Welsh Folklore: The Spirit of the Van

Wales is a place of where every lake, mountain, hill or valley seems to have some ancient tradition, legend or folktale attached.  Presented here is The Spirit of the Van which is set in the Vans Pool which lies in the mountains of Carmarthenshire and is a variation of the legend of The Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach.

The Spirit of the Van

The story tells of a beautiful female spirit that appears on a lake called the Van Pool.  She appears in a golden boat in the first hours of New Year’s Day and is dressed all in white and around her waist she wears a golden girdle  Her hair is long and golden and in her hand is a golden oar which she uses to deftly maneuver the boat. Those who have seen her, although admiring her beauty, are struck by the melancholy demeanor and milk- white face of the lovely lady.

Living near to the lake was a young farmer who had heard about the beautiful, melancholy spirit of the lake and became intrigued by what was said about her.  The more he thought about her the more a fervent desire to see her for himself grew upon him.

When New Year’s Eve came he went to the lake and chose a secluded and well hidden spot by the water’s edge where he settled down to await the arrival of the spirit of the Van Pool in the hours after midnight.  The moon was full and mirrored in the calm waters of the lake and he awaited in eager anticipation for the midnight hour.  At the strike of midnight as the old year was passing and the new was being born there on the opposite bank materialized the spirit of the lake in a golden boat that floated gracefully over the water steered by the lady with a golden oar.

The Lady of the Golden Boat

And there on the pool under the moonlight the young farmer beheld his heart’s desire and he watched in awe as she glided around the pool, a vision of loveliness, like a goddess of old. Time passed all too soon and as the stars dimmed the first signs of dawn appeared and his vision of loveliness too began to gently fade.  As she was about to vanish completely, unable to quell his emotions, he called out to her begging her to stay and be his wife.  The Lady of the Golden Boat quickly glanced over her shoulder towards him as she vanished from his sight.

Sadly, the young farmer returned to his home but a change had come over him since those early hours of New Year’s Day when he had seen and called out to the lady in the golden boat. He stopped eating properly and he could not sleep properly and took to wandering around the Van Pool in the night hoping to get but a glimpse of the Lady in the Golden Boat.  In sadness and gloom he neglected his farm and soon everything in his life was going to rack and ruin.

An Offering

At last, he pulled himself together long enough to seek help and he went to see a wise woman who advised him to  make an offering of food to her.  Well, the young farmer was desperate and without having any better plan decided he would give it a try.  He could not bear to wait until the New Year so he thought he would try his luck on Midsummer’s Eve. When Midsummer’s Eve came he took a basket with a generous portion of the best cheese and the best loaf of bread he could afford along to Van Pool in the hope of enticing the Lady of the Golden Boat to marry him.

Although he waited by the poolside all night long she did not materialize.  Nevertheless, he thought that in the spot where he had previously seen her there was a faint shimmering of light and he fancied he heard the faint notes of the most beautiful music. These small signs gave him hope and night after night he would visit the pool carrying a basket of bread and cheese.  When midnight came he would gently drop his offering to the lady into the pool.  Still the lady did not appear but the young farmer continued making this offering to her right the way through the year until New Year’s Eve came around again.

The Lady Appears

Then, putting on his best clothes the young farmer took a basket of the finest cheese and the very best bread he could find along with him for his vigil on the banks of the Van Pool.  At the stroke of midnight he gently dropped his offering of  bread and cheese into the waters of the pool and then waited in quiet desperation as the full moon hid behind a cloud.  Then across the water from the other side he saw a faint shimmering and the Lady of the Golden Boat appeared  gliding sedately towards him.  The boat came alongside where he was standing and the lady stepped lightly on to the shore.

The young farmer was thrilled and by the light of the full moon went down on one knee and proposed marriage.  The Lady of the Golden Boat listened to him and then to his delighted accepted his marriage proposal but laid a strict condition on him.  That condition was that he should not strike her for a third time as if he did she would have to leave him forever. Naturally the young farmer not being a cruel or violent man could not imagine ever striking her so he eagerly agreed.

So the two were wed and she brought with her from the Other-world a dowry of a flock of fine sheep and a herd of cattle the like that had never been seen in Wales before. She also brought with her fine flocks of ducks and chickens and soon his farm prospered greatly and the two lived happily together and were very much in love.

The Christening

One day after they had been happily married for a few years one of their neighbors invited then to a christening.  To the surprise of all those present, halfway through the christening service the young farmer’s wife began crying.  The young farmer was embarrassed at his wife’s behavior and angry at her weeping at what should have been a happy event.  “What ever are you crying for?  This is a Christening and you are making yourself look foolish!”  he angrily said giving her a light pat on the shoulder.

“Alas, my eyes see a baby entering a world of sorrow, pain and sin.  I see nothing but misery and pain for the babe.  There is nothing to rejoice over,” replied his wife who still retained her fairy eyes, “and you have struck me for the first time!”

The anger passed and the young farmer regretted he had struck his wife.  Although it was only a light pat he really did feeling sorry and ashamed of himself because he really did love her dearly.  She let it be and things were soon good again between them because she really did love him as well.

The Funeral

Sadly, some time later they were invited to attend the funeral of the child whose christening they had attended.  Half way through the funeral service the farmer’s wife burst out laughing much to the shock of her husband and all those in attendance. Furiously he asked why she was laughing at such a sad occasion.  Telling her she was making a fool of herself he gave her a light pat to her shoulder and told her to stop weeping.

She answered saying,  “With my eyes I see the child and it is no longer suffering and has left the world of sin and sorrow.  The child is whole, healthy and happy for all time so tell me what is there to weep over?  You have struck me for a second time!”

The Wedding

They went home and the incident was forgotten and they were still very happy together and time passed by as it does. Then one day they received an invitation to attend the wedding of one of their neighbors daughters.   She was a bonny, pretty young girl but she was marrying an old, wizened man, who was rich but miserly.  So they attended the church and half way through the ceremony the farmer’s wife burst into tears.

“What is the matter with you,” her husband demanded, “Everyone is looking at you. Stop making a fool of yourself!” And he gave a gentle push to her shoulder.

“I weep because summer is now bound to winter. I weep because youth is sold for gold.  I weep because this wedding is a devil’s bargain and will bring the girl nothing but unhappiness!” she answered and then looked at him with her eyes full of love and sorrow and told him,  “Alas, now you must remember our bargain.  You have struck me a third time and there can be no other so with love and sadness, I say goodbye for we must part forever!”  

The Parting

With those words she simply turned her back and walked out of the church and back through their farm towards Van Pool.  As she walked she called out the names of  all the sheep, cattle, ducks, chickens and geese she had brought with her when she got married. They all stopped what they were doing and followed her towards the pool.   When she reached the water she did not stop at the edge but continued walking into the pool.  The last the farmer saw of his wife was her golden hair floating in the water before finally disappearing under the surface. Following on behind came all of the farm animals who followed her into the pool.

The farmer was heart broken and would go to the pool with bread and cheese each night making an offering in the hope of meeting his wife again but he never did and died a broken man.

© 13/09/2016 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright September 13th, 2016 zteve t evans

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5 thoughts on “Welsh Folklore: The Spirit of the Van

  1. Have you ever read Barbara Fass Leavy’s book on swan maidens? This story is a perfect example (except for her not being a swan, of course.) I wonder if her supernatural insight is a Welsh twist? There’s a similar story about Merlin.

    • I have not read Barbara’s book but now you say I can see similarities to some of the swan maiden stories and there are a number of other variations from Wales too. Its interesting he makes offerings to her like a goddess of a lake and the three strikes and other pagan themes. Thanks for commenting, appreciated!

  2. It’s so interesting, among other strands to this story, how the symbols/allegories of gold-maiden-lady in a lake-swan-love story cross over into different cultures and mythologies and folk tales (I also think of Zeus and Leda when I think of swan stories, if not “The Ugly Duckling” children’s fable). I’d never heard this one before; so, as ever, thanks for sharing it, Zteve!

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