Orkney Folklore: The Strange Story of Annie Norn and the Finfolk

THE FINFOLK

The Finfolk, in the folklore of the Orkney Isles were a mysterious race of amphibious beings often presented as having a dour and sinister character with a reputation for the abduction of unwary islanders. The males of the race are known as Finmen and the females as Finwives who can resemble mermaids.  Both were believed to be responsible for abducting islanders they take a shine to having a liking for a human spouse.   They had a magical city under the sea in an unknown location where they tended to spend winter.  In the summer they spent time on hidden islands such as Hether Blether, Hildaland or Eynhallow before it was taken from them by humans.  Presented here is a retelling of a folktale found in an article in,“The Scottish antiquary, or, Northern notes & queries” by Traill Dennison which presents the Finfolk in a more positive light than many other tales.

ANNIE NORN

On the Mainland, the largest island of the Orkney Isles, there once lived an attractive lass named Annie Norn. One evening she needed salt water to cook the supper, but salt on the Mainland was in short supply and expensive. Therefore, like other islanders, she would go down to the seashore for saltwater, a chore Annie had done more times than she could remember.  However, on this occasion, to the dismay of her family and friends, Annie never returned with the seawater. Her family, friends, and neighbors searched frantically, but they could not find a sign of her anywhere.

The old folk shook their heads sorrowfully, declaring her to have been stolen away by the mysterious Finfolk. They issued solemn warnings to children,

“Beware, beware the salt seashore,
Between high tide and low,
As the sun goes down,
As the sun goes down,
Then the Finfolk come,
To steal away,
To steal away,
Forsaken and alone,
Forsaken and alone!”
                                                                                  zteve t evans

In this way, they hoped to warn children to keep away from the dangerous seas that surrounded their island home. Sadly, they never found Annie, but her memory was used to reinforce this warning for years, possibly saving many children’s lives.

WILLIE NORN AND THE STORM

The world turned, and several years after the mysterious disappearance of Annie, an Orkney sailing ship returning from Norway was caught in a violent storm.  The vessel was tossed wildly and dangerously around the North Sea, entirely out of the crew’s control. Onboard was a sailor named Willie Norn, a cousin of Annie’s.  

The crew was hard-pressed to keep their vessel afloat and were frightened and exhausted. Making matters worse, they could not see the sun or stars through the dark flying clouds above to fix a bearing, so they were utterly lost in the wild seas. When the storm finally abated, thick fog enveloped the ship, so they still could not find a mark in the sky to fix their position. Then, strangely, they saw from the sails there was a breeze, but to their shock and bewilderment, despite this wind, the ship remained dead in the water.

Sailors are superstitious folk, and these feared they were now bewitched. They had heard of unfortunate ships that remained in one spot on the ocean, never moving an inch. Eventually, all aboard perished, and the vessel became a rotting skeleton ship haunted by the ghosts of her crew. This, they feared, would surely be their doom. 

As they lamented their fate, they became dimly aware of someone, or something, approaching through the thick vapors.  As it drew near they saw it was a small boat rowed by a lone woman.

The superstitious sailors feared she was some kind of witch such as they had heard about on their travels across the North Sea. They considered that if they allowed her aboard, she would possibly bring harm or bad luck, as if there could be any worse than that they already endured!  

While they discussed these thoughts, the boat drew alongside. Then, to their shock, the woman as agile as a cat, sprang onto their vessel to stand before them, ending their need for further debate.  Willie Norn instantly recognized her and cried, “Good Lord! Can it be Annie? – It’s my cousin Annie Norn! We thought ye were lost to the sea, Annie!”

ANNIE TO THE RESCUE!

“Aye, Cousin Willie, it’s me, and how are my folks and kin at home doing now? Ye can thank thy lucky stars blood is thicker than water, or ye would not have seen me this day, and ye would have been lost to the sea yourself!” And without further adieu seized the helm, turned the ship around, and began barking out orders to the crew.  “Well, don’t stand gawping and glowering at me, as if I am some sea witch! Get ye bodies moving, fools!” she cried, issuing orders to the crew and skipper who hastened to obey.

Under her direction, the ship was set on a course and made good headway. Soon the crew saw the fog lifting to reveal a bright sunny day and a fair silver island before them.  Annie directed them into a sheltered bay where the water was as calm as a lake and overlooked by lush green hills and dales. Many clear and sparkling brooks ran down into the verdant valleys, and each one seemed to sing its own unique song as it flowed to the sea.  High in the clean, fresh air, skylarks hovered and played, singing sweet songs of joy and happiness. Indeed, to these exhausted, storm-tossed sailors, this island seemed very much like a paradise – a haven of peace, safety, and bliss. 

HILDALAND

Annie invited them to her home to enjoy a good meal and rest. She jumped lithely ashore while the crew followed with less agility but glad to be off the vessel and on solid ground. Pointing further up the shore, she led them to a large handsome house she said was her home. On hearing this, Cousin Willie piped up, “I swear by my faith, Annie for you must be very well to do and wealthy to have a house as fine and grand as this for your home!”

“Why, Cousin Willie, ’tis refreshing to hear an oath again. Ever since I left humankind behind, I have yet to hear one of the Finfolk swear once during my entire time here. The Finfolk never swear or waste breath on oaths and I give ye all good warning. While sojourning on Hildaland, swear not, keep words clean before the Finfolk, for they look darkly on such things. Remember, while on Hildaland, a close tongue keeps a safe head, for the Finfolk can be perilous when roused!” 

THE FEAST

She escorted them up to her house and into a spacious hall furnished with a large wooden table in its center carved with strange designs. Around the table were placed many chairs. Bidding them rest themselves and relax while she went out to organize a good and satisfying welcome meal for them. After they had eaten, she found them all a bed, and they slept soundly and gratefully, not knowing how long they spent in dreams. On finally awakening, they found another feast prepared more extensive and more varied than the welcome meal.  Other Fin-folk had been invited, and some arrived on huge sea horses from out of the sea.  

Annie introduced her Willie and the crew to her husband and the Finfolk, and the feast began. She sat next to her husband, closely observing the mariners with satisfaction as they tucked in. After everyone was fully satiated with food and drink, Annie stood up and addressed the sailors, telling them that it was now time they returned to their ship and sailed for home. 

HOMEWARD BOUND

Willie and the rest of the crew looked at one another bemused, and then the skipper stood up and said, “We thank ye for the rescue of us and for providing generous food and hospitality. However, although we yearn for home, we have no idea of our whereabouts and how to find our own island.”

Annie’s husband stood up smiling and said, “Ye need not worry that has been anticipated. We will gladly send a pilot to guide ye safely home. There is a fee of one silver shilling each, which must be drop into his boat as ye board your own.”

This now explained and agreed Annie led them back to their ship. While the others prepared to depart, Annie conversed with her cousin, Willie Norn who was trying hard to persuade her to return home with them. Annie laughed and asked him to give news of her well-being to her family.  “Tell my mother and father I am married to one of the Finmen who is good to me and that I am well off. Tell them I have three bonny bairns of my own to take care of who I love dearly and can never leave. My place is now with them, and my husband.  I no longer belong in the world of humans.”

Taking her purse out, she presented Willie with a strange necklace made of platted otter hair saying cannily, “Willie lad, I know ye are a-courting Mary Forbister. I know she is yet uncertain of thee, for she is an attractive lass and has many suitors and many offers. I also know thee to be truly smitten by her. Therefore, when ye arrive home and the very next time ye see her, place this necklace about her neck. I promise from then on she will never see a more handsome, finer, or better man than thee!”

When the ship was ready to leave after saying their last farewells to Annie, her husband, and the Finfolk, Willie and the crew went aboard, dropping a silver shilling into the pilot’s boat. With that done, he said, “Ye have said your thanks and farewells to Annie, her husband, and the Finfolk and paid your silver shilling. It is time to leave, and I will guide thee safely home. Now, there is one favor I ask of thee. I have always wanted to play a human at a game of cards. Now, I wonder, would ye be as kind as to play a round or two with me before we sail?”

“Aye, we will do that, and it will be good. I have a deck in my cabin which I will fetch, and we will play a round or two with thee.” replied the skipper. He soon returned with the cards, and they all settled down to a game.

A GAME OF CARDS

And so they played cards with the pilot. Whether it was the feasting they had enjoyed earlier or a spell of the pilot’s, none could say, but as they played, they all fell into a deep sleep. Some lay sprawled across the table, others nodded in chairs, and some fell to the floor and slept. They were all insensible to the world and had no notion of how long they slept.

The skipper was the first to awake and went to the deck for air. To his surprise, the first thing he saw was the familiar scenery of his home island. Quickly he roused the rest of the crew and led them on deck to show them the wonder. Joyfully, they found their ship was anchored safe and sound in the harbor of their home island.

There was no sign of the pilot or his boat, and he had taken the skipper’s pack of cards. Now, what he would want them for is unknown. In many quarters playing cards are regarded as the Devil’s books, and folk with an ungenerous nature might think he intended some devilry with them. However, the skipper was a generous man. He was not the least concerned about the loss of his cards, saying the pilot was welcome to them as a small token of gratitude for bringing them and his ship safely home.

Annie’s cousin, Willie Norn, went to see Mary Forbister and wasted no time placing the necklace Annie had given him over her neck. Just as Annie had said, from that moment, Willie appeared to Mary as the most handsome, the finest, and best man in the world, and six weeks later, they were married. They had a long and happy life and brought many beautiful children into the world. Happily, their ancestors can still be found living in the Orkney Islands to this day. As for Annie Norn, she was never heard of again and disappeared from human knowledge forever.

© 20/01/2022 zteve t evans

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Copyright January 20, 2022 zteve t evans

Divine Retribution: Three Doomed Cities of Myth and Legend

Divine Retribution: Three Doomed Cities of Myth and Legend

Moreau.henri, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Myths and legends of great and wealthy cities lost or destroyed appear worldwide. A common theme is an excessive pride or ungodly behavior of the rich or ruling classes that eventually invokes divine retribution upon the city. Presented here are three examples of such legends taken from the collection, “Tales of the Lost, The Drowned and the All-Seeing Eye: Vengeance Will Come!” by zteve t evans.

THE DROWNING OF KER-IS

In Breton folklore, a beautiful city named Ker-Is, or Ys, was located in the Bay of Douarnenez, Brittany, France, reaching its zenith during the reign of King Gradlon before disaster struck. Unfortunately, tidal erosion from the sea threatened to drown the city. So the rulers built massive walls around it to keep out the rising water installing great gates giving access and egress between the harbor and the sea. Gradlon wore the key to these gates on a chain around his neck at all times. 

He fell in love with Malgven, a beautiful pagan woman who bore him a daughter named Dahut. Shortly after, she told him her time in the world was over and she must leave. However, she insisted Dahut should be well-schooled in pagan ways. Gradlon honored this though he chose to convert to Christianity himself.

Dahut grew up to be as beautiful as her mother and became a high-priestess of the old faith. Gradlon gave her Ker-is to rule but retained the key. She planted beautiful gardens filling them with exotic animals and plants, and the city flourished.  One day there came to Ker-is, a mysterious stranger known as the Red Knight who stole Dahut’s heart.  On the night of a great storm, to please him, she foolishly stole the key from her father as he slept, and the Red Knight used it to unlock the gates allowing the sea to flood the city.  

Gradlon managed to mount a horse and rescue his daughter, but the horse could not carry both of them to safety. As the horse struggled, God spoke to Gradlon, commanding him to throw her into the sea. After initially refusing, he complied and survived.  

The old pagan gods rescued their high priestess transforming her into a sea morgen. But, even today, local people and mariners say she is still to encountered sitting on rocks along the wild coastline singing strange songs to lure passing sailors to their doom.

TANNEN-EH: THE CITY ENTOMBED IN SNOW

Kenwbar – Kenneth Barclay – Public Domain

High in the snowy Alps, there was once a beautiful city named Tannen-Eh whose citizens were honest, hardworking, and god-fearing, living harmoniously with one another and their environment.  They fulfilled their basic needs by careful husbandry of agriculture and natural resources. Artisans and those who worked by physical labor were granted as much respect as academics and administrators. The rich happily looked after the poor, who lived in the valley below, who repaid by giving their best service. In this way, for many centuries isolated in the alps, time moved slowly, and Tannen-Eh flourished peacefully untainted by the world beyond.

Outside everything moved faster. Factories churned out toxins contaminating the environment and consuming natural resources ever more quickly and quicker. There was never enough; they wanted more, more, more. Airborne toxins spread far and wide, eventually blighting the pure white snow of Tannen-Eh, but with it came something more frightening. It came slowly, quietly, and unseen, but it was a blight of the worst possible kind.  It crept into the human heart, into the very soul, and the people of Tannen-Eh fell victim to it.

The wealthy grew richer, craving ever more frivolous luxuries. The more they brought, the more they wanted. Their wealth increased, and so did their pride, and they regarded the struggling poor with disdain.   Putting the poor to work, they built a great tower like that of Babel and in it placed a bell. The bell would ring out for every birth, christening, marriage, or death of the fortunate wealthy ones, but not for the poor who they now regarded as unworthy of acknowledgment or commemoration.

 The poor prayed for help, and their prayers went up beyond the tower, beyond the skies, and heard.  But, Heaven works in mysterious ways, and there came a great famine, and the poor starved and suffered. The rich locked their treasure in strongrooms, refusing to spend it to alleviate poverty and distress, and many people died of starvation.

In the first days of winter, snowflakes began to fall, gently at first but soon thick and fast. Soon snow rose above the windows, covering the roofs, leaving only the top of the magnificent tower visible. The rich folk struggled to their tower and tolled the bell seeking assistance from outside. No one came. Snow entirely entombed the city below, and the building became encrusted in an icy white shell so thick it prevented the sound of the bell from escaping.  

Down in the valley, the poor saw the entire city completely covered in snow with only the tower reaching up to Heaven like a glimmering, silvery-white needle. Today, the Oetzthal Glacier entombs the city of Tannen-Eh.

THE DROWNING OF STAVOREN

Statue of the “Lady of Stavoren” in the harbour of Stavoren – Emperoredwin, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

A Dutch folktale called “The Lady of Stavoren” tells of the ruin of a wealthy widow and the divine retribution inflicted upon the city named Stavoren. The widow moved in the highest circles of Stavoren society, whose members were all rich, proud, and very arrogant, competing continuously to outdo one another. The town was populous and prosperous, but only the elite few owned the wealth. Insatiably, the fortunate ones clawed in ever more wealth while the poor endured beggary and poverty.  

The richest and proudest of these elites was the widow who was always seeking new ways to increase her fortune. One day, she had an idea, and to bring it to fruition, sent for the captain of Stavoren’s largest cargo ship. Giving him a chest of gold, she commissioned him to sail the seven seas and buy her the most precious commodity in the world.  The captain had no idea what the most precious merchandise was but set sail in search of it anyway. Eventually, he decided the most precious commodity was wheat, so he purchased a complete cargo and returned to Stavoren. 

Meanwhile, the widow boasted to her wealthy friends how she would soon possess the most precious commodity in the world. Intrigued, they asked what it could be, but she teasingly told them to wait and see.

When the captain returned, she went down to the ship, and he showed her the wheat. She was furious, ordering him to dump every kernel into the sea. The shocked captain begged her to alleviate the hunger of the poor of Stavoren with it. She refused, again commanding him to dump it overboard.  As the wheat went overboard, beggars gathered at the harbor begging for food. Nevertheless, the widow would not relent. The captain was ashamed and angrily foretold God would punish her and know hunger herself.

The widow looked coldly upon him and, removing her most expensive ring from her finger, held it aloft. Then, arrogantly, she told him there was as much chance of that as the precious item of jewelry returning to her as cast it into the sea. 

Divine retribution works in strange ways. The next day she attended a splendid civic banquet attended by all the city elites and served fresh fish. Imagine her shock to find the ring she had thrown into the sea in the body of the fish she was eating.  From then on, her luck changed. All her businesses and investments failed, forcing her forced into begging, but none of her former friends would aid her. She died impoverished, hungry, and cold.

With her death, the elites of Stavoren continued with their arrogant and greedy ways, unaware divine retribution was still unfolding. A sandbar formed blocking the harbor and on that strand grew wheat, but with no kernel. With the port unable to trade, the prosperity of the town plummeted. Businesses failed, shops closed, and the elites lost their wealth. 

One night a powerful storm blew in from the sea, causing the tide to rise, sweep away the dykes, and flood the town. Today Stavoren is a village of about one thousand people, and in the square is a statue representing “The Lady of Stavoren.”

DIVINE RETRIBUTION

Tales such as these provide a quiet but powerful reminder of the consequences of deviance from God’s laws. They attempt a subtle form of social control by interpreting natural catastrophes as the vengeance of an angry God while providing an engaging experience for the audience. The message is that God will not tolerate hubris, uncharitable behavior, and ungodliness in anyone. God knows and sees all, is both omnipotent and omnipresent, and when required, punishes or rewards at will, in a manner of his own choosing. 


Copyright 05/01/2022 zteve t evans

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Copyright January 5th 2022 zteve t evans 


Founding Myths: Princess Scota, Goídel Glas  and their  Links to the Gaelic People

Founding Myths: Princess Scota, Goídel Glas and their Links to the Gaelic People

Possibly Akhenaten and Nefertiti, Smenkhkare and Meritaten, or Tutankhamen and Ankhesenamun;
Photo: Andreas Praefcke, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

PROGENITORS OF THE GAELIC PEOPLE

In the mythology and pseudo-history of Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, Princess Scota and her husband Goídel Glas and their followers were the progenitors of the Gaelic people. The Gaelic people were an ethnic group of Celts, who spoke the Gaelic language, invented by Goídel Glas.

Some modern researchers controversially claim to have identified her as either Meriaten or Ankhesenamun, believed to be daughters of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten. Accounts differ, but most conclude that she was the ancestor of the Scotti people, who became the Milesians. They conquered Ireland, the Isle of Man, and parts of Argyle on the island of Britain. These people settled regions of Argyll and other parts of the island of Britain north of where the Romans later built Hadrian’s Wall. This region came to be called Scotland after her and her people.

The lightest green represents the maximum expansion of the Gaelic language and culture (c. 1000 CE), the middle shade shows its reach c. 1700 CE, and the darkest color shows areas that are Gaelic-speaking in the present day. CelticBrain, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite the controversy and complexity, a romantic and provocative alternative history of the Gaelic nations emerges. It gives the Gaelic people a long and illustrious history with connections to the ancient civilizations of Greece and Egypt, creating an impressive founding myth.

FOUNDING MYTHS

The founding myths of nations play an important role in national identity, perceived status, and ancient heritage. They help establish the legitimacy of the state and the ruling class to assert ownership over the land. The further back in time, the closer the associations with the great ancient civilizations of the Israelite’s, Rome, Troy, Greece, and Egypt, the better.

It was much more than pretentiousness. It also helped justify the existence of a nation and its ruling establishment. Rulers who could show descent from a distinguished ancestor, or powerful divinity, increased the legitimacy of their claim to rule. Founding myths are an essential part of a nation’s identity and culture. Here we will look at three ancient texts, followed by two modern theories involving the origin of the Scots, Gaels, and their language.

THE 11TH CENTURY LEBOR GABÁLA ÉRENN

The first text is The Lebor Gabála Érenn, or “The Book of Invasions,” an anonymous 11th-century compilation of prose and poetry allegedly telling the history of the Irish people connecting in them back in time to the Biblical Adam through his descendants. It presents a heroic and monumental Irish history comparable to that of the Israelite’s, the Romans, or the Greeks, especially the story of the Trojan founding of Britain by Brutus of Troy. It needed to bring together native Irish myths and the Christian perspective of history. Many scholars see it as an attempt to parallel the pre-Christian history of the Irish with biblical events. Although up to the 17th century, most scholars considered it authoritative variant legends exist that differ in detail. Today the text is not universally accepted as accurate and is not seen as factual.

The Lebor purports to document the settlement of Ireland by six groups of settlers. The first was the people of Cessair. The second, the people of Partholón. The third, the people of Nemed. The fourth the Fir Bolg and the fifth the Tuatha Dé Danann, who are seen as the pagan gods of Ireland and the sixth was the Milesians who became the Gaelic and Irish people.

In The Lebor, the origin of the Gaels is traced back through the eponymous ancestor, Goídel Glas, whose grandfather was Fénius Farsaid, a legendary King of Scythia. According to some traditions, Fénius invented the Gaelic language and Ogham script. In others, it was his grandson Goídel Glas. According to The Lebor, Fenius ruled a kingdom in Scythia by the Black Sea, now part of eastern Ukraine. For reasons unknown, he lost his kingdom and went into exile. Whatever happened, he turned up in Egypt where he had a son named Nial, who married the Pharaoh’s daughter, and they had a son they named Goídel.

At this time, in Egypt, the persecution of the Children of Israel was taking place. Rather than participate in the persecution, the family and their followers went into exile from Egypt. They roamed throughout North Africa before eventually sailing through the Straits of Gibraltar and following the Atlantic Iberian coast northerly before settling along the shores of Galicia.

One of their descendants was Mil, also known as Milesius and Míl Espáine or The Soldier of Spain, and his followers were the Milesians. The Tuatha Dé Danaan, the early rulers of Ireland, had killed the nephew of Mil. So to avenge the killing, Mil launched an invasion of Ireland, taking his wife, Scota, with him.

Although Mil and Scota died in the fighting, their three sons, Eber, Eremon, and Amairgen, conquered Ireland and became the Gaels. Being the sons of Scota, they considered her to be their ancestral mother and also called themselves Scots.

14TH CENTURY – CHRONICLES OF THE SCOTTISH PEOPLE

Now we look at the work of the Scottish chronicler John of Fordun. He wrote the “Chronica Gentis Scotorum” or “Chronicles of the Scottish People”, which consisted of five books in the late 14th century. These works, especially the early parts, are regarded with skepticism by many scholars today.

According to Fordham, the ancestors of the Scots were Egyptians. They were followers of an Egyptian princess named Princess Scota and a Greek, or Scythian prince, called Goídel Glas, sometimes known as Geytholos, Gathelus, or Gaithelus in Latin.

According to this work, the Scots were the descendants of Goídel Glas, the son of King Neolus of Greece, and the Egyptian Princess Scota, his wife. They led a band of followers from Egypt to Spain. Some of their followers traveled on to Ireland led by the son of the King of Spain named Simon Breac, who would become the High King of Ireland. They brought to Ireland the Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny, an oblong block of red sandstone, which became the coronation seat of the Scottish kings and also used in the coronation of English and UK monarchs later.

15TH CENTURY – THE SCOTICHRONICON

Scota and Gaedel Glas in a 15th century manuscript of Bower’s Scotichronicon – Unknown author – Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the 15th century, Walter Bower expanded further on this story in his work, “The Scotichronicon.” According to Bower, Goídel Glas was a Greek prince, but his father, the King, would not allow him any position of power. Frustrated by his father, Goídel Glas raised his own army, causing much trouble and destruction. Eventually, his father was forced to rein him in and sent him into exile. Goídel sailed to Egypt with his army assisting Pharaoh Chencres in fighting an invasion from Ethiopia, a powerful kingdom in the region. Their united armies expelled the Ethiopians giving victory to the Egyptians. After this, Goídel helped the Pharaoh to keep the Children of Israel in subjugation. In return for his bravery, loyalty, and military support, Chencres gave his daughter to him in marriage. She was not named then but later became known as Princess Scota,

According to Bower, Pharaoh Chencres died in the parting of the Red Sea in pursuit of the Children of Israel. With his death, the people of Egypt sought reform, and a period of civil disorder and strife occurred. Goídel Glas was seen as part of the old order and forced into banishment. However, he did not go alone. He took his wife, who was to become known as Princess Scota, his army, and many followers who made them their King and Queen. They called themselves “Scots” after Scota, despite having no realm to rule. In Irish and Scottish Gaelic, Scota means “blossom,” and “Scotti” was a synonym for “Irish,” suggesting the Irish and Scots descendants of Queen Scota were “people of the blossom.” (1)

The Scots roamed the North African deserts, eventually sailing to the Iberian Peninsula now known as Spain and Portugal. They settled in the northwest part of the peninsula called Brigancia that the Romans called Brigantium, now known as A Coruña in the province of Galicia. Here, Scota gave birth to a son named “Hyber,” from which “Hibernia,” an ancient alternative name for Ireland, was derived. Thus, the term “Iberian” derives from “Hyber.

They were said to have stayed in Galicia for several generations but faced continued attacks by the local tribes. Some Scots set sail across the sea looking for a new home and eventually reached a region on the island of Britain that we call Argyll today. These people would eventually become known as the “Scotti.” The country north of Hadrian’s Wall was later to built became Scotland.

THE MOUND OF HOSTAGES

Now we move forward thousands of years to an ancient burial site named the Hill of Tara that still exists in modern Ireland. On top of the hill is an ancient burial and ritual site known as the Mound of Hostages, called Dumha na nGiall in Irish, and once the ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland. Dr. Sean O’Riordan, an archaeologist of Trinity College, Dublin, investigating the site discovered human remains dated to the Bronze Age believed to be those of a young prince. Around his neck was placed a very rare necklace of faience beads made from a mixture of plants and minerals. Carbon dating of the skeleton gave a date of 1359 BC. The design and manner of making of the beads show them to be of Egyptian origin. Not exactly, but still, near to when the boy entombed at Tara, Tutankhamun, the boy king, was interred in Egypt. Placed around his neck was a necklace of blue-green faience beads similar to the Tara find. A Bronze Age burial ground in Devon also yielded a necklace of like style.

LORRAINE EVANS – “THE KINGDOM OF THE ARK”

In her book “Kingdom of the Ark” Lorraine Evans presents the idea that there are historical and archaeological links between ancient Egypt and ancient Ireland, and Scotland. A discovery in North Ferriby, Yorkshire, of the remains of an ancient shipwreck first thought to be a single Viking long-ship. Further excavation brought to light more wrecks but not of Viking origin. Radiocarbon dated them between 1400 – 1350 BC, earlier than the Viking Age. Evans points out that these dates reasonably correspond to the dates of the Tara skeleton and faience beads and speculates that the boats were of Egyptian origin.

She points to the Scotichronicon and asks what Egyptian faience beads were doing at Tara in Ireland and Devon in England. Of course, there are many answers. For example, they could have arrived through trade, or they may have been gifts to some influential people, from other important people. Then the question arises who traded them or who gave them as gifts. It could have been via traveling traders and merchants who may or may not have been of Egyptian origin. On the other hand, they could also have belonged to an Egyptian. Evans speculates that the Tara prince was an Egyptian and possibly also connected with the Devon necklace.

According to the Scotichronicon, the High Kings of Ireland were descendants of Scota. But, awkwardly, Scota is not a name of Egyptian origin. So, who was she, apart from being an Egyptian princess and Pharaoh’s daughter? So, Evans looked closer to the text. She discovered it gave Scota’s father the Greek name, Achencres, a version of the Egyptian name of Akhenaten, the Pharaoh of Egypt in the relevant period. Therefore, Evans speculates that Scota was none other than Princess Meriaten, the eldest daughter of Akhenaten and his primary wife, Queen Nefertiti. (1) This also links in with beads and skeleton at Tara because Tutankhamun was the son of Akhenaten by one of his wives named Kiya, and possibly married Ankhesenpaaten, the third eldest daughter of Akhenaten.

PRINCESS MERIATEN

When Akhenaten enforced the new religion of the worship of the Aten – the sun disc – on his people, there was a significant conflict with the priesthood of Amun, the former faith. After Akhenaten died, they restored the worship of Amun as the principal god of Egypt. The standard protocol would have been for the eldest daughter of the Pharaoh Akhenaten to marry her step-brother Tutankhamun. However, the priests of Amun determined to stamp out the Aten religion rejected this. According to Evans, this, with the rumors of plague, was enough to persuade her to marry a foreign prince and go into exile with him, removing further traces of her father from Egypt.

THE TUATHA DE DANNAAN

To answer this question, Evans looked to the myths of the Tuatha de Danaan who inhabited Ireland in this period. The Tuatha de Danaan, or People of the Goddess, Dani, were believed to have established the sacred site of Tara in the valley of the River Boyne.

Tara was their most important sacred ritual and burial place, the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, and the place they were inaugurated. The Tuatha de Danaan were considered the gods and goddesses of the inhabitants of Ireland, and their origins stretch way back into prehistory.

According to a different text known and the Annals of the Four Masters, dating from 1632-36, Eremon is the husband of Scota. He and someone named Eber divided Ireland between them into two kingdoms. Eremon ruled the northern realm while Eber ruled the southern kingdom. Evans speculates, Eber and Eremon created two kingdoms unified by the Hill of Tara as a replica of Egypt with its Upper and Lower realms united by Memphis.

There is also the idea the combination of the names of the two gods Ptah-Ra gives Ta-ra or Tara can be pronounced in several different ways. For example, Ptah could be Pi-tah which sounds like Peter. Even so, the way the ancient Egyptians pronounced their language may have been entirely different from the way we would expect.

THE DEATH OF SCOTA

According to the Lebor Gabala, Scota died in a battle at Slieve Mish, near Tralee, Kerry, to be buried nearby in a valley now known as Scotia’s Glen. After her death, the war for control of Ireland continued against three kings of the Tuatha de Danaan; MacCuill, MacCeacht, and MacGreine, whose wives were all goddesses. These were Banba, Fodla, and Eriu. Eventually, the sons of Mil subdued the Tuatha de Danaan taking control of Tara. It is also worth noting the English name for Ireland is derived from Eriu and is also known as Eire or Erin, both derivatives of Eriu.

Akhenaten, Nefertiti and two daughters adoring the Aten
Egyptian Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

RALPH ELLIS – “SCOTA, EGYPTIAN QUEEN OF THE SCOTS”

Ralph Ellis, in his book, “Scota, Egyptian Queen of the Scots,” claims the primary British reference was like the eighth-century historian Nennius. By tracing the sources of Nennius, Ellis thinks he’s found the answer. He believes that the originator of the Scota-Gaythelos story was an ancient text, The History of Egypt, written in 300BC by the Egypto-Greek historian Manetho. Having traced the source, which was, if not contemporaneous, at least reasonably informed – Ellis believes that he can put flesh on the bones of this story. Using Manetho’s text, Ellis asserts that Scota was Ankhesenamun, a daughter of Akhenaton and Nefertiti. She would also become the First Royal Wife of Tutankhamen. After his death, she married a pharaoh named Aye, who Ellis identifies as Gaythelos.


He also gives what he believes is the origin and meaning of the name “Scota.” When the fleet carrying Ankhesenamun and Gaythelos left Egypt to begin their exile, they sailed west into the setting sun. The boat Ra, the Sun-god, rides across the sky was named Shkoti, and her followers gave this term to Princess Ankhesenamun as the fleet sailed into the setting sun. It may have been a nickname or became a title that was to evolve into Scoti over time. (2) In the history of this group of people, there was more than one royal female named Scota. Again, it may be Scota was a term or title and passed on perhaps from mother to daughter.

Ellis speculates that Aye was the father of Tutankhamen, marrying Ankhesenamun after his son’s death. His rule was brief before a religious conflict with the Egyptian people forced him to leave Egypt with his wife and followers, and Ellis tracks their journey. He believes they took sufficient ships to carry around 1000 followers and enough supplies, weapons, and equipment. Stopping to resupply at several points, they managed to navigate the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic coast of Spain, where they settled for several generations. Their son Hiber gave his name to Iberia. Four generations after they first settled, the descendants of Scota made their way to Ireland, giving weight to the idea that Scota was an inherited or passed-on title.

Here Ellis refers to Irish stories supplementing the myths with other evidence. For example, he points to the number of gold torcs or necklaces worn by pharaohs discovered in the country and points to tombs he believes were built using Egyptian knowledge. Ellis believes this demonstrates that Scota’s people brought this method of embalming their dead from Egypt halfway across the world and from Ireland; it was a short voyage across the water to Scotland. Later, Iberian “Egyptians” seeking a new homeland settled in Scotland, and eventually, many of the original Irish “Scots” joined them.

The story of Scota, Gaythelos, and the history of the Gaelic people comes across as deeply mysterious, romantic, and very interesting. But, unfortunately, it is difficult to piece together and hard to tell fact from fiction. Fascinating though they are, all these stories are products of their culture and times, providing a need for some deep-rooted and illustrious ancestry. Many other nations and peoples have their foundation myths which, although impossible to prove, mean a lot to those people.

Copyright 07/12/2021 zteve t evans

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Copyright December 7th, 2021 zteve t evans

Bernardo Carpio: Legendary Strongman of the Philippines

Bernardo Carpio

EARTHQUAKES

In the Philippines, several etiological myths and legends attempt to explain the cause and origin of earthquakes. One of these tells of a culture hero named Bernardo Carpio, a legendary strongman whose struggles to break free from an underground trap causes earthquakes. In some stories, he must continuously hold back two massive stone slabs toppling in upon him to prevent himself from being crushed to death.  There are many different versions of tales about Bernardo, and presented here are some of the legends and folklore of how he became associated with causing earthquakes.  

GIANT, OR HUMAN?

Legends of Bernardo mostly center around a mountainous region of the Philippines known as Rodriguez today. In earlier times, the region was known as Montalban and is still sometimes referred to by that name today. The area has a geological fault system and known for earthquakes. 

He is often associated with the Montalban Gorge, formed by the Marikina River, a part of the Pamitinan Protected Landscape, and the Pamitinan Cave, which was once known as The Cave of Bernardo Carpio.  According to this local legend, the old gods punished Bernardo for insolence, chaining him to the Montalban Gorge, where he must stand forever, preventing two mountains from colliding together by the strength in his arms and body. In some stories, he is a giant of enormous stature and strength. In others, he is human with extraordinary muscular power and master swordsman, and some say whatever his fingers grasped died. However, all tales concerning him commonly present him as a man of exceptional strength and courage sharing many attributes with other cultural heroes and legendary strongmen in other parts of the world.

EARLY YEARS

In one version of the legend, Bernardo was the son of Don Sancho Díaz of Cerdenia and his lover Jimena, the sister of King Alfonso of Spain. King Alfonso was very protective of his sister and kept her in seclusion. One of the king’s generals, Don Rubio, had designs on her she rejected his advances in favor of Don Sancho, who was the one she truly loved. Despite her brother forbidding her any liaison with men, a baby boy was born to Jimena and Don Sancho. The child grew fast, quickly gaining extraordinary strength; anything he grasped broke in his hands. The priest who baptized him suggested they name him after Bernardo del Carpio, the legendary Spanish hero, and the baby was Christened Bernardo Carpio.

Rejected by Jimena, the jealous Don Rubio let it be known to King Alfonso about his sister’s love affair and the baby. As a result, the king imprisoned Don Sancho, intending to punish him further by blinding him, and doubled the guard on his sister. At the King’s command, Don Rubio adopted Bernardo as his foster son.   Bernardo soon grew big and incredibly strong and became a master swordsman. He fought for the King in many battles, becoming his greatest knight. However, when Don Rubio revealed his parentage to him and how the king had mistreated his parents, Bernardo became bitter and resentful.  

He had fought against many of the king’s pagan enemies thinking that his sovereign, being a Christian, was morally superior to them. After this news, his entire perception of the King changed. For Bernardo, the revelation had turned his whole life upside down and bitterly challenged Don Rubio to a duel and killed him.

He found the King’s treatment of his parents shocking. He now him as was no better and maybe worse than the same pagans he had fought against for him. He could not understand how he could, on the one hand, claim belief in a God of love while treating two human beings who had found true love together so cruelly. After ensuring his parents’ release, he decided he would no longer fight for God and King but fight for God and redeem the human race from wickedness and battle against sin.

REDEMPTION OF HUMANITY

Another legend tells how the Spanish engaged a shaman, known as engkantado in the Philippines, to use magic to trap him. The engkantado lured him to a cave under the mountains of Montalban, using a powerful magical talisman known as an agimat to trap him between two massive boulders, which continuously fell towards each other.  To save himself, Bernardo had to use his herculean strength to hold the boulders apart to prevent them from toppling upon him. However, in doing so, he could not let go of one without being crushed by the other. The talisman of the engkantado was of equal power to his physical strength, so he could not escape.

Some of Bernardo’s friends searched for him and found the cave hoping to rescue him. Unfortunately, a series of rockfalls blocked their way, killing several of them and forcing them to abandon him, and he remains to this day. Local people believe that when an earthquake occurs, it is Bernardo adjusting his shoulders or shrugging them to make them more comfortable. However, a powerful earthquake is seen as a sign he is fighting to free himself.

BERNARDO CARPIO AND THE MAGICAL ONE

The following legend tells of a marred couple living in abject poverty in the mountains of San Mateo, Rizal. Every day was a struggle for survival. Yet, despite the hardness of life, they were overwhelmed with joy and happiness when the woman gave birth to a strong, healthy baby boy. They named their son Bernardo Carpio, and he was their pride and joy. Like all children, Bernardo loved to play, but there was something extraordinary about him. It soon became apparent that he was an exceptional child. His fingers were so strong he could pull the nails from the wooden flooring as he crawled. When he first began to walk, any rail, bar, or banister he gripped for support crumbled by the strength in his tiny hands. New toys never lasted long because he had not yet learned how to control the power in his hands, which broke items to pieces as soon as he grasped them.

He grew up to be a physically powerful and handsome young man, his strength increasing as he grew along with his fame.  He was courageous and could defeat anyone in a fight and was courteous, polite and humble. Nevertheless, he was different from other young men of his age. He avoided parties, festivities, and social gatherings and showed no interest in even the most beautiful girls, who were all very interested in him.  Instead, he preferred to roam deep into the forest, losing himself in the solitude of the trees. He liked to be in the remotest, wildest, and thickest part of the forest, where he felt at home with the animals as his friends.

In the densest part of the forest, there lived a magical being. This being was huge and very strong and had an evil nature with a tendency towards envy, causing harm and mischief top others. This magical one had seen Bernardo and visited him on many occasions, initially admiring the handsome, strong Bernardo. Eventually, getting word of his fame, the magical one became jealous and began to hate him.

The magical one believed no one in the world, including Bernardo, could match his own power and strength and wanted to kill him. Therefore, he challenged him to a fight, thinking he would back down, but Bernardo had never hidden from a fight in his life and accepted. So the two fought a duel which Bernardo won but refused to kill his opponent.  The two fought several more fights that Bernardo won but refused to kill the magical one each time. Eventually, after one particularly long battle, Bernardo defeated the magical one and again refused to kill him. Then, still feeling full of hatred and jealousy for Bernardo, the magical one slunk off to a quiet part of the forest to rest and make a plan to get his revenge.

After a while, the magical one went to Bernardo pretending friendship and invited him visit his home in a remote part of the forest. He took him deep into the trees to a hidden grove where two massive slabs of stone stood upright. The magical one told Bernardo that this was his home and inviting him in stood aside politely so his guest could enter first.  

As soon as Bernardo reached the center point between the two slabs, the magical one vanished, and the two slabs of stone simultaneously fell into the center, threatening to crush him. Bernardo managed to get a hand on each of the slabs and, by his sheer strength, stopped them from crashing down on him. Although he succeeded, he found he was trapped and unable to let go of the slabs without being crushed to death by one or the other.

THE KING-UNDER-THE-MOUNTAIN MOTIF

The legend of Bernardo Carpio contains the King-under-the-Mountain folklore motif where a heroic king lies asleep for many years, either in a cave under a mountain or a hill. Then, at a predetermined time, or when his people are in dire peril, he will awake to save them from their enemy. This motif appears worldwide, and other examples include King Arthur, Frederick Barbarossa, or Charlemagne and also known as the king asleep in mountain motif appearing in Stith Thompson’s Motif-Index of Folk-Literature, and categorized as D 1960.2. The Tagalog people of the Philippines did not have kings until the Spanish imposed their own upon them, being ruled by feudal lords. In this context, it may be the heroic savior who sleeps under the mountain and will one day awake and return to save his people from an enemy or lead them to freedom. According to one legend, chains bind him to massive boulders he struggles to keep apart. Local people say that Bernardo is adjusting his shoulders or trying to break free every time there is an earthquake. Now and then, he manages to break a chain in his struggle. When the last one shatters, he will return and lead his people to freedom. 

SAVIOR OF HIS PEOPLE

Here we see the idea of him as a freedom fighter or savior of his people, possibly alluding to the occupation of the Philippines by foreigners such as the Spanish, United States of America, and the Japanese.  The legend later evolved that Bernardo would save his people from poverty and oppression rather than just a foreign occupier, thus providing a sense of hope and encouragement through troubled times.

© 03/11/2021 zteve t evans

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Copyright November 3rd, 2021 zteve t evans

The Gods of Mount Teide:  Mythology and Folklore of Tenerife

The Gods of Mount Teide: Mythology and Folklore of Tenerife

Mount Teide, Tenerife – Public Domain

MOUNT TEIDE, TENERIFE

The Canary Islands are a popular holiday destination for many people from the United Kingdom and Western Europe and the most southerly of the autonomous communities of Spain. One of the most popular tourist attractions is Mount Teide, an active volcano on the island of Tenerife, whose last eruption was in 1909 and is visible from many parts of the island. A cable car takes tourists part of the way to the summit for the journey completed on foot with a permit. Those who have undertaken the trip to the top will probably understand why it meant the same to the Guanches as Mount Olympus meant to the ancient Greeks. It was the home of their gods and believed to hold up the sky.

ORIGIN OF THE GUANCHES

The Guanche people were the first known inhabitants of the Canary Islands. Their myths and legends still resonate through the ages giving small glimpses of these remarkable people. Some of their traditions and folklore still endure adding depth, color, and flavor to the modern culture of the islands. The Guanches inhabited the islands long before the arrival of the Spanish and are descendants of the Berber people on the African mainland who migrated to the islands about 1,000 BC or possibly earlier. Although the Guanches became culturally and ethnically assimilated with the Spanish, remnants of their original culture still survive today. For example, the people of La Gomera still use a traditional whistled language to communicate with each other over distances, and some of their mythology, legends, and traditions persist. Presented here is a brief discussion of their pantheon of gods and other supernatural entities and a look at some of the Guanche traditions found today.

ACHAMÁN

The supreme god of the Guanches of Tenerife was Achamán, their creator and father god, whose name means “the skies.” He was the immortal omnipotent creator of the land, air, fire, and water. All living creatures owed their existence to him. Achamán lived in the sky but would sometimes manifest himself on mountain tops to look upon the world he had created.

GUAYOTA

In Guanches mythology, Guayota was the equivalent of the Devil and shared similar characteristics to other divinities around the world associated with volcanoes. For example, in Hawaiian mythology, the goddess Pele, like Guayote, had her home in the Hawaiian volcano of Kīlauea and was believed to be responsible for causing eruptions. Guayota lived inside the peak of Mount Teide, known as Echeyde. It was a place similar to Hell and the entrance to the underworld and abode of certain lesser demons.

THE BLACK DOGS OF GUAYOTA

These lesser demons were called Guacanchas, or Jucanchas, depending on the island, and took the form of wild dogs with shaggy black coats and red eyes said to be the offspring of Guayota. On Gran Canaria, they were known as Tibicenas and made their home in the depths of hidden caves in the mountains. At night they emerged to ravage livestock and attack people they encountered. Guayota often appeared as a monstrous black dog leading a pack of these supernatural hounds across the countryside.

THE ABDUCTION OF MAGEC

In the Guanche pantheon, the god of the sun and light was called Magec and was the most important of their divinities. Although the gender of Magec is ambiguous, the name means “possess radiance” or “mother of brightness.” According to Guanche legend, Guyota kidnapped and imprisoned Magec in Mount Teide. With Magec incarcerated inside the volcano, the world fell into darkness. The people grew afraid and prayed to the supreme god Achamán to free Magec. Achamán heard the people and fought and defeated Guayota setting Magec free restoring sun and light to the world. He imprisoned Guayota in the volcanic crater of Mount Teide, where he has remained trapped ever since. Whenever Mount Teide erupted, the people would light fires on its slopes to taunt and frighten Guayota.

CHAXIRAXI

Another important goddess of the Guanche pantheon was Chaxiraxi, considered the Sun Mother and the Great Celestial Mother and associated with Canopus, the star. She may have evolved from Tanic, a goddess worshipped by their Berber ancestors. Mediation between Chaxiraxi and humanity was the task of minor gods or spirits called Maxios, or sometimes Dioses Paredros. These were also the guardians of hallowed places on Tenerife and were also the domestic spirits of the home. In recent times the worship of Chaxiraxi has been revived by the Church of the Guanche People, whose aim is to practice and promote the ancient religion of the Guanches.

ACHUGUAYO, THE FATHER OF TIMES

Achuguayo was the god of the Moon and the “Father of Times” who controlled time and seasons. According to tradition, he lived in the mountains, sometimes coming down to hear the prayers and supplications of the Guanches conducted under sacred trees or in caves in the mountains.

GUANCHE RELIGION

The Guanches had many sacred places that needed to be maintained, believing their maintenance kept Heaven and Earth in balance. Hallowed places may have been rocks or caves, such as the Cave of Achbinico, or natural features in the landscape where a variety of offerings were left. On Tenerife, the most important of these hallowed places was Mount Teide. Many offerings of tools and clay pots or vessels have been found, hidden in small nooks and natural cavities in rocks around the National Park Las Cañadas del Teide.

They left in the hope of appeasing or pleasing the gods or help the donor become one with nature. These votive offerings were often crude figures or sculptures which were idols and associated with health, fertility, animals, or people and often used by families. The Guanches on Tenerife had four major ceremonies; the proclamation of a new Mencey, a ceremony to relieve drought, their New Year Festival, and their Harvest Festival or Great Annual Festival of Beñasmen.

THE PROCLAIMING OF THE NEW MENCEY

Tenerife had nine small kingdoms, each ruled by a Mencey, the Guanches equivalent to a king, and the highest official in each realm. At times for the good of all the kingdoms, they needed to meet together. When a ruler died, the title did not necessarily pass from father to son. Sometimes it passed from brother to brother, but it was the task of the Council, known as the “Tagoror” that elected a new king

The proclamation came at a ceremony involving the oldest bone of the ancestor of the dynasty. This relic was venerated and carefully guarded and bought before the new Mencey for him to kiss in a special ceremony. Afterward, the members of the Tagoror recognized him as the new king, each saying,

“Agoñe Yacorán Iñatzahaña Chacoñamet”
(I swear by this bone of He who made you great).

THE RAIN RITUAL

Sometimes there were periods of drought, and the Guanches enacted a ceremony they hoped would bring rain. The people would fast and refrain from dancing and other forms of entertainment. Driving their flocks to high places in the mountains, they separated the lambs from the sheep and the kids from the goats, causing the animals to bleat piteously. The people also cried and wailed, hoping the gods would hear and look mercifully upon them and send rain to ease their plight.

THE FEAST OF THE NEW YEAR

The Guanches followed a lunar calendar, their year beginning towards the end of April or the early days of May. Many festivals with dances, feasts, and sporting events celebrating the arrival of Spring took place.

THE HARVEST FESTIVAL

Another important Guanche Festival was their Harvest Festival, or the Beñasmen, held between July and August. During this time, all conflict and wars between the nine kingdoms ceased, and a truce was put in place, allowing everyone to celebrate together and join each other in feasts, dances, and sporting events. During this period, the Menceys provided food for the entire population while the festivities and celebrations endured. The people wore flowers and leaves and also used them to decorate their villages.

SPORTS AND GAMES

Sporting competitions rook place with various athletic events such as running, throwing, and jumping competitions. There were also more dangerous events, such as throwing and avoiding spears, fighting with poles, and many other types of competitions. There were also wrestling matches similar to those practiced in ancient Greece and Rome. The winner had to throw their opponent to the ground or wrestle him out of the fighting area.

MUSIC

Although the Guanches had few musical instruments, they did use conch shells, small pebbles in clay pots, and beat sticks together to create rhythm and they also sang and danced. In the XVIth century, one version of a Guanche dance called “El Canario” became fashionable in the courts of Europe. Another traditional dance, called the “Tajaraste,” is still performed today.

© 20/10/2021 zteve t evans


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Copyright October 20th, 2021 zteve t evans


Influential Women: Sammuramat to Semiramis – From History to Myth

Queen Semiramis was a mythical queen who appears in many myths, legends, works of art and literature through the ages.  She was was believed to have evolved from a real, historical Queen Sammuramat who ruled the Neo-Assyrian Empire for a brief period.   Here we look briefly what is known of the historical Queen Sammuramat and her transformation to the mythical, semi-divine, Queen Semiramis.

QUEEN SAMMURAMAT

Sammuramat ruled the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the ninth century after her husband, King Shamshi-Adad V, died until her young son Adad-nirari III came of age in 806 BC.  It is not clear whether she ruled as regent or in some other capacity but it was only believed to have lasted for five years.  According to the myths Semiramis ruled for 42 years as queen regnant but it is necessary to separate the historical from the mythical in thinking of Sammuramat.

Although much of her prestige may have come through being the wife and queen of King Shamshi-Adad V, history shows she briefly had great political influence over a great empire.  This stretched from the Arabian Peninsula in the south to the Caucasus Mountains in the north and in the west as far as Cyprus and in the east western Iran.   She was highly regarded by her subjects and neighboring states and appeared to have been a good ruler in what ever capacity she reigned. Like many other powerful and famous rulers throughout history her achievements were embellished, exaggerated and added to.  In the centuries after her death she became a mythical or legendary figure and given the name Semiramis.

EVIDENCE OF HER EXISTENCE

Not all archaeologists and historians are convinced of the existence of Queen Sammuramat.  Those who are point to four pieces of evidence they claim prove she once existed.  Two of these are statuettes found in the ancient city of Nimrud in Iraq.  These are dedicated to the Babylonian god of knowledge and writing named “Nabu” and both mention her name.  The other pieces are two stellae; one from Kizkapanli, situated in modern day Turkey and the other from Assur in Iraq which mention her.

Stele of the Assyrian queen Shammuramat, from AssurOsama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg), CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When considered together these show she was highly esteemed and exercised an unusually high degree of political power for a woman of that epoch.  The Assur Stela inscription reads,

“Sammuramat, Queen of Shamshi-Adad, King of the Universe, King of Assyria; Mother of Adad-nirari, King of the Universe, King of Assyria.”

FROM HISTORY TO MYTH

The classical historian, Herodotus, in the fifth century B.C. used the Greek form of her name, Semiramis, which helped perpetuate her memory.  It is by this name she is perhaps better known today.   According to some traditions an entity known as Semiramis was the wife of the mythical Nimrod who reputedly built the Tower of Babel.  This entity does not appear to be the same character as the Semiramis who evolved from Sammuramat though there may have been some conflation through the ages.

After her name was Hellenized she became the subject of many enduring myths and legends as an Assyrian queen.  In this role she was the semi-divine daughter of the dove and fish goddess Derceto of Askalon, who in shame of conceiving a baby by a mortal flung herself into a lake.   Her body transformed into that of a fish while her head remained human.  Her baby girl was fostered by doves and grew up to become Semiramis.

In some legends she plays the role of the beautiful “femme fatale” in tragic love storiesbut in others she is a formidable commander and military leader winning impressive battles extending her empire greatly.  She is also cast as a great civil ruler who built the walls of Babylon and other monuments throughout her domain.

The Greek scholar, Diodorus Siculus, enlarged upon her legend inventing an exaggerated and inaccurate account of her life and deeds.  He claimed Semiramis was born in Ashkelon, now in modern day Israel and was the daughter of the Syrian goddess, Derceto, who many scholars see as a version of the Phonecian goddess Astarte and the Babylonian goddess, Ishtar.

RAISED BY DOVES

Her father was a mortal and her mother in shame of falling in love and conceiving with a mortal man abandoned her baby who was then raised by doves.  Eventually she was adopted by the chief shepherd of the king of Assyria and named Semiramis and grew up to be a woman of great and rare beauty and intelligence.  

One day while inspecting the royal flocks Onnes, the royal governor of Syria came across her and struck by her beauty gained her adoptive father’s consent to marry her.  After the wedding she went to live with him in Nineveh.

When Onnes was sent on a military mission to central Asia to besiege the city of Bactra by King Ninus of Assyria he began to miss her badly.  Therefore, he sent a message asking that she join him.  When she arrived the siege was still in place but she came up with a strategy and led an attack that gave her husband and his army the victory.

When King Ninus heard about how she had formulated the winning strategy and led the attack he wanted to meet the rare female with such military ability.  Ninus was completely besotted by her beauty falling in love with her at first sight.  He ordered her husband to exchange his wife for one of his daughters but Onness refused.  Ninus was determined he would marry her and subjected Onnes to terrible threats causing him to take his own life.  Ninus got his way and Semiramis became his wife and queen of Assyria. 

BUILDER AND COMMANDER

According to Diodorus she embarked on a number of large civil projects including the rebuilding of the city of Babylon along the Euphrates River, including the royal palace, the temple of Marduk and the city walls.  Other Greco-Roman authors such as Strabo credit her with creating one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon though this is not supported by evidence.

Variations of her name were applied to many ancient monuments in Anatolia and Western Asia often with little or no evidence they originated with her.   She was also credited with building the city of Van as her summer residence and may have been known as Shamiramagerd (city of Semiramis).

MILITARY CONQUESTS

According to Diodorus Siculus after the completing works in Babylon she turned her attention to the empire.  She launched several military campaigns in Persia, Libya and North Africa.  Furthermore, in an act of supreme ambition she organized and launched an invasion of India ruled by King Stabrobates. This was an incredibly difficult and risky operation and would prove although she was a capable and formidable commander and general she was not invincible. 

Nevertheless, she was very bold and inventive conceiving a daring plan of deception to use against Stabrobates.  She instructed her craftsmen to construct a herd of fake elephants by covering camels with the dark hides of buffaloes.  In this way she initially managed to give the impression she had a formidable battalion of real elephants to unleash in battle.   Initially, this deception was successful in an attack but her enemy strongly counterattacked. Her army was routed with the survivors forced to retreat back over the Indus River.  The invasion failed disastrously and she was injured in the fighting.

THE ORACLE OF AMUN

While campaigning in Africa she had consulted an oracle of the deity Amun.  The oracle predicted her son Ninias would conspire to supplant and kill her.   According to Diodorus this was to come true and after her failure in India on discovering her son’s plot she decided to hand over power peacefully to him rather than fight him for the throne.  However, other historians give differing versions of her death.  Some say she threw herself on a burning pyre while others say her son killed her.

ARMENIAN TRADITION

In Armenian tradition, Semiramis, was often portrayed negatively because of her military successes against Armenia.   One of the most well known Armenian legends about her is her romance with a King of Armenia known as Ara the Handsome.    Armenian traditions say Semiramis had fallen head over heels in love with him and proposed marriage.  To her dismay he refused and in a display of extreme petulance she mustered her army and made war on him ordering her commanders to capture him alive. She was victorious but contrary to her explicit instructions Ara was killed in battle.  

Semiramis was reputed to be a sorceress and the death of Ara had left her in an awkward position.  She did not want to continue warring with the Armenians who were now determined to avenge their leader. Therefore she came up with a plan to end the war.  She openly prayed to the gods to raise Ara from the dead but secretly disguised one of her lovers as him.  When the Armenians arrived for battle she presented him to them claiming she had raised him from the dead by her love for him.   The deception convinced the Armenians he was alive and ended the fighting.  There is also a tradition that she actually succeeded in resurrecting Ara and there is a village not far from Van called Lezk where his resurrection allegedly took place.

INGREDIENTS FOR A GOOD TALE

Her legend has much in common with other myths from the region that tell of great leaders or powerful people.  There is the theme of her divine origin being born of Derketo, the goddess and then abandoned at birth to be found and brought up by animal or bird foster parents. 

The evolution of Queen Semiramis from Queen Sammuramat provided an example for other female rulers to follow.  Her legendary and mythical status was achieved possibly because it was unusual in patriarchal societies for females to be allowed to shine or display their intelligence and talents.  According to these traditions, she proved herself to be a as good or better than males in her governing abilities, civil building works and military prowess.  This was unusual and may be part of the reason why she was elevated to such status.  Her mystique and appeal lasted for centuries after her death and was the inspiration for many works in art and literature. Perhaps because of her legendary beauty and reputation, or maybe, just because she was a woman, she was often cast in erotic and immoral roles. 

Over the ages her achievements became embellished and exaggerated and new stories emerged about her.  In many ways the little that was known about her added to her mystique and after her death the myths and legends grew. In later times was held as a model for good female rulers who exhibited similar characteristics as her and such as Margret I of Denmark, and  Catherine the Great of Russia who were called Semiramis of the North after her. 

Throughout the ages the mythical Queen Semiramis evolved a long way from the original historical Queen Sammuramat but such is the stuff that legends are made from.

© 29/09/2021 zteve t evans

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Copyright September 29th, 2021 zteve t evans

Faustian Pacts: Billy Duffy and the Devil

A Faustian Pact

Presented here is a retelling of a folktale from Welsh Fairy-Tales And Other Stories – Author: Anonymous – Edited by P. H. Emerson.  The story is essentially a Faustian pact – a contract made with the Devil – by a roguish character intent on living a debauched and immoderate lifestyle.  Although the Devil usually comes out tops in such deals occasionally he meets someone who is a bit too clever for him and comes unstuck.  The story is also an etiological folktale giving an explanation of the origin of the phenomenon known as the “will-o’-the-wisp” from many folkloric traditions.

Billy Duffy and the Devil

The story centers on Billy Duffy, an all round drunkard, philanderer and blaggard, a blacksmith by trade and a very good one when he was sober.   He worked in his own smithy, which was also his home.  He tended to work until he had made just enough money to tide him over extended periods when he partook in his favorite activities of drinking, gambling and philandering.  After one such spree, with his money gone, he was staggering home when he said to himself, “Good God, if only I could just get my hands on more booze I would gladly sell myself to the Devil!”

After a few more steps to his complete surprise, he felt someone tap him on the shoulder from behind.   Looking around he saw a tall, dark, gentleman dressed in shiny red looking down on him.  

“Ahem!” said the gentleman, “What did you say?”

“I said I would gladly sell myself to the Devil for more money for booze!” replied Billy slurring his speech and swaying this way and that.

“Hmm now,” replied the gentleman, “how much money would you want to cover you for the next seven years and at the end of that time the Devil takes your soul?”

“Aw, well now, that’s a good question that I cannot rightly answer when it comes right down to it!” replied Billy.

“Would a bucket of gold sovereigns be enough?” asked the gentleman.

“Best make it three!” replied Billy never afraid to push his luck.

“Ok, three it is and at the end of seven years the Devil will find you.  He will then give you three days grace at the end of this period with as much money as you like and then your very soul shall be his for eternity.  Do you agree!” replied the gentleman his eyes glittering and a sneering smile forming in the corner of his mouth.

“I would be glad to accept that even if the Devil himself offered it!” replied Billy eagerly.

“Billy, surely you know who I am don’t you?”

“Alright, I guess you are the Devil himself, but I still agree!” replied Billy.

With business concluded the Devil produced a piece of paper and asking him to hold out a finger, pricked it making it bleed and wrote out the contract and a copy of it in Billy’s blood.  He made sure Billy had read and signed both papers and giving him the contract retained the copy and promptly disappeared.  Billy staggered home forgetting the incident putting it down to the alcohol but when he opened the door to his smithy he found three big buckets brimming with gold sovereigns.

Three Wishes

Grabbing a handful and after carefully hiding the rest he staggered back to his favorite pub and began treating everyone to drinks again and again.  It was only when he slipped into unconsciousness oblivion that he stopped. The landlord, grateful for such a generous customer, insisted the other drinkers carry him carefully safely home in a wheelbarrow he lent them.

Night after night Billy took a handful of sovereigns from the buckets and spent them in the pubs and bars around town.  He paid for all the drinks of his companions and because of his generosity their numbers grew and grew as people flocked to be part of his entourage.  He spent freely and refused no one.

One evening an old hermit, dressed in rags and starving approached Billy begging him to buy him food and drink.  Billy looked him up and down and invited him to sit next to him, “What can I buy you?” he asked, “You can have anything you fancy that this place sells.”  

So the hermit chose a good wholesome plate of food and mug of beer and proceeded to eat and drink it all ravenously. When he had finished he thanked Billy gratefully and left. Billy did not see him again for several months when he appeared in the same pub in the same famished and impoverished state.  Once again Billy generously treated him and after consuming the food and drink the hermit thanked him and disappeared. 

Several months later he reappeared in the same bar and again Billy brought him food and drink but this time the grateful hermit said, “My thanks to you, Billy Duffy for you have been most kind and generous to me, a poor hermit, three times now.  Therefore, out of gratitude I offer you three wishes of your own choice that will come true.”

This took Billy completely by surprise and he said, “Thank you, I am most grateful but I must have time to think about what to wish for wisely.”

“You can take your time and I will call upon you tomorrow, but make sure they are good wishes!” replied the hermit.

The next day the hermit appeared outside Billy’s smithy just as he was leaving for the night out and asked,

“Have you decided?”

“I have,” said Billy.

“Tell me,” said the hermit.

“The first is this.  In my smithy I have a big sledge-hammer and I wish that whoever takes up that hammer, other than me, shall strike the anvil with it with all their force until I tell them to stop,” said Billy

“Hmm!” replied the hermit, “that is not a very wise wish.  What is the second?”

“The second wish is for a purse that will not let out whatever I put inside it,” answered Billy chuckling. 

“Well, that does not seem like a very good wish either!” said the hermit growing perplexed.

“My third wish is this.  I have an armchair and I wish that anyone who sits in it will be unable to get up until I allow it,” said Billy looking very pleased.

“Billy, Billy, Billy, these are not wise wishes, you could have so much more just on the asking!” exclaimed the hermit.

“Well now, these are my wishes and I think they are very good wishes so will you grant them as you promised,” answered Billy determinedly.

“Very well, as you insist, they are yours and will manifest exactly what you wish for when ever you choose to use them,” replied the perplexed hermit. With that he left the pub and Billy never saw him again.

Time’s Up.

Billy spent all his waking hours in his favorite pastimes of boozing, debauchery and having an all round good time and the years rolled by. He ran out of money just before the seven years were up so he returned to his smithy to make money.  When his time was up the Devil stepped into his forge saying, “Well now Billy Duffy you now have three days grace and you shall have as much money as you desire.  Ask and it will be given.” 

Despite being penniless he had great confidence in the Devil and made his way to his favorite pub.  Stepping inside, he was welcomed raucously by his friends who were all expecting him to treat them. They were profoundly disappointed when he proclaimed he was stony broke.  Nevertheless, he boldly walked up to the bar, slammed his fist down and demanded an empty glass.  The landlord was used to Billy’s antics and always grateful for the money he spent in the past and obliged.  Holding the empty glass aloft Billy cried, “Fill this glass with money!”

The response was dramatic.  After a loud bang and blinding flash Billy was left holding aloft a glass full of money.

“Well, now folks, it seems I am not as broke as I thought.  Landlord, the drinks are on me!” he cried.

Although astonished, the landlord wasted no time in filling everyone’s glass.  He had no idea how Billy did it but it was very good for business.  Billy paid for everyone’s drink that evening and the beer and wine flowed fast and free.  After three days of drinking and debauchery Billy’s money finally ran out and he staggered home.

Billy Tricks the Devil

Out of money he was up working in his smithy the next morning when the Devil arrived and told him, “OK Billy your time is up. It is time to go, come along!”

“Alright, just give me a hand here for a minute so I can finish this job.  Just give that horse shoe there on the anvil a good hammering while I go and wash my hands.” replied Billy moving to the sink and running the tap. 

The Devil, liking to show off, picked hold of the hammer thinking to give the horseshoe three mighty whacks to impress Billy.  However, after the third blow he found he could not stop hammering.”

Billy laughed as he dried his hands and locked up the smithy leaving the Devil hammering away at the horseshoe.   He did not return for three days and in that time the Devil could not stop hammering away night and day.  When he returned Billy found a crowd of people had gathered around the smithy peeping though the window and cracks in the door to see what Billy was up to.

As Billy opened the door he greeted the Devil cheerily who replied angrily, “Billy that is a terrible trick to play on me.  You know who I am and you should show me some respect.  Make me stop!”

“Well now,” replied Billy, “surely you don’t expect something for nothing, do you?  What is it worth?”

“OK! OK!” replied the exasperated Devil, “How about seven more years, twice the money and two days grace where you can wish for what you like?”

Billy readily agreed and the Devil paid up and promptly vanished in a huff.  Billy spent the next seven years filled with boozing, gambling and all kinds of debauchery.  At the end of those seven years again with out a penny Billy returned to his smithy to work for a living.  On the first day of his two days grace he went to his favorite pub and wished for twenty pounds.  Immediately a little tubby man entered the bar with a bag of coins and held it out to Billy.   Of course that night Billy spent the lot until it was gone.  The second night, again Billy wished for money and the little tubby man brought him a bag of coins.

The Devil Takes a Hammering

The next morning he went to the smithy to wait for the Devil knowing he would arrive sooner or later.  It so happened that the Devil, remembering how Billy had tricked him before, arrived at the smithy before him.  Thinking to outsmart Billy, he turned himself into a gold sovereign and lay in wait on Billy’s floor.  When Billy entered he immediately spied the coin and clapped it into the purse he had wished for from the hermit.   Laying the purse on his anvil he proceeded to beat it with his hammer with all his might again and again and again. 

The Devil could not open the purse to escape and was forced to cry out, “Billy!, Billy!, Billy! Stop! Stop! Stop!”

“And if I do what will you give me?” replied Billy.

“I will give you seven more years, three times more money and one day of grace!” replied the Devil

Billy opened the purse and the Devil flew out and Billy got his money.  He carried on spending the next seven years in his usual style.  On his last night of grace Billy went to the pub and wished for money.  Again the little tubby man arrived with a big purse of gold coins for him but this time warned him that this was his last day and in the morning he would be whisked away to hell.  By now the landlord and his drinking partners were all suspicious and the landlord said, “Billy Duffy, I believe you are in league with the Devil.  You will give my house a bad name”

“No, no, not at all! More in league against him and your house has always had a bad name!” retorted Billy, “Why else would I be found here?” 

The landlord had no answer to such logic but demanded, “Well, what is going on?”

“Oh, you will see in due course, have no fear!” replied Billy.  Despite their suspicions his friends and the landlord were all happy to help Billy spend his money.

The next morning Billy began working way in his smithy but the Devil would come nowhere near. Eventually, Billy finished his task and went into his sitting room and started going over papers.   Plucking up courage the Devil entered and said, “Right Billy, let us go now and no tricks!”

“Ah, there you are, I wondered where you were.  Come and sit down for a few minutes while I pop in the smithy and extinguish the furnace.” said Billy, amiably gesturing to the large comfortable looking armchair.

The Devil Gets His Nose Tweaked

The Devil sat down and relaxed in the armchair which really was very comfortable.  Billy went to his smithy, where out of sight of the Devil he heated up a pair of tongs until they were red hot and returned hiding them behind his back.

“Ah, there you are!” said the Devil making to stand up but found he was stuck fast.

With his red hot tongs Billy grabbed the Devil by the nose pulling it and stretching it this way and that.  The Devil roared with pain and fire snorted from his nostrils but it only heated the tongs up further.   Billy clapped an iron cap over his nose to stop the flames. The Devil continued to yell and roar but he could not move from the armchair. A crown gathered around Billy’s house to see what the rumpus was.  Seeing how Billy had the Devil in such dire straits they began clapping and cheering, “Billy’s got the Devil! Billy’s got the Devil! Billy’s got the Devil!”

The Devil, in his predicament cursed and threatened Billy with all the dire consequences he could think of using the vilest and most obnoxious terms. Undeterred, Billy continued tweaking his nose with the red hot tongs. Billy kept him there for days while the Devil shouted and swore.   Eventually he realized that if he was ever to be free he would have to be civil to Billy and calmed down.

“Ok, Billy, what do you want to set me free?” asked the Devil as civilly as he could.

“Well, now sir, I think I would like to be free of you for the rest of my life and have as much money as I like whenever I want it,” replied Billy.

By now the Devil would have agreed to anything and everything so he readily accepted Billy’s proposal.   As promised Billy set him free from the armchair keeping his side of the bargain.  The Devil kept his and Billy had a plentiful and never ending supply of money for the rest of his life.  The Devil, fearing some new ruse of Billy’s never once attempted to interfere with him knowing they would meet again sooner or later. 

Rejected by Heaven, Barred From Hell

Billy never changed his ways and spent his remaining years as he had all his life in a state of drunkenness and debauchery.  He lived to a ripe old age but at last his body could stand the strain no longer and he passed on.  First he went to the Pearly Gates where he met Saint Peter who told him, “No Billy Duffy, you cannot enter here.  You have lived your life as a bad, bold man and you are simply far too bad for Heaven”

So Billy made his way down below to the gates of Hell.  “Who are you?” demanded the gatekeeper opening the gates for him to enter. 

“I am Billy Duffy,” he replied, “and Saint Peter says I am too bad for Heaven!” 

“And too clever for Hell,” roared the Devil who had just appeared around the corner, “Do not let him in.  Lock and bar the gates and keep him out.”

But before anyone could move Billy jumped forward.  Grabbing a pair of red hot tongs which was sizzling in one of the plentiful fires of Hell he seized the Devil by the nose with it.  The Devil shouted and cursed, “My dose, my dose, not my poor dose again!”

Several demons leaped on Billy and dragged him from the Devil.  However, Billy maintained a firm grip on the tongs which squeezed the Devil’s snout terribly, but they pulled so hard the red hot tip of his nose came off.

“Get him out!” cried the Devil, “He is too bad for Heaven and too clever for Hell.”

Will O’ The Wisp

The demons threw Billy out of the Gates of Hell but he still retained the tongs which held fast the tip of the Devil’s nose.   It was so hot it evaporated him but the tongs remained in his hands bearing the glowing tip of the Devil’s nose that shone bright in the darkness and was his only guide.  Folks traveling at night will sometimes see him as a strange light floating in the darkness.  In his lonely wandering he has been seen in many different locations around the world by many different people and became known by many different names.  One of the names he became known by is “Will-o-the-wisp” but the Devil has other names for him which we cannot reveal here.

Copyright 09/09/2021 zteve t evans

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North American Mythology: The Mystery of the Piasa Bird

Piasa Bird – Burfalcy, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

PIASA BIRD OF ALTON

Just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis lies the city of Alton, Madison County, Illinois.  One of the city’s calls to fame is the mysterious Piasa Bird.   This is a Native American design of a strange bird or dragon-like creature painted on a limestone cliff face above the Mississippi River.  The first known Europeans to see it were early explorers traveling along the Mississippi Valley.  Although the original mural no longer exists through quarrying activities the existing designs were reproduced from 20th century sketches and lithographs of what once existed.  The images have to be restored at regular intervals because the rock face is an unsuitable canvas for painting.

IMAGES OF CAHOKIA

The original murals were believed to be created before the arrival of Europeans, possibly around 1200 CE and perhaps earlier by local Native America people.   As the original mural seems deliberately situated to be seen it may have acted as a warning to travelers that they were entering a territory controlled by local people.  Also, because of its visibility from the Mississippi river it may have been a warning to canoeists of the dangerous confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers a few miles further on.

Before Europeans reached the New World the region was inhabited by people of the Mississippian culture known as the Mound Builders, from approximately 800 CE to 1600 CE. These people were responsible for building a six mile square urban complex known today as the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.  It consists of multiple artificial earthen mounds that were built on a flood plain near of the Illinois, Mississippi and Missouri rivers.  At its zenith it was believed to be home to around 30,000 people making it the largest known urban center in the New World north of Mexico.  This complex was believed to be the center of a civilization with trading links stretching from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast.   It was from these people that the mural is believed to have originated.   They also created many other pictographs of animals and birds including thunder birds, falcons, bird-men, monstrous snakes and other subjects.  One that has particular relevance to the Piasa Bird was the Underwater Panther, as we shall see.

Other murals have been found in the area and on 27th May, 1921, the local newspaper, The Alton Evening Telegraph, mentioned seven smaller images believed to be of Native American origin.  They were painted on rocks some one and a half miles from the Piasa Bird site in the Levis Bluffs region discovered by George Dickson and William Turk in 1905.   These were believed to include an owl, a squirrel, a sun circle and a depiction of two unknown creatures in some kind of contest.  The rest of the depictions were of larger animals like a lion or coyote. 

DISCOVERY BY EUROPEANS

Kohl, J. G, Jean Baptiste Louis Franquelin, and Louis Joliet. The Mississippi. [1850] Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2002626428/>.

The first known Europeans to see the Piasa Bird  were the Jesuit missionary and explorer Father Jaques Marquette and his party in 1664, who saw it painted on a limestone cliff overlooking the Mississippi River.  However, the image they saw appears to have changed its appearance in modern time by growing wings.   According to Marquette,

 “While skirting some rocks, which by their height and length inspired awe, we saw upon one of them two painted monsters which at first made us afraid, and upon which the boldest savages dare not long rest their eyes. they are as large as a calf; they have horns on their heads like those of a deer, a horrible look, red eyes, a beard like a tiger’s, a face somewhat like a man’s, a body covered with scales, and so long a tail that it winds all around the body, passing above the head and going back between the legs, ending in a fish’s tail. green, red, and black are the three colors composing the picture.

Moreover, these two monsters are so well painted that we cannot believe that any savage is their author; for good painters in France would find it difficult to reach that place conveniently to paint them. Here is approximately the shape of these monsters, as we have faithfully copied it.”

On an early map compiled by the French cartographer Jean-Baptiste-Louis Franquelin a mural of a creature is shown (see images) as located east of the Mississippi and south of the Illinois River is shown but this also has no wings.  How it acquired wings is not clear but it seems it was first described as bird by Professor John Russell of Bluffdale, Illinois in an article entitled, “The Tradition of The Piasa” in 1836.

THE JOHN RUSSELL LEGEND

Russell claimed the name came from a nearby stream who local Native Americans called the Piasa which meant “the bird that devours men” in the language of the local Illini people.  The stream ran through parts of Alton until it was encased in drainage pipes in 1912.   He claimed that the depiction was of a huge bird-like creature that dwelt in a cave in the cliffs.  It had developed a taste for human flesh after a war had left many bodies lying out in the open which it scavenged upon.  According to him to satisfy this appetite it would fly down and attack and devour local people in nearby villages. 

He told of  a legend of how a local chief named Chief Ouatoga was sent a dream from the Great Spirit revealing how he could kill the monstrous beast.  The Great Spirit told the Chief to hide his bravest warriors near the entrance of the cave armed with poisoned arrows.  When they were in place he was to openly approach the cave acting as bait so that the Piasa Bird would rush to attack him.  Ouatoga enacted the plan and as the creature rushed out of the cave his braves let fly their poisoned arrows slaying the beast.  

According to Russell, it was this beast the mural was supposed to commemorate.   The mystery is what happened for the creature to acquire wings.  However, it is possible that what both Father Marquette saw and what Russell saw was accurate as the wings could have been added after the first sighting although why they were added is not known.   It was Russell’s colorful version which stuck although there are claims he later admitted to making up the story.

THE UNDERWATER PANTHER

Underwater Panther – Uyvsdi, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A modern theory proposes a different origin.  According to this the mural depicts a mythical Native American creature known as the “Underwater Panther” but with added wings.  Some people think the original wingless depiction of the panther bears a strong resemblance.   Versions of the Underwater Panther are shown in petroglyphs, pictographs, and other art forms from the Great Lakes in North America, down to the Andes in South America.  There are a great many different Native American cultures and its attributes and meaning vary between them.  It is also know as the Underwater Lynx and other names but often referred to collectively as Underwater Panthers.

According to Esarey, Costa, Wood, the Piasa and the Underwater Panther are both linked to the legends of the “payiihsa” which was a small supernatural being with big feet with 4 to six toes.   It is often found in pottery and rock art   “payiihsa” along with images of the Underwater Panther. 

A legend from the Peoria people translated by Miami-Illinois language expert, David Costa is now thought  more likely to be the inspiration of the depiction. This tells how the cultural hero and trickster Wiihsakacaakwa and a Frenchman went on a boat trip along the river.  They had to pass by a cave which they knew to be the home of a supernatural man-eating monster.  To the dismay and fear of the Frenchman, Wiihsakacaakwa decided he would be as loud and irritating as possible, ignoring his companion’s pleas not to disturb the monster.  The raucous behaviour of Wiihsakacaakwa roused the beast which emerged from the cave finding them in their boat in the river.  Taking a great gulp of river water the monster sucked the boat into his cave where he imprisoned them.  They discover there are other captives held in the cave and that the monster ate them one by one when he gets hungry.   However, the monster, feeling secure in its cave went to sleep. 

Wiihsakacaakwa told the others to sneak out of the cave while he piled the gunpowder they had brought with them for hunting, around the monster.  After the others had escaped Wiihsakacaakwa blew him up.  Having defeated the monster Wiihsakacaakwa decided he liked the cave and made it his home until a pair of twin supernatural dwarfs known as the “payiihsaki,” appeared and drove him out stealing the cave from him.

The belief is the Piasa originated from “payiihsa”, an Miami-Illinois word that is used to refer to two small supernatural entities.  The Underwater Panther was often associated with two small supernatural dwarves.  From this comes the claim the original Piasa was wingless Underwater Panther which is reinforced by the 1682 map of the Mississippi that corresponds to the descriptions given by Jolliet and Marquette.

Although Russell’s  tale was the most colorful and heroic it is the legend of Wiihsakacaakwa that is now considered authentic with the monster possibly the Underwater Panther and the two dwarfs giving their name to the Piasa Bird.

Copyright 25/08/2021 zteve t evans

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South Sea Island Folktales: Sina and the Eel

Sina and the Eel

South Seas Myths

In many places in the South Seas there is a myth of origin of the coconut tree (Cocos nucifera) and its nut.   It is a popular and well known tale in Oceania with many different variations found from region to region. Names and details vary from region to region but there is a similar structure and story-line in many of these tales.   It should be noted that in the folklore of the people of Samoa there is a legend they call “Sina ma le Tuna” which tells of the origin of the coconut tree and in the Samoan language, “Tuna,” means, “eel.” (1) Presented here are two versions of folktales that deal with this myth.  The first is from the island of Savai’I, Samoa and the second comes from American Samoa.  

The Savai’l Samoan Version

This folktale begins with a girl named Sina who was famous around the South Seas for her loveliness.  The King of Fiji, who was known as the Tui Fiti, heard of her beauty and was intrigued.  Although he was much older than Sina he decided he had to meet the beautiful one in person to see if all he had heard was true.  Calling on his Mana, which is his own personal magic, he transformed into an eel and swam to the island home of Sina.  Discovering the village pool was used by all the villagers as a communal bath he slithered into its waters hoping Sina would come to bathe.

Concealing himself at the bottom of the pool he waited patiently hoping she would enter the pool.  Many of the villagers came to the pool to bathe but he remained hidden knowing that these were not the beautiful one he sought. Eventually, the most beautiful girl he had ever seen or imagined entered the pool to bathe.  Immediately he knew it was her for such outstanding loveliness could only belong to the famous Sina, the beautiful one, he sought.   He lay at the bottom of the pool staring up through the water at her lovely face.

Eventually, Sina felt a peculiar sensation and noticed the eel staring at her.  Taken by surprise she became angry, shouting in Samoan, “E pupula mai, ou mata o le alelo!” which means, “You stare at me, with eyes like a demon!” (2). However, after the initial alarm Sina noticed the eel did not look dangerous or aggressive.  In fact it actually seemed very nice and friendly so she took it home for a pet.

Many years passed and the King of Fiji lived happily as Sina’s pet enjoying the love and attention she unknowingly lavished on him as an eel.  Nevertheless, the king was growing older and with age his magic weakened and he found it harder to keep his eel form.  Therefore, he decided that it was time to reveal his true identity and explain himself to her. 

He told her how he was the Tui Fiti, the King of Fiji, who had heard of her great beauty and come to see it for himself.  To make the long sea journey from Fiji to Sina’s island home he had transformed himself into an eel so that he could swim the great distance. In this way he could wait in the pool until she arrived and he could see her.  Once he had seen her he fell in love. 

Realizing he was too old and she would rightly reject him he had kept his eel form so that she would not recognize him as an old man.   He had been overjoyed when she had taken him as a pet because he would remain always near her and enjoy her love and care.  Sadly, because of his great age, his magic had grown weak and he could not keep his eel form much longer and would die.  Therefore, he wished for her to plant his head into the ground near her home. Sina had loved him greatly as her pet and was heartbroken when he died and granted his wish.

From his head there grew the first coconut tree.  On a coconut there are three round marks which look like two eyes and a mouth.   When the coconut is pierced to drink the milk through one of these holes the milk is taken through the pierced hole through the drinker’s mouth.  According to the legend, whenever Sina took a drink of coconut milk from a coconut she was kissing the mouth of the eel.

In Samoa in the village of Matavai, in the district of Safune on the island of Savai’i,is a fresh spring pool. This pool is called, Mata o le Alelo, from the words that Sina first spoke to the eel and is still strongly associated with the legend.

An American Samoan Version

Another version from American Samoa tells how the King of Fiji, heard heard of the beauty of Sina and decided he wanted her for his wife.  However, she lived on a distant island so using his magical power he transformed himself into a young eel and swam all the way from Fiji to Sina’s island home (3).

One day as she was out foraging for shellfish along the seashore she noticed the young eel looking at her from a rock pool.  She thought it looked harmless and had a friendly face and being quite small would make a nice pet.  Therefore, she caught it and put it in the container she used for her shellfish and took it home.

She kept it in a bowl in her home and carefully nurtured it and it became very placid and affectionate towards her.  Under her care it soon grew too big for the bowl so she placed it in a spring near her home.  However, the eel soon grew too big for the spring and she did not know what to do with it.  She asked her mother who suggested she put it in the large freshwater spring the villagers used as a communal bath.  Sina thought this a good idea as the large pool would give the eel space to grow and be free so she placed it in the pool and it hid its self at the bottom.

All the villagers used the pool to bathe but none of them ever seemed to notice the eel. It would come out of hiding to greet Sina as soon as she stepped into the water.   It grew very long and big but was always very affectionate towards her and very playful with her yet no one seemed to notice its presence.  One day the eel became too boisterous and playfully wrapped itself around Sina in a loving embrace.  This frightened her and after that she would not bathe in the communal pool.

From then on she bathed in the small spring near her home.  This was fine at first but somehow the eel found out where she was bathing and appeared in the water as she bathed.   Still no one else could see the eel and its behaviour alarmed her and began to make her angry and frightened.  

Determined to escape the eel, one morning just before dawn, while her family still slept, she quietly left her home to walk to the next village.  It was good distance and she would stop at a spring along the way for a refreshing drink and to cool down and rest.  To her dismay at every spring she stopped at the eel would appear staring out of the water at her.   This terrified her and she continued journeying from village to village trying to escape the eel.  Each time she stopped at the springs along the way it would appear.  Where ever she went the eel appeared and it was growing longer and longer and to her fear and bewilderment, no one else could see it.  

There came a time when it left a pool she had found it in and wriggled onto the land and followed on behind her like pet dog.  Wherever she went it followed her and still no one else could see it.   On her wanderings she came across a group of people having a meeting.  In desperation she ran and sat between the two lead speakers. 

This surprised everyone but the eel had now grown as long as a person. Now everyone could see and hear it and all sat terrified at the strange creature.  It slid through the crowd to rest before where Sina was sitting between the two speakers.   Raising itself up to look her in her eyes the eel said,

“Sina, my beautiful one, please forgive me!   Know now that my true shape is that of a human.  I am the King of Fiji.  I have used my magic to attain this eel form you see me in now.  I took this form when I first heard of your beauty and grace that I might swim the great distance from Fiji to your home on this island to see you for myself.

My intention was to woo you and win your love but I now see that the form I took frightened you and I am sorry.  After so much traveling and keeping this form my magic and power is all used up.  I am tired and my death draws near. Before I die I wanted to explain these things to you hoping you would think better of me. 

In compensation for alarming you I have a valuable gift to offer you.  When I die cut off my head and plant it outside your home.  It will soon grow into a tree that will be of great value to you and your people.  It will have long green leaves that can be used as a fan to cool you in the summer’s heat.  

These leaves will also provide good covering for the roofs of your homes.  The leaves, bark and wood you will find will have many uses that will be of great service to people.  It will also bear a nut that gives food and a nourishing drink.   The nut will have three marks that resemble human features.  To drink from the nut puncture one of these holes and you will pour its milk from its mouth!”

With that it died.  Sina felt sorrry for the King of Fiji and thought perhaps if she had known the full story in the first place things might have turned out differently.  She did as he had asked and planted his head.  As he had foretold a tree grew from it bearing long green leaves and a large nut.  The tree and the nut proved to be extremely useful to humans and became an important part of their lives.  It spread beyond Sina’s isle to neighboring islands and beyond often carried by humans and some times carried by the sea.  The same tradition of kissing the eel when drinking from the coconut applies to this legend as well.

© 21/07/2021 zteve t evans

FURTHER PUBLICATIONS BY ZTEVE T EVANS

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Copyright July 21st, 2021 zteve t evans

The Curious Case of the Scholar, the Maid Servant and the Peony Soul

The Peony Soul

The following is a retelling of a story of Chinese origin from, “The Romance of the Milky Way, and Other Studies & Stories,”  by Lafcadio Hearn. The story tells of a Chinese scholar known as Tō no Busanshi who was a great scholar and a keen gardener. To him the acquisition and appliance of knowledge was the planting and cultivation of a garden that was his soul. 

Indeed, he was renowned for his love of flowers of all kinds.  He was especially fond of peonies which he cultivated himself spending many hours attending to their smallest needs with great love, skill and patience.  Under his loving care and attention the peonies blossomed brightly and beautifully and their leaves dripped green.  He would speak to them softly and affectionately whenever he was tending to them.  In response they all appeared to gaze towards him, nodding and smiling and displaying their beauty, while appearing to lean towards his love. He thought he could hear them whispering but he could not quite understand what was being said.

The Scholar

One day there came to his house a very pretty girl who begged him to take her into his service in his household.  She explained she had received a good literary education and loved learning but had become the victim of unfortunate circumstances that forced her to seek employment.  Knowing he was a great and famous scholar she thought she would like to work in his household which was a shrine of knowledge and great learning.  She told him she was a hard and diligent worker and asked if could employ her. 

Surprised, Busanshi looked at her and thought there was something charming and familiar about her as if he had known her from somewhere else.  It was something about the way she gazed and gently leaned towards him. He was more than a little flattered and also greatly impressed by her loveliness. Thinking that for her looks alone she would be an elegant and pleasing asset for his household he took her on as a maid servant.  Indeed, she proved to be a great asset her beauty enlivened and brought delight to any room she entered. Her work and industry rate was exceptional and she was very obedient and attentive. 

The Maid Servant

As well as her work she was adept and perfectly at home with the etiquette and cultivated demeanor one would expect from a lady of the highest circles.  Her literary skills were excellent and she composed wonderful poetry which she expressed with great skill using the arts of calligraphy and painting.  She impressed him so much he thought she must have been brought up in the court of some high ranking noble family or great lord.   There was something that with all his great learning he could not describe which was so appealing about her.  Something about her shining eyes, her smile and the way she leaned towards him.  It was not long before Busanshi fell hopelessly in love with her and sought ways to please her.

On occasions he was visited by friends who were also also great scholars.  He would send for her that she might entertain and impress them with her loveliness, intelligence and grace.  All who beheld her were greatly impressed and further charmed by her gentle and amiable nature.

One day one of his friends, a great academic and teacher of morals and high principles, named Teki-Shin-Ketsu arrived at his door unexpectedly.   Busanshi was thrilled to receive such a famous celebrity and called his maid servant to meet him expecting her charm and intelligence to impress the great man.  However, unusually there was no reply and she did not appear smiling and radiant as she always had before.  In fact, although he called again she did not appear at all. 

Busanshi really wanted to impress his great friend with his charming and educated maid servant and was mildly irritated that she did not appear obediently and instantly as she usually did.  Perturbed by her non-appearance he went seeking her out.   With growing irritation he searched the entire house calling and looking in every room but could find her nowhere.  

Greatly disappointed and very puzzled he was returning back to his esteemed guest when he caught a glimpse of her gliding quietly and effortlessly before him down the corridor.   Calling to her he hurried after her.  On hearing him she half turned to see him but flattened herself fearfully against the wall just like a spider in fear might. 

The Peony Soul

As he caught up with her he was astounded to see her appearance change. As she flattened her back hard against the wall her entire body became flatter and flatter until there was nothing left that remained of her but a two dimensional image as if painted on the surface of the wall.  This flat image slowly began to fade before his eyes until there was nothing else to be seen but a flat barely visible colored shadow.  As he watched in fear and amazement he could still see the faded image of her pretty eyes and her beautiful lips which spoke to him in a whisper,

Please, forgive your humble maid servant for not answering your call.  As you now see I am not human but the soul of the peonies that you love so much and take so much good care of.  Because of the greatness of your love and care I was able to manifest into human form so that I might repay your love and devotion. 

I have treasured my time with you but now an enemy has come into your home.  You and other humans consider him a great scholar and wise teacher of morality. I warn you he is a sly one – a being of no morals and evil to the core.  He is my enemy searching for me and I dare not keep this form any longer.  I must change back to my true shape and return to the peonies. That is where you shall find me and when the time is right join me.  Tend well your peony soul with love and dedicated devotion!”

With that she simply faded into the wall leaving no trace of her form to his bewilderment and great sorrow. He still carried on tending his peonies lavishing great care and love upon them.  Softly and lovingly he talked to them and more than ever they appeared to lean towards him.  At times when he believed he had no more love to offer they attuned to his feeling and he knew they had always been his lover and would always remain that way and with dedication and devotion he continued with the cultivation of his peony soul.

© 14/07/2021 zteve t evans

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Copyright July 14th 2021 zteve t evans