Faustian Pacts: Billy Duffy and the Devil

A Faustian Pact

Presented here is a retelling of a folktale from Welsh Fairy-Tales And Other Stories – Author: Anonymous – Edited by P. H. Emerson.  The story is essentially a Faustian pact – a contract made with the Devil – by a roguish character intent on living a debauched and immoderate lifestyle.  Although the Devil usually comes out tops in such deals occasionally he meets someone who is a bit too clever for him and comes unstuck.  The story is also an etiological folktale giving an explanation of the origin of the phenomenon known as the “will-o’-the-wisp” from many folkloric traditions.

Billy Duffy and the Devil

The story centers on Billy Duffy, an all round drunkard, philanderer and blaggard, a blacksmith by trade and a very good one when he was sober.   He worked in his own smithy, which was also his home.  He tended to work until he had made just enough money to tide him over extended periods when he partook in his favorite activities of drinking, gambling and philandering.  After one such spree, with his money gone, he was staggering home when he said to himself, “Good God, if only I could just get my hands on more booze I would gladly sell myself to the Devil!”

After a few more steps to his complete surprise, he felt someone tap him on the shoulder from behind.   Looking around he saw a tall, dark, gentleman dressed in shiny red looking down on him.  

“Ahem!” said the gentleman, “What did you say?”

“I said I would gladly sell myself to the Devil for more money for booze!” replied Billy slurring his speech and swaying this way and that.

“Hmm now,” replied the gentleman, “how much money would you want to cover you for the next seven years and at the end of that time the Devil takes your soul?”

“Aw, well now, that’s a good question that I cannot rightly answer when it comes right down to it!” replied Billy.

“Would a bucket of gold sovereigns be enough?” asked the gentleman.

“Best make it three!” replied Billy never afraid to push his luck.

“Ok, three it is and at the end of seven years the Devil will find you.  He will then give you three days grace at the end of this period with as much money as you like and then your very soul shall be his for eternity.  Do you agree!” replied the gentleman his eyes glittering and a sneering smile forming in the corner of his mouth.

“I would be glad to accept that even if the Devil himself offered it!” replied Billy eagerly.

“Billy, surely you know who I am don’t you?”

“Alright, I guess you are the Devil himself, but I still agree!” replied Billy.

With business concluded the Devil produced a piece of paper and asking him to hold out a finger, pricked it making it bleed and wrote out the contract and a copy of it in Billy’s blood.  He made sure Billy had read and signed both papers and giving him the contract retained the copy and promptly disappeared.  Billy staggered home forgetting the incident putting it down to the alcohol but when he opened the door to his smithy he found three big buckets brimming with gold sovereigns.

Three Wishes

Grabbing a handful and after carefully hiding the rest he staggered back to his favorite pub and began treating everyone to drinks again and again.  It was only when he slipped into unconsciousness oblivion that he stopped. The landlord, grateful for such a generous customer, insisted the other drinkers carry him carefully safely home in a wheelbarrow he lent them.

Night after night Billy took a handful of sovereigns from the buckets and spent them in the pubs and bars around town.  He paid for all the drinks of his companions and because of his generosity their numbers grew and grew as people flocked to be part of his entourage.  He spent freely and refused no one.

One evening an old hermit, dressed in rags and starving approached Billy begging him to buy him food and drink.  Billy looked him up and down and invited him to sit next to him, “What can I buy you?” he asked, “You can have anything you fancy that this place sells.”  

So the hermit chose a good wholesome plate of food and mug of beer and proceeded to eat and drink it all ravenously. When he had finished he thanked Billy gratefully and left. Billy did not see him again for several months when he appeared in the same pub in the same famished and impoverished state.  Once again Billy generously treated him and after consuming the food and drink the hermit thanked him and disappeared. 

Several months later he reappeared in the same bar and again Billy brought him food and drink but this time the grateful hermit said, “My thanks to you, Billy Duffy for you have been most kind and generous to me, a poor hermit, three times now.  Therefore, out of gratitude I offer you three wishes of your own choice that will come true.”

This took Billy completely by surprise and he said, “Thank you, I am most grateful but I must have time to think about what to wish for wisely.”

“You can take your time and I will call upon you tomorrow, but make sure they are good wishes!” replied the hermit.

The next day the hermit appeared outside Billy’s smithy just as he was leaving for the night out and asked,

“Have you decided?”

“I have,” said Billy.

“Tell me,” said the hermit.

“The first is this.  In my smithy I have a big sledge-hammer and I wish that whoever takes up that hammer, other than me, shall strike the anvil with it with all their force until I tell them to stop,” said Billy

“Hmm!” replied the hermit, “that is not a very wise wish.  What is the second?”

“The second wish is for a purse that will not let out whatever I put inside it,” answered Billy chuckling. 

“Well, that does not seem like a very good wish either!” said the hermit growing perplexed.

“My third wish is this.  I have an armchair and I wish that anyone who sits in it will be unable to get up until I allow it,” said Billy looking very pleased.

“Billy, Billy, Billy, these are not wise wishes, you could have so much more just on the asking!” exclaimed the hermit.

“Well now, these are my wishes and I think they are very good wishes so will you grant them as you promised,” answered Billy determinedly.

“Very well, as you insist, they are yours and will manifest exactly what you wish for when ever you choose to use them,” replied the perplexed hermit. With that he left the pub and Billy never saw him again.

Time’s Up.

Billy spent all his waking hours in his favorite pastimes of boozing, debauchery and having an all round good time and the years rolled by. He ran out of money just before the seven years were up so he returned to his smithy to make money.  When his time was up the Devil stepped into his forge saying, “Well now Billy Duffy you now have three days grace and you shall have as much money as you desire.  Ask and it will be given.” 

Despite being penniless he had great confidence in the Devil and made his way to his favorite pub.  Stepping inside, he was welcomed raucously by his friends who were all expecting him to treat them. They were profoundly disappointed when he proclaimed he was stony broke.  Nevertheless, he boldly walked up to the bar, slammed his fist down and demanded an empty glass.  The landlord was used to Billy’s antics and always grateful for the money he spent in the past and obliged.  Holding the empty glass aloft Billy cried, “Fill this glass with money!”

The response was dramatic.  After a loud bang and blinding flash Billy was left holding aloft a glass full of money.

“Well, now folks, it seems I am not as broke as I thought.  Landlord, the drinks are on me!” he cried.

Although astonished, the landlord wasted no time in filling everyone’s glass.  He had no idea how Billy did it but it was very good for business.  Billy paid for everyone’s drink that evening and the beer and wine flowed fast and free.  After three days of drinking and debauchery Billy’s money finally ran out and he staggered home.

Billy Tricks the Devil

Out of money he was up working in his smithy the next morning when the Devil arrived and told him, “OK Billy your time is up. It is time to go, come along!”

“Alright, just give me a hand here for a minute so I can finish this job.  Just give that horse shoe there on the anvil a good hammering while I go and wash my hands.” replied Billy moving to the sink and running the tap. 

The Devil, liking to show off, picked hold of the hammer thinking to give the horseshoe three mighty whacks to impress Billy.  However, after the third blow he found he could not stop hammering.”

Billy laughed as he dried his hands and locked up the smithy leaving the Devil hammering away at the horseshoe.   He did not return for three days and in that time the Devil could not stop hammering away night and day.  When he returned Billy found a crowd of people had gathered around the smithy peeping though the window and cracks in the door to see what Billy was up to.

As Billy opened the door he greeted the Devil cheerily who replied angrily, “Billy that is a terrible trick to play on me.  You know who I am and you should show me some respect.  Make me stop!”

“Well now,” replied Billy, “surely you don’t expect something for nothing, do you?  What is it worth?”

“OK! OK!” replied the exasperated Devil, “How about seven more years, twice the money and two days grace where you can wish for what you like?”

Billy readily agreed and the Devil paid up and promptly vanished in a huff.  Billy spent the next seven years filled with boozing, gambling and all kinds of debauchery.  At the end of those seven years again with out a penny Billy returned to his smithy to work for a living.  On the first day of his two days grace he went to his favorite pub and wished for twenty pounds.  Immediately a little tubby man entered the bar with a bag of coins and held it out to Billy.   Of course that night Billy spent the lot until it was gone.  The second night, again Billy wished for money and the little tubby man brought him a bag of coins.

The Devil Takes a Hammering

The next morning he went to the smithy to wait for the Devil knowing he would arrive sooner or later.  It so happened that the Devil, remembering how Billy had tricked him before, arrived at the smithy before him.  Thinking to outsmart Billy, he turned himself into a gold sovereign and lay in wait on Billy’s floor.  When Billy entered he immediately spied the coin and clapped it into the purse he had wished for from the hermit.   Laying the purse on his anvil he proceeded to beat it with his hammer with all his might again and again and again. 

The Devil could not open the purse to escape and was forced to cry out, “Billy!, Billy!, Billy! Stop! Stop! Stop!”

“And if I do what will you give me?” replied Billy.

“I will give you seven more years, three times more money and one day of grace!” replied the Devil

Billy opened the purse and the Devil flew out and Billy got his money.  He carried on spending the next seven years in his usual style.  On his last night of grace Billy went to the pub and wished for money.  Again the little tubby man arrived with a big purse of gold coins for him but this time warned him that this was his last day and in the morning he would be whisked away to hell.  By now the landlord and his drinking partners were all suspicious and the landlord said, “Billy Duffy, I believe you are in league with the Devil.  You will give my house a bad name”

“No, no, not at all! More in league against him and your house has always had a bad name!” retorted Billy, “Why else would I be found here?” 

The landlord had no answer to such logic but demanded, “Well, what is going on?”

“Oh, you will see in due course, have no fear!” replied Billy.  Despite their suspicions his friends and the landlord were all happy to help Billy spend his money.

The next morning Billy began working way in his smithy but the Devil would come nowhere near. Eventually, Billy finished his task and went into his sitting room and started going over papers.   Plucking up courage the Devil entered and said, “Right Billy, let us go now and no tricks!”

“Ah, there you are, I wondered where you were.  Come and sit down for a few minutes while I pop in the smithy and extinguish the furnace.” said Billy, amiably gesturing to the large comfortable looking armchair.

The Devil Gets His Nose Tweaked

The Devil sat down and relaxed in the armchair which really was very comfortable.  Billy went to his smithy, where out of sight of the Devil he heated up a pair of tongs until they were red hot and returned hiding them behind his back.

“Ah, there you are!” said the Devil making to stand up but found he was stuck fast.

With his red hot tongs Billy grabbed the Devil by the nose pulling it and stretching it this way and that.  The Devil roared with pain and fire snorted from his nostrils but it only heated the tongs up further.   Billy clapped an iron cap over his nose to stop the flames. The Devil continued to yell and roar but he could not move from the armchair. A crown gathered around Billy’s house to see what the rumpus was.  Seeing how Billy had the Devil in such dire straits they began clapping and cheering, “Billy’s got the Devil! Billy’s got the Devil! Billy’s got the Devil!”

The Devil, in his predicament cursed and threatened Billy with all the dire consequences he could think of using the vilest and most obnoxious terms. Undeterred, Billy continued tweaking his nose with the red hot tongs. Billy kept him there for days while the Devil shouted and swore.   Eventually he realized that if he was ever to be free he would have to be civil to Billy and calmed down.

“Ok, Billy, what do you want to set me free?” asked the Devil as civilly as he could.

“Well, now sir, I think I would like to be free of you for the rest of my life and have as much money as I like whenever I want it,” replied Billy.

By now the Devil would have agreed to anything and everything so he readily accepted Billy’s proposal.   As promised Billy set him free from the armchair keeping his side of the bargain.  The Devil kept his and Billy had a plentiful and never ending supply of money for the rest of his life.  The Devil, fearing some new ruse of Billy’s never once attempted to interfere with him knowing they would meet again sooner or later. 

Rejected by Heaven, Barred From Hell

Billy never changed his ways and spent his remaining years as he had all his life in a state of drunkenness and debauchery.  He lived to a ripe old age but at last his body could stand the strain no longer and he passed on.  First he went to the Pearly Gates where he met Saint Peter who told him, “No Billy Duffy, you cannot enter here.  You have lived your life as a bad, bold man and you are simply far too bad for Heaven”

So Billy made his way down below to the gates of Hell.  “Who are you?” demanded the gatekeeper opening the gates for him to enter. 

“I am Billy Duffy,” he replied, “and Saint Peter says I am too bad for Heaven!” 

“And too clever for Hell,” roared the Devil who had just appeared around the corner, “Do not let him in.  Lock and bar the gates and keep him out.”

But before anyone could move Billy jumped forward.  Grabbing a pair of red hot tongs which was sizzling in one of the plentiful fires of Hell he seized the Devil by the nose with it.  The Devil shouted and cursed, “My dose, my dose, not my poor dose again!”

Several demons leaped on Billy and dragged him from the Devil.  However, Billy maintained a firm grip on the tongs which squeezed the Devil’s snout terribly, but they pulled so hard the red hot tip of his nose came off.

“Get him out!” cried the Devil, “He is too bad for Heaven and too clever for Hell.”

Will O’ The Wisp

The demons threw Billy out of the Gates of Hell but he still retained the tongs which held fast the tip of the Devil’s nose.   It was so hot it evaporated him but the tongs remained in his hands bearing the glowing tip of the Devil’s nose that shone bright in the darkness and was his only guide.  Folks traveling at night will sometimes see him as a strange light floating in the darkness.  In his lonely wandering he has been seen in many different locations around the world by many different people and became known by many different names.  One of the names he became known by is “Will-o-the-wisp” but the Devil has other names for him which we cannot reveal here.

Copyright 09/09/2021 zteve t evans

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Copyright September 9th, 2021 zteve t evans

The Curious Case of the Scholar, the Maid Servant and the Peony Soul

The Peony Soul

The following is a retelling of a story of Chinese origin from, “The Romance of the Milky Way, and Other Studies & Stories,”  by Lafcadio Hearn. The story tells of a Chinese scholar known as Tō no Busanshi who was a great scholar and a keen gardener. To him the acquisition and appliance of knowledge was the planting and cultivation of a garden that was his soul. 

Indeed, he was renowned for his love of flowers of all kinds.  He was especially fond of peonies which he cultivated himself spending many hours attending to their smallest needs with great love, skill and patience.  Under his loving care and attention the peonies blossomed brightly and beautifully and their leaves dripped green.  He would speak to them softly and affectionately whenever he was tending to them.  In response they all appeared to gaze towards him, nodding and smiling and displaying their beauty, while appearing to lean towards his love. He thought he could hear them whispering but he could not quite understand what was being said.

The Scholar

One day there came to his house a very pretty girl who begged him to take her into his service in his household.  She explained she had received a good literary education and loved learning but had become the victim of unfortunate circumstances that forced her to seek employment.  Knowing he was a great and famous scholar she thought she would like to work in his household which was a shrine of knowledge and great learning.  She told him she was a hard and diligent worker and asked if could employ her. 

Surprised, Busanshi looked at her and thought there was something charming and familiar about her as if he had known her from somewhere else.  It was something about the way she gazed and gently leaned towards him. He was more than a little flattered and also greatly impressed by her loveliness. Thinking that for her looks alone she would be an elegant and pleasing asset for his household he took her on as a maid servant.  Indeed, she proved to be a great asset her beauty enlivened and brought delight to any room she entered. Her work and industry rate was exceptional and she was very obedient and attentive. 

The Maid Servant

As well as her work she was adept and perfectly at home with the etiquette and cultivated demeanor one would expect from a lady of the highest circles.  Her literary skills were excellent and she composed wonderful poetry which she expressed with great skill using the arts of calligraphy and painting.  She impressed him so much he thought she must have been brought up in the court of some high ranking noble family or great lord.   There was something that with all his great learning he could not describe which was so appealing about her.  Something about her shining eyes, her smile and the way she leaned towards him.  It was not long before Busanshi fell hopelessly in love with her and sought ways to please her.

On occasions he was visited by friends who were also also great scholars.  He would send for her that she might entertain and impress them with her loveliness, intelligence and grace.  All who beheld her were greatly impressed and further charmed by her gentle and amiable nature.

One day one of his friends, a great academic and teacher of morals and high principles, named Teki-Shin-Ketsu arrived at his door unexpectedly.   Busanshi was thrilled to receive such a famous celebrity and called his maid servant to meet him expecting her charm and intelligence to impress the great man.  However, unusually there was no reply and she did not appear smiling and radiant as she always had before.  In fact, although he called again she did not appear at all. 

Busanshi really wanted to impress his great friend with his charming and educated maid servant and was mildly irritated that she did not appear obediently and instantly as she usually did.  Perturbed by her non-appearance he went seeking her out.   With growing irritation he searched the entire house calling and looking in every room but could find her nowhere.  

Greatly disappointed and very puzzled he was returning back to his esteemed guest when he caught a glimpse of her gliding quietly and effortlessly before him down the corridor.   Calling to her he hurried after her.  On hearing him she half turned to see him but flattened herself fearfully against the wall just like a spider in fear might. 

The Peony Soul

As he caught up with her he was astounded to see her appearance change. As she flattened her back hard against the wall her entire body became flatter and flatter until there was nothing left that remained of her but a two dimensional image as if painted on the surface of the wall.  This flat image slowly began to fade before his eyes until there was nothing else to be seen but a flat barely visible colored shadow.  As he watched in fear and amazement he could still see the faded image of her pretty eyes and her beautiful lips which spoke to him in a whisper,

Please, forgive your humble maid servant for not answering your call.  As you now see I am not human but the soul of the peonies that you love so much and take so much good care of.  Because of the greatness of your love and care I was able to manifest into human form so that I might repay your love and devotion. 

I have treasured my time with you but now an enemy has come into your home.  You and other humans consider him a great scholar and wise teacher of morality. I warn you he is a sly one – a being of no morals and evil to the core.  He is my enemy searching for me and I dare not keep this form any longer.  I must change back to my true shape and return to the peonies. That is where you shall find me and when the time is right join me.  Tend well your peony soul with love and dedicated devotion!”

With that she simply faded into the wall leaving no trace of her form to his bewilderment and great sorrow. He still carried on tending his peonies lavishing great care and love upon them.  Softly and lovingly he talked to them and more than ever they appeared to lean towards him.  At times when he believed he had no more love to offer they attuned to his feeling and he knew they had always been his lover and would always remain that way and with dedication and devotion he continued with the cultivation of his peony soul.

© 14/07/2021 zteve t evans

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Copyright July 14th 2021 zteve t evans

Psychopomps in Breton Myths and Folktales: Entering the Afterlife

Breton Folklore

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

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

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

Psychopomps

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

The Ankou

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

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

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

Nola and  Gwennolaïk

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

Strange Dreams

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

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

The Stepmother

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

The Fair Knight

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

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

Disappointment

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

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

Marriage

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

Fever

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

Nola Returns

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

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

A Magical Journey

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

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

Folkloric Motifs

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

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

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

Nola as a Psychopomp

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

Guiding the Soul to the Afterlife

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

© 19/11/2020 zteve t evans

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Copyright November 19th, 2020 zteve t evans

English Folklore: The Werewolf of Longdendale

Werewolf – Copyright 28/20/2020 zteve t evans

Longdendale

Presented here is a retelling of an old folktale collected by Thomas C. Middleton and published in his book “Legends of Longdendale.”  The story centers around Longdendale, a long valley in the Peak District, Derbyshire and is set in the time of King Henry II, after he had bestowed the monks of Basingwerke Abbey in Wales the nearby town of Glossop.  Longendale is situated just north of Glossop.  In earlier times it was part of the Royal Forest of the Peak and home to wolves, boar, deer and smaller animals.

The Abbots Chair

The tale begins at a place called the Abbot’s Chair, which originally was a large stone cross situated on a highway known as the Monk’s Road.  All that can be seen today is the stone socket which held the cross.  According to this tale the Abbot of Basingwerke Abbey held court and received the rents and tithes of his tenants in the area while sitting on the stone.  He also heard the petitions and grievances of the people of his estates and other such administration.

A Tale of Woe

On one such occasion there came to him an old widow full of misery and woe shedding bitter tears. Tearfully, she told the Abbot that she lived in fear of a very powerful witch who was skilled in the black arts and sorcery.  This evil witch had caused the death of her husband and all of her children and was now seeking to murder her.  The widow told him she was all alone in the world and had no one she could go to for help  and shelter.  Furthermore, her enemy was a cunning shape-shifter who could change her physical appearance into that of any animal or bird to commit crimes and escape capture and punishment.  She could also change herself to resemble any man, woman or child she desired that may suit her own evil purposes.

The Abbot’s Curse

The Abbot being a good and kindly man was outraged at the plight of the old widow and very angry with the witch.  He distributed bread and alms to her to ease her poverty and then laid a terrible curse upon the wicked old witch who persecuted her, 

“The eye of God that sees all shall see this wicked woman in whatever form she may be wearing here and now.  From this moment on she will remain in that form never being able to revert to human or other form until the time justice is done and she has paid for her sins!”

He declared that he foresaw the wrath of heaven falling upon the old witch and foretold she would face a cruel death shortly.

The Royal Hunt

On that very morning at that exact time the witch had transformed into a werewolf and was out in the forest seeking victims.   Moreover, King Henry II was visiting the Baron of Ashton-under-Lyne accompanied by his son, Prince Henry.  These three along with the Baron of Aston, the Lord of Longdendale and other nobles and dignitaries were out hunting in the Royal Forest. 

It was the practice of the Royal hunting party to hunt every corner and every nook and cranny of the forest.  Beaters were sent into the densest parts of the forest to drive the game into the paths of the hunters.  They were unaware of the alleged crimes of the witch and were not seeking her  but this practice increased the chances of her being driven before them.

Her shape-shifting abilities had allowed her in the past to simply transform into human form and send pursuers on a wild goose chase looking for her. Other times she would transform into a bird and fly away. 

And so as the Abbot was uttering his curse the Royal Hunt was out in the forest.  The star of the day was the Lord of Longdendale who slew an exceedingly large and ferocious wild boar after it had given a fierce battle.

Werewolf Attack

The young Prince Henry desperately wanted to match the feat of the Lord of Longdendale to prove his own valor.  He went off alone and sought out the wildest and remotest part of the forest hoping to find some worthy test of his courage and skill.  As he was roaming through the forest he was suddenly attacked by the werewolf and was almost killed.  Fortunately his trusty steed sensed the impending attack and veered sharply to the right as the werewolf sprang.  This allowed Prince Henry to push away the attacker and with his spear deliver a wound in its side.  He thrust hard, blood spurted and the beast wailed a savage but almost human cry.  In its desperation it managed to seize the spear and bite the weapon in two with its great jaws.  The prince quickly drew his long hunting knife to defend himself as best he could.

With the beast uttering unearthly but almost human-like cries it grasped his legs trying to pull him from his horse.  Quickly Henry stabbed the beast in its shoulder but in its frenzy it succeeded in dragging him to the ground.  

With his knife stuck in his foe’s shoulder Henry managed to grasp the beast around the throat.  Although he fought hard and bravely he could feel his own strength ebbing as he wrestled cheek to jowl with the attacker.  

He thought it was his end but as he was slipping into death the Baron of Ashton, who had heard the commotion arrived.  Seeing the dire peril of the king’s son he immediately sprang to his aid and engaged the werewolf in a deadly fight that was long and vicious. Finally, he managed to deliver a killing blow to its skull.  

The Baron of Ashton received great praise and honor not just from Henry but from the king and the rest of the Royal hunting party when they caught up. The body of the slain beast was given as a trophy to the baron who returned with it to his castle.  As the beast was being prepared for exhibition it was cut open and the heads of three babies that it had eaten earlier were found in its stomach.

This again caused much talk about the ferocity and evil nature of the beast.  Prince Henry emphasized again and again it’s savagery and the wild human-like cries it had uttered as it had attacked him.  

The Forester’s Testimony

On hearing the news of the slaying of this savage beast a forester stepped forward to give a most strange testimony to the lord’s and ladies saying, 

“If it may please my lords I have something to say that may be of interest to you concerning this strange and wild beast.As one of his Royal Foresters it was my duty to seek out and put a stop to those who dare to poach my king’s game.Having concealed myself in thick bushes I lay quietly in wait  hoping to catch a certain poacher in the act.  As I lay waiting I was startled by strange and ghoulish wailing.  On creeping through the forest to its source I was astounded to see a werewolf tearing and clawing at its very own skin.  It was as if it desired to shed it quickly such as a person would undress themselves.It’s cries were both hideous and pitiful and I thought it sounded like a twisted version of an old woman’s voice.  Human or other, it was a cracked and hideous cry that it uttered. I am afraid that on seeing and hearing this my courage failed.  I fled as fast and as far as I could from the frightful thing before its attention should fall upon myself.”

Then one by one other witnesses appeared who bore similar testimony concerning the beast.

The Abbot

That same evening a banquet was held in the hall of the Baron with the king, prince and the rest of the Royal hunting party in attendance.  Also invited was the good Abbot of Basingwerke Abbey  who was informed of the strange events of the day and inspected the body of the slain beast.   The Abbot had absolute faith that the werewolf was the wicked witch he had cursed earlier and evidence was brought that showed this to be true and she was never seen again.   The good Abbot took the old widow under his protection and from then on she lived the rest of her life in safety and comfort.

© 28/10/2020 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright 28, October, 2020 zteve t evans

Giant Tales: Goram and Vincent and the Origin of the Avon Gorge

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Myths of Origin

All around the British Isles there are myths and legends that tell how giants and giantesses have shaped the landscape, often forming significant landmarks.   Here we look at two who are credited with forming the Avon Gorge and other parts of the landscape around the Bristol area in South West England.

The Giant Brothers 

 In the most well known version of the story there were two giants named Goram and Vincent who were brothers.  In some older tales Goram’s brother is named Ghyston and not Vincent.  There is a tradition that the change came because Bristol was an important port in the Middle Ages and had commercial connections with the Iberian wine business.  As well as wine this led to the importing of the cult of Saint Vincent who was the patron of São Vicente, Lisbon; Diocese of Algarve; Valencia; Vicenza, Italy, vinegar-makers, wine-makers; Order of Deacons of the Catholic Diocese of Bergamo (Italy) (1).

The cliff face of the Avon Gorge was once known as Ghyston Rocks or sometimes just Ghyston in earlier times and there was a cave known as either Ghyston’s Cave or the Giant’s Hole. Situated at th narrowest part of the Avon Gorge was an ancient hermitage and chapel dedicated to St. Vincent.  The cave became known as St Vincent’s cave and it seems the “Ghyston” became “Vincent” and that is the name he will be referred to this work.

Avona, the Giantess

Both brothers fell in love with a giantess from Wiltshire named Avona who the River Avon takes its name from. She was the female personification of the river and  possibly a distant memory of an ancient goddess or spirit. Avona could not decide who she preferred between Vincent and Goram so she set them a task that would display their talents.  According to this myth there was once a lake situated between Bristol and Bradford-upon-Avon in the neighboring county of Wiltshire.  She proposed that the one who managed to drain the lake first would win the right to marry her. After giving much thought to the problem the giants came up with different ideas on how to achieve the task.  Vincent chose to dig a channel on the south side of Clifton while Goram chose to dig a different channel that went through Henbury.

Both giants set to work and while Vincent toiled at a steady pace Goram worked furiously determined to be the winner.  He worked so hard that eventually he became hot and sweaty and in need of a drink.  He was a long way in front of Vincent and he thought he could afford to take a break and quench his thirst.  So he sat down in his favorite chair and quaffed a  large tankard of ale.  It tasted so good and cooled him down so much he drank another, and another and another.  He drank so much he fell asleep.   

Meanwhile Vincent, who had paced himself better, finished his channel and drained the lake.  From this story comes an explanation of how the narrow gorge the Hazel Brook flows through in Henbury and the Avon gorge which the River Avon passes through and other features of the landscape.

Goram’s Footprint

On the nearby Blaise Estate,   In woods above Henbury Gorge is a formation supposedly created when Goram stamped his foot when he found out he had lost Avona to Vincent.  He was so distraught he drowned himself in the River Severn estuary creating two islands, one called Steep Holm and the other called Flat Holm which are said to be his head and shoulder.  There are also two other features attributed to him in Henbury gorge.  The first is a short pillar topped with earth called the Soap-Dish and the second is a pool.

The Giant’s Footprint, Blaise Castle Estate – by
Mojo0306CC BY-SA 4.0

Another Version

In another version the characters of the two brother giants are as different as chalk and cheese.  Vincent was presented as being energetic and productive whereas Goram was considered to be a greedy idler.  One day Goram had the idea that they should do something so that people in the future would remember them. He suggested they build a massive monument to themselves out of rocks that were to be supplied by Vincent and the bones that were leftovers from his gorging of himself with food.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Vincent declined but instead suggested they work together and build a most beautiful channel for the river to run through.  This seemed a bit like too much hard work for Goram who watched as his brother set about the task working steadily and energetically towards his goal.  As Goram watched his brother progress he realized that Vincent’s name would live on forever through the fruits of his labor and grew jealous.  Therefore, so that his own name would not be forgotten he began building his own channel some three miles distant from Vincent’s.

The Death of Goram

Having  no pick-axe of his own he borrowed his  brother’s and being a lazy fellow the first thing he did was use it to cut a chair in the rock so that he could sit and rest from toil.  The brothers took it in turns to use the pick-axe.  They would shout a warning and hurl it through the air the three miles or so one to the other.  One day Goram fell asleep in his chair and never heard his brother shout a warning and the pick-axe hit him on the head, breaking his skull, killing him.

Death of Vincent

Vincent was distraught at his brother’s death, entirely blaming himself.  From then on he put all of his energy into his work making the beautiful gully we know as the Avon gorge which the River Avon flows through today.  Despite his achievement and his hard labour he still felt guilty about his brother’s unfortunate death and to use up his pent up energy built a stone circle at Stonehenge and another at Stanton Drew.  Even these labors had not used  up all his energy so he swam over to Ireland and built the Giant’s Causeway which finally tired him out.  He was exhausted by his labors and still feeling guilt and grief for the death of his brother whom he missed greatly.  In despair he returned home to spend the last hours of his life sitting upon the rocks looking out over the beautiful gorge he had dug that the River Avon flowed through.

These are just two versions of the legends of how the Avon gorge and parts of the surrounding landscape were formed.  There are many other versions and many other legends from the rest of the British Isles crediting giants with making  features  of the landscape.

© 30/09/2020 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright September 30th, 2020 zteve t evans

The Feather of the Firebird

The Fabled Firebird

The fabled Firebird from Russian and Slavic mythology and folklore is a magical, mysterious bird, both rare and elusive and the inspiration of many folk and fairy tales. Its plumage is the color of red, yellow and orange flames of fire or maybe like the setting or rising of the sun.  

According to tradition it  appears from the east lighting up the sky causing all the creatures of the world to fall silent in deference to its glory. The Firebird appears in many stories as a blessing and a bearer of good fortune but it can also be a harbinger of doom for those of a wicked disposition.  However, for Alexis, the hero of this story, the finding of the feather of the Firebird is the catalyst for inner growth and strength.  He is sent on a journey completing a set of difficult tasks bringing out his own inner resources to win through.  In doing so he rises from lowly beginnings to a prominent  position in the world.

Finding the Feather

In this story our hero is a young man who despite being rather naive is true of heart and courageous and it is he who finds the feather.  For those who find a feather of the Firebird great changes befall them.  To pick it up sets off a life changing chain of events putting their life at risk and bringing them real fear.  When Alexis finds the feather he does not listen to the warning of his horse of power and decides to pick it up and take it to the Tsar.  From then on his problems snowball and for the first time he begins to experience real fear.

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The Firebird and Princess Vasilisa

The Firebird is usually said to represent the whole truth, or enlightenment of the world.  Princess Vasilisa represents love. The finding of a single feather from the Firebird represents the finding of a single grain of truth.  If the whole truth is desired then the whole Firebird must be sought to gain enlightenment. The Tsar is not satisfied with a feather but demands the whole truth, represented by the Firebird and sends Alexis to bring it back.  Yet, he is not satisfied with the whole Firebird and demands love in the form of Princess Vasilisa.  Again, he sends Alexis to find her but does nothing himself to win her love.

Although the Tsar seeks enlightenment and love he never does anything himself to find either and consequently never finds them.   Enlightenment comes from the experience gained from completing the journey and the tasks of the quest and love is earned by the way others are treated along the way, yet he never learns this.

Animal Helper – The Horse of Power

As with other Firebird stories our hero has a  wise animal and magical helper who accompanies him on the quest.   In, The Feather and the Firebird, the magical animal helper is a horse of power who has the gift of speech and foresight and is named Perdun.

Perdun warns against picking up the feather, which is only a small part of the truth.  The horse is important to our hero as it represents his own natural wisdom – his gut instinct which he suppresses.  It is the suppression of his inner instinct that gets him into trouble in the first place.  As he learns to listen to and trust his horse of power, or gut instinct, he at last triumphs.

So when our hero embarks on his quest at the command of the Tsar who is not satisfied with part of the truth but craves the whole truth the Tsar is making a huge mistake.  He does not experience the journey and the hardships so he remains none the wiser, but the hero through the trials on his journey learns the whole truth and the world is his.  On the way he finds love while the stay-at home Tsar never does.

While the Tsar ends up with death the hero is rewarded with marriage to Princess Vasilisa and becomes the new Tsar,  His own inner resources have grown to the point where he recognizes that the Firebird, like the truth and enlightenment, is something that cannot be caged and sets it free to roam the world as it should.  Perhaps one day, somewhere, someone else will find one of its feathers and embark on their own journey of discovery.

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© 01/07/2020 zteve t evans

Lycanthropy: Werewolves and the Law of Reciprocity

Lycanthropy

There are many examples in folklore around the world that feature werewolves and lycanthropy where there is a transformation from human to wolf or vice versa. Sometimes a human may transform completely into a wolf or a wolf may transform into a human as is the case in this story.  In other examples a beastly hybrid of the two species – half-human – half wolf is the result. Sometimes the human shows some degree of shame or guilt over what they are and what they become. In the story below a werewolf in his human form expresses a frank admission to being both evil and fierce offering no excuses and showing no shame or guilt. He and his family, accept what they are without question and show no desire to be fully human. Quite simply they are what they are.  

The Law of Reciprocity

Despite their admission there is a very human law that appears to be of great importance to them and that is the Law of Reciprocity.  They never forget a kindness done to them. Part of that law says that when someone receives kindness from another they repay that person with an equal or better act of kindness in return. It can also mean that when someone hurts another the injured party in return repays that person with an equal amount of harm.  Another term may be “an eye, for an eye.”

Presented below is a retelling of a story titled “A Wolf Story, from Ancient legends, Mystic Charms & Superstitions of Ireland,” by Lady Wilde.  It is set in Ireland in a time when wolves roamed the wilds of that island and reveals a surprising side to werewolves not often seen while revealing a hidden gem of wisdom.

A Wolf Story

This story begins way back in Ireland many years before before the last wolf was killed in about 1786 and begins with a farmer named Connor.  One day as Connor was walking home through a lonely glen he heard a sniveling, whimpering sound, like some creature in great pain.  Looking around him he spied hiding in a thick bush a young wolf cub who appeared to be in great distress. He approached carefully and quietly not wishing to frighten it and not wanting to risk a confrontation with any parent wolf that might be at hand.

Wolf Cub

Seeing it was the cub was in considerable distress for a moment he was caught in two minds.  His first thought was that he could kill it and claim the reward the authorities gave on the production of a dead wolf.  His second thought was that here was a creature in distress who needed his assistance and without which it would surely die a slow, cruel, death.  Either way he could claim the reward. As a farmer he had at times had livestock taken by wolves and had little cause to find sympathy over the death of a wolf cub.  

Nevertheless,  he was an inherently kind man who objected to seeing the suffering of any creature.  A third thought then came to him that he should help it. Carefully examining the stricken creature found a large thorn in its side which he gently removed.  The small cub lay still in much distress and Connor thought that it would probably die anyway. Nevertheless, he resolved to help it all he could to live and put aside thoughts of reward. Therefore, before he left he got the stricken cub a drink of water and placed it in a safe place hoping a parent would find it. After offering s short prayers for its recovery he went on his way thinking no more of it.

Missing Cows

Time passed and he forgot the incident completely. One day many years later Connor was checking the well being of his livestock and was aghast to discover two of his finest cows were missing.  He looked all around his farmyard and searched his fields but no sign of them could he find anywhere on his property. Therefore he began a search of the surrounding countryside. He traveled on foot and in his hand he carried a stout blackthorn staff. This was to aid his walking and also for security for one never knew who or what was abroad in those days.

Having not the slightest idea which way his cows might have gone he walked around and around his property in ever widening circles asking everyone he came across if they had seen them.  He traveled many miles in this way and reached a considerable distance from his farm but no sight or sign did he see or hear any word of where his cows might be.

The Desolate Heath

All day long he walked and as evening began to fall he began to feel hungry and tired.  He had traveled along way from his farm and inhabited parts and realized he was alone in the wilds of a desolated and dark heath.  Looking all around at the dreary darkening landscape at first he could see no sign of any human presence other than a dilapidated, ancient shelter. At first he thought it to be thee den of some outlaw or vagabond or maybe some wild beast.

As he looked weighing up what do in the fast failing light he saw a small chink of light escaping from a crack in the boarding of the shelter. Thinking that there must be some human inhabitants present he took heart and approaching the shelter gently tapped on the door.   The door creaked open to reveal a tall, slender man with grey hair and dark glittering eyes. To Connor’ s surprise before he could say a word the old man spoke saying, “Ah! So you have found us at last.  Please come in, we have been awaiting you!”

Ushering the bemused farmer through the door and into the dwelling the old man gestured inside to an old  woman sitting by the fireside. She was thin and grey and had long,sharp teeth and her eyes eyes glittered lit by the flames of the fire. She gazed upon him and said, “Yes indeed you are welcome, we have been waiting for you to get here and now you are here and it is supper time.  Please won’t you join us for a bite to eat.”

A Family of Wolves

Connor was no coward but he was wary of the two and although bewildered he looked both up and down appraising them.  They were both old and weary looking but he was young and vigorous and still had his blackthorn staff. He reasoned he could quickly overcome them should he need and he was very, very hungry and outside the heath was steeped in pitch black darkness.  He knew he could never find his way back in the dark so he sat down at a table to join them, watching as the old woman stirred a bubbling pot hanging over the fire. Although she appeared to be giving all her attention to the pot he got the strange feeling that all the time she was watching him with her strange glittering eyes.

After a little while their came a knock at the door and the old man got up and opened it.  To the surprise of Connor in trotted a young, sleek, black wolf. Ignoring the visitor the black wolf trotted across the floor and disappeared into an adjoining room.  Shortly out of the adjoining room their came a handsome young man. He sat opposite Connor and looked hard and deep at him with glittering, penetrating eyes.

“Welcome, we have been awaiting your arrival,” he said at last. However, before the bemused farmer could answer there was another knock at the door.  Again the old man opened it and in trotted another handsome wolf that disappeared into the adjoining room.  Shortly, there emerged from this same room another handsome youth who sitting next to the first studied Connor intently with his glittering, grey eyes, but said not another word.

Connor’s Story

“These are our sons, ” said the old man gesturing towards the young men, “Now you must tell us what brings you here and what you want.  Few people ever come this way and we do not like strangers or to be spied upon.  Speak now and hold nothing back!”

So Connor told how he had lost his two cows and how he had begun searching for them.  Although he had searched all of his farm and the area around it but found no sign. He told how he began searching beyond his farm until he had at last arrived on this dark and bleak heath and found their home and was asked to take supper and shelter the night.  He told them he was no spy and not remotely interested in their doings though he wished them all good health and well being. Beginning to feel uncomfortable he added that if they could tell him where his cows were he would be most grateful and be off to find them.

After he had spoken his hosts looked from one to the other knowingly and laughed.  Connor was appalled at their laughter and although he feared their glittering eyes he grew angry and taking up his blackthorn staff said,. “I have told you my story with honesty and without guile and you mock me!”

Never Forget a Kindness

Now although he was outnumbered his anger was hot and standing up with his staff in his hand asked them to make way and he would go for he would not stay and be mocked and would rather face the the dark, desolate heath than stay. Their laughter stopped and the eldest of the young men who had been the first stood up and said,

Nay, friend pay our laughter no need.  We are fierce and we are evil, but we never forget one who has done us a kindness. Cast your mind back years ago to the day in the glen when you found a young wolf cub pierced through his side by a sharp thorn in agony and waiting for death. 

It was you who pulled out that thorn and tended my wound and gave me good water to drink. Having done all you possibly could you said a prayer for the cub’ s recovery and went your way to either die in peace or recover as God pleased.  I was that cub and it pleased God that I should recover.”

“Yes indeed I remember it and I am glad God saw fit to heal you,” said Connor, “and I remember how you licked my hand in gratitude!”

“Indeed I did, for I was greatly in your debt and still am but for now put your fear aside, sit down, enjoy supper with us and stay tonight with us without fear.  Tomorrow you shall find your cows and more,” the young man told him.

Putting his fear aside Connor sat down with them and partook of the meal.  Indeed it was a fine supper and he ate his fill and his hosts were merry, friendly and good company.  He soon fell asleep and after enjoying a good night of rest he awoke to find himself lying comfortably on one of his own hayricks in one of his fields.

Three Strange Cows

Remembering the events of the previous night and the words of the wolf he was optimistic he would at last find his cows.  Therefore hebset off in a circle looking for them. Although he searched all his fields and his farmyard he could find no trace of them and began to feel bitterly disappointed.   As he approached the haystack he had started from he saw that there were three fine looking cows quietly grazing in the field. Although they had a strange air they were very handsome and comely but he had never owned such cows and knew of no else who ever did either.  Nevertheless, being an honest man, wielding his blackthorn staff he tried to drive them out through the gate to find their proper owner.  

The Black Wolf

However, standing in the middle of the gateway stood a handsome black wolf who prevented the cows from passing through the gate.  Each time Connor tried to drive the cows through the wolf jumped up and drove them back. At last it dawned on him that this was the wolf he had spoken to the previous night whose life he had saved long ago in the glen.  Then he realized that the strange cows were a reward for saving the life of that wolf and so closed the gate and let the cows graze peacefully in the field.  

The Three Cows

Those three cows proved to produce the best milk and cream that made the finest butter and cheese in all of the island of Ireland.  Furthermore when he bred them they produced a fine, productive and valuable breed of cattle whose descendants still graze the rich grassy meadows of Ireland to this day.  

Connor wanted to thank the wolf but although he tried to find that dark and desolate heath he never could find it. He never again met one of those wolves who had been present that night.  Every now and then a hunter, or farmer, brought the body of a slain wolf into town to claim  bounty from the authorities for its death. This would cut him to the quick for he feared that it might be the wolf he had saved or one of his family. He could never know for sure but being a good man grieved nonetheless.

Through his kindness in saving the wolf cub Connor grew rich and prospered greatly and became proof of the ancient  Irish proverb,

“Blessings are won,

By a good deed done.”

The End

An Eye for an Eye

So on this occasion kindness was rewarded with kindness and Connor benefited greatly from it. Another relevant proverb is, “One good turn deserves another,” but what about when someone does us a bad turn is the opposite then true? Do we we invoke an “an eye for an eye“? When kindness is used people naturally want to repay in kind and there is a kind of gentle competitiveness to be the kindest. This builds strong positive bonds and relationships benefiting everyone, but when we enact an “eye for an eye,” everyone ends up blind.

Be kind!

© 26/02/2020 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 26th, 2020 zteve t evans

Japanese Folktales: The Dream of Akinosuke – Ants, Dreaming Humans and the Butterfly Soul

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Ants, Butterflies and Dreaming Humans

Insects and humans are a strange mix and yet in In Japanese folklore the human soul sometimes appears as a butterfly. Maybe it is something about the way they flutter from place to place or the fact that they have gone through metamorphosis to transform into a such a beautiful creature.  When we look deeply into the populous and industrious colonies of ants many people see a microcosm of a human cities and society. Indeed, from above our cities often seem to be teeming with myriads of ant-like creatures.

In reality the idea of humans being insect-like in any way may seem absurd except in our dreams in which reality can be suspended, twisted and turned on its head and time has a completely different duration. In such dreams we may believe ourselves to have lived for years in a certain place but awake to be told that we have only been asleep for a few minutes. But what if when we return from the dream to the waking world we find evidence that there may indeed be some basis for the idea we actually existed in our dream – what then?  

Presented here is a retelling of a Japanese folktale originally called, The Dream of Akinosuke, from a collection of tales, called Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things by Lafcadio Hearn which has some strange things to say about ants, butterflies and dreaming humans.

THE DREAM OF AKINOSUKE

There once lived in the district of Toichi in the Yamato Province of old Japan a goshi named Miyata Akinosuke.  These were feudal times and in such times goshi were a social class having certain privileges. They were soldiers and freehold farmers who owed their position and allegiance to an overlord. Akinosuke was just such a man and as a freeholder he had a very beautiful garden with an ancient and spreading cedar tree.  He was very fond of his tree and during the hot, sultry days of summer he liked to recline and relax in the coolness of its shade. 

One hot afternoon he was relaxing in the shade of his tree with two of his fellow goshi.  They were having a very pleasant time drinking wine and conversing amicably on different topics and enjoying each other’s company.  Maybe it was the wine or maybe it was the warm sultry afternoon or maybe it was both, but Akinosuke grew very drowsy. He grew so sleepy that he asked his friends to excuse him while he took a brief nap.  Teasing him they told him the wine had gone to his head, but agreed to excuse him and he lay down at the foot of his beautiful cedar tree and very soon he was dreaming a dream like no other.

The Procession

In this dream he saw a great and grand procession of people coming over the crest of a nearby hill and he stood up to get a better view. It was indeed a very grand procession the likes of which he had never seen before.  There were very many men and women all dressed in the finest of silks carry banners and flags and marching to the beat of a drum. There were so many in the distance it looked like a long line of ants coming over the hill.

At the heart of the procession was a carriage that was borne aloft proudly.  Akinosuke watched and was surprised to see that it was making directly for his dwelling.  As it drew nearer he could see that the carriage was richly decorated with silks of blue and gold and obviously carried someone who must have been very important indeed. The procession proceeded unerringly to his gate and stopped.  The carriage door opened and a tall, thin man dressed in the most exquisite finery got out. In a mostly stately way he approached the surprised and bemused Akinosuke, who awestruck, bowed low while the visitor greeted him thus,

“Most honorable Miyata Akinosuke you see before you an envoy and servant of the King in Tokyo.  I am commanded to greet you in the name of the King and put myself entirely at your service. He has commanded me to inform you that he seeks your presence at his palace and has tasked me to escort you into his esteemed presence.  Therefore, please enter this most honorable of carriages that he has sent for this purpose and allow me to be your personal guide to his royal presence.”

With that the messenger stood aside holding the carriage door open, gesturing for the bewildered Akinosuke to step inside.   He wanted to make some kind of fitting reply but was too astonished and overwhelmed.  Instead, he meekly obeyed and stepped into the carriage and his guide sat down beside him.  With a word of command the carriage proceeded to the King’s palace. 

The Palace

They traveled at surprising speed and within a short time were outside the palace gates.  The envoy announced he would go and inform the King of Akinosuke’s arrival and he was to wait here until sent for. Presently two noblemen wearing the purple silks and caps of high rank arrived.  They greeted him with all due respect and escorted him through a most beautiful garden, the vastness of which appeared to extend in all directions for many miles.

At last they entered the palace and Akinosuke was shown into a most splendid reception room with many ornate carvings and works of art upon the walls.  He was seated in a place of honor while two servants brought him food and drink. After he had taken refreshment the two nobles in purple bowed low and speaking in turns said to him thus,

“It is our duty and pleasure to inform you that the reason you have been brought here is because the King, our most noble master, desires greatly that you become his son-in-law.  It is his greatest wish that this will happen today. Therefore, you will marry his daughter the August Princess this day. When the time comes we will escort you to your wedding, but first we will provide you with appropriate apparel for such a splendid and important ceremony.”

Having finished their speech the two nobles went over to a great gilded chest and lifting the lid drew out various items of clothing.  These were of the finest and richest silks and styled for royalty and were indeed most suitable for the bridegroom of a royal wedding.  After he was dressed in the very finest of fashions befitting such a special occasion he was led into a hall where the King and his highest dignitaries and nobles awaited the arrival of Akinosuke.

The Marriage Of Akinosuke

Source

Akinosuke saluted, bowed and  knelt before the King who greeted him graciously and spoke to him thus,

“You have been informed that it is my desire that you will become my son-in-law and the husband of my only daughter – the August Princess.  We shall now proceed with the wedding.”

With that he clapped his hands and the sound of joyful music filled the  hall and a long line of beautiful ladies of the Royal court appeared. Solemnly they escorted Akinosuke to another hall where his bride awaited dressed most beautifully for her wedding.

The wedding hall was huge and richly decorated and despite its size it was barely big enough to seat all of the guests who swarmed everywhere.  Everyone stopped and bowed as he entered escorted by the ladies of the court and he took his place kneeling on a cushion facing his bride. In her gorgeous silk wedding dress the color of the bluest summer  sky she looked indeed the August Princess. 

The marriage rites were performed with great ceremony and dignity and afterwards the newly married couple were escorted to a special suite of apartments especially prepared for them.  The King and all the guests were overjoyed and Akinosuke and his wife radiating happiness received many wonderful presents and the blessings of everyone.

Although they had not met each other before or heard of one another in the past, Akinosuke and his wife were very happy together enjoying the company of each other.  The days passed joyfully and presently Akinosuke was summoned to appear before the King.  He feared he had done something wrong but instead the King spoke to him thus,

“The island of Rashi lies in the southwestern part of my realm and I have decided to appoint you the Governor of Raishu in my name.  The people of the island are very loyal and peaceful but their laws have never been brought into alignment with the laws and customs of my realm. I am entrusting you with this task and with improving their lives and social condition as much as is possible.  It is my desire that you rule them with kindness, justice and wisdom. All the preparations for the journey and your arrival have been made and you will leave in the morning.’

The Island of Raishu

The next morning Akinosuke and his wife left the palace with a great escort of nobles, palace officials and courtesans who accompanied them to the harbor.  There he and his wife boarded one of the King’ s own ships to take them to  Raishu and take up the governorship of the island. They had a good wind and fair weather and soon arrived safely in the harbor of the island to find the people had all come out and were lining the shores to welcome them.

After a warm reception from the people Akinosuke began his governorship and put his heart and soul into the task.  In the first three years he reformed the laws to align with those of the King in Tokyo. He was lucky to have the help of wise counselors who knew the people very well.  This helped him considerably and he never grew tired or bored with the task. When it was all complete he found he only had a few active duties to carry out and most of these were of a ceremonial nature.

The island was very fertile and grew all the crops the people needed and they also fished the seas.  The weather always seemed to just right so there was never famine or starvation. The people were hard working and peaceful never broke any laws so there was little for him to do.

Akinosuke lived and ruled on the island for another twenty years making twenty three in total and in that time he was happy.  He grew to love his wife and she him and they were very close and happy together. She bore him seven fine children – five strapping sons  and two beautiful daughters.

In the beginning of the twenty fourth year of his governorship his beloved wife fell sick and died.  Akinosuke was grief stricken but as tradition required he made sure she was buried with all the dignity and ceremony befitting her status.  He had her buried on a beautiful hill with a fittingly splendid monument raised over her. Unfortunately and understandably her death had left him devastated and he no longer cared for himself or wanted to live.

After the customary period of mourning was complete a ship sailed in from Tokyo bearing a royal messenger from the King.  The messenger hastened to Akinosuke to deliver a message of condolence directly from the King telling him thus,

Return Home

“The King our lord and master sends his deep condolences to you and your children.  You have worked hard and done a splendid job on Raishu but it is now time you returned to your own country.  Have no fear for your seven children for they are also my grandsons and granddaughters and I will look after them.”

Akinosuke on hearing this order submissively prepared to leave the island.  When all was made ready for his departure and all necessary rituals and ceremonies were completed he said goodbye to his children,  councilors and officials and was escorted in a grand procession to the harbor where he took the ship for home.

The ship sailed out of the harbor into the blue sea and towards the blue sky of the horizon.  Akinosuke turned to look at the island in a last farewell and watched as it’s shape turned to blue and then, grey and vanished forever from his sight – and at this point he woke up to find himself lying in the shade of the cedar tree in his very own garden. For a moment or two he was dazed and bewildered and rubbed his eyes.  Looking around he saw his two friends sitting nearby drinking wine and chatting happily to each other and he cried out loud,

“How strange this is!!”

His two friends looked over to him and laughed when they heard him.  
“Ha!” laughed one, “Our friend, Akinosuke has been dreaming!  Tell us your strange dream my friend.”

” I think the wine got the better of him,” teased the other, “but do tell us!”

Therefore, Akinosuke told them his strange dream and how he had spent  over twenty three years living on the island of Raishu in the realm of the King of Tokyo.  He told how he was married and of his children and finally how his beloved wife had died. 

The Butterfly

Source

His two friends were astonished at his tale and insisted he had only been asleep for a few minutes at the most.  One of them told him that while he had been asleep they had witnessed a very strange thing and he spoke thus,

“While you were asleep we saw a very strange thing happen. A small yellow butterfly appeared and  fluttered and hovered over your face for a brief moment or two.  We watched and saw it settle on the ground beside you as you lay close to the cedar tree.  Almost immediately an exceptionally large ant rushed from a hole by the tree and seizing the butterfly ran back down the hole carrying it with him.

Just before you woke we saw the same yellow butterfly crawl out of the hole and flutter up to hover before your face before suddenly vanishing.  I do not know where it went but it was gone.”

The second nodded in agreement and then he spoke,

“Maybe it was our friend Akinosuke’s soul.  I thought perhaps it flew into his mouth but even if it was our friend’s soul it does not explain the dream.”

The Realm of the Ants

“Maybe the ants explain it,” said the first, ” they are peculiar beings and there is a large ant’s nest by the hole of the tree.”

Akinosuke jumped up and cried, “Let us investigate!” And rushed off to fetch a spade.

On his return he set about gently clearing the soil away to carefully reveal that the nest had been excavated and built in the most surprisingly complex way.  The huge population of ants that lived there had turned the colony into a miniature world with some similarity to that of humans. There were tiny buildings made from straw, clay and stems that gave the nest the look of scaled-down versions of human towns and cities.

In the very center of the colony was a structure larger than all of the others which contained a swarm of small ants appearing to work around the body of one very large ant that had a black head and pale yellow wings.

Akinosuke cried,

” Look! There is the King in the palace of Tokyo that I saw in my dream!  How amazing and extraordinary! If that is so, the island of Raisu should lie somewhere to the southwest – and there it is by that root … now can I find the green hill and the tomb of my beloved wife – Yes, there it is – how remarkable!”

Looking closely, Akinosuke saw the small hill in the nest and on top of the hill was a worn polished pebble very similar in shape to the monument he had placed over the body of his wife.  Gently lifting up the pebble he was astonished to see covered in clay the dead body of a female ant.

The End

Ants, Humans and the Butterfly Soul

There are some people who see parallels between ants and humans.  Such philosophers see similarities in the two societies while comparing the differences.  The cities humans build and live in are seen in parallel with the ant colonies and the two societies compared.  In human cities the swarms of humans may all appear to be busy working for the greater good of their society. However, on closer inspection it is found that this is so only as far as it does not encroach upon their own selfish needs and desires which may be at odds with the well-being of their society and even their own butterfly soul.

Ants are seen to be regimented and industrious giving up or not possessing such selfish needs and desires working entirely for the good of their society.  These same philosophers argue that humans with their selfishness damage the good of their society while the ants give up the wants of the self in favor of maintaining the good of their society and their butterfly soul – assuming ants have any kind of soul at all.   Therefore, they claim ants are superior to humans and their society further evolved.  Such philosophers are not renowned for their sense of humor, but personally I always think it one of the greatest of human attributes, though I am not sure ants have one. I wonder though, what do you think of these strange matters of ants, dreaming humans and the butterfly soul?

© 23/10/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 23rd, 2019 zteve t evans

Azorean Folktales: Genadius the Necromancer and the Island of the Seven Cities

Artist: Oswald Walters Brierly [Public domain]

Genadius

The legend of the Archbishop Genadius and the Island of the Seven Cities is a folktale from the island of São Miguel in the Azores archipelago an autonomous region of Portugal.  It tells a version of the legend of the Island of the Seven Cities of Antillia and presented here is a retelling of that folktale based on the source below.  The story begins with a young man named Genadius who was born into a rich and powerful family in Portugal.  He was greatly spoiled and allowed many indulgences by his father. When ever he could not get his own way he would fly into a tantrum.

Necromancy

Nevertheless, he was a young man who possessed great curiosity about everything and he was very adventurous. He experimented with many strange and unorthodox ideas and practices and one day discovered he could summon up the dead.  This greatly excited him and he worked hard and learned all he could from books on the subject. He spent many hours in practice and became adept in the skills of necromancy and the black arts and even learnt how to call upon Satan. However he was a young man who soon tired of things and would move quickly from one project to another.

Christianity

He became disenchanted with necromancy and the black arts and gave himself to Christianity believing that it offered him the greater power.  He became a priest and hermit and dedicated himself to God. Although he stopped using the black arts he combined his abilities as a necromancer to the duties of a Christian priest and performed many good and astounding feats.  Eventually his feats came to the notice of the Supreme Pontiff who was impressed with what he heard and decided to promote and reward him and made him a bishop. Thanks to his powerful and influential family he was soon promoted to Archbishop of Porto.

A Baby Girl

One wet and cold night as he opened his cathedral door he discovered that a baby girl had been laid in a basket before it. There was no clue to who the baby girl’s parents were but she desperately needed a home and shelter so Genadius decided he would adopt her.  Therefore, he took her in and brought her up in fine style giving her the education of a princess and loved her as a daughter.

Invasion

It so happened that the Iberian  peninsula was invaded by hostile forces from North Africa who crossed the narrow straits intent on conquest and Portugal also came under attack.  Realizing the danger Archbishop Genadius called his six bishops to him and gathered his family and friends together. He had a fleet of seven ships built that would allow them to escape before the marauding invaders arrived.  He filled the ships with supplies, water and livestock and just as the enemy was closing in he gave the order to set sail. 

The Voyage

Each of the clergy took command of one of the ships and the small fleet set sail into the setting sun across the wild Atlantic Ocean.  Their great hope was to find a safe land they could settle in and build a new home for themselves and their families and live in their traditional ways.

Genadius had also taken the girl he had adopted and as many other citizens that the ships could safely carry.  After many days sailing the fleet came across an unknown island that had a great central peak that sloped gently down to the sea on all sides.   There was a good natural harbor where they anchored their ships. He sent out search parties to explore the island and make sure it was safe.

The Island

The reports from the search parties were all  good saying the island was very beautiful and a veritable paradise.   It was uninhabited by humans but abounded in plant and animal life. It was  was safe and fertile with plenty of fresh water and could support all of their people with ease.

Therefore, he gave the order to disembark and unload the ships.  He tasked some of the people to build a camp where they could live in reasonable comfort safe from the elements until more permanent shelter could be constructed.

The Seven Cities

When they were settled and comfortable he called a meeting of the bishops and the elders and told them he planned to build seven cities each with a cathedral.  He and the six bishops would each rule one of the cities and he would rule over them all. After a brief rest from their sea voyage they all got to work and built seven cities each with their own cathedral situated around the island and the people were distributed between them.

After the cities and cathedrals were built the people lived in peace and happiness living in their traditional way unhindered.  In that time the girl Genadius had adopted grew to become a beautiful young woman and began to draw the attention of many young men.

Having grown up mostly on the island she had only ever heard tales about her old home of Portugal faraway over the sea.  As is often the case the stories were exaggerated and embellished and she began to wonder why the people had ever left. She ached to see all the wonders they told her of and began to yearn to return to Portugal.

Unwanted Attention

Genadius could also not help but notice the attention she was receiving from young men and began to worry that she would lose her purity.  Although he knew it was natural for young men to be attracted to young women and vice-versa, he could not help but become increasingly concerned.  The more he saw and the more he thought about it, the more obsessed he became, wrongly believing he was protecting her. Furthermore, her continued questioning of him about their old home in Portugal made him realize she wished to return.

He had grown to love her greatly and did not want to lose her. Therefore, he resorted to his powers of necromancy to hide the island away from any passing ships in case they should dock  on the island by chance.

This worked for a while until one fine morning a caravel with the cross of Jesus emblazoned upon its sails and flying the flag of Portugal appeared on the horizon.  It proceeded to the harbor where it intended to anchor.

The Black Arts

Genadius was both furious and fearful of its arrival and flew into a rage.  He could not understand how his powers of necromancy had failed. As the caravel began to drop her anchor his rage erupted and in fury he resorted to his black arts and called upon Satan for help. As he did so the central peak of the island began spewing out smoke and fumes.  Fire and molten rock rained down destroying everything around. Eventually there was a massive explosion and the island sank slowly into the sea. 

A few survivors made it to the caravel who took them back home to Portugal, but of the island of the Seven Cities no trace afterwards could ever be found.  Some said that it sank below the sea but other seafarers returned with reports of an island that was hidden by mists but would sink below the ocean when approached.

© 25/09/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright September 25th, 2019 zteve t evans

Azorean Folktales: Why the Owl Flies at Night

Presented here is a retelling of a folktale called, Why the Owl Flies at Night,  from, The Islands of Magic,  Legends, Folk and Fairy Tales from the Azores – by Elsie Spicer Eells and illustrated by E. L. Brock.

Why the Owl Flies at Night

In days gone by, on the steep slopes of the volcanic hill of Monte Brasil that overlook the Bay of Angra, stood a little chapel dedicated to St. Anthony.  It was built to hold an image of that same saint that had been carried from some unknown place by the strong currents and rough waves of the sea to rest upon the shores of the bay below the hill.

Pedro

In that time there was a young boy named Pedro who after his mother had died lived with his father nearby.  His father had married again but his new wife treated young Pedro cruelly. She made him wear old, worn ragged clothes and all the children in the parish would mock and point at him because of the state of his clothing.

Pedro would often go to the little chapel and pray to St. Anthony for strength and comfort.  One day as he was getting up off his knees after a prayer to the saint he noticed a very strange thing had happened.  To his surprise he found his old, worn ragged clothes had suddenly become new and unblemished and he was now immaculately dressed in very smart clothing as good – indeed better – than any other child in his village.

His Stepmother

When he got home his stepmother stares at him in disbelief, “Where did you get those clothes from?” she demanded,  “You must have stolen them!  Why, you are nothing but a little thief!”

Pedro truthfully told her what had happened but she refused to believe him.

“Your father can deal with it!” she cried, “In the meantime take the water jars to the spring and bring me back some water.  Do it now and understand that I don’t want to be kept waiting for water, now go!”

The Spring

Picking up the heavy jars he made his way to the top of the hill where the little spring bubbled out.  The spring supplied Pedro and his family as well as the neighbors with water most of the year round, but at times it failed and this was one of those times.  His stepmother had been told this earlier by neighbors but still out of spite she sent the boy to the top of the hill carrying two heavy stone jars on a task she knew he could not fulfill.  On his way up, Pedro met an old man coming down. “There is no water in the spring,” the old man told him, “maybe tomorrow.”

He had almost reached the spring and the jars were making his arms ache. The other spring was much further away and he doubted if he got there he would have the strength to carry two full jars of water all the way home.  He decided he would continue on and see for himself.

When he arrived at the spring he was surprised and very pleased to see that there was plenty of good clean water bubbling up, indeed, bubbling up much faster that he could remember.  As he stared with amazement he thought about how somehow he had been furnished with the brand new suit of clothes that he was wearing and he began to wonder.

“This  must be my lucky day,” he cried happily filling both jars with water,  “St. Anthony is smiling upon me.  He must have heard my prayers and given me my new clothes and made the waters of the spring run,”   and he offered up a  silent prayer of thanks to the saint.

With  his jars full of water Pedro took them home.  His mother was gobsmacked when he came through the door with two jars full of water.  “What! Where did you get that water from?” she demanded.  Pedro truthfully told her it had come from the spring on the hill.

“You lie! That spring is dry today.  Wait until I tell your father, he will give you a sound beating!” she cried.  As well as being frightened by the threatened beating Pedro was puzzled why his stepmother had sent him up the hill to the spring when she believed it was dry.  

Fire Wood

The next thing he knew was she had dumped a large basket in his hands saying, “Go into the garden and pick up all of the wood for the fire.  Now hurry I don’t want to be kept waiting. Go!”

Pedro thought this a very strange request as all of the wood in the garden had been used up long ago.  The evening was falling and he went into the garden in failing light but there was nothing there but red, white, yellow and pink roses.  The night fell quickly but stoically he went and looked anyway but there were no sticks of wood to be found just the roses. The only place he knew where he could get some wood was high on the steep slopes of Monte Brasil.  However, it was dark and it was a long hard path climbing the steep slopes of Monte Brasil and he was feeling very tired. As two great tears rolled down his face he felt a presence next to him and turning saw it was St Anthony who stood smiling down kindly upon him.

St. Anthony

“Why the tears, young man?” he asked kindly,  “I have been watching you for a long time and I know you do not cry easily, even when life is hard.  Boys with less courage than you would spend their time weeping.”

“I weep because I have to fill this basket with fire wood from the garden, but there is nothing in the garden but roses.  I am very tired and I have been threatened with a beating and it is becoming too dark, much too dark to go up to Monte Brasil and search for firewood.”

“Listen to me,” replied St Anthony, “and have faith in what I say.  Go into the garden and fill the basket with roses and  when it is full take it to your stepmother and give it to her.  You must have faith in what I say and remember I shall be with you.”

Pedro went into the dark  garden and filled it with all the different colored roses and then he took it into the house to his stepmother.  As he handed the basket to his stepmother he was surprised to see that instead of roses the basket contained firewood.

“What!” cried his stepmother in shock, “Where ever did you get this wood from?  There are only roses in the garden and you have not been gone long enough to go up to Monte Brasil in the dark.  Where did you get it from?”

Grabbing him roughly by the collar of his smart new shirt she shook him fiercely terrifying him.  He looked around hoping to escape but St Anthony was stood behind smiling kindly and then in a voice like thunder said,

St Anthony’s Punishment

“Woman, cease your violence!  This boy has done you no harm and obeyed your every request.  I have been watching the spiteful and malicious way you have been treating him and you will be punished.  As you have sent this young boy out into the dark night you too shall go into the dark.”

With these words spoken the stepmother changed from being a woman into an owl with great circles for eyes, for those eyes gazed upon the wrath of St Anthony.  From that moment on she lived in darkness.  That is why the owl is a creature of the night.

© 12/06/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attribution and Further Reading

Copyright June 12th, 2019 zteve t evans