The fabled Firebird from Russian and Slavic mythology and folklore is a magical, mysterious bird, both rare and elusive and the inspiration of many folk and fairy tales. Its plumage is the color of red, yellow and orange flames of fire or maybe like the setting or rising of the sun.
According to tradition it appears from the east lighting up the sky causing all the creatures of the world to fall silent in deference to its glory. The Firebird appears in many stories as a blessing and a bearer of good fortune but it can also be a harbinger of doom for those of a wicked disposition. However, for Alexis, the hero of this story, the finding of the feather of the Firebird is the catalyst for inner growth and strength. He is sent on a journey completing a set of difficult tasks bringing out his own inner resources to win through. In doing so he rises from lowly beginnings to a prominent position in the world.
Finding the Feather
In this story our hero is a young man who despite being rather naive is true of heart and courageous and it is he who finds the feather. For those who find a feather of the Firebird great changes befall them. To pick it up sets off a life changing chain of events putting their life at risk and bringing them real fear. When Alexis finds the feather he does not listen to the warning of his horse of power and decides to pick it up and take it to the Tsar. From then on his problems snowball and for the first time he begins to experience real fear.
The Firebird is usually said to represent the whole truth, or enlightenment of the world. Princess Vasilisa represents love. The finding of a single feather from the Firebird represents the finding of a single grain of truth. If the whole truth is desired then the whole Firebird must be sought to gain enlightenment. The Tsar is not satisfied with a feather but demands the whole truth, represented by the Firebird and sends Alexis to bring it back. Yet, he is not satisfied with the whole Firebird and demands love in the form of Princess Vasilisa. Again, he sends Alexis to find her but does nothing himself to win her love.
Although the Tsar seeks enlightenment and love he never does anything himself to find either and consequently never finds them. Enlightenment comes from the experience gained from completing the journey and the tasks of the quest and love is earned by the way others are treated along the way, yet he never learns this.
Animal Helper – The Horse of Power
As with other Firebird stories our hero has a wise animal and magical helper who accompanies him on the quest. In, The Feather and the Firebird, the magical animal helper is a horse of power who has the gift of speech and foresight and is named Perdun.
Perdun warns against picking up the feather, which is only a small part of the truth. The horse is important to our hero as it represents his own natural wisdom – his gut instinct which he suppresses. It is the suppression of his inner instinct that gets him into trouble in the first place. As he learns to listen to and trust his horse of power, or gut instinct, he at last triumphs.
So when our hero embarks on his quest at the command of the Tsar who is not satisfied with part of the truth but craves the whole truth the Tsar is making a huge mistake. He does not experience the journey and the hardships so he remains none the wiser, but the hero through the trials on his journey learns the whole truth and the world is his. On the way he finds love while the stay-at home Tsar never does.
While the Tsar ends up with death the hero is rewarded with marriage to Princess Vasilisa and becomes the new Tsar, His own inner resources have grown to the point where he recognizes that the Firebird, like the truth and enlightenment, is something that cannot be caged and sets it free to roam the world as it should. Perhaps one day, somewhere, someone else will find one of its feathers and embark on their own journey of discovery.
Beowulf was originally written in Anglo-Saxon times as a poem in Old English by an anonymous writer. It tells the story of its heroic protagonist, Beowulf, who embodies the much revered Anglo-Saxon qualities of strength, courage, heroism and virtuous behaviour. It is these qualities, blended with fictional, legendary and historical elements that make Beowulf the ideal role model for the Anglo-Saxon warrior aristocracy. Presented her is a retelling of the story after his arrival in Denmark to his triumphant return to Geatland drawn from the sources below.
Beowulf comes of Age
The story of Beowulf begins in a part of Scandinavia called Geatland that was a land of tall mountains, narrow valleys and a long rugged coastline. It was populated by a brave and virtuous people called the Geats who were ruled over by King Hygelac and his wife Queen Hygd, the Wise and Fair.At regular times King Hygelac would call his earls and warriors to his great hall for feasting and drinking. These were popular and events that brought together his people from distant parts and helped bond his nation to him and each other. At these events the stories of their valour and that of their of their ancestors were told by the bards and sometimes one of them might be called upon to tell of a heroic deed they had performed. Young Beowulf would sit in the great hall taking in all of the stories. He was the son of the king’s sister who from a very young age had caught the eye of his uncle for his physical stature and strength.
One night a great feast was held in the king’s hall and all of the bravest and renowned warriors and noble of Geatland gathered to enjoy the festivities. As the evening progressed, King Hygelac stood up and introduced a visiting minstrel, whom he named as The Wanderer, and asked him to sing a song.The minstrel brought a stool before the king and sat down and began to play his harp. He sang of the wild northern lands and of the forbidden mountains that were home to beasts and demons far more dangerous than any of those found in Geatland. He told of terrible dragons and of their slaying by brave men and he told of the sea serpents and wild things of the sea.
The Song of Grendel
The song of The Wanderer began to change and took on a darker and more disturbing tone. It told of King Hrothgar of Denmark and of the terrible calamity that had struck that land. He sang of a demon that was part animal, part man and part all terrible creatures and the name of the demon was Grendel. He told how Grendel had appeared one fearful night, twelve years ago after a great feast in the great hall of King Hrothgar that was called Hereot. After all had ate and drank their fill and the king and queen retired to their own apartments his earls and warriors lay asleep in the great hall. As they had lain peacefully sleeping unaware of any pending peril, Grendel had come and forced aside the great door and carried away thirty of the sleeping earls, murdering and devouring them.
This had caused great sorrow throughout the land and although there had been many attempts to kill Grendel he violently defeated and killed all of his attackers showing no mercy at all.Now no one dared to sleep in the great hall of Heorot because Grendel often visited it and wreaking his havoc wherever it was in use. He has killed most of the young and vigorous warriors of the Danes who has dared to stand up to him and now all that remained were defenseless women, children and the elderly. Beowulf was now completely taken with the song and a fire sprang up in him lighting up his blue eyes. As he listened he knew what he must do. Springing from his seat he thumped the table shouting,
“My King and Queen and earls of Geatland, in days gone by King Hrothgar of Denmark was the friend of Ecgtheow my father in his hour of need. I, Beowulf, the son of Ecgtheow, will slay Grendel for King Hrothgar in thanks for his friendship to my father and the glory of Geatland!”
The Wanderer stopped his song and throughout the hall a silence fell. King Hygelac stood up and commanded silence and turning to Beowulf said in a voice that all could hear,
“Beowulf your time has come to prove yourself. You have been blessed with the strength and vitality of thirty men and you should use your powers to help everyone. Hrothgar, our friend and neighbor has great need. Go now to Denmark and prove yourself and slay Grendel!”
King Hygelac ordered that Beowulf should be given suitable equipment for his purpose and told him to choose fourteen comrades to accompany him. These should be such as Beowulf, young men who had come of age and in need of proving themselves.At last suitable equipped and attired the company made their way to the harbour where a ship had been prepared. At sunrise the next day Beowulf and his company set sail on their great adventure.
Their voyage across the sea was not to be an easy one as they sailed into a great storm. At last they came safely through and arriving on the shores of Denmark they pushed their ship up a beach. There they met an old man who welcomed them and showed them the path to the great hall of King Hrothgar of Denmark and promised to stray and guard their ship until their return.
The Hall of King Hrothgar
Beowulf and his company followed the path through dense forest for many miles until the came into a long valley. At the far end of the valley stood the once fair hall of Heorot. As they passed through the valley they saw the deserted farms and the homes of the people while all around there hung the stench of death like the very land rotted. There was no sign of humans so Beowulf led his company onwards towards the great hall. until at last came to it gates.
Three times Beowulf knocked upon the gates and at last a frightened gatekeeper appeared and nervously asked what business they had at the hall. Beowulf requested the man go to King Hrothgar telling him that a band of warriors from Geatland had arrived wishing to speak to him and were asking for food and lodging.
The gatekeeper hurried off and presently Beowulf saw the king approach in the company of a band of elderly warriors. King Hrothgar was now an old man himself with a full beard of flowing white and eyes that told of days of fear and sorrow. As he approached he opened his arms wide saying,
“Welcome strangers, I can see by your bearing you are friends and here on some errand to my sad and unhappy kingdom. Therefore, speak of your errand and who you so that I may help you as I can.”
Stepping forward Beowulf loudly proclaimed, “I am Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow whom you befriended and KIng Hygelac of Geatland is my uncle. We come to Denmark to slay the demon called Grendel and free you from his terror.”
Then Hrothgar looked long and hard at him and said, “Ecgtheow was my friend and brother-in-arms. You and your friends are very welcome in Denmark but I warn you Grendel comes often to Heorot and is hungry for young men to devour. Now come rest and tonight for the first time in twelve years there will be feasting in Heorot and Queen Wealhtheow the Beautifulwill pass to you the drinking-horn as is our tradition of friendship.”
For the first time in twelve years the great hall of Heorot was made ready for a great feast and fires were lit cooking meats of every kind. When all was ready the king and queen arrived followed by a great company and took their seats in the hall according to rank. Their number had been greatly diminished by Grendel and now it was mostly old men who sat with the king and queen. It was not a very joyful atmosphere for fear dwelt in the hearts of all those present of the evil of Grendel.
King Hrothgar sat at the head of the assembly with Queen Wealhtheow the Beautiful. In a place of honour below the king sat Beowulf. Beside him on the right his right sat Aescher the king’s most trusted advisor. Next to him on his left sat Unferth, whom The Wanderer had sang about that night in Geatland in his uncle’s hall. At the word of the King the feast began and as the drinking-horns were passed around many oaths were uttered encouraging the slaying of Grendel. It was only Beowulf’s company of Geat warriors that were joyful and as the drink flowed they began boasting of the prowess and courage of Beowulf.Aescher endorsed their praises of their leader but Unferth became increasingly sullen and silent never offering a single word of praise as was the Danish custom.
Beowulf noticed this and turning to him said, “You keep very quiet Unferth, the son of Ecglaf, tell us of your deeds of valor that we may give praise to you. Come, tell us and then I can drink from the cup with you!”
At this Unferth stood up and slamming his fist on the table cried, “Beowulf! Who is this Beowulf but a beardless boy who stands before us telling us he will save us from Grendel? Who are the beardless boys who accompany him over the sea? Does anyone think that what so many good Danes have failed this stripling will succeed? Let him and his friends return to Geatland instead of laughing at our sorrow and loss!”
Beowulf felt his anger burn hot for this was the same Unsferth the Wanderer had sung about who had not dared to fight the demon himself. Beowulf rose, but knowing the words of his accuser to be false spoke clearly and softly without anger, “Take back your words they are dishonorable. I come in friendship offering to rid Denmark of this vile Grendel. Unferth, tell us of your great battle with Grendel?”
A murmur of approval of Beowulf’s words from Danes and Geats ran around the hall and KIng Hrothgar stood up and said, “Having listened to the quiet words of Beowulf I know he is a hero. There has been too much sorrow these last twelve years and makes us bitter and say things we do not mean. Beowulf, forgive us!”
Then Queen Wealhtheow the Beautiful took up a jewelled cup and filling it with wine passed it to Hrothgar who drank from it and then she took it to Beowulf. He drank and she went around the company of Geatland and thanked them for coming to Denmark in their time of great need and asking each to drink. When they had done so she went around the king’s earls and they also drank to the king and queen and the death of Grendel.
Then the festivities were reopened with much good will from both Danes and Geats. While the Danes praised the glory of King Hygelac and Queen Hygd, the Wise and Fair, the Geats praised KIng Hrothgar and Queen Wealhtheow the Beautiful. At last Hrothgar rose from his chair and taking his queen by the hand said, “Now it is time for us Danes to go to our beds and leave Beowulf and his company alone and pray their sleep be untroubled.”
He led his queen out through the great door of Heorot followed by all of his earls and retainers and the Geats were left to face the night as the great fires slowly burnt out.
The Demon Grendel
Beowulf ordered that the doors of the hall be secured and his companions made them so well no mortal man could have entered. With the doors safe the company spread their cloaks over the benches and lay down to sleep. One of Beowulf’s favorite companions named Hondscio took it upon himself to lay next to the door vowing to be the first to do battle should Grendel choose to appear. Soon all except Beowulf were sound asleep. He had vowed to stay awake and lay still and quiet listening as silence crept over the hall. He could hear the breathing of his comrades but little else.
Outside fog was forming and hiding the moon. Slowly all sounds died away and even the wind stopped its sighing and all was silent. As the fog crept across the land and wrapped itself around the hall, despite his vow, Beowulf became very drowsy. He fought to stay awake but his limbs felt heavy and his eyes closed and he sank into a deep slumber.
Outside the fog thickened and completely obscured the moon and tightened its hold upon the hall. For a second the fog parted and a gigantic black shape loomed and slowly moving towards the great hall and stood before the door in the weird light.
Inside, unaware of the horror that lay outside, Beowulf and his company slept under the bewitchment Grendel had wrought upon them. Beowulf fought hard to break the spell and desperately tried to crawl out of the nightmarish pit he found himself in.
Outside Grendel slowly brought his strength to bear silently pushing the door open despite its securings. Beowulf, fighting hard, crawled from the pit and saw the door wide open and fog streaming in. He saw the great shape of Grendel bend down and picking up the sleeping Hondscio tear his limbs from his body and now he saw clearly the nature of the demon he faced. It resembled a gigantic but twisted and deformed man yet there was something beast like about it. Its body was covered in grey scales that rattled when it moved and a pale light flickered from its eyes. Struggling to his feet he watched in horror and disgust as it crushed the body of Hondscio and greedily ate his remains. Then it turned its vile gaze around the hall until it fell upon Beowulf. Slowly the monster moved towards him.
Beowulf, full of loathing and disgust shook off the spell and ran at the beast. Clashing together the two grappled to gain a hold on one another. Although the claws of Grendel were strong and dug into his flesh, Beowulf was quicker and slipped easily from his hold. As Grendel sought to grasp, hold and tear his opponent apart, Beowulf moved quickly around him dodging his grabbing hands. While his company lay in spell induced sleep he and Grendel engaged in a deadly hand to hand fight for life.
Grendel tried to grasp and crush the head of Beowulf who in turn evaded him and continued to seek some advantage or weak spot. At last Grendel managed to grab Beowulf but his quick turn forced both of them to the ground and for a split second the demon experienced fear and doubt. Like a true warrior Beowulf sensed this and quickly took advantage of this lapse and managed to grasp him briefly by the throat, but its scales prevented him from taking a killing grip.
Then Grendel thrashed out and almost gained the advantage but Beowulf grasped hold of his arm and giving a quick twist jumped behind the brute pushing it high up its back causing it to scream in agony. The two fell to the floor and Beowulf continued to grip his arm wrenching this way and that until he felt the muscles and sinews weaken and give way and he pulled the arm free from its socket. Grendel stumbled up and through the door disappearing into the fog leaving the exhausted Beowulf clutching his severed and bleeding limb. With the spell broken his companions awoke and gathered around in wonder and horror.
As dawn broke people slowly appeared at the great hall to see how the Geats had fared though they expected the worse. Soon a great crowd of people thronged the hall and they were astounded by what they saw. Hanging high from one of the roof beams was the massive severed and bloody arm of Grendel. Upon the king’s dais stood Beowulf wearing a scarlet cloak his blue eyes flashing fire and his fair hair shining like gold like some god of old.
King Hrothgar was sent for and quickly arrived and said, “Give thanks now to Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, to be sure, this is the end of Grendel and his terror. Hail, to Beowulf hero of Geatland!” Then Queen Wealhtheow praised him and called on the servants to prepare a great feast. The celebrations went on all day and into the night and Beowulf was greatly honored by all.
Vengeance of the Water Witch
The next day a messenger rushed in his face white with fear, body shaking and eyes wild and kneeling before the king said in a trembling voice, “Sire, I have just run as fast as I could from Heorot; The good and wise Aescher has been most terribly murdered. His head has been severed from his body and his limbs crushed to a pulp.”
With that Hrothgar and Wealhtheow, accompanied by Beowulf, hastened to the great hall. They found the mangled remains of Aescher amid a scene of great destruction and the severed arm of Grendel had been removed. Queen Wealhtheow cried, “This is the revenge of Grendel’s mother. In our gladness at the defeat of Grendel we had forgotten her evil presence. Unless she too is slain she will wreak unending devastation upon us. Beowulf, we implore you to hunt her down and slay her too!”
On hearing this Beowulf called his company to him saying, “Come, let us finish this evil once and for all before night comes,” and begged Hrothgar for horses and hounds to hunt down the monster. Then Unferth, stepped forward from the crowd and said, “Beowulf, I am put to shame that I have ever doubted you. Take with you my sword. Its name is Hrunting. It is a magical sword and will be of help to you. Forgive my foolishness and let us be friends.”
Gladly, Beowulf embrace Unferth and taking the sword he and his company mounted the horses that had been brought for them. He called for the dogs to be set loose and they soon picked up the powerful scent and raced away on the trail with Beowulf and the Geats and King Hrothgar and the Danes following on behind. The dogs ran over hill and fen for many miles until at last they reached a small dark mere. Strange and slimy things moved in its depths and putrid vapours rose from its surface. The dogs stopped at the water’s edge and Beowulf and his company rode up. Throwing off his cloak and unbuckling his sword he cried, “I go into the mere alone. Wait here until I return!”
All of his companions protested, each wanting to accompany him but he would not allow it. He embraced his followers in turn and paid homage to King Hrothgar and turned and ran into the dark water holding Hrunting before him. The mere covered him and he found himself sinking into the cold darkness. To his surprise the water was deep and as he sank through the darkness he entered into light. Looking down he found he was being dragged by a most vile hag. Her hair was a mass of twisting and hissing snakes. Her mouth was filled with long green fangs and her eyes burned red like hot coals. She held him by her skinny arms and dragged him into the cave.
Quickly, looking around Beowulf saw he was in a cavern with a great fire at one end. Huddled in one corner was a dark mass that he knew to be Grendel and now he knew this to be Grendel’s mother who now gripped him. In that cave at the bottom of the world Beowulf grappled with the fiend striking her with his sword but it could not pierce her skin while she clawed at him trying to reach his throat. She cast a spell and he found the strength ebb from his body. He managed to trip her off balance and threw her in the air, but she fell on top of him and he felt her claws around his throat. Confident she had him in a death grip she relaxed a little and for a split second the spell lifted.
Quickly, he threw her from him and staggered to his feet and moved to put his back to the wall. There he found driven into the wall the hilt of an old sword. Grasping it he heaved with all of his might and pulled it free. As she attacked he struck a blow that cut her clean in two. Turning to Grendel he cut off his head and then threw both bodies into the fire. Clasping the severed head of Grendel he ran to the cave’s mouth and into the mire and surged upwards through the water until he reached the surface where his friends were waiting.
His companions were still there but King Hrothgar and the Danes had gone for he had been absent for a very long time. He was greeted joyfully as they all crowded around wanting to hear his story, but he would tell them nothing. Instead he showed them the head of Grendel as proof of his victory. With that he commanded them to mount their horses and they returned to Heorot and King Hrothgar.
When the company arrived back at Heorot bearing the head of Grendel, Hrothgar was delighted Beowulf had survived and even more so to see the head of the demon he carried. He presented all of the company with rich gifts of fine swords and weapons and chests of gold, silver and precious jewels rewarding Beowulf the greatest of all.
Having achieved all he had set out to achieve Beowulf thanked the King and Queen of Denmark and took his leave deciding to sail for home with his company. He led the company back along the forest path and at last they reached the beach where the old man still sat guarding their ship. With all aboard he gave the order to set sail for Geatland.
Return to Geatland
King Hygelac was delighted to welcome his nephew home bearing riches from his exploits in Denmark. After hearing of his heroics in freeing Denmark of its monsters he acclaimed Beowulf the greatest hero of his people. The minstrels made songs of his bravery and heroism and he became famous throughout the northern lands but there were still further exploits written in the stars including a great flame dragon for him to overcome.
This work is a retelling of a kaiden, a traditional Japanese ghost story from a collection retold by Grace James titled, Japanese Fairy Tales, and called The Peony Lantern. There are also versions called Kaidan Botan Dōrō. In many ways it is passionate and romantic yet has more than a hint of horror involving necrophilia while hinting on the consequences of the karma of the two main characters.
The Peony Lantern
It is said that by the strong bond of illusion the living and the dead are bound together. Now, there was a young samurai who lived in Yedo. His name was Hagiwara and he had reached the most honorable rank of hatamoto. He was a very handsome man, very athletic and light on his feet and his good looks made him very popular with the ladies of Yedo. Some were very open about their affections, while others were more coy and secretive. For his part he gave little of his time and attention to love. Instead he preferred to join other young men in sports and joyous revelries. He would often be seen socializing and having fun with his favorite companions, very much the life and soul of the party.
The Festival of the New Year
When the Festival of the New Year came he was to be found in the company of laughing youths and happy maidens playing the game of battledore and shuttlecock in the streets. They had roamed far from their own neighborhood to the other side of town to a suburb of quiet streets and large houses that stood in grand gardens.
Hagiwara was good at the game and used his battledore with impressive skill and technique. However, the wind caught the shuttle after he had hit it taking it way over the heads of the other players and over a bamboo fence and into a garden. He ran after it but the others cried, “Leave, Hagiwara, let it stay! We have plenty more shuttlecocks to play with. Why waste time on that one?”
Hagiwara heard them but answered, “No my friends, that one was special. It was the color of a dove and gilded with gold. I will soon fetch it!”
“Let it stay!,” they cried, “we have a dozen here that are dove coloured and gilded with gold. Let it stay!”
Hagiwara stood staring at the garden. For some reason he felt a very strong need for that particular shuttlecock and did not know why. Ignoring his friends he quickly climbed the bamboo fence and jumped down into the garden. He had seen exactly where the shuttlecock landed and thought he would be able to retrieve it quickly, but when he went to the spot it was not there. For some reason he now considered that particular shuttlecock was his most valuable treasure. He searched up and down the garden, pushing aside bushes and plants, but all to no avail. His friends called him again and again but he ignored them and searched feverishly around the garden for the lost shuttlecock. Again his friends called, but he ignored them and continued searching. Eventually, they wandered off leaving him alone searching the garden.
He continued searching into the evening ignoring the glorious spectacle of the setting sun and as dusk fell gently he suddenly looked up. To his surprise there was a girl standing a few yards in front of him. Smiling, she motioned with her right hand while in the the palm of her left she held the shuttlecock he had been searching for. He moved eagerly towards her but she moved back still presenting the shuttlecock to him, but keeping it out of reach, luring him into him into following her. He followed her through the garden and up three stone steps that led into the house.
On one side of the first step a plum tree stood in white blossom and on the third step stood a most beautiful lady. She was dressed in celebration of the festival in a kimono of patterned turquoise with long ceremonial sleeves that swept the ground Underneath she wore garments of scarlet and gold and in her hair were pins of coral, tortoiseshell and gold.
O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew
On seeing the the beautiful lady, Hagiwara immediately knelt before her in reverence and adoration touching his forehead to the ground as a sign of respect. The lady smiled down on him with shining eyes and then spoke softly, “Welcome, Hagiwara Sama, most noble samurai of the hatamoto. Please allow me to introduce myself and my handmaiden. My name is O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew and this is O’Yone my handmaiden. She it it is that has brought you to me and I thank her. Glad am I to see you and happy indeed is this hour!”
Gently raising him she led him into the house and into a room where ten mats were placed upon the floor. He was then entertained in the traditional manner as the Lady of the Morning Dew danced for him while her handmaiden beat upon a small scarlet and gold drum. They set the red rice for him to eat and sweet warm wine to drink as was the tradition and he ate all he was given. It was getting late when he had finished and after pleasant conversation he took his leave and as she showed him to the door the Lady of the Morning Dew whispered, “Most honourable Hagiwara, I would be most happy if you came again.”
Hagiwara was now in high spirits and flippantly laughed,“And what would it be if I did not return? What is it if I do not come back, what then?”
O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew flinched and then stiffened and her face grew pale and drawn. She looked him directly in the eye and laid a hand upon his shoulder and whispered, “It will be death. Death for you, death for me. That is the only way!”
Standing next to her O’Yone shuddered and hid her face in her hands.
Perplexed and very much disturbed, Hagiwara the samurai went off into the night wandering through the thick darkness of the sleeping city like a lost ghost, very very afraid.
He wandered long in the pitch black night searching for his home. It was not until the first grey streaks of dawn broke the darkness that he at last found himself standing before his own door. Tired and weary he went in and threw himself on his bed and then laughed,“Hah, and I have forgotten my shuttlecock!”
In the morning he sat alone thinking about all that had happened the day before. The morning passed and he sat through the afternoon thinking about it. Evening began to fall and suddenly he stood up saying, “Surely, it was all a joke played on me by two geisha girls. They will be laughing at me expecting me to turn up but I will show them. I will not let them make a fool of me!”
Therefore dressing in his best clothes he went out into the evening to find his friends. For the next week he spent his time sporting and partying and through all these entertainments he was the loudest, the happiest, the wittiest and the wildest, but he knew things were not right. At last he said,“Enough, I have had enough! I am sick and tired of all this charade!”
Leaving his friends he took to roaming the streets alone. He wandered from one end of Yedo by day and then back again at night. He sought out the hidden ways of the city, the lost courtyards, the back alleys and the forgotten paths that ran between the houses, searching, always searching, for what he did not know.
Yet, he could not find the house and garden of the Lady of the Morning Dew although his restless spirit searched and searched. Eventually finding himself outside his own home he went to bed and fell into a sickness. For three moons he ate and drank barely enough to keep himself alive and his body grew weak, pale and thin, like some hungry, restless, wraith. Three moons later during the hot rainy season he left his sickbed and wrapping himself in a light summer robe set out into the city despite the entreaties of his good and faithful servant
“Alas, my master has the fever and it is driving him mad!”wailed the servant.
Hagiwara took no notice and looking straight ahead set out with resolve saying,“Have faith! Have faith! All roads will take me to my true love’s house!”
Eventually he came to a quiet suburb of big houses with gardens and saw before him one with a bamboo fence. Smiling, Hagiwara quickly climbed the fence and jumped down saying,“Now we shall meet again!”
Hagiwara the samurai stood in shocked silence staring at it. An old man appeared and asked,“Lord, is there something I can do for you?”
However, he was shocked to find the garden was overgrown and unkempt. Moss had grown over the steps and the plum tree had lost its white blossom, its green leaves fluttered forlornly in the breeze. The house was dark, quiet and empty, its shutters closed and an air of melancholy hung over it.
The Lady Has Gone
“I see the white blossom has fallen from the plum tree. Can you tell me where the Lady of the Morning Dew has gone?” Hagiwara sadly replied.
“Alas, Lord, the Lady of the Morning Dew has fallen like the blossom of the plum tree. Six moons ago she was taken by a strange illness that could not be alleviated. She now lies dead in the graveyard on the hillside. Her faithful handmaiden, O’Yone, would not be parted from her and would not allow her mistress to wander through the land of the dead alone and so lies with her. It is for their sakes that I still come to this garden and do what I can, though being old now that is but little and now the grass grows over their graves.”
Devastated by the news Hagiwara went home. He wrote the name of O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew, on a piece of white wood and then burned incense before it and placed offerings before it. He made sure he did everything necessary to pay the proper respects and ensure the well being of her spirit.
The Festival of Bon
The time of the returning souls arrived, the Festival of Bon, that honors the spirits of the dead. People carried lanterns and visited the graves of those deceased. They brought them presents of flowers and food to show they still cared. The days were hot and on first night of the festival Hagiwara unable to sleep walked alone in his garden. It was cooler than the blazing heat of the day and he was thankful for it. All was quiet and calm and he was enjoying the peacefulness of the night. It was around the hour of the Ox, that he heard the sound of footsteps approach. It was too dark to see who it was but he could tell there were two different people that he thought were women by the sound of their footsteps. Stepping up to his rose hedge he peered into the darkness to catch sight of who it was approaching. In the darkness he could make out the figures of two slender women who walked along the lane hand in hand towards him. One held before them on a pole a peony lantern such as those the folk of Yedo used in their traditions to honour the dead and it cast an eerie light around them. As they approached the lantern was held up to reveal their faces and instantly he recognized them and gave a cry of surprise. The girl holding the peony lantern held it up to light his face
“Hagiwara Sama, it is you! We were told that you were dead. We have been praying daily for your soul for many moons!” she cried.
“O’Yone, is it really you?” he cried, “and is that truly your mistress, O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew, you hold by the hand?”
“Indeed, Lord, is is she who holds my hand,” she replied as they entered the garden, but the Lady of the Morning Dew held up her sleeve so that it covered her face.
“How did I ever lose you?” he asked,“How could it have happened?”
“My Lord, we have moved to a little house, a very little house in the part of the city they call the Green Hill. We were not allowed to take anything with us and now we have nothing at all. My Lady has become pale and thin through want and grief,”saidthe handmaiden.
Hagiwara the samurai gently drew his Lady’s sleeve away from her face but she turned away.
“Oh, Lord, do not look upon me, I am no longer fair,”she sobbed.Slowly he turned her around and looked into her face and the flame of love leapt in him and swept through him but he never said a word
As he gazed upon her the Lady of the Morning Dew shrank away saying,“Shall I stay, or shall I go?”
“Stay!” he replied without hesitation.
The Green Hill
Just before dawn Hagiwara fell into a deep slumber, eventually awakening to find himself alone. Quickly dressing he went out and went through the city of Yedo to the place of the Green Hill. He asked all he met if they knew where the house of the Lady of the Morning Dew was but no one could help him. He searched everywhere but found no sign or clue as to where it could be. In despair he turned to go home, lamenting bitterly that for the second time he had lost his love.
Miserably he made his way home. His path took him through the grounds of a temple situated on a green hill. Walking through he noticed two graves side by side. One was small and hardly noticeable but the other was larģe and grand marked by a solemn monument. In front of the monument was a peony lantern with a small bunch of peonies tied to. It was similar in fashion to many of those used throughout Yedo during the Festival of Bon in reverence of the dead.
Nevertheless, it caught his eye and he stood and stared. As if in a dream he heard the words of O’Yone, the handmaiden,
“We have moved to a little house, a very little house in the part of the city they call the Green Hill. … My Lady has become pale and thin through want and grief,”
Then he smiled and understood and he went home. He was greeted by his servant who asked if he was alright. The samurai tried to reassure him that he was fine emphasizing that he had never been happier. However, the servant knew his master and knew something was wrong and said to himself,“My master has the mark of death upon him. If he dies what will happen to me who has served him since he was a child?”
The faithful servant of Hagiwara realized someone was visiting his master in the night and grew afraid. On the seventh night he spied on his master through a crack in the window shutters and his blood ran cold at what he saw. His master was in the embrace of a most fearful and terrifying being whose face was the horror of the grave. He was gazing lovingly into its eyes and smiling at the loathsome thing while all the time stroking and caressing its long dark hair with his hands.
Illusion and Death
Nevertheless, Hagiwara was happy. Every night the ladies with the peony lantern came to visit him. Every night for seven nights no matter how wild the weather they came to him in the hour of the Ox. Every night Hagiwara lay with the Lady of the Morning Dew. Thus, by the strong bond of illusion were the living and dead merged and bound to each other
Just before dawn the fearful thing from the grave and its companion left. The faithful servant, fearing for his master’s soul went to seek the advice of a holy man. After relating to him all that he had seen he asked,“ Can my master be saved?”
The holy man thought for a moment and then replied, “Can humans thwart the power of Karma? There is little hope but we will do what we can.”
With that he instructed the servant in all that he must do. When he got home his master was out and he hid in his clothes an emblem of the Tathagata and placed them ready for the next morning for him to wear. After this, above all the doors and windows he placed a sacred text. When his Hagiwara returned late in the evening he was surprised to find he had suddenly become weak and faint. His faithful servant carried him to bed and gently placed a light cover over him as he fell into a deep sleep.
The servant hid himself that he may spy on whatever might come to pass that night. With the arrival of the hour of the Ox he heard footsteps outside in the lane. They came nearer and nearer and then slowed down and stopped close to the house and he hears a despairing voice say,
Entry is Barred
“Oh, O’Yone, my faithful handmaiden, what is the meaning of this? The house is all in darkness. Where is my lord?”
“Come away, come away, mistress, let us go back. I fear his heart has changed towards you,”whispered O’Yone.
“I will not go. I will not leave until I have seen my love. You must get me in to see him!” whispered the Lady of the Morning Dew.
“My Lady, we cannot pass into the house – see the sacred writing over the door over the windows, we cannot enter,” warned the handmaiden.
The Lady wailed and then began sobbing pitifully, “Hagiwara, my lord, I have loved you through ten lifetimes!” and then footsteps were heard leaving as O’Yone led her weeping mistress away.
It was the same the next night. At the hour of the Ox, footsteps in the lane were heard and then a long pitiful wail followed by the sound footsteps disappearing back down the lane as the ghosts departed sobbing and crying.
The next day Hagiwara got up, dressed and went out into the city. While he was out a pickpocket stole the emblem of Tathagata but he did not notice. When night came he lay awake unable to sleep but his faithful servant, worn out with worry and lack of sleep dozed off. In the night a heavy rain fell and and washed the sacred text from over the round window of the bedroom
The hour of the Ox crept round and footsteps were heard in the lane and entering the garden. Hagiwara listened as they came nearer and nearer until they stopped just outside.
The Power of Karma
“Tonight is the last chance, O’Yone. You must get me inside to my lord, Hagiwara. Remember the love of ten lifetimes. The power of Karma is great but we must overcome it. There must be a way you can get me in to see him!”said the Lady mournfully.
Inside Hagiwara heard them and called out,“Come to me my beloved, I await you!”
“We cannot enter. You must let us in!” she cried.
Hagiwara tried to sit up but he could not move.“Come to me my beloved!”he called again.
“I cannot enter and I am cut in two. Alas, for the sins of our previous life!” wailed the Lady.
Then, O’Yone grasped the hand of her mistress and pointed at the round window,“See, Lady, the rain has washed away the text!”
Holding hands the two rose gently upwards and passed like a mist through the round window into the bedroom of the samurai as he called out, “Come to me my beloved!,”
“Verily Lord, verily, I come!”answered the Lady.
The next morning the faithful servant of Hagiwara of the most honorable rank of hatamoto found his master grey lifeless and cold. By the side of him stood a peony lantern that still burned with a pale, yellow flame. The faithful servant seeing his master lying still and cold wept saying, “I cannot bear it.”And so the strong bond of illusion bound together the living and the dead.
The theme of the abduction of Queen Guinevere runs throughout Arthurian tradition and is taken up by numerous medieval writers. Caradoc of Llancarfan mentions it in his version of the Life of Gildas, as does Geoffrey of Monmouth, in Historia Regum Brittaniae, (History of the Kings of Britain). The theme is also taken up by medieval French poets Chrétien de Troyes and Robert de Boron, and in the work of Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur. Here we look in brief at various versions of the abduction and then discuss ideas about how they may have been influenced by pagan elements and may be distant echoes of the dramas of ancient gods and goddesses before the arrival of Christianity.
Caradoc of Llancarfan
Probably one of the earliest examples of the abduction of Guinevere comes from The Life of Gildas, By Caradoc of Llancarfan (c.1130-1150). Guinevere’s abductor is the evil King Melwas of the Summer Country, or Somerset. He may have been an early prototype for Chrétien de Troyes Méléagant, and Malory’s Meliagrance.In this story Guinevere is abducted and violated and Arthur, who is referred to as a tyrant, spends an entire year seeking her out. Finally learning she was being in held by King Melwas in Glastonia, or Glastonbury. He raises a vast army intending to free his wife but as the two sides were about to clash, the cleric, Gildas and the clergy step between them. Gildas persuaded the two kings to parley and negotiated that Guinevere be returned to Arthur in peace and goodwill preventing a bloody battle to free her.
Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth names Mordred, Arthur’s nephew and illegitimate son, as the villain who attempts to covet Guinevere. Arthur had left Britain in Mordred’s stewardship while he went off fighting the Procurator of Rome, Lucius Hiberius, leaving Guinevere at home. While he was out of the country with most of his army, Mordred seduced Guinevere and claimed the crown from Arthur forcing him to return to Britain and fight. This culminated in the catastrophic Battle of Camlann where Mordred was killed and the badly wounded Arthur taken across the sea to Avalon to recover and the end of the Arthurian realm.
Chrétien de Troyes
In Lancelot, Le Chevalier de la Charrette, also known as Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, by Chrétien de Troyes, Lancelot is the hero of the story who saves Guinevere from the Méléagant, the evil son of King Bagdemagus. In this story he races to the rescue of Guinevere having a series of adventures along the way. These include having to suffer the indignity, for a knight, of riding in a horse and cart driven by a dwarf that was carrying criminals to their execution. He then had to scramble over a sword bridge whose edge was turned upright and razor sharp. Although sustaining serious wounds crossing the bridge he was still ready to combat Méléagant, but Guinevere at the request of King Bagdemagus stopped the fight.
Later he was forced to fight Méléagant after the badly wounded Sir Kay was accused of raping Guinevere while she slept. Sir Kay was too bad wounded and had no strength available for such exertions and had been wrongly accused. Blood had been found on her sheets and because he was laid recuperating in the same room as her, he was blamed. In fact the blood was from Lancelot who had kept an illicit tryst with the queen and slept with her. Lancelot, knowing, but not admitting the truth, stepped in to fight and clear Sir Kay who was too weak to defend himself.
Malory’s, Le Morte d’Arthur
In Malory’s, Le Morte d’Arthur, wehn the month of May came, Guinevere decided she would participate in the age old tradition of a-Maying in the woods and fields of Westminster. Therefore, she set off with a party of ladies-in-waiting, along with servants and ten lightly armed Knights, who she insists wear all wear green. Sir Meliagrance, a name probably derived from the Méléagant in Chrétien de Troyes work, had long lusted after the queen and with 160 men-at-arms attacked the small company. Although her knights fight valiantly they are lightly armed and hopelessly outnumbered. To prevent their slaying she agreed to surrender provided they are spared and remain by her side. Meliagrance agrees but she manages to send a messenger boy to Lancelot telling of her abduction and requesting his aid.
On hearing the news Lancelot immediately set off in pursuit. Meliagrance, realising he would follow, set a trap for him and archers killed his horse. Lancelot was forced to hijack a horse and cart carrying wood for the fires of Meliagrance’s castle. From this he was given the name, Knight of the Cart. On arrival at the castle gates he shout for Meliagrance demanding he come down and face him. On learning Lancelot is at his gates Meliagrance begs Guinevere her forgiveness for his behaviour and begs that she protect him from the enraged knight. She agrees and persuades Lancelot to put his sword away. Lancelot agrees and she leads him to the chamber where the ten knights are kept.
They are both so glad to see each other they agree on a secret midnight tryst. Lancelot appears at her window at midnight and Guinevere tells him she would prefer it if he was inside with her. Although the window is barred Lancelot pulls the bars out cutting himself in the process and climbs in through the window. The two slept together that night and Lancelot stole away before Sunrise, replacing the bars of the window as he left.
The next morning Meliagrance seeing blood on the sheets of Guinevere’s bed accuses her of sleeping with one, or more, of her wounded knights. Lancelot, without revealing the truth, challenges Meliagrance to a fight to clear the queen’s name. Meliagrance brings a charge of treason against Guinevere believing she had slept with one or more of the knights. Although innocent of this accusation, Guinevere had slept with Lancelot which is not revealed to him, but he was not one of the individuals accused. The case is brought before King Arthur and he reluctantly agrees she must be burnt at the stake unless Lancelot proves her innocence by defeating Meliagrance. In the resulting duel Lancelot slays Meliagrance proving her innocence of the charges brought against her and freeing her.
Mordred’s Attempted Abduction
In Le Morte d’Arthur, Mordred, Arthur’s illegitimate son and nephew by his sister Morgause, covets Guinevere, but does not quite manage to abduct her. Mordred lied to Guinevere telling her4 Arthur had been killed by Lancelot and claimed the throne for himself intending to marry her. Guinevere persuaded Mordred to allow her to go to London so she could procure all the things a wedding needed but instead locked herself in the Tower of London with her entourage. Although Mordred tried to persuade her to come out his efforts were cut short by the news that Arthur had arrived back in Britain with his army. Consequently, he was forced to leave Guinevere and confront Arthur, resulting in his own death and Arthur being severely wounded and taken to Avalon.
Gods of the Round Table
Some scholars of Arthurian legend and romance see many of the stories of King Arthur and his knights, in legend and medieval romance, as being dramatizations of the adventures of Celtic gods and important natural events. They believe there was a special relationship between the king and the gods and the king and the land and to ensure the fertility of the land the king was wedded to the goddess of the land.
David Dom, in his book King Arthur and the Gods of the Round Table proposes that Arthur, Guinevere and the main companions of the Round Table to be a the distant and distorted memories of the old Celtic gods and Arthur is seen as representing a Solar God. To complicate matters, these stories were overwritten, or influenced by various culture over time, including Roman, English, French and European medieval Christianity and modern thinking. It centers around the idea that Arthurian legends and stories originally were dramatizations of the deeds and adventures of ancient pagan gods with the King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table making up the pantheon, being a part of it.
There is an intriguing idea that the stories of the abduction of Guinevere are echoes of earlier pagan traditions centered around the annual cycle of the seasons in Northern Europe. One of the ways this annual cycle may have been dramatized was in that the seasonal changes were due to the activities and adventures of the gods. In both Malory’s version and that of Chrétien de Troyes, Guinevere is abducted in the spring, and in Malory’s it is while she is celebrating May Day, or Beltane, the time of the renewal of vegetation. Many scholars see this as evidence that the kidnapping was originally a season myth with Guinevere being a goddess and her abductor a god. In the original versions by Chrétien de Troyes , after being abducted Guinevere was take across water – an indication that she was leaving the Earthly world for the Otherworld – and her rescuers had to cross the water to reach her in that world. After her rescue Guinevere and Lancelot became lovers which also happened in the spring, around Beltane.
This comes after the bleak barren days of winter and is seen to represent the marriage of the god and goddess heralding the end of the dark, bleak period of winter and the greatly looked forward to renewal of vegetation and fertility to the Earth. In the Chrétien de Troyes version the entire episode takes place over one year, tying it further to the annual seasonal cycle. The abduction stories while only hinting at pagan influence on the surface have been heavily overwritten with Christian influences which tend to cover up the inherent pagan elements of the loves and romances of the gods. To pursue this further it is worth taking a look at the annual cycle of seasons for Northern Europe and what follows is a very simplified version of one of the many versions
In winter the days are cold, dark and short. Vegetation dies and crops do not grow and food becomes in short supply. In some pagan northern European societies winter was thought of as the imprisonment of the eternally young, Earth goddess in the depths of the Earth by the aging winter solar god. As winter progressed the power of the Sun god waned as the Sun rode low in the sky. As his power waned he became more like a malignant god of the underworld and feared the arrival of a young, potent Sun god who would steal the Earth goddess from him. Desperate to preserve his own power and survive, he imprisoned the Earth goddess in the underworld to prevent anyone from stealing her. The imprisonment of the Earth Goddess resulted in a loss of fertility and renewal being withdrawn from the Earth, causing dramatic and disastrous consequences for humanity.
In spring the young Sun god arrives and takes a higher path across the sky providing longer days, more daylight and warmer weather. His youth, strength and virility defeats and supplants the aging Sun god and frees the Earth goddess from imprisonment. With a more agreeable climate and the freeing of the goddess the Earth returns to life and seeds germinate, plants bud and grow and animals breed. The young Sun god takes the eternally young Earth goddess for his bride around the time of the festival of Beltane, commonly held on the 1st of May, or halfway between the March, or vernal equinox and the summer solstice, or midsummer, when the Sun’s power is at its height.
As the days grew longer and warmer, with the marriage of the Sun god and the Earth goddess the Earth is fertilized, plants grow and thrive and harvest time arrives which is the product of this marriage. The young Sun god has reached the heights of his power at midsummer and the coming days will see his power decline.
With the decline of power of the now aging Sun god there is a steadily decrease in sunlight and warmth, the days grow steadily shorter, vegetation begins to shrivel and die. The cycle of the previous years repeats and slowly and inevitable the aging Sun god loses his strength, vigor and virility just as his predecessors had and just as those who come after him will.
As his strength and potency diminish he appears lower in the sky, days become shorter and darker as winter sets in. In a desperate attempt to keep his beautiful and eternally young wife he imprisons her in the underground. The Sun god reaches his lowest and weakest point at midwinter, or the Winter Solstice and is defeated by the young Sun god who frees and marries the Earth goddess. This cycle must continue eternally to bring fertility, renewal and growth to the Earth.
In the version of the abduction of Guinevere by Chrétien de Troyes the drama was played out over one year with Meleagant, Guinevere’s abductor representing the doomed and aging Sun god and Lancelot the virile and potent, young Sun god.
Goddess of Sovereignty
There is also an idea that Guinevere was either an ancient Goddess of Sovereignty, or a representative of one. A Goddess of Sovereignty was an aspect or servant of the Earth goddess, also known as the Earth Mother or Mother Earth and Goddess of the Land, in some cultures.
Those who follow this idea point to the fact that the story begins in May which is around the festival of Beltane. It is at this time of year the everywhere is green and fertile and in celebration Malory tells how Queen Guinevere decides she will go a-Maying. Those who see Arthurian characters as divinities, see Guinevere as representing a Goddess of Sovereignty that bestows the sovereignty of the land onto the King, who in this case is Arthur. As such his role is taking care of the land and inhabitants ensuring it remains fertile. To do this she needs a strong, virile king but in these stories Arthur is usually portrayed as aging and losing power. Lancelot being the younger and more potent of the two may be seen by a Goddess of Sovereignty as an ideal replacement, but despite his love for Guinevere he remains loyal to Arthur not wanting the crown.
It may also be the case that simply being in possession of a representative of the goddess would be enough to give authority to the claim of kingship. This would make Guinevere a valuable prize for anyone who would be king and helps explain her numerous abductions, especially Mordred’s interest in her. It also explain why, for the most, part Arthur appears reluctant to acknowledge, or deal with the situation of her affair with Lancelot until he is forced into it.
The affair with Lancelot may not have been about Guinevere’s alleged sexual promiscuity but more about her fulfilling her role as representing a Goddess of Sovereignty. Furthermore her abductions may not necessarily have been about love, lust or desire for her as a woman, but more about possessing the representative of the goddess. For all of that these are just ideas and theories and it is up to each person to decide what it means to them.
Sir Galahad first appeared in medieval Arthurian romance in the Lancelot-Grail cycle of works and then later in Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory. He was the illegitimate son of Sir Lancelot and Elaine of Corbenic and became one of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. When he came of age he was considered the best knight in the world and the perfect knight and was renowned for his gallantry and purity becoming one of only three Knights of the Round Table to achieve the Holy Grail. The other two were Sir Bors and Sir Percival. Pieced together here is a brief look at his early life and how through his immaculate behavior he rose to such an exalted status achieving the Holy Grail and a spiritual dimension which remained frustratingly out of reach of King Arthur, Sir Lancelot and most of the the other Knights of the Round Table and concludes by comparing his achievements with those of King Arthur and Sir Lancelot.
King Pelles the lord of Corbenic the Grail Castle, in the land of Listeneise and was Galahad’s maternal grandfather. He was also one of the line of the guardians of the Holy Grail. In some Arthurian romances Joseph of Arimathea brought the Grail to Britain and gave it to Bron, his brother-in-law, to keep safe and Pelles was descended from Bron. In some versions of Arthurian romance Pelles is also known as the Fisher King or Maimed King.
Pelles had been wounded in the legs or groin resulting in a loss of fertility and his impotence was reflected in the well-being his of kingdom making it infertile and a Wasteland. This is why he was sometimes called the Maimed King. The only activity he appeared able to do was go fishing. His servants had to carry him to to the water’s edge and there he would spend his time fishing which is why he is sometimes called the Fisher King. Galahad was important to King Pelles as he was the only one who could heal his wound.
Elaine and Lancelot
King Pelles had a daughter named Elaine and he had been forewarned by magical means that Lancelot would become the father of his daughter’s child. This child would grow to become the world’s best and most perfect knight and be chosen by God to achieve the Holy Grail. He was the chosen one who would be the only one pure enough to be able to heal his wound. There was a problem though. Lancelot was dedicated solely to Guinevere, his true love and would never knowingly sleep with another woman. Nevertheless Pelles was desperate for the liaison to take place and decided to seek magical help from Dame Brusen. She was one of Elaine’s servants who was skilled in the art of sorcery to help his cause. She gives Pelles a magic ring for Elaine to wear which gives her the likeness of Guinevere.
Elaine wears the magic ring and transforms into the a double of Guinevere. Lancelot is fooled by the masquerade and they sleep together. When he discovers the deception he is angry and ashamed and threatens to kill her. She tells hims she is with his child and he relents but leaves Corbenic.
Elaine in due course gives birth to his son who she names Galahad. This is the name Lancelot was baptized with when he was born. It was the Lady of the Lake who fostered and raised Lancelot in her magical realm and it was she who named him Lancelot du Lac, or Lancelot of the Lake.
The madness of Lancelot
Soon afterwards Elaine goes to a feast at Arthur’s court. Although Lancelot is also there he refuses to acknowledge her, making her sorrowful and lovelorn. She calls her servant Dame Brusen to her and tells her how she is feeling and asks for her help. Dame Brusen tells Elaine that she will fix it so Lancelot lies with her that night. Pretending to Lancelot that Guinevere has summoned him she leads him to her chamber, but it is Elaine waiting there for him in bed in the dark and again he sleeps with her.
While he is with Elaine, Guinevere summons him and is furious to discover he is not in his bed chamber and even more so when she discovers him lying with Elaine in hers. She tells him that she never wants to see or talk to him again and will have nothing more to do with him. Lancelot is so upset and disturbed at what has happened and with Guinevere’s admonishments that madness takes him and he leaps out of the window running off into the wilderness.
Lost in madness and consumed by grief and sorrow he wanders alone through the wild places before he eventually reaches Corbenic where Elaine finds him insane her garden. She takes him to a chamber in Corbenic Castle where he is allowed to view the Holy Grail, but only through a veil. Nevertheless this veiled sight of the holy relic is enough to cure him of his insanity. Although he sees it through the veil, having committed adultery he is not pure enough so he can never be the perfect knight that achieves the Grail.
When his son is born he finally forgives Elaine but will not marry her and instead returns to the court of King Arthur. The child is named Galahad, after his father’s former name and given to his great aunt to bring up in a nunnery. Merlin foretells that Galahad will be even more valiant than his father and will achieve the Holy Grail.
Galahad’s quest for the Holy Grail
It was not until Galahad became a young man that he was reunited with Sir Lancelot, his father, who makes him a knight. Lancelot then takes Galahad to Camelot at Pentecost where he joins the court. A veteran knight who accompanied him leads him to the Round Table and unveils an empty chair which is called the Siege Perilous or the Perilous Seat. At the advice of Merlin this seat was kept vacant for the knight who was to achieve the Quest for the Holy Grail.
This was his first test or worthiness as this chair in the past had proved deadly for any who had previously sat there who had hoped to find the Grail. Galahad sits in the seat and survives. King Arthur sees this and is impressed seeing that there is something special about him and leads him down to a river where there is a floating stone with a sword embedded in it which bears an inscription which says,
“Never shall man take me hence but only he by whose side I ought to hang; and he shall be the best knight of the world.”
Galahad tries and takes the sword from the stone and Arthur immediately declares that he is the greatest knight ever. Arthur invites Galahad to become a member of the Round Table which he accepts. Not long after the mystical presence of the Holy Grail is briefly experienced by those at King Arthur’s Court and the quest to find the grail is immediately begun. All the Knights of the Round Table embark on the quest leaving Camelot virtually empty. Arthur is sad because he knows many will die or not return and fears it is the beginning of the end of his kingdom.
Galahad mainly traveled alone and became involved in many adventures. In one he saves Sir Percival when he was attacked by twenty knights and rescued many maidens in distress. Eventually he meets up again with Sir Percival who is accompanied by Sir Bors and together they find the sister of Sir Percival who takes them to a ship that will take them over the sea to a distant shore. Sadly when they reach the shore Percival’s sister has to die that another may live. To ensure she gets a fit and proper burial Sir Bors takes her body back to her homeland.
Sir Galahad and Sir Percival continue the quest and after many adventures arrive at the court of King Pelles and his son Eliazar. Pelles and Eliazar are holy men and take Sir Galahad into a room to show him the Holy Grail and they request that he take it to a holy city called Sarras. After being shown the Grail, Sir Galahad asks that he may he may choose the time of his own death which is granted.
While he is on the journey back to Arthur’s court Joseph of Arimathea comes to him and he experiences such feeling of ecstasy that he asks to die there and then. He says his goodbyes to Sir Percival and Sir Bors and angels appear and he is carried off to heaven as his two friends watch. Although there is nothing to say that the Holy Grail will not once again be seen on earth it was said that since the ascension to heaven of Galahad there has not been another knight with the necessary qualities of achieving the Holy Grail.
Galahad’s achievement of the Holy Grail
Sir Galahad and the quest for the Holy Grail is one of the later stories that appeared as Arthurian romances grew in popularity. The thought is that King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were not pure enough to achieve such an important religious task. Galahad was introduced into the fold as one of the few who had the purity and personal qualities to qualify him as worthy enough to achieve the Holy Grail. Just as when Arthur drew the sword from the stone and became the chosen one, Galahad did the same and also became the chosen one. He chose the kingdom of God whereas Arthur built a kingdom on earth. In taking up the quest for the Holy Grail the priority is to the spiritual rather than the earthly life and Galahad fulfills the spiritual dimension of Arthurian romance and becomes the example for his contemporaries and those coming after him to aspire to.
The three hares is an ancient symbol that is found in many religious places, buildings and caves ranging from the British Isles, Germany, France and other parts of Europe to the Middle East and parts of China in the Far East. In Britain the symbols are mostly architectural ornaments or found in church roofs and sometimes on ceilings of private homes. In Europe they are found mostly in churches and synagogues. It is also used as a motif in heraldry, jewelry, ornaments, tattoos and other works of art. It has been wrought in many different materials and can be thought of as a puzzle, a topological problem, or a visual challenge, and can be found in stone sculptures, wood carvings, paintings, drawings and metal work.
Threefold rotational symmetry
Essentially the motif consists of three hares, or rabbits, chasing each other the same way around a circle. There is a threefold rotational symmetry with each of the three ears being shared by two hares.The ears form a triangle that appears at the centre of the circle, where, instead of there being six ears visible, there are only three, even though individually the hares all show two. Occasionally a Four Hares motif is found in some places which is a similar but shows four ears, instead of eight, even though all the hares have two ears, making a square in the center.
The Tinners Rabbit’s
In the county of Devon and other parts of the south west England the motif is sometimes known as the Tinner’s Rabbits. This refers to the trade of tin mining that was once an important industry in the area. The theory was that a tin miners trade association or union that used the Three Hares motif as its emblem was the patron to a number of churches. This might explain its high proportion of representations in churches in the area. However, the motif is also found in parts of England with no association with tin mining, though it could have represented some other association that patronized these churches, but the theory is not accepted by everyone and the truth remains elusive.
The symbol is similar to the triskelion the triquetra and the triple spiral, or triskele. The meaning of the motif is unknown today though it is believed to have a number of symbolic and mystical associations and was possibly something to do with fertility and the cycle of the moon in paganism. Its presence in Christian churches is thought to symbolize the Trinity though this cannot be proved and the fact that it is found in so many different countries over such a wide distance it may in fact have more than one meaning or purpose depending on the culture where it is found.
The Three Hares motif seems to have spread from the Far East westwards between 600 AD and 1500 AD. The earliest known examples comes from the Sui Dynasty of China where it was found in sacred caves used for temples from the 6th to 7th century. From there the motif was believed to have become connected to Buddhism and possibly spread along the Silk Road to the Middle East and eventually to Europe.
A researcher named Guan Youhui, now retired from the Dunhuang Academy, spent 50 years studying the patterns and symbols that are found in the Mogao Caves. He believed the Three Hares motif represent “peace and tranquility” while others think they may represent “to be”.
The Three Hares can be found in “Lotus” motifs and Mongol metalwork from the 13th century. It has been found on a copper coin from Iran dated 1281 and on other artifacts from diverse origins.
TIt is a mystery to how the Three Hares motif is found over such a large range from China the Middle East, Europe and the British Isles. Although the earliest examples are found in China it is unknown why it occurs in so many diverse countries.It is possible it spread along the great trading route of the Silk Road to other regions of the world but it could also have developed independently in different places with different meanings attached to it. In the first instance it may have incorporated in the design of silks and artifacts simply because it was a pleasing design or it had some special significance. With the second instance the majority of the occurrence of the motif are found in churches and synagogues in Germany and England, implying some religious significance was attached to it.
Christian use of the Three Hares
The Three Hares motif is found in a number of churches in some European countries. In Lyons, France the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière and in Germany, the Paderborn Cathedral display excellent examples of the use of the motif.The southwestern parts of England has the most examples and the Three Hares Trail can be followed to see them. They are often placed on carved wooden knobs, or bosses in a prominent position in the ceilings or roof of medieval churches, giving weight to the idea that they had some special significance and not just the trade symbols of masons or carpenters. The Dartmoor area has a number of Three Hares motifs found in churches. A fine example of a carved wood boss can be seen on a roof boss in the church of St Pancreas, Widecombe-in-the-Moor, near Dartmoor, Devon.
In Christianity there are at least two possible reasons why it it placed in churches. The first is that in ancient times the hare was believed to be a hermaphrodite that reproduced without sexual intercourse and in doing so retained its virginity. As such it became associated with the Virgin Mary and its image used in illuminated manuscripts and paintings of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus.
The second reason is that the motif could be representative of the Holy Trinity. The three ears from the three hares form a triangle in the centre of the motif possibly representing One in Three and Three in one. Triangles and interlocking rings were quite often used to represent the Holy Trinity.
Intriguingly the Three Hares symbol is often found next to the so called Green Man symbol. Like the Three Hares symbol little or possibly less is known about the Green Man. It is speculated to be an Anglo-Saxon symbol though many people think it may be a far older originating Celtic times. What it is doing in a Christian church is unknown. Some speculate that the two together are meant to show the difference between the divine and the earthly nature of humans.
An ancient German riddle
Curiously the motif is found in many of the more well known wooden synagogues in the Ashknaz region of Germany dating from the 17th and 18th century along with the following riddle:-
Three hares sharing three ears,
Yet every one of them has two.
Coat of Arms of Hasloch – Public Domain
The meaning of the Three Hares motif
The hare is an animal that is involved in many myths and legends in many different cultures around the world. The Three Hares motif can be found from Britain across Eurasia to China and was found in Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and Hindu cultures. If there was a thread that linked them all together, or a common meaning attached to the motif, it is lost now but it is intriguing to find it in such diverse places.
Symbolism of the Three Hares
But there may be something that they may all have in common. The use of symbols or icons, or imagery helps make learning and remembering important information easier especially for people who cannot read or write. The use of images is an invaluable aid for people in such circumstances as they convey meaning and information quickly and easily. The paintings in the caves of Mogao Caves of China to the churches in the English countryside appear to be intended to convey some, but not necessarily the same message, or idea. The symbol of the Three Hares was at least one possible way that the information was conveyed. What exactly the message was is not known but if one looks at the places and the cultures that they are found in it could be that ideas will naturally spring to mind. Could it be that by looking at and thinking about the puzzle the beholder is being deliberately placed in a situation where they have to use their own knowledge and experience in combination with the location and culture the symbol is found in to make sense of it in the world that they find themselves in?
One last question
There is probably no right or wrong answer, but do you think The Three Hares symbol has a meaning; does it change with culture and location, or is it just an attractive image used for decoration?
In Greek mythology Gaia appeared out of Chaos and was the primal Mother Goddess who gave birth to the Earth and the universe. According to some sources she was seen as the personification of the Earth and the mother of all.
Ouranos the god of the skies
Ouranos was the personification of the sky or the heavens in Greek mythology and is also known by his Latinized name of Uranus. He was also known as Father Sky. Sources differ but Hesiod in his work Theogony says that Gaia was his mother while other sources say his father was Aether.
Gaia gave birth to Ouranos who became the sky crowned with stars and of equal splendor to her and made so as to fully cover her. She then created the mountains and the sea. After the universe had been formed the next task was to populate it.
The birth of the Titans
Ouranos was not only her son but her husband too. Gaia united with Ouranos to give birth to the twelve Titans, six male and six female and the first race upon the earth. Their sons names were Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus and Cronus, and their daughters names were Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe and Tethys.
The birth of the Cyclops
Ouranos and Gaia then produced the Cyclops, who were named Brontes, Steropes and Arges. These were giants with one eye in their foreheads and who possessed incredible strength.
The birth of Briareus, Cottus and Gyes
Their next offspring were three monsters who each had one hundred powerful arms and fifty heads. They were known as the Hecatonchires, or the Centimanes, and their names were Briareus, Cottus and Gyes.
Ouranos regarded his children with horror and revulsion and was also thought to be fearful of their strength, and possibly usurping him. As soon as they were born he imprisoned them in the earth, which was inside Gaia who was the Earth goddess.
Victory, Janus, Chronos, and Gaea – by Giulio Romano – Public Domain
Gaia was distraught at this, and feeling great sorrow for her children and great pain for herself planned vengeance against Ouranos. From her bosom she manifested a sharp sickle and asked her children to join in with a plan she had made to set them free and wreak vengeance. The plan was to castrate Ouranos when he visited her at night. Only Cronus agreed to help her and she gave him the sickle.
When evening fell Ouranos returned to rejoin Gaia. While Ouranos was asleep, Cronus and Gaia mutilated him, cutting off his genitals and throwing them in the sea. From the blood that seeped from the terrible wound onto the earth sprang the Furies, the Giants and the ash-tree nymphs. From what was thrown into the sea the goddess of love and desire, known as Aphrodite, was born.
Cronus becomes king of the gods
With Ouranos now impotent and the sky separated from the earth, Cronus liberated his fellow Titans, but not the Cyclops and Hecatonchires, and became king of the gods. Later he too was to be deposed by his son Zeus, who became the chief god of the Greek Pantheon.
Barley has a long association with human society because of its uses for food, drink and medicine that goes back some 12,000 years. Used for animal feed and to make bread for human consumption, it is also used to make popular alcoholic drinks such as beer, barley wine, whisky and other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
Beer is the oldest and the most common of all alcoholic drinks and after water and tea the third most popular beverage. With its ancient importance, barley has given rise to many myths and is the source of much folklore and many people think that hidden in an old traditional folk song of the British Isles called John Barleycorn, lies the story of barley.
Barley – Public Domain Image
The Ballad of John Barleycorn
A traditional British folk ballad, called John Barleycorn, depicts the lead character as the personification of barley and its products of bread, beer and whisky. The song is very old and there are many versions from all around the British Isles. The song does have strong connections with Scotland with possibly the Robert Burns version the most well-known though the song goes way back to before the times of Elizabeth 1st.
In the song, John Barleycorn is subject to many violent, physical abuses leading to his death. Each abuse represents a stage in the sowing, growing, harvesting, malting and preparation of barley to make beer and whisky.
In many versions there is confusion because it is brandy that is consumed even though brandy is made from grapes, rather than whisky or beer made from barley. John Barleycorn is also a term used to denote an alcoholic drink that is distilled such as a spirit, rather than fermented like beer.
In some versions of the song there is more emphasis on the way different tradesmen take revenge on John Barleycorn for making them drunk. The miller grinds him to a powder between two stones. However John Barleycorn often proves the stronger character due to his intoxicating effect on his tormentors and the fact hat his body is giving sustenance to others making humans dependent upon him.
Through the savagery inflicted upon John Barleycorn the song metaphorically tells the story of the sowing, cultivating and harvesting cycle of barley throughout the year. The ground is ploughed, seeds are sown, and the plant grows until ready for harvest. It is then cut with scythes, and tied into sheaves, which are flayed to remove the grain.
Pagan and Anglo-Saxon Associations
Wikipedia says that some scholars think that John Barleycorn has strong connections with the pagan Anglo-Saxon character of Beowa also known as Beaw, Beow, or Beo or sometimes Bedwig. In Old English ‘Beow’ means ‘barley’ and ‘Sceafa’ means ‘sheaf.’ From Royal Anglo-Saxon lineage, Beowa is the son of Scyld who is the son of Sceafa in a pedigree that goes back to Adam.
Many scholars also think that there are strong associations with Beowa and Beowulf and the general agreement is that they are the same character. Some scholars also think that Beowa is the same character as John Barleycorn while others disagree.
The Golden Bough
Wikepedia says, Sir James George Frazer, in his book, ‘The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion’ asserts that many of the old religions of the world were derived from fertility cults which had at their core the ritual sacrifice of a Sacred king who was also known as the Corn King, who was the embodiment of the Sun god. Each year he went through a cycle of death and rebirth in a union with the Earth goddess, dying at the harvest time to be reborn in the spring.
The Corn King
The Corn King was chosen from the men of a tribe to be the king for a year. At the end of the year he would then dance, or perform thanksgiving and fertility rituals in the fields before being ritually killed. So that the soil would be fertilised his body was dragged through the fields to enable his blood to run into the soil. It may be that he may then have been eaten by the tribe in completion of the ritual.
As well as other uses, the barley was made into cakes which would be stored for the winter and were thought to hold the spirit of the Corn King. Around the time of the winter solstice when the sun was at its weakest and as it started to strengthen, the cakes would be fed to children giving them the spirit of the corn king.
There are also theories that possibly an earlier form of John Barleycorn represented a pagan rite before the rise of Christianity. There are suggestions that the early Christian church in Anglo-Saxon England adapted this to help the conversion of the pagan population to Christianity. This is a tactic that was used with Yule and other pagan festivals and traditions. In some versions of the song, John Barleycorn suffers in a similar way to Christ, especially in the version by Robert Burns.
After undergoing ritualistic suffering and death, his body is ground into flour for bread and drink. Some scholars compare this with the Sacrament and Transubstantiation of Christian belief though not all agree.
We will probably never know the true origins and meaning that are hidden in the story of John Barleycorn but the song and its mysteries still have a powerful effect on people today. Many popular musicians and folk artists have performed versions of the song in the recent past and it is still a popular song today.
In 1970, the progressive rock group, ’Traffic’ made an album entitled, John Barleycorn Must Die, featuring a song of the same name which went on to become a classic.
The song is popular with recording and performing artists and a favourite with audiences. Folk rock bands Fairport Convention and Steel-eye Span and many other rock and folk artists have recorded versions of the song ensuring the story of John Barleycorn is still sung and celebrated, so that even though the meaning may be lost in time, the story lives on.
The popular legend of how Lady Godiva rode naked on horse back through the streets of Coventry to save the people from a crippling and unjust tax known as the Heregild, is one of the most renowned stories in British folklore. The Heregild was a tax imposed on the English by the Danish King Canute to pay for his body guard.
Lady Godiva, by artist John Collier – Public Domain Image
According to the legend the event happened on a market day and had profoundly beneficial consequences for the people of Coventry.
The problem with legends is that there are often more than one versions of the same story and events that happened in the distant past get changed and exaggerated until it is difficult to discern the accuracy of accounts. This article presents a version of the popular legend of Lady Godiva as it exists today and has been put together from a number of other versions. It is the first of a planned series on the subject each of which will present different view points on the legend, such as the historical and pagan contexts of the story.
The Heregild Tax
Earl Leofric was a powerful lord loyal to King Canute and owed his position to his goodwill. As such he was not prepared to risk losing that goodwill. He strictly imposed the Heregild on the people and made sure it was collected
Lady Godiva was also rich and owned valuable land and assets in her own right in the area and was very fond of the local people. One of those assets was the town of Coventry. She was a devout Christian and was renowned for being pious, virtuous and faithful to the Christian Church and its ideals. In comparison, it was said that Leofric, although thought to be a Christian, did not hold quite the same religious convictions as his wife.
Lady Godiva could see the suffering it was causing to her beloved people and persistently begged Leofric to put an end to the tax. With his patience running thin through his wife’s continuous pestering he is reputed to have told her that she would have to ride naked through the streets of Coventry before he would repeal the tax.. He probably said this out of exasperation, thinking his very prim and pious wife would never do such a thing. However, Leofric badly underestimated his wife’s devotion to the people and her determination to help them.
Lady Godiva takes up the Challenge
Godiva took up the challenge and rode naked on a horse through the streets of Coventry. There are a number of variations to the legend, but one says that the people of Coventry were so grateful to Godiva, that they kept to their homes and covered the windows and no one took advantage of the situation to try and peek at her.
Another later variation tells how she had sent out messengers to clear the streets in front of her as she rode. All the citizens of Coventry obeyed except for one who tried to peep but was immediately struck blind. His name was Tom who was a tailor, and from that day on he became known as Peeping Tom.
In Coventry’s Cathedral Lanes Shopping Centre there is a rather peculiar carved painted wooden effigy said to be a depiction of Peeping Tom. Its eyes are blank possibly because the paint has worn off or possibly for other reasons. Either way, Lady Godiva completed the ride veiled only by her long golden hair which was long enough to cover her body, leaving only her face and legs visible.
Leofric Keeps His Promise
It seems her husband, Leofric, was so impressed that his demure and pious wife would dare to do such a thing for the people of Coventry and so amazed that no one had seen her that he changed his own religious convictions. He regarded it as a miracle and keeping his word to his wife he repealed the hated Heregild and founded a Benedictine monastery with her, although no trace of this remains today.
The grateful people of Coventry held an annual fair keeping alive the story of Godiva and her heroism. Unfortunately this was banned during the Reformation.
The Godiva Procession
Around 1678 the fair was revived with a representative of Lady Godiva riding through the streets on a snow white horse accompanied by a man making lewd and suggestive gestures. The Godiva Procession is an annual event which takes place in June.
Although the naked ride of Lady Godiva is one of Britain’s most famous legends there is no proof that it actually happened though Godiva and Leofric were both historical and important figures in their day. It is still debated whether this was the same Godiva or a different person. Historically, back in the days when the event was supposed to have happened Coventry was just a small settlement and nothing like the city we know today. Many scholars think that the legend has its roots in pagan ceremonies such as the May Queen. These and other ideas will be dealt with in future articles.
The legend of the Christmas Rose tells the story of how a young shepherdess named Madelon, through her love and devotion, came to give the baby Jesus a gift more precious than gold, frankincense or myrrh.
Madelon and the Christmas Rose – Public Domain
The Christmas Rose
The Christmas rose (helleborus niger) is actually a perennial herb and grows in the cold, snowy mountains and high valleys across Europe. The flowers are white and star-shaped and tipped with pink. It is also known as the Snow Rose and the Winter Rose as it blossoms in the mid-winter season when most other vegetation lies dormant and covered by snow.
The tradition tells how the shepherds, while watching their flocks, were visited by an Angel who was leading the Magi to the birthplace of Jesus. The Angel told them of the birth of Jesus who would be known as the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings and the Saviour of their people. Overjoyed, the shepherds left their flocks to visit the new born king taking him such gifts as they could afford and were befitting of their status such as, honey, fruit and snow-white doves.
Now on that cold winter night when Jesus was born, the shepherds were not the only ones out on the hillside tending their flocks. A young shepherdess, called Madelon, was also out tending her family’s flock and had witnessed the arrival of the Angel and the Magi and heard what the Angel told the shepherds.
Love And Devotion
Hearing the news, the young girl’s heart became full of love and devotion and filled with faith. At a distance she followed the Angel, the Magi and the shepherds to the stable where Jesus lay in the manger, cared for by Mary and Joseph.
The Magi Give Baby Jesus Wonderful Gifts
She watched as they entered the stable and the Magi laid their wonderful gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense before the baby Jesus. She watched as the shepherds gave their gifts of honey, fruit and snow-white doves. Realizing she had nothing to give she rushed back to the hillside to try and find flowers that she could lay before him.
Finding none on the snow covered hillside she became full of shame and despair and began crying. As she cried her tears fell down her face onto the snowy ground around her. Seeing this from on high the Angel came down and touched the ground and a bush of the most beautiful winter roses sprang forth at her feet.
A Precious Gift Of Pure Blooms
The Angel told her, “No gold, no frankincense, no myrrh, is as precious, or as fitting a gift for the Prince of Peace as these pure blooms that are born from the pure tears of love, faith and devotion.”
Christmas in the modern world is a time of revelry, eating and overindulgence of drink, the giving of presents, carol singing and much more. The Roman festival of Saturnalia is believed to have been a forerunner of the Christmas we know and celebrate today giving us many customs and traditions that we use and enjoy.
Dice players – Author: WolfgangRieger – Public Domain Image
The Roman Festival of Saturnalia
An early forerunner to Christmas was the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia. This festival was held in honour Saturn an agricultural deity who reigned during the Golden Age. This was a time of peace, when all was prosperous and plentiful. A time when people’s needs were met with out having to work and every one lived in a state of social equality with one another. The festival commenced on the 17th December to the 23rd of December. Saturnalia could be celebrated anywhere in the Roman Empire not just Rome.
Saturnalia was time of great feasting, making merry and revelry with copious amounts of drinking and over indulging in food. People went out in the streets singing from door to door. It was a time for the giving and receiving of presents. The revelry was supposed to reflect the conditions of the Golden Age.
During Saturnalia leaves and branches of evergreens were fashioned into wreathes and carried by priests in processions. Gambling and throwing dice, which in ancient Rome was discouraged became permitted for both masters and slaves over the duration of the festival.
Public buildings and squares were adorned with flowers and lit with candles. Candles may have represented the search for truth and knowledge and also the return of the sun after the winter solstice. In later times the 25th of December by the Julian calendar, Romans celebrated Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus, or the “Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun.”
Role reversal during Saturnalia
During Saturnalia roles were reversed between master and slave, with slave becoming the master and the master, the slave. Some reports from ancient sources say slaves and masters ate at the same table together. Other reports say the slaves ate first and others say that the masters served the slaves their food. No doubt it was the slaves who did the actual preparation and clearing up.
Slaves were also said to be allowed to show a certain amount of disrespect to their masters but in reality it was probably more of an act. This is because the role reversal was temporary, only lasting through Saturnalia so slaves still needed to be wary of upsetting their master too much.
Dressing for Saturnalia
As can be expected during important festivals people like to dress up and wear their best clothes and Romans were no different. During Saturnalia men set aside the toga, their usual garment, in favour of Greek styled clothing. They also wore a conical cap of felt called the pilleus, which was a token of a freedman. Even slaves were allowed to wear the pilleus during Saturnalia.
Giving presents during Saturnalia
December the 23rd was known as “The Sigillaria and on this day presents and gifts were given. Against the spirit of the season the value of gifts given and received was a sign of social status. These might be candles, items of pottery, wax figurines, writing tablets, combs, lamps and many other such articles. Sometimes bird or animals were given. The rich sometimes gave a slave or an exotic animal of some kind. Children were given toys.
The Lord of Misrule
The ruler of Saturnalia and the master of ceremonies was called Saturnalicius princeps and was chosen by lot. A similar figure is seen in medieval times presiding over the Feast of Fools and was known as the Lord of Misrule. He would issue absurd and whimsical commands which had to be obeyed, hence creating chaos and (mis)rule and an absurd world.
The influence of Saturnalia on Christmas today
Many historians and scholars see the festival of Saturnalia as being as one of the original sources of many of today’s Christmas practices. The giving of presents, carol singing, the lighting of candles and the use of evergreen plants for decorations all continue to this day. The practice of eating and drinking to excess and the carnival atmosphere that prevails over the season are reminiscent of the festival of Saturnalia.
This image or file is a work of a U.S. Air Force Airman or employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image or file is in the public domain.
The northern lights and the southern lights are natural phenomena that occur in the night skies over the polar regions of the planet. Today, we know they are caused by gas molecules in the atmosphere colliding with solar particles. This releases energy as light and creates colourful displays of light that display in fold-like shapes, streamers, rays, arches and many other amazing forms.
The northern lights are also known as ‘Aurora borealis’ and the southern lights as ‘Aurora australis.’ In Roman mythology Aurora was the goddess of the dawn, so Aurora borealis means ‘dawn of the north,’ and Aurora australis means dawn of the south.
They can be very beautiful and awe-inspiring and at the same time mysterious and even frightening. Many different cultural and ethnic groups who lived in places where they are seen have developed many myths and legends to try and explain and make meaning of them in their own terms.
The Fox-fires of Lapland
In the language of the Finnish people the northern lights are known as “Revontulet.” In English this means “Fox Fires” and comes from a very old Finnish myth which says that the lights were produced by magical snow foxes whose swishing tales sent snow spraying into the skies.
North of Finland, Norway and Sweden live the Lapp people in Lapland. This is a huge area within the Arctic Circle which ranges across parts of all three of these Scandinavian countries. The Lapps are closely related to the Finnish people. Their traditions say that the lights are the shining souls of the dead.
When the lights are in the skies people are expected to behave in a solemn and respectful way. Children were also expected to be solemnly too out of respect for the departed ones. To show disrespect would bring down bad luck, sickness and the risk of death.
The shamans of the Lapps painted runes representing the fires on their on their drums to help them attract and capture their magical energy. They were also believed that the lights had soothing powers over conflicts and arguments.
There was also a belief that if you whistled when the lights were active they would come to you and take you away with them.
The ride of the Valkiries
A red aurora of this magnitude is rare, and icomplements the green colour. Image taken Hakoya island, Norway. October 25th, 2011 by photographer Frank Olsen. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Norwegian folklore tells that they were the souls of old maids who danced and waved across the skies.
While in other parts of Scandinavia and Germany the belief was that it was the Valkiries who had taken to the air when the lights appeared.
In Scotland, which also has strong Norse links, the lights were sometimes referred to as “the merry dancers.”
Warriors battling in the skies
In other parts of the world the aurora borealis was believed to be heroes or warriors battling in the sky. In many places further from the Arctic and Antarctic Circles the lights are a rare occurrence and when they did appear they were seen as signs of coming war or sickness and were harbingers of doom.
Among some Eskimo tribes of Greenland the lights were connected with dancing. In some parts of Greenland the lights were thought top be the souls of children who had died at, or soon after birth.
In Labrador, young Eskimos believed the lights were the torches lit and carried by the dead as they played a kind of ball game in the skies with the skull of a walrus. They would dance as the lights played across the skies.
Spirits of animals
Aurora image taken at Hillesoy island, Norway. September 2011. Author Arctic light -Frank Olsen, This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
In eastern parts of Canada, the Salteaus Indians, along with the Kwakiutl and Tlingit tribes of south eastern parts of Alaska the lights were thought to the spirits of humans. Tribes living along the Yukon River thought that the lights were the spirits of animals such as elk, deer, salmon, seal and whales.
While to some Native American tribes of Wisconsin, North America, they were a bad omen as they believed the lights were the ghosts of the enemies they had killed who were now seeking revenge.
Many cultures around the world looked up at them and made their own meanings and stories to explain them but here the last word goes to the Algonquin Indians. They believed the northern lights were the fires of the great creator god, Nanahbozho. After creating the world he retired to the far north. There he builds great magical campfires which light up the northern skies to remind them of the everlasting love he holds towards them.
Presented here is a retelling of an old Japanese legend about butterflies and the human soul from Myths & Legends of Japan, by F. Hadland (Frederick Hadland) Davis and illustrated by Evelyn Paul. In this work it was titled the The White Butterfly.
The Butterfly Soul
In old Japan there was a belief that the souls of people alive or dead could take the form of a butterfly. Therefore any butterfly that entered a house was treated respectfully. It may be that people whose loved ones had departed this world looked for and welcomed the presence of a butterfly and silently prayed, “Oh, come butterfly and I shall sleep tonight, where the flowers sleep.”
A very old legend tells of a poor old man by the name of Takahama. His home was just behind the cemetery of the temple of Sōzanji and never seemed to go far from it. Sadly, it is a trait of human nature that sees people who do not behave in what is considered a normal way to have some degree of madness. He was by all accounts the most affable and amiable person you could wish to meet and all his neighbors greatly liked and respected him though they considered him a little mad. This madness appears to have come from the fact that he never took a wife or was known to have considered taking one. Furthermore, he was wrongly believed to have had no intimate relationship with a woman.
It so happened that one bright summer day the most affable Takahama fell sick. So sick that he sent for his sister-in-law to come and take care of him. She duly arrived bringing her son with her to bring what help and comfort they could in his final hours. While they kept vigil over him there fluttered into the room a beautiful white butterfly that rested gently on the sick man’s pillow. Fearful that it might disturb his final hours the young man attempted to carefully drive it out without harming it. Each time he drove it through the door it returned. This happened three times as if the butterfly was reluctant to leave the dying man.
At last the young man grew more forceful chasing it out the door and into the nearby cemetery where it fluttered over the tomb of a woman before mysteriously vanishing to where he did not know.
The young man was puzzled and intrigued. On examining the tomb he found an inscription with the name “Akiko” and a brief account of how she had died when she was 18 years old. This indicated her death had happened some 50 years earlier. The tomb was very well maintained with fresh flowers and water provided. Intrigued but unsure what he had found the young man returned to the house to find Takahama had passed away.
The young man told his mother about the butterfly and what he had seen in the cemetery. His mother sat down with tears in her eyes and told him,
“Not many people know but your uncle was once betrothed to Akiko. He was very much in love with her but just before the wedding day she died of consumption. Understandably, he was heartbroken and vowed that he would never marry or have any kind of a relationship with any other woman.
He stayed close to her grave and prayed over it daily, no matter if the sun was shining and the day was fair and pleasant, or burning hot. No matter how cold the rain or how thick the snow, or wild the wind, he would grit his teeth and pray, ‘Oh, come, butterfly, come!’
Maintaining her grave, keeping weeds at bay and ensuring there were alway fresh flowers all through the long lonely years he kept his vow. In his heart of hearts he kept clean and shining all the loving memories of his only love. As he lay dying he no longer had the strength to perform his labor of love and Akiko from beyond saw this and came to him. The white butterfly was her tender, loving soul that came to guide him to the Land of the Yellow Springs where they will be reunited once again.”
For Takahama his passing prayer may been words such as the following poem written by Yone Noguchim many, many years later. Just maybe the writer was thinking of the old man when he wrote,
This article by zteve t evans was first published on FolkloreThursday.com on 30th July, 2020 under the title, Mixing Animals, Birds, Humans and Gods in Celtic Mythology
Animals, Birds, Humans and Gods
Animals played an important part in the everyday life of the ancients Celts. In Celtic mythology the lives of animals, birds, humans and gods are interwoven to provide rich stories alluding to important matters in their society such as life and death, love and hate, jealousy and lust. Provided here is a brief review of some of those myths and legends.
The Dream of Aengus
Swans were much admired by the Irish Celts and had some special places in their mythology. One story from Irish mythology called the Dream of Aengus, tells how a young god named Aengus fell in love with a beautiful woman from his dreams. Her name was Caer Ibormeith and she was the goddess of sleep and dreams.
Aengus set out to find her and discovered that she was a real person who had been placed under a spell which transformed her into a swan. Every other Samhain she was able to return to human form for one day beginning at sunset and then revert back to swan form for one year until the following Samhain when the transformation cycle would be repeated.
Presented here is a retelling of a Cherokee folktale called “The Lesson of the Elm Tree.” It was told by a boy named James Ariga who was part Cherokee in 1947 at the Ten Mile River Scout Reservation and included in the, Treasury of American Indian Tales, by Theodore Whitson Ressler.
The Lesson of the Elm Tree
There was once a young boy of about eleven years of age named White Eagle who lived with his mother and father. They were of the Cherokee people who lived in the Appalachian Mountains on the shores of a large lake. In those days there was much talk of war and there were frequent skirmishes between his people and the different people who lived outside Cherokee territory. His father’s name was Great Eagle and was a great and fearless warrior. He was much respected and honored among his people not just for his bravery in battle but for his wisdom and nobility of spirit.
The Cherokees usually did not need to go far afield to catch game but there came a time there was little to be had close to home. Therefore, Great Eagle led a hunting party north beyond Cherokee territory into the lands of the northern people. He knew there would be fighting if the northerners discovered them but luckily they were quickly successful in the hunt and headed home without encountering any problems. However, before they left the northern lands they came across a young boy wandering in the wilds alone who was clearly lost and famished.
Great Eagle gave him food and contemplated what he should do with him. He thought about his own son who was of similar age and did not like to think of him lost and alone in the wilderness.
Therefore, he decided he could not leave the young boy alone to starve and there were many dangerous animals in these parts. Thinking he would be a good companion and playmate for his own son he decided he would adopt him if the boy consented.
After gently explaining to the boy his plan he asked if he would like to become part of his family and go home with him. The boy agreed and told Great Eagle that his name was Little Frog.
The Cherokees lived in a fortified village patrolled with armed guards. His father had told him about the fierce warriors of the Cherokee people and when Little Frog saw this he became very frightened. On seeing the boy’s fear Great Eagle put his arm gently around his shoulder and spoke reassuringly to him. Leading him to his lodge he introduced him to his wife who was to be his mother and then to his son, White Eagle, who would be his brother and playmate.
White Eagle was mighty pleased to have Little Frog, a boy of his own age, as his brother, companion and playmate. Little Frog was also pleased and realized how lucky he had been when Great Eagle had found him. That night with the return of the hunting part bearing much game there was a great celebration with much singing, dancing and merrymaking.
The next morning, Great Eagle roused the boys from sleep as dawn was breaking. He told them they were going to practice their skills with the bow and arrow and learn how to find game. He gave them both breakfast and both a bow and a quiver of arrows to match their stature and led them into the forest in search of game.
Little Frog was feeling much happier and more secure. His own father, mother and brother had been killed when hostile neighbors had attacked their village by surprise. Now, he was beginning to think of Great Eagle as his father and White Eagle as his brother and he liked it.
As Great Eagle led them stealthily through the forest the two boys copied everything he did. They heard the birds singing and then the snap of a twig as some animal stood on it. Great Eagle crouched low and raised his hand for them to stop and they crouched low beside him. Motioning them to stay he crept forward cautiously and quietly to investigate but soon returned to tell them that whatever snapped the twig was no longer there.
After traveling on through the forest Great Eagle decided it was time for rest and refreshment. As they sat together on the trunk of a dead tree that lay across the forest floor he shared out food.
Little Frog asked White Eagle if he often went out into the forest with his father. White Eagle replied, “Yes, my father is teaching me how to hunt and be a great warrior like him.”
Little frog was very impressed and once again realized how lucky he was that Great Eagle had adopted him. Keeping up the conversation, White Eagle asked, “Are you missing your people and home village? Do you miss your family?”
Little Frog replied, “No, after my family was killed I had no one to look after me. No one in the village would help me and I had to work hard and beg for food. One of the village braves took over my family wigwam and I was forced to sleep outside alone without shelter. I miss my family but not my village.”
This made White Eagle realize just how lucky he was having a great warrior for a father, a mother to take care of him and give him food, shelter and love. Now he had a brother and playmate as well and thought himself doubly lucky.
After a drink of cool water from a nearby spring Great Eagle led the boys onward signalling to them to be more stealthy. The two boys followed, mimicking him carefully as they moved quietly forward. Coming to a river they saw a beaver had built a dam and made its home there.
Great Eagle motioned them to wait while he scouted around for the beaver. He soon returned saying he could not see the beaver but it was time to make their way back home. Along the way they would keep an eye open for turkeys and rabbits. Both boys were disappointed they had not had a chance to try out their new bows and arrows but both trusted and obeyed Great Eagle unfailingly.
Coming to the edge of the forest, Great Eagle suddenly motioned for them to stop and pointed up along the trail where a cotton-tailed rabbit was sitting. Seeing the rabbit White Eagle quickly raised his bow and fired off an arrow. The aim was good and hit the rabbit.
He was very pleased and excited and danced and sang, shouting at the top of his voice that he would take it for his mother to cook. His father calmed his son and looked at Little Frog and walked over to the rabbit. He saw two arrows had hit it making it impossible to say whose had actually done the deed realizing Little Frog had fired simultaneously with his son. Both boys began to claim the rabbit and began arguing over it.
Great Eagle found himself in a quandary. He was always fair in his decisions and judgements and did not want it to look like he was taking sides especially as his own son was involved. Therefore, after a pause for thought he said,
“We can all agree that both arrows were equally responsible as were those who fired them.”
It is plain to see that you are both like stubborn elm trees and are both far better shots with a bow and arrow than I had realized!”
Saying no more Great Eagle picked up the rabbit and led them homewards. Both boys followed on both happy with the decision he had made. That night in bed Little Frog turned over to face White Eagle and whispered, “What did he mean by saying we were like stubborn elms?”
White Eagle whispered back, “In the morning I will show you, but for now go to sleep.”
The next morning after breakfast Little Frog was still eager to know what Great Eagle had meant by calling them stubborn elms. As he had promised the night before White Eagle led him out into the forest. Every now and then he broke a branch from a tree and told Little Frog to copy what he did. After breaking several branches from different trees they came to a young elm and White Eagle grasped a branch and tried to break it but he could not. All he could do was bend it. Little Frog tried to help his friend but despite their combined strength they could not break it only bend it.
They had not noticed that Great Eagle had followed them and now he came up behind them and put his hand on their shoulders making them jump saying,
“Now you can see for yourselves the reason I said you were like stubborn elms. On your way you broke many trees. In doing so you have observed how many trees can be broken and forced down. Only the stubborn elm resists and can only be broken when several warriors lay their hands to it.
It is exactly the same with two proud boys who both believe they are in the right and place their equal strength against each. Neither will give way just as the stubborn elm will not give way.
If I had applied my strength to the argument in favor of one or the other the loser may have bent to the earth and broken.
When you believe yourself to be absolutely and with all honesty right, you can stand straight and tall as the stubborn elm tree.
When you do things you do not truly believe in you leave the path of truth and wisdom and your enemies can break and defeat you. Therefore, always remember the stubborn elm!”
Bees are a familiar sight around the world being native to al continents except Antarctica. There are 16,000 known species and the most common is the western honey bee, also known as the European honey bee. It is this species that this work mostly refers to. Since early times humans have watched bees go about their everyday business and marveled at their sheer industry while being intrigued by the mystery of their societies. This has led to the evolution of a rich body of folklore and tradition and many superstitions and customs. Present here are a few small samples of this bee lore mingled with a few facts.
Bees provide us with many different useful products including honey, royal jelly, pollen propolis, wax and even bee venom. However, there are many other less obvious products of bees we depend on that are more important and more widely used. Bees help pollinate many different fruits, vegetables and plants of all kinds which we make into many different products such as jam, dried fruit, even alcoholic beverages such as mead and much more. They are not just useful to humans but also other animals and plants and are an essential part of local ecosystems which integrate into the global system. An army of bees and other insects help pollinate these products and many other vegetables and plants used by humans. Without bees this army would be sorely depleted. Our ancestors may not have realised the full extent of their usefulness but knew enough to want to develop an intimate relationship with them.
Telling The Bees
It was seen as important for a beekeeper to keep his bees updated on any important information as news came in. This was because bees could become upset and stop producing honey, abandon the hive or even die if not kept informed. Therefore, it was seen as important that news that might affect them was broken gently but not withheld. The origin of this custom is not known but there is an idea it may have evolved because people in many countries in ancient times thought bees had the ability to bridge the living world with the afterlife.
There is a longstanding custom of telling the bees important events such as births, deaths and marriages that happen in the life of a beekeeper. This tradition is found in the UK, Ireland, Germany, France, Switzerland and other European countries as well as North America.
When someone in the household passed away it was deemed essential that the bees should be informed so that they could mourn properly. Furthermore, it was essential that the bees were informed of any death in the family otherwise some tragedy would afflict the keeper’s family or perhaps jinx the hive.
An English custom required the wife of the house, or housekeeper, to drape something black over the hive while humming a sad tune. In Nottinghamshire the words to one such tune were,
“The master’s dead, but don’t you go;
Your mistress will be a good mistress to you.” (1)
Whereas in Germany the song was,
“Little bee, our lord is dead;
Leave me not in my distress.” (2)
In some places the head of the household was required to knock on each hive until he thought he had the attention of the bees. Next, in a sombre and serious voice he explained a certain person had died revealing the name of that person. Sometimes the key to the family home was used to tap upon the hives.
Where it was the case that the beekeeper had passed away food and drink from the funeral was left near the hives for the bees. Sometimes the hive would be lifted and then put down at the same time as the funeral. It was draped in a mourning cloth and rotated to face the funeral procession.
In parts of the Pyrenees they buried an old piece of clothing belonging to someone who had died under the hive. Many people believed the bees and hives should never be given away, sold or swapped after their keeper had died as it brought bad luck.
In the USA in parts of New England and Appalachia it was important to tell the bees when a family member died. Whoever was the family beekeeper would ensure the bees were properly informed of the death so that the news could be passed around.
In some regions it was believed bees liked to be told about weddings and happy events as well as funerals. A tradition from Westphalia, Germany says to ensure good fortune in their married life, when moving into their new home, newlyweds must first introduce themselves to the bees. A Scottish newspaper, the Dundee Courier reported on the tradition in the 1950s, stating that the hive should be decorated and a slice of wedding cake left for the bees near the hive. A custom from Brittany involved decorating the hive with scarlet cloth which would allow the bees to join in with the celebrations.
Messengers of the Gods
There was a belief in ancient Greece and Rome that bees were the messengers and servants of the gods. Romans avoided a flying swarm of bees but not for fear of being stung. Instead they thought they were swarming at the command of the gods and bearing their messages and did not want to impede them in their work for the divinities.
Ancient Egyptians believed honey bees had been generated from the tears of Ra, their sun god, that had fallen to earth becoming his messengers between him and humanity. Between 3000 b.c.e. and 350 b.c.e., the honeybee was used as a symbol by the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Similar to the Egyptian and Roman view, the ancient Celtic people saw the honey bee as a messenger between heaven and earth.
Importance of Bees
Bees continue to play an important role in the ecosystems and their importance to humans is undiminished, if anything, as we learn more about the world around us it increases.
Footwear such as shoes have been part of folklore and folktales for centuries and there are many tales and rhymes that refer to them. For example Cinderella’s glass slippers, The Red Shoes, by Hans Christian Anderson, the nursery rhyme of The Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe, and I am sure you can think of many other examples. There are also many traditions and customs concerning footwear and a very strange practice of concealing them in buildings. Presented here is a brief discussion concerning this very peculiar practice of concealment.
In many parts of Europe and other parts of the world footwear has been found concealed in the structure of buildings for many centuries. They are often found hidden in parts of the structure such as under floors, in ceilings, roofs, chimneys and other structural cavities. The reason for this is unclear. Some people suggest they may be lucky charms intended to bring good luck or ward off evil supernatural beings such as ghosts, witches and spirits.
Another suggestion is that they were intended to bring fertility to the females in the home and may have been an offering to a household deity. This may have been a deity or spirit of some kind such as Hestia, the Greek goddess of the hearth and home, the family, domesticity and the state.
Footwear has been found concealed within the structure of many different types of buildings. For example, some but not all, public houses, country houses, a Baptist church and a Benedictine monastery and many other ordinary and less ordinary buildings have been discovered to hold hidden shoes.
The Concealed Shoe Index
The English town of Northampton has a strong tradition of shoe making. The local museum keeps a Concealed Shoe Index that has collected 1900 reports of findings of concealed shoes by 2012. About half are believed to date from the 19th century. It appears the majority of finds had been worn or repaired and strangely most finds were of single items, rather than pairs and approximately half were children’s shoes. The practice of concealing footwear appears to have faded out during the 20th century.
Since the late Middle Ages it was quite a common practice to hide different objects in the structures of buildings. Many different kinds of objects have been found including such peculiar items as horse skulls, witch bottles, dried cats, charms written on paper and many other strange objects. There is an idea that the items were intended as lucky charms to ward off evil or perhaps attract good luck. Hidden caches of such items are sometimes called spiritual middens.
After 1900, the practice seems to have tailed off. Although it is rarely practised, documented, or admitted today, there have been a few instances in recent years of such concealments. The shoe manufacturer, Norvic deliberately placed a pair of women’s boots in the foundations of its new factory in 1964. More recently, after finding an old court shoe behind wood paneling, at Knebworth House, an English stately home in Hertfordshire, it was replaced by one of the estate worker’s shoes to maintain custom.
Location of Finds
The custom of shoe concealment seemed to have been more prevalent in Europe and the USA, especially in New England and northeastern states. There were many immigrants to these areas from places where the custom was practiced such as East Anglia, in England and other European regions.
A study by June Swann a British footwear historian, revealed the Concealed Shoe Box Index, in Northampton Museum showed 22.9% of items found were hidden ceilings and floors and the same number accounted for roofs, while 26% were hidden in chimneys, fireplaces and hearths. Other places of concealment were around doors and windows, under stairs and buried in foundations.
Footwear has been found concealed in many different types of build used for many different purposes. For example, thay have been uncovered in public houses, factories, warehouses, ordinary and stately homes and even in the Oxford colleges of St. John’s and Queen’s. An English Baptist Church in Cheshire, England and a Benedictine monastery in Germany have also rendered up concealed footwear. The earliest known find was discovered in Winchester Cathedral at the back of the choir stalls dated from 1308.
Characteristics of Hidden Footwear
There have been many different fashions, styles and types of footwear found that have been deliberately concealed. Although the majority were made of leather; rubber boots and wooden clogs have been found and others made from other materials. From what has been found 98% appear to have been worn or repaired at some time prior to concealment.
All ranges of sizes have been found from babies to adult footwear. Slightly more female footwear has been found making about 26.5% against 21.5% of male and about 50% accounted for children’s footwear. It is usually single items that are found rather than in pairs.
Although the custom of concealing shoes may seem quirky, finds do render up important information to archaeologists and historians. As well as giving clues to what fashions and styles people from another time wore they also tell us about the different types of materials that were available. They also give clues to the social status of the dwellers or uses of the building and the different types of occupation they were involved in and the local economy.
Of course, the big question is why would anyone want to conceal such items in the first place? There are many answers possible but one is that they were fertility charms. There has been a long association between footwear and fertility. For example, there is the custom where a shoe is thrown after the bride as she leaves or tied to the back of her car or carriage. Another example is the nursery rhyme called The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. There are many versions similar to the one below,
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.She had so many children, she didn't know what to do.She gave them some broth without any bread;Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.
In the English county of Lancashire when a woman wanted to conceive she tried on the shoes of another who had successfully given birth. This practice was called smickling.
There is an idea that the hidden footwear was deliberately placed to act as a protective charm against supernatural beings such as demons, ghosts, witches and other undesirable entities. There was an old belief that witches were attracted to the human odour found in used footwear and attempt to enter the shoe. However, once they entered they became unable to turn around or go backwards to get out and were trapped.
Another idea is that shoes had protective powers and may be associated with an unofficial 14th century saint named John Schorne. He was the rector of the English Buckinghamshire village of North Marston. He was a very devout and godly man who was credited with a number of miraculous cures including toothache and gout. According to legend, one year during a particularly bad drought he discovered a well whose waters had wonderful curative properties. He was renowned for his piety and dedication to God and there is a tradition that he trapped the devil in a boot. Nevertheless, the idea of trapping the devil in a boot or shoe existed long before Shorne and gout was also sometimes called “the devil in the boot.”
Archaeologists and historians think that the custom of hiding footwear in buildings may be connected with ancient pagan deities and spirits and the legend of Shorne may relate to the protective power footwear was once seen to hold. Therefore an old shoe under the floorboards or buried under the fireplace may be seen as an easy and prudent tactic to thwart malevolent beings just in case.
Substitute for Sacrifice
Another idea is that the hiding of footwear was a substitute for sacrificing something live such as an animal or even a child. In some places around the world babies and children were sacrificed or placed in foundations. From Geofrey of Monmouth, in his pseudo-history, “History of the Kings of Britain,” we learn when King Vortigern was looking to build a stronghold the walls kept collapsing. His wise men advised the sacrifice of a child to put a stop to this. The child chosen for this sacrifice was the young Merlin who persuaded the King there was an underground pool that held two fighting dragons. Vortigern excavated the pool and found the dragons. Merlin was set free and went on to fame and glory with King Uther and King Arthur, while Vortigern had to find another site. Certainly an offering of footwear is much more humane than a human or animal sacrifice and leather is an animal product.
The Essence of the Wearer
There may also be another reason. Many types of footwear adapt shape to suit the wearer. It is not unusual for new shoes or boots to have to be “broken” in by the wearer before they feel comfortable. They are seen as containers and were believed to contain some of the “essence” of the wearer possibly guarding against evil but perhaps also preserving that essence for the future. Nevertheless, the concealing of footwear in buildings is still very much a mystery and will probably remain so.
In Russian and Slavic folklore a domovoi or domovoy, was a household spirit. Domovoi are usually small bearded males who sometimes have bodies covered in white fur, or hair and sometimes they are affectionately called “Grandfather” or “Master.” Sometimes they appear as the miniature double of the head of the household and sometimes, but rarely, they have a female companion.
According to tradition there are two kinds of domovoi. One kind lives inside people’s houses and the other, called a dvorovoi, lives outside in the yard or garden and can only be found in the country. Sometimes they have a wife and are considered less friendly and more dangerous than a domovoi especially to animals and livestock that have white fur.
Origins of the Domovoi
Some people think they have originated before Christianity and were part of an ancestor cult. Another tradition tells that they were once malevolent spirits who were thrown from the skies. Some of these spirits landed in human dwellings and overtime grew to like people in the dwellings and grew less evil. They still retained the ability to cause mischief when they wanted if they were not adequately placated, or were treated disrespectfully. However, overtime as they got used to humans they became more benign and helpful. They can grow fond of people who take care of their home environment and will help maintain it but dislike those who neglect it and begin causing trouble.
The Shapeshifting Domovoi
There have been claims that domovoi can take on the appearance of the owner or householder of the home. Witnesses have claimed to see the owner of the home outside in the garden or yard when in fact he has been sound asleep in bed. They are also thought to have the ability to change their shape into replicas of the cat or dog of the home and even rats and snakes. The voice of the domovoi is said to sound rather harsh and hollow.
By tradition every home has its own domovoi. Although the middle part of the home is said to be their domain they also live under the threshold, or under the stove, stairs, or sometimes outside in the chicken or cattle shed. Every human house, cottage, apartment, flat or dwelling of any kind large, or small, has a domovoi to look after it and its human dwellers.
The domovoi can sometimes be a trickster or maker of mischief and sometimes tickles people when they are asleep. He will also knock on the walls and throw crockery and pans for the sake of making mischief. Usually he will be friendly and on good terms with the domovoi next door but if they start stealing from the home he protects he will defend the property from his neighbour.
The domovoi is the guardian of a home and it is wise to keep him happy by leaving rewards such as salt, porridge, bread, milk or tobacco. If he is kept happy he will guard the home and maintain order and peace and will help with household chores and outside jobs, but a word of warning. If a domovoi is disrespected or abused, or the homeowner becomes untidy and slovenly the domovoi can become angry and bad things start to happen. He becomes like a poltergeist making objects move and fly through the air and things happen that should not, though he will rarely harm humans directly.
Sometimes when the domovoi is producing unhelpful or unwelcome behavior this can be called barabashka which means knocker or pounder. The domovoi can become greatly offended at times and will abandon the home and family. This was something that caused great concern as his presence usually ensured a benevolent and harmonious atmosphere in the home prevailed.
Foretelling the Future
It was believed that the future could be foretold by the behaviour of the domovoi. If the domovoi was laughing and joking, or singing and dancing, then happy times can be looked forward to. When he sweeps his thumb up and down a comb like he is strumming a guitar a wedding is pending. The touch of the domovoi can also dictate the future. Good luck will abound when his furry hand feels warm but when it feels cold then beware because bad luck is on its way. Beware when a domovoi becomes visible, puts out the flame of a candle, or cries in the night. These are signs of an impending death of someone in the family and very often the head of the home.
Respect Your Domovoi!
All in all, according to tradition, a domovoi in the home can be of great benefit to the homeowner. To keep him content they must respect, reward and placate him in an appropriate manner and do their utmost to maintain the home environment in a clean and tidy state. If these things are done then the home will be a happy and harmonious environment for all.
The world’s first known author is widely attributed to have been the daughter of Sargon (1) of Akkad in the 23rd century BC. We know her today as Enheduanna, which may have been a title of office, in which case her real name is unknown. She was the High Priestess of Nanna-Suen, a moon deity of Mesopotamia presiding over his temple complex in the city of Ur. The “En” part of her name signifies “leadership” and “ heduanna,” means “Ornament of Heaven” reflecting the divinity she served.
Clearly, she was of very high status in the society of her time and her writing was greatly influential then and in later times. Considerable parts of her work still exist in her original poetic form which has been influential in various religious systems throughout history.
Enheduanna lived through tumultuous times as her father, also known as Sargon the Great, forged the Akkadian-Sumerian empire which many consider the world’s first great empire. During this period the northern and southern parts of Mesopotamia were united and the city of Akkad became one of the largest known cities in the world.
Sargon needed someone loyal with the intellectual and creative ability to combine the two main religions of his empire. His appointment of her as the first High-Priestess of Nanna-Suen of the city of Ur was a master-stroke as she seems to have had considerable success in this.
The early form of pictorial writing that Enheduanna used was believed to have originated in about 3,400 BC. This was etched into tablets damp clay and known as Cuneiform. Although these tablets may look primitive, modern literature and administration systems evolved from them. They carry the thoughts, philosophy, religious knowledge and records of everyday life of the ancients carefully etched upon them. A large number of these cuneiform tablets have been found that were designed to teach the arts of the scribe to future generations. Many examples have been discovered in the Sumer region carrying a great variety of information.
In this way we have access to the thoughts of Enheduanna, a woman who lived about 4,300 years ago and other ancient people through the ages.
First Named Author
In her work as High Priestess, Enheduanna composed a canon of important literature. These included two hymns to the goddess, Inanna, later known as Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of love as well as the myth of Inanna and Ebih and 42 temple hymns. She was thought to have composed them herself and dictated them to scribes.
We know she wrote them because she claims authorship in the inscriptions and her seals are used as her stamp of authority. Although there were earlier writers she is the first named author claiming responsibility for her work that has so far been identified in the world. Her works come across as deeply personal including biographical information and her role as High-Priestess. Her temple hymns are finished with the following declaration:
“The compiler of the tablets was En-hedu-ana. My king, something has been created that no one has created before.”
In providing this she is asserting they were produced from her own intellectual creativity and effort in a similar way copyright is claimed by an author today. Her assertion is the earliest known claim of authorship yet to be found.
She appears to have worked diligently and intelligently often through the night in creating her compositions to be performed the next day. Her works were performed to a live audience though it is uncertain if she performed them herself or someone else stood in.
Her poetry contains the first religious belief system and these works were studied and performed some five hundred years after she died. It also contains personal information such as a power struggle with a usurper which saw her banished from the temple of Ur for a period.
Her works reveal the challenges she had in creating them and finding ways to express her thoughts. From what she explains she appears to have sometimes suffered from writer’s block which shows it is not a phenomenon of the modern age!
Role in Society
As well as being the first recognized writer and one of the earliest scientists she was also the first in a long line of High-Priestesses of Nanna-Suen. Over the following five hundred years the king’s daughter was appointed this highly influential role that would have required someone of high education and intelligence to fulfill.
Her role included more than that of a High-Priestess; she also controlled the administration of the temple and agricultural complexes. Her religious ceremonies required accurate reading of the celestial sky as did her agricultural duties and she needed to articulate this information in ways that others could understand.
She is also believed to have built into her works astronomical principles that were relevant to the celestial divinities of her religion. In doing so she appears to have engaged in astronomy and mathematics as her observations and calculations are regarded as accurate today and considered as one of the earliest known scientists.
Astronomy and Mathematics
Her eighth hymn is believed to give clues as to her role as High-Priestess and astronomer,
” in the gipar the priestesses’ rooms
that princely shrine of cosmic order
they track the passage of the moon.”
The private and sacred apartment of the High-Priestess was called the “gipar”. This verse tells that this was the place or observatory where the movements of the moon in the night sky was observed and recorded.
As the High-Priestess of Nanna-Suen, the moon deity she needed to practice astronomy for both practical and ceremonial purposes. Observing the phases of the moon and movement of stars was important for practical purposes such as keeping track of the year and for agriculture and animal breeding.
The modern liturgical calendars evolved from observations and calculations that Enhedaunna and other early priest astronomers observed and recorded.
Enheduanna the Scientist
From her poetry we gain a really good insight into who she was and what her role was.
“The true woman who possesses exceeding wisdom,
She consults a tablet of lapis lazuli
She gives advice to all lands…
She measures off the heavens,
She places the measuring-cords on the earth.”
This provides a good description of her role as scientist and High-Priestess making observations and calculations and distributing the information and conclusions she reaches. Lapis lazuli is a blue rock but some people think she is referring to the blue sky as it fits with her role as astronomer.
In what must have been a period of great anxiety and despair for Enhedaunna she was exiled during one of the many uprisings by a revolutionary named Lugal-Ane.
She pleaded to the god Nanna-Suen for restoration but he appeared to ignore her despite her being his High-Priestess. Therefore, she appealed to the goddess of love, procreation, fertility and war, Inanna, also known as Ishtar, for succour and was eventually restored to her position. These events are recorded in her poetry which tells how she was ignored by Nanna-Suen but succoured by Inanna. Her reverence and gratitude is shown in her hymn“The Exaltation of Inanna”(4), a deeply personal account of her banishment and restoration.
She is considered as the first known author and poet and considered one of first among the earliest of astronomers, mathematicians and scientists. Her works are an important part of the rich history of Mesopotamia and her achievements have shone out through the centuries. The influence this remarkable woman had on modern society has been immense and we have much to thank her for today.
This article was first published 28th May, 2020 on #FolkloreThursday.com titled, Unicorn Lore: Interpreting the Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries, by zteve t evans
The Mythical, Magical Unicorn
The rare and elusive, mythical, magical unicorn has been part of folklore and legend for centuries, evolving spectacularly into the modern age. Despite its reputed elusiveness and rarity you do not need to go far to find one these days. Unicorns appear in a range of products such as toys or works of art sold in high streets and feature in literature, films, television and much more. In the distant past it was a very different creature but it has grown into the very embodiment of purity, elegance, innocence and beauty that we are familiar with today.
Many of today’s perceptions of the unicorn evolved from the medieval and Renaissance eras where they appeared in works of art, tapestries, and coats-of-arms of the rich and powerful. Presented here is a brief look at a set of six late medieval tapestries known as La Dame à la licorne, or The Lady and the Unicorn. Today reproductions of these designs appear in various places but notably adorning the walls of the Gryffindor Common Room in the Harry Potter films.
Interpreting the Lady and the Unicorn
The tapestries are believed to have an original meaning and purpose that has been lost over time and their interpretation is uncertain today. Medieval people would have understood what each of the figures, motifs and symbols in each scene meant and how they were all part of an extended allegory that came together to create an overall meaning or message …
Of all of the gods of Rome perhaps one of the strangest and most devious was the goddess Laverna. The following example shows just how devious she could be while revealing how the great Roman poet, Virgil, answered a tricky question posed by the Emperor. It is retold here from The Unpublished Legends of Virgil by Charles Godfrey Leland.
A Tricky Question
The Roman Emporer asked Virgil what he made of the following verse from Aesop’s Fables.
"One day a fox entered a sculptor’s shop,And found a marble head, when thus he spoke:‘O Head! there is such feeling shown in theeBy art—and yet thou canst not feel at all!"
After a little thought Virgil gave the following answer, “Well now, it is very difficult for me to tell whether or not it is all introduction or all conclusion. It reminds me of those types of fish where it is difficult to know the head from the tail, or if they are all head, or all tail.Indeed, it also reminds me of the goddess Laverna of whom no one could ever tell if she was all head, or all body, or in fact both.”
The Emperor looked puzzled telling the poet he had never in his life heard of such a deity. Therefore, Virgil gave the following explanation, “Of all the ancient gods and goddesses in the history of Rome, Laverna was the most cunning, the most mischievous and the most deceitful.She was not well known by the other deities as she tended to keep herself to her own wicked ways, rarely spending time in heaven among them.Most of the time she could be found mingling with vagabonds, scoundrels, pickpockets and thieves, living in the dark and hidden places of human society.
One day it happened that she changed herself into the form of an extremely beautiful priestess and visited a great priest and proposed a bargain with him. She proposed he sell his estate to her and she would build on it within one year a great temple. Furthermore, at the end of that year she would pay in full for the estate and he would also get the temple for free. She told him that as surety for the proposal she would swear on her body.
The great priest was completely convinced. He gave her his estate thinking he would be paid its full value and get a free temple in the bargain. In that time Laverna was very busy selling up all his houses, land, livestock and assets until she had sold everything of any little worth.On the day when payment was due she was nowhere to be found and the great priest never received a penny in payment and no new temple.
Now, Laverna was not satisfied with defrauding the great priest and hatched another scheme. She went to a great lord and persuaded him to sell her a castle with a great estate. This time she promised with her head as surety to pay him in six months the full value of the castle and estate.The great lord was completely taken in by her and agreed the deal. Once again, Laverna sold the castle, the land and everything on it lock, stock and barrel, leaving nothing at all of any value.
The great priest and the great lord went together to the assembly of gods and goddesses to voice their complaints. The first before them was the priest. The gods heard his complaint and the goddess Laverna was summoned before them to answer.
Jove asked her what she had done with the property of the priest whom she had sworn with her body to repay in the allotted time. Standing before him and the other gods she answered in a very strange way which entirely astonished Jove and the assembled divinities.She cried aloud,
‘Behold! He says I swore by my body, but I have no body!’
Her body vanished leaving just her head floating in the air. Jove and the others all laughed and called upon the great lord to next make his petition to them.He told how Laverna had defrauded him and promised by her head to repay him by the allotted time. Jove demanded an explanation from her and in reply she showed her body to all present and it was indeed a very beautiful body, but it did not have a head. Then a voice came from the body saying,
‘Behold me, I am Laverna! I say this of the lord’s complaint of me. He says I swore on my head. See! I have no head, yet he calls me a thief. As you can see having no head I could not have sworn such an oath!’
Once again the gods broke into peals of laughter. At length Jove spoke and ordered her to return her head to her body. When she stood before them in full he ordered that she pay what was due to her creditors with no more tricks. Reluctantly, she complied.
Jove told her and all present that as she was of such knavish and deceitful nature from hence forward she would be the deity of all rogues, scoundrels thieves, cutthroats, vagabonds and those of similar nature.
That is why Laverna is now the patron of all of the wicked and deceitful people of the earth and a goddess of the Underworld. When such people make their wicked plans they could enter into her temple and call upon her for aid and advice and she would appear as a woman’s head. If they did their work badly and incorrectly she would appear as a female body. If they worked well and were successful she appeared before him as the whole goddess.”
Virgil then pointed out that she was as chaste as she was honest taking many lovers and bearing many children. However he hastened to add she was not entirely evil-hearted and often repented her ways but no matter how hard she tried her passions got the better of her.
The Arts of Virgil
So that was how the poet Virgil answered a tricky question he had no idea the answer to. It may be the Emperor lost track of his original question or was completely bamboozled by the brilliance of the answer. Whatever the reason he asked no more of it but this small event did not go unnoticed in history.
In the modern age, here in the UK, our elected rulers pay homage to Laverna and master the arts of Virgil from an early age.