Presented here is a retelling of an ancient folktale of the Khasi people who dwell in Meghalaya in north-eastern India and parts of Assam and Bangladesh, sourced from “Folk-Tales of the Khasis,” by K. U. Rafy. It tells how long ago, unlike today, doves sang wonderful songs like many other birds. These songs expressed their happiness to be alive and the glory of the world around, until something happened to end their glorious melodies. Their joyous singing was replaced with the sad, wistful, “Cooing” sound, we are familiar with them making today.
THE COOING OF THE DOVES
The story tells how back in the old days a happy family of the first doves lived in the forest. The youngest was a daughter named was Ka Paro. Being the youngest she was much loved by her parents and siblings who were all protective of her pampering her more than they should. The family often ate together in a nearby field of grain. When it was time for food, they insisting she remain securely hidden in their family nesting tree until the signal was given that all was safe enough for her to venture forth.
One day they had left Ka Paro alone in the family nest while they flew to the field and around the area making sure there was no potential danger. While she waited, Ka Paro grew bored and flew to the top of a nearby tree which had a many succulent red berries growing in its branches. She was not interested in the berries but was looking forward to feeding in the grain field with her family. While she waited, she saw many other birds feasting upon them but did not take much notice. Instead, she spent her time preening her feathers while waiting for her family to give the signal all was clear for her to join them.
A Handome Jungle Bird
To her surprise a very handsome jungle bird of a clan she had never seen before flew down and perched on a nearby branch and started pecking at the berries. Ka Paro had never seen a bird as stunning as this one, with such gorgeous feathers of gold and green, and he came and pecked berries on the very branch that she perched upon.
She was surprised and delighted, and greatly admiring this handsome stranger and began to sing one of her sweetest melodies to attract his attention hoping to please him.
Seeing the gentle beautiful Ka Paro, and hearing her beautiful voice, he was very quickly drawn to her and sang along with her. He introduced himself as U Jylleit, the jungle bird, and she told him she was Ka Paro the dove. The two became fast friends and met every day on the same branch in the same tree. She would sit preening her feathers and singing while, he picked at the berries singing a duet with her. Every now and then the two exchanged shy, admiring glances.
They grew to love each other and U Jylleit plucked up the courage to ask her parents for consent to their marriage. However, her parents were not warmly welcoming to the proposal not feeling too sure of how genuine U Jylleit really was. They did not want to judge him unfairly yet wanted to protect their beloved daughter from being hurt.
Therefore, they thought carefully about what to do. Ka Paro loved U Jylleit with all her heart and begged her parents to approve the marriage. She begged, she pleaded and argued her case again and again declaring she loved him like the moon loved the stars and that she would love him forever, while he declared his own eternal love for her before her parents.
However, her parents knew more of the world than their young daughter. Maybe they were being overprotective, but they were not too certain of this handsome stranger who had flown in from nowhere to win their daughter’s heart. Furthermore, there was also the question of a marriage between two different unrelated clans, which the two lovers undeniable were, which made them feel uncomfortable. There was also another reason that caused them to doubt the strength of U Jylleit’s love for their daughter.
They knew that the red berries had attracted him to the tree where their daughter perched, and knew those berries only appeared at the present time of the year. Moreover, with all the other birds feeding on the berries the tree would eventually be gone and would not return until the following year. They also knew, like other crops, the berries appeared at various times in different places and birds and animals moved from one place to another to feed on them.
For these reasons they were reluctant to risk their daughter’s happiness. Nevertheless, rather than issues a flat refusal they wisely decided to put U Jylleit to a test
Ka Paro’s parents told the two lovers they would only allow the marriage after all the berries were gone. They wanted to see if U Jylleit, for the love of their daughter, be content with the meagre diet of the doves, which he could have survived on. The two lovers readily agreed. U Jylleit swore he would stay with Ka Paro through thick and thin and never leave her. For her part, Ka Paro had absolute confidence her lover would stay and share the same plain and meagre food as her. She simply did not believe he would fly away to another place where the berries could be found in abundance.
And so, the two lovers continued to meet in the tree and while Ka Paro sang and preened U Jylleit sang and ate red berries which became fewer and fewer. One day Ka Paro flew to the tree to meet her lover and began singing and preening expecting her to join her. He did not arrive as he usually did so she continued and preening and singing but still he did not arrive. Looking around, for him she was shocked to see all the berries had gone and realised the truth.
U Jylleit, without even saying goodbye, had taken wing to find another berry tree and she never saw him again. Her heart broken; Ka Paro never sang another note. The only sound she would utter from that moment on was a melancholy “cooing” which is the same we hear from doves all around the world today.
In his book of Japanese ghost stories, folk tales, and legends, “In Ghostly Japan,” Lafcadio Hearn tells of an incident in a street of small shops selling mainly antiques and old goods. He says,
“Recently, while passing through a little street tenanted chiefly by dealers in old wares, I noticed a furisodé, or long-sleeved robe, of the rich purple tint called murasaki, hanging before one of the shops. It was a robe such as might have been worn by a lady of rank in the time of the Tokugawa. I stopped to look at the five crests upon it; and in the same moment there came to my recollection this legend of a similar robe said to have once caused the destruction of Yedo.”
A “furisodé” is a long-sleeved kimono often worn by unmarried women, indicating they are available for marriage. This minor event evoked in Hearn a memory of an extraordinary legend and the following is a retelling of that legend of the destruction of Yedo by a great fire.
THE SAMURAI DREAM
This legend tells how some two and a half centuries earlier, there lived in Yedo the city of the Shōguns, a lovely young woman. One day as she was attending a festival in the temple, she saw in the crowd the finest looking young samurai she had ever seen or imagined. In her awe of his beauty, she instantly fell in love with him. But, to her dismay, before she could learn his name and who he was, he became lost in the vast, ever-changing throng of people attending the festival. So she sent her servants to search for him or discover his identity, but they could find no trace of him.
Nevertheless, she found the image of the handsome young samurai had become burnt into her mind, remaining clear and lucid in every detail right down to his clothing. As it was a festival, he had been wearing their brightest and most colorful kimonos like herself and everyone else. The young men’s garments were no less gorgeous and colorful than those of the young women. However, it was the upper design of his kimono, the colors and the crest, that had particularly caught her eyes and remained bright and vivid in her mind and made her heart cry out for him. Now, as she considered it in her mind’s eye, it seemed all the more remarkable to the love-struck girl. As she pondered more and more upon the image, the idea grew that she would have a furisodé made to show she was ready for marriage. It would be of similar color and design, with the same crests, and of the same quality silk the samurai of her heart had been wearing. She would wear it around the town in the hope of attracting his attention to her and drawing him into her arms.
NAMU MYŌ HŌ RENGÉ KYŌ! (1)
With this very much in mind, she had a most beautiful furisodé, with long sleeves, made from the finest silk and decorated with the crest she had seen in the most gorgeous of colors and the height of fashion and elegance. Whenever she went out, she would wear it hoping to bring herself to the attention of the samurai of her dreams.
She treasured it so much that when she was not going out, she would hang it in her room and imagine the form of the unknown samurai of her heart was with her. In this dreamy fantasy, she spent hour upon hour for longer and longer. Sometimes she would pray her dream lover would appear and sweep her off her feet, and sometimes she would weep. In this way, between ecstatic fantasy and sad reality, she fluctuated, and she would pray to the gods and Buddhas that they may bring her the samurai of her dreams and that he would love her as much as she loved him. For this purpose, she repeatedly recited the mantra of the Nichiren sect,
“Namu myō hō rengé kyō!”
It proved futile, and all to no avail, for she never again saw the handsome samurai of her dreams. She yearned and pined that he may come and cure her sickened heart, but he never did. Slowly, in lonely misery, pining for her dream lover, she slowly faded, weakened, and died. She was given a Buddhist funeral with all the rites. Her gorgeous furisodé that she had treasured and had been her hope of attracting her dream lover to her was given to the temple that performed the rituals, as was tradition and custom, to dispose of the deceased’s clothing as they saw fit to benefit the temple.
THE HAUNTED FURISODÉ
The furisodé had been made from the finest silk using the best dyes for coloring and showed no sign of wear or the tears that had flowed over it. Its style and design were of the most exquisite taste, and the priest sold it for an excellent price. The garment was brought by a girl of similar age to the lady who had imagined, commissioned, and worn it. Like its previous owner, she was a beautiful girl who wanted to show she was available for marriage. After wearing it for the first day, she fell ill with an unknown sickness and began to act very strangely. She claimed that day and night, a vision of the most handsome samurai she had ever seen appeared before her. It followed her in the day and would manifest before her eyes when she was out. At night it haunted her dreams, and she fell deeply in love with the samurai of her dreams. His vision possessed her, and she knew that for the love of her dream Samauai she would die. Sadly, that is what happened. She withered and failed and died for his love, and for the second time, the beautiful furisodé was given to the temple as custom decreed.
RETURN OF THE HANDSOME SAMURAI
The temple priest remembered selling the beautiful garment and thought no more than how sad events had turned out and sold again. The buyer was another young lady about the same age as the previous owners who wanted it for the same reason. After wearing it for the first time, she complained of seeing a strange but handsome samurai who would suddenly appear nearby when she was out and would intrude upon her dreams. She talked of a handsome samurai whom she had fallen in love with. Although he would always appear close if she reached out to hold him, he dissolved into nothingness. She, too, fell sick, withered, and died unable to obtain the nourishment her dream samurai could give her.
After her funeral, the temple received the furisodé again, but the priest began to feel uneasy and troubled. Nevertheless, the furisodé was sold to another beautiful young woman hoping to attract a husband by wearing it. Like the others, she complained of visitations from a handsome samurai in her dreams and waking life. Like the previous owners, she withered and died, and after her funeral, the furisodé was given to the temple.
The date was the 18th day of the first month of the first year of Meiréki or 1655, and the priest stared at the garment in alarm and revulsion for he knew these tragic deaths were not just coincidence. He now believed the furisodé, although beautiful, was possessed by an evil presence.
THE GREAT FIRE OF THE LONG-SLEEVED ROBE – FURISODÉ-KWAJI
Thinking that destroying the garment would destroy the evil presence, he made a bonfire and cast it to the fire. The beautiful silk was quickly engulfed in flames, but to his astonishment and horror from the inferno, there sprang dazzling tongues of flame which took the shape of the invocation –
“Namu myō hō rengé kyō!”
One by one, these letters leaped onto the temple roof like red hot sparks setting it on fire. Sparks, burning embers, and flames spread to adjacent buildings, and a sea wind carried red hot embers to the roofs and walls of others in the vicinity. Soon the entire street was being consumed by flames, with the sea wind spreading it even further. It was not long before the whole neighborhood was burning and the city in danger of being consumed by the blaze. This was one of the most disastrous catastrophes in Japanese history and became known as the furisodé-kwaji,—the Great Fire of the Long-Sleeved Robe or the Great fire of Meireki.
There are other versions of how the great fire started and the legend and ownership of the furisodé.A tale from a book of stories known as “Kibun-Daijin” gives the name of the girl who had the furisodé as “O-Samé.” She was the daughter of a wine merchant from Hyakushō-machi, in the district of Azabu, whose name was Hikoyemon, a woman of rare beauty and called Azabu-Komachi, or the Komachi of Azabu. According to this book, the temple involved belonged to the Nichiren sect of Buddhism and was called Hon-myoji situated in the Hongo district. Furthermore, the crest that was featured in the design of the beautiful furisodé was a kikyō-flower. Moreover, the tale from the book also claims the handsome samurai was really the spirit of a dragon or water serpent that could appear in human form that once inhabited a lake known as Shinobazu-no-Iké at Uyéno. However, not everyone trusts this version, preferring to think the samurai was human.
ONO-NO-KOMACHI, THE BEAUTIFUL POET,
As often happens, famous people who once existed in history become entangled in legends and folklore of historical events. For example, Komachi or Ono-no-Komachi lived over a thousand years ago and was and still is one of the most celebrated poets and beauties in the history of Japan. She was said to be the most beautiful woman of her era, and her poetry so fine it could move heaven and even bring rain in times of drought.
She was loved by many men, and many were said to have died for want of her love. Sadly, as she grew older, her beauty faded and withered along with her fortune, and she was reduced to wearing rags and begging in the streets. She was said to have died in poverty on the road to Kyoto. Because she was dressed in rags when she died, it was considered shameful to intern her in such a condition, and someone donated a second-hand summer robe to wrap her body in called a katabira. Her grave became known as “Place of the Katabira” (Katabira-no-Tsuchi) and was not far from Arashiyama.
And we can see, as so often happens all around the world, facts, events and real people, become embroiled and tangled up to form legends and myths that feed the fantasies of everyday folk – yet still there remains somethings that cannot be explained and cannot be put down to mere fantasies.
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.
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.
Birds have always played and important part in human culture appearing in the legends, myths and fables of people all around the world. Presented here are five legendary and mythical birds from different parts of the world, each with their own folklore and fables attached.
The Legendary Alicanto Bird
In Chilean folklore and mythology the Alicanto is a strange, mythical, bird that inhabits a strange but very real place known as the Atacama Desert ( Desierto de Atacama) and other parts of Chile, South America. The desert is rich in minerals and ores and according to legend is home to a mythical bird called the Alicanto that is said to eat different ores of metal. Its wings are said to shine at night with beautiful metallic colors and its eyes radiate colorful lights. These wonderful illuminations are said to be caused by the different metals it has eaten. For example, if it eats gold it emits a golden light or if it eats silver its light is silvery and if it eats copper it may be reddish though its wings are often described as being a coppery green. Sometimes it may eat more than one kind of metal resulting in different colors being emitted. Because of the light it emits it does not have a shadow.
Because of the heavy nature of its diet the bird spends most of its time on the ground being too heavy to fly and considered flightless. When it has not eaten for a long time it becomes lighter and can run much faster. It lays two eggs whose shells are made from the metal it eats. According to folklore, miners and prospectors would secretly follow an Alicanto hoping it would lead them to a rich deposit of metal ore or a secret horde of treasure known as an entierros. These legendary hoards were said to have been hidden by indigenous people hiding their treasure from the Spanish. It was also said pirates and privateers such as Sir Francis Drake hid their treasure in the desert.
Hopeful miners or prospectors would follow the light of bird’s wings in the darkness. If the Alicanto became aware of them it turned off the light losing its follower in the thick darkness. If the follower was of bad character and not true of heart the bird would lead them over a cliff to death. One legend tells how a Chilean Silver Rush was sparked on 16 May, 1832 when a miner named Juan Godoy followed an Alicanto to rich outcrop of the precious ore. This event led to a rush to mine silver with many miners striking rich.
The Basan in Japanese Mythology and Folklore
In Japanese folklore and mythology the Basan is a chicken-like bird sometimes called Basabasa, or Inuhōō and also known as the “Fire Rooster”. It was said to have its home on the Japanese island of Shikoku in the mountains of Iyo Province which is now known as Ehime Prefecture. According to old depictions it looks like a large chicken with a large, intensely red comb. It is said to breathe ghost-fire from its beak which is not hot but a cold fire that glows.
They made their homes in bamboo covered mountain recesses but were known to occasionally materialize late at night in human settlements. The wings of the Basan are said to make a strange and unearthly rustling sound when flapped. If a human inside a house hears this noise and looks outside to investigate they will just get a glimpse of the bird as it disappears before their eyes.
The Firebird in Slavic and Russian Folktales
In Russian and Slavic folklore the Firebird is a beautiful, magical bird that is much desired but has a reputation of being both an omen of doom and a blessing for those who manage to find one of its feathers, or capture it. The Firebird is described in various ways but essentially as a bird with brilliant, glowing orange, red and yellow plumage giving it the appearance of fire, hence its name. The feather continues to glow even when one is lost making it a valuable prize for the finder emitting enough light to fill a large room. They are usually depicted in the form of a fiery bird of paradise of varying in size with the story and artist. It is an extremely beautiful bird and although not usually regarded as particularly friendly is not aggressive, or vicious, but is associated with danger. This is because of its role as a bringer of danger to whoever finds it and very often a bringer of doom to those who demand its capture.
The typical structure of a firebird story begins with the finding of a feather by the hero. All though initially pleased with the find the hero eventually begins to see it as the cause of all of his troubles. This is followed by a bullying king or tsar ordering the hero to undertake one, or more, difficult and dangerous quests in search of something rare and valuable.The hero often has the assistance of a magical animal helper such as a horse or wolf who guides him throughout. The final quest is usually for the Firebird which must be brought back alive to the tsar or king. On the quest the hero has a number of adventures and wins the love of a beautiful princess. On return with the Firebird the tsar or king dies and the hero becomes ruler and marries the beautiful princess obtaining his heart’s desire. In many ways it is a rite of passage for the hero who grows in wisdom and maturity throughout until he becomes strong and able enough to become the ruler.
The Boobrie in Scottish Folklore
In the legends and folklore of the west coast of Scotland the Boobrie is a shapeshifting entity that usually appears in avian form. It is also known to take on other forms such as that of a water horse or bull. The Boobrie was said to make a deep bull-like bellowing call described as being similar to that of a common bittern though these are infrequent visitors to the region. When it appears as a water horse it has the ability to gallop over the tops of lochs and rivers as if they were solid land. It was also known to manifest as a huge vampire-like insect in summer that sucks the blood of horses. However, its preferred form appears to be that of an oversized water bird such as a cormorant, great northern diver or the extinct flightless great auk. Although considered mostly aquatic it was known to take to the land sometimes concealing itself in tall patches of heather.
The Boobrie is considered to be a voracious predator. Otters are said to be its favorite food and although it eats these in great numbers it will raid ships carrying livestock having a liking for calves, lambs and sheep. Of course this made it an enemy of the local island farmers of the area. One legend from the Isle of Mull tells how a farmer and his son were ploughing a field beside Loch Freisa. They were using a team of four horses but ran into trouble when one lost a shoe and could not continue.Looking round they saw an unknown horse grazing peacefully close by. Wanting to get the ploughing finished they decided they would try the unknown horse in place of the one that lost its shoe. Hitching it up along side the other three they were heartened to see the unknown horse seemed to take to the task with ease and their ploughing progressed well.
The Anqa of Arabian Mythology
In Arabian mythology the Anqa is large, marvelous and mysterious female bird. It is said she flies far away only returning once in many ages but can be found at the place of the setting sun. She is also known as Anka, Anqa Mughrib or Anqa al-Mughrib. Mughrib, has several meanings such as “strange, foreign,” “distant” or “west sunset” signifying the mystery and fantastical attributes of the bird.
Zakariya al-Qazwini, in his book, “The Wonders of Creation” describes the Anqa as very beautiful with four pairs of wings, a long white neck. He claimed it possessed a small resemblance to every known living creature and they were related to birds that lived alone on Mount Qaf. He also claimed they were wise gaining wisdom and experience through their lifespan of 1700 years and mates when it reaches the age of 500 and an egg is produced. When the chick hatches it will stay in the nest for 125 years before it leaves. The Anqa is so large its diet consists of large fish and elephants and nothing else.
In the study of folktales and folklore there is a classification system known as the Aarne–Thompson–Uther Index (ATU Index) which catalogues folktale types. It is not a perfect system and not not all folklorists recognise it but it can provide some useful insights. Presented here is a discussion of the folkloric motif of The Faithful Hound, classified as Aarne–Thompson-Uther type 178A, that is found in a number of folktales from many different parts of the world.
In this work we will briefly discuss human relationships with animals followed by a look at the main structure of the tale tale type of The Faithful Hound. Three examples of such tales from different countries will be retold before concluding with a few reflections that may offer a deeper insight into the story.
Animals have always been popular characters in folk and fairy tales reflecting the close relationship humans share with them. They have long been an integral part of our daily lives, still are today and undoubtedly will be in the future. We eat them, make clothes and other items from them, use them for many different kinds of work, but best of all welcome them into our homes as pets and companions. Sadly, sometimes we mistreat them. Therefore, it is not surprising they are often featured in our stories, myths, legends, traditions and customs and make wonderful subjects for artists to paint.
The Story Structure
The structure of the tale type of The Faithful Hound is simple and unfolds roughly in the order shown below:
A fairly high-ranking person has a much loved pet and a baby
The baby of the high ranking person is left in the care of a parent or child nurse who negligently leaves the child alone.
A dangerous animal appears and threatens the baby.
The pet heroically defends the baby.
The dangerous animal is killed by the heroic pet
The jubilant pet greets its master/mistress.
A hasty and injudicious judgement is made on the spot.
The pet is killed
The baby is found safe and sound.
The body of a dangerous animal is found.
The parent suffers remorse, sorrow and grief because of their hasty decision and because they loved the pet.
There is a prevailing sense of disappointment and betrayal over the hasty decision by the high ranking person.
The structure of the story remains fairly consistent around the world. The heroic and dangerous creatures differ from place to place to suit local conditions. The human involved usually remains fairly high ranking in that society.
The Earliest Version
Possibly the earliest version comes from India. It is found in the Panchatantra, a book of Sanskrit verse, dated to about 200 BCE and called “The Loyal Mungoose” and later “The Brahmin’s Wife and the Mongoose.” In these versions the heroic animal is a mongoose and the dangerous creature is a snake. There are three humans involved; an infant, a Brahmin and the Brahmin’s wife. In In Hinduism a Brahmin is someone of fairly high status such as a priest, teacher or trader so the story involves quite an important family in Indian society.
A mongoose is a natural enemy of snakes and vermin in the same way cats are enemies of rodents. Therefore, a mongoose may seem like a sensible pet in places where snakes are common. The following is my retelling of that story.
The Brahmin’s Wife and the Mongoose
The wife of a Brahmin had a single son and she also had a pet mongoose that she loved as if it was her second son. She brought the two up together treating both as her babies and they both suckled from her breast.One day as her son is sleeping she tells her husband, the Brahmin, she is going to fetch water from the local well and takes up a heavy stone jar to carry it in. She warns him that he must keep his eye on their son because even though she loves the mongoose she mistrusts it because it is an animal.
After she had gone, her husband became hungry and went off to find food leaving the child completely unprotected.While he was out a venomous snake slithered into the house and made its way towards the helpless child. The mongoose having been closely brought up with the baby boy regarded him as its brother. Therefore in his brother’s defense it attacked the snake, killed it and tore it to pieces. In jubilation at its victory in defense of its brother the mongoose ran to meet the mother with the snake’s blood smeared all over its mouth and face.
On meeting the jubilant mongoose the woman is horrified to see the blood around its mouth and on its face. Hastily she jumps to the conclusion that the mongoose had killed and eaten her baby son. In anger and grief she hits the animal with the heavy stone jar she carries, killing it. Rushing home to her great joy and relief she finds the baby is safe and sound. Close by lies the torn up body of the deadly snake and she realizes her mistake. She is overcome with remorse and shame for her hasty judgement in killing the mongoose whom she had indeed loved as a son.
Eventually, her husband returned bearing food but now the distraught mother turned her anger towards him, “Greedy, foolish man!” She cried, ” All because of your greed and foolishness I must now endure the sorrow of death!”
The most obvious point is the hasty and unjust killing of the mongoose. However, there is also the question of the right and wrongs of loving an animal as much as a human and raising it like a human child. The neglect of the Brahmin is also significant.
The Story’s Journey
The story traveled west towards Europe and east further into Asia with variation of animals and story but keeping similar motifs, themes and structures. A Persian version has a cat as the heroic animal. From Malaysia comes a story of a pet bear that saves the daughter of a Malay hunter from a killer tiger only to be hastily and unjustly killed by the hunter who feared it had killed his daughter. His daughter is found safe leaving the hunter full of shame and regret for his hasty killing of the bear.
In some cases stories such as these may have evolved independently in distant locations without human transmission. This is not as mysterious as it may seem. Although there are many different human cultures and societies we share many of the same needs and values as each other. We also share similar emotions and fears and everyone likes a good story.
Guinefort: A French Version
In Europe, the heroic animal became either a dog or hound and the dangerous animal a snake or a wolf. In France the story also provides an explanation of the origin of the cult of the greyhound folk saint called Guinefort and presented below is a retelling of that story.
The Legend of Guinefort
A knight living in a castle near Lyon in France had a faithful greyhound named Guinefort. The dog had shown a great attachment and affinity with his infant son. Such was his placid nature and gentle disposition the knight trusted him completely to be left alone with the infant whom he loved dearly.
One day the knight and his wife left his son in the company of Guinefort while he went out hunting. Such was his unwavering faith in his dog’s affinity with his son, the knight had no reservations about leaving the sleeping boy with the greyhound lying protectively by his side in the nursery.
After a good day of hunting he returned to find the nursery in disarray with the cot overturned and no sign of his infant son. Guinefort greeted his master with delight jumping and fawning at his feet. The shocked knight, seeing the disarray and the signs of violence, the blood on the dog’s jaws and not seeing his son anywhere, believed that Guinefort had killed the baby. In grief and anger he drew his sword and struck the greyhound down.
As the dog lay dying the knight heard the sound of a baby crying underneath the overturned cot. There, to his relief and joy he found his infant safe and sound. Looking around the scene he saw torn and tattered remains of a great viper that had somehow got into the nursery threatening the life of his son. It then dawned on him as he looked about what had happened. On discovering the threat to the baby, Guinefort had attacked and killed the viper at great risk to himself to defend the infant.
The knight was now ashamed of his killing of the dog. He and his family lowered the body of Guinefort down a well and sealed it with stone. They then planted trees and flowers around it and turned it into a shrine dedicated to the memory of the faithful hound who had suffered such injustice. The shrine of Guinefort became a popular place where local people brought their babies for healing and the greyhound became a folk saint of the people. Furthermore, it is said that God punished the knight by decimating his castle and lands.
The Welsh Version
In Wales, the savior animal was also a faithful dog but the threat came from a wolf. The dog’s name was Gelert and was either a greyhound or wolfhound depending on the versions. He belonged to Prince Llywelyn the Great, one of the most influential nobles in the history of Wales who was married to King John’s daughter, Joan.
The story was used as a selling point by David Prichard, an enterprising Victorian publican of the Goat Inn, Beddgelert, Snowdonia. He used the romantic elements of Gelert’s story to attract customers to his pub which is conveniently close to the supposed grave of the courageous hound. Although the publican may have commercialized and added to the story, the structure is far older than the Victorian era and from much further afield than Wales. The following retelling of the story tells how the prince was a great huntsman and Gelert was his favorite hunting dog.
The Legend of Gelert
One day while out hunting with his wife Prince Llywelyn noticed his best hunting dog named Gelert has gone missing. Feeling concerned about their favorite hound they return home.
The scene that greets them fills them with horror and fear. There is blood all over the floor and the baby’s cradle is lying askew on the ground. The baby’s blankets are bloody and strewn around the room and no sign of the infant can be seen. Stricken with grief and anger Llewelyn draws his sword and plunges it into the dog. As Gelert dies he lets out a cry that is answered by the baby boy lying out of sight behind the fallen cradle.
Llewelyn gently lifts the cradle to discover his baby son safe and unharmed. Lying alongside him was the body of a massive wolf covered in blood with its throat ripped out. Instantly, the Prince understood what had happened. The wolf had entered the lodge while the nurse and servants were out leaving the child unprotected.
Gelert must have had some kind of premonition of the baby’s danger and had returned to the lodge in time to save the child and fight and kill the wolf. Now, it is said the Prince Llywelyn was so distraught from grief and guilt from his hasty deed that he never smiled again. Llywelyn buried Gelert in honor in a nearby meadow and placed stones over the body.” – The legend of Gelert
Points to Consider
It is interesting that the savior animal changed from a humble mongoose in India to a greyhound or wolfhound in Europe. Greyhounds and wolfhounds were once the hunting dogs of the rich and powerful. They were greatly prized and important animals even featuring on the coat-of-arms of many of Europe’s elite.
Both the masters of Gelert and Guinefort were rich and powerful of very high status and seen as exemplars of behaviour as was the Brahmin. At the same time the dangerous animal was a snake with the mongoose story, a viper with Guineforte’s story and a wolf with Gelert.
This type of story is embedded with powerful emotions. We can identify with the love, fear and grief a parent experiences when entering such scenes of carnage and even empathize with their hasty killing of the pet. With the sweet moment the child is found safe and sound comes a bitter twist with the awful realization they have made a terrible mistake. We also identify with the unfortunate pet who we believe has behaved heroically and proved itself loyal and faithful, only to be condemned and killed unjustly in an instant, hasty act of gratuitous revenge.
The tale explores the positive human virtues of love, faith and loyalty that come into conflict with the negative human traits of negligence, selfishness and impetuous and unthinking behaviour. The Brahmin neglects his charge to satisfy his own hunger while the French knight and the Welsh prince leave others in charge of their infant and go out hunting to satisfy their own pleasure.
It is a cautionary tale warning that even the great and the good can make mistakes to the injury of the innocent when acting in haste, or while satisfying their own pleasures. The stories also subtly emphasize the power of life and death the influential characters held over their servants and their responsibility in making just and correct decisions.
In their unjust killing of their pets, the pet owners are seen to have let themselves down by their haste and poor judgement of the event because they failed to properly investigate the situation. This is especially worrying when the innocent are loyal and faithful servants who should have a right to a fair trial and a fair judgement.
The stories highlight a real and important matter that affects everyone because even Brahmins, knights and princes have social codes and morals they are expected to adhere to. In killing their loyal pets in such an unworthy manner the masters revealed their unworthiness and were punished for it. The Brahmin’s wife was forced to endure the sorrow of death, the French knight lost his castle and his land and Prince Llywelyn the Great never smiled again. Are these tales nothing more than stories to tell the children that tug at the heartstrings, or is there something else going on?
Do Not Act In Haste!
The obvious moral of the story is not to act in haste, but if we accept that explanation on the face of it are we not simply acting in haste? For those who wish to take this further they may look at the meaning of haste and hastiness and examine this alongside the model of how their own personal religion or philosophy may place expectations of behavior upon them in such circumstances.
Presented here is a retelling of an old Japanese legend about butterflies and the human soul from Myths & Legends of Japan, by F. Hadland (Frederick Hadland) Davis and illustrated by Evelyn Paul. In this work it was titled the The White Butterfly.
The Butterfly Soul
In old Japan there was a belief that the souls of people alive or dead could take the form of a butterfly. Therefore any butterfly that entered a house was treated respectfully. It may be that people whose loved ones had departed this world looked for and welcomed the presence of a butterfly and silently prayed, “Oh, come butterfly and I shall sleep tonight, where the flowers sleep.”
A very old legend tells of a poor old man by the name of Takahama. His home was just behind the cemetery of the temple of Sōzanji and never seemed to go far from it. Sadly, it is a trait of human nature that sees people who do not behave in what is considered a normal way to have some degree of madness. He was by all accounts the most affable and amiable person you could wish to meet and all his neighbors greatly liked and respected him though they considered him a little mad. This madness appears to have come from the fact that he never took a wife or was known to have considered taking one. Furthermore, he was wrongly believed to have had no intimate relationship with a woman.
It so happened that one bright summer day the most affable Takahama fell sick. So sick that he sent for his sister-in-law to come and take care of him. She duly arrived bringing her son with her to bring what help and comfort they could in his final hours. While they kept vigil over him there fluttered into the room a beautiful white butterfly that rested gently on the sick man’s pillow. Fearful that it might disturb his final hours the young man attempted to carefully drive it out without harming it. Each time he drove it through the door it returned. This happened three times as if the butterfly was reluctant to leave the dying man.
At last the young man grew more forceful chasing it out the door and into the nearby cemetery where it fluttered over the tomb of a woman before mysteriously vanishing to where he did not know.
The young man was puzzled and intrigued. On examining the tomb he found an inscription with the name “Akiko” and a brief account of how she had died when she was 18 years old. This indicated her death had happened some 50 years earlier. The tomb was very well maintained with fresh flowers and water provided. Intrigued but unsure what he had found the young man returned to the house to find Takahama had passed away.
The young man told his mother about the butterfly and what he had seen in the cemetery. His mother sat down with tears in her eyes and told him,
“Not many people know but your uncle was once betrothed to Akiko. He was very much in love with her but just before the wedding day she died of consumption. Understandably, he was heartbroken and vowed that he would never marry or have any kind of a relationship with any other woman.
He stayed close to her grave and prayed over it daily, no matter if the sun was shining and the day was fair and pleasant, or burning hot. No matter how cold the rain or how thick the snow, or wild the wind, he would grit his teeth and pray, ‘Oh, come, butterfly, come!’
Maintaining her grave, keeping weeds at bay and ensuring there were alway fresh flowers all through the long lonely years he kept his vow. In his heart of hearts he kept clean and shining all the loving memories of his only love. As he lay dying he no longer had the strength to perform his labor of love and Akiko from beyond saw this and came to him. The white butterfly was her tender, loving soul that came to guide him to the Land of the Yellow Springs where they will be reunited once again.”
For Takahama his passing prayer may been words such as the following poem written by Yone Noguchim many, many years later. Just maybe the writer was thinking of the old man when he wrote,
Presented here is a retelling of a Japanese folktale called The Goddess of Mount Fuji, from Myths & Legends of Japan, by F. Hadland (Frederick Hadland) Davis and illustrated by Evelyn Paul.
When smallpox hit the village where Yosoji lived it struck down his mother. Fearing she would soon die he visited Kamo Yamakiko, the magician and begged for his help. Kamo Yamakiko asked Yosoji to describe the symptoms and after listening very carefully told him he must go to the south-west side of Mount Fuji where a stream flowed down its side. He explained that it was a long and difficult journey and told him,
“Follow the stream back to its source. There you will find a shrine to the God of Long Breath. You must fetch water from that place for your mother to drink. This is the only cure there is in the world for her.”
The Shrine on Mount Fuji
Therefore taking up a gourd Yosoji set off full of hope to find the shrine at the source of the stream. It was indeed a long and difficult journey but eventually he came to a place where three paths crossed and he had no idea which one to take. He was tired and hungry and despair washed over him. He thought about giving up but he thought of his mother lying ill and knew he was her only chance and became determined to continue. Nevertheless he still had no idea which way to go, As he pondered upon this problem he was surprised to see a lovely girl step out of the forest. She beckoned to him bidding him to follow and as he had no idea which way to go he followed her.
It was not too long before they reached a stream and she led him upwards to its source and just as the magician had said there was a shrine. As they reached the shrine the girl told Yosoji to drink and then fill the gourd. The water from the stream was cool, sparkling and refreshing and he drank deeply and then filled the gourd. The girl then led him back to the place they had met and said,
“You will need to fetch more water for your mother so meet me here in three days time and I will be you guide.”
After she bid him farewell he took the water back to his mother. The water helped his mother greatly and he also gave some to other people in his village which helped them too. He returned to the sacred shrine five more times for water and each time he met the girl. After his last visit he was pleased to see that his mother was now back to her normal self and the villagers had all improved marvelously.
Yosoji was made a hero of the village and was greatly praised by everyone for saving them. Being an honest lad he realized he owed all the thanks to the lovely girl who appeared and guided him to the shrine. Therefore, he went back to find and thank her.
The girl was not at her usual meeting place and after waiting some time he resolved to go on to the shrine. He was greatly disappointed to find she was not there either. Nevertheless, he still wanted to show his gratitude for helping him save his mother and the villagers. All he could think to do was to kneel by the shrine and offer a prayer straight from his heart hoping that it would find its way to her somehow. When he had finished he stood up and looked around and was surprised and delighted to find the girl standing before him smiling.
The Goddess of Mount Fuji
He thanked her for her help from the bottom of his heart in the most eloquent words he could find and begged her to tell him her name. The girl smiled sweetly but gave no reply but reaching out a branch of camellia appeared in her hand. She waved it in the air as if beckoning to some invisible spirit. In answer to her floral signal a small white cloud floated down from the peak of Mount Fuji and settling before her she lightly stepped upon it.
The cloud rose bearing her up and slowly moved up the flank of the mountain before disappearing at the top. Yosoji was awestruck for he realized that the girl was Sengen, the Goddess of Mount Fuji and he fell down upon his knees. In his face was rapture and in his eyes light for he knew in his heart that mixed with all the gratitude he felt was a deep love for the lovely girl. As he knelt the goddess looked down and dropped the branch of camellia so that it landed just before him. Quickly, she turned away her face reddening.
The following is a retelling of a Japanese folktale called The Love of the Snow-White Fox, from a compilation by Frank Rinder called, Old-World Japan: Legends of the Land of the Gods. The story is set in Old Japan in in the province of Izumo. In these times evil ninko foxes, who with ogre-like creatures called oni, haunted the night. Ninkos were invisible spirit-like foxes that possessed humans but could only be sensed after possession had taken place. Any wandering man, child or maiden who had the misfortune to cross their path at night became their prey. They robbed their poor victim of all they had, bewitched the maidens and carried off the little children. All who dwelt in Izumo feared the night.
There were also other foxes who were not evil. These were the rare snow-white Inari foxes that were good and kind. The Inari fox was the enemy of the oni and the ninko foxes. Both Inari and ninko foxes were a type of Kitsune which are supernatural spirits or yōkai in Japanese folklore and mythology.
The snow-white Inari foxes guarded the poor peasants, protected the little children and came to the aid of the poor, bewitched, maidens. They were the servants and messengers of Inari, the spirit-god of fertility, fecundity agriculture, rice, sake, tea, prosperity and success.
The Love of the Snow-White Fox
This story begins many, many centuries ago when there lived a most beautiful Inari. She was snow-white with intelligent and piercing eyes and was kind and good and loved by all the people who looked forward to her visits.
She would take turns in whom she visited. The people would eagerly listen out at night for the knocking of her snow-white tail against the window and jump to let her in. As soon as she was given entry she would play with the children and make a great fuss of everyone present. They would offer her a share of their humble fare which she would gratefully eat and then disappear into the darkness. The Ninko foxes hated her because she protected all those who were kind to her. There were also hunters who wanted the blood of the beautiful, snow-white Inari. Several times she had come close to death at their hands.
On fine summer afternoons she would meet up with other foxes and they would frisk and play together in the sunshine. One afternoon as she was playing with her friends two evil men caught sight of her and instantly wanted her blood. They had fast dogs and themselves were fleet of foot. They unloosed their dogs whose yelping warned the Inari of her peril. She bolted as fast as she could with the dogs and hunters hot on her trail. They expected her to make for the open plain but she took a different course. She led the hunters on a long and difficult chase through the forest. Just as her strength was giving out she came to the Temple of Inari Daim-yojin and dashed inside seeking refuge under its hallowed auspices.
Inside the temple was a young prince by the name of Yaschima. He was of the most noble house of Abe and he was deep in meditation. With her pursuers close behind and her strength failing fast she ran to the prince and took refuge in the long folds of his robes where she lay trembling in fear.
All though he was astonished Yaschima spoke kindly and softly to the snow-white fox promising he would protect her. She looked up at the prince with her bright, intelligent eyes and understood. The prince went to the temple door just as the two hunters approached. “Have you seen the white Inari?” they asked, “We believe we have one cornered in here and we want its blood.”
“I know nothing of a white Inari! I have been here meditating and have seen no white fox,” replied the prince. As they were about to leave one of the men glanced down and saw the white tip of the Inari’ s bushy tail. “Ha, you lie,” snarled the hunter, “stand aside so that we can kill it!”
The Prince steadfastly refused and stood firm but the hunters were determined and attacked him. In his defense the Prince drew his sword and as he struck out his elderly father appeared. Seeing his son beset by two assailants and despite his own age, he bravely rushed to his aid. Yaschima struck but he had not seen his father and the blow struck him instead, killing him. Shocked and angry the Prince struck two more mighty blows each one dispatching an assailant.
With the fight finished Yaschima was overcome with grief for the loss of his father by his own hand. As he grieved he became aware of sweet singing that filled the temple. As he turned, a beautiful maiden came slowly towards him and stood before him. Looking into his eyes with her own bright eyes she saw he was deeply troubled and said, “Speak your heart!”
Yaschima looked into those bright eyes and told her of the white Inari and the hunters who would have killed her. He told her of his father and of all the good things about him. With a broken heart and weeping he told her that it was by his hand that his father had died trying to help him. The maiden spoke low words of kindness and sympathy. As she spoke the soft light of her eyes washed over him and he began to feel comforted.
Yaschima had never met such a maiden before who was so so pure and true and beautiful. He fell deeply in love with her and begged her to be his bride. She replied, “I would be your bride for I deeply love you. I know you are brave and your heart is pure and I would bring you comfort for the loss of your father.” The two were soon wed. Although his father remained always in his heart and memory he knew that his lovely wife was with him now and he gave her all his love and attention.
The years passed and they were very happy together. With his Princess by his side the Prince ruled his people wisely and kindly. Every morning they went to the temple together to give thanks to the good god Inari for the joy and love they shared. The Princess gave her husband a beautiful baby son and they named him Seimei. They were very happy for a long time but there came a time when the Princess began to take herself off alone and sit and weep for hours on end. Deeply troubled by her sadness, Yaschima asked her what ailed her. She shook her head and sadly looked away, her bright eyes dim and full of tears. There came a day when she went to her husband and taking both his hands she looked into his eyes and said,
“My Prince, my husband and my friend our life has been very wonderful together. I have given you a fine son that you love very much and he will always be with you. I have heard the voice of my god Inari and he calls me daily. He tells me I must leave you but for you and our son I have no fear. Inari says he will guard you and our son as you guarded me when the hunters came to steal my blood. You should know that the snow-white fox you shielded and saved, though it cost you your father, was myself.”
One last time she looked deeply into his eyes and with no other word slowly faded before him and was gone. Yaschima, although devastated, gave thanks for the time they had enjoyed together and for his son Seimei. He brought him up to be good, kind and true and to be respectful of Inari. The people of the province loved the Prince and his son but the snow-white fox was never seen again but her presence remained clear and bright in the heart of Prince Yaschima and his son.
The concept of animism where objects are believed to have a soul, spirit or consciousness is found in many religions, past and present around the world. The following is a retelling of a story from The Romance of the Milky Way and Other Studies & Stories by Lafcadio Hearn that he called The Mirror Maid that features this idea.
The Mirror Maid
The story is set in Old Japan in the period of the Ashika Shōgunate. When the sacred Temple of Ogawachi-Myōjin, at Minami-Isé fell into a state of disrepair, Matsumura Hyōgo, the Shinto priest of the temple begged Lord Kitahataké who administered the district for funds for repairs. Unfortunately due to war and other difficult circumstances Lord Kitahataké could not provide such funds. Therefore, Matsumura went to Kyōto and appealed to the great daimyō Hosokawa who had influence with the Shōgun.
Lord Hosokawa was sympathetic he could not authorize the funds without the permission of the Shōgun but promised to bring the problem to his attention. He advised the state of the shrine would need to be investigated and an estimate of the expense and a plan of work would have to be provided. Therefore he warned that in might take considerable time and he advised Matsumura to remain in Kyōto while the matter was dealt with.
Matsumura rented a house and sent for his family and servants. The house was situated in the old Kyōgoku quarter of the city and was old, imposing and rather daunting. It had been unoccupied for some time and had a dark and inauspicious reputation. Situated on the northeast side of the garden was a well in which several preceding tenants of the house had been found dead in its water. Not surprisingly, an air of mystery and suspicion hung over the house and dark words were whispered about it. Matsumura took no notice of the reputation of the house and well. Being a Shinto priest he had no fear of evil spirits and so he soon became settled and comfortable in his new residence.
In the summer there came a time of drought and no rain fell on Kyōto and the surrounding area for months. The lakes, rivers and wells dried up and the land became as bare and as dry as a bone. The only well which still bore water in Kyōto and the surrounding area was the one situated in the garden of Matsumura which remained full to the brim.
The water was cold and clear with a hint of blue but it was good and plentiful and always available. People came from all parts of the city and surrounding area to beg for water. Matsumura allowed each and everyone to draw as much as they pleased. Many people came to draw water but still the well remained full to the brim.
One morning Matsumura had a shock. The corpse of a young servant who had been sent to draw water by his master from the far side of the city was found floating in the well. It was apparent he had been a fit and active young man and it was not thought likely he had slipped and fell into the water.
Although Matsumura searched diligently he could find no clue as to how the young man could accidentally have drowned. There was no sign of a struggle or reason to believe he had been deliberately murdered either. Furthermore, after speaking to his master and family he could find no reason for such a young man to commit suicide. His imagination exhausted he remembered the dark reputation of the house and began to suspect some unknown evil had manifest.
The Maid in the Well
Matsumura stood looking at the well wondering what to do. He thought perhaps he should have a fence built around it to stop people going near for their own protection. As he mulled over these thoughts he became aware of a sudden movement in the water which startled him. It was as if there was some living thing in the water moving around under water.
The movement stopped and as the ripples settled he became aware that there was the face of a young woman in the water. She appeared to be around nineteen or twenty years of age and was very beautiful and was engaged in the activity of coloring her lips red as was the practice of females in those times. At first he could only see her face in profile and she seemed unaware or unconcerned by him watching. Slowly she turned her head to face him and as she did she smiled at him looking deep into his eyes.
Matsumura was frozen to the spot and began to experience a strange shock that shot through his heart. He became dizzy as if intoxicated with wine and all he could see was that strange, smiling, face while all around was darkness. Very white and very beautiful was the face, as white and as beautiful as the moon.
It seemed to grow whiter and even more beautiful as he stared. He became aware with sudden alarm that he was being drawn down, lower and lower, into the darkness towards that face and those red lips. Desperately he tried to master himself and break the spell and with one last supreme effort he succeeded to close his eyes shutting out the vision.
When he opened his eyes again he found he was on his knees with his face close to the surface of the water. One more second and he would have suffered the same fate as the servant who had been drowned. He was glad to find the light had returned and went back to the house. Understanding the danger from the well he ordered that it be fenced in and no one should be allowed near.
A few days later the drought was broken by a massive thunderstorm. While lightning flashed and thunder roared rain fell in torrents on the parched city and land. For three days and three nights the rain fell hard and fast. The river rose higher than it had ever risen before and carried more force than it had ever carried before. All along its course bridges were overpowered and washed away and along its banks water burst across the land flooding fields and homes.
On the third night of the raging storm, at the Hour of the Ox, there came a knocking on Matsumura’s door and the voice of a woman could be heard outside begging to be let in.
The Appearance of Yayoi
The experience Matsumura had suffered by the well immediately came to his mind and he forbade his servants to answer the door. Instead he went himself to stand by the door and called out, “Who can it be who is out on a night like this and rapping at my door?”
A female voice answered, “I beg your pardon and ask for your forgiveness. My name isYayoi and I have something that is of great importance that I must say to Matsumura Hyōgo and no one else. Please, I beg of you to let me in that I may deliver my message .”
Matsumura opened the door a little and looked out. He saw the same beautiful female face that he had seen smiling up at him from the water in the well. Now she was not smiling but had a sad forlorn expression.
“You cannot come in,” he told her sternly, “You are not human, you are a creature from the well. Why do you drown and kill innocent people?”
To the surprise of Matsumura she answered in a musical voice like the tinkling of rare and precious jewels which he had never heard before. She said,
“This is exactly the matter that I wish to talk to you about for I have never wanted to harm humans. Long ago in the most ancient of days a an evil dragon became the Master of the Well which is why it was always full.Long ago I fell in the well. He was more powerful than I and he made me to his bidding, forcing me to lure people to their deaths in the well.
However, time does not stand still and things change according to the will of the gods. The Heavenly Ruler has ordained that the dragon must leave the well. He will dwell in the lake in the province of Shinshū known as Torii-no-Iké and will never again return to this city. He left for his new home tonight which is why I am now free to beg for your compassion your aid.
I ask that you have your servants search the well. They will now find it dry with the departure of the dragon despite the rain . At the bottom of the well you will find my body. I urge that you do this as soon as possible and you can be sure that for your compliance you shall enjoy my benevolence and reward.”
Withher last words she vanished before his eyes.
The storm finally died out just before dawn. As soon as it was light Matsumura ordered his servants to search the well which was dry just as Yayoi had said it would be. Although they searched they found no body. All they found were a few very old hair ornaments such as was used by women in ancient times and a mirror. The mirror was of curious style and shape but had become encrusted with grime and mud.
The absence of a body puzzled Matusmura to begin with but then he realized his error. He remembered that mirrors are weird things with weird properties and every mirror had a soul that was its own and the soul of a mirror was female.
Carefully he cleaned it up treating it with great care and reverence. When he had cleaned all the encrusted grime from it he saw that it was indeed a rare and beautifully made piece of very ancient origin. On its handle and back were beautiful designs and some lettering some of which he could not understand but he could make out some letters that appeared to spell out “third month, third day” appearing to relate to a date.
He realized that in years gone by the third month was the Month of Increase and called Yayoi. Then he remembered that the third day of the third month was the Festival that was still called Yayoi-no-sekku the creature from the well had called herself Yayoi. This led him to the conclusion that the ghostly creature from the well was actually the Soul of the Mirror.
With this concluded he treated the mirror with even more reverence and care having it carefully cleaned again and re-silvered so that it was like new. He ordered a case to be made using fine wood and quality craftsmanship to make and decorate it. Then he prepared a special room to keep it in and carefully carried it there and put it in its designated place of honour. That evening as he sat before the box contemplating upon the recent events Yayoi appeared before him.
The Soul of the Mirror
He was stunned that she looked even more beautiful than before but now there was a softness to her light like that of a summer moon. She greeted him courteously and respectfully and said in her sweet, musical voice,
“I have come to thank you for saving me from an eternity of sorrow and loneliness. I can confirm that you are indeed correct in thinking that I am some kind of spirit. Yes, I am the Spirit of the Mirror – its very soul as you have guessed.
During the rule of the Emperor Saimei many long centuries ago I was brought to this residence from Kudara. Here I dwelt until the rule of the Emperor Saga and was presented to the august Lady Kamo, Naishinnō of the Imperial Court. From that time I became an heirloom of the House of Fuji-wara until the time of the period of Hōgen. During the period of the great war I laid forgotten for many, many years.
In those days the Master of the Well was an evil dragon. He had once lived in a lake that once covered this whole area. A government order came for the lake to be filled in to make land for the building of houses. The dragon could not stop the lake being filled in and took up residence in this well.
After I had fallen in I was helpless against his power and he forced me to lure people to their deaths. Now that the great god has ordained he must take up residence in a far away lake I am free.
Nevertheless, I have one last favour to ask of you. With all my heart I beg that you offer me to the Shōgun, the Lord Yoshimasa. By descent he is related to my former possessors and it would be fitting I should return to him as he is their heir.
If you would do this great kindness for me – it is the last I shall ask – it will bring you great good fortune.
Now I have to give you a warning. This residence is in danger and you must evacuate the premises as soon as possible. Tomorrow this house will be totally destroyed.”
The Prediction Fulfilled
As soon as Yayoi had finished speaking she bowed and vanished. Matsumura heeded the warning and moved his family and servant to another house in a distant part of the city immediately. The next day a violent storm arose and lightning struck his former residence several times destroying it completely. The rain fell in torrents and washed away the remnants of the shattered building but Matsumura and his family were safe.
Soon after Matsumura asked for an audience with the Shōgun Yoshimasa and was fortunate to be granted one. This gave him the opportunity to present the mirror to the great lord and to give him a written account of the marvellous history of the august piece. The Shōgun was delighted with this ancient gift and was intrigued by its strange history. In gratitude he gave Matsumura many expensive presents and also allotted ample money for the refurbishment of the Temple of Ogawachi-Myōjin making the prediction of Yayoi, the Soul of the Mirror come true.
Insects and humans are a strange mix and yet in In Japanese folklore the human soul sometimes appears as a butterfly. Maybe it is something about the way they flutter from place to place or the fact that they have gone through metamorphosis to transform into a such a beautiful creature. When we look deeply into the populous and industrious colonies of ants many people see a microcosm of a human cities and society. Indeed, from above our cities often seem to be teeming with myriads of ant-like creatures.
In reality the idea of humans being insect-like in any way may seem absurd except in our dreams in which reality can be suspended, twisted and turned on its head and time has a completely different duration. In such dreams we may believe ourselves to have lived for years in a certain place but awake to be told that we have only been asleep for a few minutes. But what if when we return from the dream to the waking world we find evidence that there may indeed be some basis for the idea we actually existed in our dream – what then?
Presented here is a retelling of a Japanese folktale originally called, The Dream of Akinosuke, from a collection of tales, called Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things by Lafcadio Hearn which has some strange things to say about ants, butterflies and dreaming humans.
THE DREAM OF AKINOSUKE
There once lived in the district of Toichi in the Yamato Province of old Japan a goshi named Miyata Akinosuke. These were feudal times and in such times goshi were a social class having certain privileges. They were soldiers and freehold farmers who owed their position and allegiance to an overlord. Akinosuke was just such a man and as a freeholder he had a very beautiful garden with an ancient and spreading cedar tree. He was very fond of his tree and during the hot, sultry days of summer he liked to recline and relax in the coolness of its shade.
One hot afternoon he was relaxing in the shade of his tree with two of his fellow goshi. They were having a very pleasant time drinking wine and conversing amicably on different topics and enjoying each other’s company. Maybe it was the wine or maybe it was the warm sultry afternoon or maybe it was both, but Akinosuke grew very drowsy. He grew so sleepy that he asked his friends to excuse him while he took a brief nap. Teasing him they told him the wine had gone to his head, but agreed to excuse him and he lay down at the foot of his beautiful cedar tree and very soon he was dreaming a dream like no other.
In this dream he saw a great and grand procession of people coming over the crest of a nearby hill and he stood up to get a better view. It was indeed a very grand procession the likes of which he had never seen before. There were very many men and women all dressed in the finest of silks carry banners and flags and marching to the beat of a drum. There were so many in the distance it looked like a long line of ants coming over the hill.
At the heart of the procession was a carriage that was borne aloft proudly. Akinosuke watched and was surprised to see that it was making directly for his dwelling. As it drew nearer he could see that the carriage was richly decorated with silks of blue and gold and obviously carried someone who must have been very important indeed. The procession proceeded unerringly to his gate and stopped. The carriage door opened and a tall, thin man dressed in the most exquisite finery got out. In a mostly stately way he approached the surprised and bemused Akinosuke, who awestruck, bowed low while the visitor greeted him thus,
“Most honorable Miyata Akinosuke you see before you an envoy and servant of the King in Tokyo. I am commanded to greet you in the name of the King and put myself entirely at your service. He has commanded me to inform you that he seeks your presence at his palace and has tasked me to escort you into his esteemed presence. Therefore, please enter this most honorable of carriages that he has sent for this purpose and allow me to be your personal guide to his royal presence.”
With that the messenger stood aside holding the carriage door open, gesturing for the bewildered Akinosuke to step inside. He wanted to make some kind of fitting reply but was too astonished and overwhelmed. Instead, he meekly obeyed and stepped into the carriage and his guide sat down beside him. With a word of command the carriage proceeded to the King’s palace.
They traveled at surprising speed and within a short time were outside the palace gates. The envoy announced he would go and inform the King of Akinosuke’s arrival and he was to wait here until sent for. Presently two noblemen wearing the purple silks and caps of high rank arrived. They greeted him with all due respect and escorted him through a most beautiful garden, the vastness of which appeared to extend in all directions for many miles.
At last they entered the palace and Akinosuke was shown into a most splendid reception room with many ornate carvings and works of art upon the walls. He was seated in a place of honor while two servants brought him food and drink. After he had taken refreshment the two nobles in purple bowed low and speaking in turns said to him thus,
“It is our duty and pleasure to inform you that the reason you have been brought here is because the King, our most noble master, desires greatly that you become his son-in-law. It is his greatest wish that this will happen today. Therefore, you will marry his daughter the August Princess this day. When the time comes we will escort you to your wedding, but first we will provide you with appropriate apparel for such a splendid and important ceremony.”
Having finished their speech the two nobles went over to a great gilded chest and lifting the lid drew out various items of clothing. These were of the finest and richest silks and styled for royalty and were indeed most suitable for the bridegroom of a royal wedding. After he was dressed in the very finest of fashions befitting such a special occasion he was led into a hall where the King and his highest dignitaries and nobles awaited the arrival of Akinosuke.
Akinosuke saluted, bowed and knelt before the King who greeted him graciously and spoke to him thus,
“You have been informed that it is my desire that you will become my son-in-law and the husband of my only daughter – the August Princess. We shall now proceed with the wedding.”
With that he clapped his hands and the sound of joyful music filled the hall and a long line of beautiful ladies of the Royal court appeared. Solemnly they escorted Akinosuke to another hall where his bride awaited dressed most beautifully for her wedding.
The wedding hall was huge and richly decorated and despite its size it was barely big enough to seat all of the guests who swarmed everywhere. Everyone stopped and bowed as he entered escorted by the ladies of the court and he took his place kneeling on a cushion facing his bride. In her gorgeous silk wedding dress the color of the bluest summer sky she looked indeed the August Princess.
The marriage rites were performed with great ceremony and dignity and afterwards the newly married couple were escorted to a special suite of apartments especially prepared for them. The King and all the guests were overjoyed and Akinosuke and his wife radiating happiness received many wonderful presents and the blessings of everyone.
Although they had not met each other before or heard of one another in the past, Akinosuke and his wife were very happy together enjoying the company of each other. The days passed joyfully and presently Akinosuke was summoned to appear before the King. He feared he had done something wrong but instead the King spoke to him thus,
“The island of Rashi lies in the southwestern part of my realm and I have decided to appoint you the Governor of Raishu in my name. The people of the island are very loyal and peaceful but their laws have never been brought into alignment with the laws and customs of my realm. I am entrusting you with this task and with improving their lives and social condition as much as is possible. It is my desire that you rule them with kindness, justice and wisdom. All the preparations for the journey and your arrival have been made and you will leave in the morning.’
The Island of Raishu
The next morning Akinosuke and his wife left the palace with a great escort of nobles, palace officials and courtesans who accompanied them to the harbor. There he and his wife boarded one of the King’ s own ships to take them to Raishu and take up the governorship of the island. They had a good wind and fair weather and soon arrived safely in the harbor of the island to find the people had all come out and were lining the shores to welcome them.
After a warm reception from the people Akinosuke began his governorship and put his heart and soul into the task. In the first three years he reformed the laws to align with those of the King in Tokyo. He was lucky to have the help of wise counselors who knew the people very well. This helped him considerably and he never grew tired or bored with the task. When it was all complete he found he only had a few active duties to carry out and most of these were of a ceremonial nature.
The island was very fertile and grew all the crops the people needed and they also fished the seas. The weather always seemed to just right so there was never famine or starvation. The people were hard working and peaceful never broke any laws so there was little for him to do.
Akinosuke lived and ruled on the island for another twenty years making twenty three in total and in that time he was happy. He grew to love his wife and she him and they were very close and happy together. She bore him seven fine children – five strapping sons and two beautiful daughters.
In the beginning of the twenty fourth year of his governorship his beloved wife fell sick and died. Akinosuke was grief stricken but as tradition required he made sure she was buried with all the dignity and ceremony befitting her status. He had her buried on a beautiful hill with a fittingly splendid monument raised over her. Unfortunately and understandably her death had left him devastated and he no longer cared for himself or wanted to live.
After the customary period of mourning was complete a ship sailed in from Tokyo bearing a royal messenger from the King. The messenger hastened to Akinosuke to deliver a message of condolence directly from the King telling him thus,
“The King our lord and master sends his deep condolences to you and your children. You have worked hard and done a splendid job on Raishu but it is now time you returned to your own country. Have no fear for your seven children for they are also my grandsons and granddaughters and I will look after them.”
Akinosuke on hearing this order submissively prepared to leave the island. When all was made ready for his departure and all necessary rituals and ceremonies were completed he said goodbye to his children, councilors and officials and was escorted in a grand procession to the harbor where he took the ship for home.
The ship sailed out of the harbor into the blue sea and towards the blue sky of the horizon. Akinosuke turned to look at the island in a last farewell and watched as it’s shape turned to blue and then, grey and vanished forever from his sight – and at this point he woke up to find himself lying in the shade of the cedar tree in his very own garden. For a moment or two he was dazed and bewildered and rubbed his eyes. Looking around he saw his two friends sitting nearby drinking wine and chatting happily to each other and he cried out loud,
“How strange this is!!”
His two friends looked over to him and laughed when they heard him. “Ha!” laughed one, “Our friend, Akinosuke has been dreaming! Tell us your strange dream my friend.”
” I think the wine got the better of him,” teasedthe other, “but do tell us!”
Therefore, Akinosuke told them his strange dream and how he had spent over twenty three years living on the island of Raishu in the realm of the King of Tokyo. He told how he was married and of his children and finally how his beloved wife had died.
His two friends were astonished at his tale and insisted he had only been asleep for a few minutes at the most. One of them told him that while he had been asleep they had witnessed a very strange thing and he spoke thus,
“While you were asleep we saw a very strange thing happen.A small yellow butterfly appeared and fluttered and hovered over your face for a brief moment or two. We watched and saw it settle on the ground beside you as you lay close to the cedar tree. Almost immediately an exceptionally large ant rushed from a hole by the tree and seizing the butterfly ran back down the hole carrying it with him.
Just before you woke we saw the same yellow butterfly crawl out of the hole and flutter up to hover before your face before suddenly vanishing. I do not know where it went but it was gone.”
The second nodded in agreement and then he spoke,
“Maybe it was our friend Akinosuke’s soul. I thought perhaps it flew into his mouth but even if it was our friend’s soul it does not explain the dream.”
The Realm of the Ants
“Maybe the ants explain it,” said the first, ” they are peculiar beings and there is a large ant’s nest by the hole of the tree.”
Akinosuke jumped up and cried, “Let us investigate!” And rushed off to fetch a spade.
On his return he set about gently clearing the soil away to carefully reveal that the nest had been excavated and built in the most surprisingly complex way. The huge population of ants that lived there had turned the colony into a miniature world with some similarity to that of humans. There were tiny buildings made from straw, clay and stems that gave the nest the look of scaled-down versions of human towns and cities.
In the very center of the colony was a structure larger than all of the others which contained a swarm of small ants appearing to work around the body of one very large ant that had a black head and pale yellow wings.
” Look! There is the King in the palace of Tokyo that I saw in my dream! How amazing and extraordinary! If that is so, the island of Raisu should lie somewhere to the southwest – and there it is by that root … now can I find the green hill and the tomb of my beloved wife – Yes, there it is – how remarkable!”
Looking closely, Akinosuke saw the small hill in the nest and on top of the hill was a worn polished pebble very similar in shape to the monument he had placed over the body of his wife. Gently lifting up the pebble he was astonished to see covered in clay the dead body of a female ant.
Ants, Humans and the Butterfly Soul
There are some people who see parallels between ants and humans. Such philosophers see similarities in the two societies while comparing the differences. The cities humans build and live in are seen in parallel with the ant colonies and the two societies compared. In human cities the swarms of humans may all appear to be busy working for the greater good of their society. However, on closer inspection it is found that this is so only as far as it does not encroach upon their own selfish needs and desires which may be at odds with the well-being of their society and even their own butterfly soul.
Ants are seen to be regimented and industrious giving up or not possessing such selfish needs and desires working entirely for the good of their society. These same philosophers argue that humans with their selfishness damage the good of their society while the ants give up the wants of the self in favor of maintaining the good of their society and their butterfly soul – assuming ants have any kind of soul at all. Therefore, they claim ants are superior to humans and their society further evolved. Such philosophers are not renowned for their sense of humor, but personally I always think it one of the greatest of human attributes, though I am not sure ants have one. I wonder though, what do you think of these strange matters of ants, dreaming humans and the butterfly soul?