Faustian Pacts: The Soul of Edgar Astley

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The Faustian Pact

A Faustian pact or bargain is also sometimes known as a Deal with the Devil. This is where someone makes an agreement or contract with the Devil or his demonic representative.  It is named after a character from German literature, legend and folklore named Faust, sometimes known as Dr Faustus or Faustus, who made just such a contract.  The devil grants their material or worldly desires such as riches, knowledge and power, usually for a set length of time, in return for their soul.  The pact must be honored and when that time comes the devil or his representative arrives to take the soul of his contract partner.

Hoghton Tower

Presented here is a retelling of a tale from Goblin Tales of Lancashire, a collection of folktales by James Bowker that appeared as The Demon of the Oak.  For those who like a little bit of history with their folk tales the story is set in an ancient fortified manor in Lancashire, England called Hoghton Tower.  This was the ancestral home of the de Hoghton family descended directly from Harvey de Walter, who was a companion of William the Conqueror. Their female line of descent is also impressive  descending from famous Lady Godiva of Coventry, wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia. The setting in time is uncertain but it is known the the land has been in the hands of ancestors of the de Hoghton’s since at least the 12th century and the present  house dates from about 1560–65 and rebuilt and extended between 1862 and 1901. The narrative centers around a young gentleman named Edgar Astley who in the story stayed at the manor and whose actual existence is much more nebulous than that of his hosts.

Edgar Astley

In fact, Edgar was a rather earnest young man whose habit of dressing in black indicated that he was still in mourning for someone dear who had passed away.  The servants of the tower, much like servants everywhere, discussed among themselves the reason for his sombre style of dress and melancholy air. They came to the conclusion he mourned for a woman whom he greatly loved and had deceived him and had married a rival instead of him. The lady in question had died mysteriously soon after for reasons unknown.

The speculations were sufficient to give the young man an aura of mystery and romance among the servants.  This was fueled when it was reported among them that strange colored lights had been seen from his room in the Tower at night.  This increased their suspicion making them wary and uncomfortable with the air of melancholy that he exuded

The more the superstitious servants thought about him the more they saw in him that was strange and abnormal.  They noticed how he would suddenly start out of a gloomy mood when approached making no secret of his desire to avoid where possible all society and companionship.   Even so, no one could ever accuse him of being unfriendly or rude and he was always very kind and patient with the youngsters of the household.  He always found time to chat cordially with the females of the household. When asked he would accompany them on rambles through the woods and countryside  and escort them on excursions to the local towns.

Yet it was noticeable that he did so more out of a sense of duty and chivalry rather than his own pleasure and quickly return to his station under the oak.  There he would read his dark books lost and become lost in dark thoughts. The ladies regarded him with an affectionate pity. They would try to encourage him to join them in more cheerful and sociable activities.  All though he complied he would only bear so much before politely returning to his books and dark dreaming.

The Baronet who was his host and master of the Tower liked him greatly despite his melancholy and strange ways.  Everyone else looked on him with pity. The general consensus was that time alone would eventually heal the darkness that appeared in his soul  and were happy for him to be amongst them. For his part, Edgar appreciated their sympathy and the freedom they allowed him in their home. He came and went as he pleased and the hosts were content to allow him this freedom asking no questions, just accepting him and his ways as they were.

Servant’s Talk

In the servant’s quarters the talk about Edgar was of  very different kind. One particular servant claimed he knew a servant who had known a footman, who had worked for Edgar’s family and there was a tragic story attached to the young man.  Apparently Edgar had once been betrothed to a young lady by the name of Anna.  She was a very attractive lady and had many suitors but she narrowed these down to Edgar and another young man.   She saw both of them at intervals and was very much in love with both but could not decide which she preferred and was well aware which ever one she rejected would be terribly hurt.  

Nonetheless, she enjoyed the attentions of both men and would play them off against each other.  Both suitors had been the best of friends but then a bitter rivalry developed between them for the love of Anna.  Both loved her with a passion and would have done anything in the world to win her favor and it seemed when she accepted Edgar’s proposal of marriage that he had won.  The date was set for the happy event and Edgar was looking forward to spending the rest of his life with the woman of his heart’s desire.

Edgar’s rival was not one to simply accept whatever fate should throw at him and the night before the wedding went to Anna and begged she elope that night with him.   She agreed and the two made off in her father’s coach and horses with all speed heading for Gretna Green.

The next morning word came to Edgar of the disappearance of Anna.  Of course he was devastated. Knowing that it could only have been at the instigation of his rival he took off after them intending a final confrontation with his rival.

Such was the talk in the servant’s quarters and their curiosity towards Edgar grew and grew and were fed by the peculiarity of his own habits.  It had been noticed that he stayed up late at nights in his room and strange lights and sounds could sometimes be seen and heard coming from it.  It was therefore decided that one of them should creep up to his room at midnight and listen at the door and look through the keyhole to try and learn more of this mysterious young man’s behaviour.  To his chagrin it was the servant who knew a servant who knew a footman that worked for Edgar’s family that was chosen for this dubious task. Therefore at the stroke of midnight, wishing he had kept quiet, the servant was sent up stairs to listen at Edgar’s bedroom door and spy through his keyhole.

Once at his station the reluctant spy knelt and put his eye to the keyhole listening intently for any sounds that should come through the door. Through the keyhole he saw that Edgar was seated at a table intently studying an ancient black book he had spread out before him. With one hand he shaded his eyes from a flame that burnt in  a small cauldron upon the table.

The Pale Student

Suddenly he leaned forward and with a quick movement of his hand took a pinch of a bright blue powder  placed in a saucer and sprinkled it upon the flame. The room was filled by strange, sickly aroma while the flame burst upwards with sudden life. The pale student of unhallowed arts turned over a page in the book and began to softly chant strange words unaware he was being watched.  Then he looked puzzled and muttered,

“Strange, I have bat’s blood, the severed hand of a dead man, viper’s venom, mandrake root and the flesh of a newt.  These are the ingredients stated and yet I still fail. Must I use the spell of spells at the risk of losing my life?

Think, man! What  is there for one such as me to fear in death? So far I remain unharmed from my experiments but were it otherwise I must still proceed to the bitter end.

There was a time when I would have given all my future happiness for her to be called by my name.  What is there left in this empty life for me that I should fear in this desperate enterprise to gain one last glimpse of her lovely face?”

As the pale student bent over the book studying the dreadful words on the cracked pages for the spy at the door the silence was almost palpable.  The night appeared to stand still and a harsh, rasping voice from the air cut through the silence saying,

Answer truly, will you give your very soul in exchange for a glimpse and a brief exchange of speech for she who you were once betrothed.”

The pale student quickly jumped to his feet excited and declared,

“Make no mistake, what ever you are, whoever you are, if you deliver her to me for a glimpse, a  brief word or two for the briefest of time my soul shall be yours forever!”

The night,  inside the house and outside, fell silent and the world seemed to stand still.  The spy at the door could hear the beating of his own heart and the the disembodied voice spoke once again,

“So it shall be! You have one last spell left that you must invoke at midnight beneath the spreading arm of the old oak and there and then shall you be rewarded with your heart’s desire.   Dare you look upon my face?”

replied the pale student.

“Devil or demon, whatever kind of beast you may be, I have no fear of seeing you”  

This was not the case for the spy at the keyhole who knelt shivering in fear at what he was witnessing and as soon as the lights flared a lurid blue he fell in a faint at his station by the door.

The Spy Discovered

When the spying servant finally came to he found himself inside the dread room with the pale student standing over him demanding,

“Who are you?  Why do you spy on me and what have you seen?  Tell me all, tell me true!”

Trembling in fear the terrified servant told him everything he had seen and heard while  Edgar listened gravely. When the servant had finished he would not allow him to leave until he had sworn on all that he held valuable that he would not tell a soul of what he had seen and heard that night.  To ensure the complete silence of the servant Edgar bound him by several terrifying threats of what would happen should he speak and then gave further instructions.

When the servant returned to the servant’s quarter his fellows all wanted to know what he had seen and heard.  They were disappointed when he told them he had spied so long and seen nothing and overcome with fatigue and boredom fallen asleep at his station.  Nevertheless, this appeared to satisfy his eager friends who could not help wondering what would have happened should he have been discovered.

The day passed in much the same way  as other days with the only notable exception being Edgar’s absence from the table under the old oak.  As evening fell dark clouds swept in from the distant sea and the wind began to rise and shake the old oak in its rage.

As usual the household had retired at eleven that night and only Edgar and one other were awake.  Edgar sat in his room at studying intensely the black book, but every now and then glancing impatiently at the clock.  At last he stood up and sighing to himself said,

 “The time I have longed for draws near.  Once again we shall meet!”

Taking up his small cauldron, the book and a few other items he left his room and went down the ancient staircase.  As he did so the servant stepped from the shadows and followed him. Calmly walking down to the old oak Edgar place his items at the foot of the tree and then taking a hazel wand from his pocket drew a circle around him and the servant.  Placing some red powder in the cauldron he put it down before him. As he did so a red flame leapt up from cauldron blazing with a steady flame while the wind roared in fury all around.

The Spell

In the gateway of the tower the chained guard dogs howled mournfully but Edgar pressed on with his task, striking the ground three time with his hazel wand, crying,

“Anna my love, my heart’s desire I summon thee!  Hear my words and obey, come to me this night!”

No sooner had he stopped speaking when the filmy figure of a most beautiful child appeared and floated around the outside of the circle.  The servant groaned in fear and sunk to his knees covering his eyes. The necromancer took no notice and as lightning flashed and thunder rolled he began incanting a new spell before finishing with these words,

“Soul of Anna, spirit of my love, spirit of my heart’s desire, I summon thee!  Come to me with all haste and without deceit and without power over my earthly body, spirit or soul.  May the shadow of death fall upon thee for ever if you refuse! Come now to me”!

With these last word the storm abated and all around fell to brooding silence. Suddenly the flame in the cauldron flared upwards several yards in height and a sweet voice could be heard engaged in a melodious chant.   A rasping, invisible voice said,

“Are you ready to behold the dead?

“I am ready!”

Before his eyes a column of mist formed and swirled and in that column slowly appeared the form and face of a beautiful woman still wrapped in her burial shroud.  She looked at him with sad, mournful eyes and asked,

“Why, Egar, why”

“Because I loved you, Anna! Did you love me?”

“I did!”

“And did you love him Anna, did you really love him?

“I do!”

Edgar gazed upon the ghost of his betrothed in tortured silence for some time. Slowly he reached out into the mist trying to embrace her.  As he did so the servant fainted at his feet as if struck down by death and thunder broke the silence.

“Edgar Astley, thy time is done and thou art mine forever!”

hissed a harsh disembodied voice at his side.  As these word were spoken the door of the tower were flung wide open and out rushed the baronet followed by his servants.

“Keep back, keep back! Save yourselves!”

“We would save you too! In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti!”  

cried the baronet striding forward to the circle holding a silver crucifix before him. No sooner had he spoken when the thunder fell quiet and the lightning ceased to flash and the moon broke through the dark clouds throwing down a soft light.

The servant was found face down trembling in the circle and carried indoors.  Edgar was found leaning against the trunk of the old oak. His eyes glazed and fixed upon the spot in the air he had last seen the ghost of his betrothed.  Gently the baronet took him by the hand and led him away as one would lead an innocent and trusting child. All reason and purpose had left his mind and his body was but an empty husk for he had gained his heart’s desire but in doing so given away his soul.

© 06/03/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright Copyright zteve t evans

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The Grateful Dead: The Russian Folktale of Sila Tsarevich and Ivashka

The Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead as which is a type 505 tale as classified Stories of The Grateful Dead under the under the Aarne–Thompson–Uther classification system used by folklorists to categorise folktales.  Grateful Dead tales usually share a basic structure of where a debtor dies leaving and are refused a proper burial or in this case floated out to sea in a coffin. In this case the dead person did not receive a proper burial and was held in a state perhaps similar to purgatory until he received one.  In gratitude his ghost or soul returns to Earth to help the person who took the trouble to ensure he had a proper burial.  There are several other motifs and themes interwoven in the story that are also found in tales around the world.  Presented below is a rewrite of Sila Tsarevich and Ivashka with the White Smock, from The Russian Garland, edited by Robert Steele which is a collection of stories collected from Russian Chap-books.

Sila Tsarevich and Ivashka with the White Smock

This story begins in a time when Russia was ruled by a tsar by the name of Chotei who had three sons.   The eldest was named Aspar Tsarevich, the next eldest was named Adam Tsarevich and the youngest was named Sila Tsarevich.  There came a day that the two eldest brothers went to their father and asked his permission to travel the world. They wanted to journey abroad and see all the foreign countries and meet all the different people who lived outside Russia and see strange and wonderful things.  On hearing their request Sila Tsarevich, the youngest of the three was also filled with a yearning to see strange and wonderful things and travel to foreign climes and also begged permission from his father to travel like his two brothers.  However, although his father granted the two eldest permission but was reluctant to grant him permission due to the immaturity of his years telling him,

“Unfortunately you are too young to go wandering the world.  You are not used to traveling and there are many difficulties and dangers that can be encountered.  Drive this idea from your mind. Wait until you are older, wiser and stronger!”

Despite what his father said, the yearning to see new lands and people had awoken the wanderlust in Sila Tsarevich.  He could think of nothing else, talk of nothing else and repeatedly asked for permission. Eventually, he wore his father down and he reluctantly consented to his request.

The Floating Coffin

Tsar Chotei had given each son a ship manned by skilled mariners and eventually all the ships were laden with provisions and goods and made ready to sail. The first to sail was Aspar Tsarevich,  the eldest brother, followed by Adam Tsarevich the next eldest. The last to set sail was Sila Tsarevich. On reaching the open sea a strange sight was seen by those on board the three ships for floating and bobbing in the water was a stone coffin.  When Aspar saw this he immediately ordered the ship to chart a wide berth around it and continued on his way. When Adam Tsarevich saw the coffin floating in the water he too ordered his sailors to keep clear of it and continued on his way. When Sila  Tsarevich saw the floating coffin he had it be brought aboard and then order the ship to continue on it way.

The next day dawned, the wind blew and a violent storm was whipped up and the ship bearing Sila was taken by the storm and driven to a strange unknown country where it was thrown upon a sandy shore.   Sila ordered his men to carry the coffin on shore where he then told them to dig a grave and give a proper burial.

Then Sila Tsarevich informed the captain that he was going off alone and told him that he and the crew must stay with the ship.  If he did not return after three years the captain and crew were free to sail back home without him. Sila then left them to journey on into the land beyond.

Ivashka

Long he roamed and had traveled many miles from his ship.  One day as he was walking along he heard the sound of someone running up behind him.  Startled he turned and saw a man dressed all in white who was waving and hurrying up to him.  Instinctively he drew his sword both for his own protection and to give fair warning that he was armed and prepared should the need arise to fight.  However, no sooner had the man reached him than he fell upon his knees and thanked Sila showing great gratitude and respect.

Bemused, Sila asked the man what he had done to deserve such great praise and thanks and the man replied,

 “Sila Tsarevich,I am deeply indebted to you and can never thank you enough.  Do you remember the coffin you found in the sea and took on board your ship.  I had been laid in that coffin a hundred years before you came to pick it up. Had you not done so I could have been left to float alone in the ocean for another hundred years, or more, but for you.”

“Who are you and how was it you came to be in that coffin?”  asked Sila surprised.

“My name is Ivashka. When I was born It was discovered I had great magical arts.  As I grew up I became a great magician but my powers did not please my mother who accused me of making mischief and misusing them.  She ordered her servant to put me in that stone coffin. Then they took me and set me set adrift in the sea thinking I would sink in the coffin.  I did not sink but I did die of suffocation. Ever since I have floated around in the sea for a hundred years before you passed by. Then you came along and rescued me and now it is my duty to serve you in return and help you obtain your heart’s desire.  If it is marriage you desire I can tell you I know of Queen Truda who is a most beauteous and gracious woman who would make a worthy wife for you. Perhaps you are interested?”

Sila agreed he was interested and if she was as beautiful and gracious as he said then, yes, he would like to marry her.  He asked him to take him to her to her country so that he may court and woo her. Ivashka readily agreed and the two set off on the long journey to the country of Queen Truda.

The Country of Queen Truda

Ivashka led Sila many miles through forests and over mountains for many many days.  They saw many strange and wonderful things along the way that Sila had never seen before.  Eventually, at last they reached the country of Queen Truda, but Sila had a shock. The entire realm of Queen Truda was surrounded by a pallascade. Upon each and every one of the sharpened posts there was a human head impaled.  There was just one stake that had no head impaled upon it. Sila looked at the heads in horror then turned to Ivashka and asked him what had happened here. Ivashka then explained that the heads had all belonged to the suitors who had come to court Queen Truda.  Sila looked on in horror and turned to Ivashka and told him he no longer wanted to present himself to Truda’s father and wished instead to go home. Ivashka promised him he had nothing to fear and urged him to proceed with courage to the father of Queen Truda to ask for her hand in marriage.

As soon as Sila and Ivashka had passed beyond the terrible palisade Ivashka turned to Sila and said,

“Listen closely to what I’m saying!  You must now go before King Salom and speak most politely and humbly. Tell him what your business is and tell him who your father is and that  that I am your faithful servant. You must not try to conceal anything from him as he will see straight through you. Then ask for his permission to marry his daughter and he will be delighted and agree.”

King Salom

With this advice fresh in his mind Sila Tsarevich went directly to the palace.  As soon as he saw him King Salom jumped to his feet and rushed across the room to greet him.  He took Sila by the hand and led him into the marbled halls of his beautiful palace chatting to him all the way.  He seated him in a splendid chair next to his throne then sat down himself and begged that Sila tell him all about himself saying, “Now my friend, please tell me where you are from, who is your father, your name and your business.”

“My father is named Tsar Chotei the ruler of of all of Russia and I have come to ask your permission to court your beautiful daughter, Queen Truda,” said Sila politely and humbly.

The Wedding

This pleased King Salom greatly.  He was delighted with the idea of a son of the tzar of all of Russia being his son-in-law and agreed immediately.  He sent for his daughter and told her the news and she began the preparations for her wedding. The day of the marriage soon came around and the King and all of his knights, noblemen and courtiers met at the palace. When all was ready they formed a grand procession to the church where Sila Tsarevich the son of Tsar Chotei of Russia married King Salom’s beautiful daughter Queen Truda.  After the wedding ceremony they all returned for a grand banquet thrown by the King to celebrate the marriage of his daughter to such a worthy husband. There was music and singing and jesters, acrobats and jugglers and entertainment of all kinds and the best food and drink his kingdom could provide and a merry evening was had by all.

When at at last the feasting and entertainments came to an end and it was time for everyone to go to their beds Ivashka came to Sila and whispered in his ear,

“Listen to me Sila Tsarevich when you go to rest with your wife, beware!  You must not speak a single word to her or you will not live out the night.  Your head will be severed from your body and placed on the last stake on the palisade.  Your wife will try her hardest to make you speak and to make you embrace her but if you wish to live you will not utter a word or fall for her embraces.  Listen well or die!”

Shocked at this revelation,  Sila demanded to know what this all meant.  Ivashka told him,

“Queen Truda is possessed by an evil spirit that can take the shape of a six headed dragon and fly through the night.  It appears each night to her in the form of a man. I warn you that when the time comes and she lays her hand upon your breast and pushes down you must leap up shake her with all your might.  You must continue to shake her until all your strength has gone. Throughout the night I will remain awake and on watch at the door of your room.”

The First Night

So Sila went to bed with his new wife with this strange warning going around in his head.  As Ivashka had warned Queen Truda tried her hardest to kiss and embrace him but he lay still and silent throughout.  At last his wife placed her hand on his heart and pressed hard against it. Remembering Ivashka’s warning, Sila jumped up and shook her hard.

Outside in the darkness of night a storm arose and a six-headed dragon flew in through the window.  It was about to attack and eat Sila when Ivashka leapt through the door with his sword in his hand and attacked it.  The two fought ferociously together for three hours and then Sila managed to cut two of its heads off. This caused the beast to withdraw from the fight and escape through the window.  Ivashka then turned to Sila and told him it was now time to sleep and need fear nothing more. At this Sila laid himself back in bed and went to sleep.

The next morning the king called his servants to him asking them if his new son-in-law was still alive and was told Sila was indeed alive and well.  The king was delighted and rejoiced because Sila was the first of his daughter’s husbands to survive a night with her. He request Sila be brought to him and the rest of the day was spent celebrating.

The Second Night

The next night before Sila went to bed with his wife Ivashka again gave him the exact instructions and warnings he had given him the previous night and hid by the door to keep watch.  That night everything unfold exactly as it had done the previous night. As Sila shook his wife the dragon flew in through the window and was about to eat him. Ivashka leapt from his hiding place with his sword drawn and fought the dragon and managed to sever two more of its heads before the dragon escaped through the window.

The Third Night

On the third night, Ivashka gave the same warnings to Sila and again hid himself by the door to watch.   Again his wife tried to make Sila speak and embrace her and again he would neither speak or respond to her entreaties to embrace her.  Once again she pushed down upon his heart and he began shaking her. Once again the dragon flew in through the window and attempted to devour him but was attacked by Ivashka who cut off the remaining two of its heads and burnt the remains of the dragon scattering the ashes across the fields.

The Journey Home

Sila continued living with his wife at the palace of KIng Salom for one year but through all that time he continued to refrain from speaking to her or win her love.  One day Ivashka went to him and told him it was time to go to King Salom and request permission to return to his own land. The king gave his permission and provided two companies of his soldiers to escort him home.  So Sila, taking his wife and Ivashka with him set off with his escort on the journey back to the ship and to his homeland.

The Freeing of Queen Truda

When they reached halfway Ivashka told Sila to make camp for the night.  The next morning Ivashka collected pieces of wood to make a fire and then brought Queen Truda near to it.  Then he took out his sword and cut her into pieces.

This shocked Sila and he began to weep and wring his hands but Ivashka said, “Have trust, my friend and stop your weeping!  I tell you she will return again to life.”

Sila stopped weeping but watched in horror as as all manner of vile and evils things crept and slithered from her body.  Ivashka threw each and everyone of these on the fire and said, “Now you see for yourself the evil things that have possessed your wife, but now she is free from them!”

When all the evil things had left her and been burnt he placed the pieces of her together to form a new body.  Then taking out a vial he said contained the water of life he sprinkled this over the reassembled body and Queen Truda instantly sprang to life whole and free from evil.  With that he turned to Sila Tsarevich and said,

“Now my task for you is done and I have repaid my debt to you for saving me from the water and giving me a proper burial.  You will soon discover that your wife loves you above all things and that you will have great happiness together until the end of your days.  You will never see me again and now I bid you farewell.”

With that the smiling figure of Ivashka dissolved into the the thin air before the eyes of Sila Tsarevich and his wife Queen Truda.  Sila and his wife continued on the journey to his homeland. When he reached the place he had left his ship the captain and crew were still faithfully waiting and he and his wife went aboard after dismissing his escort.

The ship met with a fair wind which carried them quickly and safely to the port Sila had previously set sail from.  On news of his arrival his father, Tsar Chotei was delighted and welcomed them with a spectacular volley of cannons and fireworks. He came down to the ship and led them back to his palace and threw a lavish banquet to celebrate the return of his youngest son and his wife.

Heart’s Desire

Sila Tsarevich was pleased to find that his wife seemed to love him more and more  every day. He felt the same about her and they were very happy together. After two years living with his father Sila decided he and his wife would return to her homeland.  On his return King Salom abdicated and handed the crown to Sila who with Queen Truda beside him ruled the kingdom for many years in peace and happiness. Let us remember that and all of this came about because Sila had stopped to take in an abandoned coffin floating in the sea and give the dead a decent and proper burial and because of that he received the help of the Grateful Dead to achieve his heart’s desire.

© 08/08/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright August 8th, 2018 zteve t evans

Petrification Myths: The Indonesian Folktale of Dewi Jurangga and the Son of Bromo

The island of Java in the Indonesian archipelago is rich in ancient culture and tradition and full of wonderful stories that tell the lives of its inhabitant and their relationships with each other, the landscape, nature and the gods. Presented below is a retelling of an Indonesian folktale called The Holy Mountain, from Indonesian tales and Folk Tales by Adele de Leeuw, which provides a folkloric explanation of how certain volcanoes and the Sea of Sand was created in the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park

The Giant of the Holy Mountain

There was once a mighty giant who had ruled over the god Indra’s holy mountain of Semeru since the beginning of the world.  His realm reached all around it above ground and extended below it under the ground.  This giant had a daughter whom he loved more than anything else and he had named Dewi Jurangga.  He watched over her day and night keeping her safe and keeping her hidden from the eyes of the world in his a part of his kingdom underneath the mountain.  So well did he guard his daughter that she had never been outside the kingdom under the holy mountain. She did not know what daylight was and had never known fresh air, never known the green leaves and beautiful flowers and never heard birds sing.

Every single day the giant would walk around the bounds of his kingdom  to make sure everything was in order. One day as her father went out to inspect his kingdom, she had a sudden yearning to know what the world of light above ground looked like.  Making sure he had gone, she ran up the way which she knew would bring her to the world of light on the earth because she had seen her father take it.

Dewi Jurangga’s Adventure

Stepping out into the sunshine, at first she was blinded, but as her eyes slowly became accustomed to the light, she grew increasingly enchanted by all the beautiful things she saw that she had never seen before.  First, she looked at the sky which was so deep and wide and blue and was awed.  She saw fluffy white clouds floating across it and was intrigued.  She saw beautiful green leaves and gorgeous flowers of so many different colors and was thrilled and she walked out into the world for the first time full of wonder and excitement and was happy.
Everything she was seeing, hearing, smelling and touching was beyond her wildest dreams and as she walked she seemed to be floating through a beautiful wonderland of new experience.  She could hear the birds singing and the insects buzzing and smell the glorious scent of the flowers and she floated on enthralled by it all. She floated over the rice fields and over the meadows and saw goats and cattle grazing and then she saw a man standing before her and she stopped.  She looked at him and smiled and he looked at her and smiled.

She thought he looked like her father, but was much younger and much more handsome than he.  He stood before her amazed at seeing her and quietly and gently said, “May I ask who you are?”

She had never before heard the voice of anyone else other than the deep rumbling sound of her father’s and she was charmed to hear the soft, gentle speech of the young man and said,

“My name is Dewi Jurangga and I am new in the world above the ground.  I am the daughter of the giant who is the King of the Holy Mountain of Indra.  This is the first time I have ever been above ground and walked upon the earth instead of under it.  This is the first time I have smelled the clean fresh air and the fragrance of flowers and seen the beautiful blue sky. It is the first  time I have met and spoken to anyone other than my father.”

Then the two chatted together like old friends.  She told him that she was so in love with the world above the surface of the earth that she wanted to give up the immortality bestowed upon her by the gods.

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Mt Batok dormant in foreground, Mt. Bromo belching sulphur to the left, Mt. Semeru erupting in the distance By Michael Day [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Son of Bromo

Then asked him if he was one of the divine gods, or a giant and he told her with great joy in his eyes,

 “I am the raksasa, the warden of the great temple of the gods appointed to this task by Brahma.  I am the son of a giant almost as powerful as your father and his name is Bromo.  I have set out to look for a wife because the gods have told me I would find one near the Holy Mountain and now I have found her, if you would give your consent!” 

At first Dewi Jurangga, was pleased and flattered and then she remembered her father and as sadness darkened her eyes she said,

“I fear I can cannot be your wife.  My father loves me more than anything else and he guards and protects me.  To him I am the light of his eyes and he will never allow me to marry a raksasa, especially one who is the son of Bromo who he hates.”

“Why will he not let us marry and why does he hate my father so?” asked the puzzled raksasa in disappointment.

she said sadly.

“He hates your father because his mountain sends fire and fumes and streams of molten lava to flow down into the fertile fields on the borders of his land.  One night your father sent so much fire it changed them all into an arid and infertile plain where nothing will grow nothing. That is why my father hates your father and will never let me marry his son,” 

The son of Bromo shook his head and said defiantly, “That may be so, but I am going to go to you father and ask his permission to marry you, if you agree,”

Dewi Jurangga told him she wanted to be his wife more than anything else in the world. With her agreement that very evening before sunset, he went to the her father in his kingdom under the Holy Mountain and begged her hand in marriage.

The Sea of Sand

He father was furious and roared and thundered with rage.  His daughter told him that if he did not allow the marriage she would go to Mount Bromo and throw herself in the lake of fire, at which he roared louder than ever.  He roared and roared until he could roar no more and sat silently trembling with rage.  Then, shaking his head sadly he said to the son of Bromo,

“Let me tell you this.  Many, many, years ago I vowed to the gods that my daughter, who is the light of my life, would only marry a divine being and not a son of a giant.  Her husband must be the son of a god and to prove his divinity and power he must create a sea of sand around the mountain of Bromo, my enemy. It must be a thousand feet deep and a thousand feet wide, so that the fires and lava from Bromo’s mountain will be extinguished. There will be no fuel to feed the flames and the lava will sink into the suffocating sand and die and will not burn my fields.  The sea of sand must be created in one night between the time of sundown and the first crow of the cock. If you can create this sea of sand as I have described it in one night, you shall have my daughter for your wife. If the sea of sand is not fully complete by the first cock crow you shall both be turned to stone and remain stone for one thousand times one thousand years.”

On hearing this the raksasa stood deep in thought for a few moments then looked into the lovely eyes of Dewi Jurangga and said,

“I will try this challenge for it would be better to be turned to stone and have a heart of stone that feels nothing than to live one day without your daughter as my wife.  Tomorrow at sundown I will attempt the challenge.”

Turning to Dewi Jurangga he asked her if she agreed and she readily told him she did and then he said, “Find the largest possible coconut and cut it in half.  Take half the shell to the very place we first met and lay it on the ground. I will be there before sunset.”

So Dewi Jurangga did as he asked and just before sunset went to him at the spot where they had first met and gave him the half of coconut shell which is called a batok and whispered, “Do your best, my love!  Unveil your true power and we will be happy forever!”
Taking the shell from her he whispered, “My  kembang manis, my lovely flower, I will prove I am worthy of you!”

And as the sinking sun disappeared below the horizon he set to work.  Using the batok he filled it with sand and created mounds which he kept adding to creating hills.  He scooped up sand from the sides of Mount Bromo and ignoring his own father who threw burning rocks at him and yelled at him to stop.  He worked nonstop all through the night with amazing vigor and energy. By the time it was almost ready for the sun to rise he had created a sea of sand nine hundred and ninety yards deep and nine hundred and ninety yards wide, but he knew he it was not complete so he forced himself to work  quicker and harder.

The Trick

Dewi Jurangga’s father watched with eyes that could piece the densest and blackest darkness.  He was aghast to see that the son of Bromo would complete the sea of sand before sunrise and greatly feared he would have to fulfill his promise and give his daughter to him to be his bride.  He was furious and became even angrier as the son of Bromo looked like he would finish with time to spare and perhaps because of his fury he thought, or hoped, he heard the sound of a cock crow.

He was even angrier when he realized he hadn’t and it was his imagination, but  this gave him an idea. He said to himself,

“What if I imitated a crowing cock.  Yes, it would be cheating, but it would save my beloved daughter from marriage to the son of Bromo, a mere giant!  After all I am a powerful and mighty giant who is the King of the Holy Mountain. I am semi-divine and can do anything! ”

Turned to Stone

Therefore, he called out, imitating the crowing of a cock and immediately he was answered by one in a nearby village.

The son of Bromo was full of despair because he was unaware of the trick being played on him and thought the first cock had crowed before sunrise and knew his task was not quite finished.  Angily, he threw the batok and it landed on a mound and became a mountain that became known as the Mount Batok.

Then, behind him he heard a terrifying scream and turning and watched in horror as Dewi Jurangga, his beloved turned to stone before his eyes changing into a mountain that people called Kembang.

“Kembang Manis – lovely flower! All of my work has been for nought!”

he cried as he looked into her dark eyes and saw them glaze to stone.  She could not answer him as her mouth froze solid and with those last words he too turned to stone just as he had been warned becoming a mountain known as the Segarawedi.

However, the father of Dewi Jurangga was so frightened of the punishment of Brahma for the turning to stone of his warden and so sad that he had been the cause his own daughter becoming petrified, that he fled to the deepest regions of the earth below the Holy Mountain.  There he sits to this day contemplating how his own foolish selfishness caused two young lives to be so cruelly and terribly ruined. As he thinks on this, every now and then he lets out a sigh which rises to the top of the mountain and escapes into the beautiful blue sky like a white plume.

One Thousand Times One Thousand Years

There he must sit and sigh for one thousand times one thousand years  until Mount Bromo is sunk beneath the earth and the sea of sand no more.  Then and only then, will the spell of the petrification placed on Dewi Jurangga and the son of Bromo be lifted and they return to their original form.  Let us all pray that when that happens the gods smile upon them and they find eternal love and happiness together.

© 12/07/2016 zteve t evans

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Copyright zteve t evans

Philippine Folklore: The Legend of Daragang Magayon and Panganoron and Mount Mayon

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Mount Mayon – Image By Ezra Acayan [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Daragang Magayon

In Philippine folklore two lovers named, Daragang Magayon and Panganoron,  feature in a folktale that explains how Mount Mayon, a active stratovolcano on the island of Luzon in the Philippine archipelago was formed and was named.  The volcano and story of the two lovers hit the headlines in January 2018 when an eruption spurted forth lava and smoke. Many people believed they saw an image in the fumes that resembled two lovers. Another image appeared in the lava flow that resembled the figure of a woman.  Many people associated the perceived images with the story and presented here is a version of the legend.

Daragang Magayon the Beautiful Maiden

A chief of the Rawis people named Makusog had a lovely daughter who he named Daragang Magayan, which means beautiful maiden in English.  She was his only child because her mother whose name was Dawani, which means fairy, had died shortly after giving birth to her and he never wanted another wife.

Magayon grew into a beautiful  woman with a sweet nature, who was much sought after by young men far and wide who competed for her affections.  However she showed no interest in any of them, or even the handsome Pagtuga who was a great hunter and chief of the Iniga people.  He would shower her with expensive gifts and although she politely thanked him showed no romantic interest in him at all.

Panganoron

One day as Panganoron, the son of a chief from the Tagalog region of the country, was passing along the Yawa river he spied Daragang Magayon going into the water to bathe.  He was enthralled by her beauty but as he watch she slipped on some wet rocks and fell into the river. At first he thought it was funny, but as she began to splash and struggle he realized she could  not swim and was in danger of drowning.  With no regard for his own safety he ran into the river and pulled her out saving her life.  From then on the two became friends and their friendship blossomed into romance. After what he hoped was an appropriated time Panganoron proposed marriage to her and she accepted and her father gave them his blessing.

Death

When Pagtuga found out about their impending marriage he became jealous and took Magayon’s father hostage, demanding she marry him in exchange for his life and freedom.  As soon as Panganoron learnt of this he called together the warriors of his people and led them to war against Pagtuga. The two sides clashed in a spectacular and bloody battle and the people and Magayon watched in awe and fear as they fought. Eventually, Panganoron defeated and killed Pagtuga and in her joy at his victory Magayon ran to embrace and kiss him.

However, because of the death of Pagtuga, in anger, one of his warriors fired a final arrow at Panganoron piercing his back and entering into his heart and killing him as the two lovers embraced.  In shock and horror, Magayon held him in her arms as people rushed to help, but before they could do anything she took a knife from Panganoron’s belt and plunged it into her own heart, crying out his name as she died.

Two Lovers

Her father had seen what had happened and buried them together in the same grave.  From their grave there grew a great mountain of fire and Makusog named it Mount Mayon, after his daughter.  Many people say that Mount Mayon is as beautiful as his daughter, saying that Daragang Magayon is the volcano and the clouds that are surround it are Panganoron.  Smoke from an eruption of the volcano in January 2018 appear to show the two lovers in the image above and in a video what appears to be a woman is seen on the peak.

© 16/05/2018 zteve t evans

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Copyright May 16th, 2018 zteve t evans

 

 

The Grateful Dead: The Three Pennies, John Barleycorn and the Fate of the Rye

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Image by Joseph-Louis-Hippolyte Bellangé – [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Stories of The Grateful Dead which tell of the gratitude of a dead  person to someone alive who has helped them to a proper burial are found in many parts of the world.  Under the Aarne–Thompson–Uther classification system used by many folklorists they are classified as type 505.  Many of these tale types share a basic structure where a debtor dies leaving their debts unpaid and are refused a proper burial or in this case absurdly intended to dig up a dead person expecting them to pay the debt.  In some cultures dying in debt or not getting a proper funeral prevented the dead from moving on to heaven. Along comes someone who out of the goodness of their heart pays off the debts allowing a proper burial to take place and allowing the soul of the dead person to enter heaven.  The ghost, or soul, then returns to Earth to reward that person, often helping them find their heart’s desire.  Presented here is a retelling of a Danish folktale called The Three Pennies that is classified as being of the Grateful  Dead Type 505 tale. Although it is fairly short it is rather a strange story having some rather curious motifs and dark undertones that echo a fertility rite and the idea of the dying and rising god.

The Three Pennies

The story begins with a soldier who had faithfully served his king and country for many years  and on a count of his age was given a discharge. As a thank you for his bravery, commitment and service he was given a small loaf of rye bread and three pennies.  On receiving these tokens of the King’s gratitude he was set free from service to go where he would and so set off into the world to see what providence would bring.

As he set off along his way, savoringdbt, his new found freedom, he met three men walking in the opposite direction to him.   In their hands they each carried some kind of digging implement. One carried a spade. Another carried a shovel and the third carried a pickaxe.  All three seemed to be in an agitated state of mind.

Curious as to what they may be up to the soldier stopped them and asked their what they were up to saying, “Where are you going with all of those tools?”

One of them replied,  “This I will tell you as you ask. Today a man died and was buried owing us all money.  We are determined that we should be paid and we are going to dig him up,”

“What a shocking notion!” exclaimed the soldier.  “Can you not see that he is incapable of making a payment.  The dead should not be disturbed, he cannot pay you so leave him in peace!”

“That we will not do,” said another, “ He owes us each one penny and we must have our payment, so he must be dug up!”

On seeing that the men would not listen to reason the soldier said, “If I pay you two pennies will you then leave the dead undisturbed?”

“Two pennies will only pay two of us what we are owed.  What about the third?” said on of the other men.   “How then is the third man to be compensated?”

Seeing that the men would only accept full payment the soldier said in disgust,  “Since your greed has taken over your reason I will also give a third penny.  Take these three pennies and be happy that you have now got that which is so dear to you.  Take it and go but leave the dead in peace!”

So content with being paid in full debt owed each of them they went on their way leaving the dead man undisturbed.  The soldier walked upon his way reflecting on the greed and foolishness of some people and as he walked he noticed that a pale stranger was now walking by his side.  He was somewhat puzzled as he had not noticed when he had joined his company. As the soldier turned to look at him the pale stranger turned and saluted him and continued to walk alongside him without saying a single word.  They continued to walk throughout the evening and as midnight approached they came to a church.  The pale stranger said, “Come my friend, let us visit this holy place tonight.”

The soldier looked at him in bemusement and asked, “Surely that would be improper at this hour?  What would we be doing in a church at midnight?”

However, the pale stranger was most insistent saying, “We have to go inside!  We must do this!”

After much argument the soldier and the pale stranger entered the church and walked down the aisle to the altar where there sat an old woman holding a light burning in her hand.

They walked up to her and the pale stranger said, “You must take a hair from her head and smell it.”

Puzzled, the soldier did as he was told but nothing happened.  The pale stranger again told him to pull a hair from her head. Again the soldier compiled but again nothing happened.  A third time the pale stranger told him to take a hair from her head and smell it. This time the soldier pulled a tuft of hair from the woman’s head to smell, but this enraged her and she marched out of the church carrying the lead vault with her.

The two followed her out of the church and down to the beach where they found the lead vault on the waterside.  Then the pale stranger said, “Come, we will go to sea therefore take your seat”

“Where is the ship?” said soldier who was now completely bewildered.

“You must have faith in me, just sit yourself in this lead vault and we will sail over the sea to a land where there is a princess, who it is told, is destined to marry a man who sails to her land in a lead ship.  This will make your fortune,” said the pale stranger.

So the soldier got in and sat himself down and the pale stranger sat next to him.  The tide came in and the lead vault rose in the water and floated out to sea. It floated on and on for many days across the wide open water and eventually came to rest on a beach on the other side of the sea.   People soon gathered around to welcome them and there was great joy and happiness that someone had arrived across the sea in a lead vault to claim the princess as the prophecy had foretold. The soldier and the princess were married with such splendour and magnificence as had never been seen before and was never seen thereafter.

After the ceremony the bride and groom left the church and entered into a carriage that was waiting for them and the pale stranger followed them and also got in.  The coachman asked where they would like to be taken and the pale stranger quickly said, “Drive with all possible speed to the other side where the sun rises!” In obedience the coachman whipped up the horse and drove off wildly heading for the other side.

On their way to the other side the soldier looked out of the carriage window and saw a herdsman and he called upon the coachman to stop.  The coachman quickly stopped the carriage and the soldier leaned out and asked the herdsman who he was. The herdsman then replied, “I am the Count of Ravensburg and there in the distance is my castle.”

The pale stranger then urged the coachman to drive on as quickly as possible and presently they arrived at Ravensburg Castle.  The coachman drove through the gates which shut behind them. As they were climbing out of the carriage they heard a knocking at the castle gates and went to see who it was.  Looking through a window in the gate they saw it was the herdsman who appeared anxious to come in. The pale stranger asked what he wanted and the herdsman, who was also a conjuror, told him that he had every right to enter the castle as it belonged to him.  The pale stranger thought about this for a minute or two and then said, “To be allowed in he must suffer the whole fate of the rye.”

Conjuror looked at him puzzled and suspicious and asked, “And what is the fate of the rye?”

 

The pale stranger then told him,

“To suffer the fate of the rye, when autumn comes you must be scattered and sown in the ground and lay under the cold earth through the dark days of winter.  When spring comes you will burst through the earth and grow and ripen in the sunshine and rain. When you are ready you will be harvested. You will be cut and dried and placed in a barn and then you will be threshed.  That is part of the fate of the rye”

“I am to be threshed?” cried the conjuror aghast.

“You will be threshed first and then ground in the mill,” replied the the pale stranger.

“Threshed and ground!”  shouted the  conjuror becoming angry.

“Yes and then sifted,” the pale stranger told him calmly.

On hearing he was also to be sifted the conjuror became so enraged that he burst into flint-stones.

The pale stranger then turned to the bride and groom and bid them goodbye saying,

“My friend, now you are married to the beautiful princess who loves you and you her.  The troll of Ravensburg Castle is dead forever and now all his treasures and his castle are all yours.  I have been as good and generous with you as you were to me when you gave away those three pennies to pay my debts purely out of the goodness of your heart.”

“I have no I regrets about giving away those pennies and have not once mourned their loss.  Why, I would do the same again to provide the dead with proper burial!” replied the soldier.

“That, I well know now, or I could never have been able to help you, but now having helped you attain your heart’s desire I have repaid you and can no longer stay. I go now to where I belong, therefore farewell!” With that he shook his hand and dissolved into nothingness before his very eyes and was gone.

Motifs and Themes

The number three crops up a number of times.  There are the three gifts from the king, his freedom, a rye loaf and three pennies,There are three pennies, three creditors, three debts,  three different garden implements and the curious behaviour of pulling hair from the old woman’s head and smelling it.

What was the purpose of this this bizarre act? The two appear before her like ghosts and she gives no indication she knows of their presence until her hair is pulled a third time. This provokes her into a superhuman effort of picking up the lead vault, box or probably coffin and carrying it to the seashore ready for them to use as a boat.

The herdsman claims he is also the Count of Ravensburghand a conjuror making three identities. He is told if he wants to pass through the gates of the castle he claims as his own he must undergo the fate of the rye. A herdsman, or shepherd is a euphemism sometimes used to describe someone such as a king or religious leader who had followers.  The herdsman provides, food, security, shelter and leadership to their herd or flock.

There is a Ravensberg Castle in Germany and there were Counts of Ravensberg.  There is also a town named Ravensburg which was a great trading center that did have a castle but was destroyed,  but it really is not clear if these are anything to do with the story.

John Barleycorn

Those familiar with the British folk song John Barleycorn will notice the similarity of the fate the rye that the conjuror is offered to that of John Barleycorn in the song.  It is also noticeable that the old soldier is given a loaf of rye bread when discharged from the King’s service.  Rye (Secale cereale) is a a grain closely related to barley (genus Hordeum) and has many uses including rye bread, flour, crisp bread, animal fodder,  beer, and some types of vodka and whiskeys.

In British folklore John Barleycorn is the personification of barley, or corn and the alcoholic drinks such as whiskey and beer that are made from it.  The violence, abuse and disrespect John Barleycorn has to endure before being reborn, regrown in a never ending cycle correspond to the different stages of barley or corn cultivation, harvesting and malting.

The figure of John Barleycorn may be derived from early pagan Norse deities such as Kvasir or Mímir band is associated with Beowa from Anglo-Saxon paganism who is associated with barley and agriculture.  This ritual is also associated with the very ancient idea of vegetation deities and the dying and rising god that is symbolic of the natural dying and regeneration seen in vegetation that is essential to human existence.  Jesus Christ is seen by some people as a dying and rising god.

The idea of a dying and rising god is not universally accepted or rejected by scholars and many have an open mind on the subject.  Although its meaning to this story cannot be proved for certain it is curious to find it present. Certainly, the conjuror’s bad tempered rejection of the fate of the rye causes him to turn into flint-stones, of all things.

Flint-stones are found naturally in many parts of the world and were a natural material that was used to make tools and implements in very ancient times such as arrowheads, and axes and knives.  These were sometimes found fields were ploughed or holes dug and were called thunderstones having thought to be thunderbolts from the gods. Flints also produce a spark when struck with steel that can light fires and in some cultures were believed to ward against the return of the dead.

The Grateful Dead Theme

The gratitude of the dead who have been given a proper burial thanks to the generosity and goodness of a person in stark contrast to the greed of the creditors of the dead is the underlying theme of the tale.  The soldier, although by no means rich, readily gives up his three pennies earned for long loyal service to the King to give to the creditors to pay the debt of a dead man he did not know. Despite the poverty this will leave him in he never once regrets his act seeing it more as a duty than an act of generosity even though all he is left with is a loaf of rye and that is the key to achieving his heart’s desire as explained by the pale stranger.   The implication of the story is that the living affect the transition of the dead to the afterlife while the dead can return and influence the lives of the living.

This short, strange story has generated more words in discussion that it consists of and probably a lot more could be written.  Is it just a rather bizarre, obscure fairy or folktale or is there some hidden purpose to its telling as suggested above?

© 09/05/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright May 9th, 2018 zteve t evans

Anansi Tales: How the Tales were Named

The Anansi Tales are a body of traditional stories that originated in Ghana and spread throughout West Africa.   They were carried to the Caribbean and the New World with the unfortunate African people who were transported there to spend their lives in slavery. They were passed on orally and from generation to generation producing many variants of the same tale. The stories center around a protagonist called Anansi who is both human and spider.  He can appear in either form or anthropomorphically with a human head and a spider body.  He is often seen as a trickster or as a intermediary between the gods and humankind.  During the dark days of slavery he was seen as a symbol of hope and resistance by showing how someone who was considered small and weak could overcome the big and powerful by using cleverness and courage and was a reminder of the old ways back in Africa. The following is a retelling of an Anansi tale which highlights his cleverness and trickery.

How the Tales were Named

In the early days of the people, all of the tales that were told were stories about the chief of the gods whose name was Nyankupon.  Spider who was known as Anansi was jealous and thought all of the stories should be about him. Therefore, Anansi went to Nyankupon and asked that in future all the tales people told should be about him.

Nyankupon told Anansi that he would agree to this but only if Anansi could fulfill three tasks. For the first task, Anansi had to bring him a jarful of living bees. The second, was for him to bring Nyankupon a live boa-constrictor. For the third, Anansi had to bring him a living leopard. Anansi agreed and taking a clay pot he went to a place where he knew bees lived in great numbers and sat down and began talking aloud to himself saying,

“They will not be able to do it.”
“Yes, they will.”
“No, it is too difficult!”
“Of course they will be able to do it!”

He kept this debate up for some time and eventually the bees took notice of him and asked him what he was talking to himself about. He told them he and Nyankupon had been arguing over whether the bees were skillful enough fliers to be able to fly into the clay pot. He told them he believed they were, whereas Nyankupon argued they were not.

The bees were indignant and told Anansi firmly that of course they could and to prove it they all flew into the pot until it was packed tight with them. Anansi quickly put the lid on the pot and sealed and took it to show Nyankupon that he had succeeded in the first task.

The next morning Anansi went out and found a long stick and then went to a place where he knew a boa-constrictor lived. When he arrived at the home of the boa-constrictor he began talking to himself saying,

“Surely he cannot be as long as this stick”
“Yes, he will be as long!”
“Oh, no he won’t!”
“Of course he will! “

And he kept on talking to himself for some time until the snake came and asked him what he was talking about. Anansi told him that in Nyankupon’s town people are saying the stick is longer than the snake was whereas but he believed the snake was longer than the stick.

“Would you be as kind as to lay yourself along so that I may measure you? asked Anansi politely. The boa-constrictor the stretched himself along the stick from end to end and Anansi lost no time in binding him around the stick with his spider thread. Then he took him to Nyankupon successfully completing the second task.

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Leopard by Jacques Christophe Werner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The third morning Anansi sewed up one of his own eyes and went to a place he knew where a leopard lived. As he drew near he began to shout and sing at the top of his voice and he made such a din that the leopard came out to his home to see what all the noise was about.

“Why are you shouting and singing in such a joyous manner?”

said the leopard to Anansi.

“Look, can you not see? Look, I have stitched my eye up and now I can see such wonderful things that I have to sing and shout about them,”

cried Anansi.

The leopard looked and he saw that Anansi’s eye was indeed sewn up and then he said,

“Sew my eyes up too and then I will also see wonderful things!”

So Anansi the Spider quickly sewed up the eyes of the leopard rendering him blind and helpless. Then he led him to Nyankupon who was both impressed and astounded at the ingenuity of Anansi and granted him his wish. That is why all the old tales that people tell today are known as Anansi tales.

© 14/03/2018 zteve t evans

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Copyright March 14th, 2018 zteve t evans

 

 

 

Wishes, Curses and a Sister Saves her Brothers: The Tale of the Seven Ravens

We all have dreams that we wish would come true.  Sometimes we make a wish and that wish is granted but what we actually get may be the result of how we have made that wish. If we make a detrimental wish against someone or something that wish becomes a curse.  Sometimes unforeseen consequences may be unleashed that affect others who have to pay some kind of a price even though they were not the ones who did the wishing.  The following is a retelling of a folktale called The Seven Ravens and explores how wishes are made and how they are fulfilled and what can happen when wishes are made in haste or anger.   It appeared in  Household Tales by Brothers Grimm by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm and is classed as Aarne-Thompson type 451, The Brothers Who Were Turned into Birds tale type.  Similar tale-types are found throughout Europe and other parts of the world. It has a female protagonist who sets out to rescue her brothers who were inadvertently turned into ravens by their father in anger.  Other tales with similar themes and a female protagonist are The Twelve Brothers, Brother and Sister, and The Six Swans.

The Tale of the Seven Ravens

This story begins with an old married couple who had seven sons.  Although the old man loved each son dearly he still he wished for a daughter.   After many years his wife again fell with child and to the great joy of the old man a baby girl was born but she was a very small and very weak and prone to illness and he thought she might die.  On account of this he decided to baptize her and told one of his sons to run to a nearby well and bring back water for the task.  His six brothers all ran with him for they were all greatly excited by having a baby sister and each wanted to be the one to fill the jug. In the tussle that followed for the task the jug was dropped down the well and could not be retrieved.  The boys were all aghast and stood staring at each other not knowing what to do.

Back home there father was waiting for the water and when they did not return he began to grow impatient and angry saying,  “Wherever can they be?  I bet they have begun some silly game and forgotten the task I set them.” Then he began worry about the health of his daughter and became frightened she would die without being baptised and he grew fearful. In his fear he grew angry and he cursed them crying, “I wish my sons to be turned to ravens.”

The Truth is Revealed

Then to his surprise he heard the whirring sound of wings overhead.  Looking up he saw seven jet black ravens fly quickly across the sky. Of course, the father was sad and angry with himself for making the rash curse and devastated at the loss of his sons.  Nevertheless, life went on and he and his wife now had a baby daughter who they gained great joy from. With lots of tender loving care and devotion she shook off her fraily and began to grow hale and hearty and very, very beautiful.  Her parents never once spoke of their seven sons and she grew up thinking she was an only child not knowing she had brothers. Then one day she overheard her neighbours saying, “She such is a lovely girl but It is her fault about the terrible curse that fell upon her seven brothers.”

This both shocked and worried the girl who went to her parents and asked them if it was true she had brothers and wanted to know where they were now.  Now that the truth was out her parents felt they could no longer keep secret what had happened to her brothers. They explained how her birth had innocently and unwittingly caused the sequence of events that had caused her father to curse her brothers and how they had been turned into ravens.  Although they tried to reassure her by saying that it was the will of God and not her fault at all the news had a profound effect on her.

She would have loved to have had brothers and was shocked to find out she had seven of them.   Furthermore, she took it to herself that she had been the cause of their being turned to ravens and thereafter was constantly fretting and worrying about them.  She felt a great sense of guilt and could not get them off of her mind. Secretly, she wished that she would find them and resolved to bring them home no matter what danger or hardship she had to face.

The Ends of the World

Early one morning before the sun was up she stole quietly out of the house taking nothing but a ring that her parents owned, a loaf of bread, a jug of water and a small chair that she could sit upon when she grew tired on her journey.  She walked on and on for many, many days and at last came to the very ends of the world where she looked up and saw the sun.  However, the sun was too hot and scorched and burnt terribly so she ran away from it and came to the moon. The moon was cold and nasty and when it saw her said, “I smell the people flesh,” and she ran away from that and came to a place where she saw the stars.   The stars were all sat on their own chairs and twinkled kindness towards her so she sat on her own chair and told them about her quest for her brothers.  Then the morning star rose in the sky and gave her a drumstick of a chicken telling her, “This drumstick will open the door to the Glass Mountain and in that mountain and through that door you will find your brothers!”

The Glass Mountain

Thanking the morning star she took the drumstick and carefully wrapped it up in cloth and placed it in her pocket and off she went to find the Glass Mountain.  She walked and walked and walked and at last she came to the mountain but found the door shut. Thinking she would use the drumstick to open it she looked in her pocket but discovered it had gone.  Greatly disappointed she sat down and thought about what to do. At last she made a decision. She wished to find her brother so much she took out a little knife she carried and despite the pain cut off one of her own fingers and tried it in the keyhole.  To her delight and relief the door opened and she went inside. As soon as she entered a dwarf appeared who greeted her in friendly way asking what she sought.  “I seek my seven brothers who are the seven ravens,” she told him.

“The Raven lords are not at home at the moment but you can wait until they return,” the dwarf told her and led her to a chamber where a large table was placed in the middle.  Then the dwarf busied himself bringing seven plates of food and seven goblets of wine which he told her were the raven lord’s dinner.   The girl took a bite of food from each plate a sip of wine from each goblet but in the last she dropped the ring that had been her parent’s.

The Return of the Ravens

Suddenly, the air was filled with the sound of whirling and flapping wings and the dwarf said, “The Raven Lords are nearly home,”  and the girl quickly hid behind the door just as the ravens arrived.  They were hungry and looking forward to a meal but they looked at their plates and said, “What is this?  Someone has been eating from my plate! Look, someone has drunk from my goblet and it was a human mouth!”  Then one of the ravens looked into his goblet and saw at the bottom their parent’s ring and said, “The ring of our parents lies in my goblet.  Please God we wish it be that our sister has arrived to free us!”

When their sister heard this wish she was full of joy and stepped out from behind the door to the great surprise and delight of the ravens who were instantly returned to their human form again.  Great was all of their joy and they went home to their parents and lived happily as a family together for the rest of their lives.

The End

A Curious Tale

It is indeed a curious tale but what does it all mean? There is a school of thought, but not universally accepted, that this type of tale maybe an echo from a time when young men and boys were called upon to serve their king and country.  They were sent to fight an enemy and their sister’s desperately wanted to free them and return them to the family. One of the consequences of the draft was that females, although made the heirs to family fortunes or estates when their brothers never returned, were subject to greater degree of personal control and especially over who they married.  Apart from sisterly love for her brother rescuing and returning them would also release her from this strict management of her life. The problem with this idea is that the conditions it springs from are not found in every country that the story appears in though it is possible it could have been transported either orally, or in written form and adapted.

Themes and Motifs

There are a number of common folklore motifs such as the old couple, seven brothers, there is the quest the girl embarks on, the Glass Mountain and  human transformation to birds. There is also a Goldilocks-type scene where she eats food from the plates of the brothers while they are absent and the ring of her parents.  All these and more are woven into several themes to create a story with hidden meaning some of which religious in nature.

There is the importance of baptism that Christians believe washes away original sin.  It is not only a symbolic burial and resurrection but also a supernatural transformation.  Its purpose is not just to cleanse or purify but also symbolic of dying and rising in Christ and was necessary for the cleansing of original sin.  This is why it is a common Christian practice to baptize children and babies though it can be done at anytime in life.

It may be that the father believed that if his daughter died without baptism she would not receive these perceived benefits of it, which may explain his fear and urgency, but not excuse his anger and hasty wish. Curiously, despite the importance her father attached to it, we never learn if she was actually baptized but we are told she grew into a strong, healthy and beautiful girl.

Wishes

The thing about wishes is that although they can be beneficial they can also be dangerous when done in haste.   The story begins with an old man wishing he had a baby daughter and eventually this wish is fulfilled. He then hastily wishes his sons were ravens and this wish is granted.  However, because it was invoked in haste and anger it turned into a curse and his sons were transformed into what he wished for. Why did he wish they were ravens? It is not certain but one possible answer could lie in the story of Noah who sent out a raven first to see if the floods had abated and it did not return and like the raven the boys did not return.

The girl, on learning of the fate of her brothers, though it could not have been any fault of her own, had experienced great, though unnecessary guilt at her father’s hasty wish. To a  lesser extent her brother’s childish behaviour arguing about who would fill the jug with water for her baptism was also to blame, being the trigger for her father’s anger.

On hearing the news she had seven brothers who had been turned to ravens at her birth the girl blamed her own entry into the world for an event she could have had no control over.  To rid herself of the guilt she erroneously experienced, she wished to find and rescue her brothers and in the process of doing that wished entry into the Glass Mountain. Both these wishes were granted but not without a long arduous journey to the end of the world and the painful cost of her finger.  As well as a physical transformation the seven brothers appear to have been elevated to lords, but despite this change in status they wished she would come and find them and take them home.  That wish was granted and the story ends happily.

© 07/03/2017zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 7th, 2018 zteve t evans