The Arthurian Realm: The Abductions of Guinevere

Coveting Guinevere

The theme of the abduction of Queen Guinevere runs throughout Arthurian tradition and is taken up by numerous medieval writers.  Caradoc of Llancarfan mentions it in his version of the Life of Gildas, as does Geoffrey of Monmouth, in Historia Regum Brittaniae, (History of the Kings of Britain).  The theme is also taken up by medieval French poets Chrétien de Troyes and Robert de Boron, and in the work of Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur.   Here we look in brief at various versions of the abduction and then discuss ideas about how they may have been influenced by pagan elements and may be distant echoes of the dramas of ancient gods and goddesses before the arrival of Christianity.

Caradoc of Llancarfan

Probably one of the earliest examples of the abduction of Guinevere comes from The Life of Gildas, By Caradoc of Llancarfan (c.1130-1150).  Guinevere’s abductor is the evil King Melwas of the Summer Country, or Somerset. He may have been an early prototype for Chrétien de Troyes Méléagant, and Malory’s Meliagrance.   In this story Guinevere is abducted and violated and Arthur, who is referred to as a tyrant, spends an entire year seeking her out.  Finally learning she was being in held by King Melwas in Glastonia, or Glastonbury. He raises a vast army intending to free his wife but as the two sides were about to clash, the cleric, Gildas and the clergy step between them. Gildas persuaded the two kings to parley and negotiated that Guinevere be returned to Arthur in peace and goodwill preventing a bloody battle to free her.

Geoffrey of Monmouth

Geoffrey of Monmouth names Mordred, Arthur’s nephew and illegitimate son, as the villain who attempts to covet  Guinevere. Arthur had left Britain in Mordred’s stewardship while he went off fighting the Procurator of Rome, Lucius Hiberius, leaving Guinevere at home.   While he was out of the country with most of his army, Mordred seduced Guinevere and claimed the crown from Arthur forcing him to return to Britain and fight.  This culminated in the catastrophic Battle of Camlann where Mordred was killed and the badly wounded Arthur taken across the sea to Avalon to recover and the end of the Arthurian realm.

Chrétien de Troyes

In Lancelot, Le Chevalier de la Charrette, also known as Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, by Chrétien de Troyes, Lancelot is the hero of the story who saves Guinevere from the Méléagant, the evil son of King Bagdemagus.  In this story he races to the rescue of Guinevere having a series of adventures along the way. These include having to suffer the indignity, for a knight, of riding in a horse and cart driven by a dwarf that was carrying criminals to their execution.  He then had to scramble over a sword bridge whose edge was turned upright and razor sharp. Although sustaining serious wounds crossing the bridge he was still ready to combat Méléagant, but Guinevere at the request of King Bagdemagus stopped the fight.

Later he was forced to fight Méléagant after the  badly wounded Sir Kay was accused of raping Guinevere while she slept.  Sir Kay was too bad wounded and had no strength available for such exertions and had been wrongly accused.  Blood had been found on her sheets and because he was laid recuperating in the same room as her, he was blamed.  In fact the blood was from Lancelot who had kept an illicit tryst with the queen and slept with her. Lancelot, knowing, but not admitting the truth, stepped in to fight and clear Sir Kay who was too weak to defend himself.

Malory’s, Le Morte d’Arthur

In Malory’s, Le Morte d’Arthur,  wehn the month of May came, Guinevere decided she would participate in the age old tradition of a-Maying in the woods and fields of Westminster.  Therefore, she set off with a party of ladies-in-waiting, along with servants and ten lightly armed Knights, who she insists wear all wear green. Sir Meliagrance, a name probably derived from the Méléagant in Chrétien de Troyes work,  had long lusted after the queen and with 160 men-at-arms attacked the small company. Although her knights fight valiantly they are lightly armed and hopelessly outnumbered. To prevent their slaying she agreed to surrender provided they are spared and remain by her side.  Meliagrance agrees but she manages to send a messenger boy to Lancelot telling of her abduction and requesting his aid.

On hearing the news Lancelot immediately set off in pursuit.  Meliagrance, realising he would follow, set a trap for him and archers killed his horse.  Lancelot was forced to hijack a horse and cart carrying wood for the fires of Meliagrance’s castle.  From this he was given the name, Knight of the Cart. On arrival at the castle gates he shout for Meliagrance demanding he come down and face him.  On learning Lancelot is at his gates Meliagrance begs Guinevere her forgiveness for his behaviour and begs that she protect him from the enraged knight.  She agrees and persuades Lancelot to put his sword away. Lancelot agrees and she leads him to the chamber where the ten knights are kept.

They are both so glad to see each other they agree on a secret midnight tryst. Lancelot appears at her window at midnight and Guinevere tells him she would prefer it if he was inside with her.  Although the window is barred Lancelot pulls the bars out cutting himself in the process and climbs in through the window. The two slept together that night and Lancelot stole away before Sunrise, replacing the bars of the window as he left.

The next morning Meliagrance seeing blood on the sheets of Guinevere’s bed accuses her of sleeping with one, or more, of her wounded knights.  Lancelot, without revealing the truth, challenges Meliagrance to a fight to clear the queen’s name. Meliagrance brings a charge of treason against Guinevere believing she had slept with one or more of the knights.  Although innocent of this accusation, Guinevere had slept with Lancelot which is not revealed to him, but he was not one of the individuals accused. The case is brought before King Arthur and he reluctantly agrees she must be burnt at the stake unless Lancelot proves her innocence by defeating Meliagrance. In the resulting duel Lancelot slays Meliagrance proving her innocence of the charges brought against her and freeing her.

Mordred’s Attempted Abduction

In Le Morte d’Arthur, Mordred, Arthur’s illegitimate son and nephew by his sister Morgause, covets Guinevere, but does not quite manage to abduct her.  Mordred lied to Guinevere telling her4 Arthur had been killed by Lancelot and claimed the throne for himself intending to marry her. Guinevere persuaded Mordred to  allow her to go to London so she could procure all the things a wedding needed but instead locked herself in the Tower of London with her entourage.  Although Mordred tried to persuade her to come out his efforts were cut short by the news that Arthur had arrived back in Britain with his army.  Consequently, he was forced to leave Guinevere and confront Arthur, resulting in his own death and Arthur being severely wounded and taken to Avalon.

Gods of the Round Table

Some scholars of Arthurian legend and romance see many of the stories of King Arthur and his knights, in legend and medieval romance, as being dramatizations of the adventures of Celtic gods and important natural events. They believe there was a special relationship between the king and the gods and the king and the land and to ensure the fertility of the land the king was wedded to the goddess of the land.

David Dom, in his book King Arthur and the Gods of the Round Table proposes that Arthur, Guinevere and the main companions of the Round Table to be a the distant and distorted memories of the old Celtic gods and Arthur is seen as representing a Solar God.  To complicate matters, these stories were overwritten, or influenced by various culture over time, including Roman, English, French and European medieval Christianity and modern thinking. It centers around the idea that Arthurian legends and stories originally were dramatizations of the deeds and adventures of ancient pagan gods with the King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table making up the pantheon, being a part of it.

Pagan Origins

There is an intriguing idea that the stories of the abduction of Guinevere are echoes of earlier pagan traditions centered around the annual cycle of the seasons in Northern Europe. One of the ways this annual cycle may have been dramatized was in that the seasonal changes were due to the activities and adventures of the gods. In both Malory’s version and that  of Chrétien de Troyes, Guinevere is abducted in the spring, and in Malory’s it is while she is celebrating May Day, or Beltane, the time of the renewal of vegetation. Many scholars see this as evidence that the kidnapping was originally a season myth with Guinevere being a goddess and her abductor a god. In the original versions by Chrétien de Troyes , after being abducted Guinevere was take across water – an indication that she was leaving the Earthly world for the Otherworld – and her rescuers had to cross the water to reach her in that world.  After her rescue Guinevere and Lancelot became lovers which also happened in the spring, around Beltane.

This comes after the bleak barren days of winter and is seen to represent the marriage of the god and goddess heralding the end of the dark, bleak period of winter and the greatly looked forward to renewal of vegetation and fertility to the Earth.  In the Chrétien de Troyes version the entire episode takes place over one year, tying it further to the annual seasonal cycle. The abduction stories while only hinting at pagan influence on the surface have been heavily overwritten with Christian influences which tend to cover up the inherent pagan elements of the loves and romances of the gods.  To pursue this further it is worth taking a look at the annual cycle of seasons for Northern Europe and what follows is a very simplified version of one of the many versions

Winter

In winter the days are cold, dark and short.  Vegetation dies and crops do not grow and food becomes in short supply.   In some pagan northern European societies winter was thought of as the imprisonment of the eternally young, Earth goddess in the depths of the Earth by the aging winter solar god.  As winter progressed the power of the Sun god waned as the Sun rode low in the sky. As his power waned he became more like a malignant god of the underworld and feared the arrival of a young, potent Sun god who would steal the Earth goddess from him.  Desperate to preserve his own power and survive, he imprisoned the Earth goddess in the underworld to prevent anyone from stealing her. The imprisonment of the Earth Goddess resulted in a loss of fertility and renewal being withdrawn from the Earth, causing dramatic and disastrous consequences for humanity.

Spring

In spring the young Sun god arrives and takes a higher path across the sky providing longer days, more daylight and warmer weather.  His youth, strength and virility defeats and supplants the aging Sun god and frees the Earth goddess from imprisonment.  With a  more agreeable climate and the freeing of the goddess the Earth returns to life and seeds germinate, plants bud and grow and animals breed. The young Sun god takes the eternally young Earth goddess for his bride around the time of the festival of Beltane, commonly held on the 1st of May, or halfway between the March, or vernal equinox and the summer solstice, or midsummer,  when the Sun’s power is at its height.

Summer

As the  days grew longer and warmer, with the marriage of the Sun god and the Earth goddess the Earth is fertilized, plants grow and thrive and harvest time arrives which is the product of this marriage.  The young Sun god has reached the heights of his power at midsummer and the coming days will see his power decline.

Autumn

With the decline of power of the now aging Sun god there is a steadily decrease in sunlight and warmth, the days grow steadily shorter, vegetation begins to shrivel and die.  The cycle of the previous years repeats and slowly and inevitable the aging Sun god loses his strength, vigor and virility just as his predecessors had and just as those who come after him will.

Winter Returns

As his strength and potency diminish he appears lower in the sky, days become shorter and darker as winter sets in.  In a desperate attempt to keep his beautiful and eternally young wife he imprisons her in the underground. The Sun god reaches his lowest and weakest point at midwinter, or the Winter Solstice and is defeated by the young Sun god who frees and marries the Earth goddess.  This cycle must continue eternally to bring fertility, renewal and growth to the Earth.

In the version of the abduction of Guinevere by Chrétien de Troyes the drama was played out over one year with Meleagant, Guinevere’s abductor representing the doomed and aging Sun god and Lancelot the virile and potent, young Sun god.

Goddess of Sovereignty

There is also an idea that Guinevere was either an ancient Goddess of Sovereignty, or a representative of one.  A Goddess of Sovereignty was an aspect or servant of the Earth goddess, also known as the Earth Mother or Mother Earth and Goddess of the Land, in some cultures.

Those who follow this idea point to the fact that the story begins in May which is around the festival of Beltane.  It is at this time of year the everywhere is green and fertile and in celebration Malory tells how Queen Guinevere decides she will go a-Maying.  Those who see Arthurian characters as divinities, see Guinevere as representing a Goddess of Sovereignty that bestows the sovereignty of the land onto the King, who in this case is Arthur. As such his role is taking care of the land and inhabitants ensuring it remains fertile.  To do this she needs a strong, virile king but in these stories Arthur is usually portrayed as aging and losing power. Lancelot being the younger and more potent of the two may be seen by a Goddess of Sovereignty as an ideal replacement, but despite his love for Guinevere he remains loyal to Arthur not wanting the crown.

It may also be the case that simply being in possession of a representative of the goddess would be enough to give authority to the claim of kingship. This would make Guinevere a valuable prize for anyone who would be king and helps explain her numerous abductions, especially Mordred’s interest in her.  It also explain why, for the most, part Arthur appears reluctant to acknowledge, or deal with the situation of her affair with Lancelot until he is forced into it.

The affair with Lancelot may not have been about Guinevere’s alleged sexual promiscuity but more about her fulfilling her role as representing a Goddess of Sovereignty. Furthermore her abductions may not necessarily have been about love, lust or desire for her as a woman, but more about possessing the representative of the goddess. For all of that these are just ideas and theories and it is up to each person to decide what it means to them.

© 20/11/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright November 20th, 2018 zteve t evans

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Sir Galahad the Perfect Knight

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

King Pelles

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

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

Elaine and Lancelot

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

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

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

The madness of Lancelot

holy_grail_tapestry_the_failure_of_sir_launcelot

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

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

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

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

Galahad’s quest for the Holy Grail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Galahad’s achievement of the Holy Grail

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

© 03/05/2016  zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright May 3rd, 2016 zteve t evans

Ancient symbols: The puzzle of the Three Hares

Three hares sharing three ears,

Yet every one of them has two!

Ancient German riddle

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

An ancient symbol

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

Threefold rotational symmetry

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

The Tinners Rabbit’s

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

Sacred symbols

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

Buddhist connections

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

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

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

The spread of the motif

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

Christian use of the Three Hares

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

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

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

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

An ancient German riddle

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

Three hares sharing three ears,

Yet every one of them has two.

Coat of Arms of Hasloch – Public Domain

The meaning of the Three Hares motif

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

Symbolism of the Three Hares

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

One last question

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

© 06/05/2015 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright 6th May, 2015 zteve t evans

Greek mythology: Gaia’s revenge

Gaia the Earth Mother

Gaia – Public Domain

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

Ouranos the god of the skies

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

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

The birth of the Titans

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

The birth of the Cyclops

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

The birth of Briareus, Cottus and Gyes

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

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

Gaia’s revenge

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

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

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

Cronus becomes king of the gods

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

References and attributions

Copyright 25/03/2015 zteve t evans

British Folk Songs: The Ballad of John Barleycorn

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

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

Barley – Public Domain Image

The Ballad of John Barleycorn

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

Different Versions

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

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

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

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

Pagan and Anglo-Saxon Associations

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

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

The Golden Bough

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

The Corn King

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

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

Christianity

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

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

Popular Culture

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

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

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

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

The Popular Legend of Lady Godiva

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

Lady Godiva, by artist John Collier – Public Domain Image

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

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

The Heregild Tax

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

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

Leofric’s Challenge

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

Lady Godiva takes up the Challenge

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

Peeping Tom

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

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

Leofric Keeps His Promise

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

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

The Godiva Procession

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

Future Articles

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

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

The Legend Of Madelon And The Christmas Rose

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

Madelon and the Christmas Rose - Public Domain

Madelon and the Christmas Rose – Public Domain

The Christmas Rose

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

The Legend

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

Madelon

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

Love And Devotion

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

The Magi Give Baby Jesus Wonderful Gifts

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

Madelon’s Tears

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

A Precious Gift Of Pure Blooms

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

The ancient pagan origins of Christmas – The festival of Saturnalia

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

Dice players – Author: WolfgangRieger – Public Domain Image

The Roman Festival of Saturnalia

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

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

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

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

Role reversal during Saturnalia

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

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

Dressing for Saturnalia

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

Giving presents during Saturnalia

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

The Lord of Misrule

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

The influence of Saturnalia on Christmas today

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

References

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

Saturnalia – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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

Natural Folklore: The Northern and Southern Lights

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights

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

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

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

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

The Fox-fires of Lapland

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

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

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

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

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

The ride of the Valkiries

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

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

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

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

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

Warriors battling in the skies

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

Eskimo beliefs

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

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

Spirits of animals

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

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

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

Everlasting love

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

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

The Arthurian Realm: The Quest for the Sangreal

The Sangreal

In Arthurian romance the mystical, magical quest of the Sangreal is a popular story that has its roots in medieval times, though its seeds may be from much earlier.  It uses allegories to blend together pagan motifs, Christian tradition and political and social concerns of the day into a story of spiritual evolution for the main protagonists who must remain true to the quest.  The Sangreal is another name for the Holy Grail which eventually became conflated with the Holy Chalice.  There are several other versions of its name and in different stories it has appeared in different forms such as stone or wood, or as a cup or dish. The earliest of these romances was Le Conte du Graal by Chrétien de Troyes who died before it was finished but was added to later by other poets.  Other authors also created versions of the story such as Le Roman du Graal, Joseph d’Arimathe, Merlin, and Perceval by Robert de Boron, the Vulgate Cycle, whose authorship is disputed and Parzival, by Wolfram von Eschenbach.  Later, Sir Thomas Malory wrote Le Morte D’Arthur, blending together Arthurian and grail tradition, and it is from this that the greatly summarised version of the tale below draws the most.

Origin of the Sangreal

In this allegorical story set in the time of King Arthur, the Sangreal was the cup that Jesus Christ drank from at the last supper, and the Sacred Spear was the one Longinus, the Roman soldier, used to pierce his side during his crucifixion.  Joseph of Arimathea brought them to Britain and his descendants, the Grail Kings of Castle Corbenic were granted guardianship on condition that each guardian lived a life of purity in deed and thought, dedicated to Jesus Christ.  For many ages, the Sangreal remained a visible, tangible object — alongside the Sacred Spear — that pilgrims came from far and wide to pray before.

Over time, one of its guardians allowed the moral standards that behoved his role to slip, and sought forbidden love. The Sacred Spear punished his weakness, inflicting a wound to his groin that could not be healed, leaving the king maimed and kept alive only by the power of the Sangreal; after this, the Sangreal and Sacred Spear were hidden from the people’s eyes.  In those days the fertility of the land was linked to that of the king, and his realm became a barren wasteland until the time came when he would be healed by the purest knight in the world.

Merlin’s Message

At Camelot, Merlin had not been seen for some time and, worried at his absence, King Arthur sent out knights to find him.  Sir Gawain went out searching, and while travelling through the forest of Brocéliande he heard the sound of someone groaning. Following the sound, he found a column of dense mist that he could not penetrate.  From the mist came the voice of Merlin who revealed that his mistress, Viviane — the Lady of the Lake — had imprisoned him there for all time.  He instructed Gawain to return to King Arthur and tell him of his plight. Yet, emphasizing that nothing could be done to save him, he gave an important message to relay:

“Tell Arthur a great event is now unfolding. The knight is born and ready to begin and accomplish this task for the good of the land and its people.  Now is the time of the quest of the Sangreal.”

Gawain quickly returned and delivered the message to King Arthur, who grieved for his old friend as he turned over the message in his mind.

Pentecost at Camelot

It was the custom of King Arthur to celebrate the feast of Pentecost with all his knights around the Round Table.  Each of the knights had their own seat at the Round Table with their name inscribed upon it, and there was one vacant seat known as the Siege Perilous. As the feast was about to begin a squire brought news that in a nearby river there was a red slab of marble that floated on the water.  King Arthur led his knights to the river to investigate. Fixed firmly within this slab, as if it had been driven in, was a sword upon which was inscribed the following words,

“Never shall I be drawn forth except by he who is the perfect knight and at his side, I will hang.”

Sir Gawain tried to draw the sword but failed, as did Sir Percival and many others, but none could free it.

The Quest of the Sangreal

Having investigated, they returned to the Round Table to eat. While they were eating the windows and doors all suddenly slammed shut.  The candles flickered, went out and then came back on again, and stood before them appeared a very old holy man accompanied by Galahad, the son of Sir Lancelot.  The holy man led Galahad to the Siege Perilous and seated him there.  They watched in awe as the lettering on the seat changed magically to read, Galahad.   King Arthur led Sir Galahad to the floating slab of marble and he easily withdrew the sword to the wonder of all.

Arthur and his knights returned to their feasting and again, the candles suddenly dimmed and there was a peal of thunder.  A ray of light shone down and in the middle of the Round Table there appeared the glowing Sangreal veiled in white silk. Inspired by this miraculous event, Sir Gawain declared he would not rest, day or night, for one year and a day, until he saw the Sangreal fully unveiled.  Arthur remembered the message of Merlin and was full of disquiet.  He knew the others would follow his example and realized there was every chance some would die on that quest, or not return.  In the early days of summer, as one hundred and fifty knights rode from Camelot on the quest of the Sangreal, King Arthur wept, knowing the world had changed forever.

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Himalayan Folktales: Kulloo, the Faithful Dog


Simla Village Tales

Alice Elizabeth Dracott writing in her Introduction to her book,  Simla Village Tales, or Folk Tales from the Himalayas (1906) says,

“Himalayan folk-lore, with its beauty, wit, and mysticism, is a most fascinating study, and makes one grieve to think that the day is fast approaching when the honest rugged hill-folk of Northern India will lose their fireside tales under the influence of modern civilisation.  ….

… From their cradle under the shade of ancient deodars, beside the rocks, forests and streams of the mighty Himalayan mountains, have I sought these tales to place them upon the great Bookshelf of the World.”

The similar sentiments can expressed for the folklore of indigenous people all around the world. Although we cannot hold back time and should not try these stories hold the collective wisdom, hopes, fears and experience built up over many generations, often showing the common traits of different people from all around the world through time.

Presented here is a retelling of a folktale from this collection called Kulloo, A Faithful Dog, helping out his human master.  The theme of Animal Helper appears in different forms in folktales all around the world.  In this case the dog remains faithful even though his master killed him and returns from death to save his life.  There are other themes and principles also at play in the story which are found in stories from other cultures showing that they have much more in common with one another than often meets the eye.

Kulloo, the Faithful Dog

In the part of the world where this story is set a Bunniah is a kind of merchant or trader of various commodities and in this story there was a Bunniah who had a faithful dog named Kulloo who was his best friend.  One day the Bunniah decided he needed a wife and so he married a woman. Together, they traveled to a faraway city taking Kulloo with them. On the way he developed a raging headache so he stopped by the side of the road with his head resting in his wife’s lap.  While he was resting in this way he fell asleep and while he was sleeping a man who passed by on his horse stopped and asked the Bunniah’s wife if she had the means to light his pipe because he fancied a smoke. She told him “I cannot give you a light for your pipe as my husband is resting his head in my lap and I cannot move without disturbing him in his sleep.”

The man was in fact a robber who stole anything he took a fancy to and made a lot of money from stealing many things from many people.

“Slip some clothes under his head and he will not notice,” replied the man.  The woman did this and her husband continued to sleep soundly while she lit the man’s pipe.  Suddenly he grabbed hold of her and throwing her across his horse leapt into the saddle and carried her off.  

Abduction

After a while the Bunniah awoke and found his wife gone but his dog patiently and faithfully waiting by his side for him to awaken.   The dog told his master what had happened and said, “Master, if we become beggars we can go from door to door without suspicion begging for food while seeking out your wife.”

The Bunniah thought this a good plan so dressing in old clothes he and his faithful dog went begging from door to door.  After many days of begging the Bunniah eventually knocked on the door of the home of the abductor of his wife and it was she who answered the door.  She did not recognize her husband or the dog but gave them food and money. However, Kulloo recognised her and later asked his master if he had not recognized his wife when she opened the door.   His master admitted that he had not so and Kulloo led his master back to the house.

Once again the Bunniah knocked on the door and his wife opened it.  This time he made himself known to her and she recognising him and invited him in but she was in a quandary.  Her abductor had forced her to marry him but had given her a very high standard of living. This was, far greater than her first husband could ever have given her  which she had now become accustomed to. Nevertheless, she made a great act of seeing her first husband again and invited him to dinner that evening, telling him that when her abductor had fallen asleep then he would have the chance to kill him and escape with her.

The Trap

The Bunniah agreed and he and Kulloo went off intending to return later for dinner and to complete the plan.  However, when they had gone she called her abductor to her and they made a plan to kill her first husband and be rid of him once and for all.  They made a deep hole in the floor and placed a cover over it that would eventually collapse when weight would was placed upon it. She made sure everything was arranged it so her first husband would be seated over it as he ate.  

They installed spikes into the walls and floor so that as he fell he would be impaled and killed.   When the Bunniah returned for dinner their plan worked perfectly and he fell into the hole as he was eating.  His wife and her abductor went off to bed laughing believing him to be dead.   Although he was impaled on the spikes he was not mortally wounded but would have died had not his faithful Kulloo came and pulled out the pikes with his teeth freeing him and helping him to safety.   Looking around the Bunniah saw the abductor was asleep so he hit him hard over the head killing him and made his escape taking his wife with him.

There was a lot of blood and Kulloo saw that his master left a trail for others to follow so he came along behind lapping up the blood to prevent this.  Kulloo, being a wise dog, knew that his master’s wife was a wicked woman and would never rest until she had gained revenge.

Death of Kulloo

The Bunniah reclaimed his wife but she told him she would not eat or drink until Kullo was dead.  Of course the Bunniah refused to kill his faithful dog but his wife was adamant and began wasting away from lack of food.  The Bunniah implored her to eat but she insisted she would only do so when Kulloo was dead.  As she grew weaker her insistence grew stronger and eventually the Bunniah agreed to kill his faithful dog.

Poor Kulloo, knowing he was to be killed begged his master to make sure he buried him properly making sure his head, which was to be cut off, was buried beside him, because there would come a time when he would return to save his master’s life.  This the Bunniah did and his wife now ate and drank her fill but she was not satisfied and still wanted vengeance on her husband.

Return of Kulloo

She went to the local court and accused the Bunniah of being a robber and a murderer and claimed he had killed her husband and abducted her.  The sentence for such crimes was death and the Bunniah was put on trial and found guilty. Just as the judge was about to sentence him to death the Bunniah thought of his faithful Kulloo and in that second the dog appeared at his side and begged to speak to the judge.   The judge agreed and Kulloo revealed the entire story of how the Bunniah’s wife had been abducted and how she had plotted with her abductor to kill him.  The judge believed Kulloo and dismissed the charges against his master setting him free. Thus it was for the second time that the faithful Kulloo had saved the life of his master but now having completed his task he disappeared never to be seen again.

© 12/07/2016 zteve t evans

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Copyright zteve t evans

German Folktales: Paracelsus and the Spirit in the Fir Tree

Public domain, via Wikimedia Common

Paracelsus was an influential physician, astrologer and alchemist of the German Renaissance.  His real name was Theophrastus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim and he was born in 1493. He was was a medical pioneer of his time and credited with many notable achievements and has  been called the father of toxicology.  The medical movement called Paracelsianism was named after him and followed his ideas.  Presented here is a retelling of a legend called The Legend of Paracelsus from a collection of German folktales called Folk-lore and Legends: German by Anonymous.

The Legend of Paracelsus

Paracelsus was a deep and thoughtful man and wanted to find ways to help people by curing their illness and disease but rarely had sufficient funds for research.  Sometimes he took himself away for long walks to contemplate how he could do this.  One day as he was out walking in a part of the forest where few ever roamed he heard someone calling his name.  Surprised and a little baffled he looked around but could see no one in view. Nevertheless, he could still hear someone calling his name so he followed the sound until he came to an old fir-tree but could see no sign of anyone there. Bewildered he looked all around and walked around the trunk but could see no one but could still hear someone calling his name.  Examining the trunk of the fir tree he saw that deeply embedded within the wood was a small stopper that had three crosses etched into it. It was from here that the voice appeared to be coming from. On closer examination he realized the stopper was imprisoning a spirit in the trunk of the fir tree.

The Spirit in the Tree

The spirit now begged and pleaded with him to remove the stopper and set it free, but Paracelsus was wary.  He thought about this for a while and then said,

“If you will bestow on me a medicine that will cure all illness and disease and also a tincture that will turn everything it touches to gold to fund my research, then I will remove the stopper and set you free.”

The spirit readily agreed and so Paracelsus took out a small knife he always carried and after some trouble managed to pry out the stopper and put it in his pocket for safe keeping.  From out of the dark void that the stopper had filled their crept a most hideous and huge black spider that scuttled down the trunk of the tree to the ground.  As soon as it touched the ground it transformed into the ghastly, thin,  hideous old man who rose up to stand tall, squinting with his red eyes into the surprised eyes of Paracelsus.

The old man led him through the forest breaking a branch off a hazel tree as they went and leading Paracelsus to a high rocky ledge that overlooked vast swathes of the forest.  With the hazel branch he struck the rock wall three times and it opened with a groan. The old man bid Paracelsus to wait and disappeared inside the opening. After a short time he returned carry two small glass phials. One contained a yellow fluid which he handed to Paracelsus telling him that anything the fluid came into contact with would instantly turn to gold.  The second contained a white fluid which he gave to him and told him that this would cure all illness and disease. He then stuck the rock face three times and the opening closed up leaving no trace of the opening it concealed.

The Evil Spirit

As they walked back through the forest Paracelsus began to think about the spirit growing increasingly uneasy in its company.   It told him that it would now travel to Innsprück to wreak vengeance upon the sorcerer who had imprisoned him in the fir tree.  Paracelsus now realized the spirit was evil and feared for the magician and the world for having released it and thought about how he could set things to right.  When they arrived back at the fir tree he said to the spirit,

“Clearly you are a most gifted and magical being!  I wonder if you would mind making a show of your magical gifts by turning yourself back into a spider and crawling into that hole in the tree’s trunk again, purely as an exhibition of your cleverness and magic?”

The spirit was still very pleased at being released and loved to be flattered and therefore readily agreed.  In and instant it had transformed itself into a hideous black spider and scuttled up the tree trunk into the hole. Paracelsus quickly took the stopper out of his pocket and rammed it tightly into the hole trapping the spirit in the tree again.  Quickly finding a heavy stone he hammered the stopper into the wood as tight as possible and then taking his knife cut three fresh crosses into the stopper.

Tricked

Suddenly realizing it had been tricked the spirit screamed and wailed making a hideous noise and shook the tree as if it was in the grip of a hurricane but the stopper held firm. Paracelsus made his way home knowing that the evil spirit would remain safely incarcerated in the fir tree which was high in the mountains and protected by snow drifts and very few people ever passed that way.  

The Two Phials

When he arrived home he tried out the two phials of fluid the evil one had given him and was pleased with their success. It is said that it was largely these that made him one of the most celebrated physicians and alchemists of his day.

© 05/02/2019 zteve t evans

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Copyright February 5, 2019 zteve t evans

German Folktales: The Cursed Dancers of Ramersdorf

Pieter Brueghel the Younger [Public domain]

This is a retelling of a story from an old book of German folktales called, Folk-lore and Legends: German by Anonymous. In that book the story was called called The Dancers and tells of divine punishment called down for disrespecting the Sabbath.  In many of these stories punishment for transgressing the Sabbath or disrespecting God was to be turned to stone. In this case the transgressors received a very different form of punishment.

The Dancers

The Sabbath-day had come and the folk of Ramersdorf proceeded to organize a dance in the monastery courtyard to entertain themselves as was their long held custom. It was a tradition they had enjoyed for years beyond count and had never once been spoken against by any of the long line of abbots who were now dead and gone.  The world turns and change comes for good or bad and the monastery now had a new abbot by the name of Anselm von Lowenberg,  who frowned upon all popular activities and recreations that the people enjoyed. He was a strict and austere man who saw pleasurable pursuits as being nothing but frivolities and self-gratification and as such the work of the devil.   Nevertheless, despite the stern warnings of the angry abbot the people continued, after all it was their greatest pleasure.

It had been a beautiful, sunny, spring day and the evening was very pleasant and folk dressed in their best clothes and began to gather at the courtyard to join in the fun.  Those who were too old or infirm to dance were given seats where they could watch and clap. In front of these sat an old blind fiddler who had provided the music to these events for three generations. The dancers lined up and the fiddler began and the dancers began to dance and a few monks looked down upon the merry scene from the dark windows of the monastery.

Abbot Anselm von Lowenberg

Halfway through the first reel the none other than Abbot Anselm von Lowenberg,   marched into the centre of the courtyard and demanded that all dancing and entertainments cease immediately, crying,

“Stop your shameful dancing! Stop all of this fun! Stop your unholy activities and stop profaning the Sabbath!  You are wicked and full of sin, therefore go and pray to the Lord for forgiveness and cease these frivolous activities!”

Although he waved his hands and shouted and roared the people took no notice of him and the dancers continued dancing round him and the the blind fiddler played on and the audience sat and clapped and his ire grew greater.

“Sinners, get ye gone from this place immediately or I will place a curse upon you to punish you!”

he cried angrily, but still no one took any notice, the fiddler played on, the dancers danced and the people clapped in time.

You ignore me, therefore I curse you that you shall dance continuously without rest for one year and one day from this day forth!”

And as he cursed them he lifted up his hands and eyes to heaven imploring the Lord to fulfill his curse and then he stormed out of the courtyard to seek solitude in his dismal cell in the monastery.

The Curse

With the curse cast the dancers found they could not stop dancing and danced all evening without rest.   At first they were delighted with their new found energy and as night fell they began to think about stopping the dance and going home, but to their bewilderment they found they could not.  The blind fiddler continued to play, the dancers continued to dance and the people who sat watching continued to clap. Night came and still the dancers danced, the fiddler played and the audience clapped and so it continued day after day in all weathers without rest.

The weeks past and spring gave way to summer and summer gave way to autumn and the dance went on.  Autumn gave way to winter and the fiddler continued to play, the dancers danced and the people clapped.  Round and round and round they danced with the same energy and strength they had began with, never tiring one little bit.

The Dancers Danced On

At times people who had not been present on the day of the curse came to stare and wonder at them  They tried everything they could think of to stop the strange dance. They tried to stop the music but the blind fiddler just played on.  They tried to move the audience but the audience remained clapping in their seats, They tried to stop the dancers but the dancers danced on.

The strongest men could not pull the dancers from the circle, take the fiddle from the fiddler or stop the audience from clapping.  Even when Abbot Anselm von Lowenberg came and tried to lift the curse but still the blind fiddler fiddled, the dancers danced and the people clapped.  All those under the curse seemed oblivious to the outside world and continued with their activity with the same enthusiasm and gusto with which they had begun.

A Disturbing Warning!

At last they had danced for one year and one day and the curse expired and they fell exhausted in a deep sleep  upon the ground. Where the dancers had danced their constant dance steps had worn a deep hole in the earth beneath them.  It was a long time before they awoke but when they did it was found their reason had been taken from them and leaving them witless and stupefied for the rest of their lives and providing a disturbing warning for those who would violate the Sabbath.

© 30/01/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright January 30th, 2019 zteve t evans

Scottish Folktales: The Haunted Heath

Thomas Cole [Public domain]

This is  a retelling of a folktale called The Murder Hole, found in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction Magazine, 1829 and believed to be set in an area of Scotland about three hundred years earlier.

The Murder Hole

In  a remote part of the country there exists a lonely road that runs for miles and miles through an empty and dreary landscape broken by the odd sharp hillock and tor  and a few scattered and tortured trees. On one side of the road stands and old stone cross that seems to stand as a bleak warning to the unwary traveler that they are crossing over a boundary into the unknown.  Beyond that lies a ruined, abandoned church. There are no flowers and In daylight the landscape appears to be covered in a mass of dull grey, green stringy grass but it is a deceptive and dangerous place. From the road the ground looks firm and solid but there  are bogs and marshes whose watery surface take on the grayness of the skies and hide their presence from the unwary and these stretch as far as the eye could see in all directions. The only time their presence can be seen plainly is at times when the veils that shroud this world from the next become thin such as at sunset just before they lift.  Then light from the dying sun strikes the watery surface revealing blood-stained pools and streams that appear from the landscape giving it a surreal and disturbing aspect. At such a time any traveler on that road would be vulnerable to their own thoughts as the veil lifts and the night creatures begin to roam through. The road was bad but it was better to keep upon it than risk the treacherous bogs and marshes that changed and shifted.  These were dangerous for those who did not know the area but the few locals who remained could find their way through safely.

The Hamlet

The only sign of human habitation were a few rough wooden huts clustered both sides of the road  that made up a small almost deserted hamlet situated in the center of this God forsaken place. Anyone using that road from either direction must eventually pass this place though it was not quite fully abandoned.   There had never been many people making their home in these parts at the best of times and slowly people drifted away to settle in a village beyond the moor telling in hushed tones of the malevolence that haunted that strange forsaken place.

Rumor

Rumors filtered out that some evil walked upon the moor and travelers used it less and less and then  only out of dire necessity and never at night. When people went missing, the people from the hamlet scoured the moor each time,  but no body or grave was ever found. No place that may serve as a hideaway was ever discovered that might have been used by those seeking concealment for some reason.

Nevertheless, over the years, people kept disappearing without a trace and the few inhabitants became fewer and fewer.   People told of the terrible black nights that fell upon the land and spoke of hearing the deathly silence broken by unearthly screams of anguish from some distant place on the heath.

A shepherd who had been out on the moor one evening came back with a terrifying account of how he had become lost in the featureless plane and came across three dark sinister figures.  They appeared to be locked in a terrible struggle, each exuding supernatural effort against the other until one of them slowly sank screaming into the very earth.

This along with similar sinister events persuaded the people of the hamlet to pack up their meager belongings and head for the safety of the village on the other side of the moor.  Eventually, the only inhabitants that remained were an old woman and her two sons who owned a humble but ramshackle cottage. They complained that they stayed because they were prisoners bound to this dreadful place by the chains of poverty

The few travelers who used the forsaken road now only did so in groups and would spend the day traveling together and rest up over night at the cottage of the old woman and her sons who were glad of the income they brought.  The lodgings were poor and basic but the safety of four walls around them and a roof over their heads was greater draw than traversing that haunted road in the dark. Sometimes by the firelight the cottagers would tell a story or two of the horrors of the moor and watch  in dark humor at the terror on the faces of their guests. After a sleepless night In the morning they would gladly pay their hosts and continue their journey glad to be gone

The Pedlar-Boy

It so happened that one storm night in November,  a young pedlar-boy rather than listen to the advice of locals and common sense travelled the road alone.  The year before he had traveled this road as part of a group of people and believed himself acquainted and prepared for what a solitary journey may bring but he was wrong

As the night fell and the wind blew he heard the cries and groans of the dying all around him.  Fearing to look to the left or to the right he forced himself onward. At last in the distance he saw the glimmer of a fire through a window and knew he was approaching the cottage and hurried towards it.  Remembering his last stay as a member of a large party he expected a warm welcome. The old woman had regaled them with terror tales and had appeared to take a shine to him begging him to stay

Reaching the door in relief he rapped loudly upon it but despite hearing a great deal of noise and confusion no one answered.  Thinking that the inhabitants might think it was supernatural visitor whom the old lady had spoken so much of on his last visit he looked through a side window.  As he looked he saw everyone was busy. The old woman was rubbing the stone floor and sprinkling a layer of sand over it. Her two sons appeared to be trying to push something large and bulky into a chest pushing the lid down and locking it.  The pedlar-boy tapped on the window seeking to attract their attention causing them all to jump in nervous surprise and glare malevolent at him. This shocked the boy who was expecting a friendly welcome after his last visit. Before he could do anything one of the men rushed out of cottage grabbing hold of him tightly and pulled him roughly inside.

“Wait, wait! I am not what you think I am!  I am only the poor pedlar-boy who came this way last year and you gave shelter. Don’t you  you remember me? I stayed with you last year and you asked me to stay. When I said I couldn’t. you invited me back at any time and here I am,” he said laughing adding, “I am not what you think I am.”

I am but a poor pedlar-boy all alone in the world.  If I died tomorrow know one would miss me – no one would mourn me.  I am completely and utterly alone! ”

The cottagers glared at him suspiciously and the old woman asked “Are you alone?”

“No one would miss you?”  asked the old woman in a whisper.

“No one in the world, ” he answered beginning to feel nervous and sorry for himself, “would shed a tear, or be remotely distressed  if I died this night!”

“Then indeed you are welcome here!” said the old woman looking at the other two slyly.

It was not the cold that made the pedlar-boy shiver and draw near the peat fire. He was thinking that the shelter of any of the dilapidated buildings in the ghost hamlet may have been a better choice than this. Despite the warmth of the fire he still felt chills running through him and now looking upon the sinister aspect of these three cottagers his apprehension grew. Nevertheless being alone and beyond any assistance he determined to conquer his fears, or at least suppress them to prevent them being revealed to his hosts

Nightmare

He was shown to a room that had the look about it that some violent confrontation had taken place.  The curtains hung in tatters, the table had been broken by some mighty blow and whatever scarce furniture graced the room, parts of it lay scattered on the floor.  The pedlar-boy begged for a candle to burn until he had drifted off to sleep and was reluctantly given one. When he had been left alone he explored further and found the door had been broken and to his consternation the latch and lock snapped off.

He tried to compose himself for sleep but his nerves were on edge. It had been a long arduous journey and he eventually drifted into an uneasy slumber.   In his sleep his imagination was working overtime and vivid scenes of terror and horror flashed through his mind. He was in a lucid world of fear where he saw himself being alone and wandering lost upon the haunted heath.  Something followed on behind and people appeared before him warning him not to enter the cottage before dissolving into mist before his eyes leaving naught but a hollow cry echoing in his mind. He found himself sat before the peat fire in the cottage with the three cottagers all looking upon him greedily.  Suddenly the old woman moved and grabbed his arms holding them behind his back and the two men rose and moved slowly towards him grinning malevolently. Then he heard the sound of a slow tortured cry and awoke with a start. Covered in a cold sweat he sat up in bed he listened but could hear nothing. As he gazed fearfully around him his eyes were caught by a movement under the door.   He stared in horror as a stream of bright red blood oozed silently and slowly underneath the door towards him

Escape

Jumping out of bed he crept to the door and peered through a crack into the next room.  Seeing the trail of blood came from a goat one of the men had just slaughtered relief swept over him.  Just as he was about to return to bed one of them spoke to the other saying,

“Hah! This was a far easier victim than last night’s.  It’s a pity all of the throats we have slit were not as quiet or as easy.  It is a good job we have no neighbours for miles around. The old man last night would have woken them all had they heard his cries for mercy.  How he howled when saw you were going to cut his throat!”

“Let’s not speak of it.  I hate blood shed!” replied the other

Oh, you do, do you?” laughed the first.

“I do and it is true.  I prefer the Murder Hole.  It tells no tales, leaves no trace.  There is nothing to get rid of after and no one will ever find them. No one will ever find it and if they do no one will suspect there are over forty dead bodies hidden within it.  It looks nothing more than a deep puddle and small enough for the long grass to bend over it concealing it. Unless you know you could stand next to it and never guess it was there or what it was.”

“Unless of course you step in it,”  replied the second.”

“Indeed, it’s a fact and it sucks them down, so quick, it is a wonder of nature!  How do you think we shall we end the pedlar-boy?” asked the old woman who stood watching hem and pointed towards the door which the pedlar boy was huddled behind trembling.  Her eldest son looked at her and with his knife in his hand and a look of sheer evil motioned his knife across throat.

Although terrified the pedlar-boy had lived all of his life alone in a never ending struggle against the odds of fate.  He had never given up and always won through and despite his fear and the odds against him he was not prepared to surrender his life easily.  One thing he had learnt was there was a time to fight and a time to fly and decided there and then flight to be the best answer. Creeping silently to the window he gently eased it up and slipped out silently.   Once outside he paused to get his bearings but was shaken to the core when he heard one of the men cry, “Curses!  He is gone!  He must have heard and will bring ruin upon us!”

“Let loose the bloodhound!” cried the other

“Make sure he does not escape,” cried the old woman, “do not bring him back here.  Use the Murder Hole for this!”

The Chase

w:Sidney Paget [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The pedlar-boy’s heart stopped at these words  and he feared greatly for his life but he was determined and quickly roused himself and fled into the darkness of the haunted moor.   It was not long before the baying of the bloodhound broke the silence of the night as it picked up his trail. Forcing himself to greater speed he stumbled on through the night but could tell by the baying of the hound and the voices of the men they were gaining on him.

Although he struggled to see in the darkness the hound was unimpeded simply following his scent trail and grew nearer and nearer followed by the men carrying lanterns.   Again he redoubled his efforts and ran blindly through the night but caught his foot on pile of stones, tripping and cutting his hands and knees and staining the stones with his blood.  Stunned he lay on the ground panting and bleeding but hearing the baying of the dog growing louder and the men’s voices following he forced himself up and onward. It seemed like his feet had grown wings and he flew over the moor.  He heard the hound yapping and baying at the spot where he had fallen and if he had dared to have looked back he would have seen it lapping at his blood on the stones where he had lain. To the annoyance of the men it would not move from the spot but continued lapping up his blood regardless of how cruelly they beat it.  At last satiated with blood it refused to take up the scent a second time.

Justice

The villages dropped weighted hooks down the Murder Hole and brought up the bones of several victims.  It was impossible to tell how many more were down there or how they had been dispatched. There was also the question of what had happened to those who had not gone down the Murder Hole and some suspected these were disposed of in a in a less than savoury way.  Perhaps it is as well that we shall never know, but now at sunset when the veils grow thin and part three more wailing ghosts wander the haunted heath.

The pedlar-boy did not know this and continued his wild flight across the moors.  Luckily he did not fall into the bogs but found the road where he could run faster.  Although his assassins continued to seek him they could not find find him. As dawn broke he reached the village on the edge of the moors and knocking on every door raised the alarm.  After the villagers had managed to calm him enough for him to tell them his tale the light of realization dawned upon them. It was the cottagers who had been responsible for the disappearances of so many of their loved ones.  Forming themselves into a gang they marched to to the cottage and seized the old woman and her two son and took them back to the village for trial. The cottagers confessed to over fifty murders and took the villagers to show them the Murder Hole where they had disposed of so many of them.  They were duly tried and found guilty and three gibbets were quickly constructed and justice dispensed.

The villages dropped weighted hooks down the Murder Hole and brought up the bones of several victims.  It was impossible to tell how many more were down there. There was also the question of what had happened to those who had not gone down the Murder Hole and some suspected these were disposed of in a in a less than savory way.  Perhaps it is as well that we shall never know, but now at sunset when the veils grow thin and then part, three more wailing ghosts wander the haunted heath.

© 23/01/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright January 23rd, 2019 zteve t evans

The Arthurian Realm: The Divine Role of Guinevere

This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com on 23/08/2018, under the title British Legends: The Divine Tragedy of Guinevere, written by by zteve t evans

Guinevere Goes a-Maying

The story began one day in the month of May, when Guinevere called together ten Knights of the Round Table. She told them they would accompany her and ten of her ladies in the traditional seasonal activity of Maying, in place of her own elite guards known as the Queen’s Knights, who usually accompanied her everywhere. In celebration of the season and to enter into the spirit of the celebration, she insisted they leave behind their armour and wear green clothing and bear only light arms. Therefore, bright and early the next morning, the party set off to go a-Maying in the woods and fields around Westminster.

The Malice of Sir Meliagrance

An evil knight named Meliagrance had a castle several miles from Westminster, and he had loved Guinevere since the first day he set eyes on her. He never dared to show this love for fear of Sir Lancelot, who was always near her. On this bright May morning, away from the security of the Royal Court, accompanied by only ten lightly armed knights, and with Sir Lancelot now absent, he saw his chance. He quickly mustered twenty of his own men-at-arms and one hundred archers to aid him in the abduction of Queen Guinevere.

Ambush

Guinevere and her party joyfully entertained themselves fully in the ancient custom, adorning themselves and each other with flowers, leaves, mosses, and herbs. They were all relaxed and enjoying the traditional activity so they were easily caught unawares when Meliagrance with his men came out of the woods and surrounded the happy company. Aggressively, he demanded that Guinevere should be given to him, or he would take her by force. The ten lightly armed knights, without a shields, or armour, were not prepared to allow the queen to be taken easily and vowed to fight to the death to defend her. Meliagrance sternly told them, “Prepare with what weapons you have, for I will have the queen!”

The defenders placed themselves in a ring around the queen and drew their swords. Meliagrance gave the order, and his knights charged on horseback. Despite being vastly outnumbered, the ten knights defended the queen ferociously. After long and fierce fighting, six of the queen’s defenders were too badly wounded to fight on, but four were unhurt and still defiantly defended the queen, until they too were wounded but fought on bravely.

Guinevere Surrenders

Seeing her valiant knights so badly hurt and to prevent their slaying, Guinevere ordered them to lay down their arms on condition they would not be slain and that she and they would remain together no matter what. Meliagrance agreed on the condition they did not try to escape and contact Sir Lancelot.

While Meliagrance was attending to his own wounded knights, Guinevere sent one of her youngest servants on a swift horse to find Sir Lancelot and tell him of her plight. On hearing the news, Sir Lancelot, in fear and alarm for the safety of the queen, called for his horse, his armour, and his weapons. Then he asked the servant to go to his friend, Sir Lavaine and tell him the news of the queen’s abduction and ask him to follow him to the castle of Meliagrance without delay.

The Knight of the Cart

Lancelot rode swiftly over Westminster Bridge and, making his horse swim the Thames at Lambeth, he soon came to the place where Sir Meliagrance had abducted the queen and her knights. Then he followed the tracks through woodlands, where he was waylaid by the archers of Sir Meliagrance who rained arrows down on him and slayed his horse. Having no other choice than carrying his armour, weapons, and shield, he set out on foot to the castle of Meliagrance.

As he walked he was overtaken by a horse and cart carrying a driver, and his assistant that was carrying wood to the castle of Meliagrance. The driver refused his request for a ride, so to avoid further delay Sir Lancelot commandeered the cart. He knocked the driver from his seat and forced his assistant to drive him with all speed to his intended destination. From his manner of arrival at the castle, Sir Lancelot was given the name “The Knight of the Cart,” and jumping from it cried out, “Sir Meliagrance, traitor Knight of the Round Table, where are you? I, Sir Lancelot du Lac challenge you! Come, face me and bring who you will, for I will fight you to the death!”

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Ghostlore: The White Dobbie of Old Lancashire

Hanuš Schwaiger [Public domain]

This a retelling of a story called the The White Dobbie,  set in part of the historic county of Lancashire which became part of the the modern county of Cumbria  and comes from a book by James Bowker called Goblin Tales of Lancashire. It comes from a time when the cartographic and administrative borders of the land were different than they are today. Such borders are very much the creation of the human mind and can change on a whim. Furthermore, the map is not the territory and the borders between this world, the next, or indeed others, are not subject to human laws. There are times they can be crossed and this story tells of a strange liminal being and his familiar spirit in the form of a white hare who appeared every now and then from across such a border at certain times.

The White Dobbie

Many many years ago the people who lived in villages between Bardsea to Rampside in the area of Furness  told of a strange wandering being that roamed the remote roads along the coast. No one ever learnt who this strange being was or the reason that brought him on his lonely, melancholy way, past the remote cottages in the darkest of nights and foulest of weather. His arrival  was a well known phenomenon in that area and local people called him the White Dobbie or Dobby, which is a local name for a ghost.

This wandering  ghost had a sad, wan and desolate look about him.  Wild, hungry, eyes stared out of a wild face covered by a long unkempt beard,  giving him an aura of feral mystery and terror. Stranger still he did not walk alone.   He had an uncanny companion; a familiar spirit that loped along before him. This familiar took the appearance a of  ghastly white hare. A famished, impoverished looking creature with bloodshot eyes and an ill aura about it that marked it being clearly not of this world.

An Unknown Mission

No one knew or could foretell when this wandering ghost would appear. He never spoke or answered to anyone but totally disregarding all he came across. He simply kept his eyes before him and ignored any startled cries of surprise  or fear, by anyone who inadvertently came across him, as he sojourned upon his lonely way. Never once did he stop to gaze through the window panes at the cheery glow of a roaring fire while he, an outsider, stood watching the cosy life of the inhabitants inside.  He simply carried on past the few cottages continuing on his unknown mission, whatever that may be, as if life and death were dependent upon it, letting nothing and no one get in his way. Not that anyone would have dared to try to impede or obstruct him for his very presence exuded a fearful warning and no one would willingly have attempted interference with him for the very life of them.

The local people came to be able to predict his appearances by the weather.  Whenever the salt wind whipped the sea into a foam, or drove blinding snow across the land forming drifts as high as the  window-sills and piling it against the doors of the cottages, he would appear. When storms rolled in from the sea and wreaked their anger upon the land then it was certain that this lonely figure would appear from no one knew where.  As the storm raged through the darkness he made his lonely way on his unknown, solitary, mission.

The Ghastly White Hare

As the snow fell and the wind wailed folk could be heard calling to the Lord to save them from the wandering White Dobbie and his ghastly white hare. Drawing their curtains they quickly ushered their little ones into the safety of a back room until he passed by on his lonely way with his ghastly familiar running on before.  If by mischance some unwary traveler should venture across these two bizarre specters the ghostly white hare would instantly leap and bury itself into a cavernous pocket in the dobbie’s coat. There it would peer with baleful red eyes at the unfortunate passerby.

Its strange behaviour and ghastly appearance though repulsive to humans was more terrifying to animals.  Dog, cats, farm and even wild birds and animals could sense its presence, falling silent and scurrying away to hide at its approach.  Any creature unfortunate to encounter the white hare face to face invariably uttered a shriek of terror and bolted in the opposite direction over ditch and hedge through thicket and briar to escape the devil beast and its baleful stare.

For many many years these two weird and lonely specters could be seen walking the lanes and roads.  Grown men could remember them from their early childhood and their parents and grandparents and great grandparents remembered them. Way back further than living memory folk had spoken of the ghastly wanderers but there was no memory of the dobbie ever speaking a single word to anyone.   Nevertheless there came a time when that rule was to be broken.

The Bardsea Bell

One darkling evening as the wind began to rise heralding the coming storm along the road came the White Dobbie and his ghastly familiar.  The road led up to the old church where the Bardsea bell was sadly tolling for the passing of the newly dead. In this way for years beyond count the good residents of Bardsea were informed of the the presence of a new death in their community.  The bell ringer had tolled out the news of death over the years more times than she cared to remember but this night was different. Instead of the melancholy sadness usually experienced an atmosphere of cold fear prevailed in the bell tower lit by a single lantern.  Most of the times she had tolled out the news had been in daylight and rarely by night. Every now and then she glanced around and over her shoulder, fearful of the flickering shadows cast by the lantern and murmuring a quiet prayer to keep her safe. Having closed the door to prevent the wind from blowing out the lantern she was conscious of the isolation of the tower in that little world alone on the hillside.   Suddenly to her fear and alarm she heard a hissing whispering next to her and was overcome by a feeling of dread, fear and loneliness.

As she looked around she saw a white hare dancing grotesquely around the bell tower and  a whispering voice near her face said “Who for this time?” causing her to scream in terror and loosen her grip on the bell rope.  “It’s the Dobbie!” she cried and turned to look into the pale eyes of the spector who stood at her elbow staring at her.  The white hare jumped into the safety of the cavernous pocket of the dobbie and cast its bloodshot eyes in her direction.  

Despite, or perhaps because of her fear, she continued to toll the bell but in a mechanical fashion, unlike the usual tone for informing the world of the presence of death in their little community.  As she did so and to her relief two men from Bardsea burst through the door. They had been alarmed by the change of tone from the bell which had traditionally rung out the same sombre notes time and again without fail and this break from tradition had caught their attention.  They were completely taken aback to see the ghastly dobbie and his strange familiar and the bell ringer mechanical tolling the bell, a look of fear and horror frozen upon her face.

As soon as they entered the bell tower the white hare hid itself in the deep confines of the pocket.  The White Dobbie floated past them and out through the door without saying a word or giving a glance to the left or right. Out through the door it went and disappeared into the darkness of the graveyard.  For many long years there after the bell-ringer of the little church was often accosted by the ghastly phantom pair when tolling news of death at night. Each time she heard the hissing whispering question, “Who this time?” before the phantom turned and floated out through the door to dissolve into the night.  

Speculation

For many, many, years thereafter the  White Dobbie and his companion were seen at times roaming the coastal lanes and roads of the district but gradually their sightings grew less and less.  There was always a dark cloud of mystery that clung to them either when they appeared or when they left. No one could say where he had come from or where they had gone.  Of the ghastly white hare there was much speculation. Some speculated that the two had once been evil humans who were undergoing a form of divine punishment for some evil.  

The Wandering Jew

There is also an idea that this tale is a variant of the Wandering Jew, or the legend of Ahasuerus.  According to this, Ahasuerus refused Jesus a drink of water as he carried his cross to his crucifixion but instead told him to walk quicker.  Jesus replied, ‘I go, but thou shalt thirst and tarry till I come!”  Ahasuerus was made to wander the earth until judgement day.  What the significance of the white hare is in this tale is unknown but there are legends and traditions in English folklore that tell how a cruelly treated woman may become a white hare at her death and haunt her wicked lover finally causing his own death at a time of her choosing.  Could it be that the ghastly hare that accompanied the White Dobbie was the spirit of his old lover whom he had cruelly murdered or mistreated and was doling out punishment? Their lonely wandering continued for many years thereafter but gradually became less and less and what became of them no one knows.

Liminal Beings

Yet another, perhaps, stranger thought springs to mind.  We all go out about our daily lives passing people in the streets of our towns and cities or maybe out in the countryside.   Many of these we never speak to and they never speak to us as they go about their purpose and we ours. How many of these like the White Dobbie, could be liminal beings just passing by on their nameless mission and indeed, what are we to them and what of our own mission?

© 09/01/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright January 1st, 2019 zteve t evans