Vancouver Legends: The Lost Island

 

Legends of Vancouver

Emily Pauline Johnson, also known as Tekahionwake, was a Canadian poet and performer.  Her father was a hereditary Mohawk chief of mixed ancestry, while her mother was an English immigrant.  In 1911, she published a collection of legends and folktales told to her by Chief Joe Capilano, based on the stories and traditions of his people.  She called the collection, “Legends of Vancouver,”  and published under the name E. Pauline Johnson.  In her Author’s Foreword she says,

“These legends (with two or three exceptions) were told to me personally by my honored friend, the late Chief Joe Capilano, of Vancouver, whom I had the privilege of first meeting in London in 1906, when he visited England and was received at Buckingham Palace by their Majesties King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

To the fact that I was able to greet Chief Capilano in the Chinook tongue, while we were both many thousands of miles from home, I owe the friendship and the confidence which he so freely gave me when I came to reside on the Pacific coast. These legends he told me from time to time, just as the mood possessed him, and he frequently remarked that they had never been revealed to any other English-speaking person save myself.”

Chief Joe Capilano, was also known as, Su-á-pu-luck, a leader of the Squamish people, indigenous to southwestern British Columbia, Canada.   Presented here is a retelling of one of those folktales called The Island. 

The Island

Su-á-pu-luck spoke saying, “Tekahionwake, our people have lost much over the years.  Our lands are gone, our hunting grounds and our game.  Our religion, language, legends and culture that our ancestors taught us from the beginning are forsaken and forgotten. Many young people do not know them today.

These things are gone and can never return.  The world has turned. Although we may seek them out in the hidden places; the high mountains, the dark forests or the concealed valleys of the world we will not find them.  They are gone forever like the island of the North Arm. Once it was there and now it is gone. Maybe it is somewhere near, but we just cannot see it. Although we paddle our canoes in the sea around the coast we’ll never again find the channel, or the inlet, that  leads to the past days of our people and the lost island.”

Tekahionwake  replied, “You know well there are many islands on the North Arm and many channels and inlets.”

“Yes, but none of  these are the island that our people have sought for many, many years,” Su-á-pu-luck told her sadly shaking his head.

“Perhaps it was never there,” she suggested.

Sighing and shaking his head he said,

“Once it was there.  Both my grandfathers saw it and their fathers saw it.  My father never saw it and neither did I. My father spent many years searching for it.  He searched all the sounds along the coast north and south, but he never found it. In my youth I sought it for many days.  At night I would take my canoe and paddle in the stillness of night. Twice, long ago, I saw its shadow. I saw the shadow of it high cliffs and rocky shores and the shadows of tall pines crowning its mountain summit as I paddled my canoe up the arm one summer night.  The shadow of the island fell across the water, across my canoe, across my face and across my eyes and entered into my head and has stayed. Then, I looked. I turned my canoe around and around and looked but it was gone. There was nothing but the water and the moon reflecting on it, and no, it was not a moon shadow, or a trick of the moon, “  

“Why do you keep searching for it?”  asked Tekahionwake, perhaps thinking of all of the dreams and hopes in her own life she could never attain.

“You see the island has something I want. I shall never stop searching!” he replied and fell silent.  She said nothing because she knew he was thinking and would tell her  a legend from the old days. At last, Su-á-pu-luck spoke,

“I tell you, Tekahionwake, long before the great city of Vancouver appeared when it was but a dream of our god Sagalie Tyee,  before the new people had thought of it, only one medicine man knew that there would be a great camp of new people between False Creek and the inlet.  The dream had come to him from Sagalie Tyee and it had haunted him ever since. When he was among his people laughing and feasting it was there. When he was on his own in the wilds singing his strange songs and beating upon his drum it was there in his mind. Even when enacting the sacred rituals that cured the sick and the dying, it was there.  The dream came to him again and again.

I tell you, Tekahionwake, it stayed with him following him through life wherever he went and he grew old and the dream stayed.   Always he heard the voices that had spoken to him in the days of his youth. They told him, ‘ There will come many, many, people who have crossed the sea and crossed the land. They will be as the leaves in the forest and they will built a great camp between the two strips of salt water.  Their arrival will bring the end of the great war dances. The end of wars with other people. The end of courage, the end of confidence. Our people will be dispossessed of our ways, of our tradition, of our land and who we are. Our people will learn the ways of the newcomers and our ways will be forgotten and we will no longer know ourselves.’

I knew the old man hated the words – hated the dream.  He was the strongest man, the most potent medicine man on the North Pacific Coast but even he could not stop it,  could not defeat it.

I tell you, Tekahionwake, he was a tall man, strong and mighty.  His endurance was like Leloo the timber wolf.  He did not need to eat for many days and could kill the mountain lion with his bare hands.  He could wrestle and defeat the grizzly bear. He could paddle his canoe through the wildest sea and the strongest wind riding upon the crest of the highest waves.

No warrior could stand against him, he could defeat whole tribes.  He had the strength and courage of a giant and feared nothing on land, sea, sky or in the forest, he was completely fearless.  The only thing he could not defeat – could not kill – was the dream of the coming of the newcomers. It haunted him! It was the only thing in life he had faced that he could not defeat.

I tell you, Tekahionwake, It obsessed him.  The obsession drove him from the village.  He left his people, the dancing, the story telling, he left his home village by the water’s edge where the salmon gathered and the deer quenched their thirst.  Chanting wild, wild songs he climbed through the trailess forest to the summit that the newcomers call Grouse Mountain.

On top of the world on Grouse Mountain he ate nothing and drank no water and fasted for days.  He chanted his medicine songs day and night. Below him, beneath the mountain, lay the strip of land between the two salt waters and in that high place  the Sagalie Tyee – the god of our people – gave him the gift of seeing into the future. As he looked out from the mountain over the strip of land his eyes saw across one hundred years.  

He looked over what is called the inlet and saw great lodges built close together in straight lines.  Some were tall and vast being built of wood and stone. He saw the strait trails the newcomers made between the lodges and saw crowds of newcomers swarming up and down them.  

He saw the great canoes of the newcomers and how they moved without paddles.  He saw the trading posts of the newcomers and how they multiplied. He saw the never ending stream of newcomers pouring steadily on to the strip of land and watched as they multiplied among themselves.  

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By Kyle Pearce from Vancouver, Canada (Gambier’s Distinct Shape) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

At last the vision faded and he saw the world in his own time and was afraid.  He called out to the Sagalie Tyee, ‘I have not much longer on this earth. Soon I shall meet my ancestors in the place prepared.  I pray to you not to let my strength and endurance die. I pray to you not to let my courage and fearlessness die. I pray to you not to let my wisdom and knowledge die.  Take them, keep them safe for my people that they may be strong and wise enough to endure the rule of the newcomers and remember who they are. Take these things from me and hide them where the newcomers cannot find them, but where someone from my people one day will.’

Finishing his prayer he went down from the top  of Grouse Mountain singing his songs of power to where he kept his canoe.  Launching it he paddled far up the North Arm, through the colors of the setting sun and long into the night.  At last he came to an island surrounded by high grey cliffs, where a mountain soared in its center crowned with pine trees.  As he drew near he could feel all of his courage, his bravery, his fearlessness and his great strength float from him as wisps of mist that wrapped themselves around the high cliffs and mountain shrouding the island from view.

With all his strength gone he barely managed to paddle back to the village.  When he arrived he called the people together and told them they must search for ‘The island’  where they would find all of his strength and courage still alive forever to help them with their dealings with the newcomers.  That night he drifted into sleep and in the morning he did not wake up.

Ever since our men, young and old, have sought for the island.  Somewhere, in some lost channel, some hidden inlet along the coast, it awaits us but we cannot find it.  The great medicine man told them one day we will find it and when we do we will get back his power along with all his strength, all his courage, all of the wisdom of our forefathers, because such things do not die but live on through our children and grandchildren and their children.”

His voice quivered and ceased and her heart went out to him as she thought of all of the of courage and strength he possessed. She said,

“Su-á-pu-luck, you say the shadow of this island has fallen upon you!”

“That is true, Tekahionwake,” he answered mournfully, “but only the shadow!”

© 31/10/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 31st, 2018 zteve t evans

 

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Breton Fairy Tales: The Secret of the Resurrection of La Rose

The Magic Rose

Breton fairy tales are often a mixture of Roman Catholic, Celtic and other pagan elements that blend together providing  mystery and romance with more than a hint of danger and darkness. The story presented here is a retelling of a Breton folktale called The Magic Rose from Legends and Romance of Brittany by Lewis Spence (1) and tells the rather sombre tale of the transition through life of its protagonist, La Rose.  In many ways it appears to be a traditional fairy tale and like many fairy tales it is not quite what it seems for there is a hidden secret.

La Rose

The story begins in Brittany where an aging married couple had two sons.  The older son had a more adventurous and outgoing personality and went off to Paris to find his fortune.   The younger son, whose name was La Rose, had a more cautious and shy personality and remained at home,  preferring to live with his parents much to their discontent. His mother and father were beginning to feel their age and began to worry about their son.  They wanted him to take a wife to ease the burden on them.

To begin with he would not listen to their appeals but eventually he gave in and found a young woman he loved greatly and they married.  To begin with all was well but after few months sadly his wife fell sick and died. La Rose was heartbroken and every evening he would visit the cemetery and weep beside her grave into the night.

The Spectre and the Magic Rose

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Image by PublicDomainPicturesPixabay – CC0 Creative Commons

One evening while he knelt at his wife’s grave he became aware of a tall dark spectral figure standing before him as he wept.  Looking up in shock at the ghastly figure which pointed at him and said in a rasping voice, “Tell me!  Why do you weep?”

“I weep for my dead wife!” answered La Rose.

“Would you have her alive again?” asked the spectre.

“Indeed, I would!  I would do anything to have her back again!”

“Then listen now!” said the spectre, “Come back to this place tomorrow at the same time. Bring a pick-axe and some clothes for your wife and you may see your heart’s desire.”  With that the dark spectre dissolved into the night.

The next evening at the same time La Rose went to his wife’s grave at the cemetery with a pick-axe and clothes, just as the spectre had said and knelt and wept over her grave.  As he wept he became aware of the dark spectre looking down at him. “Strike the grave with the pick-axe and you will see the earth peal aside to reveal the body of your wife wrapped in her shroud,”  said the spectre.

He then handed La Rose a small silver casket saying, “This contains a rose.  When your wife is free of earth pass this under her nose three times.  She will then awaken as if from a long and deep slumber.”

La Rose watched in awe as the spectre dissolved into the night.  Quickly he struck the pick-axe into his wife’s grave and immediately the earth peeled back and revealed her lying in her shroud.  Following the spectre’s instructions he took the rose from the silver casket and passed it under her nose three times. Just as the spectre had told him and to his astonishment and absolute joy, his wife sighed, sat up and said, “Why I seem to have had such a long deep sleep!”

La Rose gave his wife the clothes he had brought and she quickly dressed and they returned home.  His parents were overjoyed to see their daughter-in-law whole and well again.

The Passing of his Parents

His father was not a well man and he had reached a great age and sadly he fell ill and passed away.  His mother was heart broken. She too was of a great age and the grief of her husband’s passing was too much for her and she too expired.  La Rose wrote to his brother informing him of the sad news and requesting him to return home to receive his share of the family inheritance.  Unfortunately his brother wrote back saying he could not return to Brittany but would give no reason. Reluctantly, La Rose decided to travel to Paris to sort out the family affairs with his brother.

Broken promises

His wife did not want him to go and he was reluctant to leave but feeling he had no choice he told her he must go and promised that he would write to her everyday.  When he arrived he found his brother to be seriously ill and in need of intensive nursing which he delivered himself day and night. Because of the seriousness and intensity of this he forgot to write to his wife as he had promised and she had no news whatsoever of events in Paris and his brother’s health.

Days passed and weeks turned into months and still La Rose forgot to write to his wife. All this time she remained in Brittany worrying and fretting. She had no idea what could be wrong and she dreaded that some courier should appear on her doorstep with bad news.  Every day she took to sitting by her window weeping while looking out hoping to either see him coming down the road, or the dreaded sight of a courier.

The False Captain

It so happened that a regiment of soldiers were posted to the town and the captain was lodged in the inn directly over the road from the home of La Rose and his wife.  The captain was a handsome young man whose curiosity was aroused by the sight of a woman weeping through the window. He was saddened and intrigued by the sight of such a beautiful woman in such grief and set about to learn more about her.  The more he learned and the more he saw her weeping in the window the more he desired her.

Learning about her husband’s absence in Paris he wrote a letter falsely informing her that her husband had died and had it delivered by courier to her.  On reading it she was grief stricken. In this vulnerable state the captain wasted no time in insinuating himself into her affections. After an appropriate period of mourning he proposed marriage to her and she accepted.  The wedding went ahead and they became man and wife. Shortly after the regiment was sent to another town and she accompanied her new husband there.

La Rose Returns

Shortly, after her marriage, the brother of La Rose recovered from his life threatening illness.  Now being free of the burden of providing his nursing care La Rose remembered his wife and his promise to her.  At last, able to complete his family business with his brother he rushed back to Brittany eager to see his wife again.  Can you imagine the shock he had when he discovered the door of his home locked and barred and the house empty? He went to see his neighbours who told him about how his wife had grieved for him.  They told him of how a courier had arrived with a letter informing her of his death and her subsequent marriage to the captain. La Rose was devastated and spent many days moping and weeping for his wife. Eventually he pulled himself together and resolved to go after her and so enlisted in the same regiment as the false captain in the hope it would place him near to her.

The Regiment

He was a talented scribe and soon the quality and finesse of his handwriting brought him to the attention of one of the lieutenants who made him his secretary.  Although he had hoped to catch a glimpse of his wife he was yet to do so to his disappointment. Then one day the captain who had married his wife visited the lieutenant on regiment business.   He noticed the quality of the handwriting of La Rose who was working at his desk and asked if he could borrow him for a few days to help him with paperwork and correspondence.

A False Accusation

It so happened that while assisting the false captain he saw his wife but she did not recognise him at all.  La Rose of course knew her and now he knew who her new husband was. Nevertheless, he refused to let it show and kept his identity from them.  The captain was delighted with the service La Rose had given and as a reward invited him to dine with him and his wife one evening.

The false captain had a servant who was dishonest and had stolen a silver dish.  Fearing the theft was about to be discovered he secreted the dish into one of La Rose’s pockets.  When the silver dish was missed the servant then accused La Rose who was searched and the stolen item found.   Although La Rose protested his innocence he was court marshaled and sentenced to be shot and taken to prison to await his execution.

Père La Chique

As you will understand La Rose was feeling miserable and despondent at the way of the world.  An old veteran of the regiment named Père La Chique would bring him his meals and seemed friendly and kindly towards him.  This cheered and encouraged La Rose greatly and he made friends with him. One day, knowing his execution would be soon he said to La Chique,  “Père, my friend I have two thousand francs that I am sure you could use to the good.  If you will promise to do something for me when I am gone you can have them!”

Père was a man who liked his liquor and was always short of money so he readily agreed.  La Rose reached into his pocket and pulled out the little silver casket that the spectre had given him so long ago.  Handing it to Père he said, “After I have been shot and they have buried me bring a pick-axe and strike it in the ground over my grave.  The earth will peel back and you will see me lying there in my burial shroud, dead. Pass the rose under my nose three times and I will wake as if I have been in a very deep slumber.  Make sure you bring me some clothes to wear.”

Père agreed and took the money and the rose.  Soon after La Rose was taken out and shot. Père now with a pocketful of money set about his favorite pastime in style.  He went from one inn to another drinking and merrymaking with his friends. Now and then he remembered his promise to La Rose but only for a short time.  However, after a few more drinks he either forgot again, or thought to himself that La Rose was surely better off dead than suffering the grief and weariness of the world and carried on with his drinking.

Of course with so much money in his pocket many of his old friends appeared and he found himself surrounded by new ones whom he spent his money on.  When all of the money was gone they all disappeared and left him to reflect on his behaviour. Feeling ashamed he again remembered his promise to La Rose.

Resurrection

Finding himself a pick-axe and some clothes for his dead friend he went to the cemetery to carry out his promise.  Striking the earth with the pickaxe the earth peeled back, just as he had been told. When he looked in the grave and saw his dead friend wrapped in his shroud his nerve failed him and he ran off.  After a stiff drink he summoned the courage to return. Taking the rose from the silver casket he passed it under the nose of La Rose three times. La Rose sat up and yawned as if he had been in a deep slumber just like he said he would.  Hastily, he took the casket and the rose back and dressed himself and the two of them left the cemetery.

After his resurrection, without money and no roof over his head, La Rose was obliged to look for ways to earn a living.  He took many menial, low-paid jobs to make ends meet and one day while wandering the streets looking for work he heard the beating of a drum.  He followed it to the town square where the Town Crier stood on the steps of the town hall about to make an announcement.

The Crier told the crowd that had gathered that the King was looking for men to act as guards for three nights  at the local chapel and was prepared to pay handsomely for suitable recruits. Naturally, this piqued the attention of La Rose thinking it sounded too good to be true.  Indeed it was for the Crier went on to explain that the King’s daughter had been transformed into some kind of terrible monster and was imprisoned there.

Nevertheless, La Rose was desperate and decided he would apply, which he did and was accepted.  The captain of the guard then warned him that all those who had guarded the chapel between eleven o’clock in the evening and midnight had never been seen again and no trace of them had ever been found.  Naturally, La Rose was dismayed and thought about quitting the post but decided he would give it a try anyway as life to him at this time seemed not worth living.

The First Night

The guard duties were duly allotted to the new recruits and it fell to La Rose that he take the third turn at guarding the chapel.  The first guard went on duty on the first night and was never found in the morning. On the second night it was the same with the second guard.  The third night came and La Rose fearfully took up his post in the sentry box at the chapel. As time wore on he could feel fear creeping up on him and again he thought of running.  He was about to do so when terrible voice called him by his name. He froze to the spot as the voice cried, “La Rose! La Rose! Where in the world are you now, La Rose?”

“Who is it that is calling my name?” answered La Rose trembling .

“Listen to me carefully and you will come to no harm!  Very soon the most terrible beast will leap out of the chapel and it will look to kill you.  At the stroke of eleven place your musket against the sentry box and climb on top of the box and the beast will not harm you.”

When he heard the chapel clock strike eleven he placed his musket against the sentry box and climbed on top.  Just as he had done so he heard a terrible howling and the most fearsome beast leapt out of the chapel with flames issuing from its mouth and nostrils, crying, “Sentry, sentry, sentry, where are you, sentry? I will devour you when I find you!”  

As it cried out it seized the musket in its teeth and tore it into a thousand pieces and then vanished.  La Rose looked down from the top of the sentry box terrified. When the beast had gone he climbed down to look at the crumbled remains of his musket.

He was the only sentinel who had ever survived one night guarding the chapel.  When the news was given to the king he was delighted and full of hope. He knew that to break the spell that held his daughter the same sentry must survive three consecutive nights at the chapel between the eleven and twelve o’clock at night.

The Second Night

The next night La Rose took up his station at the chapel equipped with a new musket.  Time passed and again he heard the same voice he had heard the night before. This time it told him to place his musket against the door of the chapel and hide behind the sentry box.  La Rose did exactly as he was told. At the stroke of eleven the beast leapt screaming from the chapel and grabbed his musket and bit it into thousands of pieces and then quickly returned to the chapel leaving him unharmed.

The Third Night

The third night came and once again La Rose heard the voice.  This time it told him that when the beast issued from the chapel he should run to the back of the building.  There he would see a leaden tomb which he should hide behind. Behind the tomb he would find a small bottle.   When the beast came for him he was to throw the contents of this over the head of the beast.

When the clock struck eleven he heard the dreadful scream of the beast as it burst through the chapel door.  Standing to one side La Rose waited until it was clear of the doorway then darted behind it through the door and ran to the back of the chapel.  Just as the voice had advised him he found a leaden tomb which he hid behind and behind the tomb he found a small bottle and pulled out its stopper.

The beast quickly turned and gave chase and was about to leap over the tomb when La Rose stood up to face it and threw the contents of the bottle over its head.  The beast howled horribly and thrashed and writhed on the floor. The chapel shook but eventually everything calmed down and stood before him was the most beautiful princess.

The King’s Daughter

La Rose then took the princess to the Old King who was delighted to have his daughter back.  He was so grateful that he begged him to marry his daughter which La Rose was also pleased to agree to.  So La Rose married the Old King’s daughter and a little while later the Old King decided he would retire and abdicated making his son-in-law the new King.

The New King

It came to pass that one day as the new king it was his duty to inspect the regiments of his army.  As he inspected the regiment that he had served in he found it was the false captain standing at the head of the lines of  soldiers who were all stood to attention in his honour. As he inspected the lines of soldiers he told the Colonel that he thought someone was missing. The Colonel admitted that there was indeed one man missing but told him that the missing man was an old veteran who really was not much use for anything.  It was thought he lowered the tone of the regiment so he had been left behind to clean the barracks. La Rose told the Colonel that he would like to see him and Père La Chique was brought before him trembling. He then ordered the false captain to step forward and ripped the epaulettes from his shoulders and placed them on the shoulders of Père La Chique making him the new captain.

Then he ordered that a great fire was to be set around two stakes.  Then he ordered the false Captain and his wife who he deemed had so easily forgotten him to be tied to the stakes and they were burned alive together. Perhaps this may seem a rather harsh treatment for his first wife who La Rose had once loved, resurrected and then forgot about and indeed, maybe it was, but it is not what it seems.  Nevertheless, La Rose as the King and together with his Queen, lived a long and happy life thereafter.

The Secret

You see the thing about the world of  fairy tales is that there maybe magic and there may be love but the world inside the tale grotesquely mirrors the world outside which also has magic and love.  It also has pain and grief and injustice and somehow we all have to deal with what the world gives us, face our demons and rise again, which is also mirrored in the folktale, but that is not the secret. You see, only the reader can find that and it is a powerful secret to know once it is understood.

© 23/10/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 23rd, 2018 zteve t evans

(1)  CHAPTER VI: BRETON FOLK-TALES – The Magic Rose – Legends and Romances of Brittany – by Lewis Spence – [1917]

Petrification Myths: The Witch Dancer of Lengmoos

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Fotograf: Stefan Kuhn – CC BY-SA 3.0

Petrification myths and legends are found all around the world.  Sometimes someone is turned to stone as and act of divine retribution when they upset the gods and sometimes legends are attached to natural geological features of the landscape.  The following is a rewrite of  a folktale called The Witches of Lengmoos from Tales and Legends of the Tyrol, by Countess Marie A. Günther and tells how an arrogant young man offended God and was punished for his offense by being  turned to stone.

The Witches of Lengmoos

In Lengstein, there was once the son of a rich peasant who traveled to many foreign places.  He met many people and saw many strange and wonderful things and came across many new ideas.  When he returned home he would mock all of the good and faithful peasants who would faithfully say the rosary every evening.  His mother became increasingly worried and concerned as she heard him mocking and belittling the holy church calling it nothing but the ridiculous joke of priests.

Thursday Nights

Every Thursday he was often found drinking with his friends in the local inn.  As the ale flowed so did the stories.  Many stories were told and each one was exaggerated a bit further than the last.   On one such evening one of his friends told how every Thursday night a coven of witches would meet and carry out rituals and dance on the Birchboden mountain nearby.   They would arrive on the wings of the wind coming from all directions and all areas of the country and there they would hold their dark Sabbat.

As soon as he heard this the young man boasted that he would join them in their dance that night.  His friends strongly advised him not to but despite their warning he would not listen and set off that very evening.   Reluctantly, his friends followed him, pleading with him not to go through with it, but he would not listen. They followed him to the Mittelberg where the Kebebelschmeide rises and the mountain stream called the Finsterbach rushes through a gully, but they would go no further that night.  The bold young man laughed at them calling them foolish and ran through the forest alone singing happy songs to a place where stood many pyramids of porphyry  twenty to thirty feet high.

The Witches Sabbat

On arriving he saw many, many witches all dancing wildly around in circles, leaping and performing somersaults and other acrobatics and tricks. The young man was delighted with what he saw and ran to join them in their wild dancing and antics.  There he stayed joining in with all of their dancing but as the church bells of Lengmoos struck midnight all of the pyramids of porphyry shuddered violently and the Finsterbach foamed up wildly.

The Witch Dancer

His friends watching from a safe distance saw all of this and then when a wild black storm hit the mountain in fury they ran to a nearby hut for shelter.  There they stayed until morning until the storm abated as quickly as it had started. They waited until the bell of the morning Angelus had rang when they knew the power of the witches would also abate and then went out to find their friend.   To their abject horror they found him transformed into solid stone with his legs up to his knees firmly embedded in the ground. He remains there to this day and no moss or lichen will grow upon his petrified form. No bird will perch on, or fly over his body and no man or woman will go near this place for fear of the divine retribution wreaked upon the “witch-dancer” of the Lengmoos who dared to  mock the Lord.

© 16/10/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 16th, 2018 zteve t evans

Elen of the Hosts: Goddess of Sovereignty, King Maker, Warrior Queen of the Britons

This article was first published #FolkloreThursday.com as British Legends: Elen of the Hosts – Saint, Warrior Queen, Goddess of Sovereignty on 21/06/2018 by zteve t evans

Elen of the Dream

Historically, Elen of the Hosts was a real woman who lived in the 4th century, but in British legend and Welsh and Celtic mythology, may go back even further.  She appears to have been a woman of many roles that have grown and evolved over the centuries to the present day. Today, Elen is best known for her part as the subject of the affections of the emperor of Rome in strange tale of The Dream of Macsen Wledig, from the Mabinogion. The story depicts her as a mysterious woman of power who knows how to gets what she wants and appears linked to the giving and taking of sovereignty a very powerful attribute.  Presented here is a discussion about who Elen was, and how she has changed and evolved over the centuries, hopefully  encouraging the reader to perhaps research and create their own ideas for themselves.

The Dream of Macsen Wledig

Her story begins one day when the emperor of Rome, Macsen Wledig, was out hunting. Feeling tired in the midday sun, he decided to take a nap. As he slept, he experienced a dream that had an incredible effect on him. In that dream, he travelled across mountains and along rivers, and undertook a sea voyage which brought him to a fair island. He crossed that island and found a magnificent castle and in that castle, seated in a golden hall, was a beautiful woman and he fell in love with her. Macsen had found the woman of his dreams within his dream and, typical of a dream, he never gets his kiss. When he moves to kiss and embrace her, he awakens, and in the waking world there is no Elen. But Macsen wants his kiss badly and now the world has changed for him. He is obsessed with her to the point that he can think of nothing and no one else. His health fails and he begins to waste away and pines for her, telling his counsellors, “and now I am in love with someone who I know not. She may be real and she may be unreal, but I am mortally stricken, so tell, what am I to do?”. Although he did not know it at the time, the woman in the dream was named Elen, and it is clear from the dream that she was someone very special, but who was she?

Who was Elen?

Although very little for certain is known today about her, it can be seen from the dream that Elen was not an ordinary woman. Today she is known by many names. She is Elen Luyddog in Welsh or in English, Elen of the Hosts, and also known as Elen of the Ways, Elen of the Roads and Elen Belipotent in reference to her military leadership skills. She also is known as Saint Elen or Helen of Caernarfon, sometimes being named as Helen rather than Elen, and there are still more names. Elen was believed to be the daughter of Eudav, or Eudaf Hen, a Romano-British ruler of the 4th century who became the wife of Macsen Wledig, also known as Magnus Maximus, a Western Roman Emperor from (383-388AD). She was the mother of five children including a son named Constantine who was also known as Cystennin, or Custennin. She introduced into Britain from Gaul a form of Celtic monasticism and founded a number of churches. There are also many holy wells and springs named after her and there still exist roads were named after her such as Sarn Elen.

She was also a warrior queen. According to David Hughes in his book, The British Chronicles, Volume 1, after Macsen was defeated and executed, Elen reigned over the Britons. She led the defence of the country against invading Picts, Irish and Saxons. After a long, hard fight she pushed the invaders out, earning the name Elen Luyddog, or Elen of the Hosts and Elen Belipotent meaning “mighty in war”. In the Welsh Triads, Elen of the Hosts and Macsen Wledig, or in some versions Cynan her brother, lead an army to Llychlyn, which some scholars such as Rachel Bromich see as a corruption of Llydaw, or Armorica which does fit better with what is known.

There is a line of thought that sees characters in the Mabinogion as Christianised versions of far older gods. Some people also see her as being a conflation of several women and ultimately derived from an ancient Celtic goddess of sovereignty. The theme of sovereignty in one form or another does appear in the dream and she appears as the catalyst that can make it happen, or take it away.

Elen’s Power

From the dream, we learn that she was in the company of her father, Eudav, who was the son of Caradawc and is also known as Eudaf Hen, (Eudaf “the Old”), or Octavius, a King of the Britons, so she was a lady of considerable importance. This is evidenced by the surroundings in the dream, which matched exactly those she was in when the messengers of Macsen find her. Her response to the messengers is not one from a woman who sees herself as being subordinate to men or emperors, or anyone else no matter who they may be. When the messengers tell her about the great love their emperor holds for her and request she accompany them back to Rome, she revealed part of her true power by flatly refusing. Instead she told them to return to Rome and tell the emperor that he must travel to her if he truly loved her as he claimed. Macsen obeyed …

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Welsh Folklore: The Widow, the Red Bandits of Montgomery and Silly Doot

woman_and_baby_wearing_green_gloves_joshua_johnson

Joshua Johnson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

William Elliot Griffis in his  book Welsh Fairy Tales, tells a strange story of a widow who had been robbed by a notorious gang of thieves and cutthroats known as the Red Bandits of Montgomery.  This is also the title of the story and presented here is a retelling of that tale.

The Red Bandits of Montgomery

There was once an infamous bunch of thieves, robbers and cutthroats known as the Red Bandits of Montgomery  who were notorious for climbing down the chimneys of houses and robbing the homeowner.  In an attempt to counter this old scythe blades were installed in the chimneys.

The Red Bandits had robbed and killed many people but one of their most heinous acts of lawlessness came when they brutally murdered a man who left behind a widow and a baby boy.  For the widow deprived of her husband and the baby boy of his father, the future was not very rosy, in fact it was bleak.   The widow had a good cow that provided a surplus of milk which she sold and she worked hard to make a living for her and her son. Money was always short but she always managed to pay the rent money on time which was fortunate because in those days landlords would throw their  tenants out leaving them homeless if they could not pay.

Theft in the Night

When he had been alive her husband had provided a good lock on the cowshed to keep the cow from being stolen and had installed scythe blades in the chimney as a deterrent to the Red Bandits, so the widow thought she would be safe.

However, the Red Bandits, not content with murdering her husband and depriving the boy of his father, knew she had a good cow and knew it provide enough milk to sell to pay the rent. They also knew that without her husband she was vulnerable and an easy victim and in their evil greed they decided they would rob the widow of it.   Therefore, their foremost expert in climbing down chimneys was selected to enter the house through the chimney, steal the rent money and the key to the lock on the cowshed and run off with the cow in the night.

When the widow awoke she found the rent money gone and dashing out to the cowshed found the cow had gone.  Devastated by the double loss she ran back to the kitchen and laying sobbing over the table not knowing how she an her son would survive.  As she was weeping for the hardness of the world she heard a knock on the door.

An Unexpected Visitor

Fighting back tears she called, “Why don’t you just come in, everyone else does!” not really caring anymore.  Pushing the door open there entered a very old woman with a very kind face.  She was dressed in the traditional way of Welsh women with the tall headdress but her clothes were in various shades of green.  Her dress had green ruffles and in her right hand she carried a staff and under he cloak she carried a bag.

“Tell me please, why it is you weep?” she asked the widow.

So the widow not knowing what else to do told her how her rent money had been burgled and her cow stolen and that she didn’t know how she was going to feed her baby son, or pay the rent money.

The old woman smiled kindly upon her and opening her bag began tipping out gold coins upon the table and said, “Well now, see here, there is more than enough gold to pay your rent and purchase another good cow!” as the gold formed a heap upon the table. “and it is all yours if you will give me what I ask and at the same time relieve yourself of a huge worry and burden,” and the old woman glanced across the room at the sleeping babe in its cradle.

The Bargain

The widow’s eyes nearly popped out of her head when she saw the big pile of glittering gold coins laying on her kitchen table.  She had never seen such huge amount of gold before. She wondered and then nervously glanced across the room at her sleeping son, but said nothing.  Then she laughed at the half formed thought. Looking around her kitchen she wondered what she had that the old woman valued so much. Laughing at the poverty she saw around her she said,  “Hah! And what do I have of such value that you could possibly want? Tell me and you shall have it!” and then her laughter ceased and she was afraid.

The old lady looked kindly upon her and said, “I can help you.  I can give you gold, more than enough to pay your  rent, enough to buy a new cow – a herd of cows. I can make you you rich and takes away  all of your worries … and your burden.”

“What do you want?”  asked the widow fearfully.

“I want to help you.  I want to make you rich.  I came to take your baby back with me,” said the old woman.

Aghast, the widow realized that the old woman was from the Otherworld and had come for her baby.  She begged her frantically not to take her son telling her to take everything else but not her baby.  The old woman said, “Take the gold and make yourself rich.  Give me the child and relieve yourself of your burden.”

“Surely there is something else I can give, something else I can do for the gold?” begged the widow.

The old woman looked on her kindly and said,  “There are two thing that I have to tell you that that may help you decide.  The first is that by the laws of my world I cannot take your boy until three days have passed.  Then I will return with the gold and you shall keep that and I shall take the boy back to my world with me.”

“That is but one,” said the widow, “tell me the other.”

“The second condition is this.  If you can guess my name you win twofold;  you keep both the gold and and your baby son.”

Having said that the old woman scooped all of the gold into her bag and walked out the door saying, “I will return in three days for your answer,” and was gone.The widow without her cow and her rent money feared being turned out of her house and spent the night fretting and worrying, not sleeping  wink.

Silly Doot

After a restless night the widow decided she would visit her relatives who lived several miles away in another village to see if they could help.  She asked her neighbor to look after her son while she made the journey on foot to see them. Although they were glad to see her and sorry about the loss of her rent and cow they were so poor they could offer no more than emotional support which the widow needed and understood.  Feeling low in spirits she trudged home passing through a wood along the way. In the middle of the wood was a small grassy glade situated just a little way off the path. As the she came near the glade to her surprise she heard someone singing.

Carefully and quietly so as not to disturb them she crept through the trees to the glade to see who it was.  Skipping lightly round and round the center of the glade was one of the Otherfolk  happily dancing in a circle and singing,

“Ha ha! What a hoot!  What’s my name? Silly Doot!”

Round and round the glade she tripped while the widow hid behind a bush listening. Carefully and quietly she left the glade and made her way home as quickly as she could thinking carefully about what she had seen and heard.

On returning home she collected her baby boy from her neighbor, thanking them and set about her daily tasks working as hard as ever.  That night she went to bed and slept soundly despite knowing the old woman would return for her baby son in the morning.

The next morning she heard a rap at the door. She opened it and in walked the old woman in green carrying her bag.  Wasting no time she sat down at the table and tipped her bag up letting a pile of gold coins fall upon the table, saying, “The time has come.  Give me the boy and I will give you the gold, if you want me to help you, or if you guess my name correctly you get to keep both.  Are you up for this? Are you ready?”

The widow thought for a moment and then said, “How many guesses can I have and how long have I got?”

“You are allowed as many guesses as you choose and you have all the time there is,” replied the old woman, smiling confidently.

The widow tried name after name, after name, but each time the old woman said, “No!”

The old woman’s eyes began to gleam and she moved her chair nearer the cradle.  The widow thought as hard as she could and guessed again and again but each time she was wrong.  At last nearing defeat she fell quiet in despair and her mind went back to the previous day to the glade in the wood and the Otherfolk dancing and singing,

“Ha! Ha! What a hoot, what’s my name? Silly Doot!”

“Silly Droot!” cried the widow,

“Your name is Silly Doot!”

The old green woman turned red and then purple with rage, but simultaneously the door flew wide open and a strong gust of wind blew her clean up the chimney and she was gone leaving all of the gold in a big pile upon the table.  Whether she was cut to pieces by the scythes in the chimney we do not know but she never came back.

Justice for the Red Bandits

So the widow kept her baby and also the gold.  She spent wisely and prudently, buying two good cows, brought a new table and chairs and hid the rest of the coins under the hearth stone.  When her baby grew up she gave him a good education and he became one of the judges who hunted down and brought the Red Bandits to justice.

© 02/10/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 2nd, 2018 zteve t evans