The Bamboo Cutter and the Moon-Child

taketori_monogatari_2

Public Domain

The Bamboo cutter

There was once a man named Taketori no Okina (the Old Man who Harvests Bamboo) who made his living by cutting bamboo.  Although he was married he had no children although he and his wife would dearly have loved one.  One day while walking through the bamboo forest he found something very strange.  It was a shining stalk of bamboo and he stopped to have a closer look.  After spending all his life cutting bamboo he had never seen a stalk of bamboo like it.  Intrigued, he cut it open to see what was making it shine.  

Kaguya-hime

To his astonishment and joy there was a tiny baby girl no bigger than his thumb inside.  In wonder and delight he hurried home to show his wife who was also pleased and delighted and they both fell in love with her. They named the baby girl, Kaguya-hime which means princess of bamboos scattering light.  Together and with much love and devotion they raised the tiny girl as their own.  

Ever since  the day Taketori no Okina had found Kaguya-hime every time he cut a stalk of bamboo he found a small nugget of gold inside.   Very soon he became very rich and his daughter grew very fast into an extraordinarily beautiful woman of more normal size.  To begin with he and his wife had tried to keep the existence of Kaguya-hime secret from outsiders, but as is often the case with the extraordinary word spread of her beauty.

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Welsh legends: The drowned town under Kenfig Pool

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David Lewis [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Kenfig Pool

Not far from Porthcawl, Bridgend in Glamorgan in South Wales lies Kenfig Pool that according to legend has a drowned town beneath its waters.  Kenfig Pool is now part of a Kenfig National Nature Reserve which is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and also a part of an important active sand dune system along the Glamorgan coast.  The original borough of Kenfig was a place of some significance centred around or near Kenfig Castle.  Both castle and town became buried by shifting sands during the late medieval period and the residents resettled further inland.

The drowning of Kenfig

According to local tradition the Kenfig Pool is said to be fed by seven springs and is bottomless. It is actually known to be about 12 feet deep.  There is also supposed to be a whirlpool that drags boaters and swimmers to their doom called Black Gutter.   Another  legend  tells that where the lake now stands there was once a thriving town that sank and became covered by water.

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Cormoran, the Giant of St Michael’s Mount

St. Michael’s Mount is a tidal island that lies just in Mount’s Bay, off the coast of Cornwall and  a short distance from the town of Marazion.  At high tide it becomes an island and when the tide goes out it can be reached from Marazion by a short stroll across a stone causeway.   Looking very much like the scene from a fairy tale the mount rises up out of Mount’s Bay and is crowned with a castle.  Below the castle lies a cluster of houses and a small harbour where the causeway runs from Marazion connecting it to the Cornish mainland.

 
Many centuries ago Mount’s Bay was above water and  once home to a forest that.  It is not known exactly what happened but the forest is now under the sea. Whether the land sank or the sea rose is not known, but this land is said to have been drowned by the sea in an event that was possibly similar to a tsunami. The petrified remains of the trees  can sometimes still be seen after storms.

Cormoran the giant

Many years before the flood the forest was said to be the home of birds, animals and probably humans.  But there was also giants and the biggest of all was Cormoran and there are many tales concerning him and many versions of the same tale but in Cornish folklore it is Cormoran, with the help of his wife who built the Mount with the name “St Michael’s” added later from a different legend.

 
In the middle of the forest was one huge white rock and one day while roaming the forest Cormoran came across it and taking a liking to the place decided to built a high hill of white rocks and to make it his home.  His idea was to look out from the heights of the hill over the countryside keeping an eye on what was going on all around.

Building the Mount

It was a mammoth task he had set himself but he knew just what he wanted and he cut, shaped and sorted the slabs of granite using only the white.  Those that had a tinge of green, grey or pink he rejected.  Cormoran had a wife by the name of Cormelian who was a very conscientious and hard working giantess. Now Cormoran was a lazy fellow and he made poor Cormelian carry all the blocks of granite from the quarry to the site while he put his feet up and went to sleep.

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Pixabay – By Efraimstochter – CC0 Public Domain

Cormelian helps

Now Cormelian worked at the task conscientiously putting each slab of white granite in her apron, carrying it to the site and putting it in place.  She soon found it to be very hard work and began thinking that the slabs of green, grey or pink granite would look much prettier than just white.   They were easier for her to get to and not so far to carry and she was beginning to get tired and bored with carrying slabs while her husband snored and slept.  She grew increasingly frustrated and resentful and the work was taking days and days. One day while Cormoran snored she picked up a huge green slab and placing it in her apron and carried it to the growing mound of stones as quickly as she could lest he should wake.   Just as she was about to put the stone in place Cormoran opened one eye saw what she was doing.

 
He was furious with her but instead of raging and shouting crept up behind her and struck her such a blow on the back of her head that she staggered. Her apron string broke and the huge green slab fell to the ground.  There it remains in that exact same spot today and no human could ever move it.  The sea rose or the land sank and the area became inundated with the sea and is how we find it today on the beach.

Cormoran and the Lord of Pengersick

Cormoran had a very hideous appearance.  As well as being very ugly he only had one eye and that was situated in the middle of his forehead.  He had a large mouth with a few yellow, broken teeth left, but most were now gone.   His hideous appearance and sheer size made the local people terrified of him.  He was also the most habitual thief taking whatever he wanted from anyone.

 
All the local people and farmers were frightened of him and he knew it and used to his advantage. When he was hungry he would stride the short distance from the Mount to the mainland and steal the best sheep, pigs and cattle, throwing them over his shoulder and striding home to enjoy eating them. The local farmers suffered sorely from this thievery but were helpless to prevent it.

 
Now it came to pass that one day Cormoran met his match, well more than his match.  The estate of the Lord of Pengersick lay nearby and it was well known that his lordship was away in foreign lands in the east. Cormoran would take advantage of this raiding the estate for the best sheep, pigs and cattle in all of Cornwall. One day Cormoran thought he would raid his lordships livestock so setting out from the Mount he strode across to Pengersick Cove which was the nearest and quickest way to the estate.

 
In the past Cormoran had stolen a great deal of livestock from Pengersick and had no fear of any confrontation with the local people or the lord.   His sheer size and hideous appearance had always frightened them off and he laughed at the thought of it. He feared no human.  He had no time for any of them only had respect for giants like himself, but especially the giant of Trecrobben Hill who was his friend.

 
Now it just so happened that the Lord of Pengersick had returned from his travels in the eastern lands where he was said to have learned much of the ancient arts of magic and sorcery. It is told that by the use of these arts he knew Cormoran was coming and was ready for him.   His servants had told him about the giant’s thieving and his lordship resolved to teach him a lesson.

 
So Cormoran waded ashore thinking he would quickly snaffle a sheep or a cow for an easy meal and stride home to enjoy his ill gotten fayre. Now as he stepped ashore a funny thing happened to him that had never happened before.  He began to feel really queasy in the stomach and his head went all funny inside and he felt confused and bewildered.  He thought perhaps the strong sun had affected him but others say it was the Lord of Pengersick who through magic arts was watching his every move and had thrown a spell on him, but Cormoran had no inkling of this.  All Cormoran knew was he felt decidedly peculiar and unwell but things were about to get very strange indeed.

 
Forcing himself to keep his mind on his goal of stealing his dinner he decided to catch one of his lordship’s cattle that were peacefully grazing nearby.  Still feeling decidedly wobbly he crept up to one and tried to grasp it round the neck.  To his surprise the cow was as slippery as an eel and he began floundering around trying to grasp it but it kept slipping out of his grip.

 
Cormoran was now feeling really woozy and very confused and bewildered.  He began losing his temper and gave up trying to catch the cow.  Instead out of desperation and spite he grabbed its calf, which although also slippery, was smaller and he managed to master it.  Tying its legs together he threw it around his neck and and tried to hurry home to the Mount for a good dinner.

 
He was still feeling strange and funny in his head but as he staggered home he noticed something else strange that was happening.  For his long legs the distance back to his home was not great and he usually managed it with ease but now something was happening he could not explain.   No matter how fast he tried to walk, or how long he made his strides he did not seem to be getting very far.

 
Looking around him the countryside appeared different and peculiar, but he could not say why, or was even sure of where he was.   He was becoming exhausted and seemed to have got nowhere but at last he saw Pengersick Cove, but in the sea was a great black rock which he could not ever remember seeing before.  Confused and bewildered he thought he must have taken a wrong path and he tried to turn around and go back the way he came.

 

To his shock and growing horror he found he could not turn around and could not even walk backwards.  he found himself being dragged towards the black rock by some invisible force.  He laid down and dug his heels in the ground but the rock still dragged him towards it closer and closer.  Soon the invisible force had dragged him near enough for him to stretch his arms out thinking to hold himself from the rock, but he found his hands were now stuck fast to it.  No matter how hard he tugged and pulled and twisted he could not free his hands from the rock.  He was stuck fast and now he was panicking.

 

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Pixabay – By LoggaWiggler – CC0 Public Domain

To make matters worse the calf he was carrying around his neck was also panicking kicking him and bellowing and soon he was covered in cuts and bruises but his hands were stuck to the rock and could do nothing to free the calf or fend it off.  Soon he could feel himself turning cold.  His hands on the stone started to stiffen followed by his arms and his back and then his legs. Soon all his body felt as rigid and as solid as stone, but all the while his senses grew keener enhancing his fear.  Fear gripped him as he thought he would now become petrified solid.

 
It is said the Lord of Pengersick with his magic arts saw all this and was well pleased with the spell he had put on Cormoran and decided to leave him there till the next morning to teach him not to go thieving his livestock.   So Cormoran was left to stand as still and rigid and cold as stone in the bay with the calf kicking and bellowing until morning. The tide came in and the water rose up to his neck and he feared he would drown but he did not and then the tide went out again.

 
In the morning Cormoran was still well and truly stuck to the stone and could not pull or twist his hands free.  The Lord of Pengersick, thinking he would teach him another lesson arrived on his horse and began berating Cormoran and gave him a severe tongue lashing making the giant quake.  However his lordship was not finished with Cormoran and dismounting from his horse gave the giant a severe thrashing with his stick.

 
So severely and so viciously was Cormoran beaten that he screamed and writhed in agony.  He struggling so hard that he pulled the skin from his hands to get free from the rock that had held him and ran into the sea striding rapidly through the waves to his home on St Michael’s Mount.  There he nursed his hands in misery for many a day until they healed.  Never again did Cormoran steal livestock from his lordship’s land though he still raided the other farms in the area.

 
Cormoran’s hands eventually healed up but during that time he made the life of his poor wife, Cormelian, a proper misery.  As well as having sore hands and bruises and weals across his back, his pride had been hurt from the lesson the Lord of Pengersick had given him. He was mortified about what the other giants would think and poor Cormelian had to endure his bad temper for many a day to her dismay.

The death of Cormelian

Now Cormelian was a very kind and good-natured giantess and was always working hard looking after the home and her grumpy, bad-tempered husband.  It was thanks to her that the worst of his bad behaviour was curbed. Her one weakness was her excessive inquisitiveness.   She was not really nosy and she never did anyone any harm, but her curiosity always seemed to get the better of her and this was to prove tragic.

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Pixabay – By goldfaun – CC0 Public Domain

 
Cormoran  was great friends with the Trecrobben Hill giant on the mainland and they would borrow things and lend things of each other as is the way with good friends.  Now when one of them wanted to borrow something they would shout across to each other and one would simply throw the other what was required, which would sail for miles high in the air for the other to catch.

 
Cormoran wore hobnailed boots on his great big feet and one day he could feel a nail sticking in his foot.   He shouted across to his friend to throw him his cobbling-hammer.  His friend duly obliged  and lobbed the hammer high in the air.

 
Cormelian was busy working in the house and hearing Cormoran shouting ran out in her inquisitiveness to see what was happening.  Running out from the dark house into bright sunshine her eyes were dazzled. Although Cormoran shouted a warning she did not see the hammer coming and it struck her full on top of her head killing her instantly.  She fell down in front of Cormoran who let out a great howl and the giant of Trecrobben Hill raced down to see what had happened.

 
The two giants wept and hugged each other and hugged and shook poor Cormelian trying to bring her back to life but she was as dead as stone.  They wailed and cried so much that they caused a gale that wrecked two ships upon the sea and blew the roofs of many of the houses in Marazion but all to no avail and all that was left to do was bury her.

 
Now although Cormoran was a grumpy old giant and very often mistreated Cormelian he loved her in his own way and was never the same after he lost her.  His friend from Trecrobben Hill was also devastated as he had never intended anyone should get hurt let alone killed.  Together the two giants buried Cormelian, but where the grave may be is not known for sure. Some say it was on the Mount in the courtyard, others say the two of them lifted up Chapel Rock and laid her to rest underneath, but others say they gave her to the sea.

Jack the Giant killer

Cormoran met his own death some years later at the hands of a local lad who came to specialize in killing giants and became known as Jack the Giant-Killer.   After the death of his wife Cormoran had no one to rein him in and although he avoided the Lord of Pengersick’s livestock he raided all the other farms in the locality all the more.  One day the local farmers became so annoyed with him they convened a meeting in Penzance to discuss what they should do.

 
After a great deal of arguing and talking an idea was proposed that they all accepted mainly because none could think of anything better.  Over the years Cormoran had accumulated a great deal of treasure that he had stolen from the neighbourhood. It was proposed that anyone who could get rid of Cormoran for ever would be given this considerable treasure trove as a reward.   Although no one believed anyone would be foolhardy enough to fight the giant, or strong enough to defeat him.  Certainly none of them were brave enough to try.   Nevertheless they put out advertisements searching for such a person but no one seemed interested or had the courage to try.

 
Eventually just as they were giving up on the idea to their surprise and amusement a simple farmer’s boy by the name of Jack volunteered to have a go.  Although no one had faith that he could accomplish the task they were desperate so they agreed and he took up the challenge.

 
That night Jack took a small boat and paddled over to the Mount while Cormoran was asleep.  Working fast but quietly he dug a deep pit on the path the giant used everyday that ran down from his home.  As dawn broke he stood outside the giant’s door and blew three loud notes on his horn.  Waking with a start, Cormoran rushed outside to see what all the commotion was.  As soon as he steps out the door Jack starts shouting at him and taunts him.  Furious Cormoran chases Jack down the path, but the rising sun dazzles him and he does not see the pit Jack had dug.

 
Jack, knowing where the pit is leaps over it as Cormoran is about to grab him and the giant blinded by the sun falls into it to his surprise.  Turning quickly Jack drives his pickaxe into the skull of the giant killing him instantly and that was the end of Cormoran the Giant of St Michael’s Mount. But for every ending there is a beginning.  Jack claims his reward and that is how he began his career as the famous giant-killer.

 

Return of the giants

 

These days there are no more giants in or around Mount’s Bay though tales of them remain.  Perhaps one day the water will recede from the bay and the forest will return and giants will again live in it and on the Mount, but I don’t suppose the local farmers would be very pleased!

© 24/01/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright 24/01/2016 zteve t evans

 

 

The Strange Fate of King Herla

King Herla

King Herla was a legendary King of the ancient Britons who along with his men became caught in a strange spell.   After attending  the marriage of the Dwarf King in the Otherword, Herla and his host of men became trapped in an endless cycle.  They became doomed to wandering the world on horseback never being able to set foot on the ground.   Along the way they attracting the souls of the newly dead into their company who joined them in riding the earth in wild, meaningless circles and were often called The Wild Hunt in England by those who witnessed them.

This unearthly and unwelcome situation arose through an agreement he made with a king from the dwarf realm.  According to the legend the Dwarf King visited King Herla and together they made a binding promise with each other that they would  attend each others wedding.

The Dwarf King

The story begins with King Herla and his retinue traveling through an ancient forest. Feeling tired he decided he needed a rest so he bid his men to leave him in peace while he lay down underneath the trees to sleep.  As he began to doze he heard a sound of rustling coming towards him through the undergrowth.  Drawing his sword he readied himself for what should appear.  To his surprise he was greeted by a small human figure riding on the back of a large goat.

Compared to the humans the dwarf was smaller and squatter and probably about half as tall.  The dwarf had a huge head and a bright face with a long red beard down to his chest. His skin was light yellowish brown and his shoulders, arms and chest were very hairy.  His legs were also hairy and he had cloven hooves instead of feet and he rode upon a huge mountain goat.

Riding up to him the Dwarf King told Herla his people had chosen him to be a guest at his wedding because he was the only king at the time who they regarded as having the wisdom and goodness to attend such  an important occasion.  The Dwarf King told him,

I, the king of many kings and chiefs and of a people numerous beyond all count, come willingly, sent from them to thee, and though I am to thee unknown, yet I glory in the fame which hath raised thee high above other kings, since thou art the best and the nearest to me in place and blood, and art moreover worthy of having me grace with high honour thy wedding as a guest, when the King of the French giveth his daughter to thee—an arrangement concluded without thy knowledge, and Jo, his messengers come this very day. Let there be an abiding compact between us, that I shall attend thy wedding, and thou mine a year later to the day.’ (1)

Dismounting he bowed and held before Herla a bronze horn of exquisite workmanship and asked him to drink from it to seal the compact.  Herla was unsure about accepting this strange and unworldly binding agreement.  Nevertheless, taking the horn he drank from it and handed it back to the Dwarf King who drank the rest, sealing the contract between them. He then rode off into the undergrowth on his goat without another word.  Herla rejoined his men and returned to his court thinking no more of the peculiar affair other than it had probably been a dream when he was half asleep.

The wedding of King Herla

Nevertheless, arriving back home and to the King’s amazement ambassadors from France arrived accepting the terms of his marriage to the daughter of the King of France.  As the wedding was about to begin the Dwarf King entered with many of his subjects and servants.  There were so many more chairs and tables were needed to accommodate them all.

From tents pitched by the Dwarf King’s followers fine wines were served from pitchers exquisitely decorated and studded with precious gemstones and poured into goblets of silver and gold and crystal.  They had brought the most wonderful food with them and they laid a banquet the like that has never been seen before and their minstrels entertained the guests.   Even though they worked like beavers they were so pleasant and courteous that that King Herla and the Britons were made to feel wonderfully honored.  At the end of the banquet the Dwarf King stood and bowed before King Herla and his wife and said,

‘0 best of kings, the Lord is my witness that, according to our compact, I am present at thy wedding. But if anything that thou cravest besides what thou seest here can be asked of me, I shall willingly supply it; but if not, thou must not put off thy requital of this high honour when I shall ask for it.’ (2)

Abruptly the Dwarf King turned on his heel and left the wedding reception taking his retinue and servants with him.  the tents were packed quickly away and all signs of them vanished in a trice.

The wedding of the Dwarf King

King Herla heard or saw nothing of the Dwarf King until one year from his wedding day when once again he appeared riding on his goat with a retinue behind him. Standing before Herla he reminded him of their agreement and asked him if he was willing to fulfill it.  Herla agreed and along with a retinue of knights followed the Dwarf King along strange paths through the forest until at last they came to a towering cliff.  There Herla and his men followed the Dwarf King into a small cave and along a passage that opened into a huge and marvelous cavern that was lit my many hundreds of lights.

There were many thousands of dwarves gathered there awaiting their arrival for the wedding of the Dwarf King.  The Dwarf King was married and King Herla and his knights bore witness to it and celebrated with the dwarves and the contract between the two was fulfilled.

The warning

Before he left the Dwarf King gave Herla and his men many presents of hawks, dogs and horses such as were used in the hunt.  As they were about to leave the underground world to enter the world above ground he presented the king with a small bloodhound which he told him should be carried before him on the saddle of his horse.  He then issued a stern warning telling him that the world he had known had changed and it was not safe for him and his men to leave and begged them to stay.

King Herla, not understanding why the Dwarf King spoke in this way politely refused saying he wanted to return to his wife and kingdom.  Shaking his head the Dwarf King then gave him another warning.  He told him that no rider’s foot should touch the ground before the bloodhound he had just given Herla jumped to the ground on its own accord from its seat on the saddle. If this was not followed death would strike as soon as the foot of a rider touched the ground.  With this warning the Dwarf King turned abruptly and left them.

Returning to the outside world

Herla and his men rode into the sunlight and they deemed they had been in the cavern for no more than three days.  On the way back Herla came across an old shepherd tending his flock and stopped to ask him what news he had of the queen.  The shepherd looked at him in confusion and said,

‘My lord, I scarce understand thy language, since I am a Saxon and thou a Briton. But I have never heard of the name of that queen, save that men tell of one so called, a queen of the very ancient Britons, and wife of King Herla, who is reported in legends to have disappeared with a pigmy into this cliff and to have been seen nevermore on earth. The Saxons, having driven out the natives, have possessed this kingdom for full two hundred years.’ (3)

Herla and his men had only thought they had spent no more than three days in the cavern and they were greatly surprised to learn this.   Some of them, forgot the warning of the Dwarf King and dismounted, but as soon as their feet touched the ground their bodies disintegrated into dust.  Remembering the Dwarf King’s warning, Herla immediately forbade his men to dismount until the bloodhound that sat before him should leap to the ground on its own cause.

Herla’s fate

Now there are those that say the dog has never taken that leap to earth and that Herla and his men are fated to ride their horses across the world without rest, or stopping for all eternity.  However, others say their strange ride was was seen by many over many centuries until the first year of the Coronation of King Henry II.  Then it was seen around noon by the River Wye near Hereford.  According to some accounts an army was raised to challenge them to battle but the host took to the air and vanished into the clouds and has not been seen since.  Others say the Wild Hunt still at times can be seen before some disaster such as war, or famine occurs and is seen as a portent of doom.  Yet still, other accounts say that the bloodhound jumped to the ground breaking the spell upon the king and his men and they are now at rest.

The Otherworld

Now some also say this story is a warning for those that visit the Otherworld that time there passes slower and the outside world changes faster and can never be the same on the return. They also say it is a warning of the danger of dealing with the people of the the Otherworld for they can be capricious and deceptive in their dealings with humans who have never really understood them.  They doubt why the Dwarf King would want such a strange compact with King Herla anyway.

Now, what do you think?

© 20/01/2016  zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright January 20th, 2016 zteve t evans

Welsh Legends: Hu Gadarn the Mighty

Hu the Mighty

Hu Gadarn was a legendary leader of the Cymry people who left their original homeland to settle on the island of Britain in antiquity.  According to some very ancient traditions the Cymry lived in another land they called the Summer Country of Deffrobani. The location of Deffrobani is uncertain with some accounts saying it was in the area of present day Istanbul, others point to the Middle East, while others claim Sri Lanka.  Nevertheless, the legends say that among the Cymry a wise and great leader appeared who they called Hu Gadarn, or Hu the Mighty.  This work will present some of his achievements and the significance to the Cymry race that he had on their settlement of Britain that are revealed in the legends and traditions.

Hu Gadarn the lawgiver

According to legend, Hu Gadarn was skilled in the arts and the sciences, such as they were, and he invented the plough.  He taught his people how to cultivate the land and how to grow crops.  So they grew their crops and he taught them how to build communities which gave them a home instead of roaming the land and relying on hunting the animals and picking the fruits and the nuts to live on.  They could now live together in their communities but sometimes they fell into arguing and fighting. To help them help each other he gave them laws.  The people followed his laws and there was less arguing and fighting and they began to work and live together as one people.

Although their crops grew and fed the people and their communities were successful other people envied them and attacked and stole from them.  Seeing this Hu Gadarn thought they needed a country of their own.  He talked to them and told them about the land that lie over the Mor Tawch, or the Hazy Sea and how it was under the protection of God. He told them of the animals that roamed wild and free upon those blessed shores.  There were wolves, bears, deer, wild oxen and multitudes of birds that swam on the lakes and rivers. Great eagles swept across majestic mountains, and verdant valleys and there were great fertile grassy plains and forests, but no humans lived there.  He asked them to follow him there and claim the island as their own.

Honey Island

The Cymry agreed and Hu Gadarn led them on a great journey across the land until they came to the shores of the Hazy Sea.  He showed them how to build and use coracles and they crossed the sea and landed on the shores of the island of Britain taking possession of it before any other humans had arrived.  They found it was just as Hu had described being only inhabited by animals such as wolves, bears and wild oxen and many other such beasts living in the forests, fertile valleys and plains.    The Cymry called their new home the Honey Island because of the abundance of honey they found they could harvest.

With Hu to lead them they built new communities governed by the laws he gave them and they built shrines and places of worship to give thanks to the gods for their good fortune.  Hu expanded his legal structure so everyone could get justice and he taught the people how to created songs to help them remember important information which was the system they used until the invention of writing. In this way important knowledge, history and traditions of the people were passed down from generation to generation and the Cymry became famous for their songs and poetry

Hu the Mighty and the Afanc

According to some Welsh traditions he was said to have been the first king of the island of Britain.  During this period there was a series of disastrous floods caused by a water-dwelling monster called the afanc.  These floods caused huge damage to people’s homes and crops. It was with the help of Hu the Mighty that the afanc was eventually transported to a lake on the slopes of Mount Snowdon using oxen to drag it there.  Once there it could do no harm and the flooding of homes and farmlands stopped.

Who was Hu Gadarn?

Hu Gadarn was first mentioned in the 18th century by Iolo Morganwg in Triads that are of questionable authenticity.  There was a “Huw” mentioned in the Book of Taliesin, but is thought not to be connected with Hu Gadarn.  Another character named Huw Gadarn is mentioned in the White Book of Rhydderch, as the emperor of Constantinople in stories that were adapted from a French tale.  He is also mentioned in the  Red Book of Hergest and several other works.  He also figures in Medieval French Romance in connection to Charlemagne and it maybe that these are derived from earlier Celtic stories.

There are some people who believe Hu Gadarn was none other that the great Israelite leader Joshua and the Cymry were from Tribe of Ephraim, one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, though others dismiss this idea.  There are also claims he brought the Druidic tradition to Britain and Ireland but this is also disputed by many.

Maybe trying to pinpoint actual historical figures to legends misses what is really being said but please make up your own minds to meaning, or facts, but it does seem clear, that Hu Gadarn, fact or fiction, appears to have been a figure of some significance to the traditions of how Britain was settled and the origin of the Cymry.

© 17/01/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright January 17th 2016 zteve t evans

 

 

 

Welsh folklore: Twm Siôn Cati the trickster

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Twm Sion Cati’s cave – By Hywel Williams – CC BY-SA 2.0

Twm Siôn Cati

Twm Siôn Cati was a real person who entered Welsh folklore for his exploits as an outlaw, thief and a confidence trickster.  There are many stories about him but it is generally agreed he was born around 1530 in the Tregaron area of Wales. His mother was Cati Jones of Tregaron and his father was said to be  Siôn ap Dafydd ap Madog ap Hywel Moetheu.  His mother named him Thomas Jones and he became became popularly known as Twm Siôn Cati.

Twm had hideout known as Sion Cati’s Cave on Dinas Hill above Tregaron. The cave is quite difficult to access requiring a steep climb and is hidden by rocks and trees and overlooks where the River Pysgotwr joins the River Towy.  Many tall stories grew up around him and it is difficult to separate fact from fiction as there are many versions of the same tale.  The following are examples of these tales.

Twm and the highwayman

In one such story Twm is carry a large wad of money gained from his illegal activities and needs to stay overnight in an inn.  It may be that thieves have a way of recognising another thief,  but Twm gets wind of a plot by a highwayman to steal his ill gotten gains.   The next morning Twm prepares his horse making a show of fastening his saddle pack as if it contains something valuable and then rides off.  He has not gone far when he notices the highwayman is shadowing him.  While not letting on he knows the highwayman is there he throws the saddle pack into a nearby pond and then rides off.

The highwayman waits till Twm has disappeared into the distance and then dismounts and wades into the water to find the saddle pack which has sunk to the bottom.  Meanwhile Twm has doubled back and while his adversary is searching the pond Twm steals his horse and rides off with it.  Now the highwayman has trained his horse well and he shouts at it to stop.  After a few apt expletives Twm finds the right words which  set the horse galloping away again and escapes selling the horse for more profit.

Twm and the farmer

Another tale tells how an angry farmer hunted after Twm after he had stolen one of his cows.  The farmer on arriving outside the home of Twm’s mother sees a beggar outside the house and asks him if Twm Siôn Cati lived there.  The beggar tells the farmer that indeed he does live there.  The farmer then asks the beggar to hold his whip and horse while he goes into the house to confront Twm.

The farmer storms into the house looking for Twm but the beggar is really Twm and gallops off full pelt on the  horse straight to the farmer’s house.  Once there he jumps from the horse and rushes to find the farmer’s wife.  He finds her and tells her that the husband is in deep trouble and is in desperate need of money.  To convince her he presents her husband’s horse whip and horse as proof.  Convinced, she gives him the money but instead of taking it to the farmer he rides off to London and sells the horse when he gets there.

Twm and the shopkeeper

On another occasion Twm enrolled the help of a beggar to steal a pot from a shop.  After entering the shop separately Twm began talking to the shopkeeper, saying his pots were not very good, while the beggar looked around as if interested in buying something.  Twm further distracted the shopkeeper by telling him one of the pot had an hole in.  This annoyed the shopkeeper who took great pride in the quality of his wares and began to examine one closely.  Twm told him to put his hand in the pot, which he did and then Twm pointed out that there must be a hole for him to get his hand inside.  Meanwhile with the shopkeeper distracted his accomplice has sneaked off taking the best pot in the place with him.

Twm and the squire’s daughter

Another tale tells how Twm robbed a young woman who was accompanied by her father, a local squire.  According to this, Twm fell in love with the woman at first sight and gave her the jewellery back.  He tried his best to win her affections by conventional means but he was unsuccessful.

However, not being one to give up easily he came up with a more unconventional way. One night when there was a full moon he crept up to her bedroom window, tapped lightly on the pane and when she opened it he grasped her hand tightly.  Kissing it  passionately he refused to let go until she had agreed to be his wife.  Defiantly, the woman refused to accept the proposal. Twm drew his knife and cut her wrist slightly causing it to bleed.  He then told her that unless she promised to marry him he would cut her hand off.

Hardly a romantic moment but she agreed to the marriage, which despite her father’s opposition took place soon after.  Now, some say the woman had been married before to the Sheriff of Carmarthen who had died leaving her a widow.   The Sheriff was said by some to have been Twm’s arch enemy.  Nevertheless, whatever the truth in this, they married.

Respectability

Ironically, it seems that with marriage he eventually gained enough respectability to become a justice of the peace, judging others until his death in 1620.  At some stage he appears to have been given a Royal Pardon by Elizabeth Ist and apart from his outlaw days is remembered as a justice of the peace, bard, Welsh historian, genealogist and a pillar of respectability.

© 13/01/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright January 13th 2016 zteve t evans

The revenge of the Mermaid of Padstow

The Doom Bar of Padstow

Over the ages the Cornish people evolved their own unique traditions, folklore and legends full of smugglers, pirates, giants and mermaids. One such example is the folktale of the Mermaid of Padstow which offers an explanation of how the Doom Bar, a large sandbar, that has accounted for many shipwrecks, was created.

The Doom Bar of Padstow lies in the estuary of the River Camel on the north coast of Cornwall.  It is a sandbar that has been a hazard for ships for many centuries wrecking many that sailed accidently upon it, or were forced by storms.  The term, Doom Bar is derived from Dunbar Sands which it was once called and dunebar, or sand dune.  A part of the eastern part is thought to have been above water in the distant past and covered in forest about 4,000 years ago that was eventually covered by sand and dunes and a rise in sea levels the cause of which is unknown.  The area it covers and its shape can vary depending on wind and tides and there are several traditions and legends about how it was created and two involve mermaids.

The Mermaid of Padstow

Mermaids are strange creatures and can be perilous for humans who encounter them.  They are sometimes seen as harbingers of doom bringing storms, drownings and shipwrecks.  Sometimes they are immoral temptresses winning the hearts of young men and luring them into the sea to their deaths, or never to be seen again on land.

One folk tale told by Enys Tregarthen tells how a curse from a dying mermaid created the Doom Bar in revenge for her murder by a local man named Tristram Bird.  According to the tale He had brought a new gun and gone down to Hawker’s Cove to shoot seals with it.   As he was hunting he found a beautiful young woman sitting on a rock, singing a sweet song and brushing her hair with a golden comb.

Mr Bird was entranced by her song and beauty and fell in love with her.  Approaching her he begged her to be his wife but the woman refused.  Deeply hurt by her rejection he shot her with his gun.  It was only then he realised that she was a mermaid and that had been the reason for her rejecting him.  There was nothing he could do to save her and as she died she cursed the harbour from Hawker’s Cove to Trebetherick Bay laying a “doom bar” across it.  Immediately a terrific storm hit the estuary and when it subsided a bar of sand lay across it covered by wrecked ships and dead sailors.  Ever since then the Doom Bar of Padstow has been causing a hazard for shipping ever since.

Another tradition told in the ballad, The Mermaid of Padstow a local man called Tom, or Tim Yeo killed a seal which turned out to be a mermaid.  Another explanation given by John Betjeman tells how a mermaid was found by a local man who fell in love with him.  He being mortal could not be with her in the sea for long.  She could not stay on land for long and so they were doomed to remain separated.  Nevertheless,  she was desperately in love with him and tried to entice him beneath the sea to live with her forever.  He was not ready for such a fate and rejected her but she tried to pull him in the sea to be with her.  He only escaped by shooting her.  Enraged by pain and rejection she grabbed a handful of sand and flung it towards Padstow.  From this handful of sand, more sand accumulated around it and the Doom Bar grew to what it is now.

Shipwrecks

Since records began in the 19th century there have been over six hundred shipping incidents on the Doom bar and most of these have resulted in wrecks. Two of the most notable wrecks on the Doom Bar was HMS Whiting, in 1816, a 12 gun Royal Navy warship ran aground there  and in 1895, the Antoinette, a three masted sailing vessel of 1,118 tons, making it the largest vessel to be wrecked so far.   To make it safe for navigation the vessel was blown up with explosives resulting in a cloud of sand and smoke that could be seen for miles.  However, in February 2010 the shifting sands revealed the remains of a large wooden vessel believed to be the Antoinette

Perilous

As with many folk tales the legend of the Mermaid of Padstow strives to explain the creation of a natural feature of the local environment in simple terms.  Many a good ship has floundered on the Doom Bar and even in modern times it needs to be approached with care and respect or it can prove perilous.  The same can be said about mermaids for they too can be perilous!

© 13/01/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright January 13th 2016 zteve t evans