Queen Cordelia of the Britons

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Cordelia by William Frederick Yeames – Public Domain

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, the legendary Queen Cordelia was the youngest daughter of King Leir, of the Britons.  She was unfairly rejected by her father for telling him a truth he should have known.  Instead, he bestowed his favor upon her two sisters who falsely proclaimed their love for him for personal gain.  It’s a story of how love, loyalty and forgiveness triumph over lies, deceit and greed and how a woman took up arms to fight in support of the father she loved and became one of the legendary warrior women of the Britons.  

The daughters of Leir

Geoffrey tells us that King Leir had three daughters, Goneril, Regan and the youngest was Cordelia who was his favorite.  As he approached old age he decided he would marry off his daughters and divide his kingdom up between them.  Calling his advisors to him he asked for their advice and they told him to give his kingdom to those who loved him the most.  Leir called his daughters to him and asked how much they loved him.  Goneril and Regan fawned before him and flattered him greatly exaggerating their love for him.

Cordelia’s refusal

When Cordelia, his youngest and favorite daughter came before him she refused to do the same as her sisters, insisting that he should not need such false proof of her great love for him which she showed every day.  However, Leir’s advisors counseled him to divide his kingdom between Goneril and Regan and give Cordelia nothing as she would not answer him and furthermore refuse to find her a husband.  Leir listened to them and did what they suggested and married Goneril and Regan to the Dukes of Cornwall and Albany giving both a huge wedding dowry.  Goneril married Duke Maglanus of Albany and Regan married the Duke of Cornwall.

Cordelia’s punishment

Cordelia got nothing and when Aganippus who was the King of the Franks courted her and asked for her hand in marriage Leir refused to pay a wedding dowry.  Aganippus told Leir his love for Cordelia was not dependent on a dowry or anything else he could give as he loved her anyway.  All he wanted was his permission, which was granted.  So Cordelia left her father and married Aganippus and moved to his court in France and they lived there happily.

Goneril and Regan betray Leir

When Goneril and Regan married they received half of Leir’s kingdom and his wealth between them. They would get the other half on his death but their husbands usurped the throne taking all for themselves.  Marglanus gave Leir a retinue of sixty knights but his daughter, Goneril, halved this after two years.  Leir went to Regan thinking she would support him better but she cut his retinue further to five men.   Disappointed, Leir went back to Goneril to plead for more but she reduced his retinue to a single man to protect him.

Leir goes to Cordelia

With his own daughters abusing and humiliating him in this way Leir fears for his life and goes to France to seek out Cordelia.   Arriving outside of her court and not knowing what kind of reception to expect after his own treatment of her he sends her a message of his arrival asking to see her.  Cordelia, rather than being vengeful at his treatment of her in the past welcomes him and has him bathed and dressed in Royal fashion.   She gives him a large retinue of men to support him and he is received with honor by her husband, Aganippus, the King of France.  Aganippus, makes him a regent of France and promises along with other French nobles to restore his throne to him.

Cordelia the warrior

King Aganippus raises an army and along with Cordelia and Leir lead it into battle against the usurpers of Leir’s realm, Regan and Goneril and their husbands.  They successfully defeat them and win back Leir’s realm.   Although Leir had previously left half his kingdom to Regan and Goneril with them getting the other half when he died this was revoked.

Leir’s death

Leir ruled his kingdom for three more years before dying and when her husband died Cordelia returned to Britain.  She was crowned Queen and succeeded him.  She buried Leir in a shrine underneath the River Soar dedicated to Janus and held a feast every year in his honor.

Queen Cordelia

Cordelia was to rule as queen for five years in peace but her two sister’s sons Marganus and Cunedagius came of age and inherited their father’s dukedoms.  They resented Cordelia because she had defeated their fathers and because she was a woman.  They claimed that if anyone should rule it should be them and they took to war to defeat her. Although a woman, Cordelia was a warrior and fought many battles.  She led her own army against them fighting herself on many occasions.

Cordelia’s death

Eventually, her nephews defeated, captured and imprisoned her where she died.  She was succeeded by her nephews who split the realm into two.  Cunedagius ruled the country southwest of the River Humber and Marganus ruled the country to the northeast of the River Humber.  Eventually, they fought against each not being satisfied with what they got and Cunedagius defeated and killed Marganus.

Legacy

Although the works of Geoffrey of Monmouth are not regarded as reliable historical evidence today they were highly thought of in his time and into the 16th century before it became discredited.  Whatever the historical facts may be it is the human characteristics demonstrated by Cordelia of love, loyalty and forgiveness and her willingness to go to war for her father despite his foolishness, set against the failings of Goneril and Regan that resonate through the ages.

© 29/06/2016 zteve t evans

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Copyright June 29th 2016 zteve t evans

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English Folktales: The White Cow of Mitchell’s Fold

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White Cow by Niko Piromani – Public Domain

Mitchell’s Fold

Today, Mitchell’s Fold is the remains of a stone circle standing on a bleak heath in South West Shropshire.  A local folktale tells of how the stone circle was originated. It tells that there was once a time of great and grievous famine that fell upon the country thereabouts. Many  were faced with starvation and the people had to endure the most terrible struggle to survive. Fortunately for them there was a Good Witch who sent them a most wonderful cow that grazed upon the heath.

This cow was pure white and allowed folk to milk her as long as they took no more than one pail, or container, of milk for each person, each time she was milked.  If that one simple rule was followed she never ran out of milk and could be milked all day and all night any number of times.  She would even fill different kinds of containers, but the rule of one applied also to them and as long as that was followed she never once ran dry.  Local folk were grateful and obeyed the rule fearing that if she should be milked dry she would leave and never return leaving them with no form of nourishment.

Witch Mitchell

Now there was a bad old woman by the name of Witch Mitchell who hated everyone and took delight in causing harm and misfortune to people.  She took it on her to take a sieve up to the moor and milk the cow into that.  Well, as can be expected the sieve never filled up  and eventually the cow ran dry.  The cow was at first content to yield up her milk but with the milking seeming to take an age she looked around and saw a great pool of milk all over the heath.  The white cow,  perhaps feeling that her good nature had been abused, ran off and was not seen on the heath again.

As is so often the way of the world the many suffer from the abuses of the few and the poor people she left behind suffered greatly from starvation and many died all because of the evil Witch Mitchell.

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West side of Mitchell’s Fold – photo by Dave Coker

The Good Witch was angry  with Witch Mitchell and punished her by turning her into a standing stone that stood on the heath.  She caused standing stones to be placed all around her to imprison her there for all time. That place on the moor became known as Mitchell Fold after the bad Witch Mitchell.  Some say the the cow ran all the way to Warwickshire changing her color on the way to become known as the Dun Cow, but that is another tale.

© 22/06/2016 zteve t evans

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Copyright June 22nd, 2016 zteve t evans

Cherokee Folklore: The Legend of the Origin of Strawberries

The Cherokee have many wonderful stories that explain aspects of their life and nature and help them to make sense of their place in the world.  In 1902, James Mooney, an ethnographer, published Myths of the Cherokee which presented a collection of myths, legend, traditions and customs of the Cherokee people.  In many of their legends and folktales there is no formal ending or conclusion as such which leaves it open for future generations to add their part in creating a living story.  A modified version of the Origin of Strawberries is presented here based on Mooney’s work and influenced by others.

 The legend of the origin of strawberries

The legend of the origin of strawberries begins in the early days when the world  was still young and the story was just beginning with the first man and the first woman who lived together as husband and wife.  For a long time they were very happy with each other but there came a time when things were not as good and they began to argue.

After many arguments the woman finally decided she would take no more.  Leaving her husband behind she set off east in the direction of the Sun land that is called Nûñdâgûñ′yĭ.  Her husband was sorry they had argued and followed at a distance grieving for her.  The wife never once looked around but continued walking towards the Sun land in the east.

The man was distraught and prayed that she may come back to him and continued following her.    Une′ʻlănûñ′hĭ looked down and saw the man following his wife and grieving and understood what had happened.  Une′ʻlănûñ′hĭ felt sorry for the man and asked him why if he still felt anger towards his wife.  The man said he now felt no anger towards her but missed her company badly.  Une′ʻlănûñ′hĭ asked the man if he would take her back as his wife again.  The man readily and eagerly told him that he would.

Une′ʻlănûñ′hĭ looked down and seeing the woman was heading towards the east caused a bush of the juiciest huckleberries to spring from the ground right in her path.  The woman took no notice of them and passed round them continuing to walk into the east.

Une′ʻlănûñ′hĭ was surprised and decided to try again.  Next he caused a bush of fine blackberries to grow right on the path she was taking to the Sun-land, thinking they would surely be too tempting for her not to stop and eat her fill.  Again she simply walked around the blackberry bushes ignoring them completely and continuing walking into the east.

Une′ʻlănûñ′hĭ was perplexed and tried to tempt her with other fruits but she simply took no notice of them and continued walking into the east.  He then caused trees with branches laden with red service berries to grow in her path thinking this would surely tempt her to stop. The woman simply paid no attention to them and continued walking into the east.  At the end of his tether Une′ʻlănûñ′hĭ created the most luscious fruit of the most gorgeous color of red to grow right in her path.  These  berries had never before been seen on earth and the woman seeing them was intrigued by the vibrancy their colour and scent.

She bent down and picked one and put it into her mouth.  The taste was delicious and she had never tasted anything so good in her life.  As she ate she looked towards the west where she knew her husband was and she remembered his face.   She remembered all the good times they had together and she no longer wanted to go to the Sun-land and sat down thinking she would wait for him to catch up.

The longer she waited the stronger grew her desire to see him.  Filling her hands with the biggest and juiciest strawberries she walked back the way she had come into the west. When she met her husband who was still following he was delighted to see her and she was delighted to see him.  Together they walked back to their home in the west sharing the strawberries she had picked together.  From the first man and the first woman came more people who spread out across the land like the strawberry plants and so the living story grew and multiplied and continues to unfold.

© 14/06/2016 zteve t evans

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Copyright June 14th, 2016  zteve t evans

Australian Folklore: The Emu in the Sky

The Aboriginal people of Australia developed an astronomy where figures from their mythology were represented  by the dark patches, stars and other features of the night sky. These figures came from familiar animals and objects from their immediate environment that often had stories attached to them explaining their origin or function.

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In the night skies above Australia is the Southern Cross which has a dark patch or cloud next to it called the Coalsack Nebula.  This dark place is associated with the “Emu in the Sky” with the Coalsack representing the head and the body and legs formed by the dust trails that reach out across the Milky Way. Presented here is a brief description of Australian Aboriginal Astronomy followed by the folktale of The Blind Man and the Emu. Then follows  a look at the rock engraving of the Emu in the Sky and the celestial orientation in the night sky of the Emu before concluding with the importance of both of these to the Aboriginal people.

Australian Aboriginal Astronomy

In Australian Aboriginal astronomy, astronomical objects such as the sun, the moon, the stars, the planets and the Milky Way and their movements across the sky are often seen as being representative of objects, animals or aspects of the world they knew. They used these representations to help explain and give meaning to various things that in their minds needed explaining or in some cases as a calendar to keep track of the passing of time and the seasons. Quite often there are mythological or religious explanations given to celestial objects and phenomena and sometimes there are less profound associations given.  Different groups of Aboriginal people have different folktales featuring many different creatures such as stingrays, sharks and other fish, different kinds of birds and animals also different people groups such as men, women, boys, girls and hunters.

The Blind Man and the Emu

One Australian folktale tells of a blind man who lived in a camp in the bush.  He had a wife who lived with him and every day he would send his wife out to look for emu eggs for them to eat. His wife would dutifully oblige but no matter how hard she tried she could not please him. She would find the emu eggs and bring them back to him but he would complain they were too small and become angry with her.   One day she went out looking for emu eggs and came across the tracks of a very large emu.  Thinking that such a large bird would lay large eggs she followed the tracks and found it sitting on its nest on the ground.   Thinking the eggs would be large and would please her husband for a change, she became determined to get them and so she threw stones at the bird hoping to scare it off.  Instead the bird stood up and attacked her and killed her.

Meanwhile the blind man was becoming hungry waiting for his wife and he also began to worry about her.   Unable to see he began to feel his way cautiously around the camp until his hands felt a bush and feeling the branches he found some berries upon it.  Eating the berries he was suddenly cured of his blindness and picking up his spears he went out looking for his wife.  He found her tracks and followed them and found her body by the emu’s nest.  Realizing the emu had killed her he speared the emu and sent its spirit into the Milky Way.  There it remains to this day and can be seen at certain times of the year and became known as the Emu in the Sky.

Rock engravings of the Emu in the Sky

In the Kuringai National Park, north of Sidney the Guringai people who live there created rock engravings, some of these are depicting Daramulan the sky god and his emu-wife. One engraving at the Elvina Track Engraving Site depicts an emu similarly posed similarly as the Emu in the Sky constellation.  During  evenings in the autumn, which is March to May in Australia, the celestial emu in the sky is directly over the engraved emu in the sky depicted in the rock corresponding to the time when the emu lays its eggs and are traditionally collected by the Aborigines.

The Emu in the Sky

During March the head and neck of the Emu appears in night sky and from April to May the full length is revealed in the sky from south toward south east. During this time the Emu is said to have legs by the Kamilaroi and Euahlayi peoples and is seeming to be in a running pose.  This is said to be representative of the females who during the mating season run after the males.

During June and July the celestial emu appears to change its position with the disappearance of its legs and is said to be now male and sitting on its nest hatching the eggs.  It is the male emu on earth that incubates the eggs.  So the celestial Emu appears to reproduce the behavior of the earthly emu.

The Emu in the Sky is an example of how the Aboriginal Australians related to the natural world on earth and the heavens above them.  Their reliance and closeness to nature is seen in the use of the rock engraving that acts as a calendar reminding them of the important time of the year when the emu egg will be available to harvest.

© 08/06/2016 zteve t evans

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Copyright June 8th, 2016 zteve t evans

Welsh Legends: Saint Melangell and the Hare

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Shrine of St. Monacella, Pennant Melangell Church, 1795 – Public Domain

Saint Melangell was a Welsh saint of Irish descent who came to Wales to escape from forced marriage arranged by her father who was an Irish King.  Unhappy at the prospect of an arranged marriage to a man she did not love she left Ireland to become a hermitess in the wilds of  Powys, Wales.

Saint Melangell and the Hare

Saint Melangell is the patron saint of hares and there is a remarkable legend that tells how this association was created.  According to the legend to escape marriage, she took a vow of celibacy and travelled across the Irish Sea to take refuge in a remote spot in Powys, Wales.  There she lived in isolation without seeing the face of any man for fifteen years.

The Prince of Powys goes hunting

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Drawing of the rood screen depicting the story of St. Melangell – Public Domain

It so happened that one day the Prince of Powys whose name was Brochwel Yscythrog was out hunting nearby to her hermitage and his dogs roused a hare and chased it forcing it to take refuge in a thicket.  The prince thought his dogs had the hare at their mercy so when he caught up with them he had a surprise.  The hounds all stood at bay around the hare that sat defiantly glaring at the dogs from the fold of the dress worn by a woman of great beauty who was in deep prayer.  All around the dogs howled and bayed but they would not go near the hare that stared boldly at them  from the shelter of the the folds of the woman’s dress.

The Prince and his huntsmen urged his hounds to go in for the kill but they would not venture near the woman who continued praying fervently.  Prince Brochwel Yscythrog ordered his chief huntsman to blow on his horn to encourage them to the kill but when he tried to blow the horn no sound was made and it stuck fast to his lips preventing him from opening them.

The Prince then spoke to the woman who told him her history and that she was a hermitess who lived nearby and had dedicated herself to God.   She told him how she had arrived and lived here and that she had vowed chastity and that his and his huntsmen were the first men she had seen in fifteen years.  She had lived a life of hardship and dedication to God and her bed been the hard cleft of a nearby rock.

Brochwel Yscythrog was so impressed by her story and what he had seen he gave her the land thereabout to live on and to be a sanctuary to any who fled there.  The Prince asked her to found an abbey on the site which she did and became the abbess living there for many years and dying at a great age.

Shrine Church of St Melangell

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Church tower at Pennant Melangell – Public Domain

Her latin name is Monacella though it is rarely used and her feast day is May 27th and was established in the year 590.  The legend of Melangell and the Hare can still be seen carved on a wooden screen that depict hares running to her for her protection. Because of her association with them she was made the patroness of hares which were sometimes called St. Monacella’s Lambs or Oen Melangell.  Today the saint is still remembered at the beautiful and peaceful Shrine Church of St Melangell and The St Melangell Centre which offers a space for contemplation, renewal and spiritual development.

© 06/06/2016 zteve t evans

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Copyright June 6th, 2016 zteve t evans