Bisclavret The Werewolf And The Beastliness of People

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Bisclavret (The Werewolf), is a Breton lai, by a medieval female writer and poet known as Marie de France.  It is one of twelve narrative poems known as The lais of Marie de France. Many of the lais were derived from Breton folklore and legends with Celtic influences and elements of the supernatural all interwoven together. She claimed the lais were based on ballads she had heard from troubadours and minstrels.

In the poem translated Judith P. Shoaf, Marie explains that  Garwalf is the Norman  name for a werewolf and Bisclavret, the Breton name.  However, Bisclavret, although still a werewolf, is significantly different from the Garwolf, displaying more restrained and disciplined behavior than the wild savagery  usually associated with such beasts. (1)

Marie’s lais tell stories that move in and out of the supernatural and real world exploring complex emotions and morals that wreak havoc in the human condition.  The lai of Bisclavret tells of a shape-shifting baron whose perfect world is marred by what he deems to be a terrible and shameful affliction.  To hide his shame and in a sense to protect his own humanity from the perceptions of others, he keeps this a secret. This work presents a discussion of what it means to be human and then provides a version of the story concluding with a discussion on the humanity and “beastliness” shown by the main characters.

Human or Beast?

The shifting of human to beast amid the dark, tangled forest explores some of our primal fears, challenging our concept of humanity.  Is it just the clothing we wear and the adornments, the accessories, and jewelry and the paraphernalia that we think give us status and make us attractive and carry with us that make us human?  Or is it our behavior, our manners, the way we conduct ourselves and the way we treat and think of other people that make us human or worthy of love, respect, and acceptance?

Marie de France lived in medieval times in medieval society with medieval culture and philosophy. Her lais utilize legends and folklore  of her time skilfully woven into narrative poems that tell stories that explore and challenge our understanding of the human condition and reflect the ethos of her times.  But that world of Marie has passed and we now live in the modern world with all its trappings, culture, and philosophy.  What can we make of Bisclavret (The Werewolf) by Marie de France today?

The Story of Bisclavret

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There was once a most honorable and cultured baron who lived in Brittany many, many, years ago.  He was a great favorite of the king and was great friends with all the other barons and lords of the land and they all held him in high esteem.  He had a most beautiful wife who he loved dearly and she also loved him dearly.  All, in all he would seem to be living a perfectly happy and fulfilling life but unbeknown to anyone else he had a most terrible secret.

Although she was very happy with her husband and her marriage his wife had one small concern about him that she did not understand and it worried her greatly.  For three days in every single week, he would leave home and disappear completely from the household and no one knew his whereabouts or what he was doing.  To begin with, she just accepted it as being part of their life together thinking he must have important business somewhere else, after all, he was  baron with land and responsibilities.  As time passed these absences began to worry her greatly thinking maybe he was seeing another woman.  At last, she decided she must ask him where he went to and what he did.

One day after he had returned from one such outing she decided she could bear it no longer and confronted him.  “I have something that is preying on my and I need to ask you something but I do not want to make you angry.  It is for this that I am reluctant to ask,” she said.  He looked at her lovingly and took her in his arms kissing her tenderly.   “Make any request of me that you desire and surely if it is in my power to grant then I will grant it. How could I ever be angry with you?”

“I ask that you place your trust in my love for you and  I beg you to tell me where it is you go  during the days you spend away from me.  I fear there is some trouble you are in and my mind is taken up with worrying about you when you are gone!  Have you another woman you are seeing? Please, please tell me where you go and what you do – I cannot bear it when you are gone for so long, please will you not tell me?”  She looked at him with imploring eyes as tears ran down her cheeks.

He was shocked and pushed his wife away from him.  “For the love of God do not ask of me to reveal this to you. It is a burden I alone must bear and no one can help me.  No good can come of me telling you this it would only cause evil and destroy your love for me bringing eternal damnation and sorrow to me. Do not ask what you do not understand!”

“ It is a cruel joke – do not joke with me I mean what I say in all seriousness. Unless I know where you go and what you do I can never again have peace of mind until I know!” she cried.

He was greatly discomforted by this and was torn between keeping the secret from her or revealing all.  He decided he could not tell her and that she would just have to be satisfied with that. His good wife, however, was a determined woman and did not give in easily. Every time he returned from one of his absences she would approach him with tears in her eyes and beg he tell her where he had been.  Again and again, she begged of him to lay his trust in her love for him and tell her.  At last one day, he returned home and she was waiting for him and again begged him, “My husband please tell me where you have been, please trust my love for you.  Surely you are seeing another woman!”

This time the baron worn down by her persistence and thinking that he could indeed trust her love told her to sit down and prepare herself for a great shock and looked into her eyes and said,“The reason I have to be away for three days every week is because I have to go deep into the forest where nobody goes.  I take my clothes and off run naked.  I kill and eat wild animals and plants and go like a beast in the woods where no one can find me.  I am Bisclavret!”

And as she looked into his dark eyes she saw herself reflected in his eyes and as she listened his good wife turned white with horror and shock as he spoke and sat staring aghast at him.  She would have preferred him to tell her he had taken a lover than this for she knew as all Bretons knew that Bisclavret was the werewolf.  Eventually, she recovered herself and became determined to learn the full truth no matter how terrible about his fearful transformation.

“My husband I know I cannot conceal from you the shock and horror I feel but you know I have never done anything to hurt you and never done anything to make you lose your love and trust in me.  Therefore, I implore you to tell me everything there is to know.  Where do you keep your human raiment when you transform into a werewolf?”

“Do not ask! Do not ask this question!  I can never reveal the place I hide my raiment!  If I am seen taking it off, or if I lose it I must forever remain Bisclavret!  Never could I ever become a man again until it is returned – never! Please do not ask this of me!” he replied shaking and turning white.

His wife hung her head and turned away distraught, “So you do not love me or trust me enough to tell me this secret.  I am your loving wife and what have I ever done to earn such distrust? You no longer trust me, no longer love me?” she cried. “Alas, alas that I have forfeited your confidence! Oh, that I should live to see such a day!” and she fell to weeping bitterly.  The baron looked at his weeping wife with love in his eyes and began to feel ashamed at what he had said.

At last, to ease his wife’s misery, he sat his her down beside him and told her everything. She sat and listened quietly and intently but avoiding his eyes as he revealed the full horror of transformation he went through and the secret place he hid his raiment.  When he had finished he turned and left her but as he was leaving he could not see the fearful look in her eyes as he departed.  Now he had told her his terrible secret his wife’s love for him had died.  She was now terrified of him and began to think of a way to release herself from this cursed husband.  The terrifying thought struck her that he might transform one night while they lay together and as well as fearful she was also revolted at the thought of lying with such a strange unnatural man or was he a beast?

At length, as she pondered about how she had come to this terrible situation she remembered a handsome Knight from her past who had once been her suitor.  He had pleaded for her hand in marriage telling her he loved her more than anything and would do anything to please her.  She had rejected him to marry the baron and he had been heartbroken.

So she went to him and apologized for her past rejection and promised him faithfully if he would help her she would give him her body and soul.  She looked deep into his eyes and told him all about her husband and his terrifying affliction and begged his help.  Realising he still wanted her as he looked into her eyes he readily agreed to help her. That night she gave him her body.  The next day she took him and showed him where Bisclavret hid his raiment when the transformation took him and begged him to steal it and bring it to her.

And so the day came when the baron went off into the forest alone to endure his lonely transformation as he usually did but this time he never returned. His wife, putting on an act of concern, called on their friends and neighbors asking if they had seen him or knew of his whereabout but none did.  Search parties were sent out but no trace of the baron could they find.  They searched for a year and a day and then finding no trace of him abandoned the search.  The lady went into mourning and after an appropriate period married the knight.

And the wheel turned, months passed and the King happened to be hunting in the forest not too far from the lost baron’s castle.  His hounds picked up a strong scent and began baying and yelping and so the King ordered that they should be unleashed.  They sprang upon the trail and were soon locked in a crazed pursuit of some wild beast.  The King or his huntsmen had no idea of the manner of beast his dogs were in pursuit of but followed on behind for many hours.  Eventually, the dogs cornered their quarry and were about to tear it to pieces when a very strange thing happened.

The exhausted beast turned to face the baying, snarling, pack and seeing the King ran to his horse and knelt before it clasping his great paws in supplication and prayer. He looked with pleading eyes into those of the King and its great maw moved as if struggling to speak but no words came out.  The King was astounded.  As he saw the beast in supplication before him and looked into its dark eyes his heart was touched for there was something familiar about the beast and yet unfamiliar and the sight of it making  such a human gesture made him curious.

“Huntsmen, leash your dogs!” he cried, “for this is a beast I have never seen the like of before and will not kill such a wondrous thing.  We will take it back to the palace alive and learn about it!”

So the dogs were leashed and the King and his party returned to the palace with the forest beast following tamely behind the King.

When they returned to the Court the beast was a source of fascination for one and all.  It was friendly and playful and had the most gentle and benign nature.  It followed the King everywhere he went and was like a great friendly playful dog with him.  The King for his part grew to love the beast and would not be parted with it and it would sleep in the King’s chamber at the foot of his bed. A more remarkable beast the Court had never seen or heard of.

The beast turns

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The day came when the King held a great feast and all of his liege lords from all of his dominions attended and among them came the knight who was now the husband of Bisclavret’s former wife.  As soon as he saw his wife’s husband Bisclavret turned from a gentle docile creature into a raging beast and launched a savage attack on him. Fortunately for the knight, the King intervened and ordered Bisclavret to stop.  Reluctantly he obeyed ending the attack and ran behind the King.

Bisclavret made two further attempts that evening to attack the knight requiring the King’s intervention on both occasions.  The King and all the of his courtiers were shocked and puzzled at Bisclavret’s behavior as had only ever seen him like a big playful, friendly dog.   Nobody could understand the sudden change and some assumed that the knight had done something that had threatened Bisclavret but none knew or could say what.  Things calmed down and the evening wore on and the Knight was the first to leave the feast.

Some time later the King went hunting again in the same part of the forest where he had first encountered Bisclavret, taking him with him as he had grown exceedingly fond of the strange creature.  As the evening drew in the King decided they would stay at one of his hunting lodges nearby for the night.   Hearing of the King’s presence not far from her home Bisclavret’s former wife decided she would take a present for the King.

When she was shown into the King’s chamber immediately he saw her Bisclavret changed  from a gentle docile creature into a savage beast.  Leaping upon her he bit her nose off completely mutilating her beautiful face permanently.    If the King and his servants had not intervened he would undoubtedly have torn her to pieces.

Although the King loved Bisclavret and did not understand the change in him he could not allow such savagery to  continue and would have had him put to death. Fortunately one of his wise councilors spoke up, “Wait for surely  something in the past has happened to it that has caused it to react in such a savage manner.  Why is it that the very sight of  these two – this husband and his wife – has caused this usual affectionate and gentle creature to become a raging, savage beast?   Let these two be  brought before you to explain why should it bear them such hatred.  The woman was once the wife of one of your best and loyal barons.  Someone you were greatly fond of who has not been seen, seeming to have disappeared from the face of the earth.  Have them brought before you that you may question them of their knowledge of this matter honestly.”

The King listened to his counselor and thought about what he said.  He could not understand why the creature should have reacted so savagely and he was genuinely very fond of it and did not want it killed unjustly.  “Bring them to me and I will question them as you suggest and we will see what they have to say.”

So the two were brought before him and he questioned them long and hard and they continuously denied any knowledge of a reason why the creature should attack them.   But the King was no fool and as he continued to probe them with questions he could see they were holding something back.  Nevertheless, he persisted determined to get to the truth and at last the woman confessed.

She told the King about her first husband who became Bisclavret and how she had become terrified  and revolted by the thought of him possibly transforming while he lay with her.  Then she told him how she had persuaded Bisclavret  to reveal the secret place where he hid his human raiment when the transformation took him. She confessed she had approached her former suitor to beg his help in stealing the raiment so that he could never again return to human form while she had them and told them that the reward for his help was his marriage to her.   Tearfully she told the King that this Bisclavret was certainly her former husband the baron who had been his great friend.

At last, the King understood and now demanded she provides the raiment that had been stolen and be returned that Bisclavret may dress  in them and once again become human.   The hiding place of the raiment was revealed and they were brought and laid before Bisclavret.  To everyone’s surprise, the beast completely ignored them as if they did not exist.

Once again it was the King’s wise councilor who spoke saying, “Can it be wondered at that he refuses to put them on in front of everyone here.  He cannot surely return as a man without feeling great shame and embarrassment at what he has endured.  Surely we cannot ask him to do this in front of us and I counsel you, Sire, that he be taken to your private rooms where he may put on his human form in his own time, in privacy, away from all eyes.”

The King agreed and took Bisclavret to his private room and left him alone.  He later returned with two of his lords to see how Bisclavret was doing.  On entering the room found him returned to the man who he had loved so much and sleeping soundly in his bed.

The King was overjoyed to have his friend back and roused him from his sleep.  When the baron was ready he told his friend the King all about his affliction, the great shame he felt and all that had happened to him.  The king was delighted to have him back and returned to him all that had been taken from him and gave him much more besides.  As for the woman who betrayed him and her lover they were banished forever from his realm and it was said that many of the females in their family line thereafter were born without a nose and so ended the tale of Bisclavret.

Humanity and Beastliness

There are many different interpretations of the story by many different people.   Some are concerned that it paints women in a poor light even accusing the author, Marie de France, of hating women.   Nevertheless, there are many other interpretations and many see it as addressing the suppression of the beast within the human being and it is not certain that humans come out of it looking too good.

It is worth noting the twists that each of the main characters performs which bring out their “beastly” side.  The wife originally portrayed as beautiful  and loving reveals the “beast” in her by betraying the baron.  Although it is understandable to feel fear and be revolted by his condition she does not attempt to come to terms with the “beastly” side of her husband.  Instead, she sells herself by persuading the knight to steal her husband’s clothes knowing this would trap him in the werewolf form, promising her body and marriage in return.  By accepting the proposal and carrying it out he allows his “beastly” nature to get the better of him while condemning the baron  to remain Bisclavret running naked and beast-like in the forest .

The good King is taken very much by the humanity shown by Bisclavret in his wolf form and becomes fond of him breaking down the barrier between beast and human.  The wise counselor although saving Bisclavret and urging the King to put faith in him lets his beastly side come to the fore by advocating torture to Bisclavret’s ex-wife.  The good King by assenting to this allows the beast in himself to come out.  But it is the terrible act of vengeance, the violent disfiguring of his ex-wife and generations of females in her line to come after Bisclavret bites off her nose that emphasize the difficulty of keeping the inner beast in check.  This, surely, is a terrible act of vengeance even though he had suffered so and after he had displayed such humanity in his wolf form.

The days of Marie de France are long gone and here we are in the modern world and as we look around us we may wonder if there is indeed hope.  Can we keep the beast within hidden and in check by fine clothing and good manners and  behavior and all the trappings of the modern digital world, or is it all an act that will eventually reveal itself when the opportunity arises?

What do you think?

© 21/09/2016 zteve t evans

Reference and Attributions

Copyright September 21st, 2016 zteve t evans

Mythology and traditions of Rapa Nui

Rapa Nui is better known as Easter Island and is one of the most isolated populated places in the world. Situated in the south eastern Pacific Ocean around 4,000 kilometres from Chile, South America its nearest inhabited neighbour is Pitcairn Island 2,075 to the west.  There in the extreme isolation of the vast Pacific Ocean a unique and amazing civilization evolved that created the most wonderful giant statues and left behind a fascinating and mysterious legacy. Today the inhabitants of the island are known as the Rapanui. According to legend the original settlers named the island Te Pito Te Henua which translates as Navel of the World.

The lost land of Hiva

Rapa Nui mythology tells how the first settlers arrived on the island and later how the island was divided to be ruled by different clans whose chiefs were descended from a legendary chieftain called Hotu Matu’a.

The location of Hiva is not known for certain but it is thought likely that it was somewhere in the Marquesas Islands, some 3,200 km way, or the Gambier Islands, 2,600 km distant. It was shown in 1999, that it was possible to sail from Mangareva, in the Gambier Islands to Rapa Nui, using traditional Polynesian sea vessels in 19 days.

According to oral tradition Hotu Matu’a lived in a place called Marae Renga, which may have been an island in the region of Hiva, or a land location. According to some versions, Hiva was found in the Marquesas Islands but sunk beneath the sea after a natural disaster, possibly a volcanic eruption. It could have been this that drove Hotu Matu’a into making the arduous journey to Rapa Nui and pioneer a new life for his family and his people. Other oral traditions say that it was internal conflicts that drove him to seek a new way of life.

The dream of Hau-Maka

According to most versions of the legend of how the people came to Rapa Nui it was a priest called Hau-Maka who had a dream which he then told to Hotua Matu’a. In that dream Hau-Maka had flown out over the sea and discovered an island called Te Pito ‘o te Kāinga’, which means ‘the centre of the earth’ He then appeared to Hotu Matu’a in a dream to tell him this news. Hotu Matu’a believed the dream was his destiny and that of his people, so he sent out seven scouts in canoes to find this place. When they found it they ate and rested and planted crops of yams, and other plants on the new island so that when they returned with their King and people they would have something ready to eat.

Landing at Anakena beach

Oral tradition states that Hotu Matu’a and his people landed at Anakena beach in double hulled canoes similar to what Polynesians use to this day. From there they colonised the rest of the island which eventually was to be divided between his sons who went on to head their own clans.

The hanau eepe and the hanau momoko

Rapa Nui mythology tells that once two different ethnic groups lived together on the island. One group or tribe of people was called the hanau eepe. This term has been mistranslated as meaning ‘long-ears’ when it actually means ‘stout’ or ‘stocky.’ However one of the traits of the hanau eepe was that they inserted pebbles into their ear lobes causing them to elongate overtime. The other group was the hanau momoko. They did not practise ear elongation and kept their ears short, mistakenly becoming known as the ‘short-ears,’ when the term really means slender or thin.

Some experts think that the hanau eepe may have had higher status and were better fed than the hanau momoko who they thought were the workers or lower classes of their society. Other experts argue that the hanau epee came from South America and were an entirely different ethnic group from the hanau momoko who were of Polynesian origin and there is no agreed consensus among by the experts on this at the moment, other than to disagree with each other.

In some versions of the mythology the hanau epee arrived after the people of Hotu Matu’a and tried to enslave them. It was the hanau eepe who brought the stone-carving skills to Rapa Nui. In other versions the hanau eepe were already on the island when Hot Matu’a arrived. In yet other versions they came with Hotu Matu’a and had been defeated by him in a conflict in Hiva and he had brought them with him to work the land. Whatever the case, conflict again erupted between the two people resulting with the slaughter of all but one of the hanau eepe. His life was spared and he was said to have took a wife and had many descendants.

In 1722, the Dutch explorer, Jacob Roggeveen in 1722 gave the island its European name of Easter Island because he discovered it on Easter Day. In his accounts of his encounters with the islanders he records that there are two distinct ethnic groups. One group easily recognised as of Polynesian origin and the other group of white appearance with elongated earlobes, some to such an extent that they could be tied behind necks. He also records that some of the islanders were of large stature and this was also noted by Spanish explorers in 1770 who measured some of the inhabitants to be 196-199 cm tall.

South America or Polynesia?

There are arguments among the experts as to the origins of the Rapa Nui people. Some theories give Polynesia as their origins whereas others, notably by Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian ethnographer, who argued for South America. He cited the similarity of some of the stonework found on the island to that found in South America and also the cultivation of sweet potatoes and other plants that originated in South America. This raises the question of how the sweet potato came to Rapa Nui and other Polynesian islands suggesting some contact between Polynesians and South Americans. Whether this was one-way or two-way cannot be determined but the possibilities exist.

The Sweet Potatoes mystery

Sweet potatoes originate in South America but are found on Rapa Nui as well as other Polynesian islands. There are theories that they were washed off the South American landmass by heavy storms and floated to the islands where they took root, grew and were eventually cultivated by Polynesians.

There are also those see this as evidence of contact between South America and Polynesian cultures. They argue that either South Americans reached Polynesian islands, possible drifting on rafts of balsa wood and driven by currents to Polynesian islands. Once there they either lacked the knowledge or capacity to return against the currents, or did indeed manage a return trip taking back with them parts of Polynesian culture. Or Polynesians did arrive in the Americas and with their better navigational and boat building skills were equipped to make return journeys bringing back parts of American culture with them. The Mapuche Indians of southern and central Chile appear to have possible connections with Polynesians.

Motu Motiro Hiva

Situated 390 km east-northeast of Easter Island and 3,210 km west of Chile is Isla Salas y Gomez. In the language of Rapa Nui it is known as Motu Motiro Hiva or Manu Motu Motiro Hiva, which means ‘Bird’s islet on the way to a far away land.’ From Rapa Nui it points the way to mainland South America. Hive was the legendary land from which Hotu Matu’a is said to have originated and the similarity in name stand out, but there are also several other Polynesian islands part named ‘Hiva’ means ‘far away land,’ especially in the Marquesas Islands so it is difficult to draw conclusions.

With the great movement of the Polynesian people from island to island it may be a name for a previous island home, though there are those who argue that it points to South America as their original home. Either way it is inconclusive. The island was certainly known to the Rapa Nui and it is believed they used to visit at regular intervals to harvest eggs from the great colonies of sea birds that use the island for breeding and nesting. The island is surrounded by steep cliffs and rocks and Rapa Nui tradition says that it was made this way by MakeMake to protect the sea-birds.

The cult of the moai

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Author: Aurbina:- Moai at Rano Raraku, Easter Island

In its isolation over the centuries its people evolved a unique culture whose most visual manifestation is the huge stone statues called moai, that are found all around the island. Little is really known of their purpose or how they were made and moved into position by people who had only Stone-Age tools and implements at their disposal.

They are believed to have been representations of some of their most important forefathers and were part of a system of ancestor worship. Care needs to be taken with the word ‘worship’ as it does not necessarily mean the moai were revered as gods, or were deified.

In many forms of ancestor worship there was a symbiotic relationship between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead. It was the task of the living to provide for the needs of the dead in the afterlife in the form of offerings. In return the dead looked after the needs of the living ensuring, health, good fortune and fertility of land to grow food.

Most of the Moai were situated with their backs to the spirit kingdom of the sea looking inland to the realm of the living looking over the villages where the people lived.

MakeMake

In Rapa Nui mythology MakeMake, or sometimes written as Makemake, or Make-Make was the creator of humanity, god of fertility and god of the ‘Tangata manu’ or bird-man cult. He was frequently depicted in petroglyphs found on Rapa Nui. Along with MakeMake there were three other gods associated with the bird-man cult. They were Hawa-tuu-take-take who was the ‘Chief of the eggs’ his wife Vie Hoa and Vie Kanatea.

Tangata manu and the cult of the bird-man

Despite all the effort put into the creation and situating of the Moai the culture was abandoned and most of the statues pulled down. There seems to have been some kind of civil war which swept aside the cult of ancestor worship to replace it with what is known as the cult of the bird-man, though Make-Make was still retained as the chief god of the cult. The cause of the conflict is believed to have been over the diminishing natural resources of the island.

The bird-man cult existed, though with lesser importance during the era of the ancestor worship. In essence the bird-man cult appears to have centred on an annual ritualistic competition which decided which clan would win the rights to harvest the island’s birds and their eggs and also who would be Tangata-Manu or bird-man for the year.

The contestants were the prophets of the clans, known as ivi-attuas, who would appoint an individual known as Hopu, who had been revealed to them in dreams to represent them and their clan by competing in the race to bring back the first egg.

Just off Rapa Nui there lies a small islet called Motu Nui that was home to a colony of Sooty terns. Starting from the sacred cliff-top village of Orongo, the hopu would have to climb down the cliffs to the sea, swim across dangerous shark infested waters to reach Motu Nui, and then scale the cliffs there to find the first egg and return it unbroken to again swimming the seas and climbing the cliffs to Orongo. The task was arduous and dangerous and some competitors were killed in the process. The ivi-attuas would await the return of the hopu in Orongo.

The hopu who found the first egg was allowed to rest on Motu Nui until he was physically and spiritually ready to carry the egg safetly back to Orongo. The other hopu returned to Orongo with news of the winner to their waiting patrons. The winning patron shaved his head and painted it either red, or white.

When the winning hopu returned bearing the egg he would hand it to his patron who would then be declared Tangata-Manu. With the egg in his hand he would lead a procession from Orongo to the place where he would spend a five month residence. This would be Anakena if he was a member of the western clans or Rano Raraku if he was from a clan from the east of the island.

When he arrived at his place of residence he became ‘tapu’, or sacred for the next five months of the year long term and grew his fingernails without cutting them for the term and wore a headdress made of human hair and received a new name. He was allowed special privileges as well as gifts of food and tributes. His clan was awarded the sole rights to harvest the birds and their eggs from Motu Nui for that season. He would then spend the rest of his term in seclusion in a special ceremonial residence.

Celebrating the past, present and future

After the arrival of Catholic missionaries in the 1860s the cult was suppressed and subsequently went into decline. Unfortunately the Rapanui were to suffer devastating raids by slave traders which decimated their population and contact with Europeans brought smallpox and other diseases which nearly wiped them out completely.

In this way many of their leaders and wise men perished and with then went most of the knowledge of the past.

But the Rapanui people are resourceful and resilient and their population has increased again to more healthy levels. We will probably never know the secrets of their past or of their origins and the answers to the mysteries of Rapa Nui.

Nevertheless, lets us celebrate the past of this truly wonderful island and its people while congratulating them on their present achievements and wish them the best – the very best, for the future.

©  08/16/2012 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

This article was written and first published by zteve t evans on Wizzley 08/16/2012

Copyright 08/16/2012 zteve t evans

British Folk Songs: The Ballad of John Barleycorn

Barley has a long association with human society because of its uses for food, drink and medicine that goes back some 12,000 years.   Used for animal feed and to make bread for human consumption, it is also used to make popular alcoholic drinks such as beer, barley wine, whisky and other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

Beer is the oldest and the most common of all alcoholic drinks and after water and tea the third most popular beverage.  With its ancient importance, barley has given rise to many myths and is the source of much folklore and many people think that hidden in an old traditional folk song of the British Isles  called John Barleycorn, lies the story of barley.

Barley – Public Domain Image

The Ballad of John Barleycorn

A traditional British folk ballad, called John Barleycorn, depicts the lead character as the personification of barley and its products of bread, beer and whisky.   The song is very old and there are many versions from all around the British Isles.  The song does have strong connections with Scotland with possibly the Robert Burns version the most well-known though the song goes way back to before the times of Elizabeth 1st.

Different Versions

In the song, John Barleycorn is subject to many violent, physical abuses leading to his death.  Each abuse represents a stage in the sowing, growing, harvesting, malting and preparation of barley to make beer and whisky.

In many versions there is confusion because it is brandy that is consumed even though brandy is made from grapes, rather than whisky or beer made from barley.   John Barleycorn is also a term used to denote an alcoholic drink that is distilled such as a spirit, rather than fermented like beer.

In some versions of the song there is more emphasis on the way different tradesmen take revenge on John Barleycorn for making them drunk.  The miller grinds him to a powder between two stones.  However John Barleycorn often proves the stronger character due to his intoxicating effect on his tormentors and the fact hat his body is giving sustenance to others making humans dependent upon him.

Through the savagery inflicted upon John Barleycorn the song metaphorically tells the story of the sowing, cultivating and harvesting cycle of barley throughout the year.  The ground is ploughed, seeds are sown, and the plant grows until ready for harvest. It is then cut with scythes, and tied into sheaves, which are flayed to remove the grain.

Pagan and Anglo-Saxon Associations

Wikipedia says that some scholars think that John Barleycorn has strong connections with the pagan Anglo-Saxon character of Beowa also known as Beaw, Beow, or Beo or sometimes Bedwig. In Old English ‘Beow’ means ‘barley’ and ‘Sceafa’ means ‘sheaf.’ From Royal Anglo-Saxon lineage, Beowa is the son of Scyld who is the son of Sceafa in a pedigree that goes back to Adam.

Many scholars also think that there are strong associations with Beowa and Beowulf and the general agreement is that they are the same character.  Some scholars also think that Beowa is the same character as John Barleycorn while others disagree.

The Golden Bough

Wikepedia says, Sir James George Frazer, in his book, ‘The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion’  asserts that many of the old religions of the world were derived from fertility cults which had at their core the ritual sacrifice of a Sacred king who was also known as the Corn King, who was the embodiment of the Sun god.  Each year he went through a cycle of death and rebirth in a union with the Earth goddess, dying at the harvest time to be reborn in the spring.

The Corn King

The Corn King was chosen from the men of a tribe to be the king for a year.  At the end of the year he would then dance, or perform thanksgiving and fertility rituals in the fields before being ritually killed.  So that the soil would be fertilised his body was dragged through the fields to enable his blood to run into the soil.  It may be that he may then have been eaten by the tribe in completion of the ritual.

As well as other uses, the barley was made into cakes which would be stored for the winter and were thought to hold the spirit of the Corn King.  Around the time of the winter solstice when the sun was at its weakest and as it started to strengthen, the cakes would be fed to children giving them the spirit of the corn king.

Christianity

There are also theories that possibly an earlier form of John Barleycorn represented a pagan rite before the rise of Christianity. There are suggestions that the early Christian church in Anglo-Saxon England adapted this to help the conversion of the pagan population to Christianity.  This is a tactic that was used with Yule and other pagan festivals and traditions.   In some versions of the song, John Barleycorn suffers in a similar way to Christ, especially in the version by Robert Burns.

After undergoing ritualistic suffering and death, his body is ground into flour for bread and drink. Some scholars compare this with the Sacrament and Transubstantiation of Christian belief though not all agree.

Popular Culture

We will probably never know the true origins and meaning that are hidden in the story of John Barleycorn but the song and its mysteries still have a powerful effect on people today.  Many popular musicians and folk artists have performed versions of the song in the recent past and it is still a popular song today.

In 1970, the progressive rock group, ’Traffic’ made an album entitled, John Barleycorn Must Die, featuring a song of the same name which went on to become a classic.

The song is popular with recording and performing artists and a favourite with audiences. Folk rock bands Fairport Convention and Steel-eye Span and many other rock and folk artists have recorded versions of the song ensuring the story of John Barleycorn is still sung and celebrated, so that even though the meaning may be lost in time, the story lives on.

References and Attributions
File:Hordeum-barley.jpg From Wikimedia Commons 
Read the lyrics HarvestFestivals.Net - John Barleycorn
AudioEnglish.org -John Barleycorn
The Golden Bough - from Wikipedia
Sacred king from Wikipedia
Frazer, Sir James George -  The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion
Traffic - John BarleyCorn  
Mainly Norfolk: English Folk and Other Good Music

North American Legends: Johnny Appleseed

In North American folklore apples are strongly associated with the legendary Johnny Appleseed who is affectionately remembered for his wandering lifestyle planting apple tree nurseries across the great American frontier.  His real name was John Chapman and he was born in Leominster, Massachusetts on September 26, 1774.

His father, Nathanial Chapman, had served as a soldier in the Revolutionary War.  Sadly, he lost his mother to tuberculosis during that war. When he was old enough to work he became apprenticed as an orchardist to a local orchard where he learnt the trade that made that him a legend in his own lifetime.

Johnny Appleseed – Author: H. S. Knapp – Public Domain Image

Legend

Folklore paints a picture of him dressed in rags with a tin pot on his head striding across the land with a pocketful of apple seeds.  These he planted on his way, for all to enjoy out of his sheer generosity.  In fact the planting of orchards, or more accurately apple tree nurseries, was his business and he grew apples trees as a business enterprise.  His plan was to plant nurseries along the frontier where ever he thought settlers would build new communities.  When his trees were between one and two years old he would sell them to the settlers for six cents each.  He travelled and planted apple tree nurseries in many places along the Ohio Valley with bases in Western Pennsylvania and in Ohio, in Richland County.

One of the folk stories about Johnny Appleseed tells how during the War of 1812 many Indians took the British side looking to avenge themselves against the settlers who they believed had done injury to them.  Although they attacked many settlements they did not threaten or interfere with Johnny Appleseed.   However, he would often warn the settlements of imminent Indian attacks.

A legend tells of how he made a desperate run of 26 miles through the wilderness from Mansfield, Ohio to Mount Vernon in a bid to bring help to the beleaguered settlers besieged by Indians.  It is said that as he ran he blew a horn to warn other settlers of the danger along the way.  Thanks to his desperate run and courage the settlers at Mansfield were reinforced and saved.

Religion

Chapman followed the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg and was a member of the Church of New Jerusalem, which was based on Christian teachings and followed Pacifist principles and advocated individualism and simple living.

As he travelled he would spread the message of his church to those he visited and would tell stories to the children in exchange for a meal and a place to sleep on the floor of the house.

Love of Animals

Despite his rather rough and rustic appearance and his eccentricities Johnny Appleseed was a gentle and kind man with great intelligence and charisma and a heart of gold.  Indeed, he was also a rarity for his time as he was a vegetarian; not wishing animals should suffer for him.  His kindness and concern for animals was legendary.

One story is told of how he extinguished his campfire when he saw mosquitoes flying to their deaths into it. He believed that none of God’s creatures, no matter how small, should have to suffer to alleviate his discomfort.  Another story tells of the time he set up camp in one end of a hollow log and built a fire for warmth. On discovering the log was already inhabited by a bear with her cubs, rather than disturb them, he moved his camp to the other end, sleeping unsheltered in the snow.

Folktales tell how he would buy a horse that was about to be put down and purchase some grassland for the animal to recuperate on.  When the horse had recovered he would give the horse to a poor settler on the sole condition that it was to be treated properly and with kindness.

Entering into Folklore

One can well imagine how this rather wild, raggedy man, may appear as a larger than life figure to the settlers along the frontier as he came and went about his business growing apple nurseries.  He may have been regarded as eccentric but he was well received and seen as a welcome relief by the isolated settlers bringing news and helping out where he could.  On 18th of March, 1845, John Chapman died of pneumonia and was buried near Fort Wayne, Indiana, entering into American folklore.

References and Attributions
Image - File:Johnny Appleseed 1.jpg From Wikimedia Commons - Johnny Appleseed - Author: H. S. Knapp - Public Domain Image

Natural Folklore: The Northern and Southern Lights

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights

This image or file is a work of a U.S. Air Force Airman or employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image or file is in the public domain.

The northern lights and the southern lights are natural phenomena that occur in the night skies over the polar regions of the planet. Today, we know they are caused by gas molecules in the atmosphere colliding with solar particles. This releases energy as light and creates colourful displays of light that display in fold-like shapes, streamers, rays, arches and many other amazing forms.

The northern lights are also known as ‘Aurora borealis’ and the southern lights as ‘Aurora australis.’ In Roman mythology Aurora was the goddess of the dawn, so Aurora borealis means ‘dawn of the north,’ and Aurora australis means dawn of the south.

They can be very beautiful and awe-inspiring and at the same time mysterious and even frightening. Many different cultural and ethnic groups who lived in places where they are seen have developed many myths and legends to try and explain and make meaning of them in their own terms.

The Fox-fires of Lapland

In the language of the Finnish people the northern lights are known as “Revontulet.” In English this means “Fox Fires” and comes from a very old Finnish myth which says that the lights were produced by magical snow foxes whose swishing tales sent snow spraying into the skies.

North of Finland, Norway and Sweden live the Lapp people in Lapland. This is a huge area within the Arctic Circle which ranges across parts of all three of these Scandinavian countries. The Lapps are closely related to the Finnish people. Their traditions say that the lights are the shining souls of the dead.

When the lights are in the skies people are expected to behave in a solemn and respectful way. Children were also expected to be solemnly too out of respect for the departed ones. To show disrespect would bring down bad luck, sickness and the risk of death.

The shamans of the Lapps painted runes representing the fires on their on their drums to help them attract and capture their magical energy. They were also believed that the lights had soothing powers over conflicts and arguments.

There was also a belief that if you whistled when the lights were active they would come to you and take you away with them.

The ride of the Valkiries

A red aurora of this magnitude is rare, and in this image it complements the green colour. Image taken at Hakoya island, just outside Tromsoe, Norway. October 25th, 2011 by photographer Frank Olsen

A red aurora of this magnitude is rare, and icomplements the green colour. Image taken Hakoya island, Norway. October 25th, 2011 by photographer Frank Olsen. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Norwegian folklore tells that they were the souls of old maids who danced and waved across the skies.

While in other parts of Scandinavia and Germany the belief was that it was the Valkiries who had taken to the air when the lights appeared.

In Scotland, which also has strong Norse links, the lights were sometimes referred to as “the merry dancers.”

Warriors battling in the skies

In other parts of the world the aurora borealis was believed to be heroes or warriors battling in the sky. In many places further from the Arctic and Antarctic Circles the lights are a rare occurrence and when they did appear they were seen as signs of coming war or sickness and were harbingers of doom.

Eskimo beliefs

Among some Eskimo tribes of Greenland the lights were connected with dancing. In some parts of Greenland the lights were thought top be the souls of children who had died at, or soon after birth.

In Labrador, young Eskimos believed the lights were the torches lit and carried by the dead as they played a kind of ball game in the skies with the skull of a walrus. They would dance as the lights played across the skies.

Spirits of animals

Aurora image taken at Hillesoy island, Norway. September 2011. Author Arctic light -Frank Olsen, This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

In eastern parts of Canada, the Salteaus Indians, along with the Kwakiutl and Tlingit tribes of south eastern parts of Alaska the lights were thought to the spirits of humans. Tribes living along the Yukon River thought that the lights were the spirits of animals such as elk, deer, salmon, seal and whales.

While to some Native American tribes of Wisconsin, North America, they were a bad omen as they believed the lights were the ghosts of the enemies they had killed who were now seeking revenge.

Everlasting love

Many cultures around the world looked up at them and made their own meanings and stories to explain them but here the last word goes to the Algonquin Indians. They believed the northern lights were the fires of the great creator god, Nanahbozho. After creating the world he retired to the far north. There he builds great magical campfires which light up the northern skies to remind them of the everlasting love he holds towards them.

References
 Causes of Color - Legends and myths of the aurora Folklore
 Accessed 04 September 2013
 
this is FINLAND - Beliefs on indigenous people
 Accessed 04 September 2013
 
Aurora (astronomy) - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Mystery of the Green Children of Woolpit

Photo Author: Rod Bacon

Versions of the Green Children of Woolpit

Woolpit is a village in Suffolk that has a history that goes back 2,000 years or more. It has seen many events in its long history, but perhaps one of the strangest must be the appearance of two mysterious green children.  Their story was recorded by two chroniclers; Ralph of Coggershall and William of Newburgh.  There are also a number of other versions, some set in the neighbouring county of Norfolk, but it is the Suffolk version that is dealt with here.

Harvest Time

The story begins on a clear, bright, day during harvest time when the villagers were out reaping their crops. As they worked they became aware of the sound of someone weeping and crying.  The cries, although sad, were strange and seemed to be in words that they could not understand.

With growing concern that someone might be in trouble the villagers began searching the area.  Following the weeping sounds they found two small children; a young boy and a young girl.  Nearby, was the opening to a wolf-pit which they appeared to have come out of.  They were very frightened and cried bitterly.

Even though the villagers meant them no harm the children were frightened and tried to escape.  Although the villagers were very poor, they were kind and caring people and wanted to help the children.  They caught the children and looked to see how they could assist them. There was no sign of any adults accompanying them so they tried to calm them down and tried to ask them where they were from.

The villagers were astonished to find that although the children were very much the same physically as any other children; they had some very strange differences.  For a start the two children were wearing clothes of a style the villagers had never seen before and they spoke in a language that they could not understand. It was certainly not any form of English that the villagers knew. Stranger still, the villagers saw the children’s skin was a shade of green on all parts of their body.

Sir Richard de Caine Offers Them Food

The children were fearful of the villagers and held on to each other crying bitterly. The villagers felt terribly sorry for the children and refused to let them go, wanting to help them and keep them safe.  They took the children to Sir Richard de Caine, a knight, who they thought might know who they were and how to help them.

The children were still terrified and continued their crying and weeping. Despite being starved with hunger the children would not eat anything Sir Richard and his servants offered them.  No matter how gently Sir Richard coaxed or what his servants put before them they still refused to eat.

Fresh Green Beans

Having offered all the contents of his pantry and the children still refusing to eat Sir Richard had his servants go and look in the garden to see if there was anything there he could tempt them with.  The servants came back with fresh green beans and out of desperation Sir Richard offered them to the children.  On seeing the beans the children immediately showed interest.  Using gestures they indicated they wanted to try them.

However, when Sir Richard offered the bean pods and stalks on a plate to the children they picked up the stalks and opened them expecting to find beans inside.  Finding nothing in the hollow stalks the children were so upset they began crying again. Sir Richard and his servants on seeing this then showed them how to open the pods and get the beans out. On seeing the children cheered up and heartily began eating the beans straight from the pod.  For many months after the children would only eat green beans and nothing else.

The Green Children stay with Sir Richard

Sir Richard allowed the children to stay in his household as they had no where else to go.  Sadly, the boy, who was often low of spirit and of a despondent manner fell sick and passed away within a short while.  His sister, however, grew strong and full of vitality and began to eat other types of food other than green beans.  As she grew stronger and older her skin slowly lost its green tinge.

A Far, Far Country

The girl thrived and gradually learnt how to speak English.  Sir Richard was still curious as to where she and her brother had come from and asked her about her past.  She told him she and her brother had come from another country far, far away and that everyone who lived there had green skin.  The girl said that in that country there was no sun.  She told him that the light there was similar to twilight in England just after sunset but the light was green and so was everything else.

How the Green Children Came to England

Sir Richard asked how she and her brother had got to England. She told him that she and her brother had been tending their family’s flock of sheep which had strayed into a large cavern.  As they were tasked to guard the sheep they had followed them into the cave with the intention of driving them back out.

When they entered the cavern they heard the sound of bells ringing. They both thought this was the most wonderful and delight sound they had ever heard and they were enchanted by their ringing.

As if in a spell, the two children forgot all about their sheep and followed the sound of the bells down along a passage until at last they stumbled out of the cave into the bright sunlight.  The children’s eyes were not accustomed to such light. Temporarily blinded and disorientated they began crying.  That is when the villagers first heard them by the wolf-pit.  They had tried to find the cave entrance hoping to escape the villagers and return home.  However, in the bright light they became lost and could not find their way back.

Even though Sir Richard may have found her tale strange and far fetched he let her stay in his household for many years and had her baptized into the Christian church.  There were times he noted her behaviour to be immoderate and free now and then, but he was a kindly and tolerant man and let it be.

The Account of Sir William of Newbridge

In the account of Sir William of Newbridge this all happened during the reign of King Stephen between the years 1135-54 He claimed the children had been discovered during harvest time.  They had been found near the entrance to the Wolf-pits around 5 miles from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. He said that they had both eventually lost the green tinge to their skin, been baptized and named Agnes and learned how to speak English.  Sadly, the boy had always been weak and sickly and had died.

St. Martin’s Land

According to Sir William the girl had flourished and eventually she married and had children.  She always claimed she came from a country called St Martin’s Land where everyone revered St Martin and everyone was a Christian and there were many churches.  The girl insisted that in that country there was no sun and everything was lit by a green light. There was a very wide river and on the opposite bank they could see a very bright country.

Fairies and Fullers

To some people the legend is the meeting of the fairy world with the human world. They argue that green is the traditional colour associated with fairies and the often immoderate and free behaviour of the girl were typical traits of the fairies.

Other people take the view that there may be parts of the legend that were based on fact but became exaggerated or distorted over time.  For example, it is known that about the time when it is thought to have happened there were immigrants from Belgium living and working in the area.  These were Flemish fullers and merchants.  The fullers made their living by processing and possibly dying wool different colours.  They also spoke their own language of Flemish.

Tensions arose between the Flemish and local people and the Flemish were massacred.  Some people think it possible the children escaped into the forest. Their green skin may have been dyed deliberately by their parents or themselves as camouflage.  Being of Flemish origin would also explain their language and their different clothes.

Although this is plausible it does not take into account what the girl is alleged to have told Sir Richard.  Another problem with this idea is that Sir Richard was almost certainly one of the most eminent people in the area.  As such he would probably have had some knowledge or direct involvement in such an attack.  It is also quite possible he may have had business dealings with the Flemish and would probably have realised that the language the children were speaking was Flemish.  Some accounts also say that it was not the Flemish fullers, but Flemish merchants who were massacred.

Chlorosis – The Green Sickness

Another theory is that the children were suffering from a type of anaemia known as chlorosis, sometimes called “green sickness”.  They may have acquired this through wandering starving and undernourished through the woods.  However, even though there are many accounts of girls, especially around the age of puberty being afflicted with green sickness, it is very much rarer in boys.

Continuing Intrigue

It is an interesting story and one that arouses the curiosity in people for many centuries. We will probably never know the truth now but no doubt it will continue to intrigue future generations just as much as today.

References and Attributions
Image - File:WoolpitSign.jpg From Wikipedia -   Author: Rod Bacon - 
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
History mysteries: The Green children of Woolpit 
Green children of Woolpit - From Wikipedia 
BBC Radio 4 The Green Children of Woolpit
chlorosis, 
Mysterious Britain & Ireland 
Mysterious People

The Folktale of Maude’s Elm

The folktale of Maude’s elm is a story of cruelty and injustice.   Time has blurred the edges of reality and as the story was passed mostly by word of mouth gaining a degree of exaggeration and embellishment along the way.  Norman’s History of Cheltenham, by John Goding is one of the earliest and best narratives of the legend and Tony McKormack also provides a very good more recent account.

The Darling of the Village

In the village of Swindon not far from the town of Cheltenham there a lived a young girl called Maude.  She was regarded by everyone as the belle of the village and very much loved by all the villagers.  Her mother’s name was Margret Bowen. She and her daughter lived in a cottage, now known as Maude’s Cottage, with Margret’s brother, Godfrey Bowen.  Maude and her mother earned their living by spinning wool which was sold in the nearby town of Cheltenham.

Maude Goes Missing

One morning Maude had set off to sell some spun wool in Cheltenham but failed to return by nightfall. Her worried mother, frantic with fear, raised the alarm amongst the villagers who formed a search party.   It was a black night and the villagers finding no trace of Maude in the darkness were forced to give up. At dawn the search party resumed the hunt for the girl.

Her Body Is Found

Sadly, the lifeless body of the young girl was found lying face down in a stream of water known locally as Wyman’s Brook.   The body was naked and from the signs the villagers concluded she had been raped. Nearby on a bridge that crossed the water they found the body of her uncle, Godfrey Bowen.  In his hand was a ripped part of Maude’s dress.   Mysteriously, he had been shot through the heart by an arrow.

The Inquest

An inquest was convened and headed by the Lord of the Manor.  He concluded that Maude had been raped by Godfrey Bowen and overcome with shame had drowned herself in the brook.   He also declared that God had killed Godfrey Bowen for raping his own niece.

Buried At The Crossroads

In those days people who committed suicide were not allowed to be buried in hallowed ground.  Instead her body was taken to the crossroads that were nearest to her place of death. There a stake of living wood was driven through her heart pinning her dead body to the ground.  This was believed to prevent her soul from rising and wandering the land.  Godfrey Bowen was given the full rites of a Christian burial.

An Elm Tree Grows From Maude’s Heart

The stake of wood that had been driven though Maude’s heart slowly took root and began to grow into an elm tree.  Maud’s mother had been devastated by her daughter’s death and she took to tending the tree into her old age. Because Maude’s death had been declared a suicide the Lord of the Manor claimed her cottage as his own and evicted her.

Her Mother’s Madness

Poor Margret Bowen, now homeless and destitute became a beggar surviving only on the charity of the villagers and her old friends.   In her grief she was overcome by madness and wept constantly and  pitifully over Maude’s grave, so much so, it was said her bitter tears fed and nourished the young tree causing it to grow tall and strong.

Margret is Arrested

Years later the Lord of the Manor while taking his son to be baptised in Cheltenham had to pass the crossroads where Maude was buried.   Seeing Margret weeping over the elm made him angry so he ordered his men to move the old woman.  Margret refused to move so he commanded his men to drag her away.

An Arrow From the Forest

As the first man was about to lay a hand on her an arrow flew out of the forest and pierced his heart killing him instantly.    Although they searched the forest they could find no trace of the archer and the Lord of the Manor ordered his men to arrest the old woman.

Burnt To Death

Margret was charged with witchcraft and murder and sent to the infamous Gloucester Gaol to await her trial.  The judge accepted the Lord of the Manor’s evidence without question and she was sentenced to be burnt to death at the exact place where the alleged offense took place.

Margret was transported from Gloucester Gaol in a cart to the elm at the crossroads where Maude was buried.  There she was tied to the tree while faggots of wood were piled around her

An Arrow From The Trees

The Lord of the Manor had been drinking and such was his state of drunkenness that he moved towards the fire to jeer and taunt her to her face. Suddenly an arrow sped from the trees piercing his heart and he fell dead on to the fire at Margret’s feet.

The flames instantly burst into blazing inferno consuming both him and Margret Bowen in minutes.   As suddenly as they had blazed the flames disappeared leaving no trace of the dead bodies of Margret Bowen, or the Lord of the Manor.  Somehow the elm had survived the inferno and eventually grew to height of over eighty feet.

Walter The Archer

With the death of the Lord of the Manor the cottage that he had claimed from Margret was now ownerless and remained unoccupied for around half a century.Eventually the villagers noticed that a very old man had moved into the empty cottage.

He spent his days sitting under the elm and slept in the cottage at night. The villagers discovered his name was Walter the Archer (Walter Gray, or Baldwin in some versions of the legend) and he had been born in the village but had left many years ago.  On his death bed he revealed the true events that led to Maude’s death and explained the other mysterious circumstance around the tragedy.

Walter Reveals The Truth

Walter told the villagers that he and Maude had been in love and they had wanted to marry.  He explained that Godfrey Bowen was a man of great greed and had wanted ownership of the cottage.   His sister, Margret, was the rightful owner, but should she die then Maude would inherit.  In the hope that he would gain control of the cottage Godfrey has asked Maude to marry him.  Maude refused which made him furious.

To make matters even worse, Maude had caught the eye of the Lord of the Manor who greatly desired to make her one of his mistresses.  Although Maude had rejected all his approaches the Lord of the Manor was determined.

An Evil Bargain

To achieve his desire he made a bargain with Godfrey Bowen where they would both rape Maude and then murder her.  Bowen would then be heir to the cottage and the Lord of the Manor would have his way with Maude.  Walter had learnt of the plot determined to protect her.  Even so, he knew he could not openly challenge the powerful Lord of the Manor and he did not want to alarm Maude so he took to secretly following her.

On the day that Maude had gone to Cheltenham he had followed her at a distance while keeping out of sight in the woods. Sadly, he had been too far away to save her when the two attacked.

Walter told the villagers that the Lord of the Manor and Godfrey Bowen had attacked her near the bridge, stripping the clothes from her and taking turns at raping her.   Walter arrived on the scene to witness Bowen in the act while the Lord of the Manor stood watching.

Walter Kills Bowen And Goes Into Hiding

Walter had quickly fitted an arrow to his bow and shot Bowen through the heart killing him instantly.  The Lord of the Manor escaped into the woods.  Maude, traumatized, fell into the brook and drowned before he could reach her.

Fearing the vengeance of the Lord of the Manor and that he would be put on trial for the murder of Godfrey Bowen, Walter had fled the village.  He took a false name and lived at an inn near the main Gloucester road called  ‘The House in the Tree’ which still existed at the time of writing.

He would often be visited at the inn by Margret Bowen who he would help the best he could.  Margret the only person alive who knew he and Maude had been sweethearts and he took to secretly guarding her.  It had been he who fired the arrows that killed the Lord of the Manor and his men.

A Famous Landmark

Maude’s elm grew to become a famous landmark and visitor attraction and survived until 1907 when it was struck by lightning and then felled for safety.

Rest In Peace

Although it is difficult to verify how authentic the story is there are still parts of it that exist today. Maude’s Cottage, The House in the Tree Inn can still be seen. Maude’s elm was cut down but the existence of an elm at the crossroads can be verified although most likely was not the same one that grew from Maude. Nevertheless, it is a sad and brutal story and if true, we can only hope that poor Maude and her mother now rest in peace.

 

References and Attributions
Norman’s History of Cheltenham – by John Goding
Tony McCormack
cheltenham4u.co.uk - Swindon Village, Wyman's Brook   and Surrounding Areas 
Maude’s Cottage 
The House in the Tree
Maude’s elm
Image of Maudes elm