The Khasi are an ancient people dwelling mainly in the Indian state of Meghalaya with smaller populations in the neighboring state of Assam and regions of Bangladesh. They have a long history and rich culture and many ancient traditions and festivals are still practiced. There are still those who remember many of their old myths and stories which give an explanation of where they came from and the world around them.
According to their traditional lore, the original home of the Khasi people was known as “Ki Hynñiewtrep” or “The Seven Huts” in English. Their supreme deity was called, “U Blei Trai Kynrad” or “God the Lord Master,” who had ordered humanity into sixteen divine families known as “Khadhynriew Trep.” In those days families could move freely between Heaven and Earth because a physical connection between the two realms was located on their sacred hill of Lum Sohpet bneng, which means “Navel of Heaven.” Today it is a place of festival and pilgrimage for those Khasis who continue to remember and respect the old religion keeping alive the ancient traditions and lore of their people.
The following folktale of the Khasi people is called The Legend of Mount Sophet Bneng from a collection of tales, legends and myths titled, “Folk-Tales of the Khasis” by Mrs. Rafy. This tells that on top of the great hill of Lum Sohpet Bneng there once grew tree so tall it reached from Earth up to Heaven.
THE LEGEND OF MOUNT SOPHET BNENG
The tree was called the Jingkieng ksiar and sometimes referred to as the Golden Bridge or Golden Ladder, because the people of Heaven used it to climb up and down between Heaven and Earth. At the time the Earth was not inhabited by people because they would visit and return to Heaven to live.
During this time all of humanity lived in Heaven but the Earth was inhibited by all manner of different animals, birds, reptile, insects, and a multitude of other different lifeforms. There was a great variety of plants, some large, some small, many with luscious fruits, beautiful flowers, and vibrant foliage. It was a very beautiful and wonderful world, and the humans would visit Earth by climbing down the tree where they could roam in wonder and delight and return at their leisure by climbing back up the tree.
In those blessed days there was only one language spoken and sang and all of creation communicated freely together. Trees, flowers, birds, animals, fishes, insects even rocks and stones and the sixteen families used it to commune among themselves and with nature.
When they discovered the soil around Lum Sohpet Bneng was rich and fertile they began to cultivate crops for profit planting many gardens and fields. U Blei Trai Kynrad, their supreme divinity granted this but decreed that they must return to Heaven every night and only be on Earth during the day. The sixteen human families of Heaven followed this practice rigidly.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case, there was a single malevolent one among them who lusted power and resented divine authority. Furthermore, he grew loathe to follow the will of the Creator and sought to rule over his fellow human beings. He was always seeking ways to further and attain his ambitions and gain control over the people.
One day seven families climbed down the tree to work upon their gardens and fields on Earth, leaving the other nine to go about their business in Heaven.
SEVERING THE CONNECTION
When all the seven families were hard at work the malevolent one saw his chance.Thinking that without the tree to move between Heaven and Earth those seven families would be easier to bring under his control without the interference of God the Lord Master. Therefore, he took an axe and cut down the tree that connected Heaven and Earth. The seven families working their crops were stranded on Earth, and those nine families in Heaven severed completely from Earth.
This is how humans came to live permanently upon the Earth. Those seven families were called “Ki Hinniew Skum” which means the “seven roots”, or “seven nests” and it is from these that the rest of humanity living on Earth is descended.
Ever since the people of Heaven and Earth have been separated from each other. Furthermore, as the seven families spread over the Earth the language became splintered into many different tongues. The ability of the people to communicate with one another was damaged and the ability to converse with nature was lost or severely impaired. This all happened thousands of years ago through the act of one evil man who craved power and control over the people.
Another version of the myth tells that in the early days of the world there was no separation between Heaven and Earth and people obeyed God’s laws and lived in harmony with the natural world. Heaven and Earth were connected by the Jingkieng ksiar,andpeople began living on Earth. Overtime they forgot or disobeyed the rules of the creator and made their own laws. Where there had been one language in Heaven and on Earth a multitude of tongues evolved. People could no longer talk to nature or among themselves and they came into conflict with Heaven. Because of this the tree withered and died and the connection between the two realms was lost.
The loss of the tree is often viewed as an allegory warning of the consequences of the severing of connections between humans on Earth and God in Heaven.
Presented here is a retelling of an ancient folktale of the Khasi people who dwell in Meghalaya in north-eastern India and parts of Assam and Bangladesh, sourced from “Folk-Tales of the Khasis,” by K. U. Rafy. It tells how long ago, unlike today, doves sang wonderful songs like many other birds. These songs expressed their happiness to be alive and the glory of the world around, until something happened to end their glorious melodies. Their joyous singing was replaced with the sad, wistful, “Cooing” sound, we are familiar with them making today.
THE COOING OF THE DOVES
The story tells how back in the old days a happy family of the first doves lived in the forest. The youngest was a daughter named was Ka Paro. Being the youngest she was much loved by her parents and siblings who were all protective of her pampering her more than they should. The family often ate together in a nearby field of grain. When it was time for food, they insisting she remain securely hidden in their family nesting tree until the signal was given that all was safe enough for her to venture forth.
One day they had left Ka Paro alone in the family nest while they flew to the field and around the area making sure there was no potential danger. While she waited, Ka Paro grew bored and flew to the top of a nearby tree which had a many succulent red berries growing in its branches. She was not interested in the berries but was looking forward to feeding in the grain field with her family. While she waited, she saw many other birds feasting upon them but did not take much notice. Instead, she spent her time preening her feathers while waiting for her family to give the signal all was clear for her to join them.
A Handome Jungle Bird
To her surprise a very handsome jungle bird of a clan she had never seen before flew down and perched on a nearby branch and started pecking at the berries. Ka Paro had never seen a bird as stunning as this one, with such gorgeous feathers of gold and green, and he came and pecked berries on the very branch that she perched upon.
She was surprised and delighted, and greatly admiring this handsome stranger and began to sing one of her sweetest melodies to attract his attention hoping to please him.
Seeing the gentle beautiful Ka Paro, and hearing her beautiful voice, he was very quickly drawn to her and sang along with her. He introduced himself as U Jylleit, the jungle bird, and she told him she was Ka Paro the dove. The two became fast friends and met every day on the same branch in the same tree. She would sit preening her feathers and singing while, he picked at the berries singing a duet with her. Every now and then the two exchanged shy, admiring glances.
They grew to love each other and U Jylleit plucked up the courage to ask her parents for consent to their marriage. However, her parents were not warmly welcoming to the proposal not feeling too sure of how genuine U Jylleit really was. They did not want to judge him unfairly yet wanted to protect their beloved daughter from being hurt.
Therefore, they thought carefully about what to do. Ka Paro loved U Jylleit with all her heart and begged her parents to approve the marriage. She begged, she pleaded and argued her case again and again declaring she loved him like the moon loved the stars and that she would love him forever, while he declared his own eternal love for her before her parents.
However, her parents knew more of the world than their young daughter. Maybe they were being overprotective, but they were not too certain of this handsome stranger who had flown in from nowhere to win their daughter’s heart. Furthermore, there was also the question of a marriage between two different unrelated clans, which the two lovers undeniable were, which made them feel uncomfortable. There was also another reason that caused them to doubt the strength of U Jylleit’s love for their daughter.
They knew that the red berries had attracted him to the tree where their daughter perched, and knew those berries only appeared at the present time of the year. Moreover, with all the other birds feeding on the berries the tree would eventually be gone and would not return until the following year. They also knew, like other crops, the berries appeared at various times in different places and birds and animals moved from one place to another to feed on them.
For these reasons they were reluctant to risk their daughter’s happiness. Nevertheless, rather than issues a flat refusal they wisely decided to put U Jylleit to a test
Ka Paro’s parents told the two lovers they would only allow the marriage after all the berries were gone. They wanted to see if U Jylleit, for the love of their daughter, be content with the meagre diet of the doves, which he could have survived on. The two lovers readily agreed. U Jylleit swore he would stay with Ka Paro through thick and thin and never leave her. For her part, Ka Paro had absolute confidence her lover would stay and share the same plain and meagre food as her. She simply did not believe he would fly away to another place where the berries could be found in abundance.
And so, the two lovers continued to meet in the tree and while Ka Paro sang and preened U Jylleit sang and ate red berries which became fewer and fewer. One day Ka Paro flew to the tree to meet her lover and began singing and preening expecting her to join her. He did not arrive as he usually did so she continued and preening and singing but still he did not arrive. Looking around, for him she was shocked to see all the berries had gone and realised the truth.
U Jylleit, without even saying goodbye, had taken wing to find another berry tree and she never saw him again. Her heart broken; Ka Paro never sang another note. The only sound she would utter from that moment on was a melancholy “cooing” which is the same we hear from doves all around the world today.
Queen Semiramis was a mythical queen who appears in many myths, legends, works of art and literature through the ages. She was was believed to have evolved from a real, historical QueenSammuramat who ruled the Neo-Assyrian Empire for a brief period. Here we look briefly what is known of the historical Queen Sammuramat and her transformation to the mythical, semi-divine, Queen Semiramis.
Sammuramat ruled the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the ninth century after her husband, King Shamshi-Adad V, died until her young son Adad-nirari III came of age in 806 BC. It is not clear whether she ruled as regent or in some other capacity but it was only believed to have lasted for five years. According to the myths Semiramis ruled for 42 years as queen regnant but it is necessary to separate the historical from the mythical in thinking of Sammuramat.
Although much of her prestige may have come through being the wife and queen of King Shamshi-Adad V, history shows she briefly had great political influence over a great empire. This stretched from the Arabian Peninsula in the south to the Caucasus Mountains in the north and in the west as far as Cyprus and in the east western Iran. She was highly regarded by her subjects and neighboring states and appeared to have been a good ruler in what ever capacity she reigned. Like many other powerful and famous rulers throughout history her achievements were embellished, exaggerated and added to. In the centuries after her death she became a mythical or legendary figure and given the name Semiramis.
EVIDENCE OF HER EXISTENCE
Not all archaeologists and historians are convinced of the existence of Queen Sammuramat. Those who are point to four pieces of evidence they claim prove she once existed. Two of these are statuettes found in the ancient city of Nimrud in Iraq. These are dedicated to the Babylonian god of knowledge and writing named “Nabu” and both mention her name. The other pieces are two stellae; one from Kizkapanli, situated in modern day Turkey and the other from Assur in Iraq which mention her.
When considered together these show she was highly esteemed and exercised an unusually high degree of political power for a woman of that epoch. The Assur Stela inscription reads,
“Sammuramat, Queen of Shamshi-Adad, King of the Universe, King of Assyria; Mother of Adad-nirari, King of the Universe, King of Assyria.”
FROM HISTORY TO MYTH
The classical historian, Herodotus, in the fifth century B.C. used the Greek form of her name, Semiramis, which helped perpetuate her memory. It is by this name she is perhaps better known today. According to some traditions an entity known as Semiramis was the wife of the mythical Nimrod who reputedly built the Tower of Babel. This entity does not appear to be the same character as the Semiramis who evolved from Sammuramat though there may have been some conflation through the ages.
After her name was Hellenized she became the subject of many enduring myths and legends as an Assyrian queen. In this role she was the semi-divine daughter of the dove and fish goddess Derceto of Askalon, who in shame of conceiving a baby by a mortal flung herself into a lake. Her body transformed into that of a fish while her head remained human. Her baby girl was fostered by doves and grew up to become Semiramis.
In some legends she plays the role of the beautiful “femme fatale” in tragic love storiesbut in others she is a formidable commander and military leader winning impressive battles extending her empire greatly. She is also cast as a great civil ruler who built the walls of Babylon and other monuments throughout her domain.
The Greek scholar, Diodorus Siculus, enlarged upon her legend inventing an exaggerated and inaccurate account of her life and deeds. He claimed Semiramis was born in Ashkelon, now in modern day Israel and was the daughter of the Syrian goddess, Derceto, who many scholars see as a version of the Phonecian goddess Astarte and the Babylonian goddess, Ishtar.
RAISED BY DOVES
Her father was a mortal and her mother in shame of falling in love and conceiving with a mortal man abandoned her baby who was then raised by doves. Eventually she was adopted by the chief shepherd of the king of Assyria and named Semiramis and grew up to be a woman of great and rare beauty and intelligence.
One day while inspecting the royal flocks Onnes, the royal governor of Syria came across her and struck by her beauty gained her adoptive father’s consent to marry her. After the wedding she went to live with him in Nineveh.
When Onnes was sent on a military mission to central Asia to besiege the city of Bactra by King Ninus of Assyria he began to miss her badly. Therefore, he sent a message asking that she join him. When she arrived the siege was still in place but she came up with a strategy and led an attack that gave her husband and his army the victory.
When King Ninus heard about how she had formulated the winning strategy and led the attack he wanted to meet the rare female with such military ability. Ninus was completely besotted by her beauty falling in love with her at first sight. He ordered her husband to exchange his wife for one of his daughters but Onness refused. Ninus was determined he would marry her and subjected Onnes to terrible threats causing him to take his own life. Ninus got his way and Semiramis became his wife and queen of Assyria.
BUILDER AND COMMANDER
According to Diodorus she embarked on a number of large civil projects including the rebuilding of the city of Babylon along the Euphrates River, including the royal palace, the temple of Marduk and the city walls. Other Greco-Roman authors such as Strabo credit her with creating one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon though this is not supported by evidence.
Variations of her name were applied to many ancient monuments in Anatolia and Western Asia often with little or no evidence they originated with her. She was also credited with building the city of Van as her summer residence and may have been known as Shamiramagerd (city of Semiramis).
According to Diodorus Siculus after the completing works in Babylon she turned her attention to the empire. She launched several military campaigns in Persia, Libya and North Africa. Furthermore, in an act of supreme ambition she organized and launched an invasion of India ruled by King Stabrobates. This was an incredibly difficult and risky operation and would prove although she was a capable and formidable commander and general she was not invincible.
Nevertheless, she was very bold and inventive conceiving a daring plan of deception to use against Stabrobates. She instructed her craftsmen to construct a herd of fake elephants by covering camels with the dark hides of buffaloes. In this way she initially managed to give the impression she had a formidable battalion of real elephants to unleash in battle. Initially, this deception was successful in an attack but her enemy strongly counterattacked. Her army was routed with the survivors forced to retreat back over the Indus River. The invasion failed disastrously and she was injured in the fighting.
THE ORACLE OF AMUN
While campaigning in Africa she had consulted an oracle of the deity Amun. The oracle predicted her son Ninias would conspire to supplant and kill her. According to Diodorus this was to come true and after her failure in India on discovering her son’s plot she decided to hand over power peacefully to him rather than fight him for the throne. However, other historians give differing versions of her death. Some say she threw herself on a burning pyre while others say her son killed her.
In Armenian tradition, Semiramis, was often portrayed negatively because of her military successes against Armenia. One of the most well known Armenian legends about her is her romance with a King of Armenia known as Ara the Handsome. Armenian traditions say Semiramis had fallen head over heels in love with him and proposed marriage. To her dismay he refused and in a display of extreme petulance she mustered her army and made war on him ordering her commanders to capture him alive. She was victorious but contrary to her explicit instructions Ara was killed in battle.
Semiramis was reputed to be a sorceress and the death of Ara had left her in an awkward position. She did not want to continue warring with the Armenians who were now determined to avenge their leader. Therefore she came up with a plan to end the war. She openly prayed to the gods to raise Ara from the dead but secretly disguised one of her lovers as him. When the Armenians arrived for battle she presented him to them claiming she had raised him from the dead by her love for him. The deception convinced the Armenians he was alive and ended the fighting. There is also a tradition that she actually succeeded in resurrecting Ara and there is a village not far from Van called Lezk where his resurrection allegedly took place.
INGREDIENTS FOR A GOOD TALE
Her legend has much in common with other myths from the region that tell of great leaders or powerful people. There is the theme of her divine origin being born of Derketo, the goddess and then abandoned at birth to be found and brought up by animal or bird foster parents.
The evolution of Queen Semiramis from Queen Sammuramat provided an example for other female rulers to follow. Her legendary and mythical status was achieved possibly because it was unusual in patriarchal societies for females to be allowed to shine or display their intelligence and talents. According to these traditions, she proved herself to be a as good or better than males in her governing abilities, civil building works and military prowess. This was unusual and may be part of the reason why she was elevated to such status. Her mystique and appeal lasted for centuries after her death and was the inspiration for many works in art and literature. Perhaps because of her legendary beauty and reputation, or maybe, just because she was a woman, she was often cast in erotic and immoral roles.
Over the ages her achievements became embellished and exaggerated and new stories emerged about her. In many ways the little that was known about her added to her mystique and after her death the myths and legends grew. In later times was held as a model for good female rulers who exhibited similar characteristics as her and such as Margret I of Denmark, and Catherine the Great of Russia who were called Semiramis of the North after her.
Throughout the ages the mythical Queen Semiramis evolved a long way from the original historical Queen Sammuramat but such is the stuff that legends are made from.
Presented here is a retelling of an Anansi tale found in West African Folktales by William H. Barker and Cecilia Sinclair. Anansi the spider is a trickster who has many roles in the folklore and traditions of West Africa, Jamaica and throughout the African diaspora. He features in many roles in many tales sometimes as a hero bringing knowledge and benefits to humans or as a villain. Anansi tales explore human nature and very often by contrasting his behaviour with that of other characters or situations in the story important lessons are found as is the case in the following story.
ANANSI AND NOTHING
Anansi lived in a rundown shack and his nearest neighbor was someone called Nothing who was exceedingly rich and lived in a grand and luxurious palace. One day Anansi and Nothing decided to go into town with the purpose of both finding a wife. They set off and as they were walking along Anansi became aware of the great contrast in their appearances that revealed their financial status for all to see. Whereas he was dressed in ragged old cotton clothing, Nothing was smartly attired in fine velvet and satin. Anansi was dismayed. He knew there would be competition between the two and women would want to be the wife of the smart and affluent Nothing instead of himself.
After carefully considering the situation he came up with a plan. Nothing liked to be flattered so he told him how smart he thought he looked today. As he expected Nothing was pleased and very flattered. Anansi then gently and very politely asked Nothing, if he may try on his clothing to see what it was like to wear such fine apparel. He promised he would give it back before they reached town.
Again Nothing felt flattered and allowed Anansi to wear his clothes on the condition that they put on their own clothes before they entered town. When they reached the outskirts of town Nothing reminded Anansi of his promise. Anansi made many excuses on false pretexts not to change clothing and refused to comply. All of Nothing’s pleas fell on deaf ears so he had to continue wearing Anansi’s old cotton rags, much to his displeasure and ire.
ATTRACTING A WIFE
At last they arrived in the town center where it was the custom for people to gathee to show off their finest clothes and parade up and down hoping to attract a spouse. Anansi, wearing Nothing’s fine clothing of velvet and satin soon came to the attention of the women. They flocked around him and he had the pick of the best. He was greatly admired and could have had as many wives as he wished but he chose just one knowing he would somehow have to support her.
In comparison, Nothing dressed in Anansi’s old cotton rags was being ignored and worse still the subject of much derision by the women. Eventually, one woman saw more to him than his clothes and offered to become his wife. All the other women laughed and taunted her for wanting to be the wife of such an impoverished and raggedly man as Nothing appeared to be. However she was a woman who knew her own mind and very wisely ignored them.
Anansi chose the most beautiful woman of the many who flocked around him, making the others madly jealous. With the matter of marriage now decided, Anansi and Nothing accompanied by their respective wives, went home. However, when they reached the point where the road split into two paths which led to their new husband’s homes the two wives were in for a surprise.
When Nothing reached the path to his grand house all the servants ran out to greet him and his new wife. All around the house the servants had decorated it in bright colors and inside had prepared a lavish wedding feast for the couple to enjoy. Nothing’s new wife was happily surprised as they dressed her and her husband in fine clothing and escorted them singing and dancing along the path into the house. Anansi, to the shock of his new wife, led her up his path which was but dirt and ashes to his tumbledown shack. There was no one to greet these two newlyweds, no food, no decorations and no servants singing happy songs.
Nothing’s wife was well rewarded for her perceptiveness and judgement. Instead of being the wife of a pauper she was the wife of the richest man in the entire district. She lived in a grand and luxurious house, ate the best food, wore the finest clothes and lived like a queen. In comparison, the wife of Anansi lived in a tumbledown hovel. She was forced to eat the cheapest food and had to wear old cotton rags for clothes.
Nothing’s wife was a generous and compassionate woman. Despite having been subject to taunts and derision by her initial decision to marry the seemingly poor Nothing, she invited Anansi’s wife to visit her. Not because she wanted to get her own back or gloat but because she was kind and generous and wanted to help her.
When she arrived she was very impressed by the luxury and good life Nothing’s wife lived. Furthermore, she saw how wrong she had been to judge a person by the cut and splendor of their clothes. She begged Nothing’s wife for her forgiveness and told her of her miserable impoverished existence with Anansi. Nothing’s wife told her she was welcome to stay in her home if she did not want to go back to Anansi.
When his wife did not return and he discovered why Anansi was very angry. He blamed Nothing and decided he would take revenge by murdering him. He tried several times but without success but then hit on a plan. He persuaded some rat friends of his to dig a deep tunnel just before Nothing’s front door. After they had dug the hole he lined it with knives, spikes and broken glass and finally smeared oil upon the front step to make it very slippery. Then he hid himself in the garden and waited until it grew dark and those in the house had gone to bed. Softly he called through the window for Nothing to come out into the garden to see what was there.
On hearing a voice in the night Nothing got up to investigate but his wife, using her good sense and judgement dissuaded him from going outside. This was repeated for several nights running with his wife stopping him going outside each time. Eventually, he grew angry with the voice when it called again and would not listen to his wife. Angrily, he marched out the front to confront the voice but as he stepped out he slipped and the ground fell away below him and he tumbled into the trap Anansi had set.
His wife and servants heard him cry out and rushed to the front door but his wife stopped the servants from rushing out. Carefully opening the door and looking this way and that she found him dead in the hole pierced by many spikes and knives and cut by broken glass.
CRYING FOR NOTHING
His wife was heart-broken by his death and grieved greatly. In the hope of alleviating her grief, she followed the local tradition of cooking and sharing yams. She took them around to each of her neighbors and especially the children so that they might help her to cry out her grief. This is why when you ask why a child is crying you will often be told, “They are crying for Nothing!”
Mother Shipton was one of the most famous soothsayers in Britain and a familiar figure in English folklore and traditions. Stories about her were published in chap-books from the middle of the 17th century onward. These were usually embellished and exaggerated but succeeded in capturing the public’s attention even though many of her prophecies only appeared after her death.
She was believed to have been born in the time of King Henry VII, in Knaresborough, Yorkshire in 1488 and named Ursula Sontheil. There are several variant spellings of her surname. Her mother was believed to have been a poor single girl about fifteen years old named Agatha.According to legend she gave birth to her during a violent thunderstorm in a cave near the River Nidd. Despite being forced to appear before the local magistrate Agatha refused steadfastly to name the baby’s father. She appeared to have no family or friends to support her and lived alone in the cave bringing her baby daughter up the best she could. Eventually after two years the Abbot of Beverley heard of her plight and she was taken to a distant nunnery. Baby Ursula was taken in by a local family but in the nunnery Agatha lost contact with her daughter and later died. As an adult, Ursula became known as Mother Shipton and the cave became known as Mother Shipton’s Cave and today is a popular tourist attraction.
According to tradition, Ursula was a very unattractive baby to such an extent that no one wanted to nurse her. Eventually a foster mother was found who lived on the edge of Knaresborough. Strange things happened around baby Ursula. One legend tells how one morning her foster mother discovered she and her crib missing. She roused several neighbors who set about searching the home for clues to her whereabouts. According to this legend the neighbors were attacked by strange ape-like imps and other unearthly entities that pricked and scratched them. Eventually, to the shock of all, baby Ursula was found still in her crib but suspended in mid-air halfway up the chimney. Eerie events of this kind happened on many occasions as she grew up. Plates, crockery and ornaments would fly around the room and furniture would slide across the floor to a different position. As she grew older her power of prophecy began to develop.
Unfortunately for Ursula, as she grew into a woman her looks did not improve and all descriptions of her are terribly unflattering. With a thin and sharp face covered in warts and a large hooked nose she became the archetypal image of a witch. Despite her unfortunate appearance she was said to have married a carpenter from York named Tobias Shipton at the age of twenty four. Sadly, he died a few years later and the couple had no children.
To earn a living she appears to have taken on a role as a cunning woman and made potions and remedies out of herbs and flowers to alleviate health problems for local people. She began making prophecies and her fame spread far and wide and she became known as Mother Shipton.
There were many prophecies attributed to her including events like the Spanish Armada in 1588, English Civil War from 1642–1651, Great Fire of London of 1666 and many other important events. She was said to have prophesied her own death that occurred in 1561 at the age of seventy three. One of her alleged prophecies that did not come true was the end of the world,
Like other prophets her predictions were placed in verses, rhymes and riddles that were difficult to interpret and ambiguous. However, this technique did make them suitable for many kinds of events and situations that arose.
False Prophecies, Fake News
It was many years after her death when the first publications in the form of books and pamphlets appeared in 1641 and later in 1684. It is believed that the writers of these publications were creative in the use of facts and events and many events that happened after her death were made to look like she had predicted them.
It may be that predictions sell and what is novel and unusual can strike a chord with the public who become eager for more information. This increases the chances of writers and publishers making money which increases their creative juices to flow, while inventing new stories to sell to the gullible public. Fake news is not a modern invention!
Richard Head who edited the 1684 publications was believed to have created her life story and the descriptions of her on existing legend and folklore. This had been passed on orally and possibly twisted, embellished and exaggerated along the way. Although this makes it difficult to get to know the real person, or even if there was a real person behind the legends.
Mother Shipton’s Cave
The cave where Ursula was born and later lived is now known as Mother Shipton’s Cave, or sometimes Old Mother Shiptons’s Cave. It is situated near the River Nidd at Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. Close by is the Petrifying Well that has been visited by paying sightseers since 1630 making it the oldest entrance-charging tourist attraction in England. The water in the well is high in carbonate and sulphate and immersed objects eventually become encrusted in stone.
Mother Shipton’s Legacy
We will probably never know the real truth and full story of Mother Shipton or Ursula Sontheil and very often the truth turns out more interesting than the fiction. In many ways she is the archetypal witch with her strange and lonely ways and her unfortunate physical appearance. All around the British Isles there are cases from history of women such as her who made a meager living from selling potions, telling fortunes or perhaps delivering babies. Sometimes they were known as cunning women or perhaps the local wise-woman. Although they often lived on the edge of society they performed important roles that could not be done by those within. In many cases the different behaviour they displayed might see them as being part of the autistic spectrum or perhaps some psychological disorder. Nevertheless in her life, she seems to have achieved a reasonable degree of success with stories of how she could find lost or stolen objects and predict the future with some success. It seems that after her death her reputation was exaggerated and embellished by others to suit their own purposes and some scholars doubt she ever existed.
This article was first published on #FolkloreThurday.com as Bat Myths and Folktales from Around the World by zteve t evans on 31st October 2019
Bats feature in many myths, legends and folklore from diverse
cultures around the world, and are often associated with darkness, death
and the supernatural. Unquestionably, they are strange creatures,
appearing as half animal and half bird, like something from a nightmare
world. From this duality and strangeness evolved a reputation of
duplicity and threat, appearing as neither one thing nor the other. In
fact they are mammals of the scientific order Chiroptera,
meaning “hand wing” in ancient Greek, because their forelimbs have
become adapted to be wings. Do they really deserve this sinister
reputation, or do they play a more important role in the world than
feeding the dark human fascination for the spooky and the supernatural?
Presented here are different viewpoints from around the world,
followed by a short look at the real significance of bats to humankind.
Aesop’s Fables: The Bat and the Weasel
The duality of bats is mentioned in one of Aesop’s Fables, which tells how a bat fell to the ground and was pounced on by a weasel. The bat begged to be spared but the weasel insisted that he could not do that because he was an enemy of all birds. The bat said, “Well look at me. I am a mouse, not a bird!” The weasel looked at the bat and agreed it was a mouse and released it. A little later the same bat was caught by another weasel and begged for mercy. The weasel replied, “No, I never let mice go!” The bat said, “Well, look closely at me. I am a bird. See my wings.” The weasel replied, “Well, so you are!” and let the bat go.
Beowulf was originally written in Anglo-Saxon times as a poem in Old English by an anonymous writer. It tells the story of its heroic protagonist, Beowulf, who embodies the much revered Anglo-Saxon qualities of strength, courage, heroism and virtuous behaviour. It is these qualities, blended with fictional, legendary and historical elements that make Beowulf the ideal role model for the Anglo-Saxon warrior aristocracy. Presented her is a retelling of the story after his arrival in Denmark to his triumphant return to Geatland drawn from the sources below.
Beowulf comes of Age
The story of Beowulf begins in a part of Scandinavia called Geatland that was a land of tall mountains, narrow valleys and a long rugged coastline. It was populated by a brave and virtuous people called the Geats who were ruled over by King Hygelac and his wife Queen Hygd, the Wise and Fair.At regular times King Hygelac would call his earls and warriors to his great hall for feasting and drinking. These were popular and events that brought together his people from distant parts and helped bond his nation to him and each other. At these events the stories of their valour and that of their of their ancestors were told by the bards and sometimes one of them might be called upon to tell of a heroic deed they had performed. Young Beowulf would sit in the great hall taking in all of the stories. He was the son of the king’s sister who from a very young age had caught the eye of his uncle for his physical stature and strength.
One night a great feast was held in the king’s hall and all of the bravest and renowned warriors and noble of Geatland gathered to enjoy the festivities. As the evening progressed, King Hygelac stood up and introduced a visiting minstrel, whom he named as The Wanderer, and asked him to sing a song.The minstrel brought a stool before the king and sat down and began to play his harp. He sang of the wild northern lands and of the forbidden mountains that were home to beasts and demons far more dangerous than any of those found in Geatland. He told of terrible dragons and of their slaying by brave men and he told of the sea serpents and wild things of the sea.
The Song of Grendel
The song of The Wanderer began to change and took on a darker and more disturbing tone. It told of King Hrothgar of Denmark and of the terrible calamity that had struck that land. He sang of a demon that was part animal, part man and part all terrible creatures and the name of the demon was Grendel. He told how Grendel had appeared one fearful night, twelve years ago after a great feast in the great hall of King Hrothgar that was called Hereot. After all had ate and drank their fill and the king and queen retired to their own apartments his earls and warriors lay asleep in the great hall. As they had lain peacefully sleeping unaware of any pending peril, Grendel had come and forced aside the great door and carried away thirty of the sleeping earls, murdering and devouring them.
This had caused great sorrow throughout the land and although there had been many attempts to kill Grendel he violently defeated and killed all of his attackers showing no mercy at all.Now no one dared to sleep in the great hall of Heorot because Grendel often visited it and wreaking his havoc wherever it was in use. He has killed most of the young and vigorous warriors of the Danes who has dared to stand up to him and now all that remained were defenseless women, children and the elderly. Beowulf was now completely taken with the song and a fire sprang up in him lighting up his blue eyes. As he listened he knew what he must do. Springing from his seat he thumped the table shouting,
“My King and Queen and earls of Geatland, in days gone by King Hrothgar of Denmark was the friend of Ecgtheow my father in his hour of need. I, Beowulf, the son of Ecgtheow, will slay Grendel for King Hrothgar in thanks for his friendship to my father and the glory of Geatland!”
The Wanderer stopped his song and throughout the hall a silence fell. King Hygelac stood up and commanded silence and turning to Beowulf said in a voice that all could hear,
“Beowulf your time has come to prove yourself. You have been blessed with the strength and vitality of thirty men and you should use your powers to help everyone. Hrothgar, our friend and neighbor has great need. Go now to Denmark and prove yourself and slay Grendel!”
King Hygelac ordered that Beowulf should be given suitable equipment for his purpose and told him to choose fourteen comrades to accompany him. These should be such as Beowulf, young men who had come of age and in need of proving themselves.At last suitable equipped and attired the company made their way to the harbour where a ship had been prepared. At sunrise the next day Beowulf and his company set sail on their great adventure.
Their voyage across the sea was not to be an easy one as they sailed into a great storm. At last they came safely through and arriving on the shores of Denmark they pushed their ship up a beach. There they met an old man who welcomed them and showed them the path to the great hall of King Hrothgar of Denmark and promised to stray and guard their ship until their return.
The Hall of King Hrothgar
Beowulf and his company followed the path through dense forest for many miles until the came into a long valley. At the far end of the valley stood the once fair hall of Heorot. As they passed through the valley they saw the deserted farms and the homes of the people while all around there hung the stench of death like the very land rotted. There was no sign of humans so Beowulf led his company onwards towards the great hall. until at last came to it gates.
Three times Beowulf knocked upon the gates and at last a frightened gatekeeper appeared and nervously asked what business they had at the hall. Beowulf requested the man go to King Hrothgar telling him that a band of warriors from Geatland had arrived wishing to speak to him and were asking for food and lodging.
The gatekeeper hurried off and presently Beowulf saw the king approach in the company of a band of elderly warriors. King Hrothgar was now an old man himself with a full beard of flowing white and eyes that told of days of fear and sorrow. As he approached he opened his arms wide saying,
“Welcome strangers, I can see by your bearing you are friends and here on some errand to my sad and unhappy kingdom. Therefore, speak of your errand and who you so that I may help you as I can.”
Stepping forward Beowulf loudly proclaimed, “I am Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow whom you befriended and KIng Hygelac of Geatland is my uncle. We come to Denmark to slay the demon called Grendel and free you from his terror.”
Then Hrothgar looked long and hard at him and said, “Ecgtheow was my friend and brother-in-arms. You and your friends are very welcome in Denmark but I warn you Grendel comes often to Heorot and is hungry for young men to devour. Now come rest and tonight for the first time in twelve years there will be feasting in Heorot and Queen Wealhtheow the Beautifulwill pass to you the drinking-horn as is our tradition of friendship.”
For the first time in twelve years the great hall of Heorot was made ready for a great feast and fires were lit cooking meats of every kind. When all was ready the king and queen arrived followed by a great company and took their seats in the hall according to rank. Their number had been greatly diminished by Grendel and now it was mostly old men who sat with the king and queen. It was not a very joyful atmosphere for fear dwelt in the hearts of all those present of the evil of Grendel.
King Hrothgar sat at the head of the assembly with Queen Wealhtheow the Beautiful. In a place of honour below the king sat Beowulf. Beside him on the right his right sat Aescher the king’s most trusted advisor. Next to him on his left sat Unferth, whom The Wanderer had sang about that night in Geatland in his uncle’s hall. At the word of the King the feast began and as the drinking-horns were passed around many oaths were uttered encouraging the slaying of Grendel. It was only Beowulf’s company of Geat warriors that were joyful and as the drink flowed they began boasting of the prowess and courage of Beowulf.Aescher endorsed their praises of their leader but Unferth became increasingly sullen and silent never offering a single word of praise as was the Danish custom.
Beowulf noticed this and turning to him said, “You keep very quiet Unferth, the son of Ecglaf, tell us of your deeds of valor that we may give praise to you. Come, tell us and then I can drink from the cup with you!”
At this Unferth stood up and slamming his fist on the table cried, “Beowulf! Who is this Beowulf but a beardless boy who stands before us telling us he will save us from Grendel? Who are the beardless boys who accompany him over the sea? Does anyone think that what so many good Danes have failed this stripling will succeed? Let him and his friends return to Geatland instead of laughing at our sorrow and loss!”
Beowulf felt his anger burn hot for this was the same Unsferth the Wanderer had sung about who had not dared to fight the demon himself. Beowulf rose, but knowing the words of his accuser to be false spoke clearly and softly without anger, “Take back your words they are dishonorable. I come in friendship offering to rid Denmark of this vile Grendel. Unferth, tell us of your great battle with Grendel?”
A murmur of approval of Beowulf’s words from Danes and Geats ran around the hall and KIng Hrothgar stood up and said, “Having listened to the quiet words of Beowulf I know he is a hero. There has been too much sorrow these last twelve years and makes us bitter and say things we do not mean. Beowulf, forgive us!”
Then Queen Wealhtheow the Beautiful took up a jewelled cup and filling it with wine passed it to Hrothgar who drank from it and then she took it to Beowulf. He drank and she went around the company of Geatland and thanked them for coming to Denmark in their time of great need and asking each to drink. When they had done so she went around the king’s earls and they also drank to the king and queen and the death of Grendel.
Then the festivities were reopened with much good will from both Danes and Geats. While the Danes praised the glory of King Hygelac and Queen Hygd, the Wise and Fair, the Geats praised KIng Hrothgar and Queen Wealhtheow the Beautiful. At last Hrothgar rose from his chair and taking his queen by the hand said, “Now it is time for us Danes to go to our beds and leave Beowulf and his company alone and pray their sleep be untroubled.”
He led his queen out through the great door of Heorot followed by all of his earls and retainers and the Geats were left to face the night as the great fires slowly burnt out.
The Demon Grendel
Beowulf ordered that the doors of the hall be secured and his companions made them so well no mortal man could have entered. With the doors safe the company spread their cloaks over the benches and lay down to sleep. One of Beowulf’s favorite companions named Hondscio took it upon himself to lay next to the door vowing to be the first to do battle should Grendel choose to appear. Soon all except Beowulf were sound asleep. He had vowed to stay awake and lay still and quiet listening as silence crept over the hall. He could hear the breathing of his comrades but little else.
Outside fog was forming and hiding the moon. Slowly all sounds died away and even the wind stopped its sighing and all was silent. As the fog crept across the land and wrapped itself around the hall, despite his vow, Beowulf became very drowsy. He fought to stay awake but his limbs felt heavy and his eyes closed and he sank into a deep slumber.
Outside the fog thickened and completely obscured the moon and tightened its hold upon the hall. For a second the fog parted and a gigantic black shape loomed and slowly moving towards the great hall and stood before the door in the weird light.
Inside, unaware of the horror that lay outside, Beowulf and his company slept under the bewitchment Grendel had wrought upon them. Beowulf fought hard to break the spell and desperately tried to crawl out of the nightmarish pit he found himself in.
Outside Grendel slowly brought his strength to bear silently pushing the door open despite its securings. Beowulf, fighting hard, crawled from the pit and saw the door wide open and fog streaming in. He saw the great shape of Grendel bend down and picking up the sleeping Hondscio tear his limbs from his body and now he saw clearly the nature of the demon he faced. It resembled a gigantic but twisted and deformed man yet there was something beast like about it. Its body was covered in grey scales that rattled when it moved and a pale light flickered from its eyes. Struggling to his feet he watched in horror and disgust as it crushed the body of Hondscio and greedily ate his remains. Then it turned its vile gaze around the hall until it fell upon Beowulf. Slowly the monster moved towards him.
Beowulf, full of loathing and disgust shook off the spell and ran at the beast. Clashing together the two grappled to gain a hold on one another. Although the claws of Grendel were strong and dug into his flesh, Beowulf was quicker and slipped easily from his hold. As Grendel sought to grasp, hold and tear his opponent apart, Beowulf moved quickly around him dodging his grabbing hands. While his company lay in spell induced sleep he and Grendel engaged in a deadly hand to hand fight for life.
Grendel tried to grasp and crush the head of Beowulf who in turn evaded him and continued to seek some advantage or weak spot. At last Grendel managed to grab Beowulf but his quick turn forced both of them to the ground and for a split second the demon experienced fear and doubt. Like a true warrior Beowulf sensed this and quickly took advantage of this lapse and managed to grasp him briefly by the throat, but its scales prevented him from taking a killing grip.
Then Grendel thrashed out and almost gained the advantage but Beowulf grasped hold of his arm and giving a quick twist jumped behind the brute pushing it high up its back causing it to scream in agony. The two fell to the floor and Beowulf continued to grip his arm wrenching this way and that until he felt the muscles and sinews weaken and give way and he pulled the arm free from its socket. Grendel stumbled up and through the door disappearing into the fog leaving the exhausted Beowulf clutching his severed and bleeding limb. With the spell broken his companions awoke and gathered around in wonder and horror.
As dawn broke people slowly appeared at the great hall to see how the Geats had fared though they expected the worse. Soon a great crowd of people thronged the hall and they were astounded by what they saw. Hanging high from one of the roof beams was the massive severed and bloody arm of Grendel. Upon the king’s dais stood Beowulf wearing a scarlet cloak his blue eyes flashing fire and his fair hair shining like gold like some god of old.
King Hrothgar was sent for and quickly arrived and said, “Give thanks now to Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, to be sure, this is the end of Grendel and his terror. Hail, to Beowulf hero of Geatland!” Then Queen Wealhtheow praised him and called on the servants to prepare a great feast. The celebrations went on all day and into the night and Beowulf was greatly honored by all.
Vengeance of the Water Witch
The next day a messenger rushed in his face white with fear, body shaking and eyes wild and kneeling before the king said in a trembling voice, “Sire, I have just run as fast as I could from Heorot; The good and wise Aescher has been most terribly murdered. His head has been severed from his body and his limbs crushed to a pulp.”
With that Hrothgar and Wealhtheow, accompanied by Beowulf, hastened to the great hall. They found the mangled remains of Aescher amid a scene of great destruction and the severed arm of Grendel had been removed. Queen Wealhtheow cried, “This is the revenge of Grendel’s mother. In our gladness at the defeat of Grendel we had forgotten her evil presence. Unless she too is slain she will wreak unending devastation upon us. Beowulf, we implore you to hunt her down and slay her too!”
On hearing this Beowulf called his company to him saying, “Come, let us finish this evil once and for all before night comes,” and begged Hrothgar for horses and hounds to hunt down the monster. Then Unferth, stepped forward from the crowd and said, “Beowulf, I am put to shame that I have ever doubted you. Take with you my sword. Its name is Hrunting. It is a magical sword and will be of help to you. Forgive my foolishness and let us be friends.”
Gladly, Beowulf embrace Unferth and taking the sword he and his company mounted the horses that had been brought for them. He called for the dogs to be set loose and they soon picked up the powerful scent and raced away on the trail with Beowulf and the Geats and King Hrothgar and the Danes following on behind. The dogs ran over hill and fen for many miles until at last they reached a small dark mere. Strange and slimy things moved in its depths and putrid vapours rose from its surface. The dogs stopped at the water’s edge and Beowulf and his company rode up. Throwing off his cloak and unbuckling his sword he cried, “I go into the mere alone. Wait here until I return!”
All of his companions protested, each wanting to accompany him but he would not allow it. He embraced his followers in turn and paid homage to King Hrothgar and turned and ran into the dark water holding Hrunting before him. The mere covered him and he found himself sinking into the cold darkness. To his surprise the water was deep and as he sank through the darkness he entered into light. Looking down he found he was being dragged by a most vile hag. Her hair was a mass of twisting and hissing snakes. Her mouth was filled with long green fangs and her eyes burned red like hot coals. She held him by her skinny arms and dragged him into the cave.
Quickly, looking around Beowulf saw he was in a cavern with a great fire at one end. Huddled in one corner was a dark mass that he knew to be Grendel and now he knew this to be Grendel’s mother who now gripped him. In that cave at the bottom of the world Beowulf grappled with the fiend striking her with his sword but it could not pierce her skin while she clawed at him trying to reach his throat. She cast a spell and he found the strength ebb from his body. He managed to trip her off balance and threw her in the air, but she fell on top of him and he felt her claws around his throat. Confident she had him in a death grip she relaxed a little and for a split second the spell lifted.
Quickly, he threw her from him and staggered to his feet and moved to put his back to the wall. There he found driven into the wall the hilt of an old sword. Grasping it he heaved with all of his might and pulled it free. As she attacked he struck a blow that cut her clean in two. Turning to Grendel he cut off his head and then threw both bodies into the fire. Clasping the severed head of Grendel he ran to the cave’s mouth and into the mire and surged upwards through the water until he reached the surface where his friends were waiting.
His companions were still there but King Hrothgar and the Danes had gone for he had been absent for a very long time. He was greeted joyfully as they all crowded around wanting to hear his story, but he would tell them nothing. Instead he showed them the head of Grendel as proof of his victory. With that he commanded them to mount their horses and they returned to Heorot and King Hrothgar.
When the company arrived back at Heorot bearing the head of Grendel, Hrothgar was delighted Beowulf had survived and even more so to see the head of the demon he carried. He presented all of the company with rich gifts of fine swords and weapons and chests of gold, silver and precious jewels rewarding Beowulf the greatest of all.
Having achieved all he had set out to achieve Beowulf thanked the King and Queen of Denmark and took his leave deciding to sail for home with his company. He led the company back along the forest path and at last they reached the beach where the old man still sat guarding their ship. With all aboard he gave the order to set sail for Geatland.
Return to Geatland
King Hygelac was delighted to welcome his nephew home bearing riches from his exploits in Denmark. After hearing of his heroics in freeing Denmark of its monsters he acclaimed Beowulf the greatest hero of his people. The minstrels made songs of his bravery and heroism and he became famous throughout the northern lands but there were still further exploits written in the stars including a great flame dragon for him to overcome.
There are many myths and legends that tell how Saint Brendan the Navigator set sail in a boat with a band of followers to find a wondrous island and eventually succeeded. His followers returned but he did not. Many others after tried to find it but few succeeded. On many old maps Saint Brendan’s Isle is shown as clear as day, but if you look on any modern ones you will not see it.
They say that if you sail your boat beyond the horizon and into the setting sun you eventually come to a wondrous island kept by a single gardener and the gardener is Saint Brendan. But to do that requires faith, like he had. He once lived in Ireland but followed his heart and was led to this wondrous place where God spoke to him and told him he should stay and take care of the plants, flowers and trees. Since his arrival on the island long ages ago only those that have have faith in the good saint have managed to find this marvelous place.
The following story is a retelling of a tale from the island of Terceira in the Azores originally called, Saint Brendan’s Island – The Story of a Little Maid who Found it, and was published in a collection called The Islands of Magic, Legends, Folk and Fairy Tales from the Azores – by Elsie Spicer Eells and illustrated by E. L. Brock.
Saint Brendan lived between 484 – 577 AD, and this story tells how he left Ireland to find the wondrous island. It then moves forward in time to the 15th century to tell how a maiden from the island of Terceira and a young man from the Mediterranean island of Rhodes, through their faith in Saint Brendan, made it to the island to join the good saint there.
The Hermit’s Tale
The story begins way back in time in Ireland where a monk by the name of Saint Brendan lived. One day he received a visit from a hermit who told him all about the most mysterious and wonderful island he had just returned from visiting. On this marvelous island the sun shone all the time and the birds wore crowns on their heads and had the ability to speak to humans. Brendan could smell the wonderful fragrance of the island which clung to the hermit’s clothes so he believed him.
The hermit spoke so enthusiastically about the island it piqued the saint’s curiosity. He yearned to see it for himself and asked the hermit many questions about it. The more he heard the more he wanted to see to see if all the wonderful things were true that the hermit had told him about. At last the hermit had no more to say but Brendan had heard enough and yearned to visit it to experience all of the marvels for himself.
That night he dreamed he visited the island and it was every bit as marvellous as the hermit had described. In that dream a voice spoke to him saying,
“On this wondrous isle there was no one else but God who could hear is prayers so he could speak from the pureness of his heart and with faith his prayers would be answered.”
Therefore, the next morning, he gathered together a small group of his most devoted disciples and told them about the marvellous island and his desire to find it. Despite the dangers his disciples were also fascinated by the place and having faith in him were keen to accompany him on his quest.
The Voyage of Saint Brendan
They built a large coracle of wattle, skins and tar and fitted it with oars and a sail and enough seating for them all. They loaded the craft with as much food, water and necessary items that it could safely carry.
They all realised it would be a difficult and dangerous voyage but they had faith. After saying their goodbyes to the large crowd of family, friends and well-wishers who had come to see them off they set sail across the wild Atlantic Ocean to find the wonderful island. The crowd on the shore waved them goodbye but secretly many feared they would never see them again.
Saint Brendan and his followers sailed the wide uncharted ocean facing many dangers and having many adventures but sustained by faith they sailed on. Back home in Ireland people looked out for their return. After two years of absence people feared the worst as they looked across the sea hoping to see their return. After five years they were completely forgotten.
Return of the Voyagers
After they had left Saint Brendan and his followers had trusted in the Lord and allowed the wind and currents to take them where they would. After seven years the small vessel carrying the forgotten voyagers appeared on the horizon off the Irish coast where they had set out from. As the small craft sailed in from the blue a small crowd gathered at the harbour both pleased and astounded to see the intrepid voyagers again.
Of course, everyone wanted to know all about the voyage and their adventures but were disconcerted to see that Saint Brendan was not among those that had returned. They asked earnestly about his well-being were told that the adventurers had found the wondrous island and it was every bit as wonderful as the hermit had said. Furthermore, they told the people that Saint Brendan had stayed behind as he had been instructed by God to become the gardener of the island and ensure it thrived and remained fertile for those faithful enough to find it in the vastness of the open sea.
The Wondrous Island
The people wanted to know all about the island and the disciples told them of all the wonders they had seen and experienced while they were there. If anything they spoke more enthusiastically than the hermit who had first spoken to Saint Brendan. Many people, like Saint Brendan before them, were overcome with curiosity and desire to visit the island see the wonders for themselves. The disciples urged them to go and many set out on the voyage and spent many years at sea in search of the wondrous place. None of them ever found it and returned forlornly to their home in Ireland on the shore of the wild Atlantic.
From what was said by those who accompanied Saint Brendan the island was a floating Island and floated from place to place making it difficult to find and only those who had faith would be successful. They also said that Saint Brendan will not die but remain on the island caring for it.
That is the story of how Saint Brendan found the Wondrous island and happened many centuries ago. We must now move forward to the 15th century to the island of Terceira in the archipelago of the Azores in the vastness of the wild Atlantic Ocean.
On this island there lived a young maid named Maria. She had been told all about Saint Brendan and the marvelous island by an old monk. Like the good Saint before her she had been enthralled by the island and highly impressed by the faith of Saint Brendan. She was fascinated by everything she heard about it and prayed each morning and night to the good Saint for guidance.
She would often dream of walking under the beautiful trees as he told her all about the wonderful place. In one dream he took her to a mountaintop where she could look across the sea towards her home. He told her,
“In this place there was no one else but God and himself who could hear her prayers so she could speak from the pureness of her heart and with faith her prayers would be answered.”
In the waking world she would often walk the hillside of Monte Brasil looking out across the sea, hoping to catch a glimpse of that enchanted place. Sometimes she would sit and gaze wistfully across the water letting her imagination take her there.
The Arrival of Vitale
One day a caravel anchored off Terceira. It had sailed from Rhodes carrying a young man named Vitale and in his possession he carried sacred relics of Saint Brendan that his grandfather had passed on to him. He was on a quest to seek out and find the wonderful island of Saint Brendan and had called in at Terceira on his way. Proudly displayed upon his doublet was an eight pointed star and a scarlet silk band with the motto “By Faith” boldly displayed upon it. Indeed, it was by faith alone that he had set out upon the mission of his life for he had no idea how he would accomplish it.
When Maria heard of his arrival and the sacred relics he bore she rushed down to the ship to see him for herself. She was extremely impressed with the way he carried himself and his good looks, but was overwhelmed by the passion he showed for his quest and she quickly fell in love with him. Indeed she revered him as if he had been the good Saint himself and would sit quiet and still with her dark eyes downcast not caring to glance at him while he told of his quest for the Saint and the Wondrous Island.
The young man in turn was fascinated by this demure young maiden and confessed his love for her. Willingly, he gave her his grandfather’s sacred relics and asked that in return she might speak her true feelings towards him. Maria replied, “To speak my of my love for you in full and in truth I would need to be in a place where God alone could hear me. Only then could I speak from the purity of my heart.”
A Jealous Suitor
You see this was true for Maria because on Terceira there lived a young man of the island who had long admired her. He was the son of the Lord of the district and for a long time he had been infatuated by her beauty and her manner. He had begged her for her hand in marriage several times but each time she had demurely and sensitively declined. She hated having to do it but she could not marry a man she did not love. Now she was worried because she knew that if her unwanted suitor ever found out about her love for Vitale he would fly into a jealous rage and feared what he would do. Indeed she had good cause to fear for Terceira was a small island with a close knit community and it was not long before her unwanted suitor heard of her relationship with Vitale.
Rushing to her in a jealous rage he demanded that she marry him immediately. Maria sensitively and with all kindness gently told him she could not. Angrily he told her, “If you do not marry me I shall have my father lock you in the tower of Saint Louis on the hillside and there you shall stay until you change your mind!’
‘I am sorry,” she replied, “but I would prefer to remain locked in the tower for the rest of my days than be your wife. Why can you not see it and just leave me in peace with my relics of Saint Brendan?”
The Tower of Saint Louis
This further enraged the young man and he had her marched to the tower of Saint Louis where she was locked in its uppermost chamber. Although small and bare the chamber at least had a window where she would sit and look down upon the city of Angra below.
“All my life I have prayed to the blessed Saint Brendan and loved God. Now my world has been destroyed by unwanted love!’ she cried in despair.
With that despairing cry which rang out over the city below, the earth shook and trembled and the great stone tower quivered as if was but paper.
Not far from the tower two beautiful white doves were perched on the branches of a cedar tree.
“Look at the tower,” said one, “It will surely fall and the fair maid who weeps inside will die.”
“She shall not die! Let us rescue her,” said the other , “and take her to a place of safety.”
As they flew into the air the earth shuddered and the tower began to fall and Maria stood weeping in fear at the window. Faster than the wind the doves swooped down and each clasping one of Maria’s hands carried her through the air as the falling tower collapsed.
Over the treetops, over the rooftops and churches of Angra they carried her and out across the sea. They continued flying over the horizon and into the setting sun and through the dark night until the sun came up in the morning.
Saint Brendan’s Wondrous Isle
With the growing light Maria could see they were heading towards an island shrouded in morning mist. As they drew closer the mist lifted and upon a silver shore there was someone who appeared to be waiting. Carried by the doves she could see that the island was abundant with the most beautiful trees and gorgeous flowers. As they descended, she saw that it was a truly wondrous place. As the doves gently set her down before the waiting figure to her joy and wonder she saw that it was Saint Brendan and that he was the gardener of the island.
Back on Terceira the earthquake had caused great damage to the city of Angra and the Tower of Saint Louis had been completely destroyed. Everyone thought poor Maria had been buried in the rubble and mourned. Vitale had been grief stricken and without her saw his life on the island as being empty and devoid of purpose.
Therefore he took to his caravel and set sail resuming his quest to find the blessed Isle of Saint Brendan. For long days and nights he sailed through foul and fine weather until he sailed into a bank of thick fog. He could see no more than a foot before him whichever way he looked. Having no idea of his direction he allowed his ship to drift with the current. Eventually, sustained by faith alone, he came through the fog to find himself looking at a beautiful sunset. As he looked he saw the clouds descending from heaven to earth like a long white ladder.
Further on in the distance he saw an island with a silver shore and a green and beautiful land beyond. In his heart he knew this was Saint Brendan’s wondrous island and current took his vessel gently to the shore. As he approached he saw his beloved Maria standing with her arms outstretched towards him, smiling and her eyes shining. All around her there glowed a gentle auro of pure white light. Stepping ashore, he ran to her outstretched arms and as he approached she said,
“At last, in this place I can speak my love for you from my heart with no one but God and Saint Brendan and you, my dear Vitale, to hear!”
This article was originally posted on #FolkloreThursday.com on 27/06/2019 titled British Legends: Wild Edric, the Wild Hunt and the Bride from the Otherworld by zteve t evans.
Wild Edric was an Anglo-Saxon earl from Shropshire who was also known as Eadric Salvage, Eadric Silvaticus and Eadric the Wild. He was one of the wealthiest men in Shropshire and the lord of fifty-six manors. Tradition says he was a great huntsman, hunting areas of the Forest of Clun, Stiperstones and the Long Mynd. Although he was a real person many myths and legends became attached to him such as the Wild Hunt, his faerie bride and the monster fish of Bomere Pool.
The Norman Conquest
Wild Edric was not believed to have fought at the Battle of Hastings,
but most of his manors were taken by King William to be given to his
own barons. Therefore, between 1068-70 he allied himself with Bleddyn
ap Cynfyn, Prince of Gwynedd, and his brother, Riwallon, the Prince of
Powys, who were Welsh resistance leaders opposed to William. They
attacked the Normans in Herefordshire, devastating Hereford, but, unable
to capture the castle, they retreated. In retaliation, the Normans
attacked Edric many times, but could not defeat him.
In 1069, William led his northern army to put down a rebellion led by
the Earl Mokar of Northumberland and his brother Edwin. While William
was preoccupied, Edric and his Welsh allies joined with rebels from
Cheshire, attacking Norman lands in northern parts of Shropshire. They
burnt Shrewsbury, but were unable to take the castle.
When news of the assault reached William he turned his army around and headed south. Instead of confronting William, Edric retreated back to Shropshire. The Welsh and Cheshire rebels fought William but were defeated near Stafford. William was not satisfied with this victory and proceeded to attack and lay waste the land. Eventually, Edric was forced to make peace and swear allegiance to King William who took all but three of his remaining manors. In 1072, Edric supported and accompanied William in an attack on Scotland.
Presented here is a retelling of a folktale from the Portuguese islands of the Azores called , Linda Branca and her Mask, from a collection calledThe 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.