German Folktales: The Cursed Dancers of Ramersdorf

Pieter Brueghel the Younger [Public domain]

This is a retelling of a story from an old book of German folktales called, Folk-lore and Legends: German by Anonymous. In that book the story was called called The Dancers and tells of divine punishment called down for disrespecting the Sabbath.  In many of these stories punishment for transgressing the Sabbath or disrespecting God was to be turned to stone. In this case the transgressors received a very different form of punishment.

The Dancers

The Sabbath-day had come and the folk of Ramersdorf proceeded to organize a dance in the monastery courtyard to entertain themselves as was their long held custom. It was a tradition they had enjoyed for years beyond count and had never once been spoken against by any of the long line of abbots who were now dead and gone.  The world turns and change comes for good or bad and the monastery now had a new abbot by the name of Anselm von Lowenberg,  who frowned upon all popular activities and recreations that the people enjoyed. He was a strict and austere man who saw pleasurable pursuits as being nothing but frivolities and self-gratification and as such the work of the devil.   Nevertheless, despite the stern warnings of the angry abbot the people continued, after all it was their greatest pleasure.

It had been a beautiful, sunny, spring day and the evening was very pleasant and folk dressed in their best clothes and began to gather at the courtyard to join in the fun.  Those who were too old or infirm to dance were given seats where they could watch and clap. In front of these sat an old blind fiddler who had provided the music to these events for three generations. The dancers lined up and the fiddler began and the dancers began to dance and a few monks looked down upon the merry scene from the dark windows of the monastery.

Abbot Anselm von Lowenberg

Halfway through the first reel the none other than Abbot Anselm von Lowenberg,   marched into the centre of the courtyard and demanded that all dancing and entertainments cease immediately, crying,

“Stop your shameful dancing! Stop all of this fun! Stop your unholy activities and stop profaning the Sabbath!  You are wicked and full of sin, therefore go and pray to the Lord for forgiveness and cease these frivolous activities!”

Although he waved his hands and shouted and roared the people took no notice of him and the dancers continued dancing round him and the the blind fiddler played on and the audience sat and clapped and his ire grew greater.

“Sinners, get ye gone from this place immediately or I will place a curse upon you to punish you!”

he cried angrily, but still no one took any notice, the fiddler played on, the dancers danced and the people clapped in time.

You ignore me, therefore I curse you that you shall dance continuously without rest for one year and one day from this day forth!”

And as he cursed them he lifted up his hands and eyes to heaven imploring the Lord to fulfill his curse and then he stormed out of the courtyard to seek solitude in his dismal cell in the monastery.

The Curse

With the curse cast the dancers found they could not stop dancing and danced all evening without rest.   At first they were delighted with their new found energy and as night fell they began to think about stopping the dance and going home, but to their bewilderment they found they could not.  The blind fiddler continued to play, the dancers continued to dance and the people who sat watching continued to clap. Night came and still the dancers danced, the fiddler played and the audience clapped and so it continued day after day in all weathers without rest.

The weeks past and spring gave way to summer and summer gave way to autumn and the dance went on.  Autumn gave way to winter and the fiddler continued to play, the dancers danced and the people clapped.  Round and round and round they danced with the same energy and strength they had began with, never tiring one little bit.

The Dancers Danced On

At times people who had not been present on the day of the curse came to stare and wonder at them  They tried everything they could think of to stop the strange dance. They tried to stop the music but the blind fiddler just played on.  They tried to move the audience but the audience remained clapping in their seats, They tried to stop the dancers but the dancers danced on.

The strongest men could not pull the dancers from the circle, take the fiddle from the fiddler or stop the audience from clapping.  Even when Abbot Anselm von Lowenberg came and tried to lift the curse but still the blind fiddler fiddled, the dancers danced and the people clapped.  All those under the curse seemed oblivious to the outside world and continued with their activity with the same enthusiasm and gusto with which they had begun.

A Disturbing Warning!

At last they had danced for one year and one day and the curse expired and they fell exhausted in a deep sleep  upon the ground. Where the dancers had danced their constant dance steps had worn a deep hole in the earth beneath them.  It was a long time before they awoke but when they did it was found their reason had been taken from them and leaving them witless and stupefied for the rest of their lives and providing a disturbing warning for those who would violate the Sabbath.

© 30/01/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright January 30th, 2019 zteve t evans

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Scottish Folktales: The Haunted Heath

Thomas Cole [Public domain]

This is  a retelling of a folktale called The Murder Hole, found in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction Magazine, 1829 and believed to be set in an area of Scotland about three hundred years earlier.

The Murder Hole

In  a remote part of the country there exists a lonely road that runs for miles and miles through an empty and dreary landscape broken by the odd sharp hillock and tor  and a few scattered and tortured trees. On one side of the road stands and old stone cross that seems to stand as a bleak warning to the unwary traveler that they are crossing over a boundary into the unknown.  Beyond that lies a ruined, abandoned church. There are no flowers and In daylight the landscape appears to be covered in a mass of dull grey, green stringy grass but it is a deceptive and dangerous place. From the road the ground looks firm and solid but there  are bogs and marshes whose watery surface take on the grayness of the skies and hide their presence from the unwary and these stretch as far as the eye could see in all directions. The only time their presence can be seen plainly is at times when the veils that shroud this world from the next become thin such as at sunset just before they lift.  Then light from the dying sun strikes the watery surface revealing blood-stained pools and streams that appear from the landscape giving it a surreal and disturbing aspect. At such a time any traveler on that road would be vulnerable to their own thoughts as the veil lifts and the night creatures begin to roam through. The road was bad but it was better to keep upon it than risk the treacherous bogs and marshes that changed and shifted.  These were dangerous for those who did not know the area but the few locals who remained could find their way through safely.

The Hamlet

The only sign of human habitation were a few rough wooden huts clustered both sides of the road  that made up a small almost deserted hamlet situated in the center of this God forsaken place. Anyone using that road from either direction must eventually pass this place though it was not quite fully abandoned.   There had never been many people making their home in these parts at the best of times and slowly people drifted away to settle in a village beyond the moor telling in hushed tones of the malevolence that haunted that strange forsaken place.

Rumor

Rumors filtered out that some evil walked upon the moor and travelers used it less and less and then  only out of dire necessity and never at night. When people went missing, the people from the hamlet scoured the moor each time,  but no body or grave was ever found. No place that may serve as a hideaway was ever discovered that might have been used by those seeking concealment for some reason.

Nevertheless, over the years, people kept disappearing without a trace and the few inhabitants became fewer and fewer.   People told of the terrible black nights that fell upon the land and spoke of hearing the deathly silence broken by unearthly screams of anguish from some distant place on the heath.

A shepherd who had been out on the moor one evening came back with a terrifying account of how he had become lost in the featureless plane and came across three dark sinister figures.  They appeared to be locked in a terrible struggle, each exuding supernatural effort against the other until one of them slowly sank screaming into the very earth.

This along with similar sinister events persuaded the people of the hamlet to pack up their meager belongings and head for the safety of the village on the other side of the moor.  Eventually, the only inhabitants that remained were an old woman and her two sons who owned a humble but ramshackle cottage. They complained that they stayed because they were prisoners bound to this dreadful place by the chains of poverty

The few travelers who used the forsaken road now only did so in groups and would spend the day traveling together and rest up over night at the cottage of the old woman and her sons who were glad of the income they brought.  The lodgings were poor and basic but the safety of four walls around them and a roof over their heads was greater draw than traversing that haunted road in the dark. Sometimes by the firelight the cottagers would tell a story or two of the horrors of the moor and watch  in dark humor at the terror on the faces of their guests. After a sleepless night In the morning they would gladly pay their hosts and continue their journey glad to be gone

The Pedlar-Boy

It so happened that one storm night in November,  a young pedlar-boy rather than listen to the advice of locals and common sense travelled the road alone.  The year before he had traveled this road as part of a group of people and believed himself acquainted and prepared for what a solitary journey may bring but he was wrong

As the night fell and the wind blew he heard the cries and groans of the dying all around him.  Fearing to look to the left or to the right he forced himself onward. At last in the distance he saw the glimmer of a fire through a window and knew he was approaching the cottage and hurried towards it.  Remembering his last stay as a member of a large party he expected a warm welcome. The old woman had regaled them with terror tales and had appeared to take a shine to him begging him to stay

Reaching the door in relief he rapped loudly upon it but despite hearing a great deal of noise and confusion no one answered.  Thinking that the inhabitants might think it was supernatural visitor whom the old lady had spoken so much of on his last visit he looked through a side window.  As he looked he saw everyone was busy. The old woman was rubbing the stone floor and sprinkling a layer of sand over it. Her two sons appeared to be trying to push something large and bulky into a chest pushing the lid down and locking it.  The pedlar-boy tapped on the window seeking to attract their attention causing them all to jump in nervous surprise and glare malevolent at him. This shocked the boy who was expecting a friendly welcome after his last visit. Before he could do anything one of the men rushed out of cottage grabbing hold of him tightly and pulled him roughly inside.

“Wait, wait! I am not what you think I am!  I am only the poor pedlar-boy who came this way last year and you gave shelter. Don’t you  you remember me? I stayed with you last year and you asked me to stay. When I said I couldn’t. you invited me back at any time and here I am,” he said laughing adding, “I am not what you think I am.”

I am but a poor pedlar-boy all alone in the world.  If I died tomorrow know one would miss me – no one would mourn me.  I am completely and utterly alone! ”

The cottagers glared at him suspiciously and the old woman asked “Are you alone?”

“No one would miss you?”  asked the old woman in a whisper.

“No one in the world, ” he answered beginning to feel nervous and sorry for himself, “would shed a tear, or be remotely distressed  if I died this night!”

“Then indeed you are welcome here!” said the old woman looking at the other two slyly.

It was not the cold that made the pedlar-boy shiver and draw near the peat fire. He was thinking that the shelter of any of the dilapidated buildings in the ghost hamlet may have been a better choice than this. Despite the warmth of the fire he still felt chills running through him and now looking upon the sinister aspect of these three cottagers his apprehension grew. Nevertheless being alone and beyond any assistance he determined to conquer his fears, or at least suppress them to prevent them being revealed to his hosts

Nightmare

He was shown to a room that had the look about it that some violent confrontation had taken place.  The curtains hung in tatters, the table had been broken by some mighty blow and whatever scarce furniture graced the room, parts of it lay scattered on the floor.  The pedlar-boy begged for a candle to burn until he had drifted off to sleep and was reluctantly given one. When he had been left alone he explored further and found the door had been broken and to his consternation the latch and lock snapped off.

He tried to compose himself for sleep but his nerves were on edge. It had been a long arduous journey and he eventually drifted into an uneasy slumber.   In his sleep his imagination was working overtime and vivid scenes of terror and horror flashed through his mind. He was in a lucid world of fear where he saw himself being alone and wandering lost upon the haunted heath.  Something followed on behind and people appeared before him warning him not to enter the cottage before dissolving into mist before his eyes leaving naught but a hollow cry echoing in his mind. He found himself sat before the peat fire in the cottage with the three cottagers all looking upon him greedily.  Suddenly the old woman moved and grabbed his arms holding them behind his back and the two men rose and moved slowly towards him grinning malevolently. Then he heard the sound of a slow tortured cry and awoke with a start. Covered in a cold sweat he sat up in bed he listened but could hear nothing. As he gazed fearfully around him his eyes were caught by a movement under the door.   He stared in horror as a stream of bright red blood oozed silently and slowly underneath the door towards him

Escape

Jumping out of bed he crept to the door and peered through a crack into the next room.  Seeing the trail of blood came from a goat one of the men had just slaughtered relief swept over him.  Just as he was about to return to bed one of them spoke to the other saying,

“Hah! This was a far easier victim than last night’s.  It’s a pity all of the throats we have slit were not as quiet or as easy.  It is a good job we have no neighbours for miles around. The old man last night would have woken them all had they heard his cries for mercy.  How he howled when saw you were going to cut his throat!”

“Let’s not speak of it.  I hate blood shed!” replied the other

Oh, you do, do you?” laughed the first.

“I do and it is true.  I prefer the Murder Hole.  It tells no tales, leaves no trace.  There is nothing to get rid of after and no one will ever find them. No one will ever find it and if they do no one will suspect there are over forty dead bodies hidden within it.  It looks nothing more than a deep puddle and small enough for the long grass to bend over it concealing it. Unless you know you could stand next to it and never guess it was there or what it was.”

“Unless of course you step in it,”  replied the second.”

“Indeed, it’s a fact and it sucks them down, so quick, it is a wonder of nature!  How do you think we shall we end the pedlar-boy?” asked the old woman who stood watching hem and pointed towards the door which the pedlar boy was huddled behind trembling.  Her eldest son looked at her and with his knife in his hand and a look of sheer evil motioned his knife across throat.

Although terrified the pedlar-boy had lived all of his life alone in a never ending struggle against the odds of fate.  He had never given up and always won through and despite his fear and the odds against him he was not prepared to surrender his life easily.  One thing he had learnt was there was a time to fight and a time to fly and decided there and then flight to be the best answer. Creeping silently to the window he gently eased it up and slipped out silently.   Once outside he paused to get his bearings but was shaken to the core when he heard one of the men cry, “Curses!  He is gone!  He must have heard and will bring ruin upon us!”

“Let loose the bloodhound!” cried the other

“Make sure he does not escape,” cried the old woman, “do not bring him back here.  Use the Murder Hole for this!”

The Chase

w:Sidney Paget [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The pedlar-boy’s heart stopped at these words  and he feared greatly for his life but he was determined and quickly roused himself and fled into the darkness of the haunted moor.   It was not long before the baying of the bloodhound broke the silence of the night as it picked up his trail. Forcing himself to greater speed he stumbled on through the night but could tell by the baying of the hound and the voices of the men they were gaining on him.

Although he struggled to see in the darkness the hound was unimpeded simply following his scent trail and grew nearer and nearer followed by the men carrying lanterns.   Again he redoubled his efforts and ran blindly through the night but caught his foot on pile of stones, tripping and cutting his hands and knees and staining the stones with his blood.  Stunned he lay on the ground panting and bleeding but hearing the baying of the dog growing louder and the men’s voices following he forced himself up and onward. It seemed like his feet had grown wings and he flew over the moor.  He heard the hound yapping and baying at the spot where he had fallen and if he had dared to have looked back he would have seen it lapping at his blood on the stones where he had lain. To the annoyance of the men it would not move from the spot but continued lapping up his blood regardless of how cruelly they beat it.  At last satiated with blood it refused to take up the scent a second time.

Justice

The villages dropped weighted hooks down the Murder Hole and brought up the bones of several victims.  It was impossible to tell how many more were down there or how they had been dispatched. There was also the question of what had happened to those who had not gone down the Murder Hole and some suspected these were disposed of in a in a less than savoury way.  Perhaps it is as well that we shall never know, but now at sunset when the veils grow thin and part three more wailing ghosts wander the haunted heath.

The pedlar-boy did not know this and continued his wild flight across the moors.  Luckily he did not fall into the bogs but found the road where he could run faster.  Although his assassins continued to seek him they could not find find him. As dawn broke he reached the village on the edge of the moors and knocking on every door raised the alarm.  After the villagers had managed to calm him enough for him to tell them his tale the light of realization dawned upon them. It was the cottagers who had been responsible for the disappearances of so many of their loved ones.  Forming themselves into a gang they marched to to the cottage and seized the old woman and her two son and took them back to the village for trial. The cottagers confessed to over fifty murders and took the villagers to show them the Murder Hole where they had disposed of so many of them.  They were duly tried and found guilty and three gibbets were quickly constructed and justice dispensed.

The villages dropped weighted hooks down the Murder Hole and brought up the bones of several victims.  It was impossible to tell how many more were down there. There was also the question of what had happened to those who had not gone down the Murder Hole and some suspected these were disposed of in a in a less than savory way.  Perhaps it is as well that we shall never know, but now at sunset when the veils grow thin and then part, three more wailing ghosts wander the haunted heath.

© 23/01/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright January 23rd, 2019 zteve t evans

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