Ghostlore: The Night Humphrey Dobson Had A Fright

Illustration by Charles Gliddon – Believed to be Public Domain

Presented below is a retelling of a story from Goblin Tales of Lancashire called the Pillion Lady collected by James Bowker.

The Pillion Lady

It had been a beautiful summer day and after conducting a good day’s business in the local market Humphrey Dobson had spent a few hours drinking with his friends in his favorite tavern. Deciding he had drank his fill he mounted his easy  tempered mare and set off on the road home.  

It was a warm and balmy evening and the moon was throwing down her light making the road easy to follow.  There was one place along the route that Humphrey was always wary about. This was where a road crossed over a stream which was said to be the scene of where a maiden was murdered many years ago.  Nevertheless the moon was high and lighting the road sufficiently for Humphrey to see the stream and fortified by the beer he pushed on. 

The bridge was shrouded in darkness caused by dense branches of overhanging trees that blotted out the moonlight.  It was the dark bridge that gave Humphrey the shivers. He had heard many eerie stories of a headless woman reputed to haunt the bridge that appearing to terrified travellers.  To bolster his spirits he began to sing an old song and stoutly urged his horse onwards.

“He rode and he rode till he came to the dooar,

And Nell came t’ oppen it, as she’d done afooar:

‘Come, get off thy horse,’ she to him did say,

‘An’ put it i’th’ stable, an’ give it some hay.”‘ (1)

Nevertheless, as he approached the bridge he could feel his heart beginning to quail and suddenly he spurred his horse forward to gallop cross the bridge.  No sooner had his horse’s hooves struck the stone on the bridge when an eerie, unearthly laugh rang out from beneath the arch. The horse shuddered and snorted and galloped nervously forward but as it did so Humphrey’s blood turned to ice as he felt a deathly cold arm creep smoothly around his waist and  at the same time experienced faint, cold, pressure against his back as if someone or something was close behind and leaning on him.

Shocked and startled by the experience his heart racing and breaking into a cold sweat he hardly daring to look around. His horse galloped wildly out of control itself sweating in fear, eyes wild and rolling. Humphrey fought to gain control of the terrified beast as its iron-clad hooves thundered upon the cobbled stones causing flashing sparks in the darkness.

Another eerie cackling laugh split the night but this time seemed so close to his ear that Humphrey looked quickly around and was shocked and terrified at what he saw. It was not the headless woman he had heard so many frightening tales about.  The thing behind him with its arm wrapped tightly around him certainly was not headless but more grotesque and terrifying than that. The ghastly thing had a head, or rather a grinning skull that looked out of black hood so close to his face they were almost cheek to cheek, a pale light flickering from its empty eye sockets and its ample teeth white in the light of the moon.

Paralyzed by fear Humphrey was forced to ride cheek by jowl with the terrifying thing as the mare galloped wildly down the road.  Every now and then his ghastly pillion passenger let out a hideously laugh its jaw snapping grotesquely close to his ear. As its arm tightened around him he slipped his own arm down to feel but was alarmed to discover that what encircled his waist was the cool hard skeleton of an arm.

Shocked and terrified to the core Humphrey continued on the wild ride clasped in the loving embrace of his skeletal companion. He lost all sense of time as frozen in fear he careered wild down the road on his frantic horse.   Suddenly the horse came upon a sharp corner in the road and had to turn sharply to get round it as the ghastly figure behind let out another terrifying laugh. Humphrey was completely unready for such a sudden a manoeuvre and was thrown over the head of his terrified steed landing heavily upon the road.

There he lay unconscious through the night until the sun began to rise.    He finally regained consciousness with the dawn chorus in the trees above in full song.  Looking around he saw his horse quietly grazing just along the road. Climbing painfully to his feet, for he was battered, bruised and bleeding, he managed to mount the horse and ride carefully home.

On his return he was greeted by several farm lads who listened to his story with disbelief and not a little humor.   They jibed him and jested at the idea of his ghastly skeletal passenger making great fun of him. Yet thereafter, not one of his tormentors, dared cross the bridge over the stream alone after dark,  ever since the night Humphrey Dobson had a fright.

© 31/07/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 31st, 2019 zteve t evans


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Medieval Lore: Des Grantz Geanz, or Of the Great Giants

Artist: William Blake – (Public Domain) Source

Des Grantz Geanz, Of the Great Giants

During the Middle Ages a very strange and very popular story appeared that told how the island today known as Britain was first named as  Albion. It appeared as an anonymous Anglo-Norman poem called Des Grants Geanz (Of the Great Giants) ca 1333-34  and often appeared as a prologue in the Brut chronicles, or Prose Brut.  This was the collective name for a number of medieval works written in Anglo-Norman chronicling the history of Britain from its mythological founding  by Brutus of Troy to the Plantagenet period.

The poem should be read as an allegorical work and tells how a Greek or Syrian princess named Albina and her twenty eight sisters were sent into exile arriving on the shores of an unknown country and with supernatural assistance created a new society.  When it first appeared it was largely accepted as being true despite the highly fantastic elements that were featured in the story. There were several versions which varied slightly in detail depending who was doing the telling and where they were found.  Presented her is a retelling of the story from more than one source followed by a brief discussion of some of the main questions and themes.

The Story of Albina and her Sisters

This story begins 3,970 years after the world began.  In Greece there was a king who was the most powerful king on Earth and more powerful than all of the other kings combined.  This king was exceptionally tall and married a beautiful wife who was also exceptionally tall. She bore him thirty daughters who were all very beautiful and very straight and tall like their parents.  There names are not known except for the oldest and tallest whose name was Albina.

The king and queen brought their daughters up ensuring they were taught all the royal protocols that behooved their status.  When they reached an appropriate age their father decreed they should all be married to rich and powerful kings and with their marriage they became queens.  They were very proud of their status as the daughters of the most powerful king on Earth and that with marriage they had become queens but there was a resentment that festered within each of them.  After the marriages the sisters contrived to meet together as one group. In this group the sisters discussed a common grievance they saw as an unjust part of the femmine fate which in their eyes put them at an unfair disadvantage in their society.  

The Murderous Plot

In the discussion that ensued it was agreed that not one of them would allow her husband to have sovereignty over her and furthermore, each would bind their husband to their own will.  They believed that being daughters of the most powerful king on Earth they themselves should not be subjected to the dominion of their husbands or any man. For this reason they were adamant that they would be ruled by no man or allow their own status and standing to be challenged or diminished by anyone.   This philosophy was agreed by each and everyone of them and to ensure this desire should reach fruition they devised a murderous plot. They took powerful oaths swearing that on a certain day they would murder their husbands while they were locked in close embrace in bed unless they should agree to obey the will of their wife in all of their doings.

With the plan of action agreed the sisters each returned to their respective husbands intent on carrying it out. However, the youngest sister had secretly not fully embraced the plan.  Although she had sworn an oath with the others it was because she was terrified of them and feared her sisters would kill her. Upon returning home she realised she loved her husband more than anything and could not find it in herself to do him harm.

The Plot Unmasked

Although she tried to hide her grief and fear from her husband he loved her greatly and saw through her and asked her what the problem was.  At this she broke down before him and revealed the extent of her sister’s conspiracy and begged his forgiveness for having gone along thus far with it.  Her husband took her in his arms and comforted her for he understood her fear of her sisters and knew full well how much she loved him. In his caring embrace she calmed down and her heart filled with love for him.  After reassuring her further he took her to see her father, the king, to disclose to him the full treachery of her sisters. Her father was both astounded at the plot and appalled. Once he understood completely the full magnitude of what his daughters were planning he had them  brought before him accompanied by their husbands and confronted them.  

The Trial

At first they denied the plot but he persisted with his questioning and with his perseverance the murderous plot was slowly unveiled to the horror of their husbands.  The king put them before independent judges who listened to their denials but investigated wisely. Eventually they found all the sisters with the exception of the youngest guilty of the intended murder of their husbands.  She was held to have initially agreed to the plot under fear of her sisters and because it was her who had revealed it to her husband she was fully cleared of guilt.

Punishment

The guilty sisters were imprisoned until a fitting punishment could be devised for them. Although such a crime usually warranted the death penalty it was decided that because they were all children of the most powerful king on Earth and his noble queen and indeed queens themseves they should be spared.  Instead of execution a large ship was prepared for them. This would be deprived of rudder or means of navigation and furnished with no food, water or any kind of comfort. Once the sisters had been escorted on board the ship was towed out to the open sea where it was left at the mercy of the waves, currents, wind and the mercy of the gods.  When this was done there was no one who pitied them for they had shown no regret or remorse only vexation that they had been found out and grief and sorrow for their own fate.

The Storm at Sea

The ship drifted with the currents for a few days before the wind began to blow hard and the sea became wild.  While at one moment the ship rode the crest of a wave, the next it plunged into its trough and the women were thrown from side to side trying to desperately to find something solid to cling to.  At any time the women could have been thrown overboard or the ship overwhelmed by the waves.  

At last all the women could do was huddle together in the bottom of the ship, hungry, thirsty and terrified while lamenting their present state of wretchedness.  Once they had they been royal queens and feasted on the best food and victuals and had servants at their beck and call. Now they were wretched and terribly afraid of their fate which was firmly in the hands of the gods.  Many days and nights passed in this way and at last the women passed out through hunger, fatigue and sea sickness. For three days and nights they lay insensible to the world while all the time the ship was driven wildly across the seas.

An Unknown Land

At last the storm abated and the ship gently floated to the shore of a land that is now called Britain but in those times had no name for there were no human inhabitants.  The sisters awoke from their sleep to find the ship had come to rest upon a fair and pleasant land. Greatly relieved and overjoyed they quickly followed Albina the eldest sister in stepping onto solid ground again.  Being famished they were greatly relieved to find an abundance of nuts, fruit and berries to satisfy their hunger and they quenched their thirst from the pure springs of water of which there were many. After rest and refreshment they began to explore the unknown shore venturing further inland.  They roamed the length and breadth of the land discovering it was in fact an island and were delighted to find many streams of clean fresh water and rivers and lakes abundant in fish and water birds. The land was home to plentiful game and there were many fruit and nut trees. Herbs and roots were easily found on the ground and they found rich, fertile meadows suitable for cultivation of vegetables and grain.  Although the land appeared to be able to host great cities full of people with enough farms to feed them they saw no sign of human occupation or that it had ever been settled. 

Albion

Although it was clear they would never again be queens the abundance of animals and birds greatly reassured them.  After their exploration Albina called her sisters together saying,

“We must face that we as exiles cannot return to our native land and regain our former status as queens even if we could find our way back.  Therefore, lets us see that we are indeed fortunate and fortune has delivered us to this island. I propose that with myself being the oldest of us it would be right that I take the rule and lordship of this land and you should all accept my command  and because I was the first to set foot upon this land took seisin in doing so.”

When her proposition had been approved by all and Albina was made the leader over them with her authority recognised and accepted she named the land “Albion” after herself, so people in the future would remember her.

Although the land provided an abundance of fruit, nuts and plants to eat the women began to crave meat.  They were clever and resourceful women and quickly learned how to make hooks and nets to catch fish and fashioned traps to catch birds and animals.  They learnt how to make fire from flints and how to roast the game they caught. They used the skins for clothing and bones for needles and tools and learnt how to make flint knives, arrowheads and spears.  In this way they feasted upon the bounty of the land and drank from its pure waters. 

They feasted so well that they grew fatter and stronger their sexual desire grew and they yearned to satisfy their carnal needs but there were no men and no other humans.  Nevertheless what they did not know was that the air over the land was inhabited by demon spirits known as incubuses who fed off the women’s basest desires and emotions. They came to the women at night in the shape of men and impregnated them  with their demon seed and then vanished.

The Giants of Albion

Although the women could not see the men they all experienced the male presence and each gave birth to male offspring that was both gigantic in size and grotesquely resembled human beings.  When their sons reached maturity they mated with their mothers who produced males and females. Brother mated with sister to produce a new generation of monstrous giants huge in physique and grotesque in appearance. These were the descendants of Albina and her sisters who had grown huge and abhorrent themselves and the incubi .   In this way monsters mated with monsters and gave birth to monsters and abhorrent things mated with abhorrent things begetting abhorrent things that were gigantic in stature. The giants of Albion bred and populated the land and made for themselves underground dwellings or fortified the hills with great walls and stitches, some of which can still be seen today scattered across the ancient landscape though many have decayed over the ages.

Brutus of Troy

The giants lived peacefully for many years until the arrival to Albion of Brutus of Troy with an  army of Trojans exiles. The Trojans arrived on Albion 1,136 years before the birth of Christ, while Albina and her sisters had arrived 260 years before them.   On arrival Brutus set about exterminating the giants and claimed Albion as his own renaming it Britain after himself, so that people in the future would remember him.  The last of the giants was named Gogmagog and was the largest and strongest of his race and their leader.   After the slaughter of his kin the Brutus kept him alive to fight his lieutenant Corinieus, in single combat and was defeated and thrown him from a cliff to die in the sea.

This, according to the ancient texts was the beginning of the nation known after Brutus of Troy as the British who took control of the entire island after the extermination of the brood of giants.

Questions and Themes

This story still raises many questions and there is much more to it than a simple story.  The narrative reveals the tension between male and female – patriarchal society and that of matriarchy –  in the Middle Ages. This is seen in the initial rejection by Albina and her sisters of male dominance not just in marriage but in society and status.  It was not equality the sisters allegedly sought but sovereignty over themselves and over their husbands wanting to rule them and all others to their will. In short they wanted mastery of themselves, their bodies and their lives for themselves while ruling over males.

Murder would have been bad enough but dominance and control over men threatened patriarchal authority and could not be tolerated hence their exile.  In the medieval patriarchal view the family was a microcosm of the state and anything that threatened the status quo within it also threatened the state and male dominated society.

On arrival on to Albion it is noticeable that the already tall sisters grew fatter and stronger and their mating with incubus resulted in a monstrous gigantic brood of giants.  Not only was their new matriarchal society unnaturally created it was unnaturally perpetuated by incest between mothers and sons and sons and sisters. 

it is also worth noting that there was also a clash of Greek philosophies that were held important during the Middle Ages: the first was that of Aristotle and the second was that of  Galen. These were important to how women were seen and also the state.

It also highlights another theme that occured in the prose and literature of the Middle Ages that was the question of what women really want which is also related to the various forms of sovereignty.  This theme was found in the anonymous poem of The Marriage of Gawain and Dame Ragnalle and Geoffrey Chaucer’s, The Wife of Bath.  These and other issues will be discussed in further articles concerning Albina and her Sisters and Des Grantz  Geanz.

© 24/07/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 24th 2019 zteve t evans

Japanese Folktales: The Tale of Rai-Taro, Son of Thunder

Presented below is a retelling of a story called The Good Thunder, from Japanese Fairy Tales by Grace James.

The Good Thunder

Some people say the gods know little of humans and care little. One of the gods heard this and was stung by the criticism.  He decided he would send his son to live with people to complete his education to learn what he could about humans. He would then return and teach the gods the knowledge he had acquired.

Raiden Sama, God of Thunder

The name of the god was Raiden Sama, God of Thunder and Lord of the Elements. He lived in his Castle of Cloud high in the Heavens with his son Rai Taro.  Sometimes they would walk the ramparts together looking down to see what the people were doing. At these times Rai-Taro liked to watch the children at play and was struck by the love their parents had for them.  Raiden also loved his son very much and he knew it was time for him to complete his education and he had settled upon a plan.

One day he called his son from his play to him walk the ramparts of the Castle of Cloud with him.   His son dutifully complied and hand in hand they went up to the battlements. Raiden led his son to the northern rampart and they stood looking down.  Far below they saw many fierce warriors with swords and spears following their lords into battle. There was much bloodshed and many were killed.

They walked to the eastern battlements and looked down and Rai Taro saw a fair princess in her bower.  All around were handmaidens wearing rose colored garments who made beautiful music for her and there were children playing with flowers making necklaces from them.

“Oh, see the children make flower necklaces!” exclaimed Rai Taro. It seemed idyllic but it was a life of idleness and frivolity.

They walked to the southern battlements and looked down and saw priests and holy men worshiping in a temple.  The air was heavy with incense and there were statues of ebony, ivory, diamond and jade while outside the temple the people were all terribly afraid.

They went to the western battlement and looked down.  Far down below they saw a poor peasant toiling in his field, tired and aching.  By his side his wife worked. He looked tired and weary but his poor wife looked even more worn out.  It was easy to see they were very poor and were dressed in ragged clothing and looked hungry.

“They look so tired, have they no children to help them?” asked Rai Taro.

“No,” replied his father, “they have no children.”

Raiden let Rai-Taro look all he wanted then said, “Well, my son, you have looked long and hard upon humans going about their business.  You are now old enough to begin your education on Earth and you will need a home there.  Therefore, from what you have seen, to whom would you have me send you to?”

“Must I go, father, is it necessary?” asked his son.

The Choice of Rao-Taro

“It is necessary, therefore choose,” said his father kindly, “and  when you return you will teach the gods about humans.”

“I will not go with the warriors and men of war.  I do not like fighting!”

“Oh, so you do not like fighting men.  Very well, will you choose to go to the fair princess?” asked his father, smiling.

“No, I will not go to live with the princess.  Life looks so easy and cosy yet somehow false.”

“Then perhaps the temple is for you?” asked his father.

“No, I do not want to shave my head and live with the priests, spending all day in prayer while the people outside are afraid.”

“But surely you do not want to go and live with the peasants.  It is a life of work and hardship and little food,” replied his father.

“They do not have children.  Maybe they will grow to love me and I will be a son to them and bring them happiness.”

“Ah!” said his father, pleased at his choice, “You have made a wise choice, my son.”

“Very well, father but how shall I go?”

“You  shall go in a way that behooves the son of the God of Thunder and the Elements,” replied his father.

Earth

The poor  peasant and his wife toiling  in their rice-field lived at the foot of  Hakusan, a mountain in the province of Ichizen.  They were struggling to make a living because everyday for weeks on end the sun had shone bright and hot and dried up their paddy field.  The next day the old man went alone to the field to examine the crop and was shocked at what he saw. All the young plants were shriveled and he cried, “Alas, what shall we do if the crop dies.  May the gods look down upon us and have mercy!”

Sitting  on the ground in despair, his weariness caused him to quickly fall asleep.  He awoke to find the sky had darkened even though it was only noon and the birds had stopped  singing and taken shelter in the trees.  
“At last, a storm, we shall have rain! Raiden is  out riding his black horse and beating his drum, we shall have rain,” he cried in delight.

The thunder rolled and the lightning flashed and the rain fell in torrents and the old man began to worry there was too much and said, “I give thanks for what you have sent honorable Raiden but we have sufficient for our needs now!”

As if in answer there was a mighty peel of thunder and a terrific flash as a ball of living fire fell to earth.  The poor terrified peasant threw himself on the ground wailing, “Mercy! Mercy! Mercy! Raiden – Kwannon please have mercy upon this sinful soul,” and  hid his face in his hands

At last the thunder stopped roaring and he stood up and  looked around. The ball of flames had gone but upon the earth there lay a baby boy, wet and clean in the rain.  The poor peasant ran to the boy and picking him up cradled him in his arms lovingly and said, “My Lady Kanzeon, Lady of Compassion you are merciful and I thank you with all my heart!” 

He lifted up his head and looked into the grey skies.  Rain fell into his eyes and down his cheeks like tears and the clouds parted revealing a beautiful blue sky.  All the flowers around him were revived by the cool rain and nodded as if in acknowledgement of the miracle. Carefully and gratefully he carried the boy home.  As he went in the door he cried out, “Wife come quick, I have brought you something!”

“Oh, and what could that be?” asked his wife

“Why, it is the son of the Thunder, Rai-Taro!” he answered as he carefully placed the child into his wife’s welcoming arms.

Life on Earth

The poor couple looked after Rai-Taro the best they could.  What they lacked in riches they made up for in love and dedication.  He grew up strong and tall and the happiest boy ever. He was the pride and joy of his foster-parents and a great favorite with all the neighbors.   From the age of ten he worked alongside his foster-father in the fields like a man and he was excellent at forecasting the weather which was always useful.

Often as they worked together, he would say, “Father, I think we shall have good weather,”  or, “I think there will be a storm tomorrow,” and in this way helped his father and his neighbors plan their work, for he was always right.  His arrival also seemed to bring good fortune for his foster-parents who began to prosper.

Every year the old couple celebrated their foster-son’s birthday on the anniversary of the day they found him.  On his eighteenth birthday his foster-parents went to great lengths to celebrate his birthday with a great feast.  They invited all their neighbors and there was plenty to eat and drink and everyone was happy all except for Rai-Taro who appeared sad.

His foster-mother called him to her and asked, “Why are you so glum on your birthday.  It is a day of great celebration. You are usually the happiest and gayest of people, are you ill?” 

Farewell

“Forgive me,” he said, “ I am unhappy because I know I must leave.”

“But why must you leave?” she asked confused.

“I have to – I just have to.  My time here is over and I must return from where I came.” said Rai-Taro sadly.

His father said, “Rai-Taro my son, you brought us good fortune.  Through you we have raised ourselves from where we were and you have given us your love.  All of this you have given us, what have we given to you?”

“I have learnt three important lessons from you.   The first is how to work. The second is how to suffer in dignity, the third is how to love unconditionally.  Therefore, I am now more learned than the Immortals and I thank you, but I must return to teach them.”

Then he embraced his foster-parents and took on the likeness of a white cloud and ascended into heaven until he reached the Castle of Cloud.  His father received him joyfully with open arms and the two stood upon the western battlements and looked down to earth.

On Earth, his foster-mother wept bitterly but her husband took her by the hand and said,

“Weep not,” he said, “we are grown old together, we do not have long.”

“True, my dear,” she said, “ but now Rai-Taro will never learn the lesson of death and now the gods will never know.”

The old man took his wife in his arms and he wept too.

© 10/07/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 10th, 2019 zteve t evans

The Strange Tale of Princess Caraboo of Javescu

This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com by zteve t evans on 21/03/2019 under the title The Curious Case of Princess Caraboo.

Princess Caraboo

When a young woman claiming to be Princess Caraboo from a foreign land arrived unexpectedly in the Gloucestershire village of Almondsbury on 3rd of April, 1817, it was to cause quite a stir in Regency England, and gave the people a new folk heroine. She had black hair, was about 5ft 2 inches tall, dressed in an unfamiliar fashion, and did not have the appearance of someone who had been used to hard physical work. To the bewilderment of all, she spoke an unknown language, apparently not understanding any questions in English, and appeared lost and confused. Her only possessions were the clothes she wore, a counterfeit sixpence and a couple of halfpennies. The possession of counterfeit money was a serious crime and she was not carrying any form of identification so her identity could not be determined. She was taken to the local overseer of the poor, who took her to the county magistrate, Samuel Worrall of Knole Park. Neither Worrall, nor his American born wife, Elizabeth, could comprehend her either, but using signs managed to understand that she called herself Caraboo.

Kidnap in Javescu

Samuel Worrall and his wife, believing she was a royal princess who had suffered terribly at the hands of pirates, took her back into their home. A gentleman who had traveled extensively to China and the East Indies took an interest in her and attempted to communicate with her using signs and gestures. From these she appeared to confirm her name was Caraboo and her father was a man of high status in her country of birth, which was China, but which she called Congee. Furthermore, she had been captured in a place called Javescu and worshiped a god called Allah-Tallah. He also apparently learnt that her mother was a Malay woman who had been killed in fighting between cannibals, called Boogoos, and the Malays.

The day she was kidnapped she had been in the company of her girls servants walking in the gardens. Pirates led by someone called Chee-min had captured, bound and gagged her and carried her off to their ship. She claimed when they untied her, she attacked two of the pirates, killing one and wounding the other.

After 11 days she was sold to the ship’s captain, named Tappa Boo, who set sail for Europe. On reaching England, and while sailing up the Bristol Channel, she escaped by jumping overboard and swimming ashore. On reaching shore she wandered around for six weeks before arriving in Almondsbury.

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