Elen of the Hosts: Goddess of Sovereignty, King Maker, Warrior Queen of the Britons

This article was first published #FolkloreThursday.com as British Legends: Elen of the Hosts – Saint, Warrior Queen, Goddess of Sovereignty on 21/06/2018 by zteve t evans

Elen of the Dream

Historically, Elen of the Hosts was a real woman who lived in the 4th century, but in British legend and Welsh and Celtic mythology, may go back even further.  She appears to have been a woman of many roles that have grown and evolved over the centuries to the present day. Today, Elen is best known for her part as the subject of the affections of the emperor of Rome in strange tale of The Dream of Macsen Wledig, from the Mabinogion. The story depicts her as a mysterious woman of power who knows how to gets what she wants and appears linked to the giving and taking of sovereignty a very powerful attribute.  Presented here is a discussion about who Elen was, and how she has changed and evolved over the centuries, hopefully  encouraging the reader to perhaps research and create their own ideas for themselves.

The Dream of Macsen Wledig

Her story begins one day when the emperor of Rome, Macsen Wledig, was out hunting. Feeling tired in the midday sun, he decided to take a nap. As he slept, he experienced a dream that had an incredible effect on him. In that dream, he travelled across mountains and along rivers, and undertook a sea voyage which brought him to a fair island. He crossed that island and found a magnificent castle and in that castle, seated in a golden hall, was a beautiful woman and he fell in love with her. Macsen had found the woman of his dreams within his dream and, typical of a dream, he never gets his kiss. When he moves to kiss and embrace her, he awakens, and in the waking world there is no Elen. But Macsen wants his kiss badly and now the world has changed for him. He is obsessed with her to the point that he can think of nothing and no one else. His health fails and he begins to waste away and pines for her, telling his counsellors, “and now I am in love with someone who I know not. She may be real and she may be unreal, but I am mortally stricken, so tell, what am I to do?”. Although he did not know it at the time, the woman in the dream was named Elen, and it is clear from the dream that she was someone very special, but who was she?

Who was Elen?

Although very little for certain is known today about her, it can be seen from the dream that Elen was not an ordinary woman. Today she is known by many names. She is Elen Luyddog in Welsh or in English, Elen of the Hosts, and also known as Elen of the Ways, Elen of the Roads and Elen Belipotent in reference to her military leadership skills. She also is known as Saint Elen or Helen of Caernarfon, sometimes being named as Helen rather than Elen, and there are still more names. Elen was believed to be the daughter of Eudav, or Eudaf Hen, a Romano-British ruler of the 4th century who became the wife of Macsen Wledig, also known as Magnus Maximus, a Western Roman Emperor from (383-388AD). She was the mother of five children including a son named Constantine who was also known as Cystennin, or Custennin. She introduced into Britain from Gaul a form of Celtic monasticism and founded a number of churches. There are also many holy wells and springs named after her and there still exist roads were named after her such as Sarn Elen.

She was also a warrior queen. According to David Hughes in his book, The British Chronicles, Volume 1, after Macsen was defeated and executed, Elen reigned over the Britons. She led the defence of the country against invading Picts, Irish and Saxons. After a long, hard fight she pushed the invaders out, earning the name Elen Luyddog, or Elen of the Hosts and Elen Belipotent meaning “mighty in war”. In the Welsh Triads, Elen of the Hosts and Macsen Wledig, or in some versions Cynan her brother, lead an army to Llychlyn, which some scholars such as Rachel Bromich see as a corruption of Llydaw, or Armorica which does fit better with what is known.

There is a line of thought that sees characters in the Mabinogion as Christianised versions of far older gods. Some people also see her as being a conflation of several women and ultimately derived from an ancient Celtic goddess of sovereignty. The theme of sovereignty in one form or another does appear in the dream and she appears as the catalyst that can make it happen, or take it away.

Elen’s Power

From the dream, we learn that she was in the company of her father, Eudav, who was the son of Caradawc and is also known as Eudaf Hen, (Eudaf “the Old”), or Octavius, a King of the Britons, so she was a lady of considerable importance. This is evidenced by the surroundings in the dream, which matched exactly those she was in when the messengers of Macsen find her. Her response to the messengers is not one from a woman who sees herself as being subordinate to men or emperors, or anyone else no matter who they may be. When the messengers tell her about the great love their emperor holds for her and request she accompany them back to Rome, she revealed part of her true power by flatly refusing. Instead she told them to return to Rome and tell the emperor that he must travel to her if he truly loved her as he claimed. Macsen obeyed …

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Argentine Folklore: The Legend of the Origin of the Carau

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File:Crying bird2.jpeg – CC BY-SA 3.0 – Source

The Carau

The carau (Aramus guarauna), is a bird found in the wetlands of Argentina and other countries in the Americas.  It is also known as the crying bird, limpkin, carrao or courlan and is looks like a cross between a crane and a rail.  From the northeastern part of Argentina comes a legend about its origin which also warns about the dangers of disrespecting one’s mother.

The Legend of the Origin of the Carau

The story tells how a mother suffering from a terrible illness sent her son to fetch medicine for her from a nearby village which she desperately needed.   Her son was a young man who was perhaps not too bright and more than a little selfish and he set off walking to the next village to get the medicine. On the way he heard the distant sound of an accordion playing.  Intrigued by the music he followed the sound and came to a place where a country dance was in full swing. Like many young men he liked to dance and liked nothing better than dancing with a pretty girl.  Searching out  the prettiest girl he asked her to be his partner and was soon completely taken up with dancing with her.

He was enjoying himself so much he forgot his poor, sick mother was waiting for him to return with her medication. He danced and caroused with her all through the afternoon and as evening began to fall one of his friends tapped him on his shoulder and said,

“Please accept my condolences on the death of your poor mother.  I am very sad and very sorry for you.”

“It matters not that my mother has died, I will have time to grieve later. Right now I am enjoying myself” he replied and carried on dancing through the night.  As dawn was breaking he asked the girl if he could go home with her.  She looked at him with disbelief and anger and said,

“My home is far away and if it were near I would never allow one such as you who has no love for his mother to pass through the door!”

This shocked the young man and broke his heart as he suddenly realized what he had done and he went home crying bitter tears.  God looked down and as punishment for his callousness towards his poor sick mother turned him into a large bird wearing the black feathers of mourning. Ever since his lamenting cry will be heard at dusk, through the night and at dawn, as a warning to all young men to respect their mothers, until God sees fit to pardon him.

© 05/09/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright August 9th, 2018 zteve t evans

Petrification Myths: The Legend of the Creation of the Iguazú Falls

A Wonder of the World

The Iguazú Falls are a natural wonder of the world situated on the Iguazi River on the border of Argentina and Brazil.   In the Guarani/Tupi language, Iguazú, means big water and the Iguazú waterfall system is the largest in the world. People lived around the Iguazú Falls long before the arrival of the Spanish having their own long held beliefs and religion.  One of their most important rituals was the annual sacrifice of a virgin to M’Boi, the Serpent God who lived in the Iguazú River and was the son of Tupa, the Supreme God.

Naipi and Taruba

In a village on the banks of the Iguazú lived a very beautiful maiden named Naipi who was to be married to a great warrior named Taruba from a nearby tribe.  The two of them were deeply in love and looked forward to the blessed day with excitement and anticipation. One day before her wedding Napi went walking along the banks of the river and as M’Boi passed along the river he looked up and saw her.  Never had he seen a maiden of such grace and beauty before and he fell in love with her. He decided he must have her and went to the Guarani elders telling them of his desire and demanding they give her to him in the sacred ritual.

A Desperate Plan

The elders were frightened of M’Boi and rather than upset him they decided that Naipi would be sacrificed to him the day before her wedding.  Of course poor Naipi was frightened and upset and Taruba was furious and determined that she would not face such a terrible death. They knew that if the elders found out they would stop them and if M’Boi found out they would both die, but decided that death together would be better than death apart.  Therefore, they decided they would run away together and set a time and place of rendezvous to carry out their desperate plan. As Naipi and Taruba were setting off in a canoe to go down river the Serpent God saw them and chased after them furiously.

M’Boi’s Anger

Taruba rowed with all of his strength and managed to keep a few feet ahead of the angry god.  M’Boi became so angry that his serpent body expanded to the width of the river. As he twisted and turned he created new curves in the river making the canoe rock dangerously two and fro but this only increased the anger and determination of Taruba who rowed even harder refusing to give up.   Suddenly, M’Boi became so filled with rage he caused the very earth to split asunder causing the river to plummet wildly into the chasm he had created taking the vessel with it, causing it to spin uncontrollably around. The sheer force sent Taruba flying from the canoe to land onto the bank.  Trapped in the falling canoe Naipi watched helplessly as the bottom of the chasm opened up under her. As she was about to smash into the bottom M’Boi transformed her into massive rock to stop her escaping him.

Rainbow

On seeing his beloved turn to stone, Taruba attempted to climb down to her but M’Boi pulled his hands into the earth and as he stretched out his fingers to try and take hold they turned into roots and Taruba turned into a palm tree on the Brazilian side of the falls  that was forever rooted to the place above the newly formed waterfall. From this position Taruba could see Naipa on the Argentine side of the falls and she could see him but they could never ever touch, kiss or embrace. To make sure this never happens the jealous Serpent God watches them from a deep part of the river called the Devil’s Throat. Nevertheless, although Naipa and Taruba can never be reunited their love can be seen forming a rainbow from the palm tree on Brazilian side of the falls to the rock that is Naipa on the Argentine side.

© 29/08/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright August 29th, 2018 zteve t evans

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

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

Daragang Magayon

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

Daragang Magayon the Beautiful Maiden

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

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

Panganoron

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

Death

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

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

Two Lovers

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

© 16/05/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright May 16th, 2018 zteve t evans

 

 

Azorean Folktales: The Legend of Lagoa das Furnas

The Legend of Lagoa das Furnas

The Azores are a Group of Portuguese islands situated roughly in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. Over the centuries the people evolved their own folklore and traditions that explain certain aspects and features of volcanic landscape.  Lagoa das Furnas (Pond or lake fire) is an volcanic crater, or caldera where local people use natural geothermal steam vents, mud pots, geysers and earth ovens to cook food and for health and recreational purposes.  Dishes such as Cozido das Furnas or Furnace Stew are offered in local restaurants. Presented here is a legend that tells of the disappearance of a village at Lagoa das Furnas on the island of São Migue and explains the origin of these geothermal features.

The Village

The legend tells that there was once a beautiful village where the people were very happy.  Life was so good that they needed to spend little time in working to make a living so they spent most of their hours celebrating and holding big parties.

One glorious morning when the sun was shining and the skies were blue one of the boys of the village went to a nearby lake to draw water for the family household tasks and to give to their animals.  When he had drew some he drank some himself to quench his own thirst but noticed that the water had an unusual salty taste when it normally was fresh and clean.  The boy then experienced a terrifying vision of disaster. This worried him greatly and ran home to tell the villagers and seek their advice.  When he ran into the village waving and shouting about the water the villagers were in the middle of another celebration and were in no mood to listen to him.  Instead they told him he must be having a fit of some kind and carried on with their fun dismissing him as being wrong in the head.

Indeed, no disaster materialized and a few days later the boy returned to the well once again.   Going to the east end of the lake where he normally drew water he dipped his buckets into the lake but to his surprise fish began to jump out of the lake to lay gasping and dying on its shores.  The shocked boy was now fully convinced that something dreadful was going to happen so he ran back home to warn his family and the villagers about what he had seen.  Again the people were busy celebrating and no one took any notice of him, but this time, his grandfather who knew the boy very well did.

His grandfather warned the villagers to stop their celebrations.  He wanted to send the fastest runners in the village to the highest peaks to look all about to see if anything unusual was happening.  From the heights they could look to the north over the sea to see if it was calm or rough or if any bad weather was approaching. They could also look inland over the hills to see if anything was amiss.  The villagers laughed at the old man and carried on with their celebrations and the runners were not sent. As no one would listen the old man decided he would go himself to the highest mountain to see what he would see and along with his grandson he climbed the very highest peak.

The Island of the Seven Cities

At the top the old man and his grandson looked out over the sea and could see great mists on the horizon and emerging from the mists a new land could be seen rising from the sea.  The old man knew this was the Island of the Seven Cities. This frightened him greatly and he and his grandson hurried back to the village to warn the villagers shouting at them to take shelter in the church.  The villagers were still busy having fun and celebrating and the music was so loud no one hear them. Those that did laughed at him or just ignored him.

Two days passed and no disaster came and nothing untoward at all happened. Nevertheless, the boy and his grandfather still remembered what they had seen on the mountaintop as they looked out over the sea.  The old man decided they would take their animals to the market at a nearby town. So they drove their animals to town and spent a few days bargaining and negotiating good prices.  With all business complete they decided to return to their home to the village.

As they approached the village along the same path they had left by they became aware that things were different.  The landscape had changed. There were new hills and mountains and when they reached the place where their village should have been they were shocked and frightened to see that it had gone.  In its place was a lagoon of clear water that bubbled volcanic gas.

Cooking Cornbread

Today the local people will tell you that the people of the lost village continue to live underneath the waters of the lagoon.  The bubbles in the lagoon are when the people are doing their cooking under the lake and the smoke that rises at times from the water is from the cooking pans of the people.  The smell is when they are cooking cornbread in the hidden crevices of the lagoon.

© 02/05/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright 2nd May 2018 zteve t evans

Welsh Folklore: The Legend of the Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach

This post was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com August 17th, 2017 as Folklore of the Welsh Lakes: The Legend and Legacy of the Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach by zteve t evans

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Llyn y Fan Fach by Rudi Winter [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In Wales, legends of encounters with the Otherworld are never far away. One such legend is associated with Llyn y Fan Fach, a lake located on the northern side of the Black Mountain in Carmarthenshire. This legend is also known as The Lady of the Lake, but it is not related to the Arthurian character of the Lady of the Lake. In this legend, the Lady is found living in the lake by a farmer, who falls in love with and marries her. They live in happiness for a time until she is forced to return to her own world, taking all that she brought with her, but leaving a remarkable legacy on earth to benefit humankind.

Gwyn the Farmer

The story begins with Gwyn, who lived with his mother on a nearby farm. One of his tasks was to lead the cattle to pasture, and one of his favourite places was Llyn y Fan Fach. His mother would pack him a basket of barley bread and cheese, which he gratefully ate while gazing dreamily at the reflections in the lake as he sat on its shore.

The Lady of the Lake

One day, as he arrived with his cattle, he was surprised to see the figure of a fair lady sat on a rock on the opposite shore. She appeared to be brushing her long hair with a golden comb, using the calm, unruffled surface of the lake as a mirror. He had never seen a woman so beautiful, and he found he was unconsciously holding out the barley bread and cheese his mother had packed for him to her. Seeing Gwyn, the lady stopped combing her hair and moved gracefully over the water towards him to see what he was offering. Seeing the barley bread and cheese, she laughed, shook her head and said:

“O thou of the crimped bread, it is not easy to catch me!”

Then she dived under the water and was gone.

Gwyn went home, but could not get the lovely lady out of his mind. He told his mother what he had seen and of the strange thing she had said before she dived below the water. As the lady had shown no interest in the hard-baked barley bread, his mother suggested he take an unbaked loaf to tempt her. Before sunrise next morning, Gwyn set out for the lake with an unbaked loaf of barley bread and some cheese. Finding a comfortable spot by the water’s edge, he settled down to watch the lake in the hope of seeing the mysterious Lady of the Lake again.

As the sun rose and the mists evaporated, he eagerly scanned the lake. However, by midday he had seen no sign of her. By late afternoon, he had still not seen her and began to despair. As he turned for home, sunlight rippling on a part of the lake caught his attention and the lady appeared in all her loveliness. Speechless in wonder, he offered her the unbaked bread he held in his trembling hand. She looked at the offering and laughed, her eyes sparkling, and said:

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Welsh Folklore: Llyn Barfog and the Female Dwellers of Annwn and the Legend of King Arthur and the Afanc

This post was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com on July 20th titled Welsh Lake Legends and Folklore: Llyn Barfog, the Female Dwellers of Annwn and King Arthur and the Afanc by zteve t evans

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Lyn Barfog by andy [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In Wales, legends and folklore of King Arthur and the Otherworld are never far away, and lakes are often the settings for such stories. One such lake is Llyn Barfog, which is also known as the ‘Bearded Lake’ or the ‘Bearded One’s Lake,’ and is situated in a remote and lonely spot in Snowdonia. Some say it got its epitaph from the yellow water lilies that float upon its surface, or the reeds that fringe its banks. Another explanation says that it is named after a legendary being called the Bearded One. Who the Bearded One was remains a mystery, but there are two other legends associated with the lake that more are known about and are presented here. The first tells how a poor farmer came across one of the milk white cows owned by the dwellers from the Otherworld, and the second tells of how King Arthur rid the lake of a monster called the Afanc.

Doorways to  Annwn

In Welsh mythology and tradition, many of the Welsh lakes are regarded as doorways to and from Annwn, or the Otherworld. Many people believed the lakes to be connected to one another by underground rivers or subterranean ways that made them one vast underworld. There are examples of inhabitants of the Otherworld appearing from some of these lakes, such as the faerie brides of Llyn y Fan Fach and Llyn Coch, to spend time on Earth and then return to their own world. Llyn Barfog appears to be one of many such lakes in Welsh folklore, where the dwellers of Annwn have entry and exit to the earthly world.

The Gwragedd Annwn

This legend tells how Llyn Barfog is associated with mythical beings called the Gwragedd Annwn, also known as the Elphin Dames, who were female dwellers of Annwn. At times, these could be seen in the distance on the hills and mountain tops. They were often accompanied by pure white dogs, known as the Cwn Annwn, and were either driving or tending a herd of milk-white cattle known as the Gwartheg Y Llyn. Both the dogs and the cattle were said to have had reddish-coloured ears and white coats.

The local people all knew about them. They had often seen them from afar for fleeting moments before they would vanish, and few had ever seen them up close. They realised they were the Gwragedd Annwn, who lived under the hills and lakes of Wales, and steered clear of them. The males were the Plant Annwn, and were often associated with Gwynn ap Nudd who was their lord.

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