Cornwall, the uttermost southwestern peninsula of England, has a long, fascinating history absolutely brimming with folklore, legends, and traditions. Ancient monuments scatter the landscape, and all around the rugged coastline, traditions of smugglers, pirates and mermaids abound alongside intriguing legends of towns and land submerged by the sea or entombed under massive dunes of sand. Presented here is a brief look at three legendary places that lie buried under the sand or drowned by the sea.
The Drowned Forest And Lake Under Mount’s Bay
Mount’s Bay is home to St Michael’s Mount, a tidal island with a quaint harbour overlooked by a medieval church and a picturesque castle. It is connected to the Cornish mainland by a stone causeway at low tide. At high tide, the sea rises above the causeway cutting the Mount from the Cornish mainland, turning it into an island. According to tradition, St Michael’s Mount is where Jack the Giant Killer began his career by slaying Cormoran the Giant.
In the past, parts of Mount’s Bay were above sea level and home to woods and a body of water named Gwavas Lake. Humans and animals were believed to inhabit this area, and according to legend, on the bank of the lake was a small chapel where a holy man lived. People came to him seeking healing for ailments and agonies of the mind and body, which he cured using prayers and water from Gwavas Lake. Because of his remarkable healing powers, he became venerated as a saint, and his small chapel received a continuous stream of pilgrims seeking his aid.
In his book of Japanese ghost stories, folk tales, and legends, “In Ghostly Japan,” Lafcadio Hearn tells of an incident in a street of small shops selling mainly antiques and old goods. He says,
“Recently, while passing through a little street tenanted chiefly by dealers in old wares, I noticed a furisodé, or long-sleeved robe, of the rich purple tint called murasaki, hanging before one of the shops. It was a robe such as might have been worn by a lady of rank in the time of the Tokugawa. I stopped to look at the five crests upon it; and in the same moment there came to my recollection this legend of a similar robe said to have once caused the destruction of Yedo.”
A “furisodé” is a long-sleeved kimono often worn by unmarried women, indicating they are available for marriage. This minor event evoked in Hearn a memory of an extraordinary legend and the following is a retelling of that legend of the destruction of Yedo by a great fire.
THE SAMURAI DREAM
This legend tells how some two and a half centuries earlier, there lived in Yedo the city of the Shōguns, a lovely young woman. One day as she was attending a festival in the temple, she saw in the crowd the finest looking young samurai she had ever seen or imagined. In her awe of his beauty, she instantly fell in love with him. But, to her dismay, before she could learn his name and who he was, he became lost in the vast, ever-changing throng of people attending the festival. So she sent her servants to search for him or discover his identity, but they could find no trace of him.
Nevertheless, she found the image of the handsome young samurai had become burnt into her mind, remaining clear and lucid in every detail right down to his clothing. As it was a festival, he had been wearing their brightest and most colorful kimonos like herself and everyone else. The young men’s garments were no less gorgeous and colorful than those of the young women. However, it was the upper design of his kimono, the colors and the crest, that had particularly caught her eyes and remained bright and vivid in her mind and made her heart cry out for him. Now, as she considered it in her mind’s eye, it seemed all the more remarkable to the love-struck girl. As she pondered more and more upon the image, the idea grew that she would have a furisodé made to show she was ready for marriage. It would be of similar color and design, with the same crests, and of the same quality silk the samurai of her heart had been wearing. She would wear it around the town in the hope of attracting his attention to her and drawing him into her arms.
NAMU MYŌ HŌ RENGÉ KYŌ! (1)
With this very much in mind, she had a most beautiful furisodé, with long sleeves, made from the finest silk and decorated with the crest she had seen in the most gorgeous of colors and the height of fashion and elegance. Whenever she went out, she would wear it hoping to bring herself to the attention of the samurai of her dreams.
She treasured it so much that when she was not going out, she would hang it in her room and imagine the form of the unknown samurai of her heart was with her. In this dreamy fantasy, she spent hour upon hour for longer and longer. Sometimes she would pray her dream lover would appear and sweep her off her feet, and sometimes she would weep. In this way, between ecstatic fantasy and sad reality, she fluctuated, and she would pray to the gods and Buddhas that they may bring her the samurai of her dreams and that he would love her as much as she loved him. For this purpose, she repeatedly recited the mantra of the Nichiren sect,
“Namu myō hō rengé kyō!”
It proved futile, and all to no avail, for she never again saw the handsome samurai of her dreams. She yearned and pined that he may come and cure her sickened heart, but he never did. Slowly, in lonely misery, pining for her dream lover, she slowly faded, weakened, and died. She was given a Buddhist funeral with all the rites. Her gorgeous furisodé that she had treasured and had been her hope of attracting her dream lover to her was given to the temple that performed the rituals, as was tradition and custom, to dispose of the deceased’s clothing as they saw fit to benefit the temple.
THE HAUNTED FURISODÉ
The furisodé had been made from the finest silk using the best dyes for coloring and showed no sign of wear or the tears that had flowed over it. Its style and design were of the most exquisite taste, and the priest sold it for an excellent price. The garment was brought by a girl of similar age to the lady who had imagined, commissioned, and worn it. Like its previous owner, she was a beautiful girl who wanted to show she was available for marriage. After wearing it for the first day, she fell ill with an unknown sickness and began to act very strangely. She claimed that day and night, a vision of the most handsome samurai she had ever seen appeared before her. It followed her in the day and would manifest before her eyes when she was out. At night it haunted her dreams, and she fell deeply in love with the samurai of her dreams. His vision possessed her, and she knew that for the love of her dream Samauai she would die. Sadly, that is what happened. She withered and failed and died for his love, and for the second time, the beautiful furisodé was given to the temple as custom decreed.
RETURN OF THE HANDSOME SAMURAI
The temple priest remembered selling the beautiful garment and thought no more than how sad events had turned out and sold again. The buyer was another young lady about the same age as the previous owners who wanted it for the same reason. After wearing it for the first time, she complained of seeing a strange but handsome samurai who would suddenly appear nearby when she was out and would intrude upon her dreams. She talked of a handsome samurai whom she had fallen in love with. Although he would always appear close if she reached out to hold him, he dissolved into nothingness. She, too, fell sick, withered, and died unable to obtain the nourishment her dream samurai could give her.
After her funeral, the temple received the furisodé again, but the priest began to feel uneasy and troubled. Nevertheless, the furisodé was sold to another beautiful young woman hoping to attract a husband by wearing it. Like the others, she complained of visitations from a handsome samurai in her dreams and waking life. Like the previous owners, she withered and died, and after her funeral, the furisodé was given to the temple.
The date was the 18th day of the first month of the first year of Meiréki or 1655, and the priest stared at the garment in alarm and revulsion for he knew these tragic deaths were not just coincidence. He now believed the furisodé, although beautiful, was possessed by an evil presence.
THE GREAT FIRE OF THE LONG-SLEEVED ROBE – FURISODÉ-KWAJI
Thinking that destroying the garment would destroy the evil presence, he made a bonfire and cast it to the fire. The beautiful silk was quickly engulfed in flames, but to his astonishment and horror from the inferno, there sprang dazzling tongues of flame which took the shape of the invocation –
“Namu myō hō rengé kyō!”
One by one, these letters leaped onto the temple roof like red hot sparks setting it on fire. Sparks, burning embers, and flames spread to adjacent buildings, and a sea wind carried red hot embers to the roofs and walls of others in the vicinity. Soon the entire street was being consumed by flames, with the sea wind spreading it even further. It was not long before the whole neighborhood was burning and the city in danger of being consumed by the blaze. This was one of the most disastrous catastrophes in Japanese history and became known as the furisodé-kwaji,—the Great Fire of the Long-Sleeved Robe or the Great fire of Meireki.
There are other versions of how the great fire started and the legend and ownership of the furisodé.A tale from a book of stories known as “Kibun-Daijin” gives the name of the girl who had the furisodé as “O-Samé.” She was the daughter of a wine merchant from Hyakushō-machi, in the district of Azabu, whose name was Hikoyemon, a woman of rare beauty and called Azabu-Komachi, or the Komachi of Azabu. According to this book, the temple involved belonged to the Nichiren sect of Buddhism and was called Hon-myoji situated in the Hongo district. Furthermore, the crest that was featured in the design of the beautiful furisodé was a kikyō-flower. Moreover, the tale from the book also claims the handsome samurai was really the spirit of a dragon or water serpent that could appear in human form that once inhabited a lake known as Shinobazu-no-Iké at Uyéno. However, not everyone trusts this version, preferring to think the samurai was human.
ONO-NO-KOMACHI, THE BEAUTIFUL POET,
As often happens, famous people who once existed in history become entangled in legends and folklore of historical events. For example, Komachi or Ono-no-Komachi lived over a thousand years ago and was and still is one of the most celebrated poets and beauties in the history of Japan. She was said to be the most beautiful woman of her era, and her poetry so fine it could move heaven and even bring rain in times of drought.
She was loved by many men, and many were said to have died for want of her love. Sadly, as she grew older, her beauty faded and withered along with her fortune, and she was reduced to wearing rags and begging in the streets. She was said to have died in poverty on the road to Kyoto. Because she was dressed in rags when she died, it was considered shameful to intern her in such a condition, and someone donated a second-hand summer robe to wrap her body in called a katabira. Her grave became known as “Place of the Katabira” (Katabira-no-Tsuchi) and was not far from Arashiyama.
And we can see, as so often happens all around the world, facts, events and real people, become embroiled and tangled up to form legends and myths that feed the fantasies of everyday folk – yet still there remains somethings that cannot be explained and cannot be put down to mere fantasies.
In Breton folklore, a beautiful city named Ker-Is, or Ys, was located in the Bay of Douarnenez, Brittany, France, reaching its zenith during the reign of King Gradlon before disaster struck. Unfortunately, tidal erosion from the sea threatened to drown the city. So the rulers built massive walls around it to keep out the rising water installing great gates giving access and egress between the harbor and the sea. Gradlon wore the key to these gates on a chain around his neck at all times.
He fell in love with Malgven, a beautiful pagan woman who bore him a daughter named Dahut. Shortly after, she told him her time in the world was over and she must leave. However, she insisted Dahut should be well-schooled in pagan ways.Gradlon honored this though he chose to convert to Christianity himself.
Dahut grew up to be as beautiful as her mother and became a high-priestess of the old faith. Gradlon gave her Ker-is to rule but retained the key. She planted beautiful gardens filling them with exotic animals and plants, and the city flourished.One day there came to Ker-is, a mysterious stranger known as the Red Knight who stole Dahut’s heart.On the night of a great storm, to please him, she foolishly stole the key from her father as he slept, and the Red Knight used it to unlock the gates allowing the sea to flood the city.
Gradlon managed to mount a horse and rescue his daughter, but the horse could not carry both of them to safety. As the horse struggled, God spoke to Gradlon, commanding him to throw her into the sea. After initially refusing, he complied and survived.
The old pagan gods rescued their high priestess transforming her into a sea morgen. But, even today, local people and mariners say she is still to encountered sitting on rocks along the wild coastline singing strange songs to lure passing sailors to their doom.
TANNEN-EH: THE CITY ENTOMBED IN SNOW
High in the snowy Alps, there was once a beautiful city named Tannen-Eh whose citizens were honest, hardworking, and god-fearing, living harmoniously with one another and their environment. They fulfilled their basic needs by careful husbandry of agriculture and natural resources. Artisans and those who worked by physical labor were granted as much respect as academics and administrators. The rich happily looked after the poor, who lived in the valley below, who repaid by giving their best service. In this way, for many centuries isolated in the alps, time moved slowly, and Tannen-Eh flourished peacefully untainted by the world beyond.
Outside everything moved faster. Factories churned out toxins contaminating the environment and consuming natural resources ever more quickly and quicker. There was never enough; they wanted more, more, more. Airborne toxins spread far and wide, eventually blighting the pure white snow of Tannen-Eh, but with it came something more frightening. It came slowly, quietly, and unseen, but it was a blight of the worst possible kind. It crept into the human heart, into the very soul, and the people of Tannen-Eh fell victim to it.
The wealthy grew richer, craving ever more frivolous luxuries. The more they brought, the more they wanted. Their wealth increased, and so did their pride, and they regarded the struggling poor with disdain. Putting the poor to work, they built a great tower like that of Babel and in it placed a bell. The bell would ring out for every birth, christening, marriage, or death of the fortunate wealthy ones, but not for the poor who they now regarded as unworthy of acknowledgment or commemoration.
The poor prayed for help, and their prayers went up beyond the tower, beyond the skies, and heard. But, Heaven works in mysterious ways, and there came a great famine, and the poor starved and suffered. The rich locked their treasure in strongrooms, refusing to spend it to alleviate poverty and distress, and many people died of starvation.
In the first days of winter, snowflakes began to fall, gently at first but soon thick and fast. Soon snow rose above the windows, covering the roofs, leaving only the top of the magnificent tower visible. The rich folk struggled to their tower and tolled the bell seeking assistance from outside. No one came. Snow entirely entombed the city below, and the building became encrusted in an icy white shell so thick it prevented the sound of the bell from escaping.
Down in the valley, the poor saw the entire city completely covered in snow with only the tower reaching up to Heaven like a glimmering, silvery-white needle. Today, the Oetzthal Glacier entombs the city of Tannen-Eh.
THE DROWNING OF STAVOREN
A Dutch folktale called “The Lady of Stavoren” tells of the ruin of a wealthy widow and the divine retribution inflicted upon the city named Stavoren. The widow moved in the highest circles of Stavoren society, whose members were all rich, proud, and very arrogant, competing continuously to outdo one another. The town was populous and prosperous, but only the elite few owned the wealth. Insatiably, the fortunate ones clawed in ever more wealth while the poor endured beggary and poverty.
The richest and proudest of these elites was the widow who was always seeking new ways to increase her fortune. One day, she had an idea, and to bring it to fruition, sent for the captain of Stavoren’s largest cargo ship. Giving him a chest of gold, she commissioned him to sail the seven seas and buy her the most precious commodity in the world. The captain had no idea what the most precious merchandise was but set sail in search of it anyway. Eventually, he decided the most precious commodity was wheat, so he purchased a complete cargo and returned to Stavoren.
Meanwhile, the widow boasted to her wealthy friends how she would soon possess the most precious commodity in the world. Intrigued, they asked what it could be, but she teasingly told them to wait and see.
When the captain returned, she went down to the ship, and he showed her the wheat. She was furious, ordering him to dump every kernel into the sea. The shocked captain begged her to alleviate the hunger of the poor of Stavoren with it. She refused, again commanding him to dump it overboard. As the wheat went overboard, beggars gathered at the harbor begging for food. Nevertheless, the widow would not relent. The captain was ashamed and angrily foretold God would punish her and know hunger herself.
The widow looked coldly upon him and, removing her most expensive ring from her finger, held it aloft. Then, arrogantly, she told him there was as much chance of that as the precious item of jewelry returning to her as cast it into the sea.
Divine retribution works in strange ways. The next day she attended a splendid civic banquet attended by all the city elites and served fresh fish. Imagine her shock to find the ring she had thrown into the sea in the body of the fish she was eating. From then on, her luck changed. All her businesses and investments failed, forcing her forced into begging, but none of her former friends would aid her. She died impoverished, hungry, and cold.
With her death, the elites of Stavoren continued with their arrogant and greedy ways, unaware divine retribution was still unfolding. A sandbar formed blocking the harbor and on that strand grew wheat, but with no kernel. With the port unable to trade, the prosperity of the town plummeted. Businesses failed, shops closed, and the elites lost their wealth.
One night a powerful storm blew in from the sea, causing the tide to rise, sweep away the dykes, and flood the town. Today Stavoren is a village of about one thousand people, and in the square is a statue representing “The Lady of Stavoren.”
Tales such as these provide a quiet but powerful reminder of the consequences of deviance from God’s laws. They attempt a subtle form of social control by interpreting natural catastrophes as the vengeance of an angry God while providing an engaging experience for the audience. The message is that God will not tolerate hubris, uncharitable behavior, and ungodliness in anyone. God knows and sees all, is both omnipotent and omnipresent, and when required, punishes or rewards at will, in a manner of his own choosing.
In many places in the South Seas there is a myth of origin of the coconut tree (Cocos nucifera) and its nut. It is a popular and well known tale in Oceania with many different variations found from region to region. Names and details vary from region to region but there is a similar structure and story-line in many of these tales. It should be noted that in the folklore of the people of Samoa there is a legend they call “Sina ma le Tuna” which tells of the origin of the coconut tree and in the Samoan language, “Tuna,” means, “eel.” (1) Presented here are two versions of folktales that deal with this myth. The first is from the island of Savai’I, Samoa and the second comes from American Samoa.
The Savai’l Samoan Version
This folktale begins with a girl named Sina who was famous around the South Seas for her loveliness. The King of Fiji, who was known as the Tui Fiti, heard of her beauty and was intrigued. Although he was much older than Sina he decided he had to meet the beautiful one in person to see if all he had heard was true. Calling on his Mana, which is his own personal magic, he transformed into an eel and swam to the island home of Sina. Discovering the village pool was used by all the villagers as a communal bath he slithered into its waters hoping Sina would come to bathe.
Concealing himself at the bottom of the pool he waited patiently hoping she would enter the pool. Many of the villagers came to the pool to bathe but he remained hidden knowing that these were not the beautiful one he sought. Eventually, the most beautiful girl he had ever seen or imagined entered the pool to bathe. Immediately he knew it was her for such outstanding loveliness could only belong to the famous Sina, the beautiful one, he sought. He lay at the bottom of the pool staring up through the water at her lovely face.
Eventually, Sina felt a peculiar sensation and noticed the eel staring at her. Taken by surprise she became angry, shouting in Samoan, “E pupula mai, ou mata o le alelo!” which means, “You stare at me, with eyes like a demon!” (2). However, after the initial alarm Sina noticed the eel did not look dangerous or aggressive. In fact it actually seemed very nice and friendly so she took it home for a pet.
Many years passed and the King of Fiji lived happily as Sina’s pet enjoying the love and attention she unknowingly lavished on him as an eel. Nevertheless, the king was growing older and with age his magic weakened and he found it harder to keep his eel form. Therefore, he decided that it was time to reveal his true identity and explain himself to her.
He told her how he was the Tui Fiti, the King of Fiji, who had heard of her great beauty and come to see it for himself. To make the long sea journey from Fiji to Sina’s island home he had transformed himself into an eel so that he could swim the great distance. In this way he could wait in the pool until she arrived and he could see her. Once he had seen her he fell in love.
Realizing he was too old and she would rightly reject him he had kept his eel form so that she would not recognize him as an old man. He had been overjoyed when she had taken him as a pet because he would remain always near her and enjoy her love and care. Sadly, because of his great age, his magic had grown weak and he could not keep his eel form much longer and would die. Therefore, he wished for her to plant his head into the ground near her home. Sina had loved him greatly as her pet and was heartbroken when he died and granted his wish.
From his head there grew the first coconut tree. On a coconut there are three round marks which look like two eyes and a mouth. When the coconut is pierced to drink the milk through one of these holes the milk is taken through the pierced hole through the drinker’s mouth. According to the legend, whenever Sina took a drink of coconut milk from a coconut she was kissing the mouth of the eel.
In Samoa in the village of Matavai, in the district of Safune on the island of Savai’i,is a fresh spring pool. This pool is called, Mata o le Alelo, from the words that Sina first spoke to the eel and is still strongly associated with the legend.
An American Samoan Version
Another version from American Samoa tells how the King of Fiji, heard heard of the beauty of Sina and decided he wanted her for his wife. However, she lived on a distant island so using his magical power he transformed himself into a young eel and swam all the way from Fiji to Sina’s island home (3).
One day as she was out foraging for shellfish along the seashore she noticed the young eel looking at her from a rock pool. She thought it looked harmless and had a friendly face and being quite small would make a nice pet. Therefore, she caught it and put it in the container she used for her shellfish and took it home.
She kept it in a bowl in her home and carefully nurtured it and it became very placid and affectionate towards her. Under her care it soon grew too big for the bowl so she placed it in a spring near her home. However, the eel soon grew too big for the spring and she did not know what to do with it. She asked her mother who suggested she put it in the large freshwater spring the villagers used as a communal bath. Sina thought this a good idea as the large pool would give the eel space to grow and be free so she placed it in the pool and it hid its self at the bottom.
All the villagers used the pool to bathe but none of them ever seemed to notice the eel. It would come out of hiding to greet Sina as soon as she stepped into the water. It grew very long and big but was always very affectionate towards her and very playful with her yet no one seemed to notice its presence. One day the eel became too boisterous and playfully wrapped itself around Sina in a loving embrace. This frightened her and after that she would not bathe in the communal pool.
From then on she bathed in the small spring near her home. This was fine at first but somehow the eel found out where she was bathing and appeared in the water as she bathed. Still no one else could see the eel and its behaviour alarmed her and began to make her angry and frightened.
Determined to escape the eel, one morning just before dawn, while her family still slept, she quietly left her home to walk to the next village. It was good distance and she would stop at a spring along the way for a refreshing drink and to cool down and rest. To her dismay at every spring she stopped at the eel would appear staring out of the water at her. This terrified her and she continued journeying from village to village trying to escape the eel. Each time she stopped at the springs along the way it would appear. Where ever she went the eel appeared and it was growing longer and longer and to her fear and bewilderment, no one else could see it.
There came a time when it left a pool she had found it in and wriggled onto the land and followed on behind her like pet dog. Wherever she went it followed her and still no one else could see it. On her wanderings she came across a group of people having a meeting. In desperation she ran and sat between the two lead speakers.
This surprised everyone but the eel had now grown as long as a person. Now everyone could see and hear it and all sat terrified at the strange creature. It slid through the crowd to rest before where Sina was sitting between the two speakers. Raising itself up to look her in her eyes the eel said,
“Sina, my beautiful one, please forgive me! Know now that my true shape is that of a human. I am the King of Fiji. I have used my magic to attain this eel form you see me in now. I took this form when I first heard of your beauty and grace that I might swim the great distance from Fiji to your home on this island to see you for myself.
My intention was to woo you and win your love but I now see that the form I took frightened you and I am sorry. After so much traveling and keeping this form my magic and power is all used up. I am tired and my death draws near. Before I die I wanted to explain these things to you hoping you would think better of me.
In compensation for alarming you I have a valuable gift to offer you. When I die cut off my head and plant it outside your home. It will soon grow into a tree that will be of great value to you and your people. It will have long green leaves that can be used as a fan to cool you in the summer’s heat.
These leaves will also provide good covering for the roofs of your homes. The leaves, bark and wood you will find will have many uses that will be of great service to people. It will also bear a nut that gives food and a nourishing drink. The nut will have three marks that resemble human features. To drink from the nut puncture one of these holes and you will pour its milk from its mouth!”
With that it died. Sina felt sorrry for the King of Fiji and thought perhaps if she had known the full story in the first place things might have turned out differently. She did as he had asked and planted his head. As he had foretold a tree grew from it bearing long green leaves and a large nut. The tree and the nut proved to be extremely useful to humans and became an important part of their lives. It spread beyond Sina’s isle to neighboring islands and beyond often carried by humans and some times carried by the sea. The same tradition of kissing the eel when drinking from the coconut applies to this legend as well.
Presented here is a retelling of an Anansi tale found in West African Folktales by William H. Barker and Cecilia Sinclair. Anansi the spider is a trickster who has many roles in the folklore and traditions of West Africa, Jamaica and throughout the African diaspora. He features in many roles in many tales sometimes as a hero bringing knowledge and benefits to humans or as a villain. Anansi tales explore human nature and very often by contrasting his behaviour with that of other characters or situations in the story important lessons are found as is the case in the following story.
ANANSI AND NOTHING
Anansi lived in a rundown shack and his nearest neighbor was someone called Nothing who was exceedingly rich and lived in a grand and luxurious palace. One day Anansi and Nothing decided to go into town with the purpose of both finding a wife. They set off and as they were walking along Anansi became aware of the great contrast in their appearances that revealed their financial status for all to see. Whereas he was dressed in ragged old cotton clothing, Nothing was smartly attired in fine velvet and satin. Anansi was dismayed. He knew there would be competition between the two and women would want to be the wife of the smart and affluent Nothing instead of himself.
After carefully considering the situation he came up with a plan. Nothing liked to be flattered so he told him how smart he thought he looked today. As he expected Nothing was pleased and very flattered. Anansi then gently and very politely asked Nothing, if he may try on his clothing to see what it was like to wear such fine apparel. He promised he would give it back before they reached town.
Again Nothing felt flattered and allowed Anansi to wear his clothes on the condition that they put on their own clothes before they entered town. When they reached the outskirts of town Nothing reminded Anansi of his promise. Anansi made many excuses on false pretexts not to change clothing and refused to comply. All of Nothing’s pleas fell on deaf ears so he had to continue wearing Anansi’s old cotton rags, much to his displeasure and ire.
ATTRACTING A WIFE
At last they arrived in the town center where it was the custom for people to gathee to show off their finest clothes and parade up and down hoping to attract a spouse. Anansi, wearing Nothing’s fine clothing of velvet and satin soon came to the attention of the women. They flocked around him and he had the pick of the best. He was greatly admired and could have had as many wives as he wished but he chose just one knowing he would somehow have to support her.
In comparison, Nothing dressed in Anansi’s old cotton rags was being ignored and worse still the subject of much derision by the women. Eventually, one woman saw more to him than his clothes and offered to become his wife. All the other women laughed and taunted her for wanting to be the wife of such an impoverished and raggedly man as Nothing appeared to be. However she was a woman who knew her own mind and very wisely ignored them.
Anansi chose the most beautiful woman of the many who flocked around him, making the others madly jealous. With the matter of marriage now decided, Anansi and Nothing accompanied by their respective wives, went home. However, when they reached the point where the road split into two paths which led to their new husband’s homes the two wives were in for a surprise.
When Nothing reached the path to his grand house all the servants ran out to greet him and his new wife. All around the house the servants had decorated it in bright colors and inside had prepared a lavish wedding feast for the couple to enjoy. Nothing’s new wife was happily surprised as they dressed her and her husband in fine clothing and escorted them singing and dancing along the path into the house. Anansi, to the shock of his new wife, led her up his path which was but dirt and ashes to his tumbledown shack. There was no one to greet these two newlyweds, no food, no decorations and no servants singing happy songs.
Nothing’s wife was well rewarded for her perceptiveness and judgement. Instead of being the wife of a pauper she was the wife of the richest man in the entire district. She lived in a grand and luxurious house, ate the best food, wore the finest clothes and lived like a queen. In comparison, the wife of Anansi lived in a tumbledown hovel. She was forced to eat the cheapest food and had to wear old cotton rags for clothes.
Nothing’s wife was a generous and compassionate woman. Despite having been subject to taunts and derision by her initial decision to marry the seemingly poor Nothing, she invited Anansi’s wife to visit her. Not because she wanted to get her own back or gloat but because she was kind and generous and wanted to help her.
When she arrived she was very impressed by the luxury and good life Nothing’s wife lived. Furthermore, she saw how wrong she had been to judge a person by the cut and splendor of their clothes. She begged Nothing’s wife for her forgiveness and told her of her miserable impoverished existence with Anansi. Nothing’s wife told her she was welcome to stay in her home if she did not want to go back to Anansi.
When his wife did not return and he discovered why Anansi was very angry. He blamed Nothing and decided he would take revenge by murdering him. He tried several times but without success but then hit on a plan. He persuaded some rat friends of his to dig a deep tunnel just before Nothing’s front door. After they had dug the hole he lined it with knives, spikes and broken glass and finally smeared oil upon the front step to make it very slippery. Then he hid himself in the garden and waited until it grew dark and those in the house had gone to bed. Softly he called through the window for Nothing to come out into the garden to see what was there.
On hearing a voice in the night Nothing got up to investigate but his wife, using her good sense and judgement dissuaded him from going outside. This was repeated for several nights running with his wife stopping him going outside each time. Eventually, he grew angry with the voice when it called again and would not listen to his wife. Angrily, he marched out the front to confront the voice but as he stepped out he slipped and the ground fell away below him and he tumbled into the trap Anansi had set.
His wife and servants heard him cry out and rushed to the front door but his wife stopped the servants from rushing out. Carefully opening the door and looking this way and that she found him dead in the hole pierced by many spikes and knives and cut by broken glass.
CRYING FOR NOTHING
His wife was heart-broken by his death and grieved greatly. In the hope of alleviating her grief, she followed the local tradition of cooking and sharing yams. She took them around to each of her neighbors and especially the children so that they might help her to cry out her grief. This is why when you ask why a child is crying you will often be told, “They are crying for Nothing!”
Birds have always played and important part in human culture appearing in the legends, myths and fables of people all around the world. Presented here are five legendary and mythical birds from different parts of the world, each with their own folklore and fables attached.
The Legendary Alicanto Bird
In Chilean folklore and mythology the Alicanto is a strange, mythical, bird that inhabits a strange but very real place known as the Atacama Desert ( Desierto de Atacama) and other parts of Chile, South America. The desert is rich in minerals and ores and according to legend is home to a mythical bird called the Alicanto that is said to eat different ores of metal. Its wings are said to shine at night with beautiful metallic colors and its eyes radiate colorful lights. These wonderful illuminations are said to be caused by the different metals it has eaten. For example, if it eats gold it emits a golden light or if it eats silver its light is silvery and if it eats copper it may be reddish though its wings are often described as being a coppery green. Sometimes it may eat more than one kind of metal resulting in different colors being emitted. Because of the light it emits it does not have a shadow.
Because of the heavy nature of its diet the bird spends most of its time on the ground being too heavy to fly and considered flightless. When it has not eaten for a long time it becomes lighter and can run much faster. It lays two eggs whose shells are made from the metal it eats. According to folklore, miners and prospectors would secretly follow an Alicanto hoping it would lead them to a rich deposit of metal ore or a secret horde of treasure known as an entierros. These legendary hoards were said to have been hidden by indigenous people hiding their treasure from the Spanish. It was also said pirates and privateers such as Sir Francis Drake hid their treasure in the desert.
Hopeful miners or prospectors would follow the light of bird’s wings in the darkness. If the Alicanto became aware of them it turned off the light losing its follower in the thick darkness. If the follower was of bad character and not true of heart the bird would lead them over a cliff to death. One legend tells how a Chilean Silver Rush was sparked on 16 May, 1832 when a miner named Juan Godoy followed an Alicanto to rich outcrop of the precious ore. This event led to a rush to mine silver with many miners striking rich.
The Basan in Japanese Mythology and Folklore
In Japanese folklore and mythology the Basan is a chicken-like bird sometimes called Basabasa, or Inuhōō and also known as the “Fire Rooster”. It was said to have its home on the Japanese island of Shikoku in the mountains of Iyo Province which is now known as Ehime Prefecture. According to old depictions it looks like a large chicken with a large, intensely red comb. It is said to breathe ghost-fire from its beak which is not hot but a cold fire that glows.
They made their homes in bamboo covered mountain recesses but were known to occasionally materialize late at night in human settlements. The wings of the Basan are said to make a strange and unearthly rustling sound when flapped. If a human inside a house hears this noise and looks outside to investigate they will just get a glimpse of the bird as it disappears before their eyes.
The Firebird in Slavic and Russian Folktales
In Russian and Slavic folklore the Firebird is a beautiful, magical bird that is much desired but has a reputation of being both an omen of doom and a blessing for those who manage to find one of its feathers, or capture it. The Firebird is described in various ways but essentially as a bird with brilliant, glowing orange, red and yellow plumage giving it the appearance of fire, hence its name. The feather continues to glow even when one is lost making it a valuable prize for the finder emitting enough light to fill a large room. They are usually depicted in the form of a fiery bird of paradise of varying in size with the story and artist. It is an extremely beautiful bird and although not usually regarded as particularly friendly is not aggressive, or vicious, but is associated with danger. This is because of its role as a bringer of danger to whoever finds it and very often a bringer of doom to those who demand its capture.
The typical structure of a firebird story begins with the finding of a feather by the hero. All though initially pleased with the find the hero eventually begins to see it as the cause of all of his troubles. This is followed by a bullying king or tsar ordering the hero to undertake one, or more, difficult and dangerous quests in search of something rare and valuable.The hero often has the assistance of a magical animal helper such as a horse or wolf who guides him throughout. The final quest is usually for the Firebird which must be brought back alive to the tsar or king. On the quest the hero has a number of adventures and wins the love of a beautiful princess. On return with the Firebird the tsar or king dies and the hero becomes ruler and marries the beautiful princess obtaining his heart’s desire. In many ways it is a rite of passage for the hero who grows in wisdom and maturity throughout until he becomes strong and able enough to become the ruler.
The Boobrie in Scottish Folklore
In the legends and folklore of the west coast of Scotland the Boobrie is a shapeshifting entity that usually appears in avian form. It is also known to take on other forms such as that of a water horse or bull. The Boobrie was said to make a deep bull-like bellowing call described as being similar to that of a common bittern though these are infrequent visitors to the region. When it appears as a water horse it has the ability to gallop over the tops of lochs and rivers as if they were solid land. It was also known to manifest as a huge vampire-like insect in summer that sucks the blood of horses. However, its preferred form appears to be that of an oversized water bird such as a cormorant, great northern diver or the extinct flightless great auk. Although considered mostly aquatic it was known to take to the land sometimes concealing itself in tall patches of heather.
The Boobrie is considered to be a voracious predator. Otters are said to be its favorite food and although it eats these in great numbers it will raid ships carrying livestock having a liking for calves, lambs and sheep. Of course this made it an enemy of the local island farmers of the area. One legend from the Isle of Mull tells how a farmer and his son were ploughing a field beside Loch Freisa. They were using a team of four horses but ran into trouble when one lost a shoe and could not continue.Looking round they saw an unknown horse grazing peacefully close by. Wanting to get the ploughing finished they decided they would try the unknown horse in place of the one that lost its shoe. Hitching it up along side the other three they were heartened to see the unknown horse seemed to take to the task with ease and their ploughing progressed well.
The Anqa of Arabian Mythology
In Arabian mythology the Anqa is large, marvelous and mysterious female bird. It is said she flies far away only returning once in many ages but can be found at the place of the setting sun. She is also known as Anka, Anqa Mughrib or Anqa al-Mughrib. Mughrib, has several meanings such as “strange, foreign,” “distant” or “west sunset” signifying the mystery and fantastical attributes of the bird.
Zakariya al-Qazwini, in his book, “The Wonders of Creation” describes the Anqa as very beautiful with four pairs of wings, a long white neck. He claimed it possessed a small resemblance to every known living creature and they were related to birds that lived alone on Mount Qaf. He also claimed they were wise gaining wisdom and experience through their lifespan of 1700 years and mates when it reaches the age of 500 and an egg is produced. When the chick hatches it will stay in the nest for 125 years before it leaves. The Anqa is so large its diet consists of large fish and elephants and nothing else.
According to tradition there has always been a high interest in the magic arts among the dwellers of Longdendale. There is an old saying referring to the people of Longendale as being too bad for Heaven and too clever for Hell. The following is a retelling of a folktale from Legends of Longdendale, a collection of folktales from the area, by Thomas C. Middleton, that allegedly explains its origin.
A Conjuror of High Degree
A rhyme by an unknown author tells a little of one such dweller,
From the verse we see that the dweller was a doctor who was skilled in magic, mysticism and astrology. He was able to predict and understand the mysteries of the movements of the stars and how they would affect us here on Earth. In his day he was someone who possessed great knowledge and power and these attributes are great gifts if used wisely and for the benefit of humanity.
To be fair he did use his skills to the benefit of humankind. However, power corrupts and even those with great knowledge and wisdom there can arise the desire to increase their blessings. This is exactly what happened to our good doctor. He began to yearn for more power and deeper knowledge of the secrets of the universe to enable him to do more good in the world.
To begin with he put aside this desire realizing that there are some things that are best left unknown. However, once the tiniest yearning for power manifests in a person without the utmost care it can grow silently inside until it takes over the reason. Again, this is exactly what happened to our good doctor and it drove him to take a daring chance and make a deal with the Devil.
He had delved into books of ancient lore in search of the secret of increasing his abilities. After many years of long, lonely study and dark and dangerous research he came to the conclusion there was but one way he could achieve his dream. He knew others had tried it and each one failed and forced to suffer the most appalling consequences. Nevertheless, he was hooked and could not put aside the temptation and at last he decided he must take the terrible chance.
The Ultimate Test
Therefore, he prepared himself for the ultimate test of his power and knowledge which would be to raise the Devil. He had thought long and hard about it and put it off time and time again but it was the only way. No one else could give him the power and knowledge he craved. He knew the price Satan would demand but did not want to pay it. Nevertheless, the craving for power made him think he could reach a more amicable agreement with the devil and he decided it was worth a try.Therefore he set about making his preparations. He learnt the right spell. Collected all the materials he required and readied his equipment in preparation.
The Midnight Hour
With everything prepared and the approach of the midnight hour the doctor entered his chamber of magical experimentation. After making special signs and uttering a brief incantation he set up a lamp upon the table and over a flame he hung a small cauldron. Into the cauldron he poured certain liquids of dark properties and dropped various powders and items of dubious qualities. Some of these items were too gruesome to name. The powders and liquids were of undoubtedly odious origin possibly even human but he alone knew the true source of these materials.
Raising the Devil
With his brew bubbling he then uttered further incantations. He continued to repeat the spell over and over while beseeching the powers of darkness for their attention. He continued like this for over an hour with no sign any dark power or spirit had heard. However, he persisted and at last his persistence was rewarded.
The flame beneath the cauldron sprang and flared red then extinguished but the mixture within the cauldron continued to bubble. Soon a vile vapor rose thick and fast and spread rapidly throughout the chamber. In the center of the chamber there hovered a thick and unwholesome fog which was darker and denser than the rest.
The Devil’s Answer
Inside the fog the vapors were whirling and twisting forming a dark terrifying figure. From that form there came a terrible voice that spoke in whispers that cut through the fabric of reality shaking and terrifying the doctor. “Who dares summon Satan from Hell? Step forward and speak. Tell me thy heart’s desire!”
The doctor was almost overcome with fear and awe but managing to master himself stepped boldly forward and said, “It is I that has summoned you for, I would have certain powers that you and only you, can endow.”
The Devil looked into his eyes and knew immediately what powers he yearned for.
“Indeed, I can bestow thee with these powers but you know there is a price to be paid. Are you willing to pay it?” sneered the Devil.
The doctor faltered and quailed for a moment but quickly mastered himself and asked, “Name your price and we shall see!”
“Ha! You know the price!” whispered the Devil, “There is only one price and the terms are not negotiable. Agree that price and I will grant you the powers of your heart’s desire. Be warned I shall return seven years from today and call upon you to deliver up your very soul to me. Do you agree?”
“Surely that is too high a price,” replied the doctor.
“It is the only price and the terms are not negotiable. What do you say?” demanded the Devil.
The doctor hesitated realizing trying to bargain with him was hopeless and said, “Then I must pay that price. I agree to the contract and the price!”
The Devil produced two sheets of paper. With his long, sharp fingernail, he slit the wrist of the doctor causing blood to seep forth. Dipping his quill into the oozing wound he wrote the contract out on both pages using the doctor’s blood for ink. With that same quill and ink the doctor signed. With a look of extreme satisfaction, Satan placed the contract in his cloak and declared, “Thy wish is granted, enjoy to the full what time you have left it will not be long enough. Be sure seven years from now I shall return for my fee!”
There was a peal of thunder and a flash of lightning and the Devil was gone. All that was left behind was the doctor’s copy of the contract written and signed in his own blood and the mocking echo of the Devil’s laughter.
The Devil was true to his word and from the beginning of the agreement the doctor received all the powers he had yearned for. He used them to further his own knowledge and skills but instead of using them to benefit humankind he used it for his own pleasure and leisure. His life was everything he wanted it to be with power, knowledge, riches and great acclaim.
However, time passed and after a couple of years he still thought he had a long time to enjoy his powers. Three years passed and then four and he realized that time was passing too quickly. Five years passed and then six and he was now getting nervous. Despite his power and knowledge he knew he could not hold or alter time. Therefore he began to repent his contract with the Devil realizing he had been foolish and selfish and searched for ways of avoiding paying the price. Seven years passed and he knew he had to come up with something quick but could not think what.
A Crazy Chance
At last he came up with something, it was but a glimmer of a crazy chance yet it was a crazy chance that might just work. He consulted his books on astrology and charted the movement of the stars and came to the conclusion it could work. That afternoon he purchased the fastest and best horse in Longdendale. That evening, as he knew would, Satan appeared before him in his chamber of magic. Satan duly arrived with his usual theatrics but the doctor remained calm as he faced him.
“Are you ready to fulfill the contract,” demanded the Devil.
“Indeed I am, but I am wondering if you are not open to a little wager first?” he asked nonchalantly knowing the Devil loved to gamble.
“Hmm, now just what have you in mind?” asked the Devil his interest aroused.
“I thought maybe a race on horseback to the crossroads. It is one mile to the crossroads and the first to pass the center wins. If you win you take my soul. If I win I keep it and you leave me in peace. But … perhaps, you are not up to such a gamble and I have the fastest horse in Longdendale,” taunted the doctor gently.
Indeed, Satan had a fine black horse that was faster and stronger than any ordinary horse. He loved to race it and he loved to gamble, though it never really was a gamble because he would always win. He would lay any odds on his horse winning against any challenger.
“A race it is, be outside on horseback in 30 minutes and the race will begin!” cried the devil excited at the prospect.
The doctor saddled his new horse and waited on the road. Thirty minutes later the Devil appeared by his side mounted on a magnificent black stallion the like never before had been seen on earth.
“Ah! A truly magnificent steed, but surely you are breaking the spirit of our race by riding an unearthly steed. No earthly horse could surely match one born and bred in your realm, the challenge cannot go ahead. You best take my soul here and now!” said the doctor.
The Devil had been looking forward to the race and was disappointed. He could rightly have taken the doctor’s soul there and then but believed he would have it after the race anyway. He so loved to race and gamble but rarely got the chance and his face dropped.
The doctor, seeing the look of disappointment on his adversary’s face said, “Tell you what! How about if you give me a half mile start?”
To begin with the Devil was not having it. After some very subtle provocation and a play to his vanity from the doctor he accepted.
“You realize, it is not my normal practice to allow the terms of the contract to be changed, especially when I can rightfully claim payment? Never before have I given a single minute’s grace when collecting my payment, let alone listen to further proposals to extend the period in the hope of saving their souls. I have never before accepted any change in terms or payment. Still, today I fancy some sport and will make an exception in this case. Therefore, I accept. Let the race begin as soon as you are ready. The signal shall be a thunderbolt!” said the Devil.
Race With the Devil
So while the Devil remained at the start line the doctor trotted a half mile ahead. As soon as the Devil saw the doctor had reached the half mile he let fly a thunderbolt that flashed and crashed mightily and the race began.
The Devil spurred his mount forward using all speed while the doctor, determined not to be complacent by the half mile start, spurred his own horse on. This was just as well for the Devil set off at unbelievable speed and was fast gaining on the doctor. He reached the half mile point with the doctor not quite making the three quarter of a mile point.
The Devil was now excited and enjoying himself. Uttering wild shouts and cries he spurred his horse forward, second by second gaining on the doctor. His opponent, his face grim and set and ever looking over his shoulder encouraged his own steed forward.
With less than a quarter of a mile to go the Devil was but a few yards behind and whooping wildly while the doctor, casting anxious glances back, continued to press his own steed. He desperately wanted to beat the Devil to the ford where a fast flowing stream of water flowed over the road but the chances of this were now slim.
As the Devil came up fast behind the doctor’s mount he reached forward laughing with glee and grabbed the tail of the doctor’s horse giving it a viscous twist. The terrified horse cried out in shock and pain and surged forward.
The Devil kept a grip on the poor beast’s tail trying with all his might to hold it back. They were approaching the ford where a stream of running water flowed over the road. Had he seen this, things might have turned out different, but the Devil, being intent on holding on to his challenger’s horse’s tail did not see it. The terrified beast surged forward again and its tail broke and the horse free from the Devil’s grip took one mighty leap clear over the running steam of water.
The Laws of Magic
The Devil was forced to pull up abruptly. By the laws of magic and sorcery which even the Devil is obliged to adhere to he could not cross running water in pursuit of a victim. This law applies to all witches, evil spirits and the like and it must be obeyed. The doctor raced on to the crossroads to win the race and keep his soul.
In mockery of the Devil the doctor turned and waved joyously at his adversary who was fuming with rage. He now saw how the doctor had tricked and goaded him into the race with this outcome in mind. He howled with rage at his own gullibility and the doctor’s cleverness.
Too Bad For Heaven, Too Clever For Hell!
Nevertheless, despite his anger there was nothing he could do except ride off on the wings of a storm back to Hell in disgust. He swore an oath that no mortal from Longdendale would ever again be allowed inside his domain for they were too bad for Heaven and too clever for Hell!
Presented here is a retelling of an old folktale from the days when the great city of New York in New York was known as New Amsterdam. It is from a collection of early American folktales and traditions collected by Charles M. Skinner in his book, The Isle of Manhattoes and Nearby Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Volume I and called Van Wempel’s Goose.
Nicholas Van Wempel
The hero of the story is Nicholas Van Wempel, of Flatbush who was almost as wide as he was tall though he was not very tall. Nevertheless, he was of a mild and timid nature which led to him being badly henpecked by his wife, Vrouw Van Wempel. Despite his timidity he remained unruffled despite, or perhaps, to spite her and was renowned for being something of a harmless fantasist. To be fair to his good wife her husband had a fatal flaw that if not kept under strict control would land him in all sorts of trouble. Therefore, she did her best to moderate it for his own good.
He was a fairly well off man but his greatest pleasure was to escape into the comforting arms of schnapps. He sure loved his schnapps and this was his fatal flaw! Sadly for him his wife kept tight control only allocating just enough cash to get her groceries or to buy himself clothes.
The New Year’s Goose
On the eve of the New Year of 1739 she called him to her. Placing ten English shillings into his hand she firmly instructed him to hurry down to Dr. Beck’s store to procure a fat goose she had ordered for their New Year’s Day celebration dinner. As he waddled through the door glad for a bit of respite the errand would bring she gave him one last instruction,
“Do not under any circumstances go near, walk by or stop at the tavern! Stay away, stay clear, do not enter and keep out of the tavern. If you enter the tavern for any reason my wrath shall fall upon you like a ton of bricks from a great height! Just bring back the goose! Do you understand?”
In a shrill voice she then threatened a number of other dire and deadly consequences should he dare to disobey.
“Do you understand?” she barked again, glaring at him with a look that could curdle vinegar. Indeed, Nicholas understood perfectly and shot her a weak smile in acceptance as she sent him scurrying down the path.
“As if I would ever dream of entering the tavern of all places!” he called back in answer.
Outside, the snow had fallen in the night and it was a cold, icy day. As he struggled along against the biting wind a sudden gust lifted his hat clean off his head and rolled it into the doorway of the forbidden tavern. Had he but allowed it to lie and passed it by things might have turned out very different, but it was a bitter wind that whistled around his ears. He also thought he could hear someone calling to him from the doorway, but dismissed this. He thought it was just the icy wind on his neck and decided he needed his hat back.
Alas, as he bent to pick it up a strong aroma of beer, booze, tobacco and schnapps assaulted his nostrils along with the sound of merry voices and a tinkling piano. It was a heady mix!
He remembered his promise and all the dire and deadly consequences that would befall him. Well, it was icy outside and the wind froze to the bone and inside the tavern was warm, hazy and friendly. He was sure he heard someone inside calling his name and after a few minutes of staring at his feet they gave him permission to enter.
Inside he met an old friend who called him over and treated him to schnapps. They chatted and laughed reminiscing about old times and it only seemed right that he should return the treat and bought his friend and himself another schnapps.
To his surprise and delight more of his old friends appeared who treated him and of course he returned the treat. His friends knowing of the dominance of his wife in his life teased him in good nature. They urged him to stand up for himself and put her firmly in her place.
Slowly but surely the goose money left his pocket to find a new home behind the bar in the till of the landlord. Realizing his money was gone he thumped the bar. Loudly he declared that it was his money anyway and he would spend it however he saw fit without leave of his good wife.
The last thing he remembered was standing by the bar with his friends cheering and applauding him wildly for his heroic stand. After that the world seemed to merge into snores. When he came round he had his head on a table at the back of the tavern. He could hear the sound of low voices talking over the far side of the bar.
Sleepily he opened his eyes and saw two strangers deep in conversation with each other. He saw they had black beards and rings in their ears and around their foreheads they wore brightly colored bandanas.
He pretended to be asleep but carefully listened to what they said. They were talking of gold hidden on the marshes at the tide mill. Before he could fully grasp what his ears had heard through his schnaps sodden mind the idea had worked its way beyond reason. With a sudden burst of more energy and enthusiasm than he found in years he jumped to his feet and left the tavern.
“Gold …” – “the marshes …” – “tide-mill …”
These words revolved round and round in his schnapps sozzled brain. Fueled by these and the schnapps he crunched through the snow back to his home.
Quietly and carefully so as not to arouse his good wife, who would surely ask the embarrassing question of the whereabouts of the goose, he crept to the shed. There he procured for himself a shovel and a lantern. With unbelievable speed and quietness considering his drunken state he made his way to the old tide-mill on the marsh.
On reaching the mill he decided to start in the cellar and began digging up the floor. He had been so eager to commence work he had not thought to check if there was anyone else in the building, therefore he did not know there were four men upstairs.
After a short while his shovel struck something hard. He dug quickly around the object discovering it to be a large, but old, canvas bag similar to what a sailor might possess.
Excitedly he brushed the dirt from it and found it was heavy but he managed to lift it out of the hole. As he did so a shower of gold coins fell from it and cluttered to the ground. Tying up his trouser legs he filled them and his coat pockets with as many coins as he could. However, in the floor above he had been heard and four rough looking men came down the cellar steps to confront him. He recognized two of these as the men from the tavern.
The men saw the lantern, the bag and Nicholas who despite his inebriation realized these were not just sailors but pirates. His trousers were so full of gold he could hardly move and they laid their hands on him and dragged him upstairs. They poured for him another schnapps and made him drink to the health of their flag and brotherhood. Roughly they turned him upside down and shook him vigorously causing all the gold coins to fall from his trousers and coat pockets.
With no further ceremony they grabbed hold of him and threw him out of the window thinking he would drown in the tide or the fall would kill him. In the brief struggle he managed to grab hold of something before he was forced out.
Fortunately for him, the tide was out and his fall was cushioned by the mud of the tidal marsh around the mill. Finding himself unscathed he held up his hand to see he clutched a plump, plucked, goose which the pirates had stolen earlier for their New Year’s Day dinner.
After the schnapps the pirates had given him he now found the energy to struggle through the mud as the tide began creeping up on him. Things looked bleak, but perhaps, mercifully, thanks to the power of schnapps, he remembered no more.
The Wrath of Vrouw Van Wempel
When at last he awoke it was to the shrill voice of his good wife. She was standing over him loudly berating him as he lay in a snow drift not far from their home. Opening his eyes and hearing her shrill voice and seeing her formidable form all he could do was smile sweetly.
“What did I tell you about the tavern? Where did all that mud come from? Where is the goose? “she growled menacingly.
From behind his back he brought forth the plucked, oven ready goose he still clutched in his hand and proudly presented it to her. Seeing he had at least come back with a goose placated the angry wife diverting her attention from the state she had found her husband in.
Snatching the goose from him, Vrouw Van Wempel, turned on her heels and marched directly back home. After struggling to his feet Nicholas followed sheepishly behind.
In later days he tried to explain to her about the pirates and the gold and how he was lucky to still be alive. She asked why if he had found gold he now had none to show for it? He would reply that if his story was not true how did he come by the goose after he had spent all of the ten shillings in the tavern but he soon learnt this was a mistake. The very mention of the tavern would cause his good wife to fly into a rage and spend the rest of the day berating him.
Whenever he got the chance he would slip off to the tavern and tell his story to more sympathetic ears and point towards the old tide mill to collaborate his story. His friends would just laugh and tease him.
Nevertheless, every now and then, thanks to the power of schnapps, he would find himself taken off on some bold adventure. Unfortunately he would be brought back with a bump when his good wife caught up with him.
There is a very curious tale that comes from a village in the north of England just outside Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It is called Johnny Reed’s Cat and comes from a collection of folktales garnered by Charles John Tibbits, in a book titled Folk-lore and legends: English. Presented here is a retelling of that tale.
Johnny Reed’s Cat
Johnny Reed was the sexton of the village looking after the upkeep of the church and the churchyard. Sometimes he rang the bells and sometimes dug the graves and kept everywhere tidy and in order.
He lived in a small cottage nearby that belonged to the church and went with his job. He had a good wife who kept their home clean and tidy but they had no children. However, they did have a cat and a very well behaved one at that. It was a very beautiful cat with a most luxurious jet black coat and as cats go it was as friendly and as loving as any such creatures could. Like all of its kind it kept a fascination for anything that moved or wriggled and could get up to the craziest antics. Although he could be very playful displaying great bursts of energy at short intervals he would often spend his time sitting and gazing into the fire.
The cat had been with Johnny and his wife since it was a kitten and they had watched him grow to maturity into a most handsome feline. He would sit with them in the evenings keeping them company and gazing into the fire with half closed eyes as if in some distant dream.
Johnny thought he knew everything there was to know about him but cats can be very whimsical changing with the wind and then back again leaving onlookers baffled. There was always a faint air of mystery about Johnny’s cat.
Nevertheless as cats go Johnny Reed was more than satisfied and very fond of him and the cat appeared very loving towards Johnny more so than his wife. The cat lived contentedly with the couple for many years until a very strange thing happened.
Digging A Grave
Johnny had spent the day digging a new grave for someone who had suddenly and unexpectedly died and was to be buried the next day. This meant he had to carry on working in the dark so the grave was ready for the morning. Nevertheless he carried on working by the light of a lantern until he had finished digging and the grave was ready to use the next day. At last he finished and packed up his tools taking them to store in the shed in the far corner of the churchyard. He was tired and glad to have finished and looking forward to his supper and a warm fire in his snug cottage with his wife and his cat beside him. Storing the tools and locking the shed he turned and walked briskly home in the cold dark air.
Nine Black Cats
He did not have to go far but it necessitated him passing by a gate which opened into a field. It was dark and as he walked towards it he thought he saw dark shadows and lots of small gleaming fires dancing about. They seemed like little flashes one might see of a fire through a window at a distance but these moved.
Johnny was a steady man and perhaps because of his occupation was not one to be frightened easily by queer things that might unsettle others easily. Therefore, he walked up to the gate and leaned on it peering into the blackness at the dancing lights. Now that he was nearer the shadows were much blacker and the lights much brighter but as his eyes became more accustomed he realized he was looking not at shadows and lights. Instead the lights were the eyes of nine black cats and the shadows were their bodies.
They looked like they were holding court over some important matter. The largest feline was positioned in the middle of the baseline of a semicircle of black cats sitting before him. Thinking they were up to mischief he thought to scare them off and made a loud “wssshhhing” sound while clapping his hands loudly.
The cats took no notice whatsoever and carried on their business. Annoyed by their indifference he sought a stone to throw, not to hurt, but to scare, but it was too dark to find one. As he searched in the dark he was shocked to hear someone call his name, “Johnny Reed!”
The Black Cat’s Request
Johnny looked but could see no one other than the cats.
“Johnny Reed!” said the voice.
Who is there?” demanded Johnny, not a little vexed.
“Johnny Reed!” repeated the voice.
“I am Johnny Reed!” replied Johnny, perplexed and growing a little nervous and added jokingly, “Why, it must be one of you cats that is calling me.”
“Yes, indeed Johnny Reed,” said the largest of the cats who appeared to be their leader, “It is I calling you.”
Realizing it was the cat speaking Johnny was bewildered. Although his own cat could be very expressive in its own way he had never before heard a cat speak in English as plain as any human. Thinking that these were extraordinary circumstances that he could not explain and did not know how to react he thought a bit of courtesy would not go amiss.
Therefore, taking off his cap he bowed slightly to show respect and said politely, “Well sir, pardon my bewilderment you have plain taken me by surprise. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“It is not much I ask of you but it is important you do as I request,” replied the cat.
“And what might that be?” asked Johnny civilly.
“I ask that you tell Dan Radcliffe that Peggy Poyson is dead!” answered the cat.
“Yes sir, I will certainly do that.” replied Johnny totally bemused but sensibly wishing to seem amenable. After all he had no way of knowing what strange power this large black cat and his friends may wield.
With that answer given all the cats disappeared into the darkness leaving Johnny alone in the night wondering who in the world Dan Radcliffe was? He had never heard the name before, or that of the poor deceased Peggy Poyson.
Who is Dan Radcliffe?
He ran home getting all hot and flustered in the process. Rushing through the door to find his good wife sitting by the fire with his supper on the table. His cat with its eyes half closed sat next to her staring dreamily into the fire.
Bursting in he gasped, “Wife, tell me if you can, who is Dan Radcliffe?”
“Why,” says she, “I have never heard of any such person from these parts or from anywhere else, why do you ask and why are you all a fluster?”
“I must find him and tell him some important news I been given for him!” He replied then told her of his strange meeting with the black cats. As he told the story his own cat sat staring into the fire looking as snug and cosy as only cats can look.
When he came to the part where the black cat said, “Tell Dan Radcliffe, Peggy Poyson is dead,” his own cat suddenly jumped up and exclaimed in plain English, “What? Peggy Poyson dead? Then I must go!” With that he dashed out the door that Johnny had left a jar and vanished into the night never to return.
For a long time Johnny pondered the meaning of the black cat’ s message but neither he or his wife could fathom it. All they could think of was that Dan Radcliffe was none other than their very own cat but who Peggy Poyson was they had no idea.
Johnny Reed and his wife never did see that cat again although being fond of it they searched all over the neighborhood to no avail. Johnny also searched for Dan Radcliffe to tell him the sad news about Peggy Poyson as he had promised. Although he asked in his own and neighboring villages no trace could he find of Dan Radcliffe or Peggy Poyson and eventually he gave up.
Indeed, cats are very mysterious creatures! We think we own them and give them names of our choosing but know little of what they get up to at night or while we are absent. Moreover, we know nothing of what goes on in those minds even while they sit dreaming through half closed eyes before the fire. It rarely, if ever, occurs to us that they may have their own names for themselves and indeed, may have names they give to us. Now I wonder what they call us and I wonder what you think of that?
If you do hear of anyone by the name of Dan Radcliffe do drop Johnny Reed a line so he can fulfill his promise, assuming he has not already done so.
Presented here is a retelling of an old Japanese legend about butterflies and the human soul from Myths & Legends of Japan, by F. Hadland (Frederick Hadland) Davis and illustrated by Evelyn Paul. In this work it was titled the The White Butterfly.
The Butterfly Soul
In old Japan there was a belief that the souls of people alive or dead could take the form of a butterfly. Therefore any butterfly that entered a house was treated respectfully. It may be that people whose loved ones had departed this world looked for and welcomed the presence of a butterfly and silently prayed, “Oh, come butterfly and I shall sleep tonight, where the flowers sleep.”
A very old legend tells of a poor old man by the name of Takahama. His home was just behind the cemetery of the temple of Sōzanji and never seemed to go far from it. Sadly, it is a trait of human nature that sees people who do not behave in what is considered a normal way to have some degree of madness. He was by all accounts the most affable and amiable person you could wish to meet and all his neighbors greatly liked and respected him though they considered him a little mad. This madness appears to have come from the fact that he never took a wife or was known to have considered taking one. Furthermore, he was wrongly believed to have had no intimate relationship with a woman.
It so happened that one bright summer day the most affable Takahama fell sick. So sick that he sent for his sister-in-law to come and take care of him. She duly arrived bringing her son with her to bring what help and comfort they could in his final hours. While they kept vigil over him there fluttered into the room a beautiful white butterfly that rested gently on the sick man’s pillow. Fearful that it might disturb his final hours the young man attempted to carefully drive it out without harming it. Each time he drove it through the door it returned. This happened three times as if the butterfly was reluctant to leave the dying man.
At last the young man grew more forceful chasing it out the door and into the nearby cemetery where it fluttered over the tomb of a woman before mysteriously vanishing to where he did not know.
The young man was puzzled and intrigued. On examining the tomb he found an inscription with the name “Akiko” and a brief account of how she had died when she was 18 years old. This indicated her death had happened some 50 years earlier. The tomb was very well maintained with fresh flowers and water provided. Intrigued but unsure what he had found the young man returned to the house to find Takahama had passed away.
The young man told his mother about the butterfly and what he had seen in the cemetery. His mother sat down with tears in her eyes and told him,
“Not many people know but your uncle was once betrothed to Akiko. He was very much in love with her but just before the wedding day she died of consumption. Understandably, he was heartbroken and vowed that he would never marry or have any kind of a relationship with any other woman.
He stayed close to her grave and prayed over it daily, no matter if the sun was shining and the day was fair and pleasant, or burning hot. No matter how cold the rain or how thick the snow, or wild the wind, he would grit his teeth and pray, ‘Oh, come, butterfly, come!’
Maintaining her grave, keeping weeds at bay and ensuring there were alway fresh flowers all through the long lonely years he kept his vow. In his heart of hearts he kept clean and shining all the loving memories of his only love. As he lay dying he no longer had the strength to perform his labor of love and Akiko from beyond saw this and came to him. The white butterfly was her tender, loving soul that came to guide him to the Land of the Yellow Springs where they will be reunited once again.”
For Takahama his passing prayer may been words such as the following poem written by Yone Noguchim many, many years later. Just maybe the writer was thinking of the old man when he wrote,