Sir Galahad the Perfect Knight


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

King Pelles

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

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

Elaine and Lancelot

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

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

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

The madness of Lancelot


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

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

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

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

Galahad’s quest for the Holy Grail

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Galahad’s achievement of the Holy Grail

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

© 03/05/2016  zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright May 3rd, 2016 zteve t evans

Ancient symbols: The puzzle of the Three Hares

Three hares sharing three ears,

Yet every one of them has two!

Ancient German riddle

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

An ancient symbol

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

Threefold rotational symmetry

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

The Tinners Rabbit’s

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

Sacred symbols

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

Buddhist connections

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

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

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

The spread of the motif

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

Christian use of the Three Hares

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

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

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

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

An ancient German riddle

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

Three hares sharing three ears,

Yet every one of them has two.

Coat of Arms of Hasloch – Public Domain

The meaning of the Three Hares motif

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

Symbolism of the Three Hares

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

One last question

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

© 06/05/2015 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright 6th May, 2015 zteve t evans

Greek mythology: Gaia’s revenge

Gaia the Earth Mother

Gaia – Public Domain

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

Ouranos the god of the skies

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

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

The birth of the Titans

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

The birth of the Cyclops

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

The birth of Briareus, Cottus and Gyes

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

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

Gaia’s revenge

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

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

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

Cronus becomes king of the gods

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

References and attributions

Copyright 25/03/2015 zteve t evans

British Folk Songs: The Ballad of John Barleycorn

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

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

Barley – Public Domain Image

The Ballad of John Barleycorn

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

Different Versions

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

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

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

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

Pagan and Anglo-Saxon Associations

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

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

The Golden Bough

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

The Corn King

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

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


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

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

Popular Culture

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

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

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

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

The Popular Legend of Lady Godiva

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

Lady Godiva, by artist John Collier – Public Domain Image

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

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

The Heregild Tax

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

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

Leofric’s Challenge

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

Lady Godiva takes up the Challenge

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

Peeping Tom

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

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

Leofric Keeps His Promise

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

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

The Godiva Procession

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

Future Articles

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

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

The Legend Of Madelon And The Christmas Rose

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

Madelon and the Christmas Rose - Public Domain

Madelon and the Christmas Rose – Public Domain

The Christmas Rose

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

The Legend

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


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

Love And Devotion

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

The Magi Give Baby Jesus Wonderful Gifts

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

Madelon’s Tears

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

A Precious Gift Of Pure Blooms

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

The ancient pagan origins of Christmas – The festival of Saturnalia

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

Dice players – Author: WolfgangRieger – Public Domain Image

The Roman Festival of Saturnalia

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

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

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

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

Role reversal during Saturnalia

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

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

Dressing for Saturnalia

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

Giving presents during Saturnalia

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

The Lord of Misrule

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

The influence of Saturnalia on Christmas today

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


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

Saturnalia – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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

Natural Folklore: The Northern and Southern Lights

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights

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

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

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

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

The Fox-fires of Lapland

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

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

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

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

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

The ride of the Valkiries

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

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

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

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

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

Warriors battling in the skies

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

Eskimo beliefs

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

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

Spirits of animals

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

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

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

Everlasting love

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

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

The Enduring Appeal of Robin Hood

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

Public Domain Image

Medieval forest

A working class hero

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

Sherwood Forest

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

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

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

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

Robin of Loxley

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

Robin Hood and Little John by Louis Rhead Public Domain Image

The Merry Men

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

Robin’s enemies

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

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

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

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

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

The origin of the Robin Hood legends

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

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

Where was Robin based?

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

Was Robin Hood a real person?

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

Robin Hood as a forest spirit

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

Green Man from Southwell Minster Public Domain Image Author: MedievalRich

Robin Hood and the Green Man

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

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

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

The enduring appeal of Robin Hood

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

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

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


Robin Hood

Merry Men

World Wide Robin Hood Society

BBC Robin Hood and his Historical Context By Dr Mike Ibeji

The Enigma of the Green Man – Theories and Interpretations

Experience the Robin Hood Legend in Nottinghamshire, UK

Cheshire Folklore: The Legendary Floating Island of Redesmere



The Floating Island of Redesmere

Redesmere Lake is an artificial lake situated not far from Siddington in Cheshire.  The lake is about half a mile long and was originally constructed to feed water to the ornamental lakes of Capesthorne Hall.  A local legend that tells how there was once a floating island on the lake that was alleged to move around the lake though today it is not visible as such. Although the idea of a floating island may seem fantastic they are a natural phenomenon found in many parts of the world.

The name Redesmere is believed to mean reedy marsh or reedy pool and some say the island was made of reeds and peat and even said to have trees and bushes growing on it. It was eventually thought to have and eventually joined with the east bank.  Old maps do show an island in the lake which according to tradition was said to float,  though it may have been simply floating upon the surface being more a  stationary feature than a mobile one. Whatever the truth of the floating island may be it plays an important part in a legend that is attached to Redesmere and a version of that story is presented here.

Sir Reginald

There was once a bold  and loyal knight named Sir Reginald who had fought bravely and ferociously for King Henry V and distinguished himself at the Battle of Agincourt.  It is said he always fought hard, asking for no quarter and gave none in return.  His pennant could be seen fluttering wherever the fighting was the hardest and the fiercest.   His deeds upon the battlefield were held in high esteem and he was a man of good and impeccable character, a stalwart friend, and a fierce enemy.   Indeed, he may well be seen as a good and honest knight and the best of his order,  yet he had a flaw in his character that was often troublesome.  You see, he had a terrible quick temper which when things were not going his way would come to the fore leading him to make rash decisions he would later regret.  Then, he was prone to sulking alone and brooding upon what might have been.  Still, despite these faults, he was always a man of his word, even though it may have been too hastily given.

The Fair Lady Isabel

In a cottage quite near to Redesmere, there lived a very fair and beautiful lady whose name was Isabel.  For Sir Reginald, she was as lovely as sunlight and as mysterious as moonlight.  Indeed, all who knew her agreed her sweet and good-natured mien was a delight to behold.  Sadly, she lived a solitary life in virtual social isolation, her family and friends strangely absent.   Alas, for poor Sir Reginald for his heart was quite taken by her and he dreamed of marriage to her one day. Now there was a mystery as to why the fair Isabel lived alone in poverty in a humble cottage when she had been born of a noble line and was, in fact, the heiress of vast and valuable estates.

Sir Hugh

The answer to the mystery rests with another knight, though not so noble, whose name was Sir Hugh.  He had cheated Isabel out of her rightful inheritance and forced her to live in the lowly cottage near Redesmere.   Now, when Isabel told Sir Reginald of the secret of this mystery he was outraged.  As was his character and without forethought, he vowed vengeance and that he would reclaim her lands and rightful inheritance from the dastardly Sir Hugh.  He quickly gathered his men and attacked the stronghold of his enemy, but  unfortunately, even though he had the best and most noble of intentions, in his hot-tempered haste to right a wrong, he did not prepare properly and Sir Hugh soundly defeated him.

The Death of Sir Hugh

Although Sir Hugh bested Sir Reginald his victory was to prove to be short lived.  Not long after his victory, Sir Hugh faced a grimmer and more deadly enemy which none have ever defeated. It was at Christmas time while he was drinking and feasting and celebrating the festivities with all his men at arms and cronies.  Sir Death gatecrashed the party and  swiftly and unexpectedly struck Sir Hugh down as he downed a goblet of wine in one go.  All his friends and men were shocked at the suddenness of his demise and fled in fear. The former servants and guardians of Isabel’s felt empowered to at last claim for her what was rightfully hers and at last, she came into possession of her estates and inheritance.  Of course, they made sure they too were reinstated to their former status.


Now the restoration of Isabel to her rightful inheritance with estates and riches also brought her to the attention of many who began to notice just how beautiful and desirable and indeed, rich and unmarried she was.  Such is the way of the world  that she found friends and suitors appearing out of nowhere to tell her just how wonderful and gorgeous she was and how much they adored her.

One such suitor was one rather young and very handsome fellow of very dubious character who claimed he was some distant, long lost relative by the name of Fytton.  He made it his business to insinuated himself into her society and into her affections.  Somehow he forgot how he had previously distanced himself from her when she was naught but the socially isolated lady of the humble cottage by Redesmere.

Because of her isolation, Isabel had no friends to turn to for support or an older female relative who could be her mentor and guide her with unfamiliar or complicated matters such as those of the heart.  It is also fair to say that her sudden good fortune in coming into riches after so long in poverty went to her head a little.  Isabel had little experience of men and the way of the world and responded to the flattery of Fytton and his advances, but it is probably fair to say that talk about their relationship by others was certainly exaggerated out of all proportion.

Sir Reginald’s Oath

After his defeat by Sir Hugh,  Sir Reginald had taken to his castle and shut himself away in shame and embarrassment at having been bested by the man who had so badly cheated the woman he loved.   When he heard of how his foe had been vanquished by death he had cheered up.  Then he heard how Isabel had at last come into her inheritance and how this dishonorable young man, Fytton was wooing her his mood plummeted once again.

Although the accounts he heard were exaggerated he took to sulking angrily and acting in a completely  inappropriate and childish way.  His squire, who had served him faithfully and accompanied him at Agincourt, at last, took it upon himself to berate his master in the hope of jolting some sense into him and he was probably the only man who could have done this.  Even so, although Sir Reginald respected and liked his squire and did listen to him, his temper got the better of him and he rashly swore a solemn oath  saying,

“Until the island moved along
The bosom of the mere,
He would not look upon the face
Of Isabel de Vere.”
After uttering this vow Sir Reginald fell into sickness and took to his bed.  His condition quickly deteriorated and he fell into a state of unconsciousness.  Now, although Sir Reginald had been well and truly beaten by Sir Hugh his courage and devotion had not gone unnoticed by Isabel. Hearing about his sickness shocked her out of her own naive and foolish behavior and she rushed to be at his side.  With outstanding dedication and devotion, she nursed him back to health and he was delighted to discover that Isabel carried deep feeling for him.

As he his strength returned under the care of Isabel and slowly his memory returned he realized he had been very rash and foolish and one thing that troubled him greatly. Despite his many faults, Sir Reginald always did what he said he would do and the oath he had sworn, though done rashly and with little thought, now bound him and he explained the situation to Isabel.

It broke his heart as well as hers but he believed that he would have to distance himself from her or break his vow and so he asked her to leave.  Reluctantly she agreed. From then on he became a more thoughtful and gentler man and the legend says that when those in heaven who look down saw how he had changed they decided to help.

The Island Floats

A great storm blew across the sea sinking and wrecking many ships before it hit land.  It then ravaged across the land uprooting trees and blowing roofs off buildings in its path.  When it hit Redesmere the island was taken by the wind causing it to float across the mere to rest in a different position.  As soon as Sir Reginald heard about this wonder he quickly made haste to tell his true love of the floating island which released him from his rashly sworn oath,

“And there, although his tale of love
Was a wondrous tale to tell,
Yet must the good Sir Reginald
Have told it passing well;
For when ’twas o’er, the lover pressed
A willing maiden to his breast,
And lo I a fond kiss told the rest
To his fond Isabel.”

And there, I will leave the reader to decide for themselves of the truth of the legend of The Floating Island of Redesmere and perhaps to create their own ending for the bold Sir Reginald and the fair Lady Isabel.

© 26/10/2016 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 26th, 2016 zteve t evans

The Lost World of El Dorado


Public Domain

In search of El Dorado

In the 16th century when the Spanish Conquistadors conquered Mexico they began to hear rumors of a fabulous priest-king who was said to cover his body with gold dust. The conquistadors called him El-Dorado or the Gilded King, and the Golden One. The city he ruled over was said to be paved with gold and held unimaginable treasures.

The Zipa and the Zaque

When the conquistadors explored what is now Columbia they found the Muisca people who were organized into the Muisca Confederation. This confederation had two rulers; the Zipa and the Zaque. The Zipa ruled over the southern part of the confederation that was then called Bacatá and now known as Bogota and during the time of the Spanish conquest the Zipa held ascendency over the Zaque.

The Zaque ruled over the northern part of the confederation. These were positions of tremendous prestige, authority and power and they were held in great honor by the people. Elaborate ceremonies surrounded them and were part of their duties to participate in and perform.

The Zipa was held in such high esteem that even members of the Muisca nobility would not dare to look him in the face. Although the position was inherited it was not from a patrilineal line. The new ruler would come from the oldest son of the oldest sister of the previous Zipa so he would be the nephew. Although there were some exceptions to this and the people had some say in the matter, but usually only to give their consent to the successor at the ceremony on Lake Guatavita.

One of the most important tasks of the Zipa was to offer the gods gold and this was done with great ceremony at Lake Guatavita the sacred lake of the Muisca. In a ceremony on barge on Lake Guatavita the Zipa would be covered in mud and then gold dust sprinkled over him and then floated out to the middle of the lake. While his people watched from the shore he would dive in the water washing himself clean of mud and gold dust. His attendants then threw gold and silver objects and precious stones into the water for the gods and the people would roar their approval from the shore.  Read more Continue reading

Wilderness Tales: First Falling Thunder and the Little Bird

This is a retelling of a folktale from the Colorado foothills collected by  Charles M. Skinner called Riders of the Desert, published in his book Myths and Legends of Our Own Land  (1896).

Ta-in-ga-ro and Zecana

Ta-in-ga-ro, which means First Falling Thunder, built his lodge in the Colorado foothills among the towering sandstone columns.  Although he was brave in battle and swift in the chase he preferred to spend his time in the company of Zecana, which means Little Bird, who was his wife, rarely joining in with the forays of the men of his tribe.

He trapped beaver and hunted the wild sheep and would take them to a trading post on the Mexican border.  He would take his beloved Zecana along with him as he could not bear to be parted from her.  It was on one such outing when a Spanish trader saw Zecana and became enamored with her.  He dreamed about her day and night to the point where he became consumed by his own lust for her and craved for his fill of her body.  To satisfy his hunger he plotted to separate her from Ta-in-ga-ro who rarely left her side.

To achieve this aim while keeping his feelings for Zecana secret he persuaded Ta-in-ga-ro to undertake a journey to a distant mountain, promising him that Zecana could remain in safety and comfort at the trading post until he returned.  Ta-in-ga-ro was an honest man who would never knowingly hurt anyone and could not envisage that everyone was not like himself and  he agreed and began the journey.

A Bad Omen

Along the way, he stopped at a spring to rest and refresh himself.  He saw how the blue sky and clouds reflected in the cool clear waters and after he had drunk his fill he cast some beads and wampum into the water as was customary to thank the spirit.  Throwing his offering into the spring he was most shocked to see a bad omen manifest within the water.  Instead of reflecting the sky to his horror and fear he saw the agonized and anguished face of his beloved wife appear.

As fear washed over him he jumped to his feet and jumped upon his horse and galloped back to the trading post without stopping for rest or food.  When he arrived at he jumped from his horse and ran into the building looking for his wife.  Neither she or the Spaniard were there and not knowing what else to do he returned to his lodge.


It was a long and lonely journey and both he and his horse were exhausted, but he rode day and night and one morning as the dawn was breaking he saw the sun coming up over his lodge.  There to his absolute joy as entered his home was his beloved wife Zecana.  She was happily singing as she went about the care of the home just as she always had done.  Joyfully he greeted her holding arms out to embrace.  She turned her head to look at him and then casually returned to her singing.   He turned her towards him and looked into her eyes.  what had once been dark and mysterious pools that shone with inner beauty were now dead.  She looked at him through dead eyes and she did not know who he was.  Her mind and reason were  no longer there.

The Madness of Zecana

Ta-in-ga-ro cried out in shock and stepped back and then gently sat her down and cradled her lovingly in his arms.  Slowly with his gentleness and patience, he learned from her babble the terrible ordeal the Spaniard had inflicted upon her.  When she had finally managed to tell her story a fleeting look of remembrance came into her dark eyes and in her tortured mind she briefly saw her husband and remembered her love for him.  Then, pain came into her eyes and tears flooded down her face.  Suddenly, her hand snaked out and grasped the dagger he always carried at his side.  Stepping back she raised it with both hands and plunged it into her heart falling dead at her shocked husband’s feet.

Ta-in-ga-ro watched this all happen as if it was in slow motion and as the blade entered her heart he let out a cry and reached forward but was too late to stop her.  He stood frozen to the spot for hours overcome by the horror of his wife’s suicide.  Eventually, the strength of his forefathers came to his rescue and he knew she had passed on.  Setting his house in order he wrapped his wife’s body in buffalo skin and laid her in what he thought was a comfortable position for her to sleep, though he knew the body was not her and her soul had flown.   Then he lay down beside her and slept for his body was exhausted and his emotions numb.

The Spaniard

Two nights later the Spaniard lay sleeping in his bed at the trading post.  Ta-in-ga-ro had passed the guards unseen like a shadow and now stood over the sleeping man looking down upon him.  In the darkest hours the Spaniard awoke with a start by strange feeling as his mouth was gagged by his belt.  Although he tried he could not cry out and his teeth bit into leather.  He felt fear as a noose tightened around his throat and struggled to free himself but to no avail.  In seconds he found himself bound hand and foot and flung over someone’s shoulder.  Struggle though he did he could not break free and could not even make a sound as he was carried stealthily out of the house.

Ta-in-ga-ro placed him across a horse tying him to the beast’s body firmly.  He then wrapped an arrow in cotton and set it a light firing it into a nearby haystack to create a diversion.  While everyone was busy dousing the flaming haystack he mounted his own horse bound Spaniard into the desert concealed by the smoke.

Ta-in-ga-ro took his captive back to his home lodge where his dead wife lay.  Arriving back Ta-in-ga-ro he ungagged him and loosened his bonds enough for him to eat.  The Spaniard ate and when he had finished Ta-in-ga-ro led a horse he had placed a wooden saddle upon to the door way.  He then cut off the clothes of the Spaniard  and placed him upon the horse ignoring his terrified pleas to stop.  Ta-in-ga-ro then tied the man firmly to the horse.  He then went inside and carried out his dead wife and lifted her corpse upon the horse so that she sat face to face with the Spaniard.  He then freed the burdened  horse  and mounting his own set it free in into the desert.  The horse wandered off carrying the Spaniard and the corpse.  The more the Spaniard struggled the closer his face came to the face of the dead woman.

Into the Desert

The horse carried them both further into the desert.  The Spaniard slipped in and out of consciousness and each came time came to face to face with his victim.  Slowly and surely the horse continued ever deeper into the endless desert.  In the fierceness of the desert heat, the Spaniard sweat profusely and his bonds cut him into his skin and blood dripped from him.  At night the cold desert air froze his bones and although he nodded into sleep each time he did Ta-in-ga-ro yelled at him.  With a jolt, he would awaken to face the corpse whose dead eyes stared into his own.  And so this living nightmare  continued and occasionally, Ta-in-ga-ro gave him a mouth full ,of water to keep him alive but never any food and the Spaniard’s hunger grew.  This nightmare continued for many days and all the time the Spaniard sat face to face with the corpse of Zecana.  He had eaten nothing for days and hunger gnawed at him as he looked into the dead of eyes of the woman he had once so hungered for.

The Madman and the Corpse

At last the Spaniard could bear the hunger no longer and though he hated what he did he sank his teeth into the face of the woman who he had so lusted after.  Ta-in-ga-ro looked on grimly each time hunger took the Spaniard but still continued taking them further and further into the desert.  At last, he heard the Spaniard sobbing and gibbering and knew that madness had come upon him.  Only then did he rein in his own horse and watch as the horse bearing the babbling Spaniard and the corpse wandered deeper into the desert.  Not until he had seen them disappear into the wilderness did he turn his own horse around and ride off.  He never went home but went to join Zecana.

The madman and the corpse were carried into the wilderness that is the  abode of lost and wandering souls.    Few people willingly go to that barren and empty wasteland and fewer return but those who do have an eerie tale to tell.  They say when the little bird stops singing and the first falling thunder is heard the phantom riders appear.  The ghost of the babbling madman staring into the dead eyes of  the woman that he had so hungered for doomed to forever feast upon her flesh on an endless journey through the wilderness.

© 12/10/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright October 12th, zteve t evans


The Monster Fish of Bomere Pool, Shropshire

Bomere Pool

Bomere Pool is situated in the English county of Shropshire about 4.7 miles (7.5 km) south of Shrewsbury between Condover and Bayston Hill.  The pool has several legends attached to it and presented here is a version of a tale that tells how a monster fish acquired the sword of Wild Eadric, an Anglo-Saxon war leader who had fought against the Norman Conquest of Britain.

The Fish and the Sword

The story tells how the squire of Condover was out with his friends in a boat on Bomere   Pool enjoying a day of fishing.  One of them hooked an enormous fish and it took the help of all of the party to pull it into the boat.  The squire and his friends were astounded by the sheer size of the fish and a heated discussion arose concerning the girth of the monster.  A wager was then placed betting that the fish was bigger around the waist than the squire.  In a bid to compare the diameter of the fish to himself the squire took off his belt and with a lot of squeezing managed to fasten it around the girth of the fish.

This caused the huge creature some discomfort and it began to flap about and struggle and managed to flip itself out of the boat and back into the water still wearing the squire’s belt and sword and swam away.  Those who fish the pool say that if the giant fish was ever hooked it would draw the sword and cut itself free before it could be netted.   Legend says that it was once netted but drew the sword and cut the net to pieces and escaped.

A net was made of iron links and the fish was caught and after a struggle brought to the land.  However, once on land, the fish drew the sword and cut itself free slipping back into the pool.  This frightened the fishermen so much no other attempts were made at catching it.  Every now and then it was hooked but it quickly drew the sword and cut itself free.  Sometimes it was seen lurking in the shallows near the banks with the sword and belt still firmly attached to it.

Wild Eadric

Legend tells that there will come a day when the fish will willingly give the sword up but only to the true heir of Condover Hall.  The sword is said to be none other than the sword of Wild Eadric who fought against King William the Conqueror for many years.  He was said to have been born at Condover Hall and was the true heir to the hall and its land and only he, or his descendant, could claim the sword.  The story tells that he was defrauded out of his inheritance and ever since the hall had been unlucky to its owners.  The monster fish was waiting dutifully for the return of the true heir to return the sword to its rightful owner.

© 05/10/2016 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 5th, 2016 zteve t evans


Superstition Mountain Tales: Pale Faced Lightning

Superstition Mountain is a mountain in the Superstitions Mountains of Arizona, USA and a place of many myths and legends of the Native American and local people  One Native American legend tells how a tribe of Pueblo dwarfs settled in the area establishing settlements and growing crops and breeding flocks of animals.


Image by Scotto Bear – CC BY-SA 2.0

The Pueblo Dwarfs

They practiced their own religion in their own way which was based on the sun. Although these people were small in stature being only on average four feet tall, they were very intelligent and as is often the case with intelligent people, they were peace loving.  They were rumored to possess a great treasure beyond belief.

Being small in stature other tribes sometimes sought to rob and bully them.  The dwarves were not easy victims.  They had learned how to make strong potions and incantations that would usually frighten off their enemies without the need for bloodshed.  Once these were invoked all that was usually needed was a show of arms to discourage fighting.

One day they learned that their enemies were preparing a massive attack on them. Their chief had called together all the braves of his people and was leading them towards Superstition Mountain determined to wipe out the peace loving dwarfs and take all their flocks but what they really wanted was to steal their great treasure.

Pale-faced Woman

The dwarfs hid their flocks of sheep in hidden valleys and built walls and fortifications in strategic places that guarded the passes to their land and made plans for their self-defense.  All of these plans and works were supervised and directed by a woman who was not of their race but who had come among them from an unknown land.  This woman was tall, with golden hair and a pale face and she exuded an air of command.  Although she was not of their kind the Pueblo dwarfs held her in awe and reverence following her every word and treasuring her.

She was also known to their enemies.  They justified the attack by saying they had brought her from the waters of the rising sun and their chief had fallen in love with her and had wanted to marry her.  In their minds, they believed she should have seen this as a great honor and agreed to the marriage.  The fact was she did not love him and had refused marriage and fled rather than be taken by force.

She had wandered in the wilderness until she found the Pueblo dwarfs who had taken her in.  In return, she taught them how animal husbandry and how to plant seeds, build houses and she had healed many of their sick.  The dwarfs would have given their enemies all their flocks in exchange for her but she would not let them.  Instead, she told them she would stand and fight and urged them to escape.  The dwarfs refused to leave without her and told her they would defend her to the death so she devised a plan of defense.

Superstition Mountain

The dwarfs met the invaders on the borders but instead of fighting retreated across the land drawing them towards Superstition Mountain.  Their enemy followed thinking they were afraid that all the time they led them on to the mountain.  Eventually, the enemy reached Superstition Mountain and  the dwarfs took up the defensive positions they had prepared.  The enemy chief marshaled his braves on the lower slopes ready for all out attack.

On a nearby hill other tribes also gathered to watch the attack looking for an opportunity to take advantage of the situation whichever way the pending battle should fall.  They knew that while the battle was raging they had the opportunity to sneak behind the dwarfs and steal their flocks though what they really wanted was their treasure.  Whichever way the battle went they intended to rob the exhausted survivors. Like vultures waiting for the death of their victim, they bided their time.

The Attack

The invading chief gave the order for the attack to begin and wave after wave of braves ran up the slopes to attack the defensive walls of the Pueblo dwarfs. The Pueblo dwarfs stood ready behind their defenses. The walls had been built behind a pool of water and now the pale-faced woman stood tall and commanding like a queen in front of the pool calmly waiting for the enemy to arrive.  Her adopted people looked on in love and admiration ready to fight to the death for her.  As the enemy came up the slope they saw her standing proud and impassive and they were too were filled with admiration and desire.  They began shouting fiercely and threateningly and running towards her with outstretched arms.

Pale Faced Lightning

The pale-faced woman stood tall and erect and calmly watched their frenzied attack.  As they approached ready to take her she quickly stooped down, picked up a clay jar and emptied its contents into the pool and strode ran back behind the defensive walls to join the dwarfs.   As soon as she joined her people on the walls from the rocks and crevices all around there burst red hot sparks and tongues of fire that killed many of the attacking braves instantly. Lightning struck from the skies killing many others while other perished as they fell off the cliffs as they fled in their panic.

The pale-faced woman stood calmly and stately among her people and watched impassively as her enemies were routed without so much as an arrow being shot. From this day on she was known as Pale Faced Lightning.  The watchers in the nearby hills also looked on and were appalled and terror-stricken at what they saw.  The lust for treasure though will burn the hearts of the unworthy and a few years later they mustered the courage to attempt to attack the Pueblo dwarfs.  Pale Faced Lightning routed them as she had previously routed her enemies but with greater loss of life.  After that no foe dared to threaten the Pueblo dwarfs but just as they had arrived out of nowhere so they left taking their treasure with them.

Some say they their leader dreamed a dream of hordes of people moving out of the eastern lands into the west bring death and misery to the First Peoples.  Some say she led the Pueblo dwarfs to a secret place on Superstition Mountain where they live to this day in peace and happiness ruled over by their treasure, their Pale Faced Lightning.

© 27/09/2016 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright September 27th, 2016 zteve t evans

Bisclavret The Werewolf And The Beastliness of People


Bisclavret (The Werewolf), is a Breton lai, by a medieval female writer and poet known as Marie de France.  It is one of twelve narrative poems known as The lais of Marie de France. Many of the lais were derived from Breton folklore and legends with Celtic influences and elements of the supernatural all interwoven together. She claimed the lais were based on ballads she had heard from troubadours and minstrels.

In the poem translated Judith P. Shoaf, Marie explains that  Garwalf is the Norman  name for a werewolf and Bisclavret, the Breton name.  However, Bisclavret, although still a werewolf, is significantly different from the Garwolf, displaying more restrained and disciplined behavior than the wild savagery  usually associated with such beasts. (1)

Marie’s lais tell stories that move in and out of the supernatural and real world exploring complex emotions and morals that wreak havoc in the human condition.  The lai of Bisclavret tells of a shape-shifting baron whose perfect world is marred by what he deems to be a terrible and shameful affliction.  To hide his shame and in a sense to protect his own humanity from the perceptions of others, he keeps this a secret. This work presents a discussion of what it means to be human and then provides a version of the story concluding with a discussion on the humanity and “beastliness” shown by the main characters.

Human or Beast?

The shifting of human to beast amid the dark, tangled forest explores some of our primal fears, challenging our concept of humanity.  Is it just the clothing we wear and the adornments, the accessories, and jewelry and the paraphernalia that we think give us status and make us attractive and carry with us that make us human?  Or is it our behavior, our manners, the way we conduct ourselves and the way we treat and think of other people that make us human or worthy of love, respect, and acceptance?

Marie de France lived in medieval times in medieval society with medieval culture and philosophy. Her lais utilize legends and folklore  of her time skilfully woven into narrative poems that tell stories that explore and challenge our understanding of the human condition and reflect the ethos of her times.  But that world of Marie has passed and we now live in the modern world with all its trappings, culture, and philosophy.  What can we make of Bisclavret (The Werewolf) by Marie de France today?

The Story of Bisclavret



There was once a most honorable and cultured baron who lived in Brittany many, many, years ago.  He was a great favorite of the king and was great friends with all the other barons and lords of the land and they all held him in high esteem.  He had a most beautiful wife who he loved dearly and she also loved him dearly.  All, in all he would seem to be living a perfectly happy and fulfilling life but unbeknown to anyone else he had a most terrible secret.

Although she was very happy with her husband and her marriage his wife had one small concern about him that she did not understand and it worried her greatly.  For three days in every single week, he would leave home and disappear completely from the household and no one knew his whereabouts or what he was doing.  To begin with, she just accepted it as being part of their life together thinking he must have important business somewhere else, after all, he was  baron with land and responsibilities.  As time passed these absences began to worry her greatly thinking maybe he was seeing another woman.  At last, she decided she must ask him where he went to and what he did.

One day after he had returned from one such outing she decided she could bear it no longer and confronted him.  “I have something that is preying on my and I need to ask you something but I do not want to make you angry.  It is for this that I am reluctant to ask,” she said.  He looked at her lovingly and took her in his arms kissing her tenderly.   “Make any request of me that you desire and surely if it is in my power to grant then I will grant it. How could I ever be angry with you?”

“I ask that you place your trust in my love for you and  I beg you to tell me where it is you go  during the days you spend away from me.  I fear there is some trouble you are in and my mind is taken up with worrying about you when you are gone!  Have you another woman you are seeing? Please, please tell me where you go and what you do – I cannot bear it when you are gone for so long, please will you not tell me?”  She looked at him with imploring eyes as tears ran down her cheeks.

He was shocked and pushed his wife away from him.  “For the love of God do not ask of me to reveal this to you. It is a burden I alone must bear and no one can help me.  No good can come of me telling you this it would only cause evil and destroy your love for me bringing eternal damnation and sorrow to me. Do not ask what you do not understand!”

“ It is a cruel joke – do not joke with me I mean what I say in all seriousness. Unless I know where you go and what you do I can never again have peace of mind until I know!” she cried.

He was greatly discomforted by this and was torn between keeping the secret from her or revealing all.  He decided he could not tell her and that she would just have to be satisfied with that. His good wife, however, was a determined woman and did not give in easily. Every time he returned from one of his absences she would approach him with tears in her eyes and beg he tell her where he had been.  Again and again, she begged of him to lay his trust in her love for him and tell her.  At last one day, he returned home and she was waiting for him and again begged him, “My husband please tell me where you have been, please trust my love for you.  Surely you are seeing another woman!”

This time the baron worn down by her persistence and thinking that he could indeed trust her love told her to sit down and prepare herself for a great shock and looked into her eyes and said,“The reason I have to be away for three days every week is because I have to go deep into the forest where nobody goes.  I take my clothes and off run naked.  I kill and eat wild animals and plants and go like a beast in the woods where no one can find me.  I am Bisclavret!”

And as she looked into his dark eyes she saw herself reflected in his eyes and as she listened his good wife turned white with horror and shock as he spoke and sat staring aghast at him.  She would have preferred him to tell her he had taken a lover than this for she knew as all Bretons knew that Bisclavret was the werewolf.  Eventually, she recovered herself and became determined to learn the full truth no matter how terrible about his fearful transformation.

“My husband I know I cannot conceal from you the shock and horror I feel but you know I have never done anything to hurt you and never done anything to make you lose your love and trust in me.  Therefore, I implore you to tell me everything there is to know.  Where do you keep your human raiment when you transform into a werewolf?”

“Do not ask! Do not ask this question!  I can never reveal the place I hide my raiment!  If I am seen taking it off, or if I lose it I must forever remain Bisclavret!  Never could I ever become a man again until it is returned – never! Please do not ask this of me!” he replied shaking and turning white.

His wife hung her head and turned away distraught, “So you do not love me or trust me enough to tell me this secret.  I am your loving wife and what have I ever done to earn such distrust? You no longer trust me, no longer love me?” she cried. “Alas, alas that I have forfeited your confidence! Oh, that I should live to see such a day!” and she fell to weeping bitterly.  The baron looked at his weeping wife with love in his eyes and began to feel ashamed at what he had said.

At last, to ease his wife’s misery, he sat his her down beside him and told her everything. She sat and listened quietly and intently but avoiding his eyes as he revealed the full horror of transformation he went through and the secret place he hid his raiment.  When he had finished he turned and left her but as he was leaving he could not see the fearful look in her eyes as he departed.  Now he had told her his terrible secret his wife’s love for him had died.  She was now terrified of him and began to think of a way to release herself from this cursed husband.  The terrifying thought struck her that he might transform one night while they lay together and as well as fearful she was also revolted at the thought of lying with such a strange unnatural man or was he a beast?

At length, as she pondered about how she had come to this terrible situation she remembered a handsome Knight from her past who had once been her suitor.  He had pleaded for her hand in marriage telling her he loved her more than anything and would do anything to please her.  She had rejected him to marry the baron and he had been heartbroken.

So she went to him and apologized for her past rejection and promised him faithfully if he would help her she would give him her body and soul.  She looked deep into his eyes and told him all about her husband and his terrifying affliction and begged his help.  Realising he still wanted her as he looked into her eyes he readily agreed to help her. That night she gave him her body.  The next day she took him and showed him where Bisclavret hid his raiment when the transformation took him and begged him to steal it and bring it to her.

And so the day came when the baron went off into the forest alone to endure his lonely transformation as he usually did but this time he never returned. His wife, putting on an act of concern, called on their friends and neighbors asking if they had seen him or knew of his whereabout but none did.  Search parties were sent out but no trace of the baron could they find.  They searched for a year and a day and then finding no trace of him abandoned the search.  The lady went into mourning and after an appropriate period married the knight.

And the wheel turned, months passed and the King happened to be hunting in the forest not too far from the lost baron’s castle.  His hounds picked up a strong scent and began baying and yelping and so the King ordered that they should be unleashed.  They sprang upon the trail and were soon locked in a crazed pursuit of some wild beast.  The King or his huntsmen had no idea of the manner of beast his dogs were in pursuit of but followed on behind for many hours.  Eventually, the dogs cornered their quarry and were about to tear it to pieces when a very strange thing happened.

The exhausted beast turned to face the baying, snarling, pack and seeing the King ran to his horse and knelt before it clasping his great paws in supplication and prayer. He looked with pleading eyes into those of the King and its great maw moved as if struggling to speak but no words came out.  The King was astounded.  As he saw the beast in supplication before him and looked into its dark eyes his heart was touched for there was something familiar about the beast and yet unfamiliar and the sight of it making  such a human gesture made him curious.

“Huntsmen, leash your dogs!” he cried, “for this is a beast I have never seen the like of before and will not kill such a wondrous thing.  We will take it back to the palace alive and learn about it!”

So the dogs were leashed and the King and his party returned to the palace with the forest beast following tamely behind the King.

When they returned to the Court the beast was a source of fascination for one and all.  It was friendly and playful and had the most gentle and benign nature.  It followed the King everywhere he went and was like a great friendly playful dog with him.  The King for his part grew to love the beast and would not be parted with it and it would sleep in the King’s chamber at the foot of his bed. A more remarkable beast the Court had never seen or heard of.

The beast turns


The day came when the King held a great feast and all of his liege lords from all of his dominions attended and among them came the knight who was now the husband of Bisclavret’s former wife.  As soon as he saw his wife’s husband Bisclavret turned from a gentle docile creature into a raging beast and launched a savage attack on him. Fortunately for the knight, the King intervened and ordered Bisclavret to stop.  Reluctantly he obeyed ending the attack and ran behind the King.

Bisclavret made two further attempts that evening to attack the knight requiring the King’s intervention on both occasions.  The King and all the of his courtiers were shocked and puzzled at Bisclavret’s behavior as had only ever seen him like a big playful, friendly dog.   Nobody could understand the sudden change and some assumed that the knight had done something that had threatened Bisclavret but none knew or could say what.  Things calmed down and the evening wore on and the Knight was the first to leave the feast.

Some time later the King went hunting again in the same part of the forest where he had first encountered Bisclavret, taking him with him as he had grown exceedingly fond of the strange creature.  As the evening drew in the King decided they would stay at one of his hunting lodges nearby for the night.   Hearing of the King’s presence not far from her home Bisclavret’s former wife decided she would take a present for the King.

When she was shown into the King’s chamber immediately he saw her Bisclavret changed  from a gentle docile creature into a savage beast.  Leaping upon her he bit her nose off completely mutilating her beautiful face permanently.    If the King and his servants had not intervened he would undoubtedly have torn her to pieces.

Although the King loved Bisclavret and did not understand the change in him he could not allow such savagery to  continue and would have had him put to death. Fortunately one of his wise councilors spoke up, “Wait for surely  something in the past has happened to it that has caused it to react in such a savage manner.  Why is it that the very sight of  these two – this husband and his wife – has caused this usual affectionate and gentle creature to become a raging, savage beast?   Let these two be  brought before you to explain why should it bear them such hatred.  The woman was once the wife of one of your best and loyal barons.  Someone you were greatly fond of who has not been seen, seeming to have disappeared from the face of the earth.  Have them brought before you that you may question them of their knowledge of this matter honestly.”

The King listened to his counselor and thought about what he said.  He could not understand why the creature should have reacted so savagely and he was genuinely very fond of it and did not want it killed unjustly.  “Bring them to me and I will question them as you suggest and we will see what they have to say.”

So the two were brought before him and he questioned them long and hard and they continuously denied any knowledge of a reason why the creature should attack them.   But the King was no fool and as he continued to probe them with questions he could see they were holding something back.  Nevertheless, he persisted determined to get to the truth and at last the woman confessed.

She told the King about her first husband who became Bisclavret and how she had become terrified  and revolted by the thought of him possibly transforming while he lay with her.  Then she told him how she had persuaded Bisclavret  to reveal the secret place where he hid his human raiment when the transformation took him. She confessed she had approached her former suitor to beg his help in stealing the raiment so that he could never again return to human form while she had them and told them that the reward for his help was his marriage to her.   Tearfully she told the King that this Bisclavret was certainly her former husband the baron who had been his great friend.

At last, the King understood and now demanded she provides the raiment that had been stolen and be returned that Bisclavret may dress  in them and once again become human.   The hiding place of the raiment was revealed and they were brought and laid before Bisclavret.  To everyone’s surprise, the beast completely ignored them as if they did not exist.

Once again it was the King’s wise councilor who spoke saying, “Can it be wondered at that he refuses to put them on in front of everyone here.  He cannot surely return as a man without feeling great shame and embarrassment at what he has endured.  Surely we cannot ask him to do this in front of us and I counsel you, Sire, that he be taken to your private rooms where he may put on his human form in his own time, in privacy, away from all eyes.”

The King agreed and took Bisclavret to his private room and left him alone.  He later returned with two of his lords to see how Bisclavret was doing.  On entering the room found him returned to the man who he had loved so much and sleeping soundly in his bed.

The King was overjoyed to have his friend back and roused him from his sleep.  When the baron was ready he told his friend the King all about his affliction, the great shame he felt and all that had happened to him.  The king was delighted to have him back and returned to him all that had been taken from him and gave him much more besides.  As for the woman who betrayed him and her lover they were banished forever from his realm and it was said that many of the females in their family line thereafter were born without a nose and so ended the tale of Bisclavret.

Humanity and Beastliness

There are many different interpretations of the story by many different people.   Some are concerned that it paints women in a poor light even accusing the author, Marie de France, of hating women.   Nevertheless, there are many other interpretations and many see it as addressing the suppression of the beast within the human being and it is not certain that humans come out of it looking too good.

It is worth noting the twists that each of the main characters performs which bring out their “beastly” side.  The wife originally portrayed as beautiful  and loving reveals the “beast” in her by betraying the baron.  Although it is understandable to feel fear and be revolted by his condition she does not attempt to come to terms with the “beastly” side of her husband.  Instead, she sells herself by persuading the knight to steal her husband’s clothes knowing this would trap him in the werewolf form, promising her body and marriage in return.  By accepting the proposal and carrying it out he allows his “beastly” nature to get the better of him while condemning the baron  to remain Bisclavret running naked and beast-like in the forest .

The good King is taken very much by the humanity shown by Bisclavret in his wolf form and becomes fond of him breaking down the barrier between beast and human.  The wise counselor although saving Bisclavret and urging the King to put faith in him lets his beastly side come to the fore by advocating torture to Bisclavret’s ex-wife.  The good King by assenting to this allows the beast in himself to come out.  But it is the terrible act of vengeance, the violent disfiguring of his ex-wife and generations of females in her line to come after Bisclavret bites off her nose that emphasize the difficulty of keeping the inner beast in check.  This, surely, is a terrible act of vengeance even though he had suffered so and after he had displayed such humanity in his wolf form.

The days of Marie de France are long gone and here we are in the modern world and as we look around us we may wonder if there is indeed hope.  Can we keep the beast within hidden and in check by fine clothing and good manners and  behavior and all the trappings of the modern digital world, or is it all an act that will eventually reveal itself when the opportunity arises?

What do you think?

© 21/09/2016 zteve t evans

Reference and Attributions

Copyright September 21st, 2016 zteve t evans

Azorean Legends: The Origin of the Lagoon of the Seven Cities



Lagoon of the Seven Cities – Image by Abspires40 – CC BY 2.0

On the island of São Miguel in the archipelago of the Azores there are two lakes known as the Lagoon of the Seven Cities, or Lagoa das Sete Cidades,  in Portuguese,  They are an important source of fresh water and the largest body of water on the islands.  These two lakes are situated in the crater of a dormant volcano and are connected to each other by a natural narrow channel that today has a bridge over it.  Despite the connection, the twin lakes are ecologically different and a natural feature of the island landscape that have evolved a number of myths and legends to explain their origin.

Princess Antilia

A local legend tells that there was once a bad-tempered King whose wife had died and had been left to bring up his daughter named Antilia alone.  The King had greatly loved her mother and he doted upon his daughter.  When his wife had died he had almost exclusively taken on the care and upbringing of his daughter aided only by an elderly nurse.  He loved his daughter dearly and she was the source of all his pleasure and the pride and joy of his life and he wanted to keep her all for himself and kept her separate from other children and people.  Sadly, he would not let her speak or play with anyone else but him, or her nurse, who thought it a shame she could not mix and play with other children her own age.

Nevertheless, years passed by as years will do and the young princess grew into a beautiful young woman.  As a beautiful young woman, Antilia attracted the attention of many handsome young men, as beautiful young women will do.  Her father was jealous of their interest towards his daughter and seeking to keep her solely for himself banned her entirely from leaving the limits of his castle and grounds.  Antilia was disappointed with this ban because she was at an age when she wanted to be out and about exploring the world and making friends with young men and women of her own age.

Every day after his dinner at midday the King would fall asleep and spend rest of the afternoon snoring until evening came and it was time for tea. Every now and then, with the help of her old nurse, Antilia would escape the confines of the castle and its grounds and go and explore the towns and villages that surrounded the castle.  She loved these times of escape and each one seemed like an exciting adventure to her.

The Shepherd on the Hill

One day while she was venturing out along the country lanes she heard the most wonderful music and she followed the sound to see who was making it.  On a small hill, she discovered a young shepherd about her own age sat playing a flute.  Not wanting to disturb the music and perhaps because she was just a tiny bit shy of the handsome young man she hid behind a bush to listen to him play.  For many weeks after Antilia would continue to sneak out of the castle, but now she always made her way to the hill to hear the young man play upon his flute.  There she would hide in the bushes and listen enchanted to the wonderful music he made.

One day he caught her as she hid behind the bush and she feared he would be angry.  Instead, the young man had fallen head over heels in love with her at first sight and he told her so and they became friends and lovers.  From then on whenever Antilia escaped from the castle she made her way to the hill where the shepherd was waiting for her.  There he would play his flute and they would laugh and chat happily together.  In that happy place, they blossomed in the company of each other and one day the shepherd proposed marriage and she readily agreed.

The next day with the help of the old nurse, Antilia escaped the castle early in the morning and met up with her lover.  Together they went to the castle door and knocked loudly upon it.  A servant answered and when he saw who was there quickly went to fetch the King.  The King came to the door to see what was going on and found his beloved Antilia stood blushing and holding hands with a young man.  As the King glowered at him the young man summoned up his courage and nervously, but politely, asked him for his daughter’s hand in marriage.

The face of the glowering King turned red and then purple with rage pulling his daughter indoors and angrily ordering the young man off the castle grounds while slamming the door.  Once inside he berated Antilia and strictly forbade her ever to see or talk to him again threatening terrible retribution if she disobeyed.  Heartbroken, Antilia sobbed all through the rest of the day and all through the night.  In the morning the old nurse went to her and Antilia begged her to help her see her lover for one last time.  Together they went to the King and begged that Antilia may have one last meeting with her love to say goodbye.  After much begging and pleading the King reluctantly agreed.

River of Tears

The heartbroken couple met for the last time on the hill where she had found him playing his flute.  They sat down together and cried two rivers of bitter tears.  The rivers flowed down the hill and formed two beautiful lakes which reached out and connected with each other.  The tears from the green eyes of Princess Antilia formed a green lake and the tears from the blue eyes of her lover formed a blue lake.  The two lakes were united by a narrow channel of water, and are today known as Lagoon of the Seven Cities, or Lagoa das Sete Cidades and although the two lovers could not be together on earth their tears remained together so the world would not forget them.

© 21/09/2016 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright September 21st, 2016 zteve t evans