World Folklore: The Child Cast Adrift


Artwork by Charles Foster – Public Domain

The Child Cast Adrift

Many myths and legends from many cultures around the world revolve around the theme of a child deliberately abandoned in the wilds or cast adrift on the ocean or a river.  The story involves a  helpless and defenseless baby committed by adults to take their chances of survival but against all odds and often with the help of divine intervention the baby survives to grow up and play a significant part in the culture of a society.  More often than not they become great leaders saving or inspiring their people.

Usually, those that cast the helpless babe adrift are not doing so with the intention of actually killing the child but are offering up for the chance of divine intervention, or luck, in the hope that the baby will survive the ordeal.  Sometimes it is the only chance the baby will have of survival because it has been rejected in some way by those who have power over it or others who wish it harm.  Presented here are four ancient examples from folklore and mythology around the world concluding with an example from modern fiction.

Moses in the Bull Rushes

The Old Testament tells how the population of Hebrews living in Egypt had grown to such an extent that the Egyptians grew concerned that they were becoming too powerful.  They forced them into slavery and to reduce their numbers the Pharaoh decreed that their newborn babies were to be drowned in the Nile.  The Hebrews prayed to God for help and he sent them Moses who was to lead them out of Egypt.

In a desperate hope that her baby might somehow escape this fate the mother of Moses placed him in a basket and sets him afloat in the reeds where Pharaoh’s daughter routinely went to bathe in the river trusting in God that he would be saved and fulfill his destiny. Pharaoh’s daughter did find him and he was rescued and survived growing up to lead his people out of Egypt to freedom.

Sargon of Akkad

Sargon of Akkad was a king in Mesopotamia from 2334 to 2279 BCE.  He was said to have been an illegitimate son of one of the priestesses of the temple of the goddess Innana and never knew who his father was.  His mother, whose name was not known, could not reveal her pregnancy or to keep the unnamed baby,  so she placed him in a basket and cast him adrift on the Euphrates River.

A man called Akki  who was an “irrigator”, or “drawer of water”, of King Ur-Zababa of Kish in Sumer found and rescued the child and brought up the baby.  The boy grew up to become king, conquering Mesopotamia and creating one of the first known multinational empires.  Although the name of the child is not known, when he became king he became known as Sargon and was regarded by many as the greatest man who had ever lived.

An account of Sargon’s birth and early boyhood is found in  a Neo-Assyrian text:

“Sargon, the mighty king, king of Akkadê am I,
My mother was lowly; my father I did not know;
The brother of my father dwelt in the mountain.

My city is Azupiranu, which is situated on the bank of the Purattu (Euphrates),
My lowly mother conceived me, in secret she brought me forth.

She placed me in a basket of reeds, she closed my entrance with bitumen,
She cast me upon the rivers which did not overflow me.

The river carried me, it brought me to Akki, the irrigator.

Akki, the irrigator, in the goodness of his heart lifted me out,
Akki, the irrigator, as his own son brought me up;

Akki, the irrigator, as his gardener appointed me.
When I was a gardener the goddess Ishtar loved me,
And for four years I ruled the kingdom.”  (1)

Romulus and Remus


She-wolf suckles Romulus and Remus – Public Domain

According to the Roman historian Livy, Rhea Silvia was the daughter of Numitor who was the king of Alba Longa, an ancient city in the Alban Hills in what is now central Italy.  Amulius, the brother of Numitor seized the throne and killed all of his brother’s male heirs and forced Rhea Silvia to become a Vestal Virgin, making her take a vow of chastity and thinking that then there would be no challengers to his rule.

Possibly the gods had other ideas because Rhea Silvia conceived twins by the god of war, Mars and named them Romulus and Remus.   By some accounts, the usual punishment for a Vestal Virgin who broke their vows was death by being buried alive which was imposed on Rhea Silvia.  When the twins were born, Amulius, determined that there would be no challengers to him had them cast adrift on the River Tiber to certain death.   Both these acts were designed to avoid him having to bear the blame and carry the blood-guilt for their deaths.

Once abandoned on the waters the twins floated dangerously down the river at the mercy of the current  until Tibernus, the god of the river, came to their aid. The river god ensured their safety by calming the waters and causing their basket to catch in the roots of a nearby fig tree.  A she-wolf came across them and suckled them and a woodpecker brought them food and fed them.  They were found by a shepherd by the name of Faustulus. He and his wife took them in and brought them up as their own.

Although the twins became shepherds like their father they also went on to become great leaders and acquired a substantial following.   They both agreed they would found a city but in a quarrel over where it should be built Romulus killed Remus and went on to found Rome.

Taliesin of the Shining Brow

Taliesin is believed to have lived between 534 and 599. He was the chief bard in the courts of at least three kings of the Britons and is associated with the Book of Taliesin, a text from the 10th century containing his poems.  The conception and birth of Taliesin is a strange tale and begins on the banks of Lake Bala, North Wales, where Tegid Foel and his wife Ceridwen lived.  This couple had a daughter named Creawy who was very beautiful and a son called Morfan who was unbelievably ugly and stupid beyond hope.  Ceridwen had brewed a potion that was meant to improve the looks and intellect of Morfan but which accidentally was ingested by one of her helpers named Gwion Bach who got the benefits from the potion instead.   Ceridwen was furious with Gwion Bach and sought revenge which led to a chase which involved the two changing them shapes into different animals before Ceridwen turns into a hen finally eats Gwion Bach, who had turned into a  single grain of wheat in a pile of wheat. She then finds she has become pregnant with him when she returns to her true shape.

She gives birth to him and although she plans to kill him the baby is so beautiful she cannot find the heart.   However, she is determined to be rid of him and so places him in a leather bag and throws him in the sea.  Fortunately for the baby, he is found by Elffin who was the son of  Gwyddno Garanhir and was renowned for his bad luck.  One day when Elffin was inspecting his fishing traps to his dismay he found no fish just an old leather bag that had been tied at the top.  Hauling in the bag and untying it he was shocked to find a baby boy inside.  The baby had the whitest brow he had ever seen and he called the child, “Taliesin”  which means, “how radiant his brow is”.

Elffin decides to take the child home with him and on the way, and to his surprise, the baby begins reciting poetry.  From this Elffin surmises the boy must have been purposely sent to him as a guide and as a bard and prophet who will help him to overcome his enemies.  From that day on Elffin’s luck changes for the better and his fortunes begin to prosper.

Taliesin grows up to become the most famous bard in Britain and foretells correctly that Maelgwyn Gwynedd an evil king would be killed by the “yellow beast.”  The poetry of Taliesin becomes inspirational for the defenders of Britain in their struggle with the invading Saxons and he makes a famous prophecy revealing the fate of the Britons:

Their Lord they shall praise,
Their language they shall keep,
Their land they shall lose –
Except wild Wales.

Around the World

The theme of the abandoned baby is found in the folklore and mythology of many different cultures around the world.  From ancient India, the Hindu epic the Mahābhārata tells the tale of Karna and from Greek mythology is the tale of Oedipus, though he was abandoned on a mountainside rather than cast adrift in a river or the sea and there are many other examples.

In Modern Times

The theme of a baby cast adrift has many variations around the world in different cultures and still continues in modern fiction.  One of the most modern and well-known stories of a baby cast adrift is the story of Kal-El from the planet Krypton.  His parents placed him in a space rocket pointing it towards the planet Earth in the hope of finding safety for their son as their own planet was blown apart by a nuclear chain reaction.  The rocket reached Earth and crash landed and was found Jonathan and Martha Kent, a childless couple, who owned a farm in the United States of America. The childless couple took in the baby and brought him up as Clark Kent alias Superman.

© 27/07/2016 zteve t evans

Reference and Attributions

Copyright July 27th, 2016 zteve t evans



Chippewa Folklore: The Legend of the Sleeping Bear

This is a Native American legend from the Chippewa people that tells how North Manitou Island and South Manitou island, were created in the Great Lake now called Lake Michigan and how the Sleeping Bear Dune on its shore came to be.


Pixabay – Image by skeeze – CC0 Public Domain

Mishe Mokwa

A long time ago on the Wisconsin side of Mishigami, the great lake, which is now call Lake Michigan, lived a mother bear called Mishe Mokwa, who gave birth to twin cubs in the spring. In keeping with her sacred duty to her young, she taught them how to live in the wild and how to find shelter. She taught them how to find clean water from the creeks and rivers, how to use their claws to dig out the dead trees for ants and grubs and how to follow honey bees back to their nests and steal their honey. Mishe Mokwa taught them plants that would heal them when they were sick and she taught them which animals were to be avoided and all the dangers of the wild woods because even for bears there were many.


The summer that followed the birth of her cubs became hot and troubled. The sun appeared bigger and closer to the earth and the clouds did not appear in the sky to cast cooling shadows and so no rain fell. Day after day the sun scorched the earth drying up the rivers and streams and the plants and trees grew brown and withered and the woods became bone dry and food became scarce. One morning she led her cubs down to the creek to drink but the creek was dry.

Fire in the forest

Mishe Mokwa knew they had to leave to find water and food and called her cubs to her telling them, “The sun has dried the water and we have to have water.  We can no longer stay, we have to follow the dry riverbed to the great lake Mishigami where we shall drink our fill.”

Mishe Mokwa was wise and relied upon her instincts and led her cubs along the dry riverbed towards Mishigami which was still some distance off. They traveled all day but as night fell out of the darkness came a great storm. The thunder rolled across the skies and lightning struck several trees and the parched woods were quickly turned into a sea of flames and smoke.  Mishe Mokwa called to her cubs,

“Quick, we must run for our lives down the dry creek bed to the great lake where we can hide in the wide water and be safe, run, run, run!”

Her cubs responded and they followed her as she ran down the dried riverbed with the flames so close their fur was singed.  Eventually and just in time they reached the great lake and swam out to safety. Turning round and looking back they saw the entire  shore in flames. The cubs looked upon the terrible sight in fear and one of them cried,
“Where, oh where will we live our home is burning!”

And the other one cried,
“How will we live with no home!”

Crossing Mishigami

Mishe Mokwa looked at the scene of devastation and inside she quailed but she knew she had to stay strong for her children. “There is a land on the other side of the lake where we can live. We will swim to it, follow me!” she told them.

So Mishe Mokwa began swimming in the opposite direction to the burning woods with her cubs following her. They swam all night and when the sun came up they found themselves in the middle of a vast world of water with no land anywhere in sight but they were heading straight for the sun.

Treading water they turned and looked back towards the shore where flames still raged and smoke rose into the skies. Mishe Mokwa and her cubs were now far from the shore and could see no land only plumes of smoke rising into the skies above Mishigami.

“Look, our old home is gone, there is no more land only smoke. How do we know which way to go we are surrounded by water and we can’t go back!” asked the cubs.

Mishe Mokwa said,  “Last night I followed the stars and today we swim for the sun and see how the wind flies across the water pushing us to our new home. We must keep on swimming, quick now!”

Once again she led her cubs swimming before them across the great lake ever urging them on, ever urging them to keep close.  All that day they swam on and on and night came and still Mishe Mokwa urged her cubs on.  The next morning they were again swimming into the rising sun.  “Mother, can you see our home yet?” asked the cubs,

”No, not yet we must keep swimming!”  she replied

“We are so tired and so hungry!” cried the cubs.

“I know, but we must keep swimming, we have to reach the shore on the other side, keep going!”

Of course, Mishe Mokwa was worried but she knew there was no alternative other than to keep swimming. They swam all day and night began to fall with no sign of land. She urged her cubs to stay close and carried on swimming finding her way in the darkness by the stars. Dark clouds began to roll across the sky that night and blocked out the stars, but Mishe Mokwa could feel the wind pushing her on and she encouraged her cubs again, but another storm broke upon them.

Storm on the lake

The wind whipped up and drove the family apart. All Mishe Mokwa could do was swim in circles in the darkness calling out to her children but no answer came. Eventually, the storm abated and the sun rose. She swam round and round but could find no trace of either of them. Not knowing what to do she waited in the water hoping they might hear her voice and find her. She waited and waited but still they did not come. Then she thought they were much lighter than she and the strong winds of the storm may have pushed them on in front of her.  She started swimming again heading for the sun, calling out all the way hoping to catch up with them.


Pixabay – Image by 246738 – CCo Public Domain


She swam all that day and the next night but still neither saw or heard a sign of them. As the sun rose she found herself wearily clambering up a sandy bank on to new shore. Thinking they must have made it safely she searched the sand for their tracks but none could she find. Thinking they may have landed at another point she searched up and down the shore but no sign of them could she find.

Mishe Mokwa was tired and hungry and terribly afraid for her cubs and searched all day. When night fell she lay down facing the water to rest still hoping to see them come struggling out of the water. Day after day she searched resting only at night but her cubs did not come and she fell into despair and sleep came upon her.

Manitou looks down

Manitou, the Great Spirit who is wise and the creator of all looked down upon Mishe Mokwa with kindness and pity and took her up into the spirit world where her cubs ran to meet her. Dancing joyfully around her they cried, “We tried to follow but the waves were so high, the wind too strong and we were so tired and we were lost in the water!”

And with great happiness Mishe Mokwa told the, *I know you tried hard and did your best but now I have found you and we are all together forever!”


The Sleeping Bear Dune has suffered much from erosion Image by Royalbroil – CC BY-SA 3.0

Looking on and smiling Manitou was touched by the love and dedication he saw and decided he would do something so that others of his children should remember such devotion. Calling upon his great power he caused the bodies of the cubs to rise out of Mishigami, the great water. Today they are called the North Manitou and South Manitou Islands. To remind the people of the devotion of Mishe Mokwa he lovingly and gently blew and his breath caused fine sand to gently cover the body of Mishe Mokwa which is now known as the Sleeping Bear Dune on the banks of Lake Michigan.

© 20/07/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright July 20th, 2016 zteve t evans

Petrification Myths: The Rollright Stones Complex


The King’s Men

On the borders of the English counties of Warwickshire and Oxfordshire, not far from the village of Long Compton, lies a mysterious complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age megaliths known as the Rollright Stones. Presented here is a brief description of the stone complex followed by a look at the petrification myth associated with it that fancifully attempts to explain its origin.  The presentation concludes by briefly mentioning other stone circles and monoliths that also have petrification myths associated with them.

The Rollright Stones

The Rollright Stones complex consists of three sets of monuments; the King Stone, the Whispering Knights and the King’s Men.  The King Stone is a single standing stone set some 50 yards outside the stone ring which is  separated from it by a road.  The Whispering Knights was a burial chamber also outside the stone ring.  The final set is a circle of stones called the King’s Men.

The sets are not the same age as each other and all appear to have had different purposes. This leads scholars to think that the site had a strong tradition of ritual over a long period of time and had some kind of special significance during that time.  With the timescale involved and the sheer mystery of their purpose perhaps it’s not surprising that a number of intriguing myths and legends have evolved as people throughout the ages attempted to explain their existence.

The Petrified King and his knights


The King Stone – Photo by Cameraman

According to a legend recorded by William Camden in 1610, and put into verse, there was a king who wanted to conquer the entire country of  England and he came across a witch who confronted him saying,

“Seven long strides shalt thou take And if Long Compton thou canst see, King of England thou shalt be.”

The King took up the challenge saying in reply,

“Stick, stock, stone As King of England I shall be known.”

And strode forward, but on his seventh stride a long mound, which sometimes now is known as the Arch-Druid’s barrow rose up before him preventing the sight of Long Compton.  The laughing witch cried,

“As Long Compton thou canst not see King of England thou shalt not be. Rise up stick and stand still stone For King of England thou shalt be none; Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be And I myself an eldern tree.

The King was turned into a standing stone known as the King Stone and most of his men who were gathered in a circle were turned into the King’s Men ring of stones.  Outside of this circle was a small group of knights who some say were in prayers, while others say they were whispering  and plotting against the king.  Either way they still fell victim and were turned to stone to become Whispering Knights.


Whispering Knights – by  Midnightblueowl

A legend says that one day the spell will be broken and the King and his knights will resume their conquest of England unless they have the bad luck to come across another witch. It is not told if the king had angered the witch in some way.  Neither is it known why the witch turned herself into an elder tree  unless it was to keep an eye on the hapless king.  The witch’s tree is said to be growing in a hedge separating the King Stone from the Stone Circle and according to legend will bleed if it is cut when in flower.  It is said that on Midsummer’s Eve people would congregate around the King Stone and he would move his head when the elder tree was cut.

Midnight at the stones

Tradition says the King’s Men are released from the petrification spell and return to life at midnight.  They all join hands together and dance in a circle and are also said to go down to the spring in a nearby spinney  to take a drink. This is a dangerous time because it is said that anyone who should witness these extraordinary events will die or go mad.

Petrification myths

Many other stone circles and standing stones have petrification myths attached to them that tell how people were turned to stone by a witch, God, or the Devil for taking part in some forbidden activity in some way.  Some people think these type of legends were encouraged by the Christian church who were keen to discourage pagan practices. Another school of thought was that such legends were promoted by the Puritans as a warning to keep on the straight and narrow path of the Christian faith.

The threat of petrification may have been seen as a lasting and very visible punishment for transgressing the rules, especially those of merrymaking on Sundays which seems to be a popular day for being turned to stone in Britain!  In the case of the Rollright Stones we are not told what the day was only that it was a witch that gave the king the warning and appears to have foretold the king’s destiny, or cast the spell that fulfilled it.

Was it misfortune, or just a bad day?

The petrification of humans into stone is often associated with the creation of stone circles and standing stones.  Many other ancient stone circles and monoliths also have petrification myths attached to them such as Long Meg and her Daughters in Cumbria, Mitchell’s Fold in Shropshire, the Stanton Drew stone circles of Somerset, the Merry Maidens and The Hurlers,  Cornwall and there are plenty of other examples in the British Isles and around the world.  In Britain the petrification is often caused by a witch, or for participating in some forbidden activity such as merrymaking on a Sunday.  In the case of the Rollright Stones the King and his men just seemed to have had the misfortune to happen upon a particularly spiteful witch, or just caught her on a bad day!

© 11/07/2016 zteve t evans

 References and Attributions

Copyright July 7th, 2016 zteve t evans

Gwendolen: Legendary Queen of the Britons


Artist – Edward Burne-Jones

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, the legendary Gwendolen, became the first queen regnant, reigning over the Britons in her own right.    The Historia Regum Britanniae (History of Britain) by Geoffrey of Monmouth, tells how Gwendolen is betrayed and humiliated by her husband, King Locrinus, the legendary ruler of Loegria.    His public rejection and humiliation of her in favor of his lover, Estrildis, spurred Gwendolen to take swift and dramatic action. Although Geoffrey’s work was accepted as fact up to the 17th century, today it is largely dismissed as a historical record by historians. Nevertheless, it still has its fascinations and many think he was influenced by older myths and legends. This work introduces the main characters of her story and tells how betrayal and rejection motivated her into wreaking a terrible but calculated revenge on those who had wronged her and put the future peace and stability of Britain at risk.

Locrinus, son of Brutus of Troy

King Locrinus was the eldest son of Brutus of Troy, the legendary founder and the first king of Britain.  Brutus was the descendant of Aeneas, the Trojan commander, who survived the fall of Troy and after escaping went on to found the Aeneads, who were said by Virgil to be the progenitors of the Romans.  It is this hereditary link with Troy and Rome that supposedly provides the ancient authority to rule for the descendants of Brutus and supposedly elevates the historical status of Britain and its rulers in medieval and later times.

Gwendolen, daughter of Corineus

Gwendolen was the daughter of the legendary Corineus, the first ruler of Cornwall, a companion and commander to Brutus of Troy.  Corineus was a towering figure at the time, a mighty warrior and highly respected for his military skill and bravery.  He was commander of his own band of followers who had joined up with Brutus and his army to conquer and settle Britain.   Corineus had killed Gogmagog, the last King of the race of Giants that had ruled Britain before the arrival of the Trojans in a fight to the death.

The death of Brutus

When Brutus died his kingdom fragmented  and was divided into three parts with his three sons, Locrinus,  Albanactus, and Kamber inheriting a share each. The kingdom of Locrinus was known as Loegria which was roughly equivalent to England.  Albanactus ruled Albania ,or Albany, which was roughly equivalent to Scotland and Kamber ruled Cambria or Kambria which was roughly equivalent with Wales.  Corineus still ruled Cornwall which Brutus had given him as his own in reward for help in subduing Britain.

Locrinus inherits Loegria

When Brutus died and Locrinus his eldest son, became ruler of Loegria, Corineus was still alive and as ruler of Cornwall was still a much respected and powerful ruler.  Locrinus now ruled over a powerful kingdom so a marriage with Gwendolen would have made a great deal of political sense for both him and Corineus.  There were still many enemies in the world so an alliance with the powerful Corineus would have been highly desirable and Locrinus made a pact with Corineus to marry his daughter.

One of those enemies were the Norsemen led by Humber the Hun who attacked Albany killing Albanactus in battle and forcing his people to retreat.  Locrinus and Kamber joined forces and met Humber in battle near one of the main  rivers of Britain defeating him.  umber was said to have drowned in the battle in the river which was named the River Humber after him.

After the battle Locrinus captured Humber’s ships and as well as a good deal of treasure found  Estrildis, the daughter of a German king who was being held hostage.  Locrinus  fell in love with her and set her free, but he was betrothed to Gwendolen the daughter of the powerful Corineus who he did not want to upset.

Corinius was not happy that Locrinus had fallen in love with the German princess and made his feelings known in no uncertain terms.  Rather than risk upsetting him  Locrinus married Gwendolen despite his love for Estrildis.  Wanting the best of both worlds he took Estrildis as his mistress, but secretly kept her hidden in a cave below Trinovantum, now London, the city Brutus built as his capital.  There she remained for seven years. She was looked after by her servants and gave birth to his daughter, Habren and stayed there until Corineus died.  

Gwendolen’s revenge

With the death of Corineus, Locrinus promptly divorced Gwendolen and married Estrildis. This proved to be a costly mistake and the old adage of hell knowing no fury like a woman scorned, rang true for him.   Gwendolen, being the daughter of the great warrior Corineus took swift and decisive action.

She returned to Cornwall where the people were still loyal to her and her family and raised an army which she led against Locrinus.  Not only had she inherited her father’s courage but also his decisiveness and skill in war.  The two armies met at the River Stour which in those days was the boundary between Loegria and Cornwall.  Gwendolen was victorious defeating Locrinus who was killed by an arrow. This made her the undisputed ruler and queen of both Loegria and Cornwall, becoming the most powerful ruler in Britain at the time.

She wasted no time in disposing of Elstrildis and Habren having them both drowned in a river which by Gwendolen’s decree was named after Habren.  Habren was also known as Hafren who became the eponym of the river. The latinized form was Sabrina which became Severn and was possibly influenced by earlier gods or spirits and sometimes she was known as Sabre and the river became known as the Severn.

The River Severn was named after Habren, not Elstrida, to emphasize and make known that a heir and potential rival to the British kingdom had been killed just as the River Humber was named after the Hun leader to emphasize his death and the ascendancy  of the British rulers to any potential outside challenge.  Elstrida did not get a river or place named after and was deliberately allowed to die in ignominy.  The killing of  Estrildis and Habren was more than just the revenge of a woman scorned.  It was also a political act that strengthened her power and that of her son by Locrinus,  Maddan, and when she abdicated the throne of Loegria went to him.

The attack on the country by Humber the Hun had been a typical invasion by men at arms who fought to control the land and the people.  The danger from Estrildis was more passive but potentially dangerous and subversive to the ruling order of Britain at the time and in the future.  The infatuation of Locrinus with a foreign princess threatened the future line of Brutus to the undisputed kingship of Britain.  Any possibility of a foreign heir to the throne potentially threatened the stability of Britain with the possibility of further invasions from Germanic rulers who may have believed they had a claim to Britain.

If Habren married outside of the British ruling community then an outsider is brought into future equations about who rules Britain.  With them out of the way Gwendolen reduces considerably the potential for foreign interference in the ruling elite of Britain.  Although other invaders did come after her time her action brought peace and stability during her reign and the reign of her successor.  She ruled her realm wisely and peacefully for 15 years and then abdicated. Her son by Maddan, by Locrinus, became king and she retired to Cornwall.

Legacy of Gwendolen

Gwendolen’s decisive action against Locrinus demonstrated the potential power and influence that women could wield.  It especially demonstrated how her gender was not a disadvantage to her use of power which she used to her advantage and to the benefit of those she ruled.  She was prepared to go to the extreme lengths of war and violence when she believed it necessary to protect her own realm acting and leading with decisiveness, wisdom, courage and military skill and foresight.

© 05/07/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright July 5th, 2016 zteve t evans