Azorean Folktales: The Mask of Linda Branca

Jean-François Portaels [Public domain]
Presented here is a retelling of a folktale from the Portuguese islands of the Azores called , Linda Branca and her Mask, from a collection called The Islands of Magic,  Legends, Folk and Fairy Tales from the Azores, by Elsie Spicer Ells and illustrated by E.L. Brock.  According to the author, women in the Azores would often say “Stay pretty,” as a farewell to each other when parting and wonders if this story had anything to do with it.

Linda Branca and her Mask

There once lived a long, long, time ago a very beautiful girl who had grown tired of being beautiful whose name was Linda Branca.  Many girls of her age would have envied her as her beauty made her the focus of all of the handsome young men in the neighborhood and indeed for miles around who were all desperate to court and marry her.

Every night in the street under her balcony young men would appear singing the most beautiful romantic ballads they had written themselves just for her.  Their songs were carefully written hoping to impress her and make her fall in love with the singer of the song.

In fact none of them did and she grew bored and tired listening to the same performance every evening.  She did not like hearing them sing in public of her glowing hair, flashing eyes and beauty finding it all disconcerting and in truth false.  Some nights she could not sleep with all the singing under her balcony and would be grateful when her neighbours opened the windows and shouted at them to be quiet.

Nevertheless, all of her suitors were all very good looking, very rich, and very cocksure of themselves.  They placed bets among themselves, each betting they would be the one to win the hand of the lovely Linda Branca.  When Linda heard about this she was angry and unhappy. Although most girls would have given anything for her beauty and such male attention she began to see it as a curse.  

Her mother had died giving birth to her leaving her father to bring her up.  Although he loved her very much and tried his hardest there are always times when a girl needs her mother.  To make it harder as she grew up he was always away on business.

“I wish I was as homely as the girls in the marketplace and not considered beautiful and desirable by men.  I want a man who loves me not for my beauty but for who I am. I don’t want to be owned by anyone and I don’t want to own anyone else,”  she said one day.  She knew the young men only desired to possess her beauty and cared not for what she did, what she thought, or who she was.  To them she was a prize that would prove their manhood and how handsome and wonderful they were to possess her.

Linda Branca did not want to be possessed by anyone. Linda Branca was determined to be the mistress of her own destiny.  Yes, she greatly desired a soulmate – a companion – who knew and understood her intimately and who she knew in the same way.  She knew that he would not be found singing under her window under the moon above. She knew that those who had laid bets on owning her would be losers for she would never accept such young men.  

The Artist

Linda Branca now saw her beauty as a curse and standing upon her balcony looking down into the street said aloud in frustration,

“If only I could be as homely as that girl walking over there I would have a chance of finding my star – my soulmate, my lover, my hero and would gladly marry him.  All these handsome young men are indeed very attractive but they are shallow and fickle and when I begin to age they would forsake me, that is what they do all the time.  I want someone to grow with to an old age becoming closer and closer.”

As she spoke she looked at the girl’s plain homely face and eyes, Her ordinary hair and body and said, not realising the girl could hear her,

“If only I was as plain and homely as her I could find someone who loved me for myself to marry and be happy, but with all of these unsuitable young men in the way I fear I shall never find my husband and soulmate.”

The girl heard the complaints of LInda Branca and looked up and seeing how beautiful she was she was truly astonished.   She thought she must have been hearing things and challenged Linda Branca to say it again. Although a little embarrassed at being overheard Linda Branca was unrepentant and repeated what she had said that she wanted to be as homely looking as she, though she apologized if this should offend her.

However, the girl was not offended and smiling up at her said, “It so happens I am an artist and one of my arts is making masks.  If you really want I can make you a mask to be as plain and homely as you want, but be careful with what you wish for!”

Linda Branca was astounded and at the same time very pleased with the suggestion. “Please make me a mask to make me look ordinary and homely, it is very much my heart’s desire!”  she exclaimed joyfully.

“Are you really sure about this? asked the artist.

“Yes! Yes! Yes! Please make it as fast as you can!” begged Linda Branca.

As evening fell the usual cacophony  of young men singing their hearts out found Linda Branca stood on the balcony looking this way and that.  This was a most pleasant surprise to them as she usually never appeared to acknowledge their romantic efforts.

But it was not the love songs that Linda Branca was on the balcony to for.  She was hoping to see the artist appearing along the road with her mask but she did not come.  

Evening after evening she stood looking out from the balcony. The young men below crooned their hearts out thinking that she must be choosing her most favored suitor. Indeed, as she stood looking out from her balcony her sparkling eyes and dark flowing hair sent them into raptures of song.  While the young men below were all very excited by her appearances the young woman besieged upon the balcony was not remotely interested in them at all. She was simply looking out for the arrival of the artist who bore the mask of Linda Branca.

The idea of a mask had greatly excited her and she hoped it would solve all her problems.  She was so excited she would not have been able to sleep even if the barrage of love songs floating up from her desperate suitors below ceased to exist. When she did manage to sleep in her she dreams she saw herself wearing the mask.  Sometimes her beauty was covered up by the likeness of a plump homely girl. Sometimes a skinny homely girl and once or twice with the face of a donkey. She thought they would all have adequately covered her loveliness and would gladly accepted any of them.

The Mask

At last a week later the artist finally arrived with the mask which was none too soon as she had grown very impatient and began to give up hope.  When the artist showed her the mask she could see why it had taken so long. It was indeed a very plain face, though not ugly, but homely and unremarkable and just like a real human face.  The kind of face that does not stand out and is easily lost in a crowd. It was an amazing work that had required great skill, patience and artistry to create and now it was here ready for her to wear and said, “Why, it is even better than I had hoped.  It will cover my beauty and is not too ugly but plain enough not to stand out in the crown and be recognized!”  She was confident that when she put it on not one of the flocks of admiring suitors would recognize her and she made a plan.  

Having no mother to answer to and her father being away on business would make her plan easier.  Her father was a successful businessman who made a great deal of money and doted on his daughter.  When he came home after being away he would take her out and buy her expensive presents of jewelry and fine clothes that enhanced her beauty.  She rarely wore them but there were two gowns that she particularly liked. One was blue and trimmed with silver and the other was also blue but trimmed with gold.  Although at the time she had no plan to wear them she thought that maybe one day she would be in need of something finer to wear on some occasions. Therefore, she packed these  and a few other belongings into a bag.

Placing her new mask upon her face and a long, dark cloak around her shoulders she left the house walking through her crowds of admirers who never gave her a glance.  Wasting no time she traveled to the city and finding the palace of the king, knocked on the door and asked a surly looking woman who answered if they required a maid.  The surely looking woman was the King’s mother and glaring at Linda replied, “It is my son who is the King, therefore you must ask him,” and took her to see the King.

The King looked down on Linda unkindly and said, “Only last week I employed a new girl servant purely because she was so very pretty.  I think I will employ you purely because you are very plain.”

Not a very nice thing to say you would think, but this was music to the ears of Linda Branca as she took up her employment in the service of the King. However, although the song sounded nice to begin with she would find it would go on far too long for her liking.

She met the pretty maid whom the king had employed the previous week and saw that although she was pretty she was not anywhere near as pretty as herself without the mask.  Furthermore she discovered that it was she who would get all of the hard and dirty jobs while the pretty maid smiled and fluttered her eyes at her employer and was given the easier tasks.

Although her sleep was no longer being disturbed by her many suitors singing under her balcony, because of all of the hard work she was going to bed exhausted and sleeping through until sunrise.  When she awoke she would have a quick breakfast and then begin work again carrying water, scrubbing floors, washing dishes and doing all the tiring unpleasant jobs around the palace.

While she was working away the pretty maid would be doing all the easy tasks like waiting upon the King and laughing at his jokes. As the days went by the more work she was given the less the pretty maid received.  Furthermore, she could not help but notice it was the pretty maid who received all of the praise and attention from all of the high people. All she ever received was more and more work. It was clear the pretty maid had the easier, happier life and was never as tired as herself when she went to bed.  Linda Branca began to think that just maybe there was something to being pretty after all. “I am wondering if maybe I should once again be pretty!” she said to herself as she climbed exhausted into her bed one night.

The Banquet

The following evening there was to be a great banquet that would be held over two days and Linda went to the King’s mother to ask her if she could attend.  As usual the King’s mother was not in a very good mood and told her angrily, “Go and ask my son for he is King!”

Therefore Linda bided her time until she was in the King’s presence tasked with the job of polishing his boots.  

“Please may I go to the banquet tonight?” she asked as politely as she could.

“What? Go away or I will boot you!” replied the King.

In the evening after the feast had begun Linda Branca unpacked her beautiful blue gown trimmed with silver.  She put it on and taking off her mask looked into the mirror. She saw she was still just as pretty as she had ever been and far prettier than the pretty maid.  Indeed, she found it quite a pleasure to see herself pretty once again after such a long time of being plain. Wasting no more time she took herself down to the banqueting hall and mingled with the guests.  

The Land of the Boot

Everyone was astonished to meet this beautiful and mysterious young woman.  She was the talk of the evening and the King paid her special attention dancing and chatting gaily with her becoming completely beguiled by her beauty.

“May I ask where it is you come from, beautiful one?” he said as they danced.

“Why, I come from the land of the boot,” replied Linda Branca laughing gaily at her own little joke and slipped from his hand and was gone leaving the King bemused and trying to puzzle out where the land of the boot was.

The King was most perplexed.  He had never heard of the land of the boot and he asked his mother and all of his wise men but they had never heard of any such place.  The next day he spent his time pouring through books and maps searching in vain for the land of the boot but could not find even one single mention of it.

“I want to marry her, she is the most beautiful maiden I have evers seen.  How will I ever be able to see her again if I cannot even find the land she comes from?”  he cried to his courtiers.

The King fell into a depression and all of his courtiers and counsellors were worried.  It was very disconcerting that their King had fallen deeply in love with a mysterious and unknown maiden from a far country and nobody knew its location or could even find it on a map.

The next day Linda Branca donned her mask and went about her work as usual but found she seemed to have even more and harder tasks than usual while the pretty maid had none. The King passed by looking down at the plain girl he had employed as she scrubbed the floor.

Later after she had completed her work she went to the King’s mother to ask permission to attend the banquet that evening. “You must ask the King,” she snapped in reply.  Therefore at an opportune moment while the pretty maid was brushing the King’s hair she asked him ever so politely if she could attend the banquet that evening.

“What!” cried the King, “Get you gone or I will hit with my hairbrush!”

In the evening after she had finished her work she put on her beautiful blue gown with the gold trim, took off  her mask and looked at herself in the mirror. She was pleased to see that if anything she looked lovelier that ever and went down to mingle with the guests in the banqueting hall.

The Land of the Hairbrush

As she entered the King, who had been watching the door attentively, gave a  happy cry and ran over to greet her. From then on he danced with her all evening chatting and laughing gaily and never left her side.

“And what country did you say you came from?” he asked politely.

“Why, I am from the land of the hairbrush!” said Linda giggling at her own little joke.

“And where is that land?” asked the King but the intriguing maiden would not tell him no matter how he implored. He turned around to call over his wise men and asked them where the land of the hairbrush was not none of them knew.  When he looked round again he found the beautiful and mysterious maiden had gone.

“Find her!” he commanded and although the banqueting hall was searched high and low there was no sign of that mysterious maiden, just some plain servant girl washing up in the kitchen.

The next day the King and all of his wise men poured over books and maps searching for the whereabouts of the land of the hairbrush but found not even a mention.  The king flew into a rage and chased them all out and went through the maps and books alone.

He would not eat and he would not sleep but continued to study all the maps and books in the palace.  When he had studied these and found nought he decreed that all the books and maps in the land must be sent to the palace.  From then on he studied each and everyone himself for the land of the hairbrush and the land of the boot refusing to eat, sleep or drink until he had found it.  

All the books and maps in his kingdom were brought to his palace and as good as his word he studied each one without taking a single sip to drink, a single bite to eat, or a single wink of sleep.  By the time he had finished he was so weak he had to be carried to bed by his physicians but he had not found those mysterious lands. They begged him to eat and drink but he refused and said, “What do I care for food, or drink or sleep?  I only care for the beautiful maiden I was dancing with.”

When Linda Branca heard the King was ill she took off her mask and put on her blue gown with the silver trim that she had worn on the first night.  Looking at herself in the mirror she thought, “Maybe, It is not such a terrible thing to be pretty after all!”

The Masquerader Unmasked

Sneaking outside she made her way to the window of the King’s bedroom and peeped in for a few minutes before one of the King’s counsellors saw her.

“Whose is that beautiful face looking through the window at the King!” he cried.

“It is the mysterious maiden from the land of the boot,” said one.

“Nay, it is the beautiful maiden from the land of the hairbrush,” cried another.

The King jumped out of bed and ran to the window but when he opened it, there was no one to be seen.

“Mother, tell me who was at my window!” he cried.

“There was no one, or maybe just a masquerader,”  she answered nonchalantly but she was very worried about her son fearing he was so ill he would die.

The following day the King had grown weaker and the royal physicians feared the worst. The King lay on his bed, refusing to eat, drink or sleep with his eyes set firmly on the bedroom window should the lovely face return.  The entire palace fell quiet and as an atmosphere of gloom pervaded, Linda Branca, this time dressed herself in the blue gown with the gold trim and sneaked to the King’s bedroom window and peeped in.

She looked directly into the face of the King and he looked into hers. “Ha!” he cried jumping up and running to the window and managed to grasp a handful of the blue skirt.

“Masquerader, unmask yourself!” he cried.

Linda had quickly put on her mask and looked into the King’s face with the face of the plain girl he had employed for her plainess.  He stepped back in surprise and then she slipped off the mask revealing her true beautiful face smiling at him with shining eyes.

“Ha! Now I know who the beautiful mysterious maiden from the land of the boot and the land of the hairbrush is!” he cried.

Confession

With that Linda Branca confessed to the king and his mother and all present.  She told them the entire story of how she had longed to be plain and how she had concealed her beauty with the mask the artist had made for her.

No one had ever heard of a maiden who had yearned plainess instead of being proud of the beauty that nature had bestowed upon her. The King’s mother said,  “I have always been confident my son would one day choose a rare and beautiful woman to be his wife,” while giving him a little dig in the ribs.

Marriage

The King remained silent for a long time gazing upon the lovely face of Linda Branca with such love in his eyes but what he said was not what his mother expected. “If it was the will of Linda Branca I would humbly beg her hand in marriage.”

Linda Branca looked at the King in surprise and in his eyes she saw nothing but love but then turning quickly she placed her mask quickly on and turned again to face him,

“And how would you have her as your wife?” she said looking him full in the face while she wore the mask, “Like this?”

The King looked at her in the mask and looked deep into her eyes for they were still her own beautiful eyes that he saw.

Or perhaps like this?” she said pirouetting  and pulling the mask off to face the King in her own natural beauty.

After a pause the King  answered thoughtfully, speaking with deep sincerity,
“I am asking for the hand of Linda Branca in marriage but in doing so I wish her to know that if she should accept there are three conditions that she must understand and agree.  The first is that she would be her own sovereign over her own body and her own mind. The second is that she will have complete sovereignty over my body, soul and all my worldly goods.  The third is that should she so wish she may wear or not wear the mask as is her want and it will make no difference for my love to her.”

Linda Branca looked at the King in surprise and for once she felt loved and desired above all. At last she knew deep down that she was happy to be blessed with beauty and from then on she would stay pretty.

© 26/06/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright June 26th, 2019 zteve t evans

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Azorean Folktales: Why the Owl Flies at Night

Presented here is a retelling of a folktale called, Why the Owl Flies at Night,  from, The Islands of Magic,  Legends, Folk and Fairy Tales from the Azores – by Elsie Spicer Eells and illustrated by E. L. Brock.

Why the Owl Flies at Night

In days gone by, on the steep slopes of the volcanic hill of Monte Brasil that overlook the Bay of Angra, stood a little chapel dedicated to St. Anthony.  It was built to hold an image of that same saint that had been carried from some unknown place by the strong currents and rough waves of the sea to rest upon the shores of the bay below the hill.

Pedro

In that time there was a young boy named Pedro who after his mother had died lived with his father nearby.  His father had married again but his new wife treated young Pedro cruelly. She made him wear old, worn ragged clothes and all the children in the parish would mock and point at him because of the state of his clothing.

Pedro would often go to the little chapel and pray to St. Anthony for strength and comfort.  One day as he was getting up off his knees after a prayer to the saint he noticed a very strange thing had happened.  To his surprise he found his old, worn ragged clothes had suddenly become new and unblemished and he was now immaculately dressed in very smart clothing as good – indeed better – than any other child in his village.

His Stepmother

When he got home his stepmother stares at him in disbelief, “Where did you get those clothes from?” she demanded,  “You must have stolen them!  Why, you are nothing but a little thief!”

Pedro truthfully told her what had happened but she refused to believe him.

“Your father can deal with it!” she cried, “In the meantime take the water jars to the spring and bring me back some water.  Do it now and understand that I don’t want to be kept waiting for water, now go!”

The Spring

Picking up the heavy jars he made his way to the top of the hill where the little spring bubbled out.  The spring supplied Pedro and his family as well as the neighbors with water most of the year round, but at times it failed and this was one of those times.  His stepmother had been told this earlier by neighbors but still out of spite she sent the boy to the top of the hill carrying two heavy stone jars on a task she knew he could not fulfill.  On his way up, Pedro met an old man coming down. “There is no water in the spring,” the old man told him, “maybe tomorrow.”

He had almost reached the spring and the jars were making his arms ache. The other spring was much further away and he doubted if he got there he would have the strength to carry two full jars of water all the way home.  He decided he would continue on and see for himself.

When he arrived at the spring he was surprised and very pleased to see that there was plenty of good clean water bubbling up, indeed, bubbling up much faster that he could remember.  As he stared with amazement he thought about how somehow he had been furnished with the brand new suit of clothes that he was wearing and he began to wonder.

“This  must be my lucky day,” he cried happily filling both jars with water,  “St. Anthony is smiling upon me.  He must have heard my prayers and given me my new clothes and made the waters of the spring run,”   and he offered up a  silent prayer of thanks to the saint.

With  his jars full of water Pedro took them home.  His mother was gobsmacked when he came through the door with two jars full of water.  “What! Where did you get that water from?” she demanded.  Pedro truthfully told her it had come from the spring on the hill.

“You lie! That spring is dry today.  Wait until I tell your father, he will give you a sound beating!” she cried.  As well as being frightened by the threatened beating Pedro was puzzled why his stepmother had sent him up the hill to the spring when she believed it was dry.  

Fire Wood

The next thing he knew was she had dumped a large basket in his hands saying, “Go into the garden and pick up all of the wood for the fire.  Now hurry I don’t want to be kept waiting. Go!”

Pedro thought this a very strange request as all of the wood in the garden had been used up long ago.  The evening was falling and he went into the garden in failing light but there was nothing there but red, white, yellow and pink roses.  The night fell quickly but stoically he went and looked anyway but there were no sticks of wood to be found just the roses. The only place he knew where he could get some wood was high on the steep slopes of Monte Brasil.  However, it was dark and it was a long hard path climbing the steep slopes of Monte Brasil and he was feeling very tired. As two great tears rolled down his face he felt a presence next to him and turning saw it was St Anthony who stood smiling down kindly upon him.

St. Anthony

“Why the tears, young man?” he asked kindly,  “I have been watching you for a long time and I know you do not cry easily, even when life is hard.  Boys with less courage than you would spend their time weeping.”

“I weep because I have to fill this basket with fire wood from the garden, but there is nothing in the garden but roses.  I am very tired and I have been threatened with a beating and it is becoming too dark, much too dark to go up to Monte Brasil and search for firewood.”

“Listen to me,” replied St Anthony, “and have faith in what I say.  Go into the garden and fill the basket with roses and  when it is full take it to your stepmother and give it to her.  You must have faith in what I say and remember I shall be with you.”

Pedro went into the dark  garden and filled it with all the different colored roses and then he took it into the house to his stepmother.  As he handed the basket to his stepmother he was surprised to see that instead of roses the basket contained firewood.

“What!” cried his stepmother in shock, “Where ever did you get this wood from?  There are only roses in the garden and you have not been gone long enough to go up to Monte Brasil in the dark.  Where did you get it from?”

Grabbing him roughly by the collar of his smart new shirt she shook him fiercely terrifying him.  He looked around hoping to escape but St Anthony was stood behind smiling kindly and then in a voice like thunder said,

St Anthony’s Punishment

“Woman, cease your violence!  This boy has done you no harm and obeyed your every request.  I have been watching the spiteful and malicious way you have been treating him and you will be punished.  As you have sent this young boy out into the dark night you too shall go into the dark.”

With these words spoken the stepmother changed from being a woman into an owl with great circles for eyes, for those eyes gazed upon the wrath of St Anthony.  From that moment on she lived in darkness.  That is why the owl is a creature of the night.

© 12/06/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attribution and Further Reading

Copyright June 12th, 2019 zteve t evans

The Legend of Nurse Maggie, The Crystal Palace and Old Father Rhine

Presented below is a retelling of a story called The Crystal Palace from, The Crystal Palace and Other Legends, by Marie H. Frary and Charles Maurice Stebbins

There was once a rather quaint old lady who was named Nurse Maggie by the children who lived in a village called Zurdof along the great River Rhine.  Nurse Maggie was very kindly and caring and was a very good nurse and was often called upon to care for the village children when they fell ill.   The children loved this because she would tell them the most wonderful stories of the olden days; of  bold knights and lovely ladies and the great castles they lived in. She told them stories of the nymphs of the wood and water and of fairies and elves, but the stories they liked the beast were the ones she told of old Father Rhine and what follows was one of their favorites.

One Dark, Wet, Night

The story begins one dark, wet,  night while Maggie was sat at home in her tiny cottage knitting before the fire. All of a sudden she heard a sharp knock at the door.  Putting her knitting on the table she went to the door to see who was rapping upon her door.  Opening it she found a very strange man carrying a lantern of peculiar design and pattern.  He did not say a word but instead beckoned to her to follow him, but Maggie hesitated.  Outside the rain was pouring down and the road was littered with puddles deep and wide, but that was not the reason for her hesitation.  The reason was because the man was a stranger and she had never seen anyone like him before in her life.

Seeing her hesitate and understanding her wariness, the stranger smiled kindly upon her, easing her anxiety and again he beckoned to her to follow him.  This time she followed him of the warmth and shelter of her cottage and down the dark street that led to the River Rhine. Along the way she paddling through puddles that became deeper and deeper.  Suddenly water began to flow all around her and she began to panic, but the stranger beckoned her on.

“Sir,” she said, “I cannot go on!  What kind of a man are you and what do you want of me, this of all nights?”

The River Rhine

The stranger said nothing, instead he scooped her up into his arms and plunged forward into the River Rhine which had burst its banks.  Its waters were rose fast swirling all around poor, terrified Maggie who was now carried in the arms of the stranger.   Down into the swirling water he took her, down, down and deeper than down, through the cold, dark, water he carried her.  She closed her eyes and prayed for surely this was her end and stopped her struggling giving into the overwhelming force of the water.  Down the stranger carried her and Maggie wondered why she had not drowned and after what seemed like age they came through the water and she found herself in the most marvelous crystal palace.

The Crystal Palace

Mighty relieved at finding herself out of the cold water Maggie gazed around her and was awestruck at what she saw.  All around her were walls of pure crystal imbedded with precious stones and gems. A massive, magnificent, crystal dome arched over her head and she saw she was in an enormous crystal palace. Above and around it flowed the cold, dark waters of the mighty Rhine. All around were ornaments and artifacts of  gold and silver and then she spied, laid upon a bed of pure crystal with silk coverings a most lovely golden-haired nymph. She looked very pale, very weak and very ill and yet had fragile kind of beauty and the kind heart of Maggie reached out to her knowing she was close to death.

Nursing the Nymph

The strange old man turned to Maggie and said,  “I know you are an excellent nurse and this is my beautiful wife, who is very ill as you can see.  I have bought you here to my crystal palace in the hope that you will agree to nurse her back to health.  If you agree and bring her back to health, I will reward you so well you shall never regret it.”

Maggie looked upon the poor wan nymph and was touched by how beautiful she looked and as compassion rose in her heart she instantly agreed.   Maggie nursed her so carefully and diligently that her charge soon began to improve in health and gain strength and soon she was well and whole again.

When she became strong enough to talk, the nymph told her that her husband was, in fact, the water god that people called Old Father Rhine.  She explained that she had once lived on earth and that her father was King Rheidt and told her the story of how she had met her husband.

The Dance

One day she was at a dance held in a village alongside the Rhine, when a strange old man wearing clothes of foamy green had asked her to dance.  Being someone who is polite and friendly she had agreed. He took her round and round the dance floor, faster and faster with each turn, until finally they danced alongside the river and they had plunged into it.  Taking her in his arms, he took her down, down deeper than down, to his crystal palace. There they fell in love and had married and lived happily together ever since.  

Then she said,  “With your kindness, compassion and skill you have nursed me back to health and I thank you for that, but soon it will be time for you to return to earth.  When it is time Father Rhine will offer to reward you most generously, but only accept from him your normal fee. He will offer try to persuade you to accept far greater reward but you must insist he only pay you your normal charge.   Father Rhine detests greedy money-grabbing people, but loves those who are generous and sincere and he will remember you.”

Maggie’s Reward

As she finished talking Father Rhine came into the room and seeing his wife healthy and once again in full bloom asked Maggie to follow him.  She followed him through many wonderful halls of the crystal palace until they came to a vast room filled with all kinds of treasure. There were piles of gold and silver, diamonds, emeralds and rubies and precious gems of all kinds.  The river god was grateful to old Maggie for nursing his beautiful wife back to health and he implored her to take whatever she wanted from the treasure. As she gazed at all the wonderful treasures before her eyes he watched thoughtfully waiting to see what she would select.

Maggie gazed upon the treasure and it filled her eyes.  She thought just how much good she could do if she only had a fraction of that glittering hoard and after all she had earned a reward for saving the life of his wife.  Then she thought of all the people she had heard of who had let greed enter their rule their hearts and rule them.  

Stooping down she select a small item of the value she would have charged for her normal fee.  Old Father Rhine urged her to take more, but she firmly and most courteously refused. She told him nursing was her gift from god and it was her duty to help others with that gift.  Therefore, seeing his wife whole and healthy was for her the greatest gift possible.

Nurse Maggie

The river god nodded and took her by the hand and led her along a long, dark, corridor and she found herself in cold swirling water, but he took her up in his arms and swam up through the water and gently placed her on the bank of the Rhine near her own dear cottage.  As he turned to say goodbye, he placed a handful of gold coins into her lap and dived into the swirling waters and was gone. Ever since Nurse Maggie has continued to nurse the sick people, especially the children, of her village back to health. All her patients – especially the children – love her tell them the story of Old Father Rhine and how she nursed his wife in the crystal palace under the waters of the mighty River Rhine.

© 13/11/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright November 13th, 2018 zteve t evans

 

 

Beowulf’s Last Battle: The Great Flame Dragon

This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com as British Legends: Beowulf and the Great Flame Dragon by zteve t evans on 26/07/2018

Role Model

Beowulf is an anonymously written long poem originally written in Old English, the language commonly spoken in England in Anglo-Saxon times. It is named after its protagonist, Beowulf, a warrior from Geatland, and tells of his heroic adventures, great strength, courage, and prowess in battle. As well as providing an exciting story, its hero displays all the desired virtues of the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy and warrior class in which it is set, making Beowulf a role model and inspiration for others of the time to follow. The main events of the poem tell how he defeated two monstrous beings, and ends with a battle with a flame dragon that costs him his life.

Beowulf and JRR Tolkien

The poem has influenced many modern works such as The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Fans of Tolkien will recognise many of the motifs and themes in the poem. In 1936, Tolkien gave a distinguished lecture,“Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics“ which was published in the journal Proceedings of the British Academy and a translation of the poem “Beowulf” was published posthumously. The underlying theme of the poem was the mortality of humankind and the struggle to live in an unsympathetic and often unfriendly world, which inevitably brings defeat and death in due time regardless of fame, status, and achievement. There are many different versions that have been made of the story by many different writers. Presented here is a retelling from the poem of Beowulf’s battle with the flame dragon and his death, influenced by various sources listed below.

Grendel and his Monstrous Mother

In his youth, Beowulf set out leading a company of young men to Denmark to slay the monstrous being called Grendel. Beowulf encountered Grendel in the great hall of King Hrothgar, and successfully defeated and mortally wounded him. Grendel escaped to the lair he shares with his mother at the bottom of a lake and dies. His mother, seeking vengeance, returned to the hall and killed one of King Hrothgar’s earls. Beowulf tracked her back to the lake and, entering the water, sank to the bottom where he found a cave which is the lair of the two monstrous beings. There he fought and killed Grendel’s mother and cut off Grendel’s head, returning with it to the surface as proof of his victory. For slaying the monsters, Beowulf won great praise and was richly rewarded by King Hrothgar of Denmark. Returning to his homeland of Geatland, he was welcomed by King Hygelac, his uncle, who proclaimed him the greatest warrior in the north lands. Songs and stories were made of his encounter with Grendel and his monstrous mother, and his fame spread far and wide.

Beowulf is Crowned King

After King Hygelac was killed in battle and death took his son and heir, Beowulf was crowned King of Geatland.  Beowulf’s rule was long and happy and the country prospered. With age, Beowulf grew wiser and more dignified and his people loved him and looked up to him. Despite his fame and past success, he yearned for a chance to once again prove himself in some test of strength and courage. He had won many battles, but nothing appeared to match the slaying of Grendel and his monstrous mother, and he grew restless.

One dark, cold winter’s night, as Beowulf sat in his great mead hall with his earls about him, there came a frantic knocking at the door. On opening the door, the doorkeeper found a ragged stranger, begging to be taken to the king. The man was poorly dressed for a cold winter’s night, and what he did wear was torn and dirty. Not liking the look of the man the doorkeeper forbade him entry. Wiglaf, the son of Weohstan, one of the king’s most faithful earls, came over to see what was happening. On seeing the state of the man and the terrified look upon his face, he spoke to him saying:

“Welcome stranger, the night is bitter and I see you shiver.  I know not whether you shiver from the cold or some unknown terror, for I see fear in your face and eyes. Whatever the cause tell us your name and come in and eat and drink with us and explain yourself to our king.”

The Stranger’s Tale

The stranger became confused and his head jerked this way and that. Wiglaf, thinking the man was refusing to say his name and rejecting the hospitality offered, dragged him before the king saying:

“Sire, this man comes knocking at your door this bitter winter night and refuses to say his name and refuses our hospitality. Therefore, I bring him to answer in person to you. What would you have me do with him?”

Beowulf leaned forward and set his keen blue eyes upon him and, looking kindly upon the shivering, ragged stranger, said:

“Come now man, have no fear. No one will harm you here. Tell us your name and why you come knocking at the door of my mead hall on this cold night.”

The stranger knelt before Beowulf and said in a trembling voice:

“Sire, I have no name and I have no home, and because of this, these last few days I took to wandering in the wilds in search of a place I could shelter through the winter. This morning I found a great barrow, and seeking shelter I found an entrance that turned into a long tunnel. The tunnel at least offered the potential of shelter, so I followed it until I entered a great wide and high space and found it lit by some unknown light. Looking about I was amazed to see piled all around the sides masses and masses of gold and silver artifacts and many, many chests of precious jewels of all kinds and colors. Indeed, the worth of all this treasure must be beyond measure. Then I realized the light was coming from a sleeping dragon that glowed in the dark, lighting up the cave, and in terror I ran back the way I had come.”

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Vancouver Legends: The Lost Island

 

Legends of Vancouver

Emily Pauline Johnson, also known as Tekahionwake, was a Canadian poet and performer.  Her father was a hereditary Mohawk chief of mixed ancestry, while her mother was an English immigrant.  In 1911, she published a collection of legends and folktales told to her by Chief Joe Capilano, based on the stories and traditions of his people.  She called the collection, “Legends of Vancouver,”  and published under the name E. Pauline Johnson.  In her Author’s Foreword she says,

“These legends (with two or three exceptions) were told to me personally by my honored friend, the late Chief Joe Capilano, of Vancouver, whom I had the privilege of first meeting in London in 1906, when he visited England and was received at Buckingham Palace by their Majesties King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

To the fact that I was able to greet Chief Capilano in the Chinook tongue, while we were both many thousands of miles from home, I owe the friendship and the confidence which he so freely gave me when I came to reside on the Pacific coast. These legends he told me from time to time, just as the mood possessed him, and he frequently remarked that they had never been revealed to any other English-speaking person save myself.”

Chief Joe Capilano, was also known as, Su-á-pu-luck, a leader of the Squamish people, indigenous to southwestern British Columbia, Canada.   Presented here is a retelling of one of those folktales called The Island. 

The Island

Su-á-pu-luck spoke saying, “Tekahionwake, our people have lost much over the years.  Our lands are gone, our hunting grounds and our game.  Our religion, language, legends and culture that our ancestors taught us from the beginning are forsaken and forgotten. Many young people do not know them today.

These things are gone and can never return.  The world has turned. Although we may seek them out in the hidden places; the high mountains, the dark forests or the concealed valleys of the world we will not find them.  They are gone forever like the island of the North Arm. Once it was there and now it is gone. Maybe it is somewhere near, but we just cannot see it. Although we paddle our canoes in the sea around the coast we’ll never again find the channel, or the inlet, that  leads to the past days of our people and the lost island.”

Tekahionwake  replied, “You know well there are many islands on the North Arm and many channels and inlets.”

“Yes, but none of  these are the island that our people have sought for many, many years,” Su-á-pu-luck told her sadly shaking his head.

“Perhaps it was never there,” she suggested.

Sighing and shaking his head he said,

“Once it was there.  Both my grandfathers saw it and their fathers saw it.  My father never saw it and neither did I. My father spent many years searching for it.  He searched all the sounds along the coast north and south, but he never found it. In my youth I sought it for many days.  At night I would take my canoe and paddle in the stillness of night. Twice, long ago, I saw its shadow. I saw the shadow of it high cliffs and rocky shores and the shadows of tall pines crowning its mountain summit as I paddled my canoe up the arm one summer night.  The shadow of the island fell across the water, across my canoe, across my face and across my eyes and entered into my head and has stayed. Then, I looked. I turned my canoe around and around and looked but it was gone. There was nothing but the water and the moon reflecting on it, and no, it was not a moon shadow, or a trick of the moon, “  

“Why do you keep searching for it?”  asked Tekahionwake, perhaps thinking of all of the dreams and hopes in her own life she could never attain.

“You see the island has something I want. I shall never stop searching!” he replied and fell silent.  She said nothing because she knew he was thinking and would tell her  a legend from the old days. At last, Su-á-pu-luck spoke,

“I tell you, Tekahionwake, long before the great city of Vancouver appeared when it was but a dream of our god Sagalie Tyee,  before the new people had thought of it, only one medicine man knew that there would be a great camp of new people between False Creek and the inlet.  The dream had come to him from Sagalie Tyee and it had haunted him ever since. When he was among his people laughing and feasting it was there. When he was on his own in the wilds singing his strange songs and beating upon his drum it was there in his mind. Even when enacting the sacred rituals that cured the sick and the dying, it was there.  The dream came to him again and again.

I tell you, Tekahionwake, it stayed with him following him through life wherever he went and he grew old and the dream stayed.   Always he heard the voices that had spoken to him in the days of his youth. They told him, ‘ There will come many, many, people who have crossed the sea and crossed the land. They will be as the leaves in the forest and they will built a great camp between the two strips of salt water.  Their arrival will bring the end of the great war dances. The end of wars with other people. The end of courage, the end of confidence. Our people will be dispossessed of our ways, of our tradition, of our land and who we are. Our people will learn the ways of the newcomers and our ways will be forgotten and we will no longer know ourselves.’

I knew the old man hated the words – hated the dream.  He was the strongest man, the most potent medicine man on the North Pacific Coast but even he could not stop it,  could not defeat it.

I tell you, Tekahionwake, he was a tall man, strong and mighty.  His endurance was like Leloo the timber wolf.  He did not need to eat for many days and could kill the mountain lion with his bare hands.  He could wrestle and defeat the grizzly bear. He could paddle his canoe through the wildest sea and the strongest wind riding upon the crest of the highest waves.

No warrior could stand against him, he could defeat whole tribes.  He had the strength and courage of a giant and feared nothing on land, sea, sky or in the forest, he was completely fearless.  The only thing he could not defeat – could not kill – was the dream of the coming of the newcomers. It haunted him! It was the only thing in life he had faced that he could not defeat.

I tell you, Tekahionwake, It obsessed him.  The obsession drove him from the village.  He left his people, the dancing, the story telling, he left his home village by the water’s edge where the salmon gathered and the deer quenched their thirst.  Chanting wild, wild songs he climbed through the trailess forest to the summit that the newcomers call Grouse Mountain.

On top of the world on Grouse Mountain he ate nothing and drank no water and fasted for days.  He chanted his medicine songs day and night. Below him, beneath the mountain, lay the strip of land between the two salt waters and in that high place  the Sagalie Tyee – the god of our people – gave him the gift of seeing into the future. As he looked out from the mountain over the strip of land his eyes saw across one hundred years.  

He looked over what is called the inlet and saw great lodges built close together in straight lines.  Some were tall and vast being built of wood and stone. He saw the strait trails the newcomers made between the lodges and saw crowds of newcomers swarming up and down them.  

He saw the great canoes of the newcomers and how they moved without paddles.  He saw the trading posts of the newcomers and how they multiplied. He saw the never ending stream of newcomers pouring steadily on to the strip of land and watched as they multiplied among themselves.  

gambierislandsilhouette

By Kyle Pearce from Vancouver, Canada (Gambier’s Distinct Shape) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

At last the vision faded and he saw the world in his own time and was afraid.  He called out to the Sagalie Tyee, ‘I have not much longer on this earth. Soon I shall meet my ancestors in the place prepared.  I pray to you not to let my strength and endurance die. I pray to you not to let my courage and fearlessness die. I pray to you not to let my wisdom and knowledge die.  Take them, keep them safe for my people that they may be strong and wise enough to endure the rule of the newcomers and remember who they are. Take these things from me and hide them where the newcomers cannot find them, but where someone from my people one day will.’

Finishing his prayer he went down from the top  of Grouse Mountain singing his songs of power to where he kept his canoe.  Launching it he paddled far up the North Arm, through the colors of the setting sun and long into the night.  At last he came to an island surrounded by high grey cliffs, where a mountain soared in its center crowned with pine trees.  As he drew near he could feel all of his courage, his bravery, his fearlessness and his great strength float from him as wisps of mist that wrapped themselves around the high cliffs and mountain shrouding the island from view.

With all his strength gone he barely managed to paddle back to the village.  When he arrived he called the people together and told them they must search for ‘The island’  where they would find all of his strength and courage still alive forever to help them with their dealings with the newcomers.  That night he drifted into sleep and in the morning he did not wake up.

Ever since our men, young and old, have sought for the island.  Somewhere, in some lost channel, some hidden inlet along the coast, it awaits us but we cannot find it.  The great medicine man told them one day we will find it and when we do we will get back his power along with all his strength, all his courage, all of the wisdom of our forefathers, because such things do not die but live on through our children and grandchildren and their children.”

His voice quivered and ceased and her heart went out to him as she thought of all of the of courage and strength he possessed. She said,

“Su-á-pu-luck, you say the shadow of this island has fallen upon you!”

“That is true, Tekahionwake,” he answered mournfully, “but only the shadow!”

© 31/10/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 31st, 2018 zteve t evans

 

Petrification Myths: The Witch Dancer of Lengmoos

rittnererdpyramiden

Fotograf: Stefan Kuhn – CC BY-SA 3.0

Petrification myths and legends are found all around the world.  Sometimes someone is turned to stone as and act of divine retribution when they upset the gods and sometimes legends are attached to natural geological features of the landscape.  The following is a rewrite of  a folktale called The Witches of Lengmoos from Tales and Legends of the Tyrol, by Countess Marie A. Günther and tells how an arrogant young man offended God and was punished for his offense by being  turned to stone.

The Witches of Lengmoos

In Lengstein, there was once the son of a rich peasant who traveled to many foreign places.  He met many people and saw many strange and wonderful things and came across many new ideas.  When he returned home he would mock all of the good and faithful peasants who would faithfully say the rosary every evening.  His mother became increasingly worried and concerned as she heard him mocking and belittling the holy church calling it nothing but the ridiculous joke of priests.

Thursday Nights

Every Thursday he was often found drinking with his friends in the local inn.  As the ale flowed so did the stories.  Many stories were told and each one was exaggerated a bit further than the last.   On one such evening one of his friends told how every Thursday night a coven of witches would meet and carry out rituals and dance on the Birchboden mountain nearby.   They would arrive on the wings of the wind coming from all directions and all areas of the country and there they would hold their dark Sabbat.

As soon as he heard this the young man boasted that he would join them in their dance that night.  His friends strongly advised him not to but despite their warning he would not listen and set off that very evening.   Reluctantly, his friends followed him, pleading with him not to go through with it, but he would not listen. They followed him to the Mittelberg where the Kebebelschmeide rises and the mountain stream called the Finsterbach rushes through a gully, but they would go no further that night.  The bold young man laughed at them calling them foolish and ran through the forest alone singing happy songs to a place where stood many pyramids of porphyry  twenty to thirty feet high.

The Witches Sabbat

On arriving he saw many, many witches all dancing wildly around in circles, leaping and performing somersaults and other acrobatics and tricks. The young man was delighted with what he saw and ran to join them in their wild dancing and antics.  There he stayed joining in with all of their dancing but as the church bells of Lengmoos struck midnight all of the pyramids of porphyry shuddered violently and the Finsterbach foamed up wildly.

The Witch Dancer

His friends watching from a safe distance saw all of this and then when a wild black storm hit the mountain in fury they ran to a nearby hut for shelter.  There they stayed until morning until the storm abated as quickly as it had started. They waited until the bell of the morning Angelus had rang when they knew the power of the witches would also abate and then went out to find their friend.   To their abject horror they found him transformed into solid stone with his legs up to his knees firmly embedded in the ground. He remains there to this day and no moss or lichen will grow upon his petrified form. No bird will perch on, or fly over his body and no man or woman will go near this place for fear of the divine retribution wreaked upon the “witch-dancer” of the Lengmoos who dared to  mock the Lord.

© 16/10/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 16th, 2018 zteve t evans

The Rule of Vortigern, Legendary King of the Britons

This post was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com on 18th March, 2018, titled, British Legends: Treachery, Murder, Lust and Rowena – The Rule of Vortigern

hamilton_vortigern_26_rowena

Rowena and Vortigern By William Hamilton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

British Legends: Treachery, Murder, Lust and Rowena – The Rule of Vortigern

Vortigern was legendary 5th century King of the Britons featured in the work of early British writers such as Gildas, Nennius, Bede, Geoffrey of Monmouth and others. There is a debate over whether Vortigern was a term for a high king who was chosen by a form of consensus to rule or whether it was the name of a person such as a warlord, lesser king, or political leader. This work takes it as the name of a person of high status who through his ruthless cunning and experience took over the rule of the Britons during dangerous times. 

Vortigern is usually presented in a bad light, as a man of immoral and selfish character who used duplicity and deception to rise to the top of the British establishment of his day. He is usually blamed for encouraging the arrival of the Saxon and Germanic invaders to Britain. At first, these were employed as his mercenaries to support his own power and to fight against the Picts and Scots but later he was to find he could not control them. Some scholars say the ruling elite of the Britons may deserve at least an equal share of the blame through their own weakness and disarray in facing their enemies. It may be that as far as the defense of realm was concerned, he did the best he could with the resources he had available to him which had been seriously depleted by the actions of earlier rulers. Yet questions are posed by some of the early writers about his morality and behaviour. Indeed, acts of lust, intrigue, murder, duplicity, and treachery are usually seen to be the hallmarks of his reign. This work presents a brief overview of the rule of Vortigern, looking at some of these alleged acts and incidents some of which resonate through the ages to the present and are the very stuff of legends.

Vortigern Takes the Crown

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Vortigern set up Constans, the eldest of the sons of King Constantine II who had been assassinated, to rule the Britons because he rightly believed he could control him and eventually take over the crown. After arranging for his murder, he usurps the crown to find that one day a cleverer and more ruthless man would appear on the scene. That man was Hengist, the leader of the Saxons, Angles, and Jutes in Britain.

After the assassination of Constans by Pict mercenaries controlled by Vortigern, there was no one of suitable status, experience or age to take his place. The rightful heirs to the throne of the Briton were Aurelius Ambrosius and his younger brother Uther, who were the sons of King Constantine II and the younger brothers of Constans, but they were just children and deemed too young to take the throne. Vortigern was the most experienced political figure of the Britons at the time and very ambitious. Insidiously, he had wormed his way into becoming the chief advisor of Constans, while all the time working secretly to promote his own ambitions and quietly gaining power, authority, and the king’s trust.

With the murder of Constans that he carefully and covertly set up, he stepped forward and seized the crown for himself. Not all of the British lords were friends of Vortigern, and some of these, fearing for the safety of the two young heirs, sent them into exile to Armorica for their own safekeeping. There they grew up safely and were taught the arts of royalty and leadership while all the time preparing to return one day and claim back the crown of the Britons.

Having seized the throne, Vortigern would find the rule of the kingdom was far from an easy task. In the north, Picts and Scots made frequent raids into his realm, but there was also another impending and growing threat that he feared. As the years passed by, he was aware of the maturing and coming of age of the royal brothers. He received reports of the building of a vast fleet and the mustering of a great army, and his spies confirmed his fears that they were intent on taking back their rightful inheritance. Taking stock of the situation, he found he was desperately short of men at arms to defend the kingdom.

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