Ghostlore: The Troubled Farmhouse of Longdendale

The valley of Longdendale in the Peak District of England is one of those places where ghostly encounters, haunted houses and supernatural forces are never far away. The following is a retelling of a legend collected by Thomas Middleton, which he called “The Haunted Farm,” and included in his book “Legends of Longdendale.”

The Haunted Farm

Once, an ancient farmhouse stood on the edge of Godley Green in Godley. It was a pleasant location near the turnpike road along a country lane. From its windows looking east, there were good views of beautiful farmlands and beyond to the bleak hills where the ancient church of Mottram stood dark against the sky. At first appearance, especially from a distance, it looked charming, quaint, and homely. For centuries it had been the ancestral home of a family of farmers. Each generation had added to the building resulting in the interior having many rooms of varying sizes, giving it a curiously haphazard, though charming appearance from the outside.

Yet, as this charming house was approached, the quaintness shifted to an “oddness.” Something about it was out of place, or at least in the wrong place, and the dwelling did not seem comfortable in the landscape. Those of a sensitive nature perceived a cold, threatening air that clung around it, giving a vague sense of unhomeliness that was difficult to define, and a feeling of being watched. It was as if the house was a living sentient being with a brooding malign intent. Indeed, that was the sinister and unnerving reputation it had acquired over the long centuries from the superstitious local people.

According to local tradition, long before the arrival of Saint Augustine and the Christian church, before the first building of the farmhouse, the land was a site of pagan worship. The ancient people conducted unholy rituals and practices invoking the old gods to ensure the fertility of the land and people. The old religion had eventually been replaced by the new, resulting in the Christian version of life and death, this world and the next, becoming securely enchained into the minds of the local people.

The Old Dame

Numerous disturbing, unexplained incidents have been seen over the years in the farmhouse. These often involve the unquiet spirit of an old dame who was attributed to possessing all the typical physical characteristics of a witch. These included a hooked nose, a bent back, and a repulsive face. Now, folk can be very unkind towards someone who looks different from what is considered normal, allowing their own superstition and fear to influence their perception of the uniqueness of someone else.

Furthermore, to make matters worse, in the case of the old dame, she was also accused of displaying unusual behaviour, and to add spice to the pot, it was rumoured that hidden in the farmhouse or secretly buried somewhere on the farm was a horde of treasure. This treasure was rumoured to be the cause of her unquiet spirit. After she died, her ghost was seen roaming around the farmhouse and adjoining farmland, appearing to be searching for something. Some say she was looking for the treasure but could never find it. Others say she was the guardian of the treasure, and in her wanderings was checking the rooms, and patrolling the farm to guard against treasure hunters.

A Feeling of Being Watched

Over the centuries, the farmhouse had grown to a considerable size. The additions and extensions to its structure each generation had given it an irregular geometry that formed no standard plan. Inside it was a warren of rooms of varied sizes on four floors connected by creaking stairs, shadowy corridors, and cold passageways with dark corners.

There were probably several family members, servants, and farm hands in residence, and it was regularly visited by friends, neighbours, and people in the farming business. New visitors unfamiliar with the house’s history were often deceived into admiring its charm, warmth, and quaint interior and furnishings, especially from the outside looking in. However, on stepping inside, visitors were disturbed to sense an unhomely atmosphere that permeated certain parts of the house and an unsettling feeling of being watched by invisible eyes. At this realisation, the charm turned to repulsion, the warmth to chill, and a quick exit sought.

Uncanny Incidents

Over the generations, multiple sinister and unexplained events had been reported, and the farmhouse acquired a growing reputation for paranormal activity. Despite this, no one had ever been known to have been harmed other than receiving a terrible fright. Therefore, most of the family ignored such incidents, having grown accustomed to them over the years.

Even so, visitors unused to such incidents often took a less philosophical attitude. Hence, over the decades, an extensive collection of ghastly, sinister, and uncanny events experienced by non-family members continued to grow. These people were of good reputation, sound judgement and calm temperament and the reports were considered reliable.

For example, doors, even locked doors, groaned open as if an invisible being had passed through. In bedrooms, floorboards creaked under unseen feet in the dead hours of the night. People complained, while passing along the stone-flagged passageways of the ground floor, of experiencing a feeling of being watched and followed. Suddenly a voice behind utters their name as a cold hand is lain upon their shoulder. Then, turning fearfully around, they find no one there but are, gripped by an icy coldness and a feeling of blind panic.

Further incidents include doors opening and closing on their own and the sound of someone trudging up the stairs. Sleepers awake by an icy breath blowing upon their faces or someone breathing and whispering close to where they lay their head while asleep. Additionally, others tell how the bed begins to slowly rock, and their coverings are suddenly snatched away. Cold, unseen hands grasp their feet and wrench them from the bed onto the floor. At these times, the pale, ghastly figure of an old woman silently floating through walls or closed doors was often seen.

On occasions in ground floor rooms, furniture mysteriously moved around, and ornaments and portraits changed position. In the kitchen, pots and pans had been seen sliding across the kitchen table, tumbling, and crashing onto the floor on their own accord. Others fly across the kitchen as if thrown by some petulant, invisible hand. Sometimes a peculiar noise was heard, like someone sweeping the stone floor with a stiff brush. All these unusual and unexplained events were blamed upon the old dame.

An Eerie Poltergeist

Another poltergeist incident involved a daughter in the family who was passionately courting a local lad with a reputation for being a philanderer. One evening, to her delight and his great anticipation, he paid her a visit. The two sat before the kitchen fire, wrapped in each other’s arms, whispering sweet nothings, and dreaming of a rosy future together.

Outside, all was calm and quiet; no wind stirred in the branches of the trees or whistled through cracks in doors and windows. The same relaxed state surrounded the two lovers in the kitchen by the fire. But as their passion grew, unexpectedly, a powerful gust of air burst across the kitchen out of nowhere.

An almighty clattering of pots, pans and breaking crockery was heard as they flew from one end of the kitchen to the other. Around the house, the gust sped, knocking books, ornaments and vases from shelves, tables, and ledges, dumping them unceremoniously upon the stone floor with a resounding crash. At that same instant, every door and window in the house flew wide open and crashed back into place.

Shocked out of his amour, the young man jumped to his feet, crying, “For the love of God, what is happening!”

His sweetheart replied, calmly with a smile, “Why it is nothing but the old dame on her wanderings about the house, take no notice. Let us continue where we left off!”

But her panic-stricken lover grabbed his hat and ran out the door, which opened on its own accord, and slammed shut as he bolted through. Without a backward glance, he ran hell for leather over the fields back to his own home. With him gone, the atmosphere in the house reverted to its earlier relaxed state, but the lad never returned. In time she fell in love and married a young man who made a loving husband, and the two were very happy together. Maybe the old dame did her a favour!

A Mother’s Warning

There are also reports of cases where a strange incident at the farm resulted in the righting of a wrong that occurred somewhere else. For example, one month after this incident, the farmer employed a new farmhand who lived on the other side of the village of Charlesworth. As it was a considerable distance to walk every day, the farmer agreed to provide him with lodging in the farmhouse.

The new farmhand worked his first day, impressing his employer with his attitude and industry. Then, after supper, he went to bed, looking forward to a good night’s sleep. The following morning at daybreak, he came down to the kitchen for breakfast, his eyes wide and bloodshot, his face as white as a sheet. The farmer and his wife were shocked at his appearance and asked if he was ill.

He replied,

“I have spent every minute of last night awake, shaking in fear. I have seen a boggart – an apparition – the ghost of an old woman. It was the spirit of my mother who came to visit me. On her deathbed, I had promised to place a stone upon her grave carved with her name.

I am ashamed to admit I have failed to keep that promise. I have been too selfish and greedy to spare the money for her stone. Then, last night, she came to remind me of my promise.

I am sorry for my disrespectful and selfish behaviour. Therefore, I vow I will not rest until I have saved the money to buy a stone for my mother carved with her name and placed on her grave as should have already been done!”

He kept his promise this time, although he had to work hard. He refused to stay in the farmhouse and instead chose to live back in his old home on the other side of Charlesworth.

He needed the money, so he needed his job at the farm. So, every morning, he walked the long journey to his workplace. Then, after a hard day of work, he returned on foot to his home in the evening. To give him credit, he worked hard, and he saved the money, and although it took a long time, he saved enough for a handsome stone with his mother’s name carved upon it, which he had placed upon her grave. So, whether through fear of the supernatural or old-fashioned guilt, something good came from a paranormal incident at the farm.

Exorcism

After this incident, supernatural and unexplained happenings increased. Other farmhands and servants also reported frightening experiences while staying in the farmhouse and left their employment and the farm. This affected the farm business badly as word spread of the sinister incidents in the farmhouse, and the farmer could not get staff for love or money.

At last, in desperation, he sought advice from Reverend James Brooks, pastor of Hyde Chapel, Gee Cross, who was experienced in laying to rest the disturbed spirits of the dead. The Reverend Brookes gathered the help of several devout Christians from around the locality. Under his direction, they spent several nights in the haunted rooms and passages of the farmhouse. With their help, he performed special services and rituals designed to drive out evil or lay unquiet spirits to rest.

Initially, his efforts seemed successful as for over twelve months, no other supernatural phenomenon was reported. However, inexplicable, and alarming events eventually resumed, but these were far fewer for shorter durations, but gradually increased so the exorcism was considered to have failed.

The following reports are from a period beginning in 1880 and reported over the next decade.

The Rocking Chair Incident

One day in the mid-afternoon, the farmer’s wife, with her young son and daughter, remained in the house while her family and staff were working the farm. She had just washed a tub of clothes and taken them out in the yard to hang on the washing line. As she was busy outside pegging out the washing, her children, as children so often do, saw their chance for making mischief. So, with their mother busy outside, they snuck off to open the pantry door, where they knew they would find tasty homemade jam, cakes, and biscuits to feast upon. As they greedily ate the delicacies, getting jam all over their fingers and faces, a sudden almighty crash from the room directly above made them jump in fear and guilt.

Terrified and believing there must be intruders, they dashed out into the yard for the protection of their mother and to warn her of their fears. Seeing the sticky red jam on their face and fingers, their mother realised they had raided the pantry. But seeing the fear in their eyes and having also heard the crash decided to investigate. Being a rustic, no-nonsense woman, she seized the yard broom as a weapon and marched into the house and up the stairs to the room above the pantry, her children following.

Entering the room, she was stunned to see an old rocking chair pitching violently back and forth. It was as if some invisible person in great agitation was sitting in it. She grew even more alarmed as the chair’s motion continued unabated, and although she tried, she could not stop it. So, she sent her children to find help, and they alerted one of the farm labourers. He laughed at their tale but told them to wait outside while he investigated.

Entering the room, he found the farmer’s wife bewildered and at a loss at what to do as the chair rocked violently up and down. Although he was as fit and strong as any local man and no coward, he was highly superstitious. Seeing the pitching of the rocking chair with no one appearing to be seated in it, he was paralysed with fear, too terrified to do anything. At last, unable to think of anything better, the farmer’s wife sat in the rocking chair, finally stopping its motion.

According to local tradition, the rocking chair belonged to the old dame who had been very fond of it. She was rumoured to have died while rocking in the chair in that room, and it was claimed that her unquiet spirit had set the chair in motion.

An Uncanny Garden Plot

Although the inside of the farmhouse had an eerie reputation, strange things also happened outside. The garden was fertile and highly productive except for a mysterious patch of brown soil, which seemed as good as the rest. Strangely, no plant ever grew in this patch, and an uncanny and eerie feeling emanated from it. In the hottest summer, anyone standing on that patch experienced coldness seeping into their feet that crept into their mind. Yet, inexplicably, in winter, it never froze over or turned white with frost or snow.

Earlier owners had tried to cultivate this spot but to no avail. Despite everything they tried, not a single blade of grass, weed or flower would grow. Yet, take the soil and place it in a pot away from that patch of ground, and plants thrived. Primroses, tulips, daffodils, and all the garden flowers were planted but failed to grow in that sterile plot. Vegetables and fruits were also tried but were also unsuccessful. The best gardeners using the best fertilisers and tending this patch with all skill and care did not get a solitary shoot from that soil in that location. But place the earth in a pot away from the patch, and plants thrived. It was most mysterious!

Eventually, one gardener dug down deeper than the others and, to his shock and horror, unearthed numerous bones that proved to be of human origin. This led to a theory that it was not the fertility of the soil that was the problem. Instead, by the presence of the bones, it was guessed that some act of evil had contaminated the patch and emanated up through the ground, counteracting the soil’s natural fertility. Furthermore, the bones belonged to a victim who had been wickedly murdered and buried under the plot. Alternatively, the bones had belonged to a person who had been filled with wickedness while alive. That wickedness possessed the patch and accounted for the coldness and unnatural attributes of the plot.

The Black Cat

Another strange report tells how the wife of one of the farmers received an uncanny omen of the death of one of her family. Her brother worked on the farm and had fallen ill, and she had taken it on herself to nurse him.

One day she had been forced to leave him unattended while she walked to Gee Cross on urgent farm business. Worrying about her brother, she walked quickly to Gee Cross, completed the farm business, and set off for home. While on her way, she was startled when a black cat walked across her path. It sat down, gazing at her for a few seconds with a knowing look, then jumped up and ran off. Around the locality where she lived black cats were seen as omens of misfortune. Nevertheless, she was more concerned with her brother’s health than black cats and pushed the incident from her mind and hurried on.

To her alarm, what looked like the same black cat again crossed her path, sat, looked at her, and ran off. Thinking it very coincidental, she continued to hurry back to her brother. She had not gone far when to her disbelief, the black cat reappeared, repeating the same behaviour. She tried but could not catch it, so putting all thoughts about black cats aside, she resumed her journey home.

On reaching the narrow lane that ran to her home, she found her mother had walked up from the farmhouse to meet her. It was a lovely summer evening, warm and still, yet comfortable. There was no murmur or movement in the air, and no sound of bird, animal, or anything else could be heard near or far. The mother and daughter walked along in silence, pleasantly lost in their thoughts, enjoying the evening.

The lane was bounded here and there by hawthorn hedges. As they walked, bushes to their right-hand side suddenly began to rustle and shake violently and inexplicably. Then, as they stared in shock, they saw a figure dressed all in white flowing robes leave the farmhouse door and glide along the other side of the hedge.

Realising something had happened at the farmhouse, they hurried home. On entering, the farmer’s wife ran upstairs to the sickbed of her brother only to find to her sorrow, that he had just expired.

Laid To Rest

The incidents mentioned here are just a small selection of those that have been claimed to have witnessed at the farmhouse during its long history.  It would be comforting to think that the unquiet soul of the old dame had at lasd found peace or whatever restless spirits or disturbed presence that had lurked in its confines had passed back to where it belonged.

©16/11/2022 zteve t evans


References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright zteve t evans November16th, 2022


Paiute Legends: A Journey To The Ghost Land Of Shin-Au-Av

Shin-au-av

Death Valley in Eastern California is a strange, forbidden, and mysterious place of myths and legends of the First People. One legend from the Native American Paiute people of the region tells of the Ghost Land – the realm of the dead – ruled over by Shin-au-av (1), and accessed through caves and tunnels under the desert valley. This tells how a Paiute chief grieved so much by the death of his wife could not face living without her. The more he dwelt upon the memory of his dead wife, the more determined he became to join her. Finally, after much thought, he decided he would travel in his earthly body to the Ghost Land (2) to find her.

The Journey to the Ghost Land

After spiritually preparing himself, he followed the trail of his ancestors through miles of underground tunnels and passages for days. It was a perilous long, lonely, and harrowing journey through the depths and bowels of the earth. These dark places were inhabited by strange vicious beasts, evil spirits, and demons, and he had to fight off their attacks. Nevertheless, he was determined to reach the realm of Shin-au-av to reunite with his dear wife and overcome all the perils he faced. After many weary, fear-filled days, he finally came to the end of the tunnel and stepped into the most glorious light. 

As his eyes grew used to the light, he found himself on a high ledge looking down the throat of an abyss. On the far side of the chasm was a beautiful land of soft sunshine and lush green meadows. From the ledge where he stood, a narrow rock bridge arched over a dark, bottomless void and was the only way he could find to reach the other side and the beautiful land beyond. He realized he either had to go back or brave the bridge crossing. The chief was bold and determined to reach the realm of Shin-au-av and find his wife, so he carefully crossed over the bridge to the other side. 

As he stepped off the bridge, he was welcomed by a beautiful maiden who introduced herself as the daughter of Shin-au-av. She escorted him to a small valley that was very much like a giant natural amphitheater and told him to be seated. 

The Dance of the Dead

Sitting as she directed, he looked before him and saw thousands upon thousands of dead people all dancing in a great circle before him. He saw that they all seemed fit, well, and incredibly happy. This gave him great comfort thinking his wife would be happy too. But, watching intently as they all danced in the circle before him, he felt despondent and said, “How will I ever find my wife among so many?”

The daughter of Shin-au-av promised him he would find her but told him he must be patient. She went away and returned with food and drink to make his watch more bearable. After eating with him, she told him she had to go, but before leaving, she told him, 

“Your wife is one of the dancers and will dance in the circle with the others. As soon as you see her, run into the circle, take hold of her, and carry her out as quickly as you can. After that, you and she must return to the world above. Go back over the bridge and through the tunnels the way you came. Whatever you do, neither of you must look back – I repeat – do not look back!”  

He watched the dance for seven days and saw many people dancing in the circle; thousands passed before him. A number of these he recognized who had been his family or friends, while others he saw had been his enemies dancing in the circle together. But, to his frustration, his wife did not appear in the dance, and he began to despair. 

At last, she appeared, and he quickly jumped up and ran forward, embracing her and pulling her out of the circle. The two joyously ran hand in hand across the valley to the rock bridge that spanned the void. Approaching the bridge, they slowed down to cross carefully and safely. The chief nervously glanced over his shoulder to see if they were being followed. When he looked to the fore again, he was shocked to see his wife vanish before his eyes and found himself alone.

Return Home

Stunned by his foolishness and not knowing what else to do, he made his way back over the rock bridge and through the dark tunnels the way he had come. Finally, after many dangerous adventures, he found his way home and told his people of the Dance of the Dead and the wonder of the realm of Shin-au-av and the dark terrors of the tunnels he had endured in his dark, lonely journey. Despite his escape, he yearned for the day he would return to join the Dance of the Dead and reunite with his beloved wife in the Ghost Land of Shin-au-av.

© 11/10/2022 zteve t evans


Notes

(1) Shin-au-av in connection with this legend sometimes comes across as the name of a mythical underground land of the dead, or lost city, or kingdom. In this work I am interpreting Shin-au-va to be the ruler of the land of dead, which was nameded epynomynously after him, but also known as the Ghost Land or other names. There is also a cultural hero, spirit or god named Shin-au-va and sometime two siblings known as the Shin-au-va brothers appear in several legends. The elder of these is named Tabuts or similar and considerd a wolf, while the younger is Shinangway and considered a wolf. Shi-au-va is sometines associated with a spirit or hero called Na-gun-to-wip which is also sometime the name of a fabled place. (This all needs more research).

(2) It is worth noting the Paiutes are also strongly connected to the Ghost Dance religion and wonder if this legend also has associationssomewhere along the line. (This needs more research)


References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 11th, 2022 zteve t evans


Japanese Folktales: The Legend of the Haunted Furisodé

FURISODÉ

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.

O-SAMÉ

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.

© 23/02/2022 zteve t evans



References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 23rd, 2022 zteve t evans


Psychopomps in Breton Myths and Folktales: Entering the Afterlife

Breton Folklore

Breton myths and folktales are often a dark blend of Celtic, pagan and Christian influences that result in magic and wonder mixed with the morbid and macabre.  There are many tales, myths and legends concerning everyday and important issues such as  love and death.

For all of us, death is the great unknown and people all around the world throughout history have invented many different ways of thinking about the subject.  One of the most universal ways of representing death  was through the use of personifications.  In simple terms this the giving of human characteristics or form to abstract ideas, inanimate objects or something that is not human. 

Death itself can be personified in many other ways such as the personification known as the Grim Reaper, but there are many other representations, some as dark, others lighter.

Psychopomps

In many societies death needed a servant that would guide or bring the soul of the deceased to the place of the afterlife.  Such servants were called psychopomps and presented here is a brief discussion of two psychopomps from Breton folklore and mythology.  The first is a rather grim and forbidding entity known as the Ankou who was  a collector of souls for his master Death.  The second tells of a fair knight who came back from the dead to guide his betrothed to the afterlife.  In the course of the discussion we also look at a few folkloric motifs present in the examples given.

The Ankou

In Breton mythology and folklore the Ankou can appear in various guises in different regions of Brittany. There are also Welsh, Cornish and Anglo-Norman interpretations of him.  In some versions he is either a tall, gaunt man wearing a long black cloak or a skeleton  carrying a long scythe though earlier traditions say it was an arrow.  He is often mistaken for the Grim Reaper, but they are not the same.  In other versions he appears as an old man accompanying a horse drawn coach or cart. His role is not to judge or punish but to ensure the transition of the soul to the afterlife and will tolerate no interference in this.   

When he stops outside the house of the dying person he may knock on the door, or he may utter a low mournful wail to summon the dead to his cart.  Sometime accompanied by two ghostly assistants he will enter a home and take away the soul of the dead.

He is presented as a very grim and macabre figure and in some places he is the king of the dead.  His subjects move in processions along particular paths to the afterlife.  Some traditions say he is the last man to die in a parish in the  year who will automatically assume the role of the Ankou and the supervision of the souls of the dead.  

Nola and  Gwennolaïk

A very different kind of psychopomp appears in a Breton folktale called The Foster Brother.  This story revolves around a relationship between a young man named Nola and a young woman named Gwennolaïk. The story tells how the two fell in love when Gwennolaïk was eighteen years old after her natural mother and two sisters had passed away.   After her mother’s death her father had remarried twice and she had gained an older foster brother who was not a blood relative.  They had grown to know and love each other deeply spending all their time together.  Their relationship deepened and the two promised that they would wed with each other and no one else.

Strange Dreams

They were very happy in those days thinking and planning their future together but there came a time when Nola grew troubled.  He told Gwennolaïk that he had been experiencing strange dreams telling him he had to leave home and find his fortune.  This broke Gwennolaïk’s heart but not wanting to stand in his way she consented and gave him a ring that had belonged to her mother to remember her by.  

Promising he would return one day to marry her he took a ship to distant shores.  During his absence she missed him terribly, spending many hours pining alone and praying he would soon return to marry her.  This would release her from the awful life of drudgery and misery she now endured, partly because he was gone and partly because her step-mother treated her cruelly.  

The Stepmother

She gave poor Gwennolaïk all the hard and dirty jobs berating her with harsh words and kept her hungry all the time making her wear rags.  Six years passed in this way and Gwennolaïk was getting so run down and tired she believed she would  be better off dead.

The Fair Knight

One day while fetching water from a nearby brook she met a fair knight on horseback waiting by the water. His face was hidden and she could make out none of his features. To her surprise and embarrassment he asked her if she was betrothed.  After telling him she was not the knight reached down and placed in her hand a ring.  He told her to go back and tell her stepmother she was now betrothed to a knight from Nantes.  Furthermore, she was to say that there had been a bloody battle and her betrothed had been badly wounded but would in three days time come and claim her for his wife.

Saying no more he quickly turned and rode off leaving Gwennolaïk staring at the ring too surprised to even move.  As she gazed at the ring she realized it was the same one she had given to Nola when he departed and realized the fair knight was none other than him.

Disappointment

She waited in vain those three days and to her heartbreak and disappointment Nola did not come.  Worse still her stepmother told her she had decided that she would marry and had chosen someone for her.  Gwennolaïk was horrified by the idea and showed her the ring and told her of the knight.  She insisted it was Nola who had returned to marry her.  Her step-mother would not listen and took the ring from her.  

What they did not know was that a knight who had been mortally wounded in the battle at Nantes had been given a Christian burial in the nearby White Chapel.  

Marriage

The husband her stepmother had chosen for her  was the stable lad and to Gwennolaïk’s grief and mortification they were married.  After the marriage there was a banquet but Gwennolaïk was depressed and miserable and unable to face the reception and her guests.   Appalled and driven mad by the thought of being married to anyone other than Nola she ran off into the woods.

Fever

A thorough search of the locality was undertaken but no trace of her could be found.  In fact she had hidden herself deep in a thicket where she lay weeping and shivering in the cold and damp.  As night came black and cold she shivered more and more and weeping and crying for the hardness of the world caught a fever.  In her delirium she thought she heard something moving through the thicket towards her and cried out in fear and alarm.

Nola Returns

A voice told her that it was Nola and that he had come for her.  Disbelieving him at first she looked up and saw  a fair knight approach on a white steed.   Reaching down he easily lifted her up to sit behind.  He told her to hold on tight and he would take her to her mother and sisters in a place where they would all be together forever.  

W. Otway Cannell (Illustrator), Lewis Spence (Author), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A Magical Journey

From this point she is close to death and he has appeared from beyond the grave to find her and take her back to join him and her family in the afterlife.   As her life fades he takes her on a magical journey.  They cross the land to the sea and the horse gallops over the top of the waves to a beautiful island where a celebration was being made ready.  He explains it is their wedding celebration that is being prepared.  The two were married and to her joy she was reunited with her dead mother and two sisters .   There was great singing and dancing  and at last Gwennolaïk found peace and happiness in the afterlife.

Meanwhile, as the wedding takes place, back in the earthly realm searchers finally find the expired body of Gwennolaïk and give her a proper Christian burial.

Folkloric Motifs

There are several interesting folkloric motifs in the story.  For example, the loss of Gwennolaïk’s real mother and the wicked stepmother.  There is also the foster brother as the love who goes off to find his fortune and in this case returns to die before the wedding.  The initial and inexplicable failure of Gwennolaïk to recognise Nola on his return is at first puzzling but then becomes clear that something else will happen.  It is a device used in  many fairy and folktales as is the ring given by Gwennolaïk to Nola which he gives back to identify himself. 

Nola, having had a Christian burial and Gwennolaïk a Christian marriage and finally a Christian burial become entwined in pagan and Celtic influences.

The horse he rides is interesting because it takes them on a magical journey over the sea to a magical island.  In many traditions the Celtic Otherworld could be reached by crossing the sea and in several tales such as the Irish tale of Oisin and Naimh of the Goldenhair, a magical horse is used to take them there.

Nola as a Psychopomp

Perhaps the most interesting contrast is how the soul of Gwennolaïk is taken to the afterlife by her beloved Nola who she has waited and yearned for.  Surely a much more welcome and comforting transition to the afterlife than via the macabre Ankou!

Guiding the Soul to the Afterlife

However, in cultures all around the world psychopomps appear in various forms which may be familiar and comforting taking the form of a family member or friend or they may be dark and forbidding.  In whatever form they appear they perform an important task in guiding or helping the soul of the deceased to find their place in the afterlife.

© 19/11/2020 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright November 19th, 2020 zteve t evans

Ghostlore: The Phantom of the Fell

Public Domain

Presented below is a retelling of a Lancashire folktale from Goblin Tales of Lancashire by James Bowker, where it was called The Phantom of the Fell.

The High Fell at Night

The High Fell is an impressive sight in daylight but at night when the moon is full it takes on a glory of its own.  One evening in the middle of June a local man named Giles Wheeler had been celebrating the wedding of a distant relative. During those celebrations he had felt within him a longing for the company of his own dear sweetheart the rosy-faced, warm-hearted Lisa, who was the miller’s only daughter.  It was a long road home and in daylight the quickest way was through the ravine that split the Fell in two but that was something few local people did after dark. It had long been rumoured that something evil lurked in the ravine and walked the Fell at night. Even in daylight people walked a considerable distance out of their way to avoid passing near the darksome place.

Giles was not overly superstitious and being a vigorous man in the prime of life had little fear of the Fell at night or the supposed fiend that haunted it though normally by habit  he would have played safe and avoided it because of its darkness and danger from the cliffs and ridges. However, this night the moon lit the hillside gloriously and he judged he had sufficient light to pass through safely.  Had he not been in such a hurry he might have noticed that as well as being gloriously moonlit, it was a calm and peaceful night. The only sound was the gently whispering of the breeze through the bracken.

Giles took no notice of such trivialities as moonlight and the breeze through the bracken he had his mind full of the delights of Lisa.   Maybe another night, with less pressing concerns on his mind Giles would have avoided the ravine on High Fell despite it being a substantial short cut to the old mill and the miller’s cuddly daughter.

The Ravine

On this night he was in a hurry and putting aside all of the terrifying stories he had heard he stepped into the darkness of the ravine leaving the moonlight behind.  His desire for Lisa was strong but as he walked along in the moonlight he kept thinking back to those tales. Each shadow that loomed before him and each rustle behind him made him start and his heart jump.  His skin grew cold and prickled and his fear rose. He told himself not to be foolish, that the shadows were nought but shadows and the rustling behind him was nought but the breeze in the bracken. Entering into the ravine he was surprised to find it was very misty and he pulled his coat around him feeling chilled to the bone despite it being a warm midsummer night. He felt it before he heard it.  The scream penetrated his brain.  He froze in fear. It cut right through him.  Possessed him! 

Forcing himself on the deathly wail broke the night again as he reached a curve in the ravine.  The terrible wail was not intended to terrify rather to express melancholy, sadness and woe. As it washed over him he knew the maker of such a sound could not be from this world.  Startled, he looked in its direction and in the moonlight saw the shape of a woman against the moon standing upon a cliff.  Her face was pale with a fragile beauty, her long black hair had a strange lustre, her dark eyes a melancholy, pleading, allure that sought him out and looked deep into his soul and then she was gone.

She appeared a little way before him and he stood spellbound worshiping her beauty.  All fear was replaced by a delirious desire to speak – to speak and to be spoken to – by this most beautiful woman who appeared to be in such anguish.  As her lips moved his heart beat faster expecting her to speak to him.

To his shock and disappointment instead of speaking words she uttered another long, low, lamenting wail and held out her arms invitingly to him.  Now, he hurried forward eager to greet her. She turned slowly gliding on a few paces before turning and beckoning – inviting him to follow. She floated further along the ravine where the moonlight was at its brightest beckoning and appealing to him with those dark eyes and he hurried after her.  She turned and holding her arms out towards him, her eyes pleading, inviting, her arms welcoming. As he reached out to touch and take her, she vanished and he grasped at nothing.  Bewildered and deeply disappointed he ran around anxiously trying to find her again. Frantically, he looked around, but there was no sight of her to be seen. He retraced his steps through the ravine but even in the bright moonlight could find no trace of her.  Fearful of losing her he crisscrossed the ravine desperately seeking her and roamed around High Fell until dawn.  Finally, instead of continuing his journey to his sweetheart Lisa he went back to his own family home.

Home

Unwilling to tell his parents of his experience on the High Fell during the night he told them that he had not left the wedding celebrations until midnight. Having drunk too much ale he had become lost on the way home. This appeared to satisfy them though it was remarked that after such festivities it was a wonder he had found his way home at all! 

Throughout the day his mother and father became aware their son was unusually quiet and reflective and nothing like his usual cheerful and energetic self.  His father put it down to the ale the night before, while his mother thought perhaps the wedding was making him reflect on his own marital status and hoped for one for her son soon.

When Giles suddenly stood up and announced he was going out for a few hours, giving no hint of where he was going, his mother nodded and looked knowingly upon her son as he walked purposefully through the door into the falling twilight.  In fact, it was not in the direction of the old mill that Giles turned when he left the house but the opposite direction he stepped with his eyes fixed upon High Fell. He deliberately took his time loitering here and there with the deliberate intention of entering the ravine that evening after the gloaming by the light of the moon.

He walked unwarily with no intent at concealment knowing on the path he traveled at that time of the evening he would be unlikely to meet anyone.  All he cared about was meeting the beautiful woman – phantom – or spirit, that he had met the night before on the Fell. Taking a seat on a boulder outside the ravine he sat down to wait for the moon to rise hoping she would appear once again to him.

Woman or ghoul he did not care he had to see her and he waited.  He waited and watched as the night began to unfold around him feeling her presence, knowing she was near as the mist appeared and thickened around him. Once again he felt it before he heard it a strange lamenting wail cutting through his mind.  He knew there were words in that long moaning scream but could not make them out. 

Return to the Ravine

He entered the ravine as the moon rose in full glory and walked slowly down the path between the crags.  Again he felt her presence, but stronger than before, then the low, long mournful wail crept through the night he looked towards the sound and saw her standing in the moonlight high upon a crag her outstretched arms beckoning to him.

In growing desire and anticipation he moved towards her as she floated down from the crag to stand a short way down the path before him.  He caught a glimpse of those mysteriously dark eyes – appealing – pleading. She beckoned to him, turned and glided further down the path toward the heart of the dark clough.  He had no other choice than to follow as she drew him deeper into the jagged maw of the ravine and turned to face him her dark eyes shining in the moonlight her black hair flowing in the breeze.  There she stood, white dress shimmering in the moonlight her arms outstretched beckoning, her eyes pleading – inviting. Giles stumbled on reaching out for her but as he looked into the depths of her pleading eyes, she uttered a low mournful cry and as he reached to hold her she dissolved before him.

Aghast, Giles ran up and down trying to find her but she was gone.  All that was left was that low mournful sound that echoed in his mind.  He spent the night searching the ravine and the Fell but all in vain. As the sun rose he made his way back to the farm of his parents feeling mournful at her loss, bewitched and musing upon how he could find her again.

Over the following days the urge to gaze upon that beautiful face and to lose himself  in those pleading eyes consumed him. He took to sitting around and refused to eat. In the evenings he would leave his parents farm to ramble alone on the High Fell in the hope of once again seeing that mysteriously beautiful stranger.  

Lisa

June passed into July and his mother, father and Lisa could not help noticing the change in his behaviour. Worse still, the continual refusal to explain himself and his nocturnal ramblings caused them great worry and they speculated wildly upon what it was that was troubling him.

July passed into August and the miller, Lisa’s father, to her upset took a less than charitable view suggesting Giles nocturnal rambles were in fact visits to a nearby town and that he had fallen into evil ways. Despite her father’s dark opinion of Giles, the ever faithful Lisa went to her fiance’s house to meet and talk with him in the hope of winning back his devoted attention.

Giles listened to her earnest and heartfelt pleadings full of shame but would not, indeed, could not, give her assurances that he would change his ways.  She argued with logic, she reasoned, she begged she pleaded and used all her womanly wiles, but Giles refused to promise to change his ways.

Lisa was left thinking that her father was right and bitterly accused him of being dishonest and unfaithful to her and left for home in tears.  Halfway home she stopped and thought about running back to him, throwing herself upon him and begging him to tell her the truth. She would forgive any indiscretions but insist his behaviour must stop.  Something inside her stopped her, perhaps pride, perhaps anger but she didn’t. Instead, she went back home to her father at the mill. As for Giles, he was deeply upset and desperately ashamed and sorry for his behaviour but he knew he could not stop and refused to tell further lies. Nevertheless, he realised he was steadily falling completely under the power of the mysterious woman and tried to resist. 

August passed into September and then into October and all those long days and nights his mind was assailed by the vision of the woman of the Fell and he heard her long lonely moan day and night.

The Mad Man on the Fell

One night towards the end of November he made his way up to the High Fell to the ravine and began searching for the mysterious woman in white.  He walked up and down and round and round in circles, becoming increasingly frantic as the night progressed without her appearance. Again and again he spoke out loud appealing to her to present herself to him, but to no avail.

Occasionally, as on this night poachers visited the High Fell in the hope of finding game.   This night two of the miller’s men were out poaching and on hearing a voice quickly concealed themselves so as not to be discovered in their illicit activity.  They were both intrigued and shocked at what they witnessed that night. 

In their place of concealment they saw Giles appear out of the ravine frantically babbling as if he was talking or appealing to an invisible being.  He ran straight towards them appearing half-crazed shouting and babbling in agitation. They could not quite make out what he was saying but as he drew nearer they realized he appeared to be appealing and begging to some invisible being to show themselves to him. 

The two poachers remained hidden, first not wanting to reveal themselves in their illegal activity, but also, quite simply, they were scared at what they saw and agreed together to say nothing to anyone of what they had seen of the madman on the Fell.  When Giles ran the opposite way to where they were they took their opportunity and ran as quickly as they could back home.

Fever

At dawn Giles somehow made his way down the hillside and back home.  To the worry of his parents he was in a state of high fever and delirium ranting and calling out to some invisible presence only he could see. He raved about a beautiful, mysterious face and someone with dark, pleading eyes. 

This confirmed to his parents their worst fears. Sorrowfully they tended to his needs as he lay raving in bed.  This terrible affliction continued for several weeks and in that time, especially at night, Giles would try to leave the safety of his family home to go wandering in the dark.  His parents steadfastly thwarted this ambition but still he called out to someone they could not see or hear, sometimes whispering, “She of the dark, dark eyes is calling,” while his broken-hearted parents wept by his bedside.

It was bad enough for his devoted parents to see the physical deterioration in his body along with his mental state.  It was made worse for them by learning from his ravings of a beautiful woman with “dark, dark eyes” that he appeared to have been meeting up on the High Fell.  Nevertheless, he was still their son and although they loved him dearly they could not help but to think he had fallen into sin and shame as they listened to his wild and impassioned ravings.

The Feeroin

They lived on the edge of a tight knit community and it was not long before people began to talk and word reached the ears of Lisa.  She carried herself through these troubled times staunchly, believing she was now seen as an object of pity.

It so happened that the two of the miller’s men who had been up on the fell poaching went to their employer telling him of what they had seen that night. They told him they believed Giles was under the spell of the feeorin of the fell.  The miller rebuked them for poaching but sent them to speak to the worried parents of Giles of what they had seen.  For Lisa this gave her hope that her fiance had not been unfaithful as she had feared. She was sorry for ever doubting him and she went along with them.

After the two told their story of what they had seen and that they believed him to be under the spell of the feeroin of the fell his parents readily seized upon it.  To them this seemed the most sensible explanation of their son’s behaviour and rebuked themselves for not having more faith in him. Although a load was removed from their shoulders Giles still remained critically ill, but now Lisa stayed on and helped to take care of him.

Lisa and Giles

Both she and his parents now ignored his ravings and nursed him diligently and carefully.  Eventually his condition improved enough for him to sit in a chair by the fire. As the December snows began to fall he sat by the hearth in a dream-like state watching the pictures in the flickering flames.   Seeing his improvement Liza dared to dream of the day when he would return to his old self and happiness would smile upon them. She desperately wanted their wedding day to be fixed, despite all the love and attention she heaped upon him Giles treated her with a cold, but polite dispassion.   He was not being ungrateful, in fact he fully appreciated the dedication and nursing  she had lavished upon him. He always politely thanked her for each and everything but realised that Lisa sensed something was still amiss with him.  Despite this, she still she lovingly continued her service to him without question. 

Giles, no matter how he tried, could not return the love she bestowed upon him.   He was completely possessed by the dark eyes of the mysterious woman on the Fell. Knowing that the truth would devastate Lisa he kept himself to a polite silence.

On Lisa’s part she sensed the coolness towards her but restrained from remonstrating with him fearing it might reverse the good progress in his physical health he had made.  Sadly, when she was alone she wept for the change she saw in him. 

For all the love she poured upon him Giles could not return what he not  did not feel. His heart and mind was entirely possessed by the mysterious woman on the Fell.  He knew it was wrong and he was wracked with guilt at the same time. No matter how he tried he could not get the image of her out of his mind; her dark eyes, her long flowing hair, and that sad mournful cry. It was these that dominated his thoughts and his emotions while he knew poor Lisa suffered but could not in anyway alleviate that suffering.  

For him the intense longing he was feeling or the mysterious girl in the moonlight was building up. As the days moved towards Christmas and the festive season, he again began to see her dark eyes everywhere and hear her mournful lament in the wind through the trees. He tried to enter into the spirit of the season hoping it would take his mind off the mysterious woman.

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve came and Lisa went home to her father promising to visit him in the morning.  His parents went to bed early being exhausted and feeling their age and left him to sit up alone staring into the fire.  From where he sat by the fire he could turn his head and look through the window to the High Fell and saw in his mind’s eye the woman in the moonlight beckoning and crying her long, sad cry. 

In the distance he saw the High Fell black against the sky and he knew she was calling to him.  He longed more than anything in the world to take her in his arms and look into those dark eyes though he feared what he knew he would see. 

Fortunately there had always been someone nearby, either one or other of his parents or the faithful Lisa, who had prevented him from venturing out.  Tonight on Christmas Eve he found himself alone and looking through the window at the falling snow and glancing towards the High Fell he swore he saw her.   And then she came to him ….

The Phantom of the Fell

He heard her call and through the window he saw her.  Those dark, dark eyes pleading and her outstretched arms beckoning him into her loving embrace. With no one to stop him he left the fireside and put on his coat and ventured outside into the snow.  Slowly and weakly but with steely resolve he made his way through the biting wind and thick snow to the haunted ravine.

When his parents awoke Christmas morning they let their son lay in while they prepared the festivities. When Lisa arrived bearing him a special Christmas gift his mother called into his room to see where he was and his absence was discovered.  She called her husband who wasted no time in seeking help from his neighbours and they followed his tracks in the snow. They reached the High Fell and found it shrouded in a thick mist which frigid pink sun shone through turning the ravine into a  phantasmagoria of ghastly jagged teeth. In the weird light they followed his footprints up to the ravine and pausing looked at one another in hushed silence and then and then entered the dread place.

From the tracks Giles had made they guessed he had become frantic with steps leading back and forth and hither and thither.  His father, who was leading the party, suddenly stopped holding up his hand. The tracks ended abruptly at the edge of a cliff he had almost stepped over.  After a short discussion it was decided to follow the course of the path which would twist round and pass below the cliff. With growing dread they followed the path to place below the cliff where the grief of his father father and the horror of all present they found his broken body on the path his face frozen in a wild death mask.

© 23/12/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright zteve t evans December 23rd, 2019

Ghostlore: The Night Humphrey Dobson Had A Fright

Illustration by Charles Gliddon – Believed to be Public Domain

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

The Pillion Lady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 31/07/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 31st, 2019 zteve t evans


Ghostlore: The White Dobbie of Old Lancashire

Hanuš Schwaiger [Public domain]

This a retelling of a story called the The White Dobbie,  set in part of the historic county of Lancashire which became part of the the modern county of Cumbria  and comes from a book by James Bowker called Goblin Tales of Lancashire. It comes from a time when the cartographic and administrative borders of the land were different than they are today. Such borders are very much the creation of the human mind and can change on a whim. Furthermore, the map is not the territory and the borders between this world, the next, or indeed others, are not subject to human laws. There are times they can be crossed and this story tells of a strange liminal being and his familiar spirit in the form of a white hare who appeared every now and then from across such a border at certain times.

The White Dobbie

Many many years ago the people who lived in villages between Bardsea to Rampside in the area of Furness  told of a strange wandering being that roamed the remote roads along the coast. No one ever learnt who this strange being was or the reason that brought him on his lonely, melancholy way, past the remote cottages in the darkest of nights and foulest of weather. His arrival  was a well known phenomenon in that area and local people called him the White Dobbie or Dobby, which is a local name for a ghost.

This wandering  ghost had a sad, wan and desolate look about him.  Wild, hungry, eyes stared out of a wild face covered by a long unkempt beard,  giving him an aura of feral mystery and terror. Stranger still he did not walk alone.   He had an uncanny companion; a familiar spirit that loped along before him. This familiar took the appearance a of  ghastly white hare. A famished, impoverished looking creature with bloodshot eyes and an ill aura about it that marked it being clearly not of this world.

An Unknown Mission

No one knew or could foretell when this wandering ghost would appear. He never spoke or answered to anyone but totally disregarding all he came across. He simply kept his eyes before him and ignored any startled cries of surprise  or fear, by anyone who inadvertently came across him, as he sojourned upon his lonely way. Never once did he stop to gaze through the window panes at the cheery glow of a roaring fire while he, an outsider, stood watching the cosy life of the inhabitants inside.  He simply carried on past the few cottages continuing on his unknown mission, whatever that may be, as if life and death were dependent upon it, letting nothing and no one get in his way. Not that anyone would have dared to try to impede or obstruct him for his very presence exuded a fearful warning and no one would willingly have attempted interference with him for the very life of them.

The local people came to be able to predict his appearances by the weather.  Whenever the salt wind whipped the sea into a foam, or drove blinding snow across the land forming drifts as high as the  window-sills and piling it against the doors of the cottages, he would appear. When storms rolled in from the sea and wreaked their anger upon the land then it was certain that this lonely figure would appear from no one knew where.  As the storm raged through the darkness he made his lonely way on his unknown, solitary, mission.

The Ghastly White Hare

As the snow fell and the wind wailed folk could be heard calling to the Lord to save them from the wandering White Dobbie and his ghastly white hare. Drawing their curtains they quickly ushered their little ones into the safety of a back room until he passed by on his lonely way with his ghastly familiar running on before.  If by mischance some unwary traveler should venture across these two bizarre specters the ghostly white hare would instantly leap and bury itself into a cavernous pocket in the dobbie’s coat. There it would peer with baleful red eyes at the unfortunate passerby.

Its strange behaviour and ghastly appearance though repulsive to humans was more terrifying to animals.  Dog, cats, farm and even wild birds and animals could sense its presence, falling silent and scurrying away to hide at its approach.  Any creature unfortunate to encounter the white hare face to face invariably uttered a shriek of terror and bolted in the opposite direction over ditch and hedge through thicket and briar to escape the devil beast and its baleful stare.

For many many years these two weird and lonely specters could be seen walking the lanes and roads.  Grown men could remember them from their early childhood and their parents and grandparents and great grandparents remembered them. Way back further than living memory folk had spoken of the ghastly wanderers but there was no memory of the dobbie ever speaking a single word to anyone.   Nevertheless there came a time when that rule was to be broken.

The Bardsea Bell

One darkling evening as the wind began to rise heralding the coming storm along the road came the White Dobbie and his ghastly familiar.  The road led up to the old church where the Bardsea bell was sadly tolling for the passing of the newly dead. In this way for years beyond count the good residents of Bardsea were informed of the the presence of a new death in their community.  The bell ringer had tolled out the news of death over the years more times than she cared to remember but this night was different. Instead of the melancholy sadness usually experienced an atmosphere of cold fear prevailed in the bell tower lit by a single lantern.  Most of the times she had tolled out the news had been in daylight and rarely by night. Every now and then she glanced around and over her shoulder, fearful of the flickering shadows cast by the lantern and murmuring a quiet prayer to keep her safe. Having closed the door to prevent the wind from blowing out the lantern she was conscious of the isolation of the tower in that little world alone on the hillside.   Suddenly to her fear and alarm she heard a hissing whispering next to her and was overcome by a feeling of dread, fear and loneliness.

As she looked around she saw a white hare dancing grotesquely around the bell tower and  a whispering voice near her face said “Who for this time?” causing her to scream in terror and loosen her grip on the bell rope.  “It’s the Dobbie!” she cried and turned to look into the pale eyes of the spector who stood at her elbow staring at her.  The white hare jumped into the safety of the cavernous pocket of the dobbie and cast its bloodshot eyes in her direction.  

Despite, or perhaps because of her fear, she continued to toll the bell but in a mechanical fashion, unlike the usual tone for informing the world of the presence of death in their little community.  As she did so and to her relief two men from Bardsea burst through the door. They had been alarmed by the change of tone from the bell which had traditionally rung out the same sombre notes time and again without fail and this break from tradition had caught their attention.  They were completely taken aback to see the ghastly dobbie and his strange familiar and the bell ringer mechanical tolling the bell, a look of fear and horror frozen upon her face.

As soon as they entered the bell tower the white hare hid itself in the deep confines of the pocket.  The White Dobbie floated past them and out through the door without saying a word or giving a glance to the left or right. Out through the door it went and disappeared into the darkness of the graveyard.  For many long years there after the bell-ringer of the little church was often accosted by the ghastly phantom pair when tolling news of death at night. Each time she heard the hissing whispering question, “Who this time?” before the phantom turned and floated out through the door to dissolve into the night.  

Speculation

For many, many, years thereafter the  White Dobbie and his companion were seen at times roaming the coastal lanes and roads of the district but gradually their sightings grew less and less.  There was always a dark cloud of mystery that clung to them either when they appeared or when they left. No one could say where he had come from or where they had gone.  Of the ghastly white hare there was much speculation. Some speculated that the two had once been evil humans who were undergoing a form of divine punishment for some evil.  

The Wandering Jew

There is also an idea that this tale is a variant of the Wandering Jew, or the legend of Ahasuerus.  According to this, Ahasuerus refused Jesus a drink of water as he carried his cross to his crucifixion but instead told him to walk quicker.  Jesus replied, ‘I go, but thou shalt thirst and tarry till I come!”  Ahasuerus was made to wander the earth until judgement day.  What the significance of the white hare is in this tale is unknown but there are legends and traditions in English folklore that tell how a cruelly treated woman may become a white hare at her death and haunt her wicked lover finally causing his own death at a time of her choosing.  Could it be that the ghastly hare that accompanied the White Dobbie was the spirit of his old lover whom he had cruelly murdered or mistreated and was doling out punishment? Their lonely wandering continued for many years thereafter but gradually became less and less and what became of them no one knows.

Liminal Beings

Yet another, perhaps, stranger thought springs to mind.  We all go out about our daily lives passing people in the streets of our towns and cities or maybe out in the countryside.   Many of these we never speak to and they never speak to us as they go about their purpose and we ours. How many of these like the White Dobbie, could be liminal beings just passing by on their nameless mission and indeed, what are we to them and what of our own mission?

© 09/01/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright January 1st, 2019 zteve t evans