Sir Galahad the Perfect Knight

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

King Pelles

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

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

Elaine and Lancelot

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

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

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

The madness of Lancelot

holy_grail_tapestry_the_failure_of_sir_launcelot

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

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

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

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

Galahad’s quest for the Holy Grail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Galahad’s achievement of the Holy Grail

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

© 03/05/2016  zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright May 3rd, 2016 zteve t evans

Ancient symbols: The puzzle of the Three Hares

Three hares sharing three ears,

Yet every one of them has two!

Ancient German riddle

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

An ancient symbol

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

Threefold rotational symmetry

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

The Tinners Rabbit’s

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

Sacred symbols

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

Buddhist connections

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

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

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

The spread of the motif

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

Christian use of the Three Hares

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

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

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

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

An ancient German riddle

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

Three hares sharing three ears,

Yet every one of them has two.

Coat of Arms of Hasloch – Public Domain

The meaning of the Three Hares motif

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

Symbolism of the Three Hares

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

One last question

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

© 06/05/2015 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright 6th May, 2015 zteve t evans

Greek mythology: Gaia’s revenge

Gaia the Earth Mother

Gaia – Public Domain

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

Ouranos the god of the skies

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

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

The birth of the Titans

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

The birth of the Cyclops

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

The birth of Briareus, Cottus and Gyes

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

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

Gaia’s revenge

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

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

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

Cronus becomes king of the gods

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

References and attributions

Copyright 25/03/2015 zteve t evans

British Folk Songs: The Ballad of John Barleycorn

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

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

Barley – Public Domain Image


The Ballad of John Barleycorn

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

Different Versions

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

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

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

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

Pagan and Anglo-Saxon Associations

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

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

The Golden Bough

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

The Corn King

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

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

Christianity

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

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

Popular Culture

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

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

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

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

The Popular Legend of Lady Godiva

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

Lady Godiva, by artist John Collier – Public Domain Image

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

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

The Heregild Tax

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

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

Leofric’s Challenge

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

Lady Godiva takes up the Challenge

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

Peeping Tom

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

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

Leofric Keeps His Promise

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

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

The Godiva Procession

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

Future Articles

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

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

The Legend Of Madelon And The Christmas Rose

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

Madelon and the Christmas Rose - Public Domain

Madelon and the Christmas Rose – Public Domain

The Christmas Rose

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

The Legend

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

Madelon

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

Love And Devotion

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

The Magi Give Baby Jesus Wonderful Gifts

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

Madelon’s Tears

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

A Precious Gift Of Pure Blooms

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

The ancient pagan origins of Christmas – The festival of Saturnalia

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

Dice players – Author: WolfgangRieger – Public Domain Image

The Roman Festival of Saturnalia

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

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

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

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

Role reversal during Saturnalia

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

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

Dressing for Saturnalia

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

Giving presents during Saturnalia

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

The Lord of Misrule

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

The influence of Saturnalia on Christmas today

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

References

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

Saturnalia – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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

Natural Folklore: The Northern and Southern Lights

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights

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

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

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

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

The Fox-fires of Lapland

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

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

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

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

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

The ride of the Valkiries

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

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

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

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

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

Warriors battling in the skies

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

Eskimo beliefs

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

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

Spirits of animals

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

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

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

Everlasting love

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

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

The Enduring Appeal of Robin Hood

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

Public Domain Image

Medieval forest

A working class hero

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

Sherwood Forest

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

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

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

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

Robin of Loxley

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

Robin Hood and Little John by Louis Rhead Public Domain Image

The Merry Men

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

Robin’s enemies

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

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

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

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

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

The origin of the Robin Hood legends

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

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

Where was Robin based?

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

Was Robin Hood a real person?

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

Robin Hood as a forest spirit

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

Green Man from Southwell Minster Public Domain Image Author: MedievalRich

Robin Hood and the Green Man

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

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

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

The enduring appeal of Robin Hood

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

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

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

References

Robin Hood

Merry Men

World Wide Robin Hood Society

BBC Robin Hood and his Historical Context By Dr Mike Ibeji

The Enigma of the Green Man – Theories and Interpretations

Experience the Robin Hood Legend in Nottinghamshire, UK

Pima Legends: The Great Flood of Cherwit Make

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Pixabay – Image by geralt – CC0 Public Domain

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

The Creation

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

Suha the Prophet

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

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

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

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

The Great Flood

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

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

Superstition Mountain

superstition_mountain_56

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

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

The evil of Hauk

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

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

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

The Prophecy of Suha

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

Cherwit Make

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

© 23/08/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright August 23rd, 2016 zteve t evans

The Legend of Saint Winefride and her Holy Well

saint_winifred_-_stained_glass_windos

St. Winefride – Copy94 – CC BY-SA 3.0

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

Who was Saint Winefride?

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

Winefride

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

The legend of St. Winefride

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

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

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

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

Saint Winefride’s Well

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 17/08/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright August the 17th, 2016 zteve t evans

The Legend of Saint Kenelm

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

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

Quenhendra

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

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

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

and he being an evil man he agreed.

The Dream of Kenelm

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

The Murder of Kenelm

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

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

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

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

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

The White Cow

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

The White Bird

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

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

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

The Burial of Kenelm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accuracy of the Legend

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

© 09/08/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright August 9, 2016 zteve t evans

The Legend of Fair Rosamund

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Study for a painting of Fair Rosamund by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – Public Domain

Fair Rosamund Clifford

The legend of Fair Rosamund tells the story of the beautiful Rosamund Clifford who was the mistress of Henry II the king of England and who controlled large parts of Wales, the eastern half of Ireland and the western half of France.  Rosamund was a young woman who became caught up in an illicit love affair with the ruler of this empire.  As well as Rosamund, Henry had a long list of mistresses but it was Rosamund that entered into legend.

Who was Rosamund?

Rosamund’s date of birth is uncertain but she was thought to have been born about 1150 and to have been the daughter of Walter de Clifford, a marcher lord, and his wife Margaret.  Their main estate was  thought to be Clifford Castle in Herefordshire, on the banks of the River Wye. Rosamund was believed to have been born at the Manor at Frampton-on-Severn where the village green is still known as Rosamund’s Green.  She grew up to be a typical English rose and her beauty was to become the subject of many poems, ballads, stories and works of art all of which added to the legend and mystery of her life.

Rosamund’s Bower

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Queen Eleanor & Fair Rosamund by Evelyn de Morgan – Public Domain

According to legend, Henry built a complicated maze at his hunting park at Woodstock in Oxfordshire that led to a bower which housed Rosamund for his secret liaisons with her.  The maze was supposed to have been designed to foil any attempt by Eleanor to reach the bower and protect his lover and their privacy.  The legend says that Rosamund’s bower, possibly a cottage or lodge was surrounded by gardens and a maze with a pool known as Rosamund’s Well where she was said to have bathed.  In later times Blenheim Palace was built on the site.

As so often happens with secrets of this sort word must have got out of the secret love nest and reached Eleanor.  She was furious and determined to put a permanent an end to the affair. Traveling to Woodstock she apparently met Henry coming out of the maze.  A silk thread had become attached to one of his feet without him noticing and had left a clear trail around the maze to Rosamund’s bower.  Eleanor followed the thread through the maze to the love nest and confronted Rosamund about the affair in no uncertain terms.  Rosamund was said to have been given the choice of death by either poison or the knife and chose poison.

Authenticity

There are those who doubt the authenticity of the circumstances in the legend. Rosamund’s abrupt death does not seem to have been reported or mentioned at the time and it was not until the 14th century that the legend appears.  There are different versions of the story of how Eleanor murdered Rosamund.  Some say she was roasted to death, while others say she was put in boiling water with her arms or wrists cut and left to bleed to death.

Henry, Eleanor, and Rosamund

Henry and Rosamund were believed at least to be familiar with each other before his marriage to Eleanor and probably lovers.  There is also a school of thought that says Rosamund and Henry were actually married but no evidence has been found to prove this.  When Eleanor, divorced from Louis VII, the King of France, she became one of the most eligible, richest and most powerful women in Europe.  Henry wanted to use the marriage to strengthen his realm and claim to large parts of France.  Some say to achieve these aims he married Eleanor while Rosamund, who was said to be the real love of his life, was set up as his mistress.

Historians are divided over whether Rosamund was kept entirely in seclusion.   Although the affair became public knowledge in 1174 they may have been seeing each other as lovers for a considerable time before that. There is a view that she accompanied Henry as he traveled around England and the continent as one of his household. Some think Henry may have deliberately flaunted her in an attempt to get Eleanor to divorce him after his relationship with her faltered.

Death of Rosamund

For unknown reasons, Rosamund was said to have joined the Abbey at Godstow while  Henry began an affair with Alais of France who was engaged to Richard, his son.   Rosamund was believed to have died from unknown causes at Godstow in 1176 and was buried there.  Her tomb became a popular shrine and people would leave flowers and candles there. Later the clergy deemed her presence immoral in the church and  had her remains moved outside.

Seeds of legend

Although the church frowned upon her even in death, she was not forgotten and later in the reign of Elizabeth I, popular stories began appearing about the alleged murder of Rosamund.  In 1592 Samuel Daniel wrote the Complaint of Rosamund and in 1612 Thomas Deloney wrote the Ballad of Fair Rosamund, both of which provide a fictional narrative of Rosamund’s death and the circumstances that surrounded it.  The first mention of poison was in 1611 in a ballad. Eleanor was imprisoned between 1173–1189 for her part in a failed rebellion against Henry and Rosamond was believed to have died in 1176 but the seeds of legend had been set and grew.

Rose of the world

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Rosa Mundi – by Schnurri – CC BY-SA 3.0

Rosamund was also often romantically called the Rose of the World and perhaps the best memorial to her is the Rosa Mundi (R. gallica var) a beautiful pink and white striped rose that has been associated with her since the 16th century.

© 02/08/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright August 2nd, 2016 zteve t evans

 

World Folklore: The Child Cast Adrift

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Artwork by Charles Foster – Public Domain

The Child Cast Adrift

Many myths and legends from many cultures around the world revolve around the theme of a child deliberately abandoned in the wilds or cast adrift on the ocean or a river.  The story involves a  helpless and defenseless baby committed by adults to take their chances of survival but against all odds and often with the help of divine intervention the baby survives to grow up and play a significant part in the culture of a society.  More often than not they become great leaders saving or inspiring their people.

Usually, those that cast the helpless babe adrift are not doing so with the intention of actually killing the child but are offering up for the chance of divine intervention, or luck, in the hope that the baby will survive the ordeal.  Sometimes it is the only chance the baby will have of survival because it has been rejected in some way by those who have power over it or others who wish it harm.  Presented here are four ancient examples from folklore and mythology around the world concluding with an example from modern fiction.

Moses in the Bull Rushes

The Old Testament tells how the population of Hebrews living in Egypt had grown to such an extent that the Egyptians grew concerned that they were becoming too powerful.  They forced them into slavery and to reduce their numbers the Pharaoh decreed that their newborn babies were to be drowned in the Nile.  The Hebrews prayed to God for help and he sent them Moses who was to lead them out of Egypt.

In a desperate hope that her baby might somehow escape this fate the mother of Moses placed him in a basket and sets him afloat in the reeds where Pharaoh’s daughter routinely went to bathe in the river trusting in God that he would be saved and fulfill his destiny. Pharaoh’s daughter did find him and he was rescued and survived growing up to lead his people out of Egypt to freedom.

Sargon of Akkad

Sargon of Akkad was a king in Mesopotamia from 2334 to 2279 BCE.  He was said to have been an illegitimate son of one of the priestesses of the temple of the goddess Innana and never knew who his father was.  His mother, whose name was not known, could not reveal her pregnancy or to keep the unnamed baby,  so she placed him in a basket and cast him adrift on the Euphrates River.

A man called Akki  who was an “irrigator”, or “drawer of water”, of King Ur-Zababa of Kish in Sumer found and rescued the child and brought up the baby.  The boy grew up to become king, conquering Mesopotamia and creating one of the first known multinational empires.  Although the name of the child is not known, when he became king he became known as Sargon and was regarded by many as the greatest man who had ever lived.

An account of Sargon’s birth and early boyhood is found in  a Neo-Assyrian text:

“Sargon, the mighty king, king of Akkadê am I,
My mother was lowly; my father I did not know;
The brother of my father dwelt in the mountain.

My city is Azupiranu, which is situated on the bank of the Purattu (Euphrates),
My lowly mother conceived me, in secret she brought me forth.

She placed me in a basket of reeds, she closed my entrance with bitumen,
She cast me upon the rivers which did not overflow me.

The river carried me, it brought me to Akki, the irrigator.

Akki, the irrigator, in the goodness of his heart lifted me out,
Akki, the irrigator, as his own son brought me up;

Akki, the irrigator, as his gardener appointed me.
When I was a gardener the goddess Ishtar loved me,
And for four years I ruled the kingdom.”  (1)

Romulus and Remus

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She-wolf suckles Romulus and Remus – Public Domain

According to the Roman historian Livy, Rhea Silvia was the daughter of Numitor who was the king of Alba Longa, an ancient city in the Alban Hills in what is now central Italy.  Amulius, the brother of Numitor seized the throne and killed all of his brother’s male heirs and forced Rhea Silvia to become a Vestal Virgin, making her take a vow of chastity and thinking that then there would be no challengers to his rule.

Possibly the gods had other ideas because Rhea Silvia conceived twins by the god of war, Mars and named them Romulus and Remus.   By some accounts, the usual punishment for a Vestal Virgin who broke their vows was death by being buried alive which was imposed on Rhea Silvia.  When the twins were born, Amulius, determined that there would be no challengers to him had them cast adrift on the River Tiber to certain death.   Both these acts were designed to avoid him having to bear the blame and carry the blood-guilt for their deaths.

Once abandoned on the waters the twins floated dangerously down the river at the mercy of the current  until Tibernus, the god of the river, came to their aid. The river god ensured their safety by calming the waters and causing their basket to catch in the roots of a nearby fig tree.  A she-wolf came across them and suckled them and a woodpecker brought them food and fed them.  They were found by a shepherd by the name of Faustulus. He and his wife took them in and brought them up as their own.

Although the twins became shepherds like their father they also went on to become great leaders and acquired a substantial following.   They both agreed they would found a city but in a quarrel over where it should be built Romulus killed Remus and went on to found Rome.

Taliesin of the Shining Brow

Taliesin is believed to have lived between 534 and 599. He was the chief bard in the courts of at least three kings of the Britons and is associated with the Book of Taliesin, a text from the 10th century containing his poems.  The conception and birth of Taliesin is a strange tale and begins on the banks of Lake Bala, North Wales, where Tegid Foel and his wife Ceridwen lived.  This couple had a daughter named Creawy who was very beautiful and a son called Morfan who was unbelievably ugly and stupid beyond hope.  Ceridwen had brewed a potion that was meant to improve the looks and intellect of Morfan but which accidentally was ingested by one of her helpers named Gwion Bach who got the benefits from the potion instead.   Ceridwen was furious with Gwion Bach and sought revenge which led to a chase which involved the two changing them shapes into different animals before Ceridwen turns into a hen finally eats Gwion Bach, who had turned into a  single grain of wheat in a pile of wheat. She then finds she has become pregnant with him when she returns to her true shape.

She gives birth to him and although she plans to kill him the baby is so beautiful she cannot find the heart.   However, she is determined to be rid of him and so places him in a leather bag and throws him in the sea.  Fortunately for the baby, he is found by Elffin who was the son of  Gwyddno Garanhir and was renowned for his bad luck.  One day when Elffin was inspecting his fishing traps to his dismay he found no fish just an old leather bag that had been tied at the top.  Hauling in the bag and untying it he was shocked to find a baby boy inside.  The baby had the whitest brow he had ever seen and he called the child, “Taliesin”  which means, “how radiant his brow is”.

Elffin decides to take the child home with him and on the way, and to his surprise, the baby begins reciting poetry.  From this Elffin surmises the boy must have been purposely sent to him as a guide and as a bard and prophet who will help him to overcome his enemies.  From that day on Elffin’s luck changes for the better and his fortunes begin to prosper.

Taliesin grows up to become the most famous bard in Britain and foretells correctly that Maelgwyn Gwynedd an evil king would be killed by the “yellow beast.”  The poetry of Taliesin becomes inspirational for the defenders of Britain in their struggle with the invading Saxons and he makes a famous prophecy revealing the fate of the Britons:

Their Lord they shall praise,
Their language they shall keep,
Their land they shall lose –
Except wild Wales.

Around the World

The theme of the abandoned baby is found in the folklore and mythology of many different cultures around the world.  From ancient India, the Hindu epic the Mahābhārata tells the tale of Karna and from Greek mythology is the tale of Oedipus, though he was abandoned on a mountainside rather than cast adrift in a river or the sea and there are many other examples.

In Modern Times

The theme of a baby cast adrift has many variations around the world in different cultures and still continues in modern fiction.  One of the most modern and well-known stories of a baby cast adrift is the story of Kal-El from the planet Krypton.  His parents placed him in a space rocket pointing it towards the planet Earth in the hope of finding safety for their son as their own planet was blown apart by a nuclear chain reaction.  The rocket reached Earth and crash landed and was found Jonathan and Martha Kent, a childless couple, who owned a farm in the United States of America. The childless couple took in the baby and brought him up as Clark Kent alias Superman.

© 27/07/2016 zteve t evans

Reference and Attributions

Copyright July 27th, 2016 zteve t evans

 

Chippewa Folklore: The Legend of the Sleeping Bear

This is a Native American legend from the Chippewa people that tells how North Manitou Island and South Manitou island, were created in the Great Lake now called Lake Michigan and how the Sleeping Bear Dune on its shore came to be.

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Pixabay – Image by skeeze – CC0 Public Domain

Mishe Mokwa

A long time ago on the Wisconsin side of Mishigami, the great lake, which is now call Lake Michigan, lived a mother bear called Mishe Mokwa, who gave birth to twin cubs in the spring. In keeping with her sacred duty to her young, she taught them how to live in the wild and how to find shelter. She taught them how to find clean water from the creeks and rivers, how to use their claws to dig out the dead trees for ants and grubs and how to follow honey bees back to their nests and steal their honey. Mishe Mokwa taught them plants that would heal them when they were sick and she taught them which animals were to be avoided and all the dangers of the wild woods because even for bears there were many.

Drought

The summer that followed the birth of her cubs became hot and troubled. The sun appeared bigger and closer to the earth and the clouds did not appear in the sky to cast cooling shadows and so no rain fell. Day after day the sun scorched the earth drying up the rivers and streams and the plants and trees grew brown and withered and the woods became bone dry and food became scarce. One morning she led her cubs down to the creek to drink but the creek was dry.

Fire in the forest

Mishe Mokwa knew they had to leave to find water and food and called her cubs to her telling them, “The sun has dried the water and we have to have water.  We can no longer stay, we have to follow the dry riverbed to the great lake Mishigami where we shall drink our fill.”

Mishe Mokwa was wise and relied upon her instincts and led her cubs along the dry riverbed towards Mishigami which was still some distance off. They traveled all day but as night fell out of the darkness came a great storm. The thunder rolled across the skies and lightning struck several trees and the parched woods were quickly turned into a sea of flames and smoke.  Mishe Mokwa called to her cubs,

“Quick, we must run for our lives down the dry creek bed to the great lake where we can hide in the wide water and be safe, run, run, run!”

Her cubs responded and they followed her as she ran down the dried riverbed with the flames so close their fur was singed.  Eventually and just in time they reached the great lake and swam out to safety. Turning round and looking back they saw the entire  shore in flames. The cubs looked upon the terrible sight in fear and one of them cried,
“Where, oh where will we live our home is burning!”

And the other one cried,
“How will we live with no home!”

Crossing Mishigami

Mishe Mokwa looked at the scene of devastation and inside she quailed but she knew she had to stay strong for her children. “There is a land on the other side of the lake where we can live. We will swim to it, follow me!” she told them.

So Mishe Mokwa began swimming in the opposite direction to the burning woods with her cubs following her. They swam all night and when the sun came up they found themselves in the middle of a vast world of water with no land anywhere in sight but they were heading straight for the sun.

Treading water they turned and looked back towards the shore where flames still raged and smoke rose into the skies. Mishe Mokwa and her cubs were now far from the shore and could see no land only plumes of smoke rising into the skies above Mishigami.

“Look, our old home is gone, there is no more land only smoke. How do we know which way to go we are surrounded by water and we can’t go back!” asked the cubs.

Mishe Mokwa said,  “Last night I followed the stars and today we swim for the sun and see how the wind flies across the water pushing us to our new home. We must keep on swimming, quick now!”

Once again she led her cubs swimming before them across the great lake ever urging them on, ever urging them to keep close.  All that day they swam on and on and night came and still Mishe Mokwa urged her cubs on.  The next morning they were again swimming into the rising sun.  “Mother, can you see our home yet?” asked the cubs,

”No, not yet we must keep swimming!”  she replied

“We are so tired and so hungry!” cried the cubs.

“I know, but we must keep swimming, we have to reach the shore on the other side, keep going!”

Of course, Mishe Mokwa was worried but she knew there was no alternative other than to keep swimming. They swam all day and night began to fall with no sign of land. She urged her cubs to stay close and carried on swimming finding her way in the darkness by the stars. Dark clouds began to roll across the sky that night and blocked out the stars, but Mishe Mokwa could feel the wind pushing her on and she encouraged her cubs again, but another storm broke upon them.

Storm on the lake

The wind whipped up and drove the family apart. All Mishe Mokwa could do was swim in circles in the darkness calling out to her children but no answer came. Eventually, the storm abated and the sun rose. She swam round and round but could find no trace of either of them. Not knowing what to do she waited in the water hoping they might hear her voice and find her. She waited and waited but still they did not come. Then she thought they were much lighter than she and the strong winds of the storm may have pushed them on in front of her.  She started swimming again heading for the sun, calling out all the way hoping to catch up with them.

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Pixabay – Image by 246738 – CCo Public Domain

 

She swam all that day and the next night but still neither saw or heard a sign of them. As the sun rose she found herself wearily clambering up a sandy bank on to new shore. Thinking they must have made it safely she searched the sand for their tracks but none could she find. Thinking they may have landed at another point she searched up and down the shore but no sign of them could she find.

Mishe Mokwa was tired and hungry and terribly afraid for her cubs and searched all day. When night fell she lay down facing the water to rest still hoping to see them come struggling out of the water. Day after day she searched resting only at night but her cubs did not come and she fell into despair and sleep came upon her.

Manitou looks down

Manitou, the Great Spirit who is wise and the creator of all looked down upon Mishe Mokwa with kindness and pity and took her up into the spirit world where her cubs ran to meet her. Dancing joyfully around her they cried, “We tried to follow but the waves were so high, the wind too strong and we were so tired and we were lost in the water!”

And with great happiness Mishe Mokwa told the, *I know you tried hard and did your best but now I have found you and we are all together forever!”

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The Sleeping Bear Dune has suffered much from erosion Image by Royalbroil – CC BY-SA 3.0

Looking on and smiling Manitou was touched by the love and dedication he saw and decided he would do something so that others of his children should remember such devotion. Calling upon his great power he caused the bodies of the cubs to rise out of Mishigami, the great water. Today they are called the North Manitou and South Manitou Islands. To remind the people of the devotion of Mishe Mokwa he lovingly and gently blew and his breath caused fine sand to gently cover the body of Mishe Mokwa which is now known as the Sleeping Bear Dune on the banks of Lake Michigan.

© 20/07/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright July 20th, 2016 zteve t evans

Petrification Myths: The Rollright Stones Complex

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The King’s Men

On the borders of the English counties of Warwickshire and Oxfordshire, not far from the village of Long Compton, lies a mysterious complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age megaliths known as the Rollright Stones. Presented here is a brief description of the stone complex followed by a look at the petrification myth associated with it that fancifully attempts to explain its origin.  The presentation concludes by briefly mentioning other stone circles and monoliths that also have petrification myths associated with them.

The Rollright Stones

The Rollright Stones complex consists of three sets of monuments; the King Stone, the Whispering Knights and the King’s Men.  The King Stone is a single standing stone set some 50 yards outside the stone ring which is  separated from it by a road.  The Whispering Knights was a burial chamber also outside the stone ring.  The final set is a circle of stones called the King’s Men.

The sets are not the same age as each other and all appear to have had different purposes. This leads scholars to think that the site had a strong tradition of ritual over a long period of time and had some kind of special significance during that time.  With the timescale involved and the sheer mystery of their purpose perhaps it’s not surprising that a number of intriguing myths and legends have evolved as people throughout the ages attempted to explain their existence.

The Petrified King and his knights

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The King Stone – Photo by Cameraman

According to a legend recorded by William Camden in 1610, and put into verse, there was a king who wanted to conquer the entire country of  England and he came across a witch who confronted him saying,

“Seven long strides shalt thou take And if Long Compton thou canst see, King of England thou shalt be.”

The King took up the challenge saying in reply,

“Stick, stock, stone As King of England I shall be known.”

And strode forward, but on his seventh stride a long mound, which sometimes now is known as the Arch-Druid’s barrow rose up before him preventing the sight of Long Compton.  The laughing witch cried,

“As Long Compton thou canst not see King of England thou shalt not be. Rise up stick and stand still stone For King of England thou shalt be none; Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be And I myself an eldern tree.

The King was turned into a standing stone known as the King Stone and most of his men who were gathered in a circle were turned into the King’s Men ring of stones.  Outside of this circle was a small group of knights who some say were in prayers, while others say they were whispering  and plotting against the king.  Either way they still fell victim and were turned to stone to become Whispering Knights.

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Whispering Knights – by  Midnightblueowl

A legend says that one day the spell will be broken and the King and his knights will resume their conquest of England unless they have the bad luck to come across another witch. It is not told if the king had angered the witch in some way.  Neither is it known why the witch turned herself into an elder tree  unless it was to keep an eye on the hapless king.  The witch’s tree is said to be growing in a hedge separating the King Stone from the Stone Circle and according to legend will bleed if it is cut when in flower.  It is said that on Midsummer’s Eve people would congregate around the King Stone and he would move his head when the elder tree was cut.

Midnight at the stones

Tradition says the King’s Men are released from the petrification spell and return to life at midnight.  They all join hands together and dance in a circle and are also said to go down to the spring in a nearby spinney  to take a drink. This is a dangerous time because it is said that anyone who should witness these extraordinary events will die or go mad.

Petrification myths

Many other stone circles and standing stones have petrification myths attached to them that tell how people were turned to stone by a witch, God, or the Devil for taking part in some forbidden activity in some way.  Some people think these type of legends were encouraged by the Christian church who were keen to discourage pagan practices. Another school of thought was that such legends were promoted by the Puritans as a warning to keep on the straight and narrow path of the Christian faith.

The threat of petrification may have been seen as a lasting and very visible punishment for transgressing the rules, especially those of merrymaking on Sundays which seems to be a popular day for being turned to stone in Britain!  In the case of the Rollright Stones we are not told what the day was only that it was a witch that gave the king the warning and appears to have foretold the king’s destiny, or cast the spell that fulfilled it.

Was it misfortune, or just a bad day?

The petrification of humans into stone is often associated with the creation of stone circles and standing stones.  Many other ancient stone circles and monoliths also have petrification myths attached to them such as Long Meg and her Daughters in Cumbria, Mitchell’s Fold in Shropshire, the Stanton Drew stone circles of Somerset, the Merry Maidens and The Hurlers,  Cornwall and there are plenty of other examples in the British Isles and around the world.  In Britain the petrification is often caused by a witch, or for participating in some forbidden activity such as merrymaking on a Sunday.  In the case of the Rollright Stones the King and his men just seemed to have had the misfortune to happen upon a particularly spiteful witch, or just caught her on a bad day!

© 11/07/2016 zteve t evans

 References and Attributions

Copyright July 7th, 2016 zteve t evans