The Arthurian Realm: The Divine Role of Guinevere

This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com on 23/08/2018, under the title British Legends: The Divine Tragedy of Guinevere, written by by zteve t evans

Guinevere Goes a-Maying

The story began one day in the month of May, when Guinevere called together ten Knights of the Round Table. She told them they would accompany her and ten of her ladies in the traditional seasonal activity of Maying, in place of her own elite guards known as the Queen’s Knights, who usually accompanied her everywhere. In celebration of the season and to enter into the spirit of the celebration, she insisted they leave behind their armour and wear green clothing and bear only light arms. Therefore, bright and early the next morning, the party set off to go a-Maying in the woods and fields around Westminster.

The Malice of Sir Meliagrance

An evil knight named Meliagrance had a castle several miles from Westminster, and he had loved Guinevere since the first day he set eyes on her. He never dared to show this love for fear of Sir Lancelot, who was always near her. On this bright May morning, away from the security of the Royal Court, accompanied by only ten lightly armed knights, and with Sir Lancelot now absent, he saw his chance. He quickly mustered twenty of his own men-at-arms and one hundred archers to aid him in the abduction of Queen Guinevere.

Ambush

Guinevere and her party joyfully entertained themselves fully in the ancient custom, adorning themselves and each other with flowers, leaves, mosses, and herbs. They were all relaxed and enjoying the traditional activity so they were easily caught unawares when Meliagrance with his men came out of the woods and surrounded the happy company. Aggressively, he demanded that Guinevere should be given to him, or he would take her by force. The ten lightly armed knights, without a shields, or armour, were not prepared to allow the queen to be taken easily and vowed to fight to the death to defend her. Meliagrance sternly told them, “Prepare with what weapons you have, for I will have the queen!”

The defenders placed themselves in a ring around the queen and drew their swords. Meliagrance gave the order, and his knights charged on horseback. Despite being vastly outnumbered, the ten knights defended the queen ferociously. After long and fierce fighting, six of the queen’s defenders were too badly wounded to fight on, but four were unhurt and still defiantly defended the queen, until they too were wounded but fought on bravely.

Guinevere Surrenders

Seeing her valiant knights so badly hurt and to prevent their slaying, Guinevere ordered them to lay down their arms on condition they would not be slain and that she and they would remain together no matter what. Meliagrance agreed on the condition they did not try to escape and contact Sir Lancelot.

While Meliagrance was attending to his own wounded knights, Guinevere sent one of her youngest servants on a swift horse to find Sir Lancelot and tell him of her plight. On hearing the news, Sir Lancelot, in fear and alarm for the safety of the queen, called for his horse, his armour, and his weapons. Then he asked the servant to go to his friend, Sir Lavaine and tell him the news of the queen’s abduction and ask him to follow him to the castle of Meliagrance without delay.

The Knight of the Cart

Lancelot rode swiftly over Westminster Bridge and, making his horse swim the Thames at Lambeth, he soon came to the place where Sir Meliagrance had abducted the queen and her knights. Then he followed the tracks through woodlands, where he was waylaid by the archers of Sir Meliagrance who rained arrows down on him and slayed his horse. Having no other choice than carrying his armour, weapons, and shield, he set out on foot to the castle of Meliagrance.

As he walked he was overtaken by a horse and cart carrying a driver, and his assistant that was carrying wood to the castle of Meliagrance. The driver refused his request for a ride, so to avoid further delay Sir Lancelot commandeered the cart. He knocked the driver from his seat and forced his assistant to drive him with all speed to his intended destination. From his manner of arrival at the castle, Sir Lancelot was given the name “The Knight of the Cart,” and jumping from it cried out, “Sir Meliagrance, traitor Knight of the Round Table, where are you? I, Sir Lancelot du Lac challenge you! Come, face me and bring who you will, for I will fight you to the death!”

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Ghostlore: The White Dobbie of Old Lancashire

Hanuš Schwaiger [Public domain]

This a retelling of a story called the The White Dobbie,  set in part of the historic county of Lancashire which became part of the the modern county of Cumbria  and comes from a book by James Bowker called Goblin Tales of Lancashire. It comes from a time when the cartographic and administrative borders of the land were different than they are today. Such borders are very much the creation of the human mind and can change on a whim. Furthermore, the map is not the territory and the borders between this world, the next, or indeed others, are not subject to human laws. There are times they can be crossed and this story tells of a strange liminal being and his familiar spirit in the form of a white hare who appeared every now and then from across such a border at certain times.

The White Dobbie

Many many years ago the people who lived in villages between Bardsea to Rampside in the area of Furness  told of a strange wandering being that roamed the remote roads along the coast. No one ever learnt who this strange being was or the reason that brought him on his lonely, melancholy way, past the remote cottages in the darkest of nights and foulest of weather. His arrival  was a well known phenomenon in that area and local people called him the White Dobbie or Dobby, which is a local name for a ghost.

This wandering  ghost had a sad, wan and desolate look about him.  Wild, hungry, eyes stared out of a wild face covered by a long unkempt beard,  giving him an aura of feral mystery and terror. Stranger still he did not walk alone.   He had an uncanny companion; a familiar spirit that loped along before him. This familiar took the appearance a of  ghastly white hare. A famished, impoverished looking creature with bloodshot eyes and an ill aura about it that marked it being clearly not of this world.

An Unknown Mission

No one knew or could foretell when this wandering ghost would appear. He never spoke or answered to anyone but totally disregarding all he came across. He simply kept his eyes before him and ignored any startled cries of surprise  or fear, by anyone who inadvertently came across him, as he sojourned upon his lonely way. Never once did he stop to gaze through the window panes at the cheery glow of a roaring fire while he, an outsider, stood watching the cosy life of the inhabitants inside.  He simply carried on past the few cottages continuing on his unknown mission, whatever that may be, as if life and death were dependent upon it, letting nothing and no one get in his way. Not that anyone would have dared to try to impede or obstruct him for his very presence exuded a fearful warning and no one would willingly have attempted interference with him for the very life of them.

The local people came to be able to predict his appearances by the weather.  Whenever the salt wind whipped the sea into a foam, or drove blinding snow across the land forming drifts as high as the  window-sills and piling it against the doors of the cottages, he would appear. When storms rolled in from the sea and wreaked their anger upon the land then it was certain that this lonely figure would appear from no one knew where.  As the storm raged through the darkness he made his lonely way on his unknown, solitary, mission.

The Ghastly White Hare

As the snow fell and the wind wailed folk could be heard calling to the Lord to save them from the wandering White Dobbie and his ghastly white hare. Drawing their curtains they quickly ushered their little ones into the safety of a back room until he passed by on his lonely way with his ghastly familiar running on before.  If by mischance some unwary traveler should venture across these two bizarre specters the ghostly white hare would instantly leap and bury itself into a cavernous pocket in the dobbie’s coat. There it would peer with baleful red eyes at the unfortunate passerby.

Its strange behaviour and ghastly appearance though repulsive to humans was more terrifying to animals.  Dog, cats, farm and even wild birds and animals could sense its presence, falling silent and scurrying away to hide at its approach.  Any creature unfortunate to encounter the white hare face to face invariably uttered a shriek of terror and bolted in the opposite direction over ditch and hedge through thicket and briar to escape the devil beast and its baleful stare.

For many many years these two weird and lonely specters could be seen walking the lanes and roads.  Grown men could remember them from their early childhood and their parents and grandparents and great grandparents remembered them. Way back further than living memory folk had spoken of the ghastly wanderers but there was no memory of the dobbie ever speaking a single word to anyone.   Nevertheless there came a time when that rule was to be broken.

The Bardsea Bell

One darkling evening as the wind began to rise heralding the coming storm along the road came the White Dobbie and his ghastly familiar.  The road led up to the old church where the Bardsea bell was sadly tolling for the passing of the newly dead. In this way for years beyond count the good residents of Bardsea were informed of the the presence of a new death in their community.  The bell ringer had tolled out the news of death over the years more times than she cared to remember but this night was different. Instead of the melancholy sadness usually experienced an atmosphere of cold fear prevailed in the bell tower lit by a single lantern.  Most of the times she had tolled out the news had been in daylight and rarely by night. Every now and then she glanced around and over her shoulder, fearful of the flickering shadows cast by the lantern and murmuring a quiet prayer to keep her safe. Having closed the door to prevent the wind from blowing out the lantern she was conscious of the isolation of the tower in that little world alone on the hillside.   Suddenly to her fear and alarm she heard a hissing whispering next to her and was overcome by a feeling of dread, fear and loneliness.

As she looked around she saw a white hare dancing grotesquely around the bell tower and  a whispering voice near her face said “Who for this time?” causing her to scream in terror and loosen her grip on the bell rope.  “It’s the Dobbie!” she cried and turned to look into the pale eyes of the spector who stood at her elbow staring at her.  The white hare jumped into the safety of the cavernous pocket of the dobbie and cast its bloodshot eyes in her direction.  

Despite, or perhaps because of her fear, she continued to toll the bell but in a mechanical fashion, unlike the usual tone for informing the world of the presence of death in their little community.  As she did so and to her relief two men from Bardsea burst through the door. They had been alarmed by the change of tone from the bell which had traditionally rung out the same sombre notes time and again without fail and this break from tradition had caught their attention.  They were completely taken aback to see the ghastly dobbie and his strange familiar and the bell ringer mechanical tolling the bell, a look of fear and horror frozen upon her face.

As soon as they entered the bell tower the white hare hid itself in the deep confines of the pocket.  The White Dobbie floated past them and out through the door without saying a word or giving a glance to the left or right. Out through the door it went and disappeared into the darkness of the graveyard.  For many long years there after the bell-ringer of the little church was often accosted by the ghastly phantom pair when tolling news of death at night. Each time she heard the hissing whispering question, “Who this time?” before the phantom turned and floated out through the door to dissolve into the night.  

Speculation

For many, many, years thereafter the  White Dobbie and his companion were seen at times roaming the coastal lanes and roads of the district but gradually their sightings grew less and less.  There was always a dark cloud of mystery that clung to them either when they appeared or when they left. No one could say where he had come from or where they had gone.  Of the ghastly white hare there was much speculation. Some speculated that the two had once been evil humans who were undergoing a form of divine punishment for some evil.  

The Wandering Jew

There is also an idea that this tale is a variant of the Wandering Jew, or the legend of Ahasuerus.  According to this, Ahasuerus refused Jesus a drink of water as he carried his cross to his crucifixion but instead told him to walk quicker.  Jesus replied, ‘I go, but thou shalt thirst and tarry till I come!”  Ahasuerus was made to wander the earth until judgement day.  What the significance of the white hare is in this tale is unknown but there are legends and traditions in English folklore that tell how a cruelly treated woman may become a white hare at her death and haunt her wicked lover finally causing his own death at a time of her choosing.  Could it be that the ghastly hare that accompanied the White Dobbie was the spirit of his old lover whom he had cruelly murdered or mistreated and was doling out punishment? Their lonely wandering continued for many years thereafter but gradually became less and less and what became of them no one knows.

Liminal Beings

Yet another, perhaps, stranger thought springs to mind.  We all go out about our daily lives passing people in the streets of our towns and cities or maybe out in the countryside.   Many of these we never speak to and they never speak to us as they go about their purpose and we ours. How many of these like the White Dobbie, could be liminal beings just passing by on their nameless mission and indeed, what are we to them and what of our own mission?

© 09/01/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright January 1st, 2019 zteve t evans

Persian Folktales: The Son of Malik ut Tujjar and the Grateful Dead

This is a retelling of a Persian folktale called, The Story Of The Grateful Corpse from “Persian Tales”, by David Lockhart Robertson Lorimer, E. O. Lorimer.  Folklorists use the the Aarne–Thompson–Uther classification system which places this type of story as one of the Grateful Dead tales which is type 505.  In the past in some countries it was a custom  that people who died in debt could not be given a proper burial unless their creditors were paid.  It was believed that without a proper burial the soul of the deceased would not be able to rest or enter heaven.

The Son of Malik ut Tujjar

Malik ut Tujjar was the Chief of the Merchants in the city of Chin.  One day he called his son to him and told him it was time he learnt how to make his own way in the world.  He gave him a bag of money and told him to go down to the bazaar and buy merchandise he could sell on for a profit and so become a merchant and trader.   So his son went down to the bazaar hoping to pick up bargains he could make money on. However when he came to the bazaar he was shocked and appalled at what he saw.  Hung up at a crossroad was the corpse of a man and people were beating it with sticks.

“Why are you beating this dead man?  What terrible crime has he done to deserve this?” he asked.

One man stepped up to him and said,  This man died without paying the money he owed us and we are beating him so that people who pass by will give us money, no matter how little, towards paying back the debt.  We will continue beating him until we have collected enough money to pay off all the money he owed us. When we have collected enough to cover his debt we will bury him, but not until then.”

The young man said, “Well if it is only a matter of paying off his debt that will make you stop beating him then I will gladly pay it.”   With that he gave them the money and they stopped beating him and took him down and gave him a proper burial. Then the young man returned to his father who gave him another bag of money to buy merchandise with.

The Test

This time he went down to the bazaar and brought lots of merchandise and hired men who loaded it upon camels and donkeys ready to go out in the world and trade.  He joined a passing caravan to travel with but a little way along the road a thought came to him, “I wonder if these are the kind of men who would help me if I needed it, or just pass me by if something untoward happened? I will put them to a test.”

So he went to one of his fellow travelers and asked him if he could borrow a jug.  The man obliged and the young man went off the road pretending he was going looking for water.  What he really wanted to see was whether the caravan would stop and wait for him so he dawdled along pretending to look for water.  Then he looked to see if the caravan was waiting, or if someone was coming back to look for him.

“As I thought” said the young man to himself, “if something bad happened to me they would not help and probably would not even notice.  I won’t go with these I will return to the city and seek out more reliable traveling companions.”  

Returning to the city he waited until the next day and joined up with another caravan. Again he decided he would test them in the same way he had tested the first and again they proved untrustworthy and he decided to remain behind.

A third time he again applied the same test to the caravan but this time his traveling companions missed him and returned to look for him making sure he was alright. Thinking he could trust them he joined them on their journey.

The caravan traveled on until evening and  found a good place where they decided to set up camp for the night.  As they were all sat around the campfire waiting for their evening meal to cook they saw out of the setting sun a fair and valiant youth crossing the desert towards them.

The Valiant Youth

He strode boldly up to them and sat down knee to knee beside the son of Malik ut Tujjar and said, “With great respect, it looks like you are a merchant and I wonder if you are in need of a servant. If so, may I put myself forward for the position? ”

The son of Malik ut Tujjar looked at him in astonishment and after a few seconds of thought  said, “Yes, a servant would be useful and you can be my servant if you like, but tell me, what work you can do?”

It so happened that because they were traveling through the wild desert lands infested with thieves and bandits the members of the caravan had agreed between them that every night they would share the sentry duty between them.  The Valiant Youth looked at the son of Malik ut Tujjar and said, “I can guard the caravan every night. I give you my solemn promise that I shall bring the caravan safely through the dangers of the wild desert to its final destination. If you agree to take on my services you must promise you will say nothing and you must not interfere in what I do, but act as if it was you that were my servant.”

The son of Malik ut Tujjar asked the other the members of the caravan if they minded if he take on the Youth as a servant who would act as their night sentry. All readily agreed and the son of Malik ut Tujjar made the Valiant Youth his servant.  The Valiant Youth started his guard duty that night and the caravan remained safe throughout the night. The next day the caravan moved on and travelled through the wild desert for several days. Each night the Valiant Youth would guard the travellers and they were all kept safe and sound.

Forty Thieves

One clear and starry night as the Valiant Youth guarded the caravan while the others slept, across the desert against the night sky he saw a yellow flame shoot up high and flicker bright against the sky.  Seizing his sword he crept stealthily towards the blaze. When he reached its source he saw that it was a bonfire and around it sat forty thieves all sat huddled together in a circle beside the fire eating from a big pot in the centre.  Standing up he boldly stepped into the firelight and sat down knee to knee with them and also began to eat.

“Who are you, and what do you want?”  they asked.

“No, who are you and what are you doing?” the Valiant Youth replied.

“We are thieves!” replied the thieves.

“Good, because I also am a thief,” he told them and then they all fell to chatting about all of the good people they had robbed and all of the splendid things they had stolen. Then the Valiant Youth jumped up and said, My friends, some evening we must all go out together and rob and steal.”

They all agreed it would be a good thing to do, but then they asked who it was they should rob and what they should steal from them.

The Royal Treasury the King’s Court

“We should break into the Royal Treasury and rob the King of all of his treasure now!” said the Valiant Youth.  They all thought this was a wonderful idea and so they followed the him across the desert until they arrived at the city of the King and stood below the vast walls of his Treasury.  Then the Valiant Youth said, “I am the youngest, the fittest and the strongest, I will climb the walls and pull you up one by one.”  

To this they all gave their agreement and so he threw up a grappling hook with a rope attached to it and when it held firm he quickly scaled the walls.  Then he threw the end of the rope down and a thief caught hold of it and he pulled him up. As soon as he was over the wall and out of sight of the others the Valiant Youth came up behind him and cut his head off.  He did this time and time again until all of the thieves had been pulled up and had their heads cut off. Next he carried them all down one by one to the the King’s Treasury and arranged all forty of them in a semicircle with their chief seated on a chair in the center with his head upon his lap.

After this he found his way to the King’s court where a lion prowling around looking for a victim.  Without hesitation he whipped out his sword and smote the lion killing it instantly. Then he draped the dead body of the beast across the front of the throne.

He went to find the king’s bedroom and found him sleeping soundly. Beside the sleeping king his servants had left food and water.   First, he made a mark on one of the King’s legs, then he ate a small quantity of food and took a puff or two from his pipe. After these exploits he returned to the caravan returning safely back just before sunrise while his master and the others were asleep.

The Next Day

After the sun had risen and his fellow travelers had woken and had breakfast the caravan set off upon its way.  Presently they came to a small fort situated in the middle of the road that was occupied by an elderly ogre, who would attack passersby from it.  She would steal their goods and kill and eat anyone she laid her hands on and no one got past her alive. The caravan stopped at a safe distance to rest the night knowing they would be safe because the Valiant  Youth would be on guard while they slept.

Looking out on the road from her for she saw the caravan approach and then saw the Valiant Youth and  letting out a blood curdling cry rushed out intending to slay and eat him. The Valiant Youth was too quick for her and drawing his sword he whirled it around and cut her clean in two.  Then he went into the fort and found it full of all sorts precious stones, jewelry of gold and silver, and many fine and expensive items that were beyond price. He also found that there were a number of men being kept prisoner which he set free and then locked the doors.  Then he returned to where the caravan was camped before sunrise and finding his master and companions still asleep woke them up crying, “Awake! Awake! The sun has risen and morning is here!”

persian_khwarazmi

By UnknownUnknown author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The King

Meanwhile back in the city, the King had awoken and saw that someone had been puffing on his pipe.   Furthermore, someone had been eating his food and drinking his water. Going into his throne room he saw that someone had killed a lion and draped it over the front of his throne.  Summoning his vizier he said, “Look at these strange things! Whatever has been going on while I have been asleep?”

The vizier replied, “Strange things indeed, but even stranger things have happened in the Treasury.  We have found forty thieves all beheaded and arrayed around their dead leader!”

“It is good that forty thieves are dead but do not let news of these events escape.  If anyone dares to tell anyone else I will have them cut into quarters alive!” the king told his vizier.

Then he made an important announcement saying, “Let it be known that the King will give his daughter in marriage to anyone who can tell him what took place last night in the King’s court and Treasury,” and added, “but let no one know of these events, or else …”

Men came from far and wide to tell the King all sorts of made up stories but the King and his vizier saw straight through them for the lies they were.   After listening to many stories over many days the King said to his vizier, “What can we do?  We have listened to so many liars telling false stories and we are no nearer knowing who it was who killed those forty thieves and slayed the lion.”

“It so happens that a strange merchant has arrived in the city recently.  Could he know anything I wonder?” said his vizier.

“I will speak to him.  Bring him to me,” ordered the King.  So the vizier, sent the Royal soldiers to bring the son of  Malik ut Tujjar who did not want to go with them. However the Valiant Youth insisted that he should go reminding of the promised he had made to obey him and told him he would accompany him.   They were taken before the King who was instantly struck by the Valiant Youth and said, “Well now young man, tell me all that you know and saw!”

The Valiant Youth’s Story

“Your Royal Highness, I myself saw nothing but my friend here” referring to his master, “told me all about it and know not if it is the truth or a falsehood.”

“Then tell me all that you do know,” commanded the King.  The Valiant Youth told him the entire story of the killing of the lion and the forty thieves and finally said, “and what is more there is a mark that he made on one of your kegs.”   This surprised the King who checked his legs and found it to be true and so believed the story.

“And what reward do you seek for the slaying of the forty thieves and the lion?” asked the king.

The Valiant Youth replied,  “Your Royal Highness, I do not speak for myself but for my friend standing next to me, who heroically and single-handedly slayed the forty thieves and the lion and I say, such heroism  deserves the highest reward. Therefore, I humbly suggest an appropriate reward would be the marriage of your daughter to this hero of heroes. As a wedding gift I suggest seven hundred camels and seven hundred mules fitted out with appropriate loading bags, saddlebags, ropes and handlers to take care of them.”

The King nodded thoughtfully and agreed and the son of  Malik ut Tujjar married his daughter and received the the camels and mules with all the equipment and handlers to take care of them.   Malik ut Tujjar, with his bride, set off back to his own country along the same road he had traveled down and the Valiant Youth accompanied them.  When they arrived at the fort they collected together all of the treasures that had been left and loaded it upon the mules and camels and traveled onward back to the hometown of the son of Malik ut Tujjar.

A Test for  the Son of Malik ut Tujjar

As they approached home the Valiant Youth said, “Son of Malik ut Tujjar, let us be honest, you would have none of all of these riches because it was I that slew the forty thieves and the lion and it all came from my deeds.  Still, despite that I would be happy to divide it all in half between us, do you agree?”

Then the son of  Malik ut Tujjar said,  “What you say is true and I agree to your suggestion.”

So they divided all the treasure, all the camels, mules and handlers between them equally and fairly.  The the Valiant Youth said, “All that is left is the King’s daughter, your wife and we cannot divide her.  Therefore, I suggest that either you take all of the treasure and I will take the King’s daughter, or you will take the King’s daughter and I will take the treasure.   What do you choose?”

The son of Malik ut Tujjar was not at all happy with this suggestion and the two began to argue.   In the end the Valiant Youth toòk her and tied her to stakes in the ground and said,  “The only fair way is to have half each and taking his sword swung it in the air as if to cut her in half.”

The son of Malik ut Tujjar wept in fear and horror as he watched him swing his sword but he never dealt the blow.  Just as he was about to strike a black snake wriggled out of the mouth of the helpless princess and quickly slithered off into the desert.

The Valiant Youth lowered his sword and set her free and said,  “Behold, she is now free!  I had to do this to free her of the demon that possessed her.  Now son of Malik ut Tujjar, she is all yours and so is the treasure along with all of the animals.  May God go with you for now I must leave you.”

“Wait!” cried the son of Malik ut Tujjar, “Tell me, who you are?”

“I am the one whose corpse was hung and beaten at the crossroads in the bazaar whose debts you paid, allowing me to be given a proper burial,” replied the Valiant Youth and as he said this he slowly faded before the eyes of the son of Malik ut Tujjar and was gone.

Consequences of the  Return of the Grateful Dead

There are strange consequences implied in tales of the Grateful Dead.  The first is that people still living, such as creditors can influence and prevent the soul of the dead resting and entering heaven until their debts are paid.  This provides a stark warning to those who borrow money to ensure their debts are paid as quickly as possible as we never know when death will call. There is also the idea that the creditor has a degree of ownership of the soul of the debtor and a degree of approval from God who surely has the last say who goes to heaven.  Then there is the idea that a person can return and influence the lives of the living by rewarding someone who has paid off their debts. This often entails putting that person through a test or series of tests to determine their worthiness and highlights the strangeness of this situation and the consequences hidden within the stories of the Grateful Dead.

© 02/01/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright January 2nd, 2019 zteve t evans