Petrification Myths: The Stone Women of Moelfre Hill

There are many petrification myths and legends in settings scattered around the British Isles that tell how people have become turned to stone.  It is often the case that some religious code or rule has been transgressed by one or more people for some reason and they have been punished by being turned to stone.

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Moelfre in Gwynedd – Image by Oosoom – CC BY-SA 3.0 – From Wikimedia Commons

The Stone Women of Moelfre Hill

The legend of the Stone Women of Moelfre tells the story of how three women were turned to stone for working on the Sabbath.  Its setting is on Moelfre, which  is a Welsh hill in Gwynedd, Wales sitting on the western edge of the Snowdonia National Park, situated about three miles from the village of Dyffryn Ardudwy and about five miles from the village of Llanbedr.

The legend was said to have originated about the time Christianity was taking over from the old pagan beliefs and tells how three women had a problem winnowing their corn because there was no wind.  Winnowing was an important task that their families and community depended upon to make bread.  According to the legend, one woman wore a red kirtle.  Another wore a white kirtle and the third wore a kirtle of the darkest blue.

After the corn was harvested the people would thresh the corn, sometimes by making oxen walk in circles over the harvested ears of corn, or by pounding it on the ground with flails.  This would crush the ears leaving the chaff and grain that needed separating, or winnowing which was hard work and done by the women of the community.  They would spend many hours  throwing the mixed chaff and grain into the air so that the wind would take the light chaff away but leave the heavier grain to fall to the ground.  The remaining grain would then be placed in sacks and ground into flour.

The problem the women had was that for many days there had been no wind or even the slightest breeze, making it impossible for them to winnow.  The women worried that unless they could get their task done soon it would rain and ruin the corn.  The grain and chaff would get wet making them stick together and hard to separate and they would not be able to bake bread to feed their families and began to despair that they would not be able to complete their task.

Then the woman wearing the red kirtle had an idea and said to the others, “I say there is bound to be wind on the top of Moelfre.  Let us carry sacks of grain up there and do the winnowing there.”

“But we would be working on the Sabbath if we did that!”  said the woman in the white kirtle. It was a Sunday and on Sundays in Wales no one at all was allowed to work because it was the Sabbath.

“But if the wind is blowing on Moelfre, shall we let it go to waste and have no flour to bake bread?”  said the woman in blue, “And what would we tell our children when they have no bread?  I will fetch three sacks and we can fill them up and carry them up to Moelfre.”

They all agreed that they should this so they filled up a sack each and hoisting them across their backs began the arduous journey along the path to the top of Moelfre.   On the way they passed a cottage where an old man looked out of his door and was shocked to see them hauling the sacks up the path.   He gave them a stern warning about the consequences of working on the Sabbath but the women continued on their way ignoring him.  They passed a farm and the farmer shouted out a warning that it was the Sabbath and told them to stop or they would be punished.  The women laughed at him and carried on.

Their path took them through the valley where the men of Neolithic times made axes out of the sharp Graig Lwyd stone.  Passing though, they climbed the path to the high hill where the Meini Hirion, also called the Druid’s Stone Circle stood and passed this and continued on their way.  They knew that the summit of Moelfre was not far off and that there would be wind there and redoubled their efforts.

Finally the reached the summit of the hill.  Just as they had anticipated the wind was just right for their task so they spread out a sheet on the ground to catch the grain when it fell out of  the air.  They emptied the contents of their sacks into a heap and began the arduous task of winnowing the corn throwing up into air so that the wind took the husks and the grain fell onto the sheet on the ground.  Then as they were busily working away a terrible thing happened.   The  legend says that  God saw them working on the Sabbath and punished them for disobeying his law and turned them into three standing stones.  One red, one white and one dark blue and there they stood on top of Moelfre for years untold, but not forever.

Triple Goddess

There is a school of thought that says the three women represent a triple goddess.  Robert Graves in his book The White Goddess, says,  “The three standing stones thrown down from Moelfre Hill near Dwygyfylchi in Wales in the iconoclastic seventeenth century may well have represented the Io trinity. One was white, one dark red, one dark blue and they were known as three women. The local monkish legend was that three women dressed in those colors were petrified for winnowing on a Sunday.”

Others also see the three stones places in a triangle as representing a triple goddess and the colours representing a different aspect of the goddess.  Their supposed petrification may not have been just a warning about working on the Sabbath but possibly a warning of possible punishment inflicted for keeping the old ways.

Vandalism

Today there are no standing stones on the summit of Moelfre.  Some people say  those who search they may find three stones below the turf that appear to have sunk into the ground and these are said to be the Stone Women of Moelfre.   Another explanation offered by Wirt Sikes in British Goblins – Welsh Folk-Lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions was that they were subject to vandalism by a gang of youths who dug them up and rolled them down the hill.

© 28/03/2017 zteve t evans

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Copyright March 3rd, 2017 zteve t evans

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Northumberland Folktales: Dunstanburgh Castle and the Ghost of Sir Guy the Seeker

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Pixabay – Dunstanburgh Castle by – tpsdave – CC0 Public Domain

Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle is now a ruined castle situated on a remote headland in Northumberland.  It is associated with many myths and legends and a spooky folktale concerning a good knight who becomes caught up in an endless search for a beautiful woman he once found asleep on a crystal plinth deep within the castle.

Although long ruined Dunstanburgh Castle is steeped in history and was once a garrison against the threat from Scotland and was fought over during the Wars of the Roses.  It was built by Earl Thomas of Lancaster early in the 1300s who was one of the richest men in England, very influential and for a few years after the Scottish defeated Edward at Bannockburn the effective ruler of England. He was one of the leaders of the barons in their opposition to King Edward II, who was also his first cousin and had served at his coronation.

Edward had a friend named Piers Gaveston who was a great favorite of his and this had caused resentment among some of the barons, including Thomas.  They had plotted together and had him executed which understandably angered the king. Thomas was involved in many other intrigues and Edward was out for revenge which he eventually got.  After leading a failed rebellion against Edward, Thomas was captured, tried and executed.

Secret Tunnels

Maybe because of its history,  remote location and the imposing look of its ruins a number of legends have grown up around the castle.  There is a long-standing local tradition that there is a network of tunnels running from the castle to some of the villages and hamlets nearby.   The tunnels were said to run to a number of cellars and barns where there were trap doors that let unknown men travel to and from the castle unseen.

The Legend of Sir Guy the Seeker

Perhaps the strangest legend about the castle is the story of Sir Guy the Seeker. A similar legend is found in other parts of Great Britain and M.G. Lewis in 1809 published a poem called Sir Guy, the Seeker, a poem based on the legend.  According to the legend, in the days when knights were virtuous and chivalrous there was a good knight named Sir Guy.  One evening he happened to be traveling nearby and as the sun was going down a storm began to brew in the darkening sky.  On hearing the rumble of thunder and as the rain began falling in torrents he looked around for shelter.  In the distance, he saw the jagged ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle black against the sky and decide to seek shelter there.

As he approached the ruins he realized they stood on a high cliff with their backs to the sea but could not see a path that led up to it.   With no way up and the rain lashing down he looked around for alternative shelter and found a cave.  He entered and took off his sodden cloak and jacket.  Inside it was dark and as his eyes grew accustomed he saw a softly glimmering light floating slowly towards him from down a passageway.  As the light came nearer it changed its appearance to form the terrifying figure of an ugly old warlock. “Follow if you dare ad you will find beauty beyond belief!,”  growled the warlock.

Although Sir Guy was alarmed at the apparition he was also intrigued and not without courage and followed the warlock along miles of dark damp passageways deep beneath the ground. There were many twists and turns and steps that went up and steps that ran down but at last, they came out in the very heart of Dunstanburgh Castle.  As he followed the warlock into the courtyard the night was dark and somber.  Looking around he saw an army of knights and cavalry asleep on the ground.

The Sleeper on the Crystal Plinth

Towards the center of the courtyard he saw a crystal plinth and reposed upon it seemingly fast asleep was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.  All around the plinth the most horrific images of skulls, skeletons, snakes and monsters were depicted.   To the left of the maiden lying alongside her was an ancient calling horn.  On the other side lay a sword.   The warlock beckoned Sir Guy over to the plinth and said, “The fate of the sleeper is in your hands.  You must choose either the horn or the sword to awaken her.  Choose now!”

The Choice of Sir Guy

Sir Guy had no idea which to chose and paced up and down trying to make his mind up.  At last, he went to the plinth picked up the horn and gave it a mighty blow.  The sound echoed around the courtyard and the knights awoke from slumber.  Drawing their swords they rushed at Sir Guy who expected death instantly as they struck at him.  Instead, the blades passed straight through him without marking or cutting his flesh and then he awoke outside the cave soaked through with the warlock standing over him saying, “Shame on you Sir Guy for choosing the horn.  A warrior would have chosen the sword!”  And then turned and vanished into the cave.

The Ghost of Sir Guy

From that day forward the legend says that Sir Guy lived a cursed life.   He became obsessed with the beautiful woman sleeping on the crystal plinth.  To try and mollify the shame he felt he spent the rest of his life searching the dark tunnels below Dunstanburgh Castle for her.   He never found her and was said to have died still searching for her.   The ghost of Sir Guy is said to be still wandering the ruins of the forlorn castle forever seeking out the sleeper on the crystal plinth in the hope of finding and rescuing her.

© 20/03/2017 zteve t evans

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Copyright March 20th, 2017 zteve t evans

 

 

Cornish Folktales: The Witch of Treva

The following is a modified version of a Cornish folktale called The Witch of Treva from Popular Romances of the West of England  by Robert Hunt  revised and edited by zteve t evans

There was once a an old woman who was deeply skilled in the arts of necromancy and lived in a tiny hamlet called Treva in Cornwall.  She could make powerful, spells, incantations and charms and people in the neighborhood were terrified of her.

Nevertheless, although the local people held her in fear and awe her husband remained singularly unimpressed by her witchery and refused to believe in such things.  Instead he was more concerned about the housekeeping and the cooking especially when he came home from work when he would demand his dinner the instant he came in.

One day after a hard day’s work he came home looking forward to a good dinner which he expected to be cooked and ready, on the table for him to tuck into as soon as he walked through the door.  Imagine his shock and annoyance when he discovered there was no dinner.  In fact there was no meat, no vegetables or potatoes or any other kind of food in the house at all.

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Canarian Folktales: The Legend of Gara and Jonay

La Gomera, view towards Teide

From Wikimedia Commons – La Gomera, view towards Mount Teide – Image by Tamara Kulikova – CC BY-SA 4.0

La Gomera

La Gomera is one of the seven Canary Islands which are an autonomous community of Spain situated to the west of Morocco in the Atlantic Ocean  The original inhabitants before the arrival of the Spanish were the Guanche people who were believed to be related to the Berber people of North Africa.   Although much of their culture has been lost some still exists and can be found in legends and traditions of the islands.  Roughly situated in the middle of the island is the Garajonay National Park which is a mountainous region of lush wild evergreen laurel forest. There is a folktale said to be of Guanche origin that tells how the Garajonay National Park was named after two lovers named Gara and Jonay.

The Legend of Gara and Jonay

Gara was a princess of Agula that was known as a place of water on La Gomera and looked across the sea to Mount Teide on Tenerife.  Jonay was a prince and the son of the Mencey of Adeje a ruler of Tenerife known as the place of fire.  This was because of the great volcano Mount Teide that the Guanches called Echeyde or Hell, that was situated on the the island.  Presented here is a retelling of the legend of Gara and Jonay garnered from several other versions.

Los Chorros de Epina

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From Wikimedia Commons – Chorros de Epina – Photo by Noemi M.M. – CC BY-SA 3.0

On La Gomera, there was a tradition that there were even places where magic waters could be found.  These waters had special properties beneficial to health and good fortune and were said to be able to foretell the future.   One such place was called Los Chorros de Epina which is a natural spring that local legend says has healing powers and can also reveal the future to an extent.  The spring water is fed through seven wooden tubes which turn the flow into seven jets of water each of which has different attributes.

According to tradition men should drink from the odd numbered jets starting from left to right and women should drink from the even numbered jets.  It was said the first two pipes were for health, the next two pipes were for love and the next two were for fortune. The seventh jet should only be used by witches.  It was a tradition that the Epina jets were visited by local girls to discover who their future husband or lover would be.  They would take a drink and look into the water. If it was clear they would meet their true love within one year.  However, if it appeared cloudy then the girl would not find a lover.

Princess Gara went to the jets and took a drink and looked into the water.   At first, she just saw her reflection in the clear water.  Then to her alarm, her face turned into a fiery ball like the sun and the water bubbled and hissed as steam rose and the flames tried to mix with the water.  This frightened her and she went to a wise man of the island named Gerián, to ask his advice.  He told her that this was a bad omen saying fire and water could not mix and warned her of trouble brewing in the future.

The Festival of Beñesmen

The festival of Beñesmen was a popular and important festival in the Canary Islands. The Mencey of Adeje, who was one of the kings from the neighboring island of Tenerife, visited La Gomera to take part in the celebrations and with him he brought his son, Prince Jonay.
There were many competitions taking place where the young men of the islands competed against each other, showing off their physical prowess to the girls hoping to impress them.  Jonay took part in many competitions and excelled in all and caught the eye of Gara who cheered him wildly.   Her cheering caught the eye of Jonay and as their eyes met they fell in love.

Every day Jonay would sail across to La Gomera from Tenerife to see Gara.  Their love blossomed and spent many happy hours together walking in the enchanted laurel forest.  After a time the two lovers asked their family for permission to marry which was gladly given and the engagement was publicly and formally announced and all the people rejoiced.

Fire and Water

During the night, Mount Teide the great volcano on Tenerife began sewing forth flame and lava.  A great plume of smoke rose high in the sky and the sea turned red as blood and bubbled and heaved.  As the volcano became increasingly fiery and the sea more dangerous the people grew afraid.  Gerián the wise man who Gara had asked for advice went to see her parents and told them of what she had told him of the vision at the Epina jets.  He warned them that fire and water cannot mix and told them about her relationship with Jonay.  Then he went to Tenerife to see the Mencey of Adeje and warned him of his son’s relationship with Gara.

The two families forbade their son and daughter to meet again.  The lovers were devastated and heartbroken but reluctantly obeyed their parents.   This appeared to satisfy the volcano which ceased spewing out lava and flame and as Mount Teide grew quiet the skies cleared and the seas became calm and the people were glad.

Despite the appeasement of the volcano Jonay could not get Gara out of his mind.  One night while his parents slept he stole down to the sea and tied two goatskins around his waist which he had inflated.  Plunging into the sea he swam from Tenerife to La Gomera in the night.  Gara was overjoyed to see him again and the two vowed that never again would they be parted.  Gara’s parents soon missed their daughter and began searching for her.  Realizing they had been discovered the two lovers fled through the tangled laurel forests of La Gomera until they reached the highest mountain.  The same morning in alarm, Gara’s father called out his army who quickly hunted the two runaways down and by evening had them surrounded.  The setting sun set the sky aglow turning the sea as red as blood.

A Vow of Love

Knowing they would be caught and forced to separate the two made a vow of love.  Jonay took his knife and cut a straight branch from one of the laurel trees and sharpened both ends.   The two lovers positioned the spike to press upon their hearts.  As the soldiers surrounding them advanced the two lovers pressed together in one final embrace and as the fiery sun sank into the bloodred ocean, fire and water became one.

© 07/03/2017 zteve t evans

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Copyright March 7th, 2017 zteve t evans