This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com on November 29, 2018, titled British Legends: Morgan le Fay – Magical Healer or Renegade Witch? written by zteve t evans
In Arthurian tradition, the elusive sorceress Morgan le Fay becomes one of King Arthur’s most dangerous foes, breaking traditional family bonds and working to undermine and bring down the strict patriarchal system and chivalric order of the Arthurian world. Morgan is an enigma: despite attempting to kill King Arthur and usurp his kingdom, she takes him into her care after he is severely wounded by Mordred in the battle of Camlann, which brings an end to his kingdom. This work draws mostly from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlini, and Historia regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain) and Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, with influences from other texts, and looks at how Morgan’s character changes from benevolent, to malignant and then back to benevolent. To do this, we look at her early life, how she used Arthur’s famous sword Excalibur against him and stole its scabbard, and the disaster this would cause. This is followed by a discussion on two important topics that had a considerable influence on medieval society: the Querelle des Femmes or The Woman Question, and witchcraft, before concluding with Morgan’s return to Avalon.
As Ruler of Avalon
Geoffrey of Monmouth introduces Morgan into Arthurian literature in Vita Merlini, as ‘Morgen’, presenting her as the leader of nine benevolent sisters that rule the island of Avalon. She is the most beautiful, the most knowledgeable and the most powerful of the sisters. As well as being a skilled healer, she can fly or transport herself at will from place to place, and she has shape-shifting abilities.
It is not clear whether these ‘sisters’ are family, or members of some kind of religious or mystical order. In the work of some later writers, she becomes either the step-sister or full elder sister of King Arthur, but a radical change happens with her character. As Arthur’s elder sister, she breaks the traditional bond of love between brother and sister and the nurturing role so often associated with the elder sister towards their younger brother. Furthermore, instead of the wise and benevolent sorceress, she evolves into a malign, sexual predator, hating her brother and his wife Queen Guinevere, and forsakes her place at the center of the Arthurian establishment, moving to its periphery and becoming a renegade attacking the established order. She targets the Knights of the Round Table, especially Sir Lancelot, weaving dark spells and plots to trap them. Eventually, she becomes nothing less than an enemy of the state and, arguably, its most dangerous adversary, until Mordred emerges to usurp the crown, resulting in the battle of Camlann.
Morgan’s Early Life
In Historia Regum Britanniae, Geoffrey of Monmouth makes Morgan the youngest daughter of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, and his wife Igraine. When the King of the Britons, Uther Pendragon, first set eyes on Igraine, he became wildly infatuated with her. Unable to contain his lust, he attacked Cornwall to take Igraine for himself. Gorlois sent his wife to his safest stronghold of Tintagel while he confronted Uther’s troops in battle. While the military confrontation took place, Merlin, using his magical arts, transformed Uther into the likeness of Gorlois to allow him to gain access to Igraine at Tintagel. The guards, believing it was Gorlois, let him enter the stronghold. Believing he was her husband, Igraine lay with him, and that night Arthur was conceived.
While this was taking place, Gorlois was killed battling Uther’s army. After satisfying his lust, Uther returned to his troops and, on learning of the death of the duke, took Igraine to be his wife. He married her eldest daughter, Morgause, to King Lot of Lothian and the next eldest, Elaine, to King Nentres of Garlot. Morgan was the youngest and he sent her to a nunnery.
Morgan hated Uther because she knew what had happened the night her father died, and deeply resented Arthur as the product of his lust. At the nunnery, she was introduced to astrology, the dark arts of necromancy and the skills of healing, becoming highly adept in this field. As her skill and knowledge grew, people began to call her Morgan le Fay in acknowledgement of her abilities. Eventually, she joined Arthur’s court and became a lady in waiting to Queen Guinevere.
A Faustian pact or bargain is also sometimes known as a Deal with the Devil. This is where someone makes an agreement or contract with the Devil or his demonic representative. It is named after a character from German literature, legend and folklore named Faust, sometimes known as Dr Faustus or Faustus, who made just such a contract. The devil grants their material or worldly desires such as riches, knowledge and power, usually for a set length of time, in return for their soul. The pact must be honored and when that time comes the devil or his representative arrives to take the soul of his contract partner.
Presented here is a retelling of a tale from Goblin Tales of Lancashire, a collection of folktales by James Bowker that appeared as The Demon of the Oak. For those who like a little bit of history with their folk tales the story is set in an ancient fortified manor in Lancashire, England called Hoghton Tower. This was the ancestral home of the de Hoghton family descended directly from Harvey de Walter, who was a companion of William the Conqueror. Their female line of descent is also impressive descending from famous Lady Godiva of Coventry, wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia. The setting in time is uncertain but it is known the the land has been in the hands of ancestors of the de Hoghton’s since at least the 12th century and the present house dates from about 1560–65 and rebuilt and extended between 1862 and 1901. The narrative centers around a young gentleman named Edgar Astley who in the story stayed at the manor and whose actual existence is much more nebulous than that of his hosts.
In fact, Edgar was a rather earnest young man whose habit of dressing in black indicated that he was still in mourning for someone dear who had passed away. The servants of the tower, much like servants everywhere, discussed among themselves the reason for his sombre style of dress and melancholy air. They came to the conclusion he mourned for a woman whom he greatly loved and had deceived him and had married a rival instead of him. The lady in question had died mysteriously soon after for reasons unknown.
The speculations were sufficient to give the young man an aura of mystery and romance among the servants. This was fueled when it was reported among them that strange colored lights had been seen from his room in the Tower at night. This increased their suspicion making them wary and uncomfortable with the air of melancholy that he exuded
The more the superstitious servants thought about him the more they saw in him that was strange and abnormal. They noticed how he would suddenly start out of a gloomy mood when approached making no secret of his desire to avoid where possible all society and companionship. Even so, no one could ever accuse him of being unfriendly or rude and he was always very kind and patient with the youngsters of the household. He always found time to chat cordially with the females of the household. When asked he would accompany them on rambles through the woods and countryside and escort them on excursions to the local towns.
Yet it was noticeable that he did so more out of a sense of duty and chivalry rather than his own pleasure and quickly return to his station under the oak. There he would read his dark books lost and become lost in dark thoughts. The ladies regarded him with an affectionate pity. They would try to encourage him to join them in more cheerful and sociable activities. All though he complied he would only bear so much before politely returning to his books and dark dreaming.
The Baronet who was his host and master of the Tower liked him greatly despite his melancholy and strange ways. Everyone else looked on him with pity. The general consensus was that time alone would eventually heal the darkness that appeared in his soul and were happy for him to be amongst them. For his part, Edgar appreciated their sympathy and the freedom they allowed him in their home. He came and went as he pleased and the hosts were content to allow him this freedom asking no questions, just accepting him and his ways as they were.
In the servant’s quarters the talk about Edgar was of very different kind. One particular servant claimed he knew a servant who had known a footman, who had worked for Edgar’s family and there was a tragic story attached to the young man. Apparently Edgar had once been betrothed to a young lady by the name of Anna. She was a very attractive lady and had many suitors but she narrowed these down to Edgar and another young man. She saw both of them at intervals and was very much in love with both but could not decide which she preferred and was well aware which ever one she rejected would be terribly hurt.
Nonetheless, she enjoyed the attentions of both men and would play them off against each other. Both suitors had been the best of friends but then a bitter rivalry developed between them for the love of Anna. Both loved her with a passion and would have done anything in the world to win her favor and it seemed when she accepted Edgar’s proposal of marriage that he had won. The date was set for the happy event and Edgar was looking forward to spending the rest of his life with the woman of his heart’s desire.
Edgar’s rival was not one to simply accept whatever fate should throw at him and the night before the wedding went to Anna and begged she elope that night with him. She agreed and the two made off in her father’s coach and horses with all speed heading for Gretna Green.
The next morning word came to Edgar of the disappearance of Anna. Of course he was devastated. Knowing that it could only have been at the instigation of his rival he took off after them intending a final confrontation with his rival.
Such was the talk in the servant’s quarters and their curiosity towards Edgar grew and grew and were fed by the peculiarity of his own habits. It had been noticed that he stayed up late at nights in his room and strange lights and sounds could sometimes be seen and heard coming from it. It was therefore decided that one of them should creep up to his room at midnight and listen at the door and look through the keyhole to try and learn more of this mysterious young man’s behaviour. To his chagrin it was the servant who knew a servant who knew a footman that worked for Edgar’s family that was chosen for this dubious task. Therefore at the stroke of midnight, wishing he had kept quiet, the servant was sent up stairs to listen at Edgar’s bedroom door and spy through his keyhole.
Once at his station the reluctant spy knelt and put his eye to the keyhole listening intently for any sounds that should come through the door. Through the keyhole he saw that Edgar was seated at a table intently studying an ancient black book he had spread out before him. With one hand he shaded his eyes from a flame that burnt in a small cauldron upon the table.
The Pale Student
Suddenly he leaned forward and with a quick movement of his hand took a pinch of a bright blue powder placed in a saucer and sprinkled it upon the flame. The room was filled by strange, sickly aroma while the flame burst upwards with sudden life. The pale student of unhallowed arts turned over a page in the book and began to softly chant strange words unaware he was being watched. Then he looked puzzled and muttered,
“Strange, I have bat’s blood, the severed hand of a dead man, viper’s venom, mandrake root and the flesh of a newt. These are the ingredients stated and yet I still fail. Must I use the spell of spells at the risk of losing my life?
Think, man! What is there for one such as me to fear in death? So far I remain unharmed from my experiments but were it otherwise I must still proceed to the bitter end.
There was a time when I would have given all my future happiness for her to be called by my name. What is there left in this empty life for me that I should fear in this desperate enterprise to gain one last glimpse of her lovely face?”
As thepale student bent over the book studying the dreadful words on the cracked pages for the spy at the door the silence was almost palpable. The night appeared to stand still and a harsh, rasping voice from the air cut through the silence saying,
Answer truly, will you give your very soul in exchange for a glimpse and a brief exchange of speech for she who you were once betrothed.”
The pale student quickly jumped to his feet excited and declared,
“Make no mistake, what ever you are, whoever you are, if you deliver her to me for a glimpse, a brief word or two for the briefest of time my soul shall be yours forever!”
The night, inside the house and outside, fell silent and the world seemed to stand still. The spy at the door could hear the beating of his own heart and the the disembodied voice spoke once again,
“So it shall be! You have one last spell left that you must invoke at midnight beneath the spreading arm of the old oak and there and then shall you be rewarded with your heart’s desire. Dare you look upon my face?”
replied the pale student.
“Devil or demon, whatever kind of beast you may be, I have no fear of seeing you”
This was not the case for the spy at the keyhole who knelt shivering in
fear at what he was witnessing and as soon as the lights flared a lurid
blue he fell in a faint at his station by the door.
The Spy Discovered
When the spying servant finally came to he found himself inside the dread room with the pale student standing over him demanding,
“Who are you? Why do you spy on me and what have you seen? Tell me all, tell me true!”
Trembling in fear the terrified servant told him everything he had seen and heard while Edgar listened gravely. When the servant had finished he would not allow him to leave until he had sworn on all that he held valuable that he would not tell a soul of what he had seen and heard that night. To ensure the complete silence of the servant Edgar bound him by several terrifying threats of what would happen should he speak and then gave further instructions.
When the servant returned to the servant’s quarter his fellows all wanted to know what he had seen and heard. They were disappointed when he told them he had spied so long and seen nothing and overcome with fatigue and boredom fallen asleep at his station. Nevertheless, this appeared to satisfy his eager friends who could not help wondering what would have happened should he have been discovered.
The day passed in much the same way as other days with the only notable exception being Edgar’s absence from the table under the old oak. As evening fell dark clouds swept in from the distant sea and the wind began to rise and shake the old oak in its rage.
As usual the household had retired at eleven that night and only Edgar and one other were awake. Edgar sat in his room at studying intensely the black book, but every now and then glancing impatiently at the clock. At last he stood up and sighing to himself said,
“The time I have longed for draws near. Once again we shall meet!”
Taking up his small cauldron, the book and a few other items he left his room and went down the ancient staircase. As he did so the servant stepped from the shadows and followed him. Calmly walking down to the old oak Edgar place his items at the foot of the tree and then taking a hazel wand from his pocket drew a circle around him and the servant. Placing some red powder in the cauldron he put it down before him. As he did so a red flame leapt up from cauldron blazing with a steady flame while the wind roared in fury all around.
In the gateway of the tower the chained guard dogs howled mournfully but Edgar pressed on with his task, striking the ground three time with his hazel wand, crying,
“Anna my love, my heart’s desire I summon thee! Hear my words and obey, come to me this night!”
No sooner had he stopped speaking when the filmy figure of a most beautiful child appeared and floated around the outside of the circle. The servant groaned in fear and sunk to his knees covering his eyes. The necromancer took no notice and as lightning flashed and thunder rolled he began incanting a new spell before finishing with these words,
“Soul of Anna, spirit of my love, spirit of my heart’s desire, I summon thee! Come to me with all haste and without deceit and without power over my earthly body, spirit or soul. May the shadow of death fall upon thee for ever if you refuse! Come now to me”!
With these last word the storm abated and all around fell to brooding silence. Suddenly the flame in the cauldron flared upwards several yards in height and a sweet voice could be heard engaged in a melodious chant. A rasping, invisible voice said,
“Are you ready to behold the dead?”
“I am ready!”
Before his eyes a column of mist formed and swirled and in that column slowly appeared the form and face of a beautiful woman still wrapped in her burial shroud. She looked at him with sad, mournful eyes and asked,
“Why, Egar, why”
“Because I loved you, Anna! Did you love me?”
“And did you love him Anna, did you really love him?
Edgar gazed upon the ghost of his betrothed in tortured silence for some time. Slowly he reached out into the mist trying to embrace her. As he did so the servant fainted at his feet as if struck down by death and thunder broke the silence.
“Edgar Astley, thy time is done and thou art mine forever!”
hissed a harsh disembodied voice at his side. As these word were spoken the door of the tower were flung wide open and out rushed the baronet followed by his servants.
“Keep back, keep back! Save yourselves!”
“We would save you too! In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti!”
cried the baronet striding forward to the circle holding a silver crucifix before him. No sooner had he spoken when the thunder fell quiet and the lightning ceased to flash and the moon broke through the dark clouds throwing down a soft light.
The servant was found face down trembling in the circle and carried indoors. Edgar was found leaning against the trunk of the old oak. His eyes glazed and fixed upon the spot in the air he had last seen the ghost of his betrothed. Gently the baronet took him by the hand and led him away as one would lead an innocent and trusting child. All reason and purpose had left his mind and his body was but an empty husk for he had gained his heart’s desire but in doing so given away his soul.
This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com by zteve t evans, October 11, 2018
In Arthurian romance the mystical, magical quest of the Sangreal is a popular story that has its roots in medieval times, though its seeds may be from much earlier. It uses allegories to blend together pagan motifs, Christian tradition and political and social concerns of the day into a story of spiritual evolution for the main protagonists who must remain true to the quest. The Sangreal is another name for the Holy Grail which eventually became conflated with the Holy Chalice. There are several other versions of its name and in different stories it has appeared in different forms such as stone or wood, or as a cup or dish. The earliest of these romances was Le Conte du Graal by Chrétien de Troyes who died before it was finished but was added to later by other poets. Other authors also created versions of the story such as Le Roman du Graal, Joseph d’Arimathe, Merlin, and Perceval by Robert de Boron, the Vulgate Cycle, whose authorship is disputed and Parzival, by Wolfram von Eschenbach. Later, Sir Thomas Malory wrote Le Morte D’Arthur, blending together Arthurian and grail tradition, and it is from this that the greatly summarised version of the tale below draws the most.
Origin of the Sangreal
In this allegorical story set in the time of King Arthur, the Sangreal was the cup that Jesus Christ drank from at the last supper, and the Sacred Spear was the one Longinus, the Roman soldier, used to pierce his side during his crucifixion. Joseph of Arimathea brought them to Britain and his descendants, the Grail Kings of Castle Corbenic were granted guardianship on condition that each guardian lived a life of purity in deed and thought, dedicated to Jesus Christ. For many ages, the Sangreal remained a visible, tangible object — alongside the Sacred Spear — that pilgrims came from far and wide to pray before.
Over time, one of its guardians allowed the moral standards that behoved his role to slip, and sought forbidden love. The Sacred Spear punished his weakness, inflicting a wound to his groin that could not be healed, leaving the king maimed and kept alive only by the power of the Sangreal; after this, the Sangreal and Sacred Spear were hidden from the people’s eyes. In those days the fertility of the land was linked to that of the king, and his realm became a barren wasteland until the time came when he would be healed by the purest knight in the world.
At Camelot, Merlin had not been seen for some time and, worried at his absence, King Arthur sent out knights to find him. Sir Gawain went out searching, and while travelling through the forest of Brocéliande he heard the sound of someone groaning. Following the sound, he found a column of dense mist that he could not penetrate. From the mist came the voice of Merlin who revealed that his mistress, Viviane — the Lady of the Lake — had imprisoned him there for all time. He instructed Gawain to return to King Arthur and tell him of his plight. Yet, emphasizing that nothing could be done to save him, he gave an important message to relay:
“Tell Arthur a great event is now unfolding. The knight is born and ready to begin and accomplish this task for the good of the land and its people. Now is the time of the quest of the Sangreal.”
Gawain quickly returned and delivered the message to King Arthur, who grieved for his old friend as he turned over the message in his mind.
Pentecost at Camelot
It was the custom of King Arthur to celebrate the feast of Pentecost with all his knights around the Round Table. Each of the knights had their own seat at the Round Table with their name inscribed upon it, and there was one vacant seat known as the Siege Perilous. As the feast was about to begin a squire brought news that in a nearby river there was a red slab of marble that floated on the water. King Arthur led his knights to the river to investigate. Fixed firmly within this slab, as if it had been driven in, was a sword upon which was inscribed the following words,
“Never shall I be drawn forth except by he who is the perfect knight and at his side, I will hang.”
Sir Gawain tried to draw the sword but failed, as did Sir Percival and many others, but none could free it.
The Quest of the Sangreal
Having investigated, they returned to the Round Table to eat. While they were eating the windows and doors all suddenly slammed shut. The candles flickered, went out and then came back on again, and stood before them appeared a very old holy man accompanied by Galahad, the son of Sir Lancelot. The holy man led Galahad to the Siege Perilous and seated him there. They watched in awe as the lettering on the seat changed magically to read, Galahad. King Arthur led Sir Galahad to the floating slab of marble and he easily withdrew the sword to the wonder of all.
Arthur and his knights returned to their feasting and again, the candles suddenly dimmed and there was a peal of thunder. A ray of light shone down and in the middle of the Round Table there appeared the glowing Sangreal veiled in white silk. Inspired by this miraculous event, Sir Gawain declared he would not rest, day or night, for one year and a day, until he saw the Sangreal fully unveiled. Arthur remembered the message of Merlin and was full of disquiet. He knew the others would follow his example and realized there was every chance some would die on that quest, or not return. In the early days of summer, as one hundred and fifty knights rode from Camelot on the quest of the Sangreal, King Arthur wept, knowing the world had changed forever.
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 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.
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
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
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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, Ahasuerusrefused 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.
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?
This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com as British Legends: The Tragic Romance of Tristan and Isolde on September 27, 2018 by zteve t evans.
The Romance of Tristan and Isolde
The tale of Tristan and Isolde became a popular Arthurian tale during the 12th century, though it is believed to go back much further, having connections to Celtic legends. It is a tragic romance that tells of the adulterous relationship between Tristan, and Isolde, the wife of Tristan’s uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, making a classic love triangle that sooner or later must be broken by death. In many ways it mirrors the love triangle of Lancelot, Guinevere and King Arthur, though it is believed to be older. The spelling of the names and the names of some characters vary and there are many different versions, but all hold to the same basic structure and story-line. Presented here is a shortened version of their story created from the sources below.
Tristan and King Mark
Tristan was the son of the King Meliadus and Queen Isabella of Lyonesse, but sadly, his mother died giving birth to him. Meliadus loved his son greatly but remarried an evil woman who was jealous of his affections and plotted to kill the boy. Tristan had a devoted servant named Gouvernail, who becoming aware of the plot, took him over the sea to the court of the King of France where he was given sanctuary. As the years passed, Gouvernail sought a place where Tristan could complete his education and took him to the court of King Mark of Cornwall. King Mark was Tristan’s uncle and welcomed him and educated him in all of the knightly manners and fighting skills, at which he soon excelled.
Each year King Mark was obliged to pay tribute to King Argius and Queen Isolde, the rulers of Ireland. To collect this payment, they sent their strongest and most feared knight, Moraunt, the brother of Queen Isolde. Tristan went to his uncle, offering to fight Moraunt if he could be fully knighted. King Mark was very fond of Tristan and feared for him, but his nephew persisted until he reluctantly agreed, and Tristan challenged Moraunt to a duel to the death. After being wounded in the thigh, Moraunt told Tristan his sword was smeared with a deadly toxin and the only one who could save him was his sister, Queen Isolde, who was a skilled healer. In reply, Tristan struck a blow to Moraunt’s head, incapacitating him and notching his own sword in the process.
The servants of Moraunt carried him back to his sister but he died on the way. When his body was finally brought home, his sister found a splinter from Tristan’s sword embedded in his skull. Removing it, she studied it carefully and kept it.
Healing in Ireland
For Tristan, the initial wound was not that bad but the poison was now spreading through his body and the best healers could not find a cure. He decided to seek out Queen Isolde hoping she would heal him. Arriving at the Irish court, and aware of the queen’s relationship with Moraunt, he told them his name was Trantis. Not knowing his true identity, Queen Isolde agreed to heal him, and using special herbal baths and potions she gradually began restoring him to health.
The King and Queen of Ireland had a beautiful daughter, who they had named after her mother. She was known as Princess Isolde the Fair. While Tristan was there, they held a tournament and a knight named Sir Palamedes won the honors on the first day. On seeing Princess Isolde for the first time, he was so smitten he could not take his eyes off her, making no secret of his feelings. Seeing this, Tristan grew jealous and decided he would enter the competition the next day despite still not being fully fit.
In every fight he was victorious and when he fought Sir Palamedes he defeated him and was named champion. Despite Tristan’s triumph, the extraordinary physical effort caused his wound to open and he began to bleed profusely. Princess Isolde took over his care and nursed him back to health, growing to love him more and more every day.
One day while cleaning Tristan’s sword, a servant noticed that it was notched. He had been present when Queen Isolde removed the metal splinter from the head of Moraunt and took the sword to her knowing she still had the splinter. On examination, she found it fitted perfectly together and realized that this was the weapon that had killed her brother. She took the sword and the splinter to the King and, telling him of her suspicions, demanded the death penalty for Tristan.