Cornish Folktales: The Witch of Treva

The following is a modified version of a Cornish folktale called The Witch of Treva from Popular Romances of the West of England  by Robert Hunt  revised and edited by zteve t evans

There was once a an old woman who was deeply skilled in the arts of necromancy and lived in a tiny hamlet called Treva in Cornwall.  She could make powerful, spells, incantations and charms and people in the neighborhood were terrified of her.

Nevertheless, although the local people held her in fear and awe her husband remained singularly unimpressed by her witchery and refused to believe in such things.  Instead he was more concerned about the housekeeping and the cooking especially when he came home from work when he would demand his dinner the instant he came in.

One day after a hard day’s work he came home looking forward to a good dinner which he expected to be cooked and ready, on the table for him to tuck into as soon as he walked through the door.  Imagine his shock and annoyance when he discovered there was no dinner.  In fact there was no meat, no vegetables or potatoes or any other kind of food in the house at all.

Read more

 

Advertisements

Cruel Coppinger the Cornish Smuggler

First Published on the #FolkloreThursday, web site, February 17th, 2016 under the title: Cornish Smugglers:  The Notorious Cruel Coppinger

Cruel Coppinger

One of the most extraordinary and fearsome figures in Cornish folklore and legend was Cruel Coppinger.  He is thought by many to have been a real person who attained semi-legendary status from his brutal, criminal behaviour and leadership of a ruthless band of smugglers and pirates.

abstract-772537_19201

Pixabay – Image by natureworks – CC0 Public Domain

Shipwreck

According to Cornish legend Coppinger was himself a victim of a shipwreck by a massive storm wrecked his ship off the Cornish coast. As was the practice the local people gathered at the shore to see what they could claim when the storm died down. They watched the doomed vessel sinking and the lightning flashes revealed the dark figure of a huge man leaping from the ship and striding through the wild waves to the shore.  On reaching the shore he grabbed the cloak from an old woman, roughly shoving her to the floor and then leapt on the back of a horse a young woman had ridden down to the shore.  With her still sat on the horse and him behind her shouting furiously in some unknown language, the terrified steed fled and naturally made its way to its home with them both on its back.

Read More

Cornish Folklore: The Legendary Tom Bawcock of Mousehole

Cornish Folklore: The Legendary Tom Bawcock of Mousehole

The sea and the rugged Cornish coastline dotted with fishing villages and harbors is a fertile breeding ground of many legends and traditions.  For many of the Cornish folk living around the coast, the sea provided them with a means to make a living by fishing.  As well as selling their catch for small profits it was the basic ingredient of their diet.  To catch the fish they needed suitable weather so their livelihoods were inextricably linked to the sea and the weather.

georges_jean_marie_haquette

Georges Jean-Marie Haquette (1854 – 1906) – Public Domain

Stormy Weather

Tom Bawcock was a legendary fisherman in the 16th century who lived in the Cornish fishing village of Mousehole. Like many other local people, he made his living from fishing the seas around Cornwall.  According to legend during one wintertime the area was afflicted by a series of storms and bad weather which prevented the local fishermen from putting out to sea.  This is said to have happened around Christmas time and the fishing boats remained stationary in the harbor. This bad weather continued over a prolonged period and the local people could not catch the fish that consisted of their main diet and began to starve.

Brave Tom Bawcock

According to local folklore this state of affairs continued for some time and by the 23rd of December with the village people in dire straights, one man decided something had to be done.  Tom Bawcock decided he would chance the weather and take his boat out to try and make a catch. Bravely he took his fishing boat out in the most appalling of weather and horrendous seas but good fortune was with him.  He managed to drop his nets and haul in a huge catch of fish.  When he returned he found he had several different kinds of fish all mixed together.

baked_stargazy_pieBy KristaBaked stargazy pieCC BY 2.0

Stargazy Pie

These were all placed together in one big pie with egg and potatoes providing enough to feed the entire village.  They called the dish stargazy pie.   In this dish, some of the fish heads are deliberately placed to poke through the pastry as if looking at the stars and the tails protrude as well so that it looks like the fish are leaping in and out as they would in water.  Placing them this way is also said to let the fish oils run back into the pie improving the taste and nutritional value.

Tom Bawcock’s Eve

Naturally, the villagers were delighted and Tom became their hero. A festival has been held on 23rd December which became known as Tom Bawcock’s Eve ever since in the village of Mousehole. During the evening of the 23rd, a huge stargazy pie is the centerpiece of a parade through Mousehole accompanied by villagers carrying lanterns and the pie is then eaten.  But even the Cornish weather can affect this and sometimes the lantern parade is postponed if the weather is particularly bad.

tombawcockseve

The lantern parade for Tom Bawcock’s Eve – Public Domain

There was once an older festival held in the village during the end of December which also featured a fish pie made with several varieties of seafood and it may be that Tom Bawcock’s Eve has evolved from that. Over the years the festival has grown and since 1963 the famous Christmas festive illuminations of Mousehole are included adding extra color and sparkle.

The origin of Tom Bawcock

There are alternative theories as to how the festival originated.  One proposed by a nautical archaeologist, Robert Morton Nance (1873–1959) an authority in his time on the Cornish language and one of the founders of the Old Cornish Society put forward the idea that the name Bowcock  was derived from the French Beau Coq. He thought the festival was from an era that pre-dated Christianity and thought the cock in pagan times was the bringer of light or the sun in the morning with its crowing.

Another explanation is that the name Bawcock in Middle English is a nickname for someone who is regarded as a good fellow and Tom a generic name used to describe any man.  So Tom Bawcock would mean any good fellow and perhaps, in this case, any good fellow, who was brave enough to risk his life to feed the village.  It could have been a kind of Harvest Festival celebration in honor of any or all of the village’s brave fishermen if read like this.

The Devil in a Pie!

There is a tradition that the Devil never went to Cornwall.  According to Robert Hunt, after the Old Nick crossed the River Tamar he noticed the Cornish people liked to put everything in pies.  Not fancying his chances he decided to hightail it back  before they decided to place him in one!

References, Attributions and Further Information

Copyright zteve t evans

 

Cornish Folklore: The Bells of Forrabury

There are many legends and folktales from around the world that tell of sunken bells that have either been sunk in the sea or in a lake inland.  This folktale comes from Boscastle, Cornwall in England, which is a fishing village and harbor and part of the civil parish of Forrabury and Minster and tells how the bells of Forrabury Church were lost to the sea. According to the legend there was once a degree of rivalry between the church of Forrabury and the nearby church of Tintagel whose bells were said to have pealed merrily at the marriage of King Arthur and most solemnly when he died.

The Captain and the Fisherman

The church of Forrabury had no bells and the parishioners decided that their church should also have a fine peal of bells and so they commissioned a Spanish foundry to cast a set of bells that would surpass their neighbor’s.  When the bells were cast they were blessed and carefully transported to Forrabury on a ship under the command of a Spanish captain.  The ship sailed under fair winds from Spain to England then along the rugged coast of Cornwall under the guidance of a local fisherman who was familiar with the dangers of the coastline and a good safe voyage was made.  When the ship arrived the bells of Tintagel rang out a welcome.  The pilot on hearing them realized they were safely at their destination and went down on his knees to give thanks to God for their safe keeping and the speed of their journey.

The captain was a surly fellow and laughed at the pilot, mocking him and calling him a superstitious fool.  He told the pilot that their safe and swift journey was down to a combination of his own knowledge,  the skill and hard work of his captaincy, and the hard work of the crew. He told him that soon they would come to a happy and successful end to the voyage thanks to themselves alone and pored scorn on the idea of any divine intervention.  As he finished berating the fisherman he uttered an oath and profanity to end his speech.

The fisherman told the captain to moderate his language and show gratitude to God for their safe voyage.  The captain swore and laughed and continued to insist that the only one to thank for their safe and speedy voyage was themselves and uttered a string of expletives and mocked the fisherman mercilessly.  The fisherman shook his head and said, “May God forgive you!”

The Weather Changes

Now, the seas off the Cornish coast can be changeable.  A ship’s captain may believe that because the voyage has encountered mild seas and favorable winds all will be well the entire journey.  However, a wise captain will wait until he is safely ashore before judging the quality of the voyage and will always treat the sea and weather with respect knowing they at the bidding of God.  So when the seas and weather suddenly changed within sight of the harbor this would have come as no surprise to an experienced mariner such as the fisherman and change it did.   As the weather changed and the seas grew dangerously wild a huge wave rampaged towards the ship carrying the Forrabury bells.

The Bells of Forrabury

A vast throng of local people had come out to the harbor to welcome the bells.  As the captain was uttering his profanities they watched in awe and fear as a great swell in the sea far out beyond the ship formed into a massive wave.   This then swept towards the shore catching the ship bearing the bells tossing it to and fro and finally overwhelming it and sinking it close to the shore.  As the vessel sank the horrified watchers from the shore heard the sound of the bells muffled by the water like a death knell and indeed it was.  The only person who survived the sinking of the ship was the good fisherman with the captain and everyone else on board going down with the ship.  And so it is said that when the storms rage and the wild waves race across the sea to batter that part of the Cornish coast the dull clanging of the bells can be heard rising from the depths of the foamy ocean.  Their muffled tone, though dulled by the water, ring out a warning  to the wicked and the profane to change their ways. The church of Forrabury did not get its fine bells to better those of its neighbor and perhaps there is another lesson in that.

© 01/11/2016 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright November 1st, 2016 zteve t evans

The Cornish folktale of Jan Tregeagle

Jan Tregeagle is a name that is known all over Cornwall. In Cornish folklore he is considered the wickedest man that ever lived. His cries and wails can be heard when the wind howls through the trees and woods, across the bleak, cold moors and along the rugged coasts as he struggles to complete the task allotted to him. Like the Wandering Jew who is doomed to an eternity of endless, restless wandering, Tregeagle must work to complete hopeless tasks until Judgement Day when he will be brought before the Almighty for for release, or endless condemnation as the Lord shall see fit.

The Faustian Pact

Around the world there are many legends and stories from diverse cultures that tell the story of how a person sells their soul to the devil in return for riches, power or long life. To begin with things go well as the seller reaps the benefits of the Faustian pact. However, the devil does not forget and there comes a time when he has to be paid. The story of how of Jan Tregeagle, a Cornishman, sold his soul to the devil is one such story. As is often the case with legends there are a number of different versions that vary by location and who is telling the story and this version is influenced by others. Even so the Faustian theme of a person selling their soul to the devil and the reluctance of the seller to honor the bargain when the time comes remains, as well as the setting of a series of impossible tasks to keep that person on earth until the Judgement Day. Many people think Jan Tregeagle was a real man who was a magistrate who may have lived and worked in 17th century Cornish town of Bodmin. By evil means, including cheating an orphan from their rightful inheritance, he had acquired great wealth and to help him fulfill his desire for riches he made a pact with the devil.  Read more

The Cornish Legend of the Mermaid of Zennor

Cornwall in the extreme west of England is a peninsula with a long, rugged coastline with many towering cliffs, hidden coves, harbors and small fishing villages. The Cornish people around the coast for centuries made their earthly living from the sea and took their spiritual guidance from the church and these two themes often mix with old pagan beliefs which became woven into local folklore and legend.

By H.J. Ford, illustrator – Public Domain

Is there a hidden meaning?

The legend of the Mermaid of Zennor is certainly quaint with more than a touch of romance, but could any part of it be true? There are many folktales and legends from around the British Isles that have deeper meanings than often seen apparent. They often have a hidden moral or warning of some kind hidden in the symbolism and have parallels or links to other legends from other parts of the world. Is there a hidden meaning in the legend of the Mermaid of Zennor?  Read more

Legends about Dozmary Pool on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall

Bedivere throwing Excalibur into the lake – Public Domain

Dozmary Pool is a small lake hidden away in the bleak wilderness of Bodmin Moor, Cornwall. It is a wild, remote and desolate place that is associated with a number of Cornish and British legends.

King Arthur and the Lady of the Lake

This is a place of ancient legend and traditions that tell of great people and great events and evil people who must pay their dues to the devil.  This is the place where the Lady of the Lake received Excalibur from Bedivere after the mortal wounding of King Arthur, after the Battle of Camlan his last battle.

Jan Tregeagle

It is also the place where the evil Jan Tregeagle was committed to endless toil until the Final Judgement Day after making a Faustian pact  with the Devil.   Read more … Continue reading