is produced. When the chick hatches it will stay in the nest for 125 years before it leaves. The Anqa is so large its diet consists of large fish and elephants and nothing else.