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.
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.
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 Ancientlegends, 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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
“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,” teasedthe 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.
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.
” 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.
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?
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 regionof 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
“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.
Presented here is a retelling of a German folktale called The Mouse Tower, from Folk-lore and Legends: German by Anonymous. It tells how an Archbishop of Mentz through an evil deed brought down the divine retribution of Heaven upon himself.
The Mouse Tower
The German city of Mentz, now called Mainz is situated on the River Rhine where it is joined by the River Main. This story is set around the year 968 when the Archbishop of Mentz was Hatto Bonosus. Although he was said to be a man of considerable intelligence and very knowledgeable about the scriptures and spiritual matters he was known to be very hard of heart and miserly. He hoarded valuable works of art and treasure which he guarded jealously keeping it hidden away from all eyes except his own. He was never satisfied with what he had accumulated and always strove to acquire more, more, more.
There came a time when the city and all of the local area was hit by a terrible famine. Very soon many people were begging for food and starving to death in the streets. Seeking help, crowds of people began to gather outside the Archbishop’s palace crying out and begging for bread.
Inside his palace the Archbishop was safe and well stocked with food and wine and went without nothing while outside people starved to death. He refused to share his food and refused to give money so people could go to another town to buy and bring back food supplies. Instead he blamed the poor and the starving for their own misfortune for not being thrifty enough to save for hard times such as these. The fact is that most people only ever earned enough money to live on day by day and never had any left over to save. Nevertheless, that is what the Archbishop told them, chastising them for their supposed indulgence.
Day after day, crowds of starving people arrived in ever increasing numbers to beg at his gates. The Archbishop was now becoming annoyed and desperate to be rid of them. On the pretense of providing food he had them all taken to one of his empty barns. His servants had set tables and chairs as if for a magnificent banquet. Once all the poor and beggars were inside and seated he ordered the doors to be locked to prevent their escape. Then he ordered the barn to be set on fire. The flames quickly took hold and through the roaring of the fire the screams of the dying could be heard. Turning towards those miserable servants who aided and abetted his crime he mocked,
“Ha! Listen to how those mice squeak!”
What he did not know was that those who looked down from Heaven witnessed his crime. A strange, unique and fitting punishment for the callous Archbishop of Mentz was prepared. After the flames had consumed the barn leaving nothing but ashes there came creeping from those ashes legion upon legion of mice. They made for the Archbishop and followed him everywhere he went
No matter where he went or what he did they followed him. He ran to his horse and carriage and quickly shut the door, but some got in an began biting and scratching him. With the help of his servant he cleared the carriage of them and ordered the driver to drive home as fast as he could. However, when he arrived home he soon found that the mice had managed to follow him and began attacking him again. He went up to his highest and most secure tower but the mice clambered up the walls or crept through doors and cracks to get at him. They bit and scratched him torturing his flesh and the more the servant beat them off the more appeared to attack him. They gnawed at the portraits of the Archbishop on the walls and his figure in tapestries and gnawed at his name on doors.
The Archbishop realized there was no safe sanctuary on land therefore he ordered a tower to be hastily built in the waters of the fast flowing Rhine. When it was completed he took a boat to it and shut himself in. For a couple of days he saw no mice at all but to his shock he found they were beginning to appear a few at a time inside the tower. Looking out of the window he was aghast to see swimming downstream towards him masses upon masses of mice. Although many drowned many managed to cling to the tower and begin climbing up. Soon they were swarming up the walls and penetrating through tiny cracks and crevices invading the tower like an avenging army of God.
At last they penetrating the highest and most secure room in the tower in which the Archbishop had locked himself. They tore into him in fury, biting, scratching and tearing at his flesh. Finally, the cruel and vicious soul of the tortured Archbishop was forced to vacate his body through the revenge of the mice to face the judgement of Heaven
This work is a retelling of a kaiden, a traditional Japanese ghost story from a collection retold by Grace James titled, Japanese Fairy Tales, and called The Peony Lantern. There are also versions called Kaidan Botan Dōrō. In many ways it is passionate and romantic yet has more than a hint of horror involving necrophilia while hinting on the consequences of the karma of the two main characters.
The Peony Lantern
It is said that by the strong bond of illusion the living and the dead are bound together. Now, there was a young samurai who lived in Yedo. His name was Hagiwara and he had reached the most honorable rank of hatamoto. He was a very handsome man, very athletic and light on his feet and his good looks made him very popular with the ladies of Yedo. Some were very open about their affections, while others were more coy and secretive. For his part he gave little of his time and attention to love. Instead he preferred to join other young men in sports and joyous revelries. He would often be seen socializing and having fun with his favorite companions, very much the life and soul of the party.
The Festival of the New Year
When the Festival of the New Year came he was to be found in the company of laughing youths and happy maidens playing the game of battledore and shuttlecock in the streets. They had roamed far from their own neighborhood to the other side of town to a suburb of quiet streets and large houses that stood in grand gardens.
Hagiwara was good at the game and used his battledore with impressive skill and technique. However, the wind caught the shuttle after he had hit it taking it way over the heads of the other players and over a bamboo fence and into a garden. He ran after it but the others cried, “Leave, Hagiwara, let it stay! We have plenty more shuttlecocks to play with. Why waste time on that one?”
Hagiwara heard them but answered, “No my friends, that one was special. It was the color of a dove and gilded with gold. I will soon fetch it!”
“Let it stay!,” they cried, “we have a dozen here that are dove coloured and gilded with gold. Let it stay!”
Hagiwara stood staring at the garden. For some reason he felt a very strong need for that particular shuttlecock and did not know why. Ignoring his friends he quickly climbed the bamboo fence and jumped down into the garden. He had seen exactly where the shuttlecock landed and thought he would be able to retrieve it quickly, but when he went to the spot it was not there. For some reason he now considered that particular shuttlecock was his most valuable treasure. He searched up and down the garden, pushing aside bushes and plants, but all to no avail. His friends called him again and again but he ignored them and searched feverishly around the garden for the lost shuttlecock. Again his friends called, but he ignored them and continued searching. Eventually, they wandered off leaving him alone searching the garden.
He continued searching into the evening ignoring the glorious spectacle of the setting sun and as dusk fell gently he suddenly looked up. To his surprise there was a girl standing a few yards in front of him. Smiling, she motioned with her right hand while in the the palm of her left she held the shuttlecock he had been searching for. He moved eagerly towards her but she moved back still presenting the shuttlecock to him, but keeping it out of reach, luring him into him into following her. He followed her through the garden and up three stone steps that led into the house.
On one side of the first step a plum tree stood in white blossom and on the third step stood a most beautiful lady. She was dressed in celebration of the festival in a kimono of patterned turquoise with long ceremonial sleeves that swept the ground Underneath she wore garments of scarlet and gold and in her hair were pins of coral, tortoiseshell and gold.
O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew
On seeing the the beautiful lady, Hagiwara immediately knelt before her in reverence and adoration touching his forehead to the ground as a sign of respect. The lady smiled down on him with shining eyes and then spoke softly, “Welcome, Hagiwara Sama, most noble samurai of the hatamoto. Please allow me to introduce myself and my handmaiden. My name is O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew and this is O’Yone my handmaiden. She it it is that has brought you to me and I thank her. Glad am I to see you and happy indeed is this hour!”
Gently raising him she led him into the house and into a room where ten mats were placed upon the floor. He was then entertained in the traditional manner as the Lady of the Morning Dew danced for him while her handmaiden beat upon a small scarlet and gold drum. They set the red rice for him to eat and sweet warm wine to drink as was the tradition and he ate all he was given. It was getting late when he had finished and after pleasant conversation he took his leave and as she showed him to the door the Lady of the Morning Dew whispered, “Most honourable Hagiwara, I would be most happy if you came again.”
Hagiwara was now in high spirits and flippantly laughed,“And what would it be if I did not return? What is it if I do not come back, what then?”
O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew flinched and then stiffened and her face grew pale and drawn. She looked him directly in the eye and laid a hand upon his shoulder and whispered, “It will be death. Death for you, death for me. That is the only way!”
Standing next to her O’Yone shuddered and hid her face in her hands.
Perplexed and very much disturbed, Hagiwara the samurai went off into the night wandering through the thick darkness of the sleeping city like a lost ghost, very very afraid.
He wandered long in the pitch black night searching for his home. It was not until the first grey streaks of dawn broke the darkness that he at last found himself standing before his own door. Tired and weary he went in and threw himself on his bed and then laughed,“Hah, and I have forgotten my shuttlecock!”
In the morning he sat alone thinking about all that had happened the day before. The morning passed and he sat through the afternoon thinking about it. Evening began to fall and suddenly he stood up saying, “Surely, it was all a joke played on me by two geisha girls. They will be laughing at me expecting me to turn up but I will show them. I will not let them make a fool of me!”
Therefore dressing in his best clothes he went out into the evening to find his friends. For the next week he spent his time sporting and partying and through all these entertainments he was the loudest, the happiest, the wittiest and the wildest, but he knew things were not right. At last he said,“Enough, I have had enough! I am sick and tired of all this charade!”
Leaving his friends he took to roaming the streets alone. He wandered from one end of Yedo by day and then back again at night. He sought out the hidden ways of the city, the lost courtyards, the back alleys and the forgotten paths that ran between the houses, searching, always searching, for what he did not know.
Yet, he could not find the house and garden of the Lady of the Morning Dew although his restless spirit searched and searched. Eventually finding himself outside his own home he went to bed and fell into a sickness. For three moons he ate and drank barely enough to keep himself alive and his body grew weak, pale and thin, like some hungry, restless, wraith. Three moons later during the hot rainy season he left his sickbed and wrapping himself in a light summer robe set out into the city despite the entreaties of his good and faithful servant
“Alas, my master has the fever and it is driving him mad!”wailed the servant.
Hagiwara took no notice and looking straight ahead set out with resolve saying,“Have faith! Have faith! All roads will take me to my true love’s house!”
Eventually he came to a quiet suburb of big houses with gardens and saw before him one with a bamboo fence. Smiling, Hagiwara quickly climbed the fence and jumped down saying,“Now we shall meet again!”
Hagiwara the samurai stood in shocked silence staring at it. An old man appeared and asked,“Lord, is there something I can do for you?”
However, he was shocked to find the garden was overgrown and unkempt. Moss had grown over the steps and the plum tree had lost its white blossom, its green leaves fluttered forlornly in the breeze. The house was dark, quiet and empty, its shutters closed and an air of melancholy hung over it.
The Lady Has Gone
“I see the white blossom has fallen from the plum tree. Can you tell me where the Lady of the Morning Dew has gone?” Hagiwara sadly replied.
“Alas, Lord, the Lady of the Morning Dew has fallen like the blossom of the plum tree. Six moons ago she was taken by a strange illness that could not be alleviated. She now lies dead in the graveyard on the hillside. Her faithful handmaiden, O’Yone, would not be parted from her and would not allow her mistress to wander through the land of the dead alone and so lies with her. It is for their sakes that I still come to this garden and do what I can, though being old now that is but little and now the grass grows over their graves.”
Devastated by the news Hagiwara went home. He wrote the name of O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew, on a piece of white wood and then burned incense before it and placed offerings before it. He made sure he did everything necessary to pay the proper respects and ensure the well being of her spirit.
The Festival of Bon
The time of the returning souls arrived, the Festival of Bon, that honors the spirits of the dead. People carried lanterns and visited the graves of those deceased. They brought them presents of flowers and food to show they still cared. The days were hot and on first night of the festival Hagiwara unable to sleep walked alone in his garden. It was cooler than the blazing heat of the day and he was thankful for it. All was quiet and calm and he was enjoying the peacefulness of the night. It was around the hour of the Ox, that he heard the sound of footsteps approach. It was too dark to see who it was but he could tell there were two different people that he thought were women by the sound of their footsteps. Stepping up to his rose hedge he peered into the darkness to catch sight of who it was approaching. In the darkness he could make out the figures of two slender women who walked along the lane hand in hand towards him. One held before them on a pole a peony lantern such as those the folk of Yedo used in their traditions to honour the dead and it cast an eerie light around them. As they approached the lantern was held up to reveal their faces and instantly he recognized them and gave a cry of surprise. The girl holding the peony lantern held it up to light his face
“Hagiwara Sama, it is you! We were told that you were dead. We have been praying daily for your soul for many moons!” she cried.
“O’Yone, is it really you?” he cried, “and is that truly your mistress, O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew, you hold by the hand?”
“Indeed, Lord, is is she who holds my hand,” she replied as they entered the garden, but the Lady of the Morning Dew held up her sleeve so that it covered her face.
“How did I ever lose you?” he asked,“How could it have happened?”
“My Lord, we have moved to a little house, a very little house in the part of the city they call the Green Hill. We were not allowed to take anything with us and now we have nothing at all. My Lady has become pale and thin through want and grief,”saidthe handmaiden.
Hagiwara the samurai gently drew his Lady’s sleeve away from her face but she turned away.
“Oh, Lord, do not look upon me, I am no longer fair,”she sobbed.Slowly he turned her around and looked into her face and the flame of love leapt in him and swept through him but he never said a word
As he gazed upon her the Lady of the Morning Dew shrank away saying,“Shall I stay, or shall I go?”
“Stay!” he replied without hesitation.
The Green Hill
Just before dawn Hagiwara fell into a deep slumber, eventually awakening to find himself alone. Quickly dressing he went out and went through the city of Yedo to the place of the Green Hill. He asked all he met if they knew where the house of the Lady of the Morning Dew was but no one could help him. He searched everywhere but found no sign or clue as to where it could be. In despair he turned to go home, lamenting bitterly that for the second time he had lost his love.
Miserably he made his way home. His path took him through the grounds of a temple situated on a green hill. Walking through he noticed two graves side by side. One was small and hardly noticeable but the other was larģe and grand marked by a solemn monument. In front of the monument was a peony lantern with a small bunch of peonies tied to. It was similar in fashion to many of those used throughout Yedo during the Festival of Bon in reverence of the dead.
Nevertheless, it caught his eye and he stood and stared. As if in a dream he heard the words of O’Yone, the handmaiden,
“We have moved to a little house, a very little house in the part of the city they call the Green Hill. … My Lady has become pale and thin through want and grief,”
Then he smiled and understood and he went home. He was greeted by his servant who asked if he was alright. The samurai tried to reassure him that he was fine emphasizing that he had never been happier. However, the servant knew his master and knew something was wrong and said to himself,“My master has the mark of death upon him. If he dies what will happen to me who has served him since he was a child?”
The faithful servant of Hagiwara realized someone was visiting his master in the night and grew afraid. On the seventh night he spied on his master through a crack in the window shutters and his blood ran cold at what he saw. His master was in the embrace of a most fearful and terrifying being whose face was the horror of the grave. He was gazing lovingly into its eyes and smiling at the loathsome thing while all the time stroking and caressing its long dark hair with his hands.
Illusion and Death
Nevertheless, Hagiwara was happy. Every night the ladies with the peony lantern came to visit him. Every night for seven nights no matter how wild the weather they came to him in the hour of the Ox. Every night Hagiwara lay with the Lady of the Morning Dew. Thus, by the strong bond of illusion were the living and dead merged and bound to each other
Just before dawn the fearful thing from the grave and its companion left. The faithful servant, fearing for his master’s soul went to seek the advice of a holy man. After relating to him all that he had seen he asked,“ Can my master be saved?”
The holy man thought for a moment and then replied, “Can humans thwart the power of Karma? There is little hope but we will do what we can.”
With that he instructed the servant in all that he must do. When he got home his master was out and he hid in his clothes an emblem of the Tathagata and placed them ready for the next morning for him to wear. After this, above all the doors and windows he placed a sacred text. When his Hagiwara returned late in the evening he was surprised to find he had suddenly become weak and faint. His faithful servant carried him to bed and gently placed a light cover over him as he fell into a deep sleep.
The servant hid himself that he may spy on whatever might come to pass that night. With the arrival of the hour of the Ox he heard footsteps outside in the lane. They came nearer and nearer and then slowed down and stopped close to the house and he hears a despairing voice say,
Entry is Barred
“Oh, O’Yone, my faithful handmaiden, what is the meaning of this? The house is all in darkness. Where is my lord?”
“Come away, come away, mistress, let us go back. I fear his heart has changed towards you,”whispered O’Yone.
“I will not go. I will not leave until I have seen my love. You must get me in to see him!” whispered the Lady of the Morning Dew.
“My Lady, we cannot pass into the house – see the sacred writing over the door over the windows, we cannot enter,” warned the handmaiden.
The Lady wailed and then began sobbing pitifully, “Hagiwara, my lord, I have loved you through ten lifetimes!” and then footsteps were heard leaving as O’Yone led her weeping mistress away.
It was the same the next night. At the hour of the Ox, footsteps in the lane were heard and then a long pitiful wail followed by the sound footsteps disappearing back down the lane as the ghosts departed sobbing and crying.
The next day Hagiwara got up, dressed and went out into the city. While he was out a pickpocket stole the emblem of Tathagata but he did not notice. When night came he lay awake unable to sleep but his faithful servant, worn out with worry and lack of sleep dozed off. In the night a heavy rain fell and and washed the sacred text from over the round window of the bedroom
The hour of the Ox crept round and footsteps were heard in the lane and entering the garden. Hagiwara listened as they came nearer and nearer until they stopped just outside.
The Power of Karma
“Tonight is the last chance, O’Yone. You must get me inside to my lord, Hagiwara. Remember the love of ten lifetimes. The power of Karma is great but we must overcome it. There must be a way you can get me in to see him!”said the Lady mournfully.
Inside Hagiwara heard them and called out,“Come to me my beloved, I await you!”
“We cannot enter. You must let us in!” she cried.
Hagiwara tried to sit up but he could not move.“Come to me my beloved!”he called again.
“I cannot enter and I am cut in two. Alas, for the sins of our previous life!” wailed the Lady.
Then, O’Yone grasped the hand of her mistress and pointed at the round window,“See, Lady, the rain has washed away the text!”
Holding hands the two rose gently upwards and passed like a mist through the round window into the bedroom of the samurai as he called out, “Come to me my beloved!,”
“Verily Lord, verily, I come!”answered the Lady.
The next morning the faithful servant of Hagiwara of the most honorable rank of hatamoto found his master grey lifeless and cold. By the side of him stood a peony lantern that still burned with a pale, yellow flame. The faithful servant seeing his master lying still and cold wept saying, “I cannot bear it.”And so the strong bond of illusion bound together the living and the dead.
This is a retelling of a folktale from Australia. It gives an explanation of how humans gained the use of fire when Tatkanna, the Australasian robin, stole it from Mar, the red-crested cockatoo, also known as Leadbeater’s cockatoo (Plyctolophus leadbeateri). There is also an explanation as to how the robin got its red breast and why the kookaburra is found in trees. The source of this retelling is from a story called How Fire was Stolen from the Red-Crested Cockatoo from a collection by W. J. Thomas and begins in the Dreamtime.
The Dreamtime is sometimes referred to as “the Dreaming”. In simple terms it is the period of time when the creator-beings made the land and the animals, birds and plants. In that time humans lived in the shape of beautiful birds and wild animals. One day as sunset neared a family of people were returning to their camp after a day out hunting when they came across a stranger. He was an ancient looking man and appeared tired and hungry and carried a long spear, a possum skin rug and a dilly bag that was used to carry food. Laying his spear on the ground as a sign of peace he showed them the inside of his bag which was empty and said,
“Many, many moons ago I left the hunting grounds of my people and went on a great journey. I traveled across the land until I reached the great waters whose voice is like the rumbling thunder. I traveled into the grey mist far beyond the mountains to the red rolling plains. In that place there are no birds or animals and the sun is hidden behind dark clouds. I passed beyond this into the land that is beyond dawn and experienced many strange adventures.
I am old now and my people are gone. They are blown like dead leaves in the wind and I must seek them out, but before I do I would rest awhile and tell you the secret I have discovered of the fire of the sun. When I have done this I will go and one of your people who is daring and bold may seek out and bring back this fire to your people.”
The headmen discussed the request from the stranger and agreed to provide him with food and hospitality in exchange for the tale. They all loved tales so when they reached the camp they quickly prepared a fine communal meal and gave the stranger the best of the food they had. When they had finished eating they made a semi-circle before him and eagerly waited for him to begin his tale. It should be said that these were the days before people had learnt how to make fire. Furthermore, at this time they had no idea of how to use it to cook with or to harden their spear heads but they could see the sun up in the sky beyond their reach and could feel its warmth.. They often contemplated how they could get the fire out of the sky and on to Earth for the light, warmth and comfort it brought on cold, days and dark nights. The ancient man wrapped himself in his possum skin rug and began to tell the people if his tale
The Stranger’s Tale
“I traveled beyond the dawn far into the east and the mountains that blot out the sun. In that place water had forsaken the creeks and the water holes were dry and animals lay dead in the river beds and death threw its shadow upon the land. I hurried on without stopping to rest in case death should come upon me.
I traveled on without water and my tongue grew swollen in my mouth and my legs became weak and when I thought I could go no further I saw the gleam in the distance of a water hole. I ran towards it but fell. I crawled until I reached it but as I drew near blackness like night fell upon me although the sun was still high in the sky and I slept. I was eventually awoken by a loud buzzing noise in my ears like the sound of thousands of flies. I crawled forward to the water hole and bent my head to drink but my lips only touched hot, dry sand. What I thought had been cool gleaming water had been hot gleaming sand but now I was desperate and I used my hands to dig deep into the sand until they were grazed and bleeding. Despite the pain, despite the blood I carried on digging and at last the sand grew damp and water began to fill the hole I had dug until at last I had enough to drink. I was exhausted so I rested up for a day and then continued on my way.
One day after many more moons had passed I came to a country of tall trees. One morning just before before the sun has begun its journey across the sky I was surprised to see its fire gleaming through the mirk of the trees. Carefully, quietly and with great stealth I crept nearer and then I saw Mar, the Cockatoo. As I watched he reached up into his crest and brought out fire which he used to light a stick to show him the way. In my surprise and eagerness to see more I stood on a dry twig and he heard it crack and saw me. He was angry and hurled a spear at me so I decided to flee. From there I spent many weary days traveling back to the land of my people hoping to find them but they were gone. I followed their track until I came across you folk. If there is one along you hardy enough and bold enough to face and complete the long arduous journey and daring enough to steal the fire from under the crest of Mar the Cockatoo, then humans will sing their praises for evermore.”
Mar, the Cockatoo
The people sat listening intently to him enthralled by his tale and when he had finished they all became very excited at the possibility of gaining access to fire. The headmen talked together and agreed on a plan. They would invite the cockatoo to a great dance ceremony and get together they called a corroboree. There would be singing, dancing and mock combat. and while he was relaxed, off his guard and enjoying himself one of them would steal his fire.
The day came and Mar the Cockatoo came to the corroboree and was enjoying all the singing, dancing and mock fights. He was very relaxed but gave no opportunity for them to steal the fire. They offered him kangaroo meat to eat but he refused this. Instead, they offered him kangaroo skin to eat which he accepted but to their consternation left their camp with it and returned the great distance to home. Despite their efforts Mar had given them no opportunities to steal his fire and now he was gone
One small fellow named Prite decided to follow the cockatoo. He followed him across the bush and over the mountains for a great distance and grew very tired and thought of turning back for home. Just as he had made up his mind to return he saw Mar reach under his crest feathers and pull out the fire.
He could not think of a plan to steal the fire so he returned home and told his family that what the ancient stranger man had told them was true. The headmen discussed the news all through the night ànd finally decided that Tatkanna, the Robin, should follow the directions of Prite to the camp of Mar the cockatoo and steal the fire.
Tatkanna, the Robin
The next morning Tatkanna set out bright and early following the directions Prite had given him to the camp of Mar the Cockatoo. It was a long tiring journey and luckily he arrived at Mar’s camp just as the cockatoo was reaching under his crest to pull out the fire to light a fire stick. He then began singeing off all the hair from the kangaroo skin that he had been given.
Tatkanna could not believe his luck in witnessing this and in his eagerness to steal the fire he edged too close scorching his breast feathers. Ever since then he has had a red breast and known as Robin Redbreast. However, scorching his feathers frightened him and Mar saw him. Realizing he had been discovered, Tatkanna decided he had to do something quick or fail in his quest, so boldly running forward he grabbed the fire stick from Mar and ran off into the bush.
As he ran the fire stick caused everything it touched to burst into flames and soon all the dry grass and bushes were burning and even the trees caught light. The animals and birds were all bewildered and frightened and ran off trying to escape. The flames that swept over the dry grass and bush also the consumed trees leaving a smouldering charred black and gray waste land of ash behind
When Mar realized his fire had been stolen he grew very angry and went in search of the thief meaning to kill him. Tatkanna made it back home and showed the fire stick to his family who were all tremendously pleased and heaped praise upon him. Then Mar, who had tracked the robin, arrived in their camp and demanded to fight the thief who had stolen his fire. Tatkanna although very bold and daring was terrified of fighting the cockatoo as he was only a small fellow and begged his friend Quartang the Kookaburra to be his champion. Quartang agreed but Mar quickly defeated him forcing him to escape by flying up into the tree and that is where kookaburras have been since that day
Tatkanna, the Hero
Mar did not get his fire back and sadly returned home but the family of people were all mighty pleased with Tatkanna, the Robin for his bravery and daring. His scorched red breast reminds us of the great deed he did for his family of people. Now, when they see the red-crested cockatoo they remember how fire was stolen from him for their benefit by Tatkanna, the Robin
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.
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.
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.
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 thepale 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.
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?”
“And did you love him Anna, did you really love him?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Original source Robert Steele, The Russian Garland of Fairy Tales: Being Russian Folk Legends Translated from a Collection of Chapbooks Made in Moscow (New York: Robert M. McBride and Co., 1916), pp. 194-201.