Sir Galahad the Perfect Knight


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


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

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

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

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

Galahad’s quest for the Holy Grail

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Galahad’s achievement of the Holy Grail

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

© 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.


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 -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.


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.


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.

 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.


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

Anansi Tales: How the Tales were Named

The Anansi Tales are a body of traditional stories that originated in Ghana and spread throughout West Africa.   They were carried to the Caribbean and the New World with the unfortunate African people who were transported there to spend their lives in slavery. They were passed on orally and from generation to generation producing many variants of the same tale. The stories center around a protagonist called Anansi who is both human and spider.  He can appear in either form or anthropomorphically with a human head and a spider body.  He is often seen as a trickster or as a intermediary between the gods and humankind.  During the dark days of slavery he was seen as a symbol of hope and resistance by showing how someone who was considered small and weak could overcome the big and powerful by using cleverness and courage and was a reminder of the old ways back in Africa. The following is a retelling of an Anansi tale which highlights his cleverness and trickery.

How the Tales were Named

In the early days of the people, all of the tales that were told were stories about the chief of the gods whose name was Nyankupon.  Spider who was known as Anansi was jealous and thought all of the stories should be about him. Therefore, Anansi went to Nyankupon and asked that in future all the tales people told should be about him.

Nyankupon told Anansi that he would agree to this but only if Anansi could fulfill three tasks. For the first task, Anansi had to bring him a jarful of living bees. The second, was for him to bring Nyankupon a live boa-constrictor. For the third, Anansi had to bring him a living leopard. Anansi agreed and taking a clay pot he went to a place where he knew bees lived in great numbers and sat down and began talking aloud to himself saying,

“They will not be able to do it.”
“Yes, they will.”
“No, it is too difficult!”
“Of course they will be able to do it!”

He kept this debate up for some time and eventually the bees took notice of him and asked him what he was talking to himself about. He told them he and Nyankupon had been arguing over whether the bees were skillful enough fliers to be able to fly into the clay pot. He told them he believed they were, whereas Nyankupon argued they were not.

The bees were indignant and told Anansi firmly that of course they could and to prove it they all flew into the pot until it was packed tight with them. Anansi quickly put the lid on the pot and sealed and took it to show Nyankupon that he had succeeded in the first task.

The next morning Anansi went out and found a long stick and then went to a place where he knew a boa-constrictor lived. When he arrived at the home of the boa-constrictor he began talking to himself saying,

“Surely he cannot be as long as this stick”
“Yes, he will be as long!”
“Oh, no he won’t!”
“Of course he will! “

And he kept on talking to himself for some time until the snake came and asked him what he was talking about. Anansi told him that in Nyankupon’s town people are saying the stick is longer than the snake was whereas but he believed the snake was longer than the stick.

“Would you be as kind as to lay yourself along so that I may measure you? asked Anansi politely. The boa-constrictor the stretched himself along the stick from end to end and Anansi lost no time in binding him around the stick with his spider thread. Then he took him to Nyankupon successfully completing the second task.


Leopard by Jacques Christophe Werner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The third morning Anansi sewed up one of his own eyes and went to a place he knew where a leopard lived. As he drew near he began to shout and sing at the top of his voice and he made such a din that the leopard came out to his home to see what all the noise was about.

“Why are you shouting and singing in such a joyous manner?”

said the leopard to Anansi.

“Look, can you not see? Look, I have stitched my eye up and now I can see such wonderful things that I have to sing and shout about them,”

cried Anansi.

The leopard looked and he saw that Anansi’s eye was indeed sewn up and then he said,

“Sew my eyes up too and then I will also see wonderful things!”

So Anansi the Spider quickly sewed up the eyes of the leopard rendering him blind and helpless. Then he led him to Nyankupon who was both impressed and astounded at the ingenuity of Anansi and granted him his wish. That is why all the old tales that people tell today are known as Anansi tales.

© 14/03/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright March 14th, 2018 zteve t evans




Wishes, Curses and a Sister Saves her Brothers: The Tale of the Seven Ravens

We all have dreams that we wish would come true.  Sometimes we make a wish and that wish is granted but what we actually get may be the result of how we have made that wish. If we make a detrimental wish against someone or something that wish becomes a curse.  Sometimes unforeseen consequences may be unleashed that affect others who have to pay some kind of a price even though they were not the ones who did the wishing.  The following is a retelling of a folktale called The Seven Ravens and explores how wishes are made and how they are fulfilled and what can happen when wishes are made in haste or anger.   It appeared in  Household Tales by Brothers Grimm by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm and is classed as Aarne-Thompson type 451, The Brothers Who Were Turned into Birds tale type.  Similar tale-types are found throughout Europe and other parts of the world. It has a female protagonist who sets out to rescue her brothers who were inadvertently turned into ravens by their father in anger.  Other tales with similar themes and a female protagonist are The Twelve Brothers, Brother and Sister, and The Six Swans.

The Tale of the Seven Ravens

This story begins with an old married couple who had seven sons.  Although the old man loved each son dearly he still he wished for a daughter.   After many years his wife again fell with child and to the great joy of the old man a baby girl was born but she was a very small and very weak and prone to illness and he thought she might die.  On account of this he decided to baptize her and told one of his sons to run to a nearby well and bring back water for the task.  His six brothers all ran with him for they were all greatly excited by having a baby sister and each wanted to be the one to fill the jug. In the tussle that followed for the task the jug was dropped down the well and could not be retrieved.  The boys were all aghast and stood staring at each other not knowing what to do.

Back home there father was waiting for the water and when they did not return he began to grow impatient and angry saying,  “Wherever can they be?  I bet they have begun some silly game and forgotten the task I set them.” Then he began worry about the health of his daughter and became frightened she would die without being baptised and he grew fearful. In his fear he grew angry and he cursed them crying, “I wish my sons to be turned to ravens.”

The Truth is Revealed

Then to his surprise he heard the whirring sound of wings overhead.  Looking up he saw seven jet black ravens fly quickly across the sky. Of course, the father was sad and angry with himself for making the rash curse and devastated at the loss of his sons.  Nevertheless, life went on and he and his wife now had a baby daughter who they gained great joy from. With lots of tender loving care and devotion she shook off her fraily and began to grow hale and hearty and very, very beautiful.  Her parents never once spoke of their seven sons and she grew up thinking she was an only child not knowing she had brothers. Then one day she overheard her neighbours saying, “She such is a lovely girl but It is her fault about the terrible curse that fell upon her seven brothers.”

This both shocked and worried the girl who went to her parents and asked them if it was true she had brothers and wanted to know where they were now.  Now that the truth was out her parents felt they could no longer keep secret what had happened to her brothers. They explained how her birth had innocently and unwittingly caused the sequence of events that had caused her father to curse her brothers and how they had been turned into ravens.  Although they tried to reassure her by saying that it was the will of God and not her fault at all the news had a profound effect on her.

She would have loved to have had brothers and was shocked to find out she had seven of them.   Furthermore, she took it to herself that she had been the cause of their being turned to ravens and thereafter was constantly fretting and worrying about them.  She felt a great sense of guilt and could not get them off of her mind. Secretly, she wished that she would find them and resolved to bring them home no matter what danger or hardship she had to face.

The Ends of the World

Early one morning before the sun was up she stole quietly out of the house taking nothing but a ring that her parents owned, a loaf of bread, a jug of water and a small chair that she could sit upon when she grew tired on her journey.  She walked on and on for many, many days and at last came to the very ends of the world where she looked up and saw the sun.  However, the sun was too hot and scorched and burnt terribly so she ran away from it and came to the moon. The moon was cold and nasty and when it saw her said, “I smell the people flesh,” and she ran away from that and came to a place where she saw the stars.   The stars were all sat on their own chairs and twinkled kindness towards her so she sat on her own chair and told them about her quest for her brothers.  Then the morning star rose in the sky and gave her a drumstick of a chicken telling her, “This drumstick will open the door to the Glass Mountain and in that mountain and through that door you will find your brothers!”

The Glass Mountain

Thanking the morning star she took the drumstick and carefully wrapped it up in cloth and placed it in her pocket and off she went to find the Glass Mountain.  She walked and walked and walked and at last she came to the mountain but found the door shut. Thinking she would use the drumstick to open it she looked in her pocket but discovered it had gone.  Greatly disappointed she sat down and thought about what to do. At last she made a decision. She wished to find her brother so much she took out a little knife she carried and despite the pain cut off one of her own fingers and tried it in the keyhole.  To her delight and relief the door opened and she went inside. As soon as she entered a dwarf appeared who greeted her in friendly way asking what she sought.  “I seek my seven brothers who are the seven ravens,” she told him.

“The Raven lords are not at home at the moment but you can wait until they return,” the dwarf told her and led her to a chamber where a large table was placed in the middle.  Then the dwarf busied himself bringing seven plates of food and seven goblets of wine which he told her were the raven lord’s dinner.   The girl took a bite of food from each plate a sip of wine from each goblet but in the last she dropped the ring that had been her parent’s.

The Return of the Ravens

Suddenly, the air was filled with the sound of whirling and flapping wings and the dwarf said, “The Raven Lords are nearly home,”  and the girl quickly hid behind the door just as the ravens arrived.  They were hungry and looking forward to a meal but they looked at their plates and said, “What is this?  Someone has been eating from my plate! Look, someone has drunk from my goblet and it was a human mouth!”  Then one of the ravens looked into his goblet and saw at the bottom their parent’s ring and said, “The ring of our parents lies in my goblet.  Please God we wish it be that our sister has arrived to free us!”

When their sister heard this wish she was full of joy and stepped out from behind the door to the great surprise and delight of the ravens who were instantly returned to their human form again.  Great was all of their joy and they went home to their parents and lived happily as a family together for the rest of their lives.

The End

A Curious Tale

It is indeed a curious tale but what does it all mean? There is a school of thought, but not universally accepted, that this type of tale maybe an echo from a time when young men and boys were called upon to serve their king and country.  They were sent to fight an enemy and their sister’s desperately wanted to free them and return them to the family. One of the consequences of the draft was that females, although made the heirs to family fortunes or estates when their brothers never returned, were subject to greater degree of personal control and especially over who they married.  Apart from sisterly love for her brother rescuing and returning them would also release her from this strict management of her life. The problem with this idea is that the conditions it springs from are not found in every country that the story appears in though it is possible it could have been transported either orally, or in written form and adapted.

Themes and Motifs

There are a number of common folklore motifs such as the old couple, seven brothers, there is the quest the girl embarks on, the Glass Mountain and  human transformation to birds. There is also a Goldilocks-type scene where she eats food from the plates of the brothers while they are absent and the ring of her parents.  All these and more are woven into several themes to create a story with hidden meaning some of which religious in nature.

There is the importance of baptism that Christians believe washes away original sin.  It is not only a symbolic burial and resurrection but also a supernatural transformation.  Its purpose is not just to cleanse or purify but also symbolic of dying and rising in Christ and was necessary for the cleansing of original sin.  This is why it is a common Christian practice to baptize children and babies though it can be done at anytime in life.

It may be that the father believed that if his daughter died without baptism she would not receive these perceived benefits of it, which may explain his fear and urgency, but not excuse his anger and hasty wish. Curiously, despite the importance her father attached to it, we never learn if she was actually baptized but we are told she grew into a strong, healthy and beautiful girl.


The thing about wishes is that although they can be beneficial they can also be dangerous when done in haste.   The story begins with an old man wishing he had a baby daughter and eventually this wish is fulfilled. He then hastily wishes his sons were ravens and this wish is granted.  However, because it was invoked in haste and anger it turned into a curse and his sons were transformed into what he wished for. Why did he wish they were ravens? It is not certain but one possible answer could lie in the story of Noah who sent out a raven first to see if the floods had abated and it did not return and like the raven the boys did not return.

The girl, on learning of the fate of her brothers, though it could not have been any fault of her own, had experienced great, though unnecessary guilt at her father’s hasty wish. To a  lesser extent her brother’s childish behaviour arguing about who would fill the jug with water for her baptism was also to blame, being the trigger for her father’s anger.

On hearing the news she had seven brothers who had been turned to ravens at her birth the girl blamed her own entry into the world for an event she could have had no control over.  To rid herself of the guilt she erroneously experienced, she wished to find and rescue her brothers and in the process of doing that wished entry into the Glass Mountain. Both these wishes were granted but not without a long arduous journey to the end of the world and the painful cost of her finger.  As well as a physical transformation the seven brothers appear to have been elevated to lords, but despite this change in status they wished she would come and find them and take them home.  That wish was granted and the story ends happily.

© 07/03/2017zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 7th, 2018 zteve t evans


Supernatural Animal Helpers, the Grateful Dead and the Quest for the Bird “Grip”

Themes and motifs in folk and fairy tales are devices that help to enrich the story.  They are not the story-line but are woven into the narrative to enhance and highlight certain parts, or points the narrator wishes to make, or to provide an overall meaning, which is sometimes deliberately hidden.  Presented here is a retelling of a Swedish fairy tale called The Bird “Grip” whose song was said to cure blindness of kings.  This tale is classified as  Aarne-Thompson folktale type 550, “The Golden Bird”, a Supernatural Helper in the Aarne–Thompson–Uther classification system and it also involves the Grateful Dead (type 505). This is followed by a brief discussion about some of the motifs and themes that appear in the story and what they may mean.

The Quest for the Bird “Grip”

This tale begins with a great king who ruled a great kingdom.  However there are some things in the world that do not recognize greatness in either kings or kingdoms and this king was afflicted by a condition that closed both of his eyes tragically leaving him blind. All of the great physicians in his entire great kingdom could not bring back the sight of the king no matter what they tried.   Many great physicians from many other great countries also tried to cure him but to no avail.  At last a poor old woman came to the palace and asked to see the king because she thought she could help him.  Out of desperation he agreed and let her examine him.  She told him that although she could not cure him herself his only hope was to seek out the bird “Grip” whose song alone brought light and vision to all who heard it, even the eyes of the king.

The bird Grip was kept by another king in distant realm in a golden cage.  This king thought the bird was beyond price and he kept it  closely guarded at all times.  How he would possibly seek out this rare and treasured bird the blind king did not know and fell into despair.  Now, the king had three sons.  When the eldest of these heard this he offered to go and seek out the bird Grip and bring it back to his father so he could listen to its song and it would open up his eyes.

The Eldest Son

This greatly pleased his father and he agreed to this proposition.  He gave his son plenty of food supplies, a good horse, and a big bag full of gold coins.  So the prince began his journey with the intention of finding and bringing back the bird Grip to cure his father’s blindness.  He rode many miles though woods and dales until he came to an inn.  Feeling tired and in the need of refreshment he placed his horse in the stables and went into the inn.  As he entered he became aware of many people all drinking and chatting happily. Seeing him enter they all greeted him cordially making him feel very welcome.  A drink was thrust in his hand and soon he was laughing and chatting, playing dice and singing and he began to feel very jolly.  He was enjoying himself so much that he decided to stay for just a bit longer.  Indeed, he was enjoying himself so much he kept putting off his departure.  In fact, he was having such a good time he completely forgot about his poor blind father and his quest to bring back to him the bird Grip and there he stayed enjoying the company and revelry of the inn.

While the eldest prince was making merry his poor blind father was sitting at home waiting patiently and hopefully for his son’s return with the bird Grip to cure his blindness.  The more days that passed by with no sign of him the more he began fretting about where his eldest son had got to.  His second eldest son saw his father’s worry and went to him seeking permission to go and look for his brother and search for and bring back the bird Grip to cure his poor blind father.

The Second Eldest

The King agreed and furnished his second eldest son with a plentiful supply of food, a good horse and a big bag of money.  The prince set out following the same road as his brother and after many days arrived at the inn where he found his brother drinking and making merry.  His elder brother welcomed him warmly and introduced him to his friends who made a great fuss of him.   Soon he was chatting and singing and playing dice and having such a wonderful time that he clean forgot about his poor blind father and his promise to bring back to him the bird Grip to cure his blindness.

Back at the Palace

Back in his palace the king waited in hope that his sons would safely return to him not just to cure his blindness but because he loved them dearly and was genuinely concerned for their welfare.  When his youngest son saw how worried his father was he felt so sorry for him. He went to him and asked him for permission to go and look for his brothers and to search out and bring back the bird Grip to cure his blindness.  He told him he was certain that he would succeed in finding them and also be able to bring back the bird.  However, having lost two son the king was reluctant to give permission to his youngest son for fear of losing him too.   Nevertheless, his youngest son was adamant that he should go and continued to beg his father’s permission until he eventually reluctantly agreed.  The young prince was given a fine horse and provisions of food and a big bag of money to help him on his way.

The Youngest Son

He took the same road as his two brothers had taken and after many days of traveling came to the inn where they had stopped.  Just as they had been, he was tired and in need of refreshment so he took his horse to the stable and went inside the inn.  There he found both his brothers drinking and making merry in the bar.   As soon as they saw him they made a great fuss of him and entreated him to join them but refused to go back to their father or join him on the quest for the bird Grip.

However, as tired and in need of refreshment as he was the young prince refused to stay. As he had now succeeded in finding his brothers and was sure of their safety he continued alone on the quest not wanting his poor blind father to suffer longer than he needed to.  Bidding his brothers farewell he went off alone looking for another inn in which to spend the night further on along the road.

He rode on and came to a dark tangled forest and he followed the road on through the trees which took him deep into the woods.  Just as the sun was going down he came to an inn.  Now feeling very tired and in need of refreshment he thought he would knock on the door and ask politely for board and lodging for the night as he still had all of the money that his father had given him.  So he knocked on the door.  It was opened and he was greeted by the innkeeper in the most friendly and sociable way possible which put him at ease.   The innkeeper told him he would be pleased to put him up for the night and invited him in.  He told a servant to take the horse to the stable while he showed the prince to his room.  He called for a maid who came in and promptly lay a table cloth over a table and brought in dishes and plates of different food and goblets of wine for him to enjoy for his supper.

Inside the Inn

Outside the sun had now gone down and it was very dark in the forest and the prince was glad he was now inside eating heartily by a warm fire.   As he was enjoying his supper he suddenly heard the most terrible screaming and wailing coming from the  room next door.  Jumping up in fright he called to the maid who came running in.  “What in the world is that terrible screaming and wailing?” he asked anxiously.

Looking terrified the maid told him

“Those are not the shrieks of this world, they are from the next!  They come from a dead man who was murdered by the master because he could not pay for the board and lodging he had taken.  Furthermore, because the man had not enough money to pay for a funeral either the master refused to give him one.  Every night he goes into that room where the dead man lays and whips and scourges the corpse.  Those shrieks you hear come from the man who is now in the place of the living dead.  There he must remain until his debts are paid.”

As she finished speaking she quietly lifted the cover of a large dish on the table.  Lying on that dish there was an axe and a sharp knife and as he looked in horror upon it he knew that the master of the inn was going to offer him the choice of his own death unless he paid a ransom. Therefore, he called to the master and gave him a large sum of money in ransom for his own life.  Then he paid him what the dead man had owed him and then gave him more money to ensure the deceased at last had a proper burial, which to his credit at least, the murderer did arrange.


Despite having paid the ransom the prince still feared for his life and asked the maid to help him escape in the night.  She agreed but only on the condition that he take her along with him telling him she was a prisoner and also feared for her own life.  Then she told him the master kept the key to the stables under his pillow at night and if he would keep watch she thought she could take it.  In the dead of night she bravely crept into the room of her sleeping master while the prince stood ready to aid her in case he woke and managed to take the key without disturbing him.

The two quietly saddled his horse and with her seated behind the prince they rode off into the night leaving the master of the house still sleeping peacefully.   They rode through the night and for many days thereafter until at last they came to an inn where they rested.  The innkeeper agreed to take on the maid as a servant and the prince left her there while he rode on in search of the bird Grip.

The Fox

He continued long the forest road for many days until one morning as he was riding along he came across a fox sitting in the middle of the road as if waiting for him.

“Good morning,” said the fox, “and where are you going this fine sunny morning?”

“It so happens,” said the prince, “that I am on a quest that is too important to tell to any stranger that I may meet along the road.”

“Yes, indeed,” said the fox, “your quest for the bird Grip is far too important to tell to any old strange fellow you meet on the way.  Of course you must never tell how you hope to find it and take it home to cure your poor blind father, the King.  If you like I can help you to complete your task, but in return you must follow my instructions and my advice to the letter.”

The prince was astounded that the fox seemed to know all about his quest, nevertheless he realized he had no idea where to find the bird Grip and so he agreed.

The Castle of the Bird Grip

The fox told him that the bird Grip sat in a golden cage in a castle and that he would lead him there.  Then he told him when they arrived he would then tell him exactly what he must and must not do.  So after a few days of traveling the fox led the prince to the castle. The fox then gave the prince three grains of gold and told him that he must throw one grain into the guardroom as he passed by.  Another grain must thrown into the room where the bird they called Grip sat in his golden cage before he entered it.  The last grain of gold was to be thrown into its cage.  When that had been done it would then be safe to open the cage and take the bird but he must not on any account stroke the stroke the bird Grip or disaster would follow.

So the prince crept into the castle and as he tiptoed past the guard-room he threw a grain of gold inside and all of the guards fell asleep.  When he came to room where the bird  Grip was kept he threw in another grain of gold and all those whose duty it was to guard and take care of it fell asleep.  Then he went to the cage and threw the last grain of gold inside and the bird Grip fell asleep.  The Prince opened the cage door reached in had gently took hold of the bird and brought it out.  As he looked at it admiringly he was struck by how beautiful it was.  Gently he caressed its neck with his finger but as he did so the bird immediately awoke and began to screech.  All the people in the room awoke and the guards in the guard-room awoke and ran to the room and taking him prisoner threw him into jail.

In his small bare cell the prince thought how foolish he had been to ignore the advice of the fox.  His disobedience it had brought him to this miserable jail but worse it had destroyed any chance his father had of regaining his sight.  As he was lamenting his own stupidity the fox suddenly appeared before him.   The prince was delighted to see him and took his reproaches meekly promising that in future he would obey his instructions to the letter, if the fox would only get him out of the dreadful fix he was in now.

The fox nodded and told him he had indeed come to help him.  He told the prince that when he was brought to trial the judge would ask him questions and that he must answer “yes” to all of them.  If he did that the fox promised everything would be alright.  So when the prince was brought before the judge, the judge asked him directly if he had come to steal the bird Grip.

The prince said, “Yes.”  

Then the judge asked him if he was a master-thief.

The prince said, “Yes.”

The king who was attending the trial heard this and said he would forgive the prince and would pardon him for trying to steal the bird Grip.  However there was a catch,  The King told him to earn forgiveness and a pardon he would have travel to a neighboring kingdom and steal a  princess who was the most beautiful woman in the world and bring her back to him.

The prince, as before said, “Yes.”

The Princess

So he was set free and taking his leave set off along the road to the neighboring kingdom to steal the princess who was the  most beautiful woman in the world.  As he walked along the fox appeared next to him and showed him the way to the castle where she resided.   When they arrived outside the fox gave the prince three grains of gold.  He told the prince to throw one into the guard-room, one into the chamber of the princess and the last one into her bed.  Then he gave him a stern warning telling him that he must not kiss the princess.

With that he prince crept into the castle.   When he came to the guard-room he threw a grain of gold inside and the guards all fell asleep.  When he came to the chamber of the princess hr threw in a grain of gold and all of he maids-in-waiting fell asleep. Then he threw a grain of gold on the princess’s bed and she fell asleep.   He went to her and as he lifted her in his arms he noticed how beautiful she was and he could not help but steal a kiss as she slept.  As he did so she immediately awoke and so did her maids-in-waiting who screamed and woke the guards who ran up and arrested the prince and threw him into jail.

As the prince was lamenting his foolishness the fox appeared in front of him and sharply rebuked him off for his stupidity in not obeying his instructions.  Nevertheless, he promised to help him on condition that when the judge questioned him he would answer “yes” to all his questions to which the prince agreed.   When he was brought to trial the judge asked him if he had meant to steal the princess.   The prince replied “yes.”  Then the judge asked if he was a master-thief and the prince said, “yes”.

The king was attending the trial and when he heard this he told the judge that he would pardon the prince if he would but go into the next kingdom and bring back for him the horse with the four golden shoes.  To this the prince said “yes” and he was set free to go and steal the horse with the four golden shoes for the king.

The Horse with the Four Golden Shoes

He had not gone far along the road when the fox appeared next to him as he walked along.  This pleased and comforted the prince and he asked the fox the way to find the horse with the four golden shoes.  The fox told him he would take him there and after a few days of journeying they arrived outside the castle where the fox said the horse with the four golden shoes was kept in a stable.

For the third time the fox gave the prince three grains of gold.  One to make the guards in the guard-room sleep, one to make the stable boys sleep and the third to throw into the stall where the horse with the four golden shoes was kept.   The fox told him that on the wall behind the horse there was a hook with a beautiful saddle made of gold was hung. He warned him that on no account should he touch it or worse would befall him than had already befallen him and he would no longer be able to help him.

So the prince did exactly as he was told and when he threw the last grain of gold into the horse’s stall he noticed the beautiful golden saddle hung on a hook in the wall.  He thought how splendid it would look upon the horse with the golden shoes.  Although he fought the urge he found himself reaching out and was just about to touch it when something suddenly knocked his hand away.  With that sharp shock he quickly recovered his senses and led the horse quietly out of the castle while everyone still slept soundly.

Along the road the fox appeared next to him as he led the horse along.  “I almost touched the saddle,” said the prince.

“Yes, it is a good job I jumped up and knocked your arm or you would have been beyond my help,” said the fox.

Heart’s Desire

They traveled on taking the horse with four golden horseshoes back to the castle of the king where the princess was. The prince told the fox that he could not get the beautiful princess out of his mind and that she was his heart’s desire.  He asked the fox if he thought it would be a good idea for him to ride home to his poor blind father on the horse with four golden shoes with the princess sitting behind him and with the bird Grip on his arm.  The fox agreed that would be something quite special and when they arrived at the castle he gave the prince three grains of gold with the exact instructions he had previously given him.

This time the prince did exactly as the fox had instructed and carried off the princess while she slept without kissing her.   As he set her upon the horse with the four golden horseshoes she woke up and smiled at him and together they rode happily along their way with the fox trotting alongside.  Eventually, they came to the castle where the bird Grip sat in its golden cage.  The fox gave the prince three grains of gold and the exact instructions he had previously given him and this time while everyone was asleep the prince resisted the urge to stroke the bird and carried it back to where the princess, the horse with the four golden shoes and the fox were waiting for him.

Parting of Ways

The prince was now very happy as he would be able to return to his father with the bird Grip and restore his sight.  He also had the horse with the four golden horseshoes and the beautiful princess who he had fallen in love with and who now loved him.  So they all traveled together until at last they came to the place in the forest where the prince had first met the fox who turned to him and said,

“This is the place where you found me and I can go no further.  Now you have obtained your heart’s desire it is time for us to part.  Listen well! I will tell you that you will have a good and safe journey back to your father, but do not on any account pay a ransom for the life of anyone.  Do not forget!”

The prince was sorry they were parting ways.  He had come to rely on the wisdom of the fox but he thanked him for all of his help and promised that he would note his warning after all that had happened to him. The fox vanished before his eyes and the prince rode on chatting happily to the princess and on his arm he carried the bird named Grip back to his poor blind father.

Return to the Inn

After a few days they arrived back at the inn where he had found his brothers merrymaking with their quest forgotten.  However, he was now struck by how grim and glum it seemed and there was no merrymaking now.  As he drew neared he was chilled to see two gallows standing upright in the yard.  He noticed all of the windows had been covered by black curtains and there was a sorrowful and depressing atmosphere hanging over the inn, where once it had been bright, warm and cheery.

Feeling concerned, he asked what had happened to bring such changes to the place.  He was told that everyone was sad and gloomy because two princes were to be hanged that day.  They told him that they had spent all their money drinking and merrymaking. Instead of stopping when their money ran out they had run up a massive bill with the innkeeper which they could not pay.  It was the law in these parts of the world that those who were in debt and could not pay must be hanged unless someone was prepared to pay a ransom for their lives.

Immediately the prince realized it was his two brothers who were to be hanged having spent all the money their father had given them and run up debt merrymaking.  Despite their foolishness he was sorry that they should come to such an ignoble end.  Therefore, as he had enough money he settled the ransom by paying off all their debts and saving their lives.

The Lion’s Den

Of course, his brothers were relieved and grateful to begin with but when they saw that he had a princess along with, the horse with the four golden shoes and the bird Grip their gratitude turned to jealousy and resentment.  They began to plot to kidnap the princess, and steal the horse with the four golden shoes and the bird Grip.  They wanted to ride back to the castle with these treasures and present them to their grateful father who would be cured of his blindness and heap rewards upon them.

After much thought they at last agreed on a strategy to be rid of him forever and take his prizes for themselves.   They lured him to a den where a pride of lions lived and pushed him into it and left him thinking they would eat him leaving no trace.  Then they took the princess on the horse with the four golden shoes and the bird Grip. They told the princess to say nothing of their younger brother and if anyone asked she was to say that it was they who had brought her here or they would kill her.

The two brother rode proudly back to their father at his palace in triumph.  He was delighted at their return and ordered great feasting and celebrations and praised them for their courage and dedication to him.  Then their father asked if they had seen anything of their younger brother.  They told him that they had found him merrymaking at the inn and had spent all of the money he had been given.  He had run up a great debt with the innkeeper and because he could not pay had been hanged as was the law.

This news greatly upset the king as his youngest son was his favorite and furthermore the happiness for the treasures that the two brothers had brought back faded.  The princess cried bitterly day and night and would speak to no one.  The horse with the golden shoes turned vicious and could not be approached so no one could see its golden shoes.  The bird Grip, whose sweet voice could cure blindness would not sing.

The Return of the Fox

It so happened that when the young prince was flung to the lions he had closed his eyes expecting the worst.  When nothing happened he opened them and saw the fox sitting before him with the pride of lions all friendly and docile towards him.  The fox was not angry that he had forgotten his warning.  All he would say was that brothers who would forget their poor blind father while making merry were nothing but a disgrace to their royal blood.  As such he was not surprised that they would cruelly betray their younger brother.  Then he led the prince out of the lion’s den and gave him instructions to follow that would return to him all that had been lost.  The prince was truly grateful and thanked the fox for all of his help and for being a true friend.  The fox replied that it was the prince that had he had been of service to him he would now ask for a service in return.  The prince told him he would do anything that was possibly in his power and asked him what he could do for him.   The fox became deadly serious and told him sternly.

“I have but one thing and one thing only that I ask of you.  To be of service you must take your sword and cut off my head,”

This greatly shocked the prince who insisted he could never do such a thing to his good friend.  The fox was adamant that it must be done.  He insisted he would be doing him a great service but the prince continued to refuse.  At last the fox hung his head in sorrow and told the prince that if he would not comply with his request he would have to do a terrible thing himself and that was to kill the prince.  At this the prince realized the fox meant what he said and he took out his sword and cut off the head of his friend but as he did so a handsome youth sprang up from out of the fox and stood before him smiling.

“From the bottom of my heart I thank.  You have broke the spell that even death could not undo.  You should now know that I am the dead man who lay so long without burial and rites who was murdered by the innkeeper.  You paid my debts, ransomed me and gave me a proper funeral and because of this I have helped you gain your heart’s desire!”

Then he took his leave and left the prince vanishing before his eyes.  Now, although the prince was on his own he knew just what to do without the help of the fox.

The Return of the Prince

He disguised himself as a blacksmith and went to the palace of his father to offer his services.  The King’s servants opened the door and told him that there was a horse that needed his shoes looked at but it would not let anyone near it.  Although many had tried, no one had been able to complete the job.  The prince told them he was confident he could do the job so they took him to the stable where the horse with the four golden shoes was angrily stamping the ground whenever anyone went near it.  As soon as it saw the prince its demeanor changed.  It stopped stamping and took on a docile and friendly manner and was obedient and calm as the prince lifted its hooves one by one to reveal its golden shoes.

The King’s servants were very impressed and told the prince about the bird Grip and how it would not sing no matter what was tried.  The prince told them he knew the bird very well for he had attended to it when he had visited another King who had kept it in a golden cage.  He told them he knew more about its ways than anyone else and if it would not sing it was because there was something that it did not have.  If they took him to see it he was sure he would be able to tell what was amiss and provide what was missing so that it would sing.

The King is Cured

The servants decided they would go and ask the poor blind king for his permission as the bird was kept in the same room where he would sit along with the princess who would not stop crying floods of bitter tears.  The king was desperate and readily agreed and the prince was led into the room.  As soon as the princess set eyes on him she stopped crying and began smiling radiantly and the bird Grip began to sing.  It sang and it sang and the darkness that had blighted the king’s eyes were driven away and he could see everything.  He looked at the blacksmith and saw through his disguise recognizing his youngest son and he embraced him happily.  Then he saw through the lies that his two sons had told him about his youngest son and he banished them from his kingdom.

As for the young prince, he married the princess and his father gave him the horse with the four golden shoes and half of the kingdom.  From then on peace and happiness flooded into the the king’s court which was filled with the wonderful singing of the bird Grip.

Curious Motifs

There are several curious recurring patterns or motifs throughout the story that are also found in folktales around the world. The number three has a special role. The king has three sons. There are three brothers. There are three tasks. Three grains of gold. The prince fails three times then has three successes and wins the three prizes; the princess, the horse with the four golden horseshoes and the bird Grip. An exceptionally curious motif and perhaps the grimmest of all is the decapitation of the fox. Decapitation is found in many folktales around the world. In this case, it seems to be a device to reveal the identity of the magical fox who turns out to be the soul of the dead man whose ransom was paid by the prince. Perhaps understandably, it also often represents a change in the nature of a person from the physical plane to that of the spiritual.

Interwoven Themes

The appearance of the dead man, whose burial the prince had paid for, as a magical fox is unusual. In most folktales involving the Grateful Dead – those of the dead who return to repay the living – usually appear as human or a ghost. The Grateful Dead theme explores the Law of Spiritual Reciprocity, which is also known as the Law of Sowing and Reaping, but there are two aspects of this presented in the story. The Prince’s two older brothers would have reaped the grim consequences of their bad behavior and were only saved from the gallows by the intervention of their younger brother. Yet still, they did not change their wicked ways and ended up banished from the kingdom by their father when the bird Grip finally sang and cured his blindness to see through them. The young prince who keeps true to his purpose is helped find his heart’s desire by the magical fox which was an incarnation of the soul of the dead man’s whose burial and ransom he paid.

There is also the blindness of the king who despite his own greatness and that of his kingdom succumbs to a natural tragedy that could just as easily have afflicted anyone one of his subjects from the highest to the lowest, but in this story it afflicts the greatest. Great though his physicians are they cannot help him and it is only through the advice of a poor old woman that the cure he seeks is eventually found, thus greatness is humbled and the quest to cure the king’s blindness is born.

The theme of the quest for a special bird is also found in many other folktales around the world and often involves an animal or supernatural helper. During the quest, the young prince undergoes a coming of age through which he is offered the good advice of the fox but does not follow it. It is only when he learns to follow the advice of the fox that his own personal growth begins until he can, at last, be confident enough to follow his own animal instincts which the fox perhaps may represent. Of course, all stories are very much open to interpretation and the one that matters is always your own.

© 27/02/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 27th, 2018 zteve t evans

Faerie Brides, Drowned Towns and the Door to the Otherworld in Welsh Folklore

This article was originally posted on the as Folklore of the Welsh Lakes: Reflecting on Faerie Brides, Drowned Towns, and the Otherworld by zteve t evans September 28th, 2017.

Edvard Munch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Welsh Lakes

There are may lakes scattered around Wales, each with their own unique characteristics and history. Many also have the most amazing legends and folklore associated with them, and the purpose of this work is to discuss some of them. This work does not attempt to be academic or scholarly. Instead, it attempts to explore thoughts that are more intuitive and reflective, and hopefully look towards stimulating ideas within the reader to construct their own interpretations of the folk tales and lakes mentioned should they wish to. 

A few things to note: Articles on the following lakes (Lake Bala also known as Llyn Tegid, Llyn Barfog, Kenfig Pool, Llyn Coch or the Red Lake, Llyn Cwm Llwch and Llyn y Fan Fach) all appear on the #FolkloreThursday website and links are placed in this article for easy access to them. The term ‘llyn’ is the Welsh word for ‘lake,’ and they are often used interchangeably. There are also a great many more lakes in Wales than can possibly be mentioned here, and many of them have other folk tales and folklore. Finally, there are many different versions of the same legends, and the ones mentioned here may be different to the ones you know. 

Origin of the Tales

Although only six lakes are discussed, it will be seen that these have a rich heritage in folklore and in some cases share similar stories. In other cases, the stories appear very different though there may be threads that link some together. The age of the tales and folklore is very much open to debate. Many scholars think they date from the Middle Ages but have far older elements built into them. These elements may be of Christian, Celtic, or possibly even older cultures. For example, are the legends of drowned towns and cities distant, faded memories of real towns (or at least settlements) that once existed either alongside or were built over a lake/replaced by a lake in some sudden flooding or disaster? It may that each succeeding human culture altered or added to the stories to reflect their own beliefs and situation, as will be discussed later. There is also a possibility that they were transported to the lakes from outside Wales, perhaps in the early movement of people across Europe from as far away as the Black Sea region.

The Doorway to the Otherworld

The Welsh lakes are often remote and situated on the edge of human society. In some tales they are presented as the doorway to the Otherworld in Welsh folklore, as is the case with the Red Lake, Llyn Cwm Llwch, and Llyn y Fan Fach. The lakes themselves are not the Otherworld, but the portal that is passed through to enter and exit it. The faerie brides, their fathers, and their sisters can pass through and visit earth, and sometimes they bring animals with them. In certain other Welsh fairy tales this occasionally happens to humans, as is the case with Llyn Cwm Llwch where an island of the Otherworld was made available to human visitors every May Day. This privilege was withdrawn after it was abused. For humans who visit the Otherworld or have dealings with it there is often a sad ending. They are often betrayed by their own frailties and, in many ways, it is the human frailties that are explored in the stories referenced here.

The Faerie Bride and the Mirror of Nature

The story of the Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach also looks at human frailties. In her first appearance at the lakeside, the lady is brushing her long, fair hair with a golden comb and using the lake as a mirror. It is a scene that is reminiscent of descriptions of mermaids on the seashore. Yet she is not half fish as a mermaid is, and is not really human either and this is not by the seashore. Neither is the female in the story of the Bride of the Red Lake. Both are unmistakably not human and appear to be more of a mere-maid, possibly of the Gwragedd Annwn, the female dwellers of the Otherworld of Annwn who according to Welsh folklore also appear from Llyn Barfog.

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A Tale of Three Rivers: The Ystwyth, the Severn and the Wye


Richard Webb [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

There are many legends and myths that explain how different British rivers originated. Many of these have been influenced by pagan beliefs and the worship of water goddesses, spirits or nymphs and have distinct Celtic connections.   This work looks at a legend that tells how the three British rivers known today as the Ystwyth, Severn and Wye  had their beginnings on the flanks of Mount Plynlimon in the Cambrian Mountains of Mid Wales.   It gives an explanation of how they formed and found their way to the sea to become part of the great rain cycle that brings growth and nourishment to the land and its inhabitants. The work presented here draws from more than one source and owes much to Pollyanna Jones and Bill Gwilliam.

The Sleeping Giant

The story begins on Plynlimon which is a massif that is the highest point in the Cambrian Mountains and the highest point in Mid Wales.  Underneath the massif there was said to be a sleeping giant.  This giant had three daughters who were Niskai in Celtic mythology, sometimes known as water goddesses or nymphs.  There names were Ystwyth, Hafren and Gwy.

Although the giant slept he watched over his daughters in his slumber seeing them grow safely from the rain and the mountain mist that settled upon the mountain sides.  He watched the raindrops form puddles which formed pools which joined together to form little rivulets that trickled gently down the mountain.   In his dreams, he looked upon them and saw the energy that was brimming up inside of them ready to overflow and gush forth and he knew their time had come.

The Giant Awakes

Waking from his slumber he called them to him and told them,  “The time has come when you should fulfill your destiny and join with the sea.” And then he asked, “How will you fulfill your destiny?”

Being water nymphs they greatly desired to visit the ocean and to explore the great and mysterious region of the Celtic Sea and the wonders that lay beyond. It is very often the case with sisters that each will have different personalities and strong characteristics and express their individuality in different ways.  The choice each sister would make for themselves would be an expression of their unique personalities and individuality.

Ystwyth’s Choice


Ystwyth, was the smallest and was always in a hurry and made decisions and accomplished tasks in great haste.   As might be expected she quickly made up her mind that she would join the sea by the quickest and shortest route.  Stepping forward  she told her father, “I long to see the sea, to smell the salt air and see the sun rise and set over its wide waters.   I would go west by the shortest and the quickest route I can find to the sea to fulfill my destiny.”

“Then goodbye and go and fulfill your destiny and know that we shall meet again!”  her father said, kissing and her embracing her.   Saying her goodbyes to her sisters she skipped and danced down the mountainside, drawing strength and speed from the small brooks and streams from her father’s side and flowed westerly, sparkling and shimmering through the land of Wales reaching the sea much faster than her two sisters ever would.  The people who lived in the lands she flowed through called her the River Ystwyth and she arrived at the sea fulfilling her destiny at a place now called Aberystwyth that was named after her.

Hafren’s Choice


River Severn in Shrewsbury – By The original uploader was Chrisbayley at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Then Hafren stepped forward.  She said she was in no great hurry and wanted to take a good look at the countryside and to see the cities of humans and flow through their kingdoms.  She told her father, “I would choose to roam over the land taking the long way to the sea.  Then I could meet other waters of the land and learn the wisdom of the earth.   I would wander through the great cities, the beautiful towns and the villages of the fair people and learn what I could of their ways before I rendezvous with my sisters in the sea.  I have no need for haste and wish to learn and take my time. On my way, I will water and nourish the meadows of those fair folk but woe betide them should they abuse my good nature.  This is how I want to fulfill my destiny.”

Then her father kissed and embraced her and said, “Then go now and fulfill your destiny and know that we shall meet again!”

Saying goodbye to her remaining sister,  she did exactly as she said she would.  She took her time and wandered through the landscape visiting some of the wonderful cities, towns, and villages along the way before she eventually joined with the Celtic Sea.  Her flow became known as the River Severn that glides serenely through the land to join the sea in the Bristol Channel.  True to her word those who abused her by setting their buildings and homes too close to her banks, or by invading her water pastures caused her to rise up and inundate them but she fulfills her destiny as she should.

Gwy’s Choice


Jonathan Billinger [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The giant turned to his last daughter, Gwy as she watched her two sisters go their separate ways saying, “And now it’s your turn.  What direction do you choose for yourself?”

Gwy was not in such a hurry as Ystwyth and unlike Hafren who yearned for knowledge she was more inclined towards beauty.  She decided she would like to visit some of the beautiful countryside before she joined with the sea.  She stepped forward and kissed her father saying, “Ystywyth is in a hurry to join the sea.  Hafren seeks knowledge and experience. Beauty and harmony with nature are what I seek.  I will seek a way to the sea through the valleys and forests and all creatures shall find in my flow a place of peace and fulfillment and a sanctuary where their needs shall be met.  I will bring happiness and tranquility where ever I go.”

Her father smiled kissed and embraced his daughter and said, “Goodbye.  Go and fulfill your destiny and know that we shall meet again!”

So Gwy flowed down the mountain and happily wandered through the valleys and the forests visiting the prettiest of the countryside before she eventually joined with the sea.  Gwy would become known by the people who lived along her flow as the River Wye and join up with her sister Hafren at a place now known as the Severn Estuary.  No doubt as the two sisters continued their journey through the Bristol Channel they found much to talk about together and to tell their hasty sister Ystwyth when they finally all met up again in the Celtic Sea.

The Giant Sleeps

The giant, although he knew he would miss his daughters, was happy because he knew they were fulfilling their destiny in the great scheme of things.  He had watched for time untold as they had been born from the Welsh mists and rain that often covered the mountainsides forming droplets on plants and rocks which collected together to form puddles. These would eventual gather moss and became pools ready to overflow into brooks and streams that would join together to flow over the land to the sea.

He was not sad because he knew that in the great cycle his daughters would return and visit him riding in the clouds that formed high above the ocean.  They would then be blown across the sea to the land to fall as rain on the mountainside.  They would stay for a time before once again making their way to the sea.  And so the great cycle would continue bringing nourishment and life to the land and all living things that dwell upon it.  Feeling satisfied that all was as it should be the giant went to sleep.

© 14/02/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 14th, 2018 zteve t evans

The Grateful Dead: The Tale of Fair Brow


Old Fisherman (cropped) – Tivadar Kosztka Csontváry [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Grateful Dead Tale Type

In the study of folktales The Grateful Dead, sometimes known as the Grateful Ghost, is a tale type classified in the Aarne–Thompson–Uther classification system as type 505 and found in many diverse folk and fairy tales from around the world.  It often entails someone dying in debt and being refused a proper burial preventing the soul of the dead entry into heaven until their creditors are paid in full.  The hero will pay off the debt and ensure a proper burial  using the last of their money to do so.  Then destitute they set off on a journey in which they meet up with a stranger who helps and guides them.  Often towards the end the integrity of the hero is tested in some way and when it is passed the stranger will reveal himself to be the the soul or ghost of the corpse whose debts and burial was paid for. In gratitude the protagonist is then often granted their heart’s desire, hence the term The Grateful Dead.

The Story of Fair Brow

The following is a retelling of one such story called Fair Brow from Italian Popular Tales by Thomas Frederick Crane and tells how there was once a rich merchant trader who had fair and handsome son.  He had sent him to the best school to receive a good education and when his son finally passed through the school his father decided that he should now learn how to make his way in life as a merchant trader.  He gave him a ship and he gave him a chest full of money to buy goods that he could fill the ship with and sail from port to port and sell his wares for a profit. He told his son, “Your schooling is finished and now you are of an age where you must learn to make your own way in life.  To help you start I will give you this ship with enough money to fill it with goods that you can sell in other places for profit.  Use that profit wisely to buy more goods to replace those sold that you can again sell at a profit. Be careful with what you buy.  Be careful with what you sell and be careful with what you do.  Go now and learn how to trade.”

The Corpse

So following his father’s advice the young man set sail for a distant port to buy merchandise that he could sell for a profit.  On the way, before he had bought anything at all, he stopped off at a passing port to take a break from the voyage and to see what the people were like.  As he roamed around the harbor side he came across a bier with a corpse laid out upon it. He was curious to see that although some people looked the opposite way as they passed it others would leave a coin or two alongside the corpse.  Perplexed the young man approached a passer by who had just placed a few coins on the bier and asked, “Surely this dead man should be buried properly and with dignity for surely he desires his grave.  Why do your people keep him so?”

The passer by replied, “When this man was alive he accrued a pile of debt.  Our custom is that no one is allowed to be given a proper and decent burial until all his debts are paid.  As he is dead the only way his creditors can be paid is by the good charity of others.  Until all his debts are paid in full we cannot bury him.”  This greatly shocked the young man, who declared, “Let it be known to all that he is indebted to that I will pay his creditors whatever he owes them in full.”  He went to the local authorities so that a declaration could be made public.   After all of the dead man’s creditors had been paid there was not a single penny left of the money his father had given him to buy merchandise so he went back to his ship and set sail for home.

On his return his father was delighted but surprised to see him return so soon and asked eagerly how much profit he had made so quickly.  The young man knowing his father would disapprove said, “Alas, father, as we sailed the open sea we encountered pirates who took all of the money you gave me in return for my life!  I fear we have made no profit at all.”  On hearing this father said, “In truth this is no consequence.  I am happy that you are still alive and I will give you more money to start again but this time head in the opposite direction to your last voyage.”

Pirates From the Levant

And so his son sailed off in the opposite direction to his previous voyage.  While he was at sea they came across a Turkish ship and thinking it would be better to communicate with them he hailed them as they drew near.  As they came along side he said, “And where have you come from?”

“We sail from the Levant,” replied the captain.

“And what is your merchandise?” inquired the young man.

“All have I is one beautiful girl to sell,”  replied the captain.

“How is that you have this girl to sell?” he asked

“We have stolen her from the Sultan and we will sell her for great profit because of her beauty,” replied the captain

“Show me this girl!” said the young man and the pirates brought her on deck, “I will buy her freedom from you.”

“How much will you give us?”  They asked.

“I will give you all the money in this treasure chest,” said the young man showing them his father’s money.

“Then you shall have her,” said the captain handing the girl to him.  As he had no more money was left the young man returned to his home port with the girl.  On arrival he married her and then went to see his father.

His Father’s Wrath

His father was delighted to see him saying, “Welcome home my fair and handsome son! What rare bargains have you made?  What vast profits have you gained? What riches do you bring home to me?”

His son said, “Father I bring you a most precious thing, the rarest of jewels, the most beautiful woman in the world, the daughter of a Sultan and I have brought her for my wife!  I bring her now to show to you my merchandise!”

His father looked at him in shock and disgust and then exploded into violence striking both of them rapidly with his fists and pushing them out through the door into the street crying, “Foolish, foolish wastrel is this all you have brought for all the money I have given you! Out of my house and take her with you. Go!”

He continued kicking and striking them both until he was out of breath.  Then he turned and silently went back inside his house and shut the door on them.  Of course his son was greatly upset both for himself and for his new wife but he also had a problem because he had never learnt how to make a living for himself in the wide world.   They wandered the town together and eventually found a room in a villa whose owner kindly allowed them to stay for awhile in return for work.

Fair Brow

The young man spoke to his wife saying,  “Whatever shall we do?  I do not know any trade and I have no profession or anything to sell.  How shall we live?”

“Fear not,” said his wife, “I have some talent as an artist and can paint the most beautiful works of art, though I say so myself.  I shall paint and you shall sell what I paint, but you must reveal to no one who the artist is,“ she added.

Indeed she was very skilled and renowned in her own land for her paintings and now while she created the most exquisite works and he sold them.  He soon found the best place to sell them was down on the harbor side as many ships would come and dock and many sailors and merchants and fine gentlemen would be found going about their business.  They would often look for mementos, souvenirs and things to buy to take home with them.  In this way the young man and his wife made their living and all though they did not make much money they had each other and found pleasure in each other’s company.  In the evenings he would play upon musical instruments and sing to her as he was a good musician and a talented singer though his father had never recognized such attributes as being of any value. Nevertheless in their own company they were very happy and she would call him her “Fair Brow” as he was very handsome.


Claude-Joseph Vernet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Sultan’s Servants

Meanwhile, the Sultan had been distraught at the theft of his daughter and had sent out ships carrying his servants to search the corners of the Earth for her.   One day one of these sailed into the bay and docked in the harbor in the town where the young man and his wife were living.   The ship carried many of the Sultan’s servants who came ashore in search of his daughter.  The young man saw them coming ashore and thinking this would mean good business went to his wife and said, “Paint as many pictures as you can for I sense a good day of business today!”  So his wife painted very many beautiful paintings and said to her husband, “Remember, never tell anyone that I am the artist!”

Fair Brow nodded reassuringly and told her that he would not and took all of the paintings down to the harbor to sell.  As he unpacked and exhibited her pictures many of the Sultan’s servants clustered around to admire the paintings and recognised her work. “Who is the the artist who paints such wonderful works?” asked one of the servants.  This greatly excited the young man and he forgot his wife’s warning and said, “Why, it is my wife,”   Then they said with great enthusiasm, “We will buy all of these.  Can she paints us some more.  We will buy all you can sell us!  Can we meet her?”  Thinking at last his luck had changed he told them, “Come to my house with me and she will paint all the pictures you could wish for!”

So he took them to his house and as soon as they saw his wife they knew she was the Sultan’s daughter and they took her and carried her back to their ship and sailed back to the Sultan who was delighted to have his daughter back again.  Once the Sultan had got his daughter back he kept her out of sight in a guarded tower surrounded by a magnificent garden so that no one else could steal her away again.

The Old Fisherman

Meanwhile, Fair Brow was alone and sad without his wife whom he loved dearly.  He was ashamed that he could not stop her being kidnapped and lacking the skills to make his way in the world alone he fell into a dark, bleak depression but was determined to go after his wife.  Miserable and alone he took to wandering along the seashore hoping to find a ship that would take him on as a crew member and go in search of his wife, but he had no luck there either.  Then one day he came across an old fisherman with his boat pulled up on the sandy shore and he was sat nearby mending his fishing net.

Approaching him he said, “Old fisherman, though I am strong and supple of body, you are far better off than I!” And the old man relied, “Why is that so young man?  I am old and my bones ache and my muscles are so stiff I can barely move sometimes?”

The young man said, “You have a skill that helps you make your way in the world and I have none. Would you allow me to join you when you go fishing?”  The old man looked him up and down and smiled saying, “That I will if you so wish it.  You can use the pole to fish while I use the nets and perhaps together we shall catch plenty of fish!”

The Solemn Oath

With that the two made a solemn oath that from that moment they they would share all they had with one another and all that came their way in the future, whether it was good or bad.   With the promise made the old fisherman then divided his supper into two equal parts giving one to Fair Brow and keeping the other.  After they had eaten they went to sleep in the boat.

While they slept a storm brewed up and took the boat from the shore across the wide open sea finally throwing it aground on the shores of Turkey.  Being strangers on the shore the people who found them claimed the boat and took them to the Sultan.   He looked them up and down and took them as his slaves giving the old fisherman the task of growing his vegetables and the Fair Brow the task of growing the flowers.  The two newcomers soon made friends with the other slaves and did not have a bad life.  The work was steady and fair and they were fed well and not mistreated and even had spare time.  In his spare time the old fisherman would make the most marvelous musical instruments such as guitars, flutes, violins and clarinets and the fair Brow would play them and sings songs and the others would join in.


A Woman in Turkish Dress – Jean-Étienne Liotard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Sultan’s Daughter in the Tower

High in the tower the music and singing floated up to the Sultan’s daughter with her maids in waiting.  Hearing it took her mind back to her husband and the times he would sing to her while he played upon musical instruments.  Then, she knew that this could only be her Fair Brow and she became excited.  Almost not daring to look she peeped through the blinds to the garden below and there she saw that it was indeed none other than her husband who was singing so fair and playing such wonderful music.

It so happened that every day her maids in waiting would come down from the tower with a large basket which they would fill with flowers that Fair Brow had grown and take them up to the top of the tower to brighten up the apartment of the Sultan’s daughter.   She said to her maids, “Today we will have some fun.  When you are in the garden picking my flowers put that young man in the basket and cover him over with blooms and carry him up to me. Tell the gardeners to help you.”

So her maids went down to the garden and whispered to the other gardeners what the Sultan’s daughter had ordered.  They thought it was a great joke so they put the young man in the basket. Despite his good-natured protests they covered him up and the maids carried him up to the Sultan’s daughter’s apartment at the top of the tower with no idea of what was in store for him.  When they set the basket down in front of her he jumped up like a jack-in-the-box thinking to surprise her but found he was the one to be surprised as he jumped straight into the loving arms of his wife.


Surprised and delighted they hugged and kissed and then told each other their stories and then began planning how to escape the tower together.  His wife, being the Sultan’s daughter had a tremendous prestige and power and she ordered that a ship be laden with pearls, gold and other treasures should be made ready in the harbor.  The next day when the maids of honor took out the old flowers they hid in the baskets and the maids carried them down to the garden and down to the harbor and on to the ship.  Once aboard she ordered the captain to weigh anchor and set sail and on a fair wind quickly made it to the open sea.  Then Fair Brow realized he had forgotten something.   The old fisherman had been left behind and they had promised to share everything together both good and bad.  Despite his wife’s protests he made her order the captain to turn the ship around and go back for him even though this put them at risk of the Sultan catching them.  He told her of the old fisherman and the promise they had made each other and said, “My love, I must hold my sworn word even if caught for I must never break a promise!”

As luck or fate would have it they found the old fisherman waiting patiently by the shore as if he was expecting them.  With him safely on board they headed for the open sea and once far distant from land Fair Brow said to his friend, “Old fisherman we have a contract.  Let us divide all the treasure half for you and half for me as we agreed.”  The old man looked at him and replied, “Indeed we have promised each other and therefore I shall also have one half of your wife and you the other?”

The Grateful Dead

“My good friend, I am in your debt, therefore you take all of the pearls, gold and treasure and I will take my entire wife, or do you insist on me dividing her.” replied Fair Brow.  Then the old fisherman said, “My good young friend you are generous beyond measure and wise knowing what is your greatest treasure. Therefore, know now that I am the soul that once belonged to the poor corpse that you paid all of your money to pay off his debts. Please do not divide her!  All of the luck that you have now acquired stems from that one generous and merciful act of paying my debts and provide a proper burial that freed me from purgatory.  Now I go to my proper place in Heaven.  Farewell!” and with that he vanished and was never seen on Earth again.

And so the ship sailed on to the home port of Fair Brow and his wife and when they arrived their were great celebrations.  His father was waiting on the shore to greet them, begging their forgiveness and Fair Brow was now rich beyond measure and he lived in peace and happiness with his wife.  He would sing and play music to her and she would paint him marvelous pictures.

Curiosities of the Grateful Dead

As can be seen The Grateful Dead is a curious type of tale that explores the law of reciprocity and much more.  In this story the living had a degree of power over the dead preventing someone who had died without paying their debts from entering heaven by withholding a proper burial until the debts were paid.  Along comes Fair Brow and pays the debts and ensure a proper burial allowing the dead to enter heaven.  This explores the idea that the living have a power over the dead first by refusing proper burial and second when Fair Brow pays the debt releasing the dead man from the bond that held him from entering heaven.  It also explores the idea that the dead can come back and influence events on earth when the ghost of the dead man returns as the old fisherman to aid Fair Brow reach his heart’s desire.  There is also another idea that if the dead are released from debts they return to help the creditors achieve their heart’s desire but the creditors will be tested to see if they are truly worthy of being granted it.  Why?   Perhaps because it would then be too easy for creditors to write off debts in the expectation of reward from the dead.  They have to prove that their motive is purely altruistic and that they are truly worthy, hence the final test.

© 07/02/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 7, 2018 zteve t evans

Petrification Myths: The Curse of Yonder Mountain

This is a retelling of a Spanish  fairy tale from Catalonia called The Water of Life that tells how a brave and plucky girl saves her three brothers after they have been turned to stone by a magical spell.  A version appeared in in Cuentos Populars Catalans (1885) a collection of D. Francisco de Sales Maspons y Labrós and was included by Andrew Lang in The Pink Fairy Book (1897).

The Dream Palace

The story begins in a small cottage there lived together three brothers and one sister. They all loved each other dearly and were very happy together but they were all dreamers spending much of their time daydreaming from dawn to dusk.  Then one day the eldest brother suddenly jumped up and said to the others, “Perhaps if we all work hard we can make some money and become rich enough to build a palace for us all to live in.” Both his younger brothers and his sister all jumped up and agreed saying, “Yes, that is a wonderful dream.  That is what we will!”

And indeed they did work hard and they made lots of money and grew very rich and they built themselves a beautiful palace in which they lived happily together.  The palace was a wonder and many people traveled from miles around to have look and see. Everyone agreed it indeed was most beautiful and none could find any faults at all with it.

The Old Woman

Then an old woman came to have a look around with the other sightseers.  While everyone was saying how splendid and wonderful the palace was she suddenly declared in a loud voice, “It is a most wonderful palace, but there is something that it lacks!”

“And what may that be?” asked the eldest brother perplexed and a little hurt.

“Why it needs a church, of course!” she replied in answer.

When the three brothers and their sister heard this they all set about with great energy working hard and earning more money which they used to build a church that was as big and splendid as the palace.  When they had finished people came from miles around to see the wonderful palace and the splendid church with their beautiful gardens and wide spacious halls.   Everyone agreed both buildings were the most magnificent they had ever seen.

The Old Man

Then, one day an old man who was visiting and looking around suddenly spoke up saying, “Well, of course both buildings are very beautiful and splendid but it is still lacking.”

“And what is it lacking?” asked the three brothers and their sister together.

“Why it lacks three treasures; a jug full of the water of life, the scent of the flowers from the tree of beauty and the talking bird,” replied the old man.

“And where can we find these three treasures?” they asked him earnestly.

The old man turned and pointed and said,  “Go to Yonder Mountain that is beyond the horizon and you will find what you seek there, but beware of the curse!”   This last alarmed the sister who demanded to know what the curse was.   The old man only smiled, bowed politely, said farewell and began walking home.   Looking back over his shoulder he said, “Mind the curse!”

“Right, I will go to the  Yonder Mountain and bring back the water of life, a flowering branch from the tree of beauty that we can plant and the talking bird,” said the eldest brother.  At this his sister froze and a darkness came into her mind and she looked inside herself for a moment and then said,   “How shall we ever know if you suffer some evil?”  

“Well, I had not thought about that, but you are right,” he replied.

So the three brothers and their sister followed the old man to his home and their sister said to him, “My eldest brother wants to go to Yonder Mountain to bring back the water of life,  a flowering branch from the tree of beauty and the talking bird, to complete the perfection of our palace.  What is the curse you talk of and you tell us how we will know if something evil happens to him?”

The old man took out a knife and gave it to them saying,  “I do not know what the curse is I have never been there but there, but I will give you this.  You must keep this very carefully and when you see the blade is clear then all is good.  Now listen, if you see the blade has turned to a blood red then that is the sign that evil has taken him.”

The Eldest Brother

The brothers and their sister thanked him and promised to keep it safe.  The eldest brother said his goodbyes and set off on his journey Yonder Mountain where he hoped to find all the treasures that their palace lacked.   He walked for many, many days and still the mountain did not seem to be any nearer.   As he was walking along he met a giant and stopped and said, “Please can you tell how much further Yonder Mountain is?”

The giant looked at him sternly and said, “And may I ask why you would want to go all the way their?”

“Why I am seeking the water of life, a branch from the tree of beauty and the talking bird,” replied the eldest.

The giant looked down at him and with all seriousness said,

“Many folk have passed this way seeking those precious treasures and not one has ever returned.  If you want to find them and bring them back you must listen to my words and obey them.  This path, though straight and narrow, will take you all the way to the top of the mountain.  When you arrive at the bottom of the mountain the path will begin to climb upwards and you must continue on and you will pass through stony ground.  As you walk up the path you will see many large stones and boulders all along the way on both sides.  The further you go the more there will be.   You must carry on walking but as you go you will think you hear, laughing, giggling and sniggering coming from all around you.  The further you go the louder and more intense the laughter will become.  It is the stones that are mocking you, but you must not heed them at all.  You must concentrate on walking straight ahead until you reach the top.  If you pay the slightest bit of attention to them, if you heed them at all, you, yourself will become one of them.”

So the eldest thanked the giant for his advice and continued along the path.  He walked many, many, miles before he at last reached the bottom of the mountain.   Following the path up the slopes he began to notice many large stones and boulders strewn all along the way either side of the path.  Nevertheless, he continued along his way and every so often he thought he heard someone snigger, or giggle behind him.  Remembering what the giant had told him he kept his eyes to the path in front and continued along it.  The further he got the louder the giggling and snickering became until it became an uproar of laughter.  Now feeling frightened he stooped to pick up a stone and as he turned to throw it he experienced his arm suddenly stiffen and his body turn completely rigid as he became one of the laughing, giggling stones.

Faraway back at the palace his sister was pacing up and down worrying about her brother and hoping he was on his way home.  Suddenly a terrible feeling of dread came over her and a darkness filled her mind and for a second she froze.  Recovering herself, she quickly she went to the knife and to her horror saw the blade had turned blood red and she cried out calling her brothers to her.  They clustered around and seeing the blade knew something evil had happened to their brother.  The next eldest then stepped forward resolutely and said,  “It is my duty to go an find our brother and bring him back if I can, along with the three treasures!”  

The Next Eldest Brother

Although his sister protested he left home and walked along the same path his brother had taken heading for the mountain.  He walked for many, many days but the mountain did not appear to be any nearer.  At last he met a giant and he asked him if he had seen his brother and told him of his quest.

“Yes, I have seen him pass this way.  He went along the path to Yonder Mountain but I have not seen him return.  I am afraid he must have got caught in the spell,”  replied the giant and explained about the curse that lay along the mountain path.

“If that is so, what is there that I can do to release him from the spell and bring back the water of life, a branch from the tree of beauty and the talking bird?”  asked the second eldest.

The giant looked down at him sternly and then said,

This path will take you all the way to the top of the mountain.  When you arrive at the bottom of the mountain the path will begin to climb upwards and you must continue on.  As you walk you pass through stony ground and will see many large stones and boulders all along the way on both sides.  The further you go the more there will be.   You must carry on walking but as you go you will think you hear, laughing, giggling and sniggering coming from all around you.  The further you go the louder and more intense the laughter will become.  It is the stones that are mocking you but you must not heed them at all.  You must concentrate on walking straight ahead until you reach the top. Do not turn, do not look, do not listen!  If you pay the slightest bit of attention to them, if you heed them at all, you, yourself will become one of them.  If you do not heed them you will reach the top and attain your heart’s desire.”

Thanking the giant for his advice the second eldest brother set out along the path to the mountain.   He walked for many, many miles until he came to the foot of the mountain.  He looked along the path and he saw it winding upwards around the mountain so he followed on.  As he followed the path upwards he noticed there were many large stones and boulders strewn on both sides of the path, but continued on his way.  Every now and then he thought he heard a snigger and someone giggling but he set his mind on his task and carried on trying to ignore it.  The further he went the louder the giggling became and soon all around him the  stones rang with raucous laughter so loud he could barely stand it but he heeded what the giant said and carried on.  As he passed the place where his brother had reached he thought he heard his voice mixed in with all the giggling and chuckling and he turned to see if he was there and instantly became one of the stones.

As this happened his sister had been pacing up and down in the palace with a growing feeling of dread and her mind filled with darkness and for a second she froze.  Then taking back control of herself she ran to the knife to see what the blade told her.  To her shock and horror it appeared blood red and she called out to her remaining brother who ran to see what was the matter.   When he saw the blood red blade he said, “I must go and find my brothers and bring back the treasures!”

The Youngest Brother

His sister protested many times but he would not be held back  and leaving his her alone he started out and walked for many, many days towards Yonder Mountain which never seemed to get any nearer.  Along the way he met a giant and stopped to ask him if he had seen anything of his brothers and told him of the quest for the treasures.

“Yes, I have seen them pass by and they have never yet returned.  I fear the spell of the mountain has taken them!” the giant told him.

“How can I set them free and bring back the water of life, a branch from the tree of beauty and the talking bird?” asked the youngest brother.

The giant looked down sternly and said,

This path will take you all the way to the top of the mountain.  When you arrive at the bottom of the mountain the path will begin to climb upwards and you must continue on.  As you walk you will pass through stony ground and will see many large stones and boulders all along the way on both sides.  The further you go the more there will be. You must carry on walking but as you go you will think you hear, laughing, giggling and sniggering coming from all around you.  The further you go the louder and more intense the laughter will become.  It is the stones that are mocking you but you must not heed them at all.  You must concentrate on walking straight ahead until you reach the top. Do not turn, do not look, do not listen!  If you pay the slightest bit of attention to them, if you heed them at all, you, yourself will become one of them.  If you do not heed them you will reach the top and find your heart’s desire.”

So the youngest brother thanked the giant for his advice and continued along the path until he reached the foot of the mountain.  He looked up the steep winding way and saw lots of large stones and boulders strewn either side of the path.  Remembering the giant’s warning he walked steadfastly up the path.   The further he walked the more stones he saw and as he walked he thought he heard whispering and then sniggering and giggling. Ignoring the sounds he walked on and on.  The further he went the louder the laughter and mocking became but he continued on passing the place where his eldest brother had reached and then beyond where the second eldest brother had reached.  He passed beyond that place and just as he thought he would reach the top of the mountain a crescendo of laughter peeled from all around.  Thinking he heard his brothers laughing behind him he turned expecting to them and the spell took him and he joined them as one of the stones.

The Sister seeks her Brothers

All this time his sister had been alone and pacing up and down in the palace praying that her brothers would return safely.  She hoped they would bring back the objects of their quest, but she would have been more than happy just to have them back without them.   As she paced up and down she was suddenly seized by a terrible dread and a darkness entered her mind and she froze for an instant.   Shaking off the fear she took control of herself and ran to the knife and saw to her horror it had turned blood red.  She gritted her teeth and despite her fear and the danger,  said, “Now I will go and find my brothers and bring them all back with the water of life, the branch from the tree of beauty and the talking bird.”

With that she set off along the path to Yonder Mountain.  She walked and walked for many days and still the mountain seemed no nearer.  She came across a giant and stopped and asked him if he had seen her three brothers and explained the quest to him. The giant told her exactly as he had told her brothers,

“This path will take you all the way to the top of the mountain.  When you arrive at the bottom of the mountain the path will begin to climb upwards and you must continue on.  As you walk up the path it will take you through stony ground and you will see many large stones and boulders all along the way on both sides.  The further you go the more there will be.   You must carry on walking but as you go you will think you hear, laughing, giggling and sniggering coming from all around you.  The further you go the louder and more intense the laughter will become.  It is the stones that are mocking you but you must not heed them at all.  You must concentrate on walking straight ahead until you reach the top. Do not turn, do not look, do not list!  If you pay the slightest bit of attention to them, if you heed them at all you, yourself will become one of them.  If you do not heed them you will reach the top and you will attain everything your heart desires.   Remember well what I say!”

Thanking him for his advice she set off along the path to reach the mountain.  When she came to the foot of the mountain she looked up along the winding path.  She saw the many, many, large stones and boulders strewn all alongside it and remembered the giants warning.  Keeping her mind set and her her eyes fixed straight ahead she made her way up the path through the stony ground.   As she walked she heard, whispering, but she kept her mind fixed and walked on.  She heard giggling and sniggering from all around her but she kept looking straight ahead with her mind rigid on her goal and walked on.  She walked past the places where her brothers were turned to stone and a great barrage of mocking laughter echoed all around her.   In that laughter she heard her brothers voices calling.  She clenched her fists and set her mind and kept her eyes fixed straight ahead.  Despite her fear she made it to the top of the mountain and the clamor died away.

The Top of the Mountain

To her disappointment there was no sign of her brothers, nevertheless, she was greatly relieved.  Looking around she saw a jug standing by a small spring of clear water which was the pool of life.  Alongside the pool grew the tree of beauty and on one of its branches sat the talking bird.  At the bottom of the tree was a golden cage.  She took the jug and filled it with water and then managed to coax the talking bird from the tree and into the cage.  Then she broke a flowering branch from the tree of beauty.  With no sign of her brothers and all the items required to make the palace complete now attained she decide it would best for her to  honor them by returning home with the treasures.

There was no laughter now as she walked down the hill.  As she walked carrying her load, drops of the water of life splashed from the jug and fell on some of the stones,  These immediately sprang up turning into young men and women.  They all crowded around her giving her thanks.  Seeing that this had broken their spell she sprinkled water from the jug all over the stones fetching more and more, as more people were freed from the spell of the stones.  Soon there was a great company of young men and maidens following her down the mountain path.  Among them she found her brothers and never was there a more joyful reunion.

The Girl who Broke the Curse

Together again the brothers with their sister walked the long walk back to home carrying all of the items that would make their palace complete.  As soon as they got back they planted the branch from the tree of beauty and watered it with the water of life.  It quickly grew into a flowering tree whose scent filled the gardens and gave everlasting beauty to those who breathed it.  Then they placed the talking bird in its branches and the perfection of their palace was complete.  Once again word of the splendor of their palace spread far and wide.  People traveled from far and wide and many distant lands to see it and enjoy its perfection.  However, mostly they came to see and meet the brave and remarkable girl who had won the three treasures, saved her brothers and broke the Curse of Yonder Mountain.

© 12/07/2016 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright zteve t evans