Petrification Myths:  Coyote and the Legend People of Bryce Canyon

Petrification Myths: Coyote and the Legend People of Bryce Canyon

In the desert of southwest Utah in the United States of America is a remarkable place known as Bryce Canyon which many, many bizarre and colorful rock formations. The canyon is named after Ebenezer Bryce, a Mormon pioneer who settled in the area in 1874.  However, the Native American Paiute people of the region who were there long before the arrival of pioneers called it Angka-ku-wass-a-wits or red painted faces.

Bryce Canyon must surely be one of the most extraordinary natural places on earth.  It is a place where strange rock formations of yellow, orange and reddish brown that change hue as the light changes and fill the mind with many fantastical shapes and forms that appear grotesquely humanoid.

In geological terms, these columns are called hoodoos a term also used in witchcraft and the supernatural.  The Paiute people tell a very different story to the geologists but both explanations are really very extraordinary.   Presented first is a brief and simplified version of the geological explanation.  This is followed by a version of the traditional explanation given by the Paiute people who believed the columns were created when a mythical race called the Legend people were punished by their divine entity Coyote.

The Creation of the Landscape

First of all Bryce Canyon is not a canyon in geological terms.  It was created in a very different way to canyons which are created by weathering and the erosive action of rivers.   Instead, the Bryce landscape was created by a natural process called frost wedging which works over a great period of time to alter and recreate the entire landscape.  This process happens in Bryce Canyon because for most days of the year the temperature fluctuates to above freezing and drops to below zero in the course of a single day.

During daytime, seasonal snow melts and the water seeps into cracks and fractures in the rock and when it freezes at night it turns to ice and expands causing it to crack and fracture further and forcing sections of it apart making wedges into the rock forcing it apart.  This happens about 200 times a year in Bryce Canyon and an another process called frost heaving also comes into play forcing rocks upward from the bottom.   These two natural actions are supplemented by wind and rainwater which is naturally slightly acidic and this gently rounds off the rocks slowly dissolving the edges. And it is these natural processes that have combined to create the fantastical landscape of Bryce Canyon and it’s weird and wonderful hoodoos that are its main feature.  So that is a very quick and simplified precis of the scientific explanation but the Paiute people have another explanation

The Legend People of Bryce Canyon

According to Paiute legend and tradition millions of years before they appeared on earth there was another people who lived in the area called To-when-an-ung-wa or the Legend people.  In those days the land was said to be different being very green and verdant with streams and rivers of fresh clean running water.  Animals and birds were plentiful and the hoodoos were not yet created.

The Legend people took the form of giant animals, reptiles, and birds and in their land of plenty gave no thought to others who shared it with them.  They would drink up all the water and despoil what was left so others could not use.  They would eat and take all the nuts, fruits and berries leaving nothing for other creatures to survive the winter on.  They never gave a thought for the other animals and birds that shared the land which became less fertile and abundant.

Coyote

At last the animals and birds began to complain loudly about the inconsiderate and selfish behavior of the legend people and how carelessly and recklessly they despoiled all the fruits and good resources of the Earth.  One day the spirit they called Coyote heard them while he was out walking and went to see what was going on.  Coyote was angry at what he saw and decided to punish the Legend people.  He had a reputation for being a trickster which was well earned and he decided there and then he would trick the Legend people.

Coyote invited them to a great feast promising them they would be served the best food and drink they had ever been given.  The Legend people were always greedy for more food and drink and readily accepted the invitation.  They put on their best clothing and painted their faces red as was their custom at such occasions and went to the great feast of Coyote to eat their fill.

When they arrived they found the best food they had ever seen all laid out and ready for them to tuck into.  Coyote was watching and just as they were about to take the first bite of food he cast a spell.   Suddenly, one, by one they all began turning to stone.  Naturally, those not yet affected began to panic and tried to escape trying to climb over the ridge of the valley. They all pushed and pulled and scrambled over one another but there was no escape and gradually they all succumbed to the spell of Coyote.   It was a scene of madness, mayhem and sheer hell.  Soon their struggling ceased and all were turned into columns of stone, their bodies and faces rigid and paralyzed in their final act of standing, sitting, crawling,  climbing, running or whatever and there they have remained through the ages as a testament to their greed and selfishness.

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By Don Graham from Redlands, CA, USA – God bless it! (Ancestors, Bryce Canyon NP, UT 9-09) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Pauite People

When the Paiute people arrived they found the hoodoos and could see their red faces in the rock columns just as they were before they were petrified.  This is why they called the place Angka-ku-wass-a-wits, which means red painted faces and these are the hoodoos we see today in Bryce Canyon.  Some people today say their faces have been eroded so much over the centuries that they cannot be recognized and people will forget the story of the Legend people.  Those who can see know Coyote still wanders the wilderness and know he has not lost his power and they will not forget why he turned red painted faces to stone.

© 23/05/17 zteve t evans

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Copyright May 23rd, 2017 zteve t evans

Petrification Myths: Mischief, Mayhem and the Pesky Lincoln Imp

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Lincoln Imp – Image by Richard Croft – CC BY-SA 2.0

On the walls of Lincoln Cathedral in the city of Lincoln in England is a rather strange figure of an imp that is carved on the stonework of a pillar inside the cathedral.  Despite its strangeness, or perhaps because of it,  the imp has become a symbol of the city as well as a number of other local organizations.  There is a legend that tells that the grotesque was once a real imp that was turned to stone by an angel.

The Legend of the Lincoln Imp

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St. John and All Saints Church, Chesterfield – By Charlesdrakew – Public Domain

The legend is thought to date from the 13th or 14th century and tells how two imps were sent to Earth by Satan to cause as much mischief and mayhem as possible.   Arriving in the north of  England they set about their task with glee and malice causing mayhem and mischief everywhere they went.  Settling on the spire of St. Mary’s Church in Chesterfield they spitefully twisted it out of shape and even today the results of their mischief can still be seen. Today, the Crooked Spire is a well-known feature of Chesterfield, though there are other legends which give different accounts of how this came to be.

The imps were not satisfied with their handiwork and went on a spree of mayhem and mischief.  They soon caused chaos across the north and the imps decided to visit Lincoln. Coming across the cathedral they set about causing as much devilment as they could.  They broke chairs and tables and vandalized everything in sight and were even said to have tripped up the Bishop.   They caused so much damage that an angel was sent to deal with the imps and to put things right.

The legend says the angel appeared out of a hymn book as they were vandali\ing the Angel Choir and immediately ordered the two miscreants to stop.   One of the imps, terrified by the angel obeyed and hid under a broken table.  The other was bolder and more evil and as well as throwing stones at the angel threw insults as well.   The angel was taking no nonsense from the imp and promptly turned him to stone there and then.  As the other imp had obeyed him and had not thrown stones or insults the angel spared him the same fate as his friend and gave it a stern warning.  The imp did not need a second warning and quickly skedaddled.   There is a saying that when the wind blows around Lincoln Cathedral it is the imp flying around in circles looking for his friend who can be seen in the cathedral to this day, looking down from where he was petrified to stone by the angel.  Different parts of the UK have variations of this legend.

The Grimsby Imp

One variation of the legend is found in Grimsby and tells how the second imp, having escaped petrification by the angel in Lincoln Cathedral, made his way to Grimsby.  Imps being imps are born to make trouble this one soon began to cause mischief and mayhem around Grimsby.  Finding  St. James’ Church,  the imp went in and began a spree of vandalism inside causing great damage.  The angel who had exercised leniency at Lincoln was sent to deal with the imp and seeing it was the same one he had spared spared, this time gave it a good thrashing on its backside and then turned it to stone. Imps may be imps but they should not mess with angels!

The Term “Lincoln Imp”

The symbol appears to have been termed the “Lincoln Imp” because it is the best known example and seems to have the first come to popular usage in the 19th century, even though it is far older and many examples predate the 18th century.  It may that it came to the public attention more in the latter part of the 19th century when a businessman named James Ward Usher managed to get the sole rights to make jewelry using the symbol in his designs which helped to make him famous and wealthy.

The Imp as a Symbol

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Modern example of the use of theLincoln Imp in the gable end of a garage in Farndale – Image by gordon clitheroe – CC BY-SA 2.0

The imp usually appears with cloven feet and with one leg raised to rest upon the other knee and both hands are gripping the leg that is on the knee.  It has a hairy body and open mouth displaying sharp teeth and has ears like those of a cow.

The imp is a symbol that appears in many parts of England and Scotland.  For example,   All Saints Church, Easington, Yorkshire has a carved stone figure of an imp.  The reason they were placed in churches or other places or their meaning is unknown.  It may be that these are not associated or representative of either the Lincoln or Grimsby imps but have some other purpose.  The use of the symbol is thought to predate both of these legends and many see its use as a similar mystery as that of the Green Man or the Three Hares symbol.

The Lincoln Imp is still a popular symbol and appears on the crest of Lincoln City Football Club and their mascot is known as Poacher the Imp.    A Gibraltar football club Lincoln Red Imps F.C., also takes their name from it and a World War 2, RAF  Squadron No. LXI Squadron RAF used the imp in its emblem until it was disbanded in 1958.  The Lincoln Imp is a symbol strongly associated with Lincoln and Lincolnshire and used by many local organizations and enterprises.  It appears in many works of art and jewelry still and is also found in churches and buildings in many other parts of England and Scotland. and many products of all kinds are found bearing its image.  Ultimately the legend of the Lincoln Imp portrays the imp as a symbol of the triumph of God over Satan and the never ending battle between good and evil reminding us that good will always triumph over evil.

© 09/05/2017 zteve t evans

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Copyright May 9th, 2017 zteve t evans

Petrification Myths: The Legend of the Great Stone Mother of the Paiutes


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Pyramid Lake, Nevada – by Rhalden – Public Domain

The Paiute people are a Native American people living in areas of California, Nevada and Oregon, Arizona, southeastern parts of California and Utah. They have a rich heritage of culture and tradition and strong family values.   In the past, much of their known history had been passed on orally to their children from a long line of ancestors.  Like many other cultures, they used folktales to pass on information and to attempt to make sense of the world around them.   Presented here is the story of the Great Stone Mother is one of their folktales and what is presented here is a rewrite from more than one source,  but first a word about the Great Stone Mother.

The Great Stone Mother of the Paiutes people sits on the eastern shore of Pyramid Lake, in eastern Nevada, North America and is actually an extraordinary natural tufa rock formation. It bears a remarkable likeness to the figure of a hooded Indian woman sat looking out over the lake with her basket resting next to her.  To the Paiutes she has not always been stone but was the mother of their people.  What follows next is an extraordinary legend that tells of their origin and how she became petrified into stone.

The Legend of the Great Stone Mother

When the world was very young Man, the father of the people, roamed the earth alone and came to a mountain that was near still water.  Finding the place to his liking he made the Reese River and decided to live there. The father had a good and great soul but he was lonely living on his own and longed for company.

Many days passed and eventually rumor of the existence of Man reached Woman, who became the mother of the people, but at then was married to Bear.  She grew very curious about Man and longed to see him.   When Bear found out about her longing he grew very jealous and fought with Woman.   The two fought fiercely for many days until Woman hit Bear with a club and killed him.

Now she was on her own Woman decided she would search for Man so she left her home country and traveled north in the hope of finding him.   On her journey, she saw many strange things and had many adventures.  The tracks of her footprints can be seen to this day at Mono Lake and revered by the people.   As she traveled she faced many dangers and fought with a giant near a place now called Yerington and killed him.  As he died his body turned to stone and can be seen today.

After many more days Woman came to Stillwater near the mountain where Man lived.  When at last she saw  Man she saw he was handsome and she liked him.  However,  she would not show herself to him for fear he would not accept her and leave her alone in the world. Not knowing what else to do she hid from him and watched him from a distance.

Man and Woman

One day Man was out walking and came across tracks he had not seen before and he knew he was no longer alone in the world.  He followed the tracks and called out saying he knew someone was there and pleaded for them to stop hiding from him.  Woman heard Man calling to her and wanted to join him but she was nervous and afraid.    After listening to his calls she eventually plucked up courage and came out of hiding to meet him.

Man saw her nervousness and fear and spoke to her with kind and soothing words and her anxiety left her.   He saw she was tired and hungry and invited her to his camp for food and rest. She was hungry and very tired and she listened to his kind words and feeling reassured she followed him.

Man prepared them both some food and when they had finished eating he asked her if she would like to stay with him the night as it darkness was falling.   Woman agreed but slept by the fire away from him.  The following night she slept a little closer to him.  The night after she slept even closer.  Over the following night’s Woman slept closer and closer each night until at last on the fourth night they slept together.   On the fifth night, they were married and later on had many, many children together.

The Separation of the Children

Their first child was a boy but he had a very disagreeable and argumentative nature.  When the other children came he was always teasing and bullying them and caused them trouble all the time.  One day their father saw them fighting and warned them that if they continued this behavior he would separate them. The children provoked by the firstborn began fighting before he had even finished talking.

This angered him and he stopped them fighting and told them he had made up his mind they should be separated there and then.  He told them that he was leaving earth to go and live in his home in the sky and that when they died they could follow him by traveling along the dusty way,  which is called the Milky Way today, where he would be waiting for them.  Then he told them that he hoped one day they would all come to their senses and live peacefully together.

He called his eldest boy and his eldest daughter to him and told them they must go west and they became the Pit River Tribe.   Then he sent his youngest son with the youngest daughter eastwards and they became the Bannock Tribe.  The other children who had been less troublesome he told to remain at home instructing them to look after their mother well as she would also be staying behind.   These children of Man and Woman who stayed behind became the Paiutes Tribe.    When Man had finished giving instructions he traveled to the mountain top and up into the sky and along the Dusty way to his home in the stars.
The two brothers went their separate ways with their sisters as their father had instructed.

Bitter Tears

Soon they had many children and both families returned to their parent’s home bringing their families with them.  They soon began fighting again and their mother was heartbroken.  Taking her basket she climbed to the summit of a hill and watched her sons and their families fight against each other in the valley below and she began to cry bitter tears for she loved her children.  The harder they fought the more she cried.

The Great Stone Mother

They fought for many moons and their mother cried more and more and her tears flowed down her face and filled the valley.  Many more moons passed and still, they fought and still she cried and her bitter tears filled up the valley to create a great and beautiful body of water that today is called Pyramid Lake.  She sat on the hill crying for so long that she turned to stone and there she sits to this day with her basket sitting next to her and the Paiutes call her their Great Stone Mother.

© 02/05/2017  zteve t evans

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Copyright May 5th, 2017 zteve t evans

Welsh Folklore: The Shepherd and the Bride from the Otherworld

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Painting by Adrian Ludwig Richter (1803 – 1884) –  Public Domain

Pentrefoelas Myths, Legends and Folklore

Myths, folktales and legends abound in the village of Pentrefoelas, Conwy, in North Wales and one such tale known as the Pentrefoelas Legend tells how a shepherd came across a girl in distress upon a hillside while he was tending his flocks.  The girl was like no other he had ever seen in his life and in his earnest attempt to comfort her he fell in love with her and she with him.  Although the girl was not from earth they married and had children and lived a happy life.  Sadly their happiness was shattered by a freak accident that broke a  promise the shepherd had made to his wife’s father.  This meant she had to return to the Otherworld where she came from and they were parted forever.  The story describes one of the few examples of the interbreeding of mortals with the inhabitants of the Otherworld and the descendants of the couple are still said to live among humans today.  The following is a rewrite of that tale.

The Pentrefoelas Legend

One misty morning, shepherd from Hafod-y-garreg was out in the pastures looking after the flock of sheep owned by his father .  It was not a particularly demanding task and his mind wandered as he looked around for something to engage his interest for a while.  His eye fell upon a peat-stack and as he looked he saw a girl sat besides it who appeared to be crying her eyes out.  Disturbed by the apparent distress of the girl he approached quietly and gently trying not to alarm her to see if there was something he could do to help.

Words of Love

As he drew nearer he was smitten by the beauty of the girl.  Never in his life had he seen a damsel so beautiful as she and to see her sobbing tugged at the strings of his heart.  Gently and quietly he began speaking words of love to her and she seemed to respond favorably stopping her tears.  Suddenly, an old man who was her father  appeared out of nowhere beckoning authoritatively to her to follow him. The girl unquestionably obliged and went off with him leaving the shepherd alone on the hillside with the sheep. The shepherd could not get the girl out of his mind and remained on the hillside until evening hoping she would return but she did not and eventually he went home as darkness fell.

The Girl from the Otherworld

The shepherd returned to the hillside every evening in the hope of seeing the girl again but she did not appear and he grew despondent, fearing he would never see her again.  He did not realize that in the Otherworld the girl was thinking about him.  She had been quite taken by his kindness and the words of love he had spoken had found a place in her heart and she now planned to return to earth to see the young man.  When the time was right she slipped away from her home her father and returned to the hillside on earth hoping to meet with the young man.  When she arrived on Earth she found the shepherd waiting on the hillside and made herself known to him.  He was overjoyed and poured out his feelings to her and she to him and the two began a loving relationship.

Meanwhile in the Otherworld her father had missed his daughter and was seeking her out but could not find her anywhere.  Remembering the incident when he had found her with the shepherd on the hillside he made his way to earth and appeared on the hillside next to the two lovers.  Although he was pleased to find his wayward daughter he was not happy that the two had fell in love and began demanding she return home to the Otherworld with him

The Marriage Contract

The shepherd told the girl’s father that he loved his daughter and wanted to marry her. He begged and pleaded so much that eventually the old man turned to his daughter and asked, “Is it really your wish to marry this mortal man from earth?”

His daughter told him that she did with all her heart.  The old man then replied, “Very well, I give my consent.  You shall be married but should he ever strike with iron then the marriage shall immediately cease and you must return to live in the Otherworld forever!”

Now, the shepherd was not a violent or argumentative man and could not believe he would ever find reason to strike the girl he loved.  The girl was so taken by the young man and his words of love she also could not believe such a thing could happen and readily agreed.  The two were married and her father gave them a large bag of gold as a wedding gift.

A Happy Marriage

They had a very happy marriage for several years and were blessed with children one after the other.   One day the couple decide they wanted to catch several ponies which at the time were living wild on the nearby hills.   Although both ran after them and tried several ways to trap them all attempts failed and the man grew frustrated.  In his frustration he threw the bridle way but as it flew passed his wife the iron bit struck her striking her shoulder.

The Broken Contract

They both froze and stood dumbstruck looking at each other with tears in their eyes.  They knew instantly that their marriage contract had been broken and her father appeared with a troop of the Fair Folk and led his daughter away.  As they faded from sight the devastated shepherd sadly turned away and went home to his children.  He never saw his beloved wife again, but much of the gold her father had given him still remained and he had his children whom he adored.  They  all bore a striking resemblance to their mother and became his only comfort through the long lonely years without her.  To this day the descendants of this couple can sometimes be seen here and there, recognizable by the faraway look in their eyes.

© 11/04/2017 zteve t evans

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Copyright April 11th, 2017 zteve t evans

Petrification Myths: The Stone Women of Moelfre Hill

There are many petrification myths and legends in settings scattered around the British Isles that tell how people have become turned to stone.  It is often the case that some religious code or rule has been transgressed by one or more people for some reason and they have been punished by being turned to stone.

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Moelfre in Gwynedd – Image by Oosoom – CC BY-SA 3.0 – From Wikimedia Commons

The Stone Women of Moelfre Hill

The legend of the Stone Women of Moelfre tells the story of how three women were turned to stone for working on the Sabbath.  Its setting is on Moelfre, which  is a Welsh hill in Gwynedd, Wales sitting on the western edge of the Snowdonia National Park, situated about three miles from the village of Dyffryn Ardudwy and about five miles from the village of Llanbedr.

The legend was said to have originated about the time Christianity was taking over from the old pagan beliefs and tells how three women had a problem winnowing their corn because there was no wind.  Winnowing was an important task that their families and community depended upon to make bread.  According to the legend, one woman wore a red kirtle.  Another wore a white kirtle and the third wore a kirtle of the darkest blue.

After the corn was harvested the people would thresh the corn, sometimes by making oxen walk in circles over the harvested ears of corn, or by pounding it on the ground with flails.  This would crush the ears leaving the chaff and grain that needed separating, or winnowing which was hard work and done by the women of the community.  They would spend many hours  throwing the mixed chaff and grain into the air so that the wind would take the light chaff away but leave the heavier grain to fall to the ground.  The remaining grain would then be placed in sacks and ground into flour.

The problem the women had was that for many days there had been no wind or even the slightest breeze, making it impossible for them to winnow.  The women worried that unless they could get their task done soon it would rain and ruin the corn.  The grain and chaff would get wet making them stick together and hard to separate and they would not be able to bake bread to feed their families and began to despair that they would not be able to complete their task.

Then the woman wearing the red kirtle had an idea and said to the others, “I say there is bound to be wind on the top of Moelfre.  Let us carry sacks of grain up there and do the winnowing there.”

“But we would be working on the Sabbath if we did that!”  said the woman in the white kirtle. It was a Sunday and on Sundays in Wales no one at all was allowed to work because it was the Sabbath.

“But if the wind is blowing on Moelfre, shall we let it go to waste and have no flour to bake bread?”  said the woman in blue, “And what would we tell our children when they have no bread?  I will fetch three sacks and we can fill them up and carry them up to Moelfre.”

They all agreed that they should this so they filled up a sack each and hoisting them across their backs began the arduous journey along the path to the top of Moelfre.   On the way they passed a cottage where an old man looked out of his door and was shocked to see them hauling the sacks up the path.   He gave them a stern warning about the consequences of working on the Sabbath but the women continued on their way ignoring him.  They passed a farm and the farmer shouted out a warning that it was the Sabbath and told them to stop or they would be punished.  The women laughed at him and carried on.

Their path took them through the valley where the men of Neolithic times made axes out of the sharp Graig Lwyd stone.  Passing though, they climbed the path to the high hill where the Meini Hirion, also called the Druid’s Stone Circle stood and passed this and continued on their way.  They knew that the summit of Moelfre was not far off and that there would be wind there and redoubled their efforts.

Finally the reached the summit of the hill.  Just as they had anticipated the wind was just right for their task so they spread out a sheet on the ground to catch the grain when it fell out of  the air.  They emptied the contents of their sacks into a heap and began the arduous task of winnowing the corn throwing up into air so that the wind took the husks and the grain fell onto the sheet on the ground.  Then as they were busily working away a terrible thing happened.   The  legend says that  God saw them working on the Sabbath and punished them for disobeying his law and turned them into three standing stones.  One red, one white and one dark blue and there they stood on top of Moelfre for years untold, but not forever.

Triple Goddess

There is a school of thought that says the three women represent a triple goddess.  Robert Graves in his book The White Goddess, says,  “The three standing stones thrown down from Moelfre Hill near Dwygyfylchi in Wales in the iconoclastic seventeenth century may well have represented the Io trinity. One was white, one dark red, one dark blue and they were known as three women. The local monkish legend was that three women dressed in those colors were petrified for winnowing on a Sunday.”

Others also see the three stones places in a triangle as representing a triple goddess and the colours representing a different aspect of the goddess.  Their supposed petrification may not have been just a warning about working on the Sabbath but possibly a warning of possible punishment inflicted for keeping the old ways.

Vandalism

Today there are no standing stones on the summit of Moelfre.  Some people say  those who search they may find three stones below the turf that appear to have sunk into the ground and these are said to be the Stone Women of Moelfre.   Another explanation offered by Wirt Sikes in British Goblins – Welsh Folk-Lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions was that they were subject to vandalism by a gang of youths who dug them up and rolled them down the hill.

© 28/03/2017 zteve t evans

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Copyright March 3rd, 2017 zteve t evans

Northumberland Folktales: Dunstanburgh Castle and the Ghost of Sir Guy the Seeker

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Pixabay – Dunstanburgh Castle by – tpsdave – CC0 Public Domain

Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle is now a ruined castle situated on a remote headland in Northumberland.  It is associated with many myths and legends and a spooky folktale concerning a good knight who becomes caught up in an endless search for a beautiful woman he once found asleep on a crystal plinth deep within the castle.

Although long ruined Dunstanburgh Castle is steeped in history and was once a garrison against the threat from Scotland and was fought over during the Wars of the Roses.  It was built by Earl Thomas of Lancaster early in the 1300s who was one of the richest men in England, very influential and for a few years after the Scottish defeated Edward at Bannockburn the effective ruler of England. He was one of the leaders of the barons in their opposition to King Edward II, who was also his first cousin and had served at his coronation.

Edward had a friend named Piers Gaveston who was a great favorite of his and this had caused resentment among some of the barons, including Thomas.  They had plotted together and had him executed which understandably angered the king. Thomas was involved in many other intrigues and Edward was out for revenge which he eventually got.  After leading a failed rebellion against Edward, Thomas was captured, tried and executed.

Secret Tunnels

Maybe because of its history,  remote location and the imposing look of its ruins a number of legends have grown up around the castle.  There is a long-standing local tradition that there is a network of tunnels running from the castle to some of the villages and hamlets nearby.   The tunnels were said to run to a number of cellars and barns where there were trap doors that let unknown men travel to and from the castle unseen.

The Legend of Sir Guy the Seeker

Perhaps the strangest legend about the castle is the story of Sir Guy the Seeker. A similar legend is found in other parts of Great Britain and M.G. Lewis in 1809 published a poem called Sir Guy, the Seeker, a poem based on the legend.  According to the legend, in the days when knights were virtuous and chivalrous there was a good knight named Sir Guy.  One evening he happened to be traveling nearby and as the sun was going down a storm began to brew in the darkening sky.  On hearing the rumble of thunder and as the rain began falling in torrents he looked around for shelter.  In the distance, he saw the jagged ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle black against the sky and decide to seek shelter there.

As he approached the ruins he realized they stood on a high cliff with their backs to the sea but could not see a path that led up to it.   With no way up and the rain lashing down he looked around for alternative shelter and found a cave.  He entered and took off his sodden cloak and jacket.  Inside it was dark and as his eyes grew accustomed he saw a softly glimmering light floating slowly towards him from down a passageway.  As the light came nearer it changed its appearance to form the terrifying figure of an ugly old warlock. “Follow if you dare ad you will find beauty beyond belief!,”  growled the warlock.

Although Sir Guy was alarmed at the apparition he was also intrigued and not without courage and followed the warlock along miles of dark damp passageways deep beneath the ground. There were many twists and turns and steps that went up and steps that ran down but at last, they came out in the very heart of Dunstanburgh Castle.  As he followed the warlock into the courtyard the night was dark and somber.  Looking around he saw an army of knights and cavalry asleep on the ground.

The Sleeper on the Crystal Plinth

Towards the center of the courtyard he saw a crystal plinth and reposed upon it seemingly fast asleep was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.  All around the plinth the most horrific images of skulls, skeletons, snakes and monsters were depicted.   To the left of the maiden lying alongside her was an ancient calling horn.  On the other side lay a sword.   The warlock beckoned Sir Guy over to the plinth and said, “The fate of the sleeper is in your hands.  You must choose either the horn or the sword to awaken her.  Choose now!”

The Choice of Sir Guy

Sir Guy had no idea which to chose and paced up and down trying to make his mind up.  At last, he went to the plinth picked up the horn and gave it a mighty blow.  The sound echoed around the courtyard and the knights awoke from slumber.  Drawing their swords they rushed at Sir Guy who expected death instantly as they struck at him.  Instead, the blades passed straight through him without marking or cutting his flesh and then he awoke outside the cave soaked through with the warlock standing over him saying, “Shame on you Sir Guy for choosing the horn.  A warrior would have chosen the sword!”  And then turned and vanished into the cave.

The Ghost of Sir Guy

From that day forward the legend says that Sir Guy lived a cursed life.   He became obsessed with the beautiful woman sleeping on the crystal plinth.  To try and mollify the shame he felt he spent the rest of his life searching the dark tunnels below Dunstanburgh Castle for her.   He never found her and was said to have died still searching for her.   The ghost of Sir Guy is said to be still wandering the ruins of the forlorn castle forever seeking out the sleeper on the crystal plinth in the hope of finding and rescuing her.

© 20/03/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright March 20th, 2017 zteve t evans

 

 

Canarian Folktales: The Legend of Gara and Jonay

La Gomera, view towards Teide

From Wikimedia Commons – La Gomera, view towards Mount Teide – Image by Tamara Kulikova – CC BY-SA 4.0

La Gomera

La Gomera is one of the seven Canary Islands which are an autonomous community of Spain situated to the west of Morocco in the Atlantic Ocean  The original inhabitants before the arrival of the Spanish were the Guanche people who were believed to be related to the Berber people of North Africa.   Although much of their culture has been lost some still exists and can be found in legends and traditions of the islands.  Roughly situated in the middle of the island is the Garajonay National Park which is a mountainous region of lush wild evergreen laurel forest. There is a folktale said to be of Guanche origin that tells how the Garajonay National Park was named after two lovers named Gara and Jonay.

The Legend of Gara and Jonay

Gara was a princess of Agula that was known as a place of water on La Gomera and looked across the sea to Mount Teide on Tenerife.  Jonay was a prince and the son of the Mencey of Adeje a ruler of Tenerife known as the place of fire.  This was because of the great volcano Mount Teide that the Guanches called Echeyde or Hell, that was situated on the the island.  Presented here is a retelling of the legend of Gara and Jonay garnered from several other versions.

Los Chorros de Epina

chorros_de_epina

From Wikimedia Commons – Chorros de Epina – Photo by Noemi M.M. – CC BY-SA 3.0

On La Gomera, there was a tradition that there were even places where magic waters could be found.  These waters had special properties beneficial to health and good fortune and were said to be able to foretell the future.   One such place was called Los Chorros de Epina which is a natural spring that local legend says has healing powers and can also reveal the future to an extent.  The spring water is fed through seven wooden tubes which turn the flow into seven jets of water each of which has different attributes.

According to tradition men should drink from the odd numbered jets starting from left to right and women should drink from the even numbered jets.  It was said the first two pipes were for health, the next two pipes were for love and the next two were for fortune. The seventh jet should only be used by witches.  It was a tradition that the Epina jets were visited by local girls to discover who their future husband or lover would be.  They would take a drink and look into the water. If it was clear they would meet their true love within one year.  However, if it appeared cloudy then the girl would not find a lover.

Princess Gara went to the jets and took a drink and looked into the water.   At first, she just saw her reflection in the clear water.  Then to her alarm, her face turned into a fiery ball like the sun and the water bubbled and hissed as steam rose and the flames tried to mix with the water.  This frightened her and she went to a wise man of the island named Gerián, to ask his advice.  He told her that this was a bad omen saying fire and water could not mix and warned her of trouble brewing in the future.

The Festival of Beñesmen

The festival of Beñesmen was a popular and important festival in the Canary Islands. The Mencey of Adeje, who was one of the kings from the neighboring island of Tenerife, visited La Gomera to take part in the celebrations and with him he brought his son, Prince Jonay.
There were many competitions taking place where the young men of the islands competed against each other, showing off their physical prowess to the girls hoping to impress them.  Jonay took part in many competitions and excelled in all and caught the eye of Gara who cheered him wildly.   Her cheering caught the eye of Jonay and as their eyes met they fell in love.

Every day Jonay would sail across to La Gomera from Tenerife to see Gara.  Their love blossomed and spent many happy hours together walking in the enchanted laurel forest.  After a time the two lovers asked their family for permission to marry which was gladly given and the engagement was publicly and formally announced and all the people rejoiced.

Fire and Water

During the night, Mount Teide the great volcano on Tenerife began sewing forth flame and lava.  A great plume of smoke rose high in the sky and the sea turned red as blood and bubbled and heaved.  As the volcano became increasingly fiery and the sea more dangerous the people grew afraid.  Gerián the wise man who Gara had asked for advice went to see her parents and told them of what she had told him of the vision at the Epina jets.  He warned them that fire and water cannot mix and told them about her relationship with Jonay.  Then he went to Tenerife to see the Mencey of Adeje and warned him of his son’s relationship with Gara.

The two families forbade their son and daughter to meet again.  The lovers were devastated and heartbroken but reluctantly obeyed their parents.   This appeared to satisfy the volcano which ceased spewing out lava and flame and as Mount Teide grew quiet the skies cleared and the seas became calm and the people were glad.

Despite the appeasement of the volcano Jonay could not get Gara out of his mind.  One night while his parents slept he stole down to the sea and tied two goatskins around his waist which he had inflated.  Plunging into the sea he swam from Tenerife to La Gomera in the night.  Gara was overjoyed to see him again and the two vowed that never again would they be parted.  Gara’s parents soon missed their daughter and began searching for her.  Realizing they had been discovered the two lovers fled through the tangled laurel forests of La Gomera until they reached the highest mountain.  The same morning in alarm, Gara’s father called out his army who quickly hunted the two runaways down and by evening had them surrounded.  The setting sun set the sky aglow turning the sea as red as blood.

A Vow of Love

Knowing they would be caught and forced to separate the two made a vow of love.  Jonay took his knife and cut a straight branch from one of the laurel trees and sharpened both ends.   The two lovers positioned the spike to press upon their hearts.  As the soldiers surrounding them advanced the two lovers pressed together in one final embrace and as the fiery sun sank into the bloodred ocean, fire and water became one.

© 07/03/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright March 7th, 2017 zteve t evans