Petrification Myths:  Coyote and the Legend People of Bryce Canyon

Petrification Myths: Coyote and the Legend People of Bryce Canyon

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

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

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

The Creation of the Landscape

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

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

The Legend People of Bryce Canyon

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

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

Coyote

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

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

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

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

The Pauite People

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

© 23/05/17 zteve t evans

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Copyright May 23rd, 2017 zteve t evans

Petrification Myths: Mischief, Mayhem and the Pesky Lincoln Imp

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

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

The Legend of the Lincoln Imp

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

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

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

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

The Grimsby Imp

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

The Term “Lincoln Imp”

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

The Imp as a Symbol

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

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

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

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

© 09/05/2017 zteve t evans

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Copyright May 9th, 2017 zteve t evans

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


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Pyramid Lake, Nevada – by Rhalden – Public Domain

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

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

The Legend of the Great Stone Mother

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

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

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

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

Man and Woman

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

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

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

The Separation of the Children

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

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

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

Bitter Tears

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

The Great Stone Mother

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

© 02/05/2017  zteve t evans

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Copyright May 5th, 2017 zteve t evans

Welsh Folklore: The Shepherd and the Bride from the Otherworld

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

Pentrefoelas Myths, Legends and Folklore

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

The Pentrefoelas Legend

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

Words of Love

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

The Girl from the Otherworld

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

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

The Marriage Contract

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

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

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

A Happy Marriage

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

The Broken Contract

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

© 11/04/2017 zteve t evans

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Copyright April 11th, 2017 zteve t evans

Petrification Myths: The Stone Women of Moelfre Hill

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

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

The Stone Women of Moelfre Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Triple Goddess

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

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

Vandalism

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

© 28/03/2017 zteve t evans

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Copyright March 3rd, 2017 zteve t evans

Wilderness Tales: First Falling Thunder and the Little Bird

This is a retelling of a folktale from the Colorado foothills collected by  Charles M. Skinner called Riders of the Desert, published in his book Myths and Legends of Our Own Land  (1896).

Ta-in-ga-ro and Zecana

Ta-in-ga-ro, which means First Falling Thunder, built his lodge in the Colorado foothills among the towering sandstone columns.  Although he was brave in battle and swift in the chase he preferred to spend his time in the company of Zecana, which means Little Bird, who was his wife, rarely joining in with the forays of the men of his tribe.

He trapped beaver and hunted the wild sheep and would take them to a trading post on the Mexican border.  He would take his beloved Zecana along with him as he could not bear to be parted from her.  It was on one such outing when a Spanish trader saw Zecana and became enamored with her.  He dreamed about her day and night to the point where he became consumed by his own lust for her and craved for his fill of her body.  To satisfy his hunger he plotted to separate her from Ta-in-ga-ro who rarely left her side.

To achieve this aim while keeping his feelings for Zecana secret he persuaded Ta-in-ga-ro to undertake a journey to a distant mountain, promising him that Zecana could remain in safety and comfort at the trading post until he returned.  Ta-in-ga-ro was an honest man who would never knowingly hurt anyone and could not envisage that everyone was not like himself and  he agreed and began the journey.

A Bad Omen

Along the way, he stopped at a spring to rest and refresh himself.  He saw how the blue sky and clouds reflected in the cool clear waters and after he had drunk his fill he cast some beads and wampum into the water as was customary to thank the spirit.  Throwing his offering into the spring he was most shocked to see a bad omen manifest within the water.  Instead of reflecting the sky to his horror and fear he saw the agonized and anguished face of his beloved wife appear.

As fear washed over him he jumped to his feet and jumped upon his horse and galloped back to the trading post without stopping for rest or food.  When he arrived at he jumped from his horse and ran into the building looking for his wife.  Neither she or the Spaniard were there and not knowing what else to do he returned to his lodge.

Zecana

It was a long and lonely journey and both he and his horse were exhausted, but he rode day and night and one morning as the dawn was breaking he saw the sun coming up over his lodge.  There to his absolute joy as entered his home was his beloved wife Zecana.  She was happily singing as she went about the care of the home just as she always had done.  Joyfully he greeted her holding arms out to embrace.  She turned her head to look at him and then casually returned to her singing.   He turned her towards him and looked into her eyes.  what had once been dark and mysterious pools that shone with inner beauty were now dead.  She looked at him through dead eyes and she did not know who he was.  Her mind and reason were  no longer there.

The Madness of Zecana

Ta-in-ga-ro cried out in shock and stepped back and then gently sat her down and cradled her lovingly in his arms.  Slowly with his gentleness and patience, he learned from her babble the terrible ordeal the Spaniard had inflicted upon her.  When she had finally managed to tell her story a fleeting look of remembrance came into her dark eyes and in her tortured mind she briefly saw her husband and remembered her love for him.  Then, pain came into her eyes and tears flooded down her face.  Suddenly, her hand snaked out and grasped the dagger he always carried at his side.  Stepping back she raised it with both hands and plunged it into her heart falling dead at her shocked husband’s feet.

Ta-in-ga-ro watched this all happen as if it was in slow motion and as the blade entered her heart he let out a cry and reached forward but was too late to stop her.  He stood frozen to the spot for hours overcome by the horror of his wife’s suicide.  Eventually, the strength of his forefathers came to his rescue and he knew she had passed on.  Setting his house in order he wrapped his wife’s body in buffalo skin and laid her in what he thought was a comfortable position for her to sleep, though he knew the body was not her and her soul had flown.   Then he lay down beside her and slept for his body was exhausted and his emotions numb.

The Spaniard

Two nights later the Spaniard lay sleeping in his bed at the trading post.  Ta-in-ga-ro had passed the guards unseen like a shadow and now stood over the sleeping man looking down upon him.  In the darkest hours the Spaniard awoke with a start by strange feeling as his mouth was gagged by his belt.  Although he tried he could not cry out and his teeth bit into leather.  He felt fear as a noose tightened around his throat and struggled to free himself but to no avail.  In seconds he found himself bound hand and foot and flung over someone’s shoulder.  Struggle though he did he could not break free and could not even make a sound as he was carried stealthily out of the house.

Ta-in-ga-ro placed him across a horse tying him to the beast’s body firmly.  He then wrapped an arrow in cotton and set it a light firing it into a nearby haystack to create a diversion.  While everyone was busy dousing the flaming haystack he mounted his own horse bound Spaniard into the desert concealed by the smoke.

Ta-in-ga-ro took his captive back to his home lodge where his dead wife lay.  Arriving back Ta-in-ga-ro he ungagged him and loosened his bonds enough for him to eat.  The Spaniard ate and when he had finished Ta-in-ga-ro led a horse he had placed a wooden saddle upon to the door way.  He then cut off the clothes of the Spaniard  and placed him upon the horse ignoring his terrified pleas to stop.  Ta-in-ga-ro then tied the man firmly to the horse.  He then went inside and carried out his dead wife and lifted her corpse upon the horse so that she sat face to face with the Spaniard.  He then freed the burdened  horse  and mounting his own set it free in into the desert.  The horse wandered off carrying the Spaniard and the corpse.  The more the Spaniard struggled the closer his face came to the face of the dead woman.

Into the Desert

The horse carried them both further into the desert.  The Spaniard slipped in and out of consciousness and each came time came to face to face with his victim.  Slowly and surely the horse continued ever deeper into the endless desert.  In the fierceness of the desert heat, the Spaniard sweat profusely and his bonds cut him into his skin and blood dripped from him.  At night the cold desert air froze his bones and although he nodded into sleep each time he did Ta-in-ga-ro yelled at him.  With a jolt, he would awaken to face the corpse whose dead eyes stared into his own.  And so this living nightmare  continued and occasionally, Ta-in-ga-ro gave him a mouth full ,of water to keep him alive but never any food and the Spaniard’s hunger grew.  This nightmare continued for many days and all the time the Spaniard sat face to face with the corpse of Zecana.  He had eaten nothing for days and hunger gnawed at him as he looked into the dead of eyes of the woman he had once so hungered for.

The Madman and the Corpse

At last the Spaniard could bear the hunger no longer and though he hated what he did he sank his teeth into the face of the woman who he had so lusted after.  Ta-in-ga-ro looked on grimly each time hunger took the Spaniard but still continued taking them further and further into the desert.  At last, he heard the Spaniard sobbing and gibbering and knew that madness had come upon him.  Only then did he rein in his own horse and watch as the horse bearing the babbling Spaniard and the corpse wandered deeper into the desert.  Not until he had seen them disappear into the wilderness did he turn his own horse around and ride off.  He never went home but went to join Zecana.

The madman and the corpse were carried into the wilderness that is the  abode of lost and wandering souls.    Few people willingly go to that barren and empty wasteland and fewer return but those who do have an eerie tale to tell.  They say when the little bird stops singing and the first falling thunder is heard the phantom riders appear.  The ghost of the babbling madman staring into the dead eyes of  the woman that he had so hungered for doomed to forever feast upon her flesh on an endless journey through the wilderness.

© 12/10/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright October 12th, zteve t evans

 

World Folklore: The Child Cast Adrift

foster_bible_pictures_0059-1_moses_floating_on_the_water

Artwork by Charles Foster – Public Domain

The Child Cast Adrift

Many myths and legends from many cultures around the world revolve around the theme of a child deliberately abandoned in the wilds or cast adrift on the ocean or a river.  The story involves a  helpless and defenseless baby committed by adults to take their chances of survival but against all odds and often with the help of divine intervention the baby survives to grow up and play a significant part in the culture of a society.  More often than not they become great leaders saving or inspiring their people.

Usually, those that cast the helpless babe adrift are not doing so with the intention of actually killing the child but are offering up for the chance of divine intervention, or luck, in the hope that the baby will survive the ordeal.  Sometimes it is the only chance the baby will have of survival because it has been rejected in some way by those who have power over it or others who wish it harm.  Presented here are four ancient examples from folklore and mythology around the world concluding with an example from modern fiction.

Moses in the Bull Rushes

The Old Testament tells how the population of Hebrews living in Egypt had grown to such an extent that the Egyptians grew concerned that they were becoming too powerful.  They forced them into slavery and to reduce their numbers the Pharaoh decreed that their newborn babies were to be drowned in the Nile.  The Hebrews prayed to God for help and he sent them Moses who was to lead them out of Egypt.

In a desperate hope that her baby might somehow escape this fate the mother of Moses placed him in a basket and sets him afloat in the reeds where Pharaoh’s daughter routinely went to bathe in the river trusting in God that he would be saved and fulfill his destiny. Pharaoh’s daughter did find him and he was rescued and survived growing up to lead his people out of Egypt to freedom.

Sargon of Akkad

Sargon of Akkad was a king in Mesopotamia from 2334 to 2279 BCE.  He was said to have been an illegitimate son of one of the priestesses of the temple of the goddess Innana and never knew who his father was.  His mother, whose name was not known, could not reveal her pregnancy or to keep the unnamed baby,  so she placed him in a basket and cast him adrift on the Euphrates River.

A man called Akki  who was an “irrigator”, or “drawer of water”, of King Ur-Zababa of Kish in Sumer found and rescued the child and brought up the baby.  The boy grew up to become king, conquering Mesopotamia and creating one of the first known multinational empires.  Although the name of the child is not known, when he became king he became known as Sargon and was regarded by many as the greatest man who had ever lived.

An account of Sargon’s birth and early boyhood is found in  a Neo-Assyrian text:

“Sargon, the mighty king, king of Akkadê am I,
My mother was lowly; my father I did not know;
The brother of my father dwelt in the mountain.

My city is Azupiranu, which is situated on the bank of the Purattu (Euphrates),
My lowly mother conceived me, in secret she brought me forth.

She placed me in a basket of reeds, she closed my entrance with bitumen,
She cast me upon the rivers which did not overflow me.

The river carried me, it brought me to Akki, the irrigator.

Akki, the irrigator, in the goodness of his heart lifted me out,
Akki, the irrigator, as his own son brought me up;

Akki, the irrigator, as his gardener appointed me.
When I was a gardener the goddess Ishtar loved me,
And for four years I ruled the kingdom.”  (1)

Romulus and Remus

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She-wolf suckles Romulus and Remus – Public Domain

According to the Roman historian Livy, Rhea Silvia was the daughter of Numitor who was the king of Alba Longa, an ancient city in the Alban Hills in what is now central Italy.  Amulius, the brother of Numitor seized the throne and killed all of his brother’s male heirs and forced Rhea Silvia to become a Vestal Virgin, making her take a vow of chastity and thinking that then there would be no challengers to his rule.

Possibly the gods had other ideas because Rhea Silvia conceived twins by the god of war, Mars and named them Romulus and Remus.   By some accounts, the usual punishment for a Vestal Virgin who broke their vows was death by being buried alive which was imposed on Rhea Silvia.  When the twins were born, Amulius, determined that there would be no challengers to him had them cast adrift on the River Tiber to certain death.   Both these acts were designed to avoid him having to bear the blame and carry the blood-guilt for their deaths.

Once abandoned on the waters the twins floated dangerously down the river at the mercy of the current  until Tibernus, the god of the river, came to their aid. The river god ensured their safety by calming the waters and causing their basket to catch in the roots of a nearby fig tree.  A she-wolf came across them and suckled them and a woodpecker brought them food and fed them.  They were found by a shepherd by the name of Faustulus. He and his wife took them in and brought them up as their own.

Although the twins became shepherds like their father they also went on to become great leaders and acquired a substantial following.   They both agreed they would found a city but in a quarrel over where it should be built Romulus killed Remus and went on to found Rome.

Taliesin of the Shining Brow

Taliesin is believed to have lived between 534 and 599. He was the chief bard in the courts of at least three kings of the Britons and is associated with the Book of Taliesin, a text from the 10th century containing his poems.  The conception and birth of Taliesin is a strange tale and begins on the banks of Lake Bala, North Wales, where Tegid Foel and his wife Ceridwen lived.  This couple had a daughter named Creawy who was very beautiful and a son called Morfan who was unbelievably ugly and stupid beyond hope.  Ceridwen had brewed a potion that was meant to improve the looks and intellect of Morfan but which accidentally was ingested by one of her helpers named Gwion Bach who got the benefits from the potion instead.   Ceridwen was furious with Gwion Bach and sought revenge which led to a chase which involved the two changing them shapes into different animals before Ceridwen turns into a hen finally eats Gwion Bach, who had turned into a  single grain of wheat in a pile of wheat. She then finds she has become pregnant with him when she returns to her true shape.

She gives birth to him and although she plans to kill him the baby is so beautiful she cannot find the heart.   However, she is determined to be rid of him and so places him in a leather bag and throws him in the sea.  Fortunately for the baby, he is found by Elffin who was the son of  Gwyddno Garanhir and was renowned for his bad luck.  One day when Elffin was inspecting his fishing traps to his dismay he found no fish just an old leather bag that had been tied at the top.  Hauling in the bag and untying it he was shocked to find a baby boy inside.  The baby had the whitest brow he had ever seen and he called the child, “Taliesin”  which means, “how radiant his brow is”.

Elffin decides to take the child home with him and on the way, and to his surprise, the baby begins reciting poetry.  From this Elffin surmises the boy must have been purposely sent to him as a guide and as a bard and prophet who will help him to overcome his enemies.  From that day on Elffin’s luck changes for the better and his fortunes begin to prosper.

Taliesin grows up to become the most famous bard in Britain and foretells correctly that Maelgwyn Gwynedd an evil king would be killed by the “yellow beast.”  The poetry of Taliesin becomes inspirational for the defenders of Britain in their struggle with the invading Saxons and he makes a famous prophecy revealing the fate of the Britons:

Their Lord they shall praise,
Their language they shall keep,
Their land they shall lose –
Except wild Wales.

Around the World

The theme of the abandoned baby is found in the folklore and mythology of many different cultures around the world.  From ancient India, the Hindu epic the Mahābhārata tells the tale of Karna and from Greek mythology is the tale of Oedipus, though he was abandoned on a mountainside rather than cast adrift in a river or the sea and there are many other examples.

In Modern Times

The theme of a baby cast adrift has many variations around the world in different cultures and still continues in modern fiction.  One of the most modern and well-known stories of a baby cast adrift is the story of Kal-El from the planet Krypton.  His parents placed him in a space rocket pointing it towards the planet Earth in the hope of finding safety for their son as their own planet was blown apart by a nuclear chain reaction.  The rocket reached Earth and crash landed and was found Jonathan and Martha Kent, a childless couple, who owned a farm in the United States of America. The childless couple took in the baby and brought him up as Clark Kent alias Superman.

© 27/07/2016 zteve t evans

Reference and Attributions

Copyright July 27th, 2016 zteve t evans