This article was first published on #FolkloreThurday.com as Bat Myths and Folktales from Around the World by zteve t evans on 31st October 2019
Bats feature in many myths, legends and folklore from diverse
cultures around the world, and are often associated with darkness, death
and the supernatural. Unquestionably, they are strange creatures,
appearing as half animal and half bird, like something from a nightmare
world. From this duality and strangeness evolved a reputation of
duplicity and threat, appearing as neither one thing nor the other. In
fact they are mammals of the scientific order Chiroptera,
meaning “hand wing” in ancient Greek, because their forelimbs have
become adapted to be wings. Do they really deserve this sinister
reputation, or do they play a more important role in the world than
feeding the dark human fascination for the spooky and the supernatural?
Presented here are different viewpoints from around the world,
followed by a short look at the real significance of bats to humankind.
Aesop’s Fables: The Bat and the Weasel
The duality of bats is mentioned in one of Aesop’s Fables, which tells how a bat fell to the ground and was pounced on by a weasel. The bat begged to be spared but the weasel insisted that he could not do that because he was an enemy of all birds. The bat said, “Well look at me. I am a mouse, not a bird!” The weasel looked at the bat and agreed it was a mouse and released it. A little later the same bat was caught by another weasel and begged for mercy. The weasel replied, “No, I never let mice go!” The bat said, “Well, look closely at me. I am a bird. See my wings.” The weasel replied, “Well, so you are!” and let the bat go.
There are many myths and legends that tell how Saint Brendan the Navigator set sail in a boat with a band of followers to find a wondrous island and eventually succeeded. His followers returned but he did not. Many others after tried to find it but few succeeded. On many old maps Saint Brendan’s Isle is shown as clear as day, but if you look on any modern ones you will not see it.
They say that if you sail your boat beyond the horizon and into the setting sun you eventually come to a wondrous island kept by a single gardener and the gardener is Saint Brendan. But to do that requires faith, like he had. He once lived in Ireland but followed his heart and was led to this wondrous place where God spoke to him and told him he should stay and take care of the plants, flowers and trees. Since his arrival on the island long ages ago only those that have have faith in the good saint have managed to find this marvelous place.
The following story is a retelling of a tale from the island of Terceira in the Azores originally called, Saint Brendan’s Island – The Story of a Little Maid who Found it, and was published in a collection called The Islands of Magic, Legends, Folk and Fairy Tales from the Azores – by Elsie Spicer Eells and illustrated by E. L. Brock.
Saint Brendan lived between 484 – 577 AD, and this story tells how he left Ireland to find the wondrous island. It then moves forward in time to the 15th century to tell how a maiden from the island of Terceira and a young man from the Mediterranean island of Rhodes, through their faith in Saint Brendan, made it to the island to join the good saint there.
The Hermit’s Tale
The story begins way back in time in Ireland where a monk by the name of Saint Brendan lived. One day he received a visit from a hermit who told him all about the most mysterious and wonderful island he had just returned from visiting. On this marvelous island the sun shone all the time and the birds wore crowns on their heads and had the ability to speak to humans. Brendan could smell the wonderful fragrance of the island which clung to the hermit’s clothes so he believed him.
The hermit spoke so enthusiastically about the island it piqued the saint’s curiosity. He yearned to see it for himself and asked the hermit many questions about it. The more he heard the more he wanted to see to see if all the wonderful things were true that the hermit had told him about. At last the hermit had no more to say but Brendan had heard enough and yearned to visit it to experience all of the marvels for himself.
That night he dreamed he visited the island and it was every bit as marvellous as the hermit had described. In that dream a voice spoke to him saying,
“On this wondrous isle there was no one else but God who could hear is prayers so he could speak from the pureness of his heart and with faith his prayers would be answered.”
Therefore, the next morning, he gathered together a small group of his most devoted disciples and told them about the marvellous island and his desire to find it. Despite the dangers his disciples were also fascinated by the place and having faith in him were keen to accompany him on his quest.
The Voyage of Saint Brendan
They built a large coracle of wattle, skins and tar and fitted it with oars and a sail and enough seating for them all. They loaded the craft with as much food, water and necessary items that it could safely carry.
They all realised it would be a difficult and dangerous voyage but they had faith. After saying their goodbyes to the large crowd of family, friends and well-wishers who had come to see them off they set sail across the wild Atlantic Ocean to find the wonderful island. The crowd on the shore waved them goodbye but secretly many feared they would never see them again.
Saint Brendan and his followers sailed the wide uncharted ocean facing many dangers and having many adventures but sustained by faith they sailed on. Back home in Ireland people looked out for their return. After two years of absence people feared the worst as they looked across the sea hoping to see their return. After five years they were completely forgotten.
Return of the Voyagers
After they had left Saint Brendan and his followers had trusted in the Lord and allowed the wind and currents to take them where they would. After seven years the small vessel carrying the forgotten voyagers appeared on the horizon off the Irish coast where they had set out from. As the small craft sailed in from the blue a small crowd gathered at the harbour both pleased and astounded to see the intrepid voyagers again.
Of course, everyone wanted to know all about the voyage and their adventures but were disconcerted to see that Saint Brendan was not among those that had returned. They asked earnestly about his well-being were told that the adventurers had found the wondrous island and it was every bit as wonderful as the hermit had said. Furthermore, they told the people that Saint Brendan had stayed behind as he had been instructed by God to become the gardener of the island and ensure it thrived and remained fertile for those faithful enough to find it in the vastness of the open sea.
The Wondrous Island
The people wanted to know all about the island and the disciples told them of all the wonders they had seen and experienced while they were there. If anything they spoke more enthusiastically than the hermit who had first spoken to Saint Brendan. Many people, like Saint Brendan before them, were overcome with curiosity and desire to visit the island see the wonders for themselves. The disciples urged them to go and many set out on the voyage and spent many years at sea in search of the wondrous place. None of them ever found it and returned forlornly to their home in Ireland on the shore of the wild Atlantic.
From what was said by those who accompanied Saint Brendan the island was a floating Island and floated from place to place making it difficult to find and only those who had faith would be successful. They also said that Saint Brendan will not die but remain on the island caring for it.
That is the story of how Saint Brendan found the Wondrous island and happened many centuries ago. We must now move forward to the 15th century to the island of Terceira in the archipelago of the Azores in the vastness of the wild Atlantic Ocean.
On this island there lived a young maid named Maria. She had been told all about Saint Brendan and the marvelous island by an old monk. Like the good Saint before her she had been enthralled by the island and highly impressed by the faith of Saint Brendan. She was fascinated by everything she heard about it and prayed each morning and night to the good Saint for guidance.
She would often dream of walking under the beautiful trees as he told her all about the wonderful place. In one dream he took her to a mountaintop where she could look across the sea towards her home. He told her,
“In this place there was no one else but God and himself who could hear her prayers so she could speak from the pureness of her heart and with faith her prayers would be answered.”
In the waking world she would often walk the hillside of Monte Brasil looking out across the sea, hoping to catch a glimpse of that enchanted place. Sometimes she would sit and gaze wistfully across the water letting her imagination take her there.
The Arrival of Vitale
One day a caravel anchored off Terceira. It had sailed from Rhodes carrying a young man named Vitale and in his possession he carried sacred relics of Saint Brendan that his grandfather had passed on to him. He was on a quest to seek out and find the wonderful island of Saint Brendan and had called in at Terceira on his way. Proudly displayed upon his doublet was an eight pointed star and a scarlet silk band with the motto “By Faith” boldly displayed upon it. Indeed, it was by faith alone that he had set out upon the mission of his life for he had no idea how he would accomplish it.
When Maria heard of his arrival and the sacred relics he bore she rushed down to the ship to see him for herself. She was extremely impressed with the way he carried himself and his good looks, but was overwhelmed by the passion he showed for his quest and she quickly fell in love with him. Indeed she revered him as if he had been the good Saint himself and would sit quiet and still with her dark eyes downcast not caring to glance at him while he told of his quest for the Saint and the Wondrous Island.
The young man in turn was fascinated by this demure young maiden and confessed his love for her. Willingly, he gave her his grandfather’s sacred relics and asked that in return she might speak her true feelings towards him. Maria replied, “To speak my of my love for you in full and in truth I would need to be in a place where God alone could hear me. Only then could I speak from the purity of my heart.”
A Jealous Suitor
You see this was true for Maria because on Terceira there lived a young man of the island who had long admired her. He was the son of the Lord of the district and for a long time he had been infatuated by her beauty and her manner. He had begged her for her hand in marriage several times but each time she had demurely and sensitively declined. She hated having to do it but she could not marry a man she did not love. Now she was worried because she knew that if her unwanted suitor ever found out about her love for Vitale he would fly into a jealous rage and feared what he would do. Indeed she had good cause to fear for Terceira was a small island with a close knit community and it was not long before her unwanted suitor heard of her relationship with Vitale.
Rushing to her in a jealous rage he demanded that she marry him immediately. Maria sensitively and with all kindness gently told him she could not. Angrily he told her, “If you do not marry me I shall have my father lock you in the tower of Saint Louis on the hillside and there you shall stay until you change your mind!’
‘I am sorry,” she replied, “but I would prefer to remain locked in the tower for the rest of my days than be your wife. Why can you not see it and just leave me in peace with my relics of Saint Brendan?”
The Tower of Saint Louis
This further enraged the young man and he had her marched to the tower of Saint Louis where she was locked in its uppermost chamber. Although small and bare the chamber at least had a window where she would sit and look down upon the city of Angra below.
“All my life I have prayed to the blessed Saint Brendan and loved God. Now my world has been destroyed by unwanted love!’ she cried in despair.
With that despairing cry which rang out over the city below, the earth shook and trembled and the great stone tower quivered as if was but paper.
Not far from the tower two beautiful white doves were perched on the branches of a cedar tree.
“Look at the tower,” said one, “It will surely fall and the fair maid who weeps inside will die.”
“She shall not die! Let us rescue her,” said the other , “and take her to a place of safety.”
As they flew into the air the earth shuddered and the tower began to fall and Maria stood weeping in fear at the window. Faster than the wind the doves swooped down and each clasping one of Maria’s hands carried her through the air as the falling tower collapsed.
Over the treetops, over the rooftops and churches of Angra they carried her and out across the sea. They continued flying over the horizon and into the setting sun and through the dark night until the sun came up in the morning.
Saint Brendan’s Wondrous Isle
With the growing light Maria could see they were heading towards an island shrouded in morning mist. As they drew closer the mist lifted and upon a silver shore there was someone who appeared to be waiting. Carried by the doves she could see that the island was abundant with the most beautiful trees and gorgeous flowers. As they descended, she saw that it was a truly wondrous place. As the doves gently set her down before the waiting figure to her joy and wonder she saw that it was Saint Brendan and that he was the gardener of the island.
Back on Terceira the earthquake had caused great damage to the city of Angra and the Tower of Saint Louis had been completely destroyed. Everyone thought poor Maria had been buried in the rubble and mourned. Vitale had been grief stricken and without her saw his life on the island as being empty and devoid of purpose.
Therefore he took to his caravel and set sail resuming his quest to find the blessed Isle of Saint Brendan. For long days and nights he sailed through foul and fine weather until he sailed into a bank of thick fog. He could see no more than a foot before him whichever way he looked. Having no idea of his direction he allowed his ship to drift with the current. Eventually, sustained by faith alone, he came through the fog to find himself looking at a beautiful sunset. As he looked he saw the clouds descending from heaven to earth like a long white ladder.
Further on in the distance he saw an island with a silver shore and a green and beautiful land beyond. In his heart he knew this was Saint Brendan’s wondrous island and current took his vessel gently to the shore. As he approached he saw his beloved Maria standing with her arms outstretched towards him, smiling and her eyes shining. All around her there glowed a gentle auro of pure white light. Stepping ashore, he ran to her outstretched arms and as he approached she said,
“At last, in this place I can speak my love for you from my heart with no one but God and Saint Brendan and you, my dear Vitale, to hear!”
The legend of the Archbishop Genadius and the Island of the Seven Cities is a folktale from the island of São Miguel in the Azores archipelago an autonomous regionof Portugal. It tells a version of the legend of the Island of the Seven Cities of Antillia and presented here is a retelling of that folktale based on the source below.The story begins with a young man named Genadius who was born into a rich and powerful family in Portugal. He was greatly spoiled and allowed many indulgences by his father. When ever he could not get his own way he would fly into a tantrum.
Nevertheless, he was a young man who possessed great curiosity about everything and he was very adventurous. He experimented with many strange and unorthodox ideas and practices and one day discovered he could summon up the dead. This greatly excited him and he worked hard and learned all he could from books on the subject. He spent many hours in practice and became adept in the skills of necromancy and the black arts and even learnt how to call upon Satan. However he was a young man who soon tired of things and would move quickly from one project to another.
He became disenchanted with necromancy and the black arts and gave himself to Christianity believing that it offered him the greater power. He became a priest and hermit and dedicated himself to God. Although he stopped using the black arts he combined his abilities as a necromancer to the duties of a Christian priest and performed many good and astounding feats. Eventually his feats came to the notice of the Supreme Pontiff who was impressed with what he heard and decided to promote and reward him and made him a bishop. Thanks to his powerful and influential family he was soon promoted to Archbishop of Porto.
A Baby Girl
One wet and cold night as he opened his cathedral door he discovered that a baby girl had been laid in a basket before it. There was no clue to who the baby girl’s parents were but she desperately needed a home and shelter so Genadius decided he would adopt her. Therefore, he took her in and brought her up in fine style giving her the education of a princess and loved her as a daughter.
It so happened that the Iberian peninsula was invaded by hostile forces from North Africa who crossed the narrow straits intent on conquest and Portugal also came under attack. Realizing the danger Archbishop Genadius called his six bishops to him and gathered his family and friends together. He had a fleet of seven ships built that would allow them to escape before the marauding invaders arrived. He filled the ships with supplies, water and livestock and just as the enemy was closing in he gave the order to set sail.
Each of the clergy took command of one of the ships and the small fleet set sail into the setting sun across the wild Atlantic Ocean. Their great hope was to find a safe land they could settle in and build a new home for themselves and their families and live in their traditional ways.
Genadius had also taken the girl he had adopted and as many other citizens that the ships could safely carry. After many days sailing the fleet came across an unknown island that had a great central peak that sloped gently down to the sea on all sides. There was a good natural harbor where they anchored their ships. He sent out search parties to explore the island and make sure it was safe.
The reports from the search parties were all good saying the island was very beautiful and a veritable paradise. It was uninhabited by humans but abounded in plant and animal life. It was was safe and fertile with plenty of fresh water and could support all of their people with ease.
Therefore, he gave the order to disembark and unload the ships. He tasked some of the people to build a camp where they could live in reasonable comfort safe from the elements until more permanent shelter could be constructed.
The Seven Cities
When they were settled and comfortable he called a meeting of the bishops and the elders and told them he planned to build seven cities each with a cathedral. He and the six bishops would each rule one of the cities and he would rule over them all. After a brief rest from their sea voyage they all got to work and built seven cities each with their own cathedral situated around the island and the people were distributed between them.
After the cities and cathedrals were built the people lived in peace and happiness living in their traditional way unhindered. In that time the girl Genadius had adopted grew to become a beautiful young woman and began to draw the attention of many young men.
Having grown up mostly on the island she had only ever heard tales about her old home of Portugal faraway over the sea. As is often the case the stories were exaggerated and embellished and she began to wonder why the people had ever left. She ached to see all the wonders they told her of and began to yearn to return to Portugal.
Genadius could also not help but notice the attention she was receiving from young men and began to worry that she would lose her purity. Although he knew it was natural for young men to be attracted to young women and vice-versa, he could not help but become increasingly concerned. The more he saw and the more he thought about it, the more obsessed he became, wrongly believing he was protecting her. Furthermore, her continued questioning of him about their old home in Portugal made him realize she wished to return.
He had grown to love her greatly and did not want to lose her. Therefore, he resorted to his powers of necromancy to hide the island away from any passing ships in case they should dock on the island by chance.
This worked for a while until one fine morning a caravel with the cross of Jesus emblazoned upon its sails and flying the flag of Portugal appeared on the horizon. It proceeded to the harbor where it intended to anchor.
The Black Arts
Genadius was both furious and fearful of its arrival and flew into a rage. He could not understand how his powers of necromancy had failed. As the caravel began to drop her anchor his rage erupted and in fury he resorted to his black arts and called upon Satan for help. As he did so the central peak of the island began spewing out smoke and fumes. Fire and molten rock rained down destroying everything around. Eventually there was a massive explosion and the island sank slowly into the sea.
A few survivors made it to the caravel who took them back home to Portugal, but of the island of the Seven Cities no trace afterwards could ever be found. Some said that it sank below the sea but other seafarers returned with reports of an island that was hidden by mists but would sink below the ocean when approached.
Presented here is a retelling of a folktale from the Portuguese islands of the Azores called , Linda Branca and her Mask, from a collection calledThe Islands of Magic, Legends, Folk and Fairy Tales from the Azores, by Elsie Spicer Ells and illustrated by E.L. Brock. According to the author, women in the Azores would often say “Stay pretty,” as a farewell to each other when parting and wonders if this story had anything to do with it.
Linda Branca and her Mask
There once lived a long, long, time ago a very beautiful girl who had grown tired of being beautiful whose name was Linda Branca. Many girls of her age would have envied her as her beauty made her the focus of all of the handsome young men in the neighborhood and indeed for miles around who were all desperate to court and marry her.
Every night in the street under her balcony young men would appear singing the most beautiful romantic ballads they had written themselves just for her. Their songs were carefully written hoping to impress her and make her fall in love with the singer of the song.
In fact none of them did and she grew bored and tired listening to the same performance every evening. She did not like hearing them sing in public of her glowing hair, flashing eyes and beauty finding it all disconcerting and in truth false. Some nights she could not sleep with all the singing under her balcony and would be grateful when her neighbours opened the windows and shouted at them to be quiet.
Nevertheless, all of her suitors were all very good looking, very rich, and very cocksure of themselves. They placed bets among themselves, each betting they would be the one to win the hand of the lovely Linda Branca. When Linda heard about this she was angry and unhappy. Although most girls would have given anything for her beauty and such male attention she began to see it as a curse.
Her mother had died giving birth to her leaving her father to bring her up. Although he loved her very much and tried his hardest there are always times when a girl needs her mother. To make it harder as she grew up he was always away on business.
“I wish I was as homely as the girls in the marketplace and not considered beautiful and desirable by men. I want a man who loves me not for my beauty but for who I am. I don’t want to be owned by anyone and I don’t want to own anyone else,” she said one day. She knew the young men only desired to possess her beauty and cared not for what she did, what she thought, or who she was. To them she was a prize that would prove their manhood and how handsome and wonderful they were to possess her.
Linda Branca did not want to be possessed by anyone. Linda Branca was determined to be the mistress of her own destiny. Yes, she greatly desired a soulmate – a companion – who knew and understood her intimately and who she knew in the same way. She knew that he would not be found singing under her window under the moon above. She knew that those who had laid bets on owning her would be losers for she would never accept such young men.
Linda Branca now saw her beauty as a curse and standing upon her balcony looking down into the street said aloud in frustration,
“If only I could be as homely as that girl walking over there I would have a chance of finding my star – my soulmate, my lover, my hero and would gladly marry him. All these handsome young men are indeed very attractive but they are shallow and fickle and when I begin to age they would forsake me, that is what they do all the time. I want someone to grow with to an old age becoming closer and closer.”
As she spoke she looked at the girl’s plain homely face and eyes, Her ordinary hair and body and said, not realising the girl could hear her,
“If only I was as plain and homely as her I could find someone who loved me for myself to marry and be happy, but with all of these unsuitable young men in the way I fear I shall never find my husband and soulmate.”
The girl heard the complaints of LInda Branca and looked up and seeing how beautiful she was she was truly astonished. She thought she must have been hearing things and challenged Linda Branca to say it again. Although a little embarrassed at being overheard Linda Branca was unrepentant and repeated what she had said that she wanted to be as homely looking as she, though she apologized if this should offend her.
However, the girl was not offended and smiling up at her said, “It so happens I am an artist and one of my arts is making masks. If you really want I can make you a mask to be as plain and homely as you want, but be careful with what you wish for!”
Linda Branca was astounded and at the same time very pleased with the suggestion. “Please make me a mask to make me look ordinary and homely, it is very much my heart’s desire!” she exclaimed joyfully.
“Are you really sure about this? asked the artist.
“Yes! Yes! Yes! Please make it as fast as you can!” begged Linda Branca.
As evening fell the usual cacophony of young men singing their hearts out found Linda Branca stood on the balcony looking this way and that. This was a most pleasant surprise to them as she usually never appeared to acknowledge their romantic efforts.
But it was not the love songs that Linda Branca was on the balcony to for. She was hoping to see the artist appearing along the road with her mask but she did not come.
Evening after evening she stood looking out from the balcony. The young men below crooned their hearts out thinking that she must be choosing her most favored suitor. Indeed, as she stood looking out from her balcony her sparkling eyes and dark flowing hair sent them into raptures of song. While the young men below were all very excited by her appearances the young woman besieged upon the balcony was not remotely interested in them at all. She was simply looking out for the arrival of the artist who bore the mask of Linda Branca.
The idea of a mask had greatly excited her and she hoped it would solve all her problems. She was so excited she would not have been able to sleep even if the barrage of love songs floating up from her desperate suitors below ceased to exist. When she did manage to sleep in her she dreams she saw herself wearing the mask. Sometimes her beauty was covered up by the likeness of a plump homely girl. Sometimes a skinny homely girl and once or twice with the face of a donkey. She thought they would all have adequately covered her loveliness and would gladly accepted any of them.
At last a week later the artist finally arrived with the mask which was none too soon as she had grown very impatient and began to give up hope. When the artist showed her the mask she could see why it had taken so long. It was indeed a very plain face, though not ugly, but homely and unremarkable and just like a real human face. The kind of face that does not stand out and is easily lost in a crowd. It was an amazing work that had required great skill, patience and artistry to create and now it was here ready for her to wear and said, “Why, it is even better than I had hoped. It will cover my beauty and is not too ugly but plain enough not to stand out in the crown and be recognized!” She was confident that when she put it on not one of the flocks of admiring suitors would recognize her and she made a plan.
Having no mother to answer to and her father being away on business would make her plan easier. Her father was a successful businessman who made a great deal of money and doted on his daughter. When he came home after being away he would take her out and buy her expensive presents of jewelry and fine clothes that enhanced her beauty. She rarely wore them but there were two gowns that she particularly liked. One was blue and trimmed with silver and the other was also blue but trimmed with gold. Although at the time she had no plan to wear them she thought that maybe one day she would be in need of something finer to wear on some occasions. Therefore, she packed these and a few other belongings into a bag.
Placing her new mask upon her face and a long, dark cloak around her shoulders she left the house walking through her crowds of admirers who never gave her a glance. Wasting no time she traveled to the city and finding the palace of the king, knocked on the door and asked a surly looking woman who answered if they required a maid. The surely looking woman was the King’s mother and glaring at Linda replied, “It is my son who is the King, therefore you must ask him,” and took her to see the King.
The King looked down on Linda unkindly and said, “Only last week I employed a new girl servant purely because she was so very pretty. I think I will employ you purely because you are very plain.”
Not a very nice thing to say you would think, but this was music to the ears of Linda Branca as she took up her employment in the service of the King. However, although the song sounded nice to begin with she would find it would go on far too long for her liking.
She met the pretty maid whom the king had employed the previous week and saw that although she was pretty she was not anywhere near as pretty as herself without the mask. Furthermore she discovered that it was she who would get all of the hard and dirty jobs while the pretty maid smiled and fluttered her eyes at her employer and was given the easier tasks.
Although her sleep was no longer being disturbed by her many suitors singing under her balcony, because of all of the hard work she was going to bed exhausted and sleeping through until sunrise. When she awoke she would have a quick breakfast and then begin work again carrying water, scrubbing floors, washing dishes and doing all the tiring unpleasant jobs around the palace.
While she was working away the pretty maid would be doing all the easy tasks like waiting upon the King and laughing at his jokes. As the days went by the more work she was given the less the pretty maid received. Furthermore, she could not help but notice it was the pretty maid who received all of the praise and attention from all of the high people. All she ever received was more and more work. It was clear the pretty maid had the easier, happier life and was never as tired as herself when she went to bed. Linda Branca began to think that just maybe there was something to being pretty after all. “I am wondering if maybe I should once again be pretty!” she said to herself as she climbed exhausted into her bed one night.
The following evening there was to be a great banquet that would be held over two days and Linda went to the King’s mother to ask her if she could attend. As usual the King’s mother was not in a very good mood and told her angrily, “Go and ask my son for he is King!”
Therefore Linda bided her time until she was in the King’s presence tasked with the job of polishing his boots.
“Please may I go to the banquet tonight?” she asked as politely as she could.
“What? Go away or I will boot you!” replied the King.
In the evening after the feast had begun Linda Branca unpacked her beautiful blue gown trimmed with silver. She put it on and taking off her mask looked into the mirror. She saw she was still just as pretty as she had ever been and far prettier than the pretty maid. Indeed, she found it quite a pleasure to see herself pretty once again after such a long time of being plain. Wasting no more time she took herself down to the banqueting hall and mingled with the guests.
The Land of the Boot
Everyone was astonished to meet this beautiful and mysterious young woman. She was the talk of the evening and the King paid her special attention dancing and chatting gaily with her becoming completely beguiled by her beauty.
“May I ask where it is you come from, beautiful one?” he said as they danced.
“Why, I come from the land of the boot,” replied Linda Branca laughing gaily at her own little joke and slipped from his hand and was gone leaving the King bemused and trying to puzzle out where the land of the boot was.
The King was most perplexed. He had never heard of the land of the boot and he asked his mother and all of his wise men but they had never heard of any such place. The next day he spent his time pouring through books and maps searching in vain for the land of the boot but could not find even one single mention of it.
“I want to marry her, she is the most beautiful maiden I have evers seen. How will I ever be able to see her again if I cannot even find the land she comes from?” he cried to his courtiers.
The King fell into a depression and all of his courtiers and counsellors were worried. It was very disconcerting that their King had fallen deeply in love with a mysterious and unknown maiden from a far country and nobody knew its location or could even find it on a map.
The next day Linda Branca donned her mask and went about her work as usual but found she seemed to have even more and harder tasks than usual while the pretty maid had none. The King passed by looking down at the plain girl he had employed as she scrubbed the floor.
Later after she had completed her work she went to the King’s mother to ask permission to attend the banquet that evening. “You must ask the King,” she snapped in reply. Therefore at an opportune moment while the pretty maid was brushing the King’s hair she asked him ever so politely if she could attend the banquet that evening.
“What!” cried the King, “Get you gone or I will hit with my hairbrush!”
In the evening after she had finished her work she put on her beautiful blue gown with the gold trim, took off her mask and looked at herself in the mirror. She was pleased to see that if anything she looked lovelier that ever and went down to mingle with the guests in the banqueting hall.
The Land of the Hairbrush
As she entered the King, who had been watching the door attentively, gave a happy cry and ran over to greet her. From then on he danced with her all evening chatting and laughing gaily and never left her side.
“And what country did you say you came from?” he asked politely.
“Why, I am from the land of the hairbrush!” said Linda giggling at her own little joke.
“And where is that land?” asked the King but the intriguing maiden would not tell him no matter how he implored. He turned around to call over his wise men and asked them where the land of the hairbrush was not none of them knew. When he looked round again he found the beautiful and mysterious maiden had gone.
“Find her!” he commanded and although the banqueting hall was searched high and low there was no sign of that mysterious maiden, just some plain servant girl washing up in the kitchen.
The next day the King and all of his wise men poured over books and maps searching for the whereabouts of the land of the hairbrush but found not even a mention. The king flew into a rage and chased them all out and went through the maps and books alone.
He would not eat and he would not sleep but continued to study all the maps and books in the palace. When he had studied these and found nought he decreed that all the books and maps in the land must be sent to the palace. From then on he studied each and everyone himself for the land of the hairbrush and the land of the boot refusing to eat, sleep or drink until he had found it.
All the books and maps in his kingdom were brought to his palace and as good as his word he studied each one without taking a single sip to drink, a single bite to eat, or a single wink of sleep. By the time he had finished he was so weak he had to be carried to bed by his physicians but he had not found those mysterious lands. They begged him to eat and drink but he refused and said, “What do I care for food, or drink or sleep? I only care for the beautiful maiden I was dancing with.”
When Linda Branca heard the King was ill she took off her mask and put on her blue gown with the silver trim that she had worn on the first night. Looking at herself in the mirror she thought, “Maybe, It is not such a terrible thing to be pretty after all!”
The Masquerader Unmasked
Sneaking outside she made her way to the window of the King’s bedroom and peeped in for a few minutes before one of the King’s counsellors saw her.
“Whose is that beautiful face looking through the window at the King!” he cried.
“It is the mysterious maiden from the land of the boot,” said one.
“Nay, it is the beautiful maiden from the land of the hairbrush,” cried another.
The King jumped out of bed and ran to the window but when he opened it, there was no one to be seen.
“Mother, tell me who was at my window!” he cried.
“There was no one, or maybe just a masquerader,” she answered nonchalantly but she was very worried about her son fearing he was so ill he would die.
The following day the King had grown weaker and the royal physicians feared the worst. The King lay on his bed, refusing to eat, drink or sleep with his eyes set firmly on the bedroom window should the lovely face return. The entire palace fell quiet and as an atmosphere of gloom pervaded, Linda Branca, this time dressed herself in the blue gown with the gold trim and sneaked to the King’s bedroom window and peeped in.
She looked directly into the face of the King and he looked into hers. “Ha!” he cried jumping up and running to the window and managed to grasp a handful of the blue skirt.
“Masquerader, unmask yourself!” he cried.
Linda had quickly put on her mask and looked into the King’s face with the face of the plain girl he had employed for her plainess. He stepped back in surprise and then she slipped off the mask revealing her true beautiful face smiling at him with shining eyes.
“Ha! Now I know who the beautiful mysterious maiden from the land of the boot and the land of the hairbrush is!” he cried.
With that Linda Branca confessed to the king and his mother and all present. She told them the entire story of how she had longed to be plain and how she had concealed her beauty with the mask the artist had made for her.
No one had ever heard of a maiden who had yearned plainess instead of being proud of the beauty that nature had bestowed upon her. The King’s mother said, “I have always been confident my son would one day choose a rare and beautiful woman to be his wife,” while giving him a little dig in the ribs.
The King remained silent for a long time gazing upon the lovely face of Linda Branca with such love in his eyes but what he said was not what his mother expected. “If it was the will of Linda Branca I would humbly beg her hand in marriage.”
Linda Branca looked at the King in surprise and in his eyes she saw nothing but love but then turning quickly she placed her mask quickly on and turned again to face him,
“And how would you have her as your wife?” she said looking him full in the face while she wore the mask, “Like this?”
The King looked at her in the mask and looked deep into her eyes for they were still her own beautiful eyes that he saw.
Or perhaps like this?” she said pirouetting and pulling the mask off to face the King in her own natural beauty.
After a pause the King answered thoughtfully, speaking with deep sincerity, “I am asking for the hand of Linda Branca in marriage but in doing so I wish her to know that if she should accept there are three conditions that she must understand and agree. The first is that she would be her own sovereign over her own body and her own mind. The second is that she will have complete sovereignty over my body, soul and all my worldly goods. The third is that should she so wish she may wear or not wear the mask as is her want and it will make no difference for my love to her.”
Linda Branca looked at the King in surprise and for once she felt loved and desired above all. At last she knew deep down that she was happy to be blessed with beauty and from then on she would stay pretty.
Presented here is a retelling of a folktale called, Why the Owl Flies at Night, from, The Islands of Magic, Legends, Folk and Fairy Tales from the Azores – by Elsie Spicer Eells and illustrated by E. L. Brock.
Why the Owl Flies at Night
In days gone by, on the steep slopes of the volcanic hill of Monte Brasil that overlook the Bay of Angra, stood a little chapel dedicated to St. Anthony. It was built to hold an image of that same saint that had been carried from some unknown place by the strong currents and rough waves of the sea to rest upon the shores of the bay below the hill.
In that time there was a young boy named Pedro who after his mother had died lived with his father nearby. His father had married again but his new wife treated young Pedro cruelly. She made him wear old, worn ragged clothes and all the children in the parish would mock and point at him because of the state of his clothing.
Pedro would often go to the little chapel and pray to St. Anthony for strength and comfort. One day as he was getting up off his knees after a prayer to the saint he noticed a very strange thing had happened. To his surprise he found his old, worn ragged clothes had suddenly become new and unblemished and he was now immaculately dressed in very smart clothing as good – indeed better – than any other child in his village.
When he got home his stepmother stares at him in disbelief, “Where did you get those clothes from?” she demanded, “You must have stolen them! Why, you are nothing but a little thief!”
Pedro truthfully told her what had happened but she refused to believe him.
“Your father can deal with it!” she cried, “In the meantime take the water jars to the spring and bring me back some water. Do it now and understand that I don’t want to be kept waiting for water, now go!”
Picking up the heavy jars he made his way to the top of the hill where the little spring bubbled out. The spring supplied Pedro and his family as well as the neighbors with water most of the year round, but at times it failed and this was one of those times. His stepmother had been told this earlier by neighbors but still out of spite she sent the boy to the top of the hill carrying two heavy stone jars on a task she knew he could not fulfill. On his way up, Pedro met an old man coming down. “There is no water in the spring,” the old man told him, “maybe tomorrow.”
He had almost reached the spring and the jars were making his arms ache. The other spring was much further away and he doubted if he got there he would have the strength to carry two full jars of water all the way home. He decided he would continue on and see for himself.
When he arrived at the spring he was surprised and very pleased to see that there was plenty of good clean water bubbling up, indeed, bubbling up much faster that he could remember. As he stared with amazement he thought about how somehow he had been furnished with the brand new suit of clothes that he was wearing and he began to wonder.
“This must be my lucky day,” he cried happily filling both jars with water, “St. Anthony is smiling upon me. He must have heard my prayers and given me my new clothes and made the waters of the spring run,” and he offered up a silent prayer of thanks to the saint.
With his jars full of water Pedro took them home. His mother was gobsmacked when he came through the door with two jars full of water. “What! Where did you get that water from?” she demanded. Pedro truthfully told her it had come from the spring on the hill.
“You lie! That spring is dry today. Wait until I tell your father, he will give you a sound beating!” she cried.As well as being frightened by the threatened beating Pedro was puzzled why his stepmother had sent him up the hill to the spring when she believed it was dry.
The next thing he knew was she had dumped a large basket in his hands saying, “Go into the garden and pick up all of the wood for the fire. Now hurry I don’t want to be kept waiting. Go!”
Pedro thought this a very strange request as all of the wood in the garden had been used up long ago. The evening was falling and he went into the garden in failing light but there was nothing there but red, white, yellow and pink roses. The night fell quickly but stoically he went and looked anyway but there were no sticks of wood to be found just the roses. The only place he knew where he could get some wood was high on the steep slopes of Monte Brasil. However, it was dark and it was a long hard path climbing the steep slopes of Monte Brasil and he was feeling very tired. As two great tears rolled down his face he felt a presence next to him and turning saw it was St Anthony who stood smiling down kindly upon him.
“Why the tears, young man?” he asked kindly, “I have been watching you for a long time and I know you do not cry easily, even when life is hard. Boys with less courage than you would spend their time weeping.”
“I weep because I have to fill this basket with fire wood from the garden, but there is nothing in the garden but roses. I am very tired and I have been threatened with a beating and it is becoming too dark, much too dark to go up to Monte Brasil and search for firewood.”
“Listen to me,” replied St Anthony, “and have faith in what I say. Go into the garden and fill the basket with roses and when it is full take it to your stepmother and give it to her. You must have faith in what I say and remember I shall be with you.”
Pedro went into the dark garden and filled it with all the different colored roses and then he took it into the house to his stepmother. As he handed the basket to his stepmother he was surprised to see that instead of roses the basket contained firewood.
“What!” cried his stepmother in shock, “Where ever did you get this wood from? There are only roses in the garden and you have not been gone long enough to go up to Monte Brasil in the dark. Where did you get it from?”
Grabbing him roughly by the collar of his smart new shirt she shook him fiercely terrifying him. He looked around hoping to escape but St Anthony was stood behind smiling kindly and then in a voice like thunder said,
St Anthony’s Punishment
“Woman, cease your violence! This boy has done you no harm and obeyed your every request. I have been watching the spiteful and malicious way you have been treating him and you will be punished. As you have sent this young boy out into the dark night you too shall go into the dark.”
With these words spoken the stepmother changed from being a woman into an owl with great circles for eyes, for those eyes gazed upon the wrath of St Anthony. From that moment on she lived in darkness. That is why the owl is a creature of the night.
Presented here is a retelling of a Breton folktale called The Foster Brother. It was believed to be set in the old cathedral town of Tréguiera port of the Côtes-d’Armor, formerly Côtes-du-Nord, a department of Brittany in France.
The Foster Brother
When the old Lord of the Manor passed away he left behind his youngest surviving daughter named Gwennolaïk. She was only eighteen years old, exceptionally fair of face with the sweetest of nature and her friends and those who loved her tended to call her Gwen. In years gone by she had lost her two elder sisters who had succumbed to an illness that ravaged the area and passed into the next world. Not long after her own mother also fell ill and joined them.
Afterwards her father had remarried twice out living both wives. From those marriages she had an older foster brother named Nola whom she had loved dearly. At a very young age they had spent many hours playing together and promised each other they would one day be wed. However, when he came of age he began to have strange dreams. He would find himself in strange places that he had never seen before and could hear words whispered into his ear telling him he should leave home and find his fortune. At first he took no notice but gradually those words wormed into his head and he decided he must prove himself, see the world and find his fortune and took a ship to foreign shores.
It was indeed grievous to witness the fair daughter from a noble family in such sadness and despair. Everyday she could be found sitting on the steps of the ancient manor with tears in her eyes. There she sat gazing out to sea desperately hoping to catch the first glimpse of the sails of the ship of her foster brother returning to her. It was her one big comfort – her only hope of salvation – that he would return and save her from an unhappy life of misery and drudgery.
Gwen, although distraught at his going, gave him a ring that had belonged to her mother to remember her by. His leaving left her alone and all this daughter of a noble family had left was a cruel stepmother. She missed him terribly and longed for his return both for his love and to save her from her unhappy home life.
Therefore, her eyes rarely left the horizon hoping against hope for that welcome glimpse of white sail. It had been six long years since his departure with no word of his whereabouts or his safety and she began to fear the worst. Her stepmother was forever scolding her and kept her hungry and in rags forcing her to work among the servants. Seeing Gwennolaïk gazing at the horizon made her angry and she would shout, “Get out and do some work! Go down to the marsh and call the cattle home and earn your living. You will get neither food or drink if I catch you staring into space one more time. Go and call the cattle home. Go!”
Her stepmother had always hated her and she resented the relationship Gwennolaïk had with her foster brother who had been born to her predecessor. Maybe it was jealousy that caused her stepmother to treat her with such cruelty and unkindness, but maybe she was just a wicked person. It was she who had whispered worm words into the ear of her stepson as he slept. These wormed their way slowly into his head causing him to want to leave home and see the world and now he was long gone.
Every morning through the winter it was Gwen’s task to build and light the fire and sweep the hearth before her stepmother rose. Woe betide her if there was not a roaring fire waiting to warm her stepmother. While it was still dark and frosty she would be sent outside in the cold to the brook to bring water and was given a cracked jug and a leaking bucket for the task.
Early one cold dark morning she went down to the brook and seeing the water was muddied looked around for the cause. To her surprise she saw a knight in armor sat upon a fair horse. His visor covered his face but he greeted her courteously saying, “Good morning and may you have long life!” as was the custom and then asked, “Are you betrothed?”
Gwennolaïk was a shy and unsophisticated girl and more than a little rustic and this confused her. She replied, “That, sir, I do not know now.”
The knight persisted saying, “Fair maid, I beg you to tell me the truth. Are you betrothed?”
Gwennolaïk replied, “God bless you sir, I am not betrothed.”
The knight then said, “Here, Take this gold ring to your stepmother and tell her you are now betrothed to a knight from Nantes. You must advise her that there has been a battle at Nantes and that many have been slain including the squire of your betrothed and that he himself is badly wounded by a sword cut. Tell her that in three days time I will arrive at the manor and claim the fair Gwennolaïk as my bride.”
Having said this they said their farewells. He turned his horse and quickly rode off and she ran back home. As soon as she was free of her stepmother and in a safe place she took out the ring and looked at it. She was excited to see it was the ring she had given her foster brother before he left and realized the knight was Nola.
Three days passed but to Gwennolaïk’s intense disappointment the knight did not return. One week passed and then two and then three, but he still did not come as he had promised. Her stepmother came to her and told her, “I have decided you must get married and I have found you the perfect husband who was just made for you!”
Gwennolaïk was horrified by the idea. It was not that she did not like the idea of marriage, she did, but to the right man and secretly yearned for Nola. She explained to her stepmother how he had returned and she had met him at the brook saying, “Please have mercy on me stepmother. I only desire my Nola, my foster brother as a husband. He has returned and I have seen him. See he has given me this ring which he took with him when he left as a token to you that he will come back and marry me. It is my wedding ring and he will return soon to wed me.”
But her stepmother snarled angrily, “Be silent, stupid girl before I beat you with a stick! You are dreaming again he will not be back for you. I have decided you will marry Job, the stable boy,he will be plenty good enough for the likes of you.”
Gwennolaïk protested saying, “But, I cannot marry Job, Oh, if only my mother was here now. Surely, I will die of a broken heart!”
Her stepmother replied angrily, “Get out of the house and go and weep in the stables! I am sure Job will be glad to comfort you. Let me tell you now, no matter how much you weep and wail, in three days time you will marry Job and that is all there is to it! ”
To be fair to Job he had not wanted the marriage, however, he had been beaten by Gwennolaïk’s stepmother and told he would lose his position if he refused. Therefore, he reluctantly agreed.
What neither Gwennolaïk or her stepmother knew was that as they had spoken the Crier was on his way around the village ringing a doleful bell with the following message,
“It is my sad duty to pass on the news of the death of a most noble knight. He was brave and valiant, gentle and kind, a generous and good hearted man who did his duty. Tragically, at the recent battle of Nantes he was mortally wounded by the thrust of an enemy sword and has now gone to God. Therefore, pray for him today and tomorrow at sunset his funeral watch begins. The following morning he shall be carried to his tomb in the White Church.”
The day of the wedding of Gwennolaïk to Job came around and the guests were sad and subdued. They all were feeling sorry for the fair Gwennolaïk pitying her that she should have to marry a man she had no love for. Alas that such things were once not uncommon in those days, though mercifully society has progressed.
However, poor Gwennolaïk had to find a way to come to terms with the situation as did Job. The parish priest stood talking soothing words to her and many people offered their sympathies rather than congratulations, which emphasises the straits she was in. In the church during the ceremony every man and woman had wept for the situation except for the cruel and hard hearted stepmother.
After the ceremony they had all returned to the manor where celebrations were being held in the dubious honour of the event. The musicians struck up a merry tune but the merrier they played the sadder and more depressed Gwennolaïk became. Her friends tried their best to comfort her and led her to a quiet table where they sat trying to reassure and cheer her, but to no avail.
She would not dance or partake of any food or drink and when the time came for her to be led to the bridal chamber she jumped up, tore off her bridal veil and threw away her flowers. Pulling the wedding ring from her finger she threw it away as far as she could. Before anyone could stop her she ran from the celebration so fast no one could catch her and none could say where she went.
They searched in vain but she could not be found. Gwennolaïk had run into the woods and hidden herself in a thicket. There as night descended she fell asleep weeping to herself for the harshness of the world. At the midnight hour she was awakened by the sound of someone or something moving towards her through the thicket. She was cold and shivering with fever and jumping up in alarm cried,
“Who is there?”
“Gwennolaïk my love, it is I Nola, I have come for you.”
“Can it really be you, my love, can it really be she?” she sobbed.
She looked into the darkness and she saw coming towards her the knight on the fair white steed, “Come, climb up behind me and we will go together to your mother,” he said reaching down to help her up. She caught his cold arm with her own pale hands and she was up behind him in a second. “Now we will go together,” he told her as she pressed her face against his cold, cold shoulder.
“My, how fast we go, my love, my love, my love. …. We must have travelled a hundred leagues already. … Oh, how happy, I am to be with you, you, you. I cannot remember ever being so happy. … Is mother’s house far?” she asked.
“Hold on my darling, hold on and we will soon be there!” he replied as the horse sped forward racing silently over the earth faster than the wind.
“How bright your armor? How fast is your steed, it flies through the air faster than an arrow! How tall and handsome you have grown my love. … Is mother’s house much further?” she asked faintly.
“Hush, now my sweet, we shall soon be there.” he replied.
“My love, your body is of ice, your hands are like winter, you are chilled to the bone. I fear thou hast caught cold,” she said.
“Hold on my darling. Hold on we are nearly there. Listen, can you not hear the sweet music that joyously greets us on our wedding day?” he told her.
With these words, his horse stopped and Gwennolaïk soon saw they had crossed the sea somehow and were now on an island. All around young lads and maidens danced and frolicked joyfully. All around were gorgeous flowers and the trees were laden with ripe apples. Behind them the sun was rising and before them was a bubbling brook of pure water. The knight lifted her down and cupping his hand took water from the brook and offered it to her and she drank deeply.
These waters were the waters of life and those that drank of it were made whole and life and vitality flowed through their bodies. They left behind their tired, mortal frames to live in health and happiness. Among the dancers Gwennolaïk saw her mother and her two sisters and she ran to them in in joy and they welcomed her happily.
The White Church
Back at the manor as soon as it was light the weeping wedding guests had gone out searching for Gwennolaïk. As the sun rose a sad procession was seen carrying the body of Gwennolaïk from the woods to the White Church where they gently laid her to rest beside her foster-brother in his tomb.
Presented here is a retelling of a German folktale called The Mouse Tower, from Folk-lore and Legends: German by Anonymous. It tells how an Archbishop of Mentz through an evil deed brought down the divine retribution of Heaven upon himself.
The Mouse Tower
The German city of Mentz, now called Mainz is situated on the River Rhine where it is joined by the River Main. This story is set around the year 968 when the Archbishop of Mentz was Hatto Bonosus. Although he was said to be a man of considerable intelligence and very knowledgeable about the scriptures and spiritual matters he was known to be very hard of heart and miserly. He hoarded valuable works of art and treasure which he guarded jealously keeping it hidden away from all eyes except his own. He was never satisfied with what he had accumulated and always strove to acquire more, more, more.
There came a time when the city and all of the local area was hit by a terrible famine. Very soon many people were begging for food and starving to death in the streets. Seeking help, crowds of people began to gather outside the Archbishop’s palace crying out and begging for bread.
Inside his palace the Archbishop was safe and well stocked with food and wine and went without nothing while outside people starved to death. He refused to share his food and refused to give money so people could go to another town to buy and bring back food supplies. Instead he blamed the poor and the starving for their own misfortune for not being thrifty enough to save for hard times such as these. The fact is that most people only ever earned enough money to live on day by day and never had any left over to save. Nevertheless, that is what the Archbishop told them, chastising them for their supposed indulgence.
Day after day, crowds of starving people arrived in ever increasing numbers to beg at his gates. The Archbishop was now becoming annoyed and desperate to be rid of them. On the pretense of providing food he had them all taken to one of his empty barns. His servants had set tables and chairs as if for a magnificent banquet. Once all the poor and beggars were inside and seated he ordered the doors to be locked to prevent their escape. Then he ordered the barn to be set on fire. The flames quickly took hold and through the roaring of the fire the screams of the dying could be heard. Turning towards those miserable servants who aided and abetted his crime he mocked,
“Ha! Listen to how those mice squeak!”
What he did not know was that those who looked down from Heaven witnessed his crime. A strange, unique and fitting punishment for the callous Archbishop of Mentz was prepared. After the flames had consumed the barn leaving nothing but ashes there came creeping from those ashes legion upon legion of mice. They made for the Archbishop and followed him everywhere he went
No matter where he went or what he did they followed him. He ran to his horse and carriage and quickly shut the door, but some got in an began biting and scratching him. With the help of his servant he cleared the carriage of them and ordered the driver to drive home as fast as he could. However, when he arrived home he soon found that the mice had managed to follow him and began attacking him again. He went up to his highest and most secure tower but the mice clambered up the walls or crept through doors and cracks to get at him. They bit and scratched him torturing his flesh and the more the servant beat them off the more appeared to attack him. They gnawed at the portraits of the Archbishop on the walls and his figure in tapestries and gnawed at his name on doors.
The Archbishop realized there was no safe sanctuary on land therefore he ordered a tower to be hastily built in the waters of the fast flowing Rhine. When it was completed he took a boat to it and shut himself in. For a couple of days he saw no mice at all but to his shock he found they were beginning to appear a few at a time inside the tower. Looking out of the window he was aghast to see swimming downstream towards him masses upon masses of mice. Although many drowned many managed to cling to the tower and begin climbing up. Soon they were swarming up the walls and penetrating through tiny cracks and crevices invading the tower like an avenging army of God.
At last they penetrating the highest and most secure room in the tower in which the Archbishop had locked himself. They tore into him in fury, biting, scratching and tearing at his flesh. Finally, the cruel and vicious soul of the tortured Archbishop was forced to vacate his body through the revenge of the mice to face the judgement of Heaven