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

Queen Mebd: Wolf-Queen – Goddess of Sovereignty

Queen Mebd: Wolf-Queen

In Irish mythology Queen Mebd is a colorful character –  an archetypal warrior-queen – ambitious and strong-willed, who knew her own mind  and how to get what she wanted.  She was described as a lusty fair haired wolf-queen who was so beautiful men were robbed of two thirds of their valor on seeing her (1).  Probably her best known role is the instigator of the Cattle Raid of Cooley or Táin Bó Cúailnge which she undertook with her husband Aillil during a more congenial time in their relationship. Presented here is a brief glimpse of the roles Mebd filled as wife, queen and goddess of sovereignty, looking her most famous exploit, The Cattle Raid of Cooley and finally her death.

Husbands and Marriage

During the Ulster Cycle in Irish mythology she was a much married queen of Connacht.  Her main consort in the important stories of this period was Ailill mac Máta.  She ruled from Cruachan, now known as Rathcroghan, County Roscommon.  One of her former husbands was the king of Ulster, Conchobar mac Nessa who became her enemy. 

There is no doubt that marriage to Mebd was a challenge for any man and needed someone of powerful character to fulfill the role.  Mebd had three demands her husband had to agree to in order to marry her.  First, he must be completely without fear. Second, he must be without meanness.  The third and most important was he must be devoid of all jealousy.  The last was essential for Mebd took many lovers and she was not a woman who could be possessed.   One of these lovers was Fergus mac Róich.  

According to tradition it took seven men to satisfy her sexually but Fergus only once.  Ailill, on learning of the affair, forgot Mebd’s third demand and became jealous of Fergus  and had him killed.  However, such were the intrigues of the Connacht court that when Mebd learnt Ailill was having an affair behind her back she ordered Conall Cernac to kill him.  He gladly took on the task in revenge  for the killing of Fergus but as he was dying Aillil ordered his warriors to kill Conall.

A traditional patriarchal view of Mebd might see her as an immoral sex-predator who lusts for men, but a closer look may reveal a different idea of who she was and what she represented. 

Goddess of Sovereignty

There are several versions and spelling of her name including Maeve, Maev, Mave or Maiv, may have meant the ruler.  Another interpretation is “mead-woman” or “she who intoxicates,” which many see as evidence of her being a goddess of sovereignty or representative of one.  In ancient and medieval  Ireland, mead and its consumption played an important part in the inauguration ceremony of a new king. Her many marriages to kings and  her liberated sexual behaviour are also considered as evidence of her status as a sovereignty goddess. She may have been one and the same with  Medb Lethderg who was the wife or lover of nine kings at Tara.

According to one version of the myth the sovereignty of the land was bestowed upon the king by a goddess of sovereignty, or her representative, on behalf of the Earth Mother.  Her presence by his side as consort signified the approval of the goddess and a powerful public symbol the king was divinely chosen.  The king acted as the steward of the land ensuring its fertility and wellbeing which promoted regrowth and renewal of vegetation and crops.  Traditionally he was expected to be without blemish and if he was sick, injured, or grew old he was replaced by a younger more virile man.

It is the association with the goddess of sovereignty that causes a rethink of her being labelled as merely promiscuous or immoral.  Modern morals should not be used as a yardstick; these were different times with different ways of doing things and different social values.

The Cattle Raid of Cooley

Mebd was never the subordinate wife and queen.  She believed she had a right to be of equal wealth as her husband.   After taking stock of both their total possessions she realized her husband owned a more powerful and virile stud bull named Finnbennach. This gave him a slight edge which greatly annoyed her.

The only bull in Ireland that could rival Finnbennach was named Donn Cúailnge who was owned by Dáire mac Fiachna,  a vassal of Conchobar’s her former husband.  Mebd decided she must have Donn Cúailnge to make her equal to her husband and she was determined to get him by any means.   

She sent messengers to Dáire requesting him to loan her the bull. In return she offered wealth, land and sexual favours.  Dáire initially agreed to the deal.  However, he changed his mind when one of her messengers in a drunken state foolishly revealed that she would have taken it by force anyway.  On hearing this Dáire reversed his decision.

Mebd was still determined to have the bull and mustered her army and  war bands from all over Ireland rallied to her.  With the support of her husband, Ailill, she launched an invasion of Ulster to take Donn Cúailnge.

The defenders of Ulster were stricken by a curse that rendered them unfit for battle at the time of their greatest need.  This had been inflicted on them as revenge and punishment by the goddess Macha, whom the king of Ulster had forced into a chariot race with while she was heavily pregnant.

The only one left to oppose Mebd’s invasion was the young warrior Cúchulainn who with the help of his charioteer waged a guerrilla war against the invaders.  He used a custom that enabled him to claim single combat against one of Mebd’s champions at each river ford her army needed to cross.  Using this tactic he held up the invasion while the Ulster defenders recuperated. However, despite the hold up, Mebd managed to take Donn Cúailnge. 

Eventually the incapacitated defenders of Ulster recovered and led by King Conchobar rally to the defence of the realm.  After a final battle against Conchobar, Mebd retreated having got what she came for took the bull back to Connacht.  To decide who was the most powerful and valuable bull Donn Cúailnge and Finnbennach were matched in a fight against each other.  Donn Cúailnge killed Finnbennach but also died of his wounds leaving Mebd and her husband Aillil equal in wealth and status.

Death of Mebd

In later years it Mebd’s custom to bathe in a pool on an island named Inchcleraun (Inis Cloithreann), on Lough Ree, near Knockcroghery. However, this was to prove to be her undoing. Mebd had previously murdered her sister. Her son Furbaide seeking revenge for his mother’s death waited for Mebd until she came to bathe.  According to tradition, he killed her with a hardened piece of cheese fired from his sling, which was the nearest projectile he could find in a hurry.  Her son Maine Athramail succeeded her to the throne of Connacht.

Her final resting place is uncertain.  She is said to be buried standing upright to face her enemies.  According to one legend she is buried in a 40 foot high stone cairn in the top of Knocknarea in County Sligo.  Another possible site for her burial place is her home in Rathcroghan, County Roscommon at a place now called ‘Misgaun Medb’.

There is no shortage of colorful and extraordinary characters in Irish mythology and Queen Mebd must surely rate somewhere at the top of the list.

© 03/06/2020 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright June 3rd, 2020 zteve t evans

Bats in Myth, Legend and Folklore from Around the World

Original photo: אורן פלס Oren Peles Derivative work: User:MathKnight [CC BY 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)]

This article was first published on #FolkloreThurday.com as Bat Myths and Folktales from Around the World by zteve t evans on 31st October 2019

Strange Creatures

Bats feature in many myths, legends and folklore from diverse cultures around the world, and are often associated with darkness, death and the supernatural. Unquestionably, they are strange creatures, appearing as half animal and half bird, like something from a nightmare world. From this duality and strangeness evolved a reputation of duplicity and threat, appearing as neither one thing nor the other. In fact they are mammals of the scientific order Chiroptera, meaning “hand wing” in ancient Greek, because their forelimbs have become adapted to be wings. Do they really deserve this sinister reputation, or do they play a more important role in the world than feeding the dark human fascination for the spooky and the supernatural?

Presented here are different viewpoints from around the world, followed by a short look at the real significance of bats to humankind.

 Aesop’s Fables: The Bat and the Weasel

The duality of bats is mentioned in one of Aesop’s Fables, which tells how a bat fell to the ground and was pounced on by a weasel. The bat begged to be spared but the weasel insisted that he could not do that because he was an enemy of all birds. The bat said, “Well look at me.  I am a mouse, not a bird!” The weasel looked at the bat and agreed it was a mouse and released it. A little later the same bat was caught by another weasel and begged for mercy. The weasel replied, “No, I never let mice go!” The bat said, “Well, look closely at me.  I am a bird.  See my wings.” The weasel replied, “Well, so you are!” and let the bat go.

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Welsh Folkore and Legend: The Church of the White Stag

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Llangar Church – Phot by Eirian Evans – CC BY-SA 2.0 – from Wikimedia Commons

 

The Church of All Saints Old Parish, Llangar

Along the banks where the River Dee flows through Denbighshire, not far from Corwen, the Church of All Saints Old Parish  sits in a pleasant position on the east bank near where the  Dee and the River Alwen join together.  The church was first mentioned in documents in 1291 and has a wealth of interesting ancient features with many ancient beams and box pews. The church is decorated with wall paintings dating from the 15th to 18th centuries of a deer, a figure of Death, to remind us of our mortality, the Apostles’ Creed and the Seven Deadly Sins and other depictions created at various points in time.  There is also a rather interesting legend attached to the church which may have a message for people to think about, though this depends on one’s own point of view.  First of all, we will briefly discuss the wall paintings of The Seven Deadly Sins and Death followed by a look at the legend.   We will then conclude by offering a few ideas for the reader to think about and make up their own minds over.

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Breton Folktales: The Grateful Dead and the Man of Honour

Breton folktales often have magical and supernatural elements interwoven with death and tragedy in the story line which creates a dark, sombre but compelling story.   Death is ever present in the world and there are many chilling tales of the evil or resentful dead but there are also some that tell of the grateful dead.  These are the dead who return from the afterlife to help a living person who helped them in some way after had they died. How can the living possibly help a person who is dead?   In answer to this question, presented here is a folktale from Brittany that is a retelling of a story collected by Lewis Spence (1) and tells how a living man was repaid for paying off the debts of a dead man as well as paying for his funeral to ensure he received a Christian burial.

The Man of Honour and the Grateful Dead

The story begins in a coastal town in Brittany with a maritime merchant who traded with many foreign ports so successfully that he built up a massive fortune.  This merchant had a son named Iouenn who also wanted to make his way in life in the same way his father had.   His father was delighted and set him up with a trading ship and filled it with all kinds of valuable merchandise from Brittany.  He gave his son plenty of good advice and Iouenn sailed off to foreign ports to trade and make his fortune and then return home with his profits.

The ship had a safe voyage and after many days sailing docked at a port where Iouenn intended to sell his goods.  He went ashore carrying letters of introduction from his father and very soon sold his merchandise at a good profit and found himself in possession of a large sum of money.  He decided to spend a few days in the port looking around and sightseeing and one day as he strolled through the narrow streets he came upon a pack of stray dog such as are often seen roaming the streets of many towns and cities unchained.  They appeared to be snarling and growling and biting and pulling on an object that was laid in the street.  Curious as to what they were doing he cautiously approached and was horrified to see they actually worrying at the corpse of a man.

This shocked Iouenn greatly and he went round making inquiries about the fate of the unfortunate person.  He was told that the man had died owing a great debt and as there was no money to pay for a good Christian funeral and burial the custom in those parts was that the corpse be thrown into the streets for the dogs and other beasts to scavenge.  Iouenn was shocked that such a terrible indignity could be inflicted upon the dead and after chasing the dogs away, out of the kindness of his heart he paid the debts and for a proper Christian burial.

The Black Ship

After this he resolved he would not stay in the port a day longer and bid his captain make the ship ready for voyage and sailed for home.   They had not sailed far when one of the sailors cried out the presence of a strange ship on the horizon heading their way and from it they hear a terrible wailing of many souls.  The ship was attired all in black and had a most sinister appearance prompting Iouenn to remark to his captain,

“This is a most curious vessel!  Why is all attired in black and why are those on board setting up such a wail.”

As the black ship approached Iouenn hailed it asking those on board what troubled them.

“Sir, we are charged with a most grim and unhappy task. There exists not far from this spot an island occupied by a gigantic serpent.  For seven years our people must have had to pay an annual tribute of a royal princess and her you find us in the process of transporting yet another poor victim to her doom!”

Iouenn was shocked and said,

“Where is the royal princess you speak of?”

And then a great wail went up from all aboard the black ship as the royal princess stepped on deck.  She was in a terrible way wringing her hands and sobbing uncontrollably.  Iouenn was struck by her beauty and his heart went out to her and he vowed he would never let her be sacrificed to the monstrous serpent.   He made discreet inquiries with the captain of the black ship and learned that if a sufficient bribe was offered then the captain would hand the princess over to him.   He gave over the last of the money he had made from his trading and the Princess was passed over to his ship and he sailed on home with her aboard.

He had a safe and uneventful voyage home and his father was delighted to welcome him home.  That delight turned to anger when Iouenn told him of how he had spent the money he had made from trading the merchandise his father had given him.  His father refused to believe that the lady who he had brought back with him was in any way a royal princess and told him he was fool spending money on a dead man’s debts and banished him from his home.

Iouenn Weds the Princess

Many angry and bitter words were exchanged between the two, but nevertheless, Iouenn left his family home and married the Princess.  She presented her husband with a fine gold chain and cross to wear around his neck as a wedding present and together they set up a small humble home and were very happy together.    As time passed the couple were blessed with a son and then Iouenn had a stroke of luck.  One of his uncles who was also a merchant trader doing business overseas asked him to take charge of cargo ship full of valuable merchandise he wanted to trade in the eastern lands.  Iouenn was glad for the opportunity to increase his family’s fortunes and readily accepted.   Soon the ship was ready and he embarked on the voyage in fair weather and high hopes taking with him a small portrait of his wife and their son which he kept on a shelf in his cabin.

Iouenn and the King

The winds were favourable and soon his ship reached the city of his wife’s birth and where her father still ruled and had grown very old.   As is the custom in many ports the harbourmaster came aboard to check the ship and its cargo.  While on board he noticed the portrait of Iouenn’s wife and recognized her immediately as the Princess of the city and daughter of its present ruler.   Completing his business on board he went straight to the King to tell him what he had seen.  On hearing this news the King went immediately to the harbour and boarded the ship demanding of Iouenn knowledge of his daughter. Iouenn not knowing who his daughter was could not tell him anything.   The king flew into a rage and ordered that he be flung in jail and the ship be burnt and the cargo seized and impounded

While languishing miserably in prison Iouenn made friends with the jailor and told him the story of how he had met his wife.  On hearing this, the jailor went to the King and told him the story. The King was overjoyed to hear his daughter still lived and after seeking a pledge from Iouenn to bring his daughter home he ordered that a new ship be commissioned and fitted out for the voyage back to Iouenn’s home port and that he would return again with his daughter.  As a precaution the King sent two of his ministers to accompany Iouenn should he decide to renege on the agreement.   The ship sailed in a fair wind making good progress across the sea and soon made Iouenn’s home port and docked.

The Evil Minister

Iouenn took the two ministers to see his wife and their son who were safe and well and explain to them what had happened.  Now the Princess was familiar with one of the ministers for he had loved her and sought her hand in marriage of old.  She knew the devious and evil nature of his character and fearing he plotted some act of treachery she asked her husband to remain at her side during the voyage.  However, Iouenn loved to be on the bridge with the captain watching and learning of the operation of the ship.

One starry evening he stopped to lean against the side of the vessel and gaze in wonder at the night sky.   Lost in thought he did not hear the stealthy approach of the evil minister who grasping his two legs quickly flung him overboard into the foamy sea. Deliberately waiting a few minutes the devious minister then let out a cry of

“Man over Board!”

The captain ordered the ship to sail back looking for Iouenn but the clouds now covered what starlight there was and nought could be seen in the black of the night and the victim was not found.   The Princess now convinced her husband had perished was distraught and stayed in her cabin wailing and grieving.  It so happened that despite the shock of finding himself submerged in the cold water Iouenn quickly gathered his wits and began swimming and luckily he was a strong and excellent swimmer.  Despite having no idea which way to go he kept calm and decided to strike out in one direction and hope for the best.

Having given up all hope of finding Iouenn the ship turned around and the captain set course for the port of the Princess’s father.  When the ship finally sailed into the harbour there was great joy and festivities at the return of the Princess.  Her father was so pleased to have her back he readily gave his consent for her marriage to the treacherous minister who he credited fully for her return.  However, the Princess was still devastated by the loss of her husband and kept finding excuses to keep putting the wedding off.  Deep inside her some vague  flicker of hope remained and she remembered her husband’s body had never been found.

Marooned

Indeed, her husband with little other choice had struck out swimming in one direction and just as his strength was failing had come across a single small bare island of rock which he scrambled upon.  The only shelter on this barren place was a small niche in the rock which he could squeeze into in times of bad weather which were frequent.  For the next three years marooned on the island he lived on shellfish and the  occasional fish the sea would throw into one of the rock pools, which he would gladly consume raw.

During those three years his beard and hair had grown long and matted and all of his clothes had rotted from his body leaving him naked, cold and wildly unkempt and he roamed round and round his tiny kingdom like some wild and strange mad man.   All that remained of his past life was the gold cross and chain he wore around his neck.

One lonely night as he sat in his rocky niche eating a meager supper of shellfish when he was startled to hear the eeriest sound he had ever heard in his life that cut through the silence like a knife.  Crouching low and peering out over the ocean he heard the terrible sound again and then his blood ran cold as he realized there were words in that unearthly wailing and it was calling his name.  Surely no human could have uttered such ghastly words but he found himself listening to the weird voice in horror.

The Corpse

‘Iouenn! Iouenn! Iouenn! Cold, cold, cold!”

wailed the voice again and again,

“So cold!”

before dying out in a horrible groan and starting up again.  This continued through the night to die out just before dawn.

The next night the same terrible voice was heard again and although he was no coward he dare not show himself or answer the voice.  The third night as the voice began its wailing he determined he would do something so stepping from his hideout he cried out,

 “Who is it that disturbs my peace? Show yourself!”

From out of the sea and across the rocky shore a hideously naked man came crawling wailing his ghastly cry,

“Cold, cold cold, so cold,”

the ghastly man wailed and fixed Iouenn with a glassy stare.

‘In God’s name who are you?”

cried Iouenn

The man let out a ghastly laugh,

“So you do not remember me, but I remember you too well, Iouenn.  I am the wretch you drove the dogs from and so kindly gave a Christian burial to.  You paid my debts and saved me and now I come to save you.  Do you wish to leave this rock?”

rasped the man as blood and poison oozed from wounds on his body.

“That I do as God is my witness!”

replied Iouenn.

“Then you need to know that against her will your wife is to marry the minister who threw you overboard.  If you are quick you can stop this and I will help if you promise to give to me a share of all that belongs to you and your wife.  This must be handed over within a year and a day.  If you accept now I will carry you to the King’s palace in time to stop the wedding.  Do you accept?”

Iouenn agreed immediately and the living corpse told him to climb upon his back, which he did.  Immediately it ran into the sea and began swimming at great speed with him on its back.  Very soon they reached the port where his wife’s father had his palace and the corpse set him on shore.  The corpse looked at him through glassy eyes and said,

“One year and one day!”

and plunged back into the sea and was gone.

Iouenn at the Gates

Such was the terrible state of neglect endured by Iouenn during his lonely stay on the island he was now in an unrecognisable state and looked barely human.  In the morning when the King’s gatekeeper opened the palace gate he was shocked to find something that resembled a wild animal crouching forlornly outside begging for help.

Calling the palace servants to see what he had found they threw him scraps and crusts of bread which he ate ravenously.  One of the ladies-in-waiting was passing by and seeing the strange wild looking thing that Iouenn had become she went to the Princess and told her of the wild man at the gates.   The Princess with her curiosity aroused went down to see for herself.  On seeing the wild thing before her she immediately saw the gold cross and chain around his neck and recognized it as the wedding present she had given Iouenn and knew him to be her husband.  Iouenn and his wife embraced with great joy and she led him into the palace and fed him and bathed and clothed him in fine clothes.

The Lost Key

This being the morning that the Princess was due to marry the evil minister great preparations had been made for the much awaited event.  The Princess went down to the assembled company to speak to them and asked them for advice.  She asked whether it would be better to look for an old key which had been lost which fitted a the lock to her treasure chest or instead make use of a new key which was available but did not fit.  Of course the treasure chest was her heart and the keys were her husband and the evil minister.

Unanimously they agreed that it was better to search for the key that fitted.  With that she introduced her husband who stepped forward now arrayed in fine clean clothes saying,

“Here is the key I lost and I have found!”

The evil minister trembled and turned pale as a sheet but the King, her father thumped the table in rage and cried,

“Build a fire for this vagabond and cast him upon it!”

The Princes and Iouenn were shocked and dismayed and all present stared in shock as they thought he meant Iouenn, but the King stood and pointed to the evil minister whose guilt had been revealed by the Princess.  As the company stood and applauded the King’s command his guards rushed to obey and the evil minister was led off the fire.

The Grateful Dead

So it was that Iouenn lived with the Princess in the palace in joy and happiness.  There was one event that spoiled this and that was the death of their young son.  However, their grief was quickly assuaged with the birth of a second baby boy and once again they were happy.   In his happiness Iouenn had completely forgotten about his time on the island and the debt he owed to the dead man who had saved him.   Then one grey November evening while he and his small family were sat happily around the fire together they were disturbed by three loud knocks struck upon the door.  Upon the third the door flew open and in strode the awful form of the living corpse that had saved Iouenn from the island.  It stood before Iouenn with dead glassy eyes and in a rasping voice said,

“Iouenn, do you remember our pact?  I have come for payment!”

Iouenn, although trembling and in shock remembered the pact he had made with the living corpse and asked his wife to bring him the keys to their treasure chest so that he may pay his dues.  As she handed the keys over the dead one sneered and waved her away in disgust.

“It is not your treasure I have come for, Iouenn it is this!”

he rasped pointing at the baby boy in his cradle  sleeping sweetly.

“Not my baby! You cannot have him!”

cried the Princess.

“Are you a man of honor, Iouenn?  A man of honor pays his debts.  Remember your promise on the island, remember your debt!”

“Yes, it is true I promised but remember how I saved you from the dogs!”

cried Iouenn.

“All I ask is what I am owed, and I am not asking for all the infant, just a share!”

“Have you no heart, wretched thing?  As honor with me is above all things I will grant your wish!”

and he undressed the infant and laid him naked and helpless upon the table as the dead thing directed.

“Now with your sword cut off the portion you believe is my due,”

rasped the corpse

“Wretch, it would have been better to have been left to perish alone on the island than endure this!”

He raised the sword to strike and was about to bring it down when the corpse raised its hand and stepped forward commanding him to stop.

“Stop, do the child no harm!  I can see clearly that you are a man of honour and have not forgotten your promise.  Neither have I forgotten you saved me from the dogs and paid for me to have a Christian burial.   Through you I now live in Paradise only because you paid for me my debts out of the goodness of your heart which allowed me to a proper burial.  Clearly you would honour your promise but in gratitude for the service you gave me I say that we are even and the debt is paid.  Now, I say goodbye until we meet again in heaven!” and with that the corpse walked out of the door and was gone.

From then on Iouenn and his wife and son lived very happily and when the old King died and because of the respect the people had for him as a man of honour he was made King.  So it was that Iouenn’s act of kindness which allowed the soul of a person he had not known to enter Heaven was repaid to him in his lifetime by the grateful dead themselves.

© 02/08/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Information

Copyright August 2th, 2017 zteve t evans