Spanish Folklore: The Legendary Fish-Man of Liérganes

Fish-man statue in Liérganes, Cantabria. – Image by Bigsus, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

THE FISH-MAN OF LIÉRGANES

The town of Liérganes in the region of Cantabria, in northern Spain, hosts a statue of a strange fish-man commemorating his life. An English translation of a nearby plaque referring to him reads,

“His feat crossing the ocean

from the north to the south of Spain,

if it was not true it deserved to be.

Today his greatest feat

is to have crossed the centuries

in the memory of men.

Truth or legend,

Liérganes honors him here and sponsors

his immortality.”

The plaque is found on the promenade of the Fish-Man of Liérganes, along the shore of the Miera River.

The statue and plaque are referring to a local myth of a strange individual known as the “fish-man of Liérganes, ” or “El hombre pez,” in Spanish and, “L’hombri pez,”  in Cantabrian dialect. According to this myth the fish-man was an amphibious humanoid being, alleged to have been a human male who had become lost at sea. A theory developed that somehow, he had evolved into a semi-human aquarian entity at home in the sea, or on land. After being captured by fishermen he was returned to his family in Liérganes.

BENITO JERÓNIMO FEIJOO

The Spanish monk, scholar and writer, Benito Jerónimo Feijoo, during the Age of Enlightenment in Spain, was well known for promoting scientific and pragmatic thinking. Yet, he claimed the fish-man of Liérganes to be fact.

There is more than one version of the myth with differences on how the boy disappeared. In one version he goes swimming in the Miera River on the eve of Saint John’s Day, 1674 with friends. After undressing and entering the water he continued swimming after they had finished and dressed. Initially, his friends knowing he was a strong swimmer, were not concerned but he never returned.

Everyone assumed he had drowned but according to the legend he continued swimming until he reached the sea where he evolved into a fish-man. It was in this apparent amphibious condition he was later captured by curious fishermen in the bay of Cadiz.

FEIJOO’S ACCOUNT

However, Feijoo maintained that in Liérganes, in Cantabria, in about the year 1650, there lived a couple named Francisco de la Vega and María del Casar, who had four sons. When Francisco, the father died the family had no means of financial support, so she decided to send one of her sons, Francisco de la Vega Casar, named after his father and mother, to Bilbao to work as an apprentice carpenter.

He was known to have lived and worked there until the eve of Saint John’s Day when he went swimming in the estuary of Bilbao with his friends. He was believed to have been a good swimmer, but he got caught in strong currents and swept out to sea. He was last seen alive still swimming into the sea where he was believed to have been lost and drowned.

In 1679,  five years after Francisco was last seen a fishing boat working in the bay of Cadiz discovered they had a made a very unusual catch. A very strange creature had become entangled and attempted to fight itself free. The fishermen tried to capture the creature, but it managed escape into the sea. Several sightings of the creature were reported by other fishermen in the area as it became entangled in their nets. Finally, someone had the idea of enticing it with bread and it was finally brought on deck.

To their surprise, they found the creature had a human body such as belonged to an adolescent human male. His skin was pale, and he had sparse red hair and his nails were short and corroded.Curiously, it also had noticeable attributes of a fish having a strip of scales from its throat to its midriff and another strip of scales running along its spine. Around its neck it had that appeared to be gills. The combination of human and fish features and having pulled it from the sea baffled them.

THE CONVENT OF SAINT FRANCIS

The fishermen had never seen anything like it before, having no idea whether what they had caught was human or fish. Thinking it may be an unholy monstrosity, they took it onshore to the nearby convent of Saint Francis. Here the strange individual was exorcised and questioned but yielded no identifying or helpful information. The only attempt at speech he made was one word which sounded like “Liérganes.”  Unfortunately, no one knew what the word, if it was a word, meant.

News of this strange unknown individual spread around Cadiz Bay, and although people wondered, no one could say what the word, “Liérganes” meant.Eventually news of the individual and its strange speech came to a sailor from the north of Spain who docked at Cadiz. He pointed out there was a village called Liérganes  close to his hometown.Furthermore, the secretary of the Holy Office, Domingo de la Cantolla, verified the existence of the village of Liérganes which was situated near to Santander where he had come from.

In a further development, the bishop of Cadiz forwarded a description of the individual detailing physique and appearance in the hope someone would recognise or at least know something of him. An answer came back stating that no such creature, or individual, was known to exist, or ever have existed, around Liérganes.Moreover, the only extraordinary, though tragic event in the village was five years earlier with the presumed drowning of Francisco de la Vega Casar. His body had never been found but it was remembered he had red hair.

RETURN TO FAMILY LIFE IN LIÉRGANES

It was not much to go on, but it struck a chord with one of the priests of the convent who speculated that the fish-man was Francisco de la Vega Casar.Therefore, he requested permission to visit Liérganes accompanied by the fish-man. Speculatively, he visited María del Casar, the mother of Francisco, who instantly recognised the unknown individual as her son.

With Maria, claiming Francisco as her son, the priest left him with his family. Although he lived peacefully and quietly with in the family home, he had peculiar habits.He never wore anything on his feet, preferring to walk around barefoot, and unless he was specifically given clothes to wear tended to prefer nudity. He never spoke enough words to form a sentence so never really conversed with anyone. Sometimes he would mumble single words such as “bread,” “wine,” or “tobacco,” but never seemed to relate them to eating, drinking, or smoking.

Although he would eat with enthusiasm when the mood took him, he often went a week before eating again.He was always amiable and affable, and in his own unassuming way, polite and courteous. When asked to do a task he would oblige, completing it quickly and efficiently but without showing any enthusiasm.

He spent nine years living with his mother and family in this way but one day he went into the sea for a swim and never returned. What became of him is a mystery, but very much speculated about. Whether he drowned, or simply resumed his former life living in the sea is unknown, but no sign of him was seen of him ever since.

CONTROVERSY

Of course, with such an extraordinary case as this there are no shortage of sceptics. Feijoo, although having a reputation based on his pragmatism and scientific approach seems to have been convinced of the authenticity of the case even if others were not. In his version of the case, he is meticulously detailed giving names and dates and has investigated and verified accounts given by reputable witnesses.

He confesses when he first heard of the story, he did not believe it, but claimed his research led him to conclude the case was genuine.The fact that Feijoo was a strong critic of superstition, hoaxes and charlatans lent to him considerable authority. People took the opinion that if such a renowned sceptic as he believed in the case it must be true. It does seem strange that he would have backed this story, but hedid, and later even put forward scientific arguments aimed at backing the existence of fish-men in the sea.

DR. GREGORIO MARAÑÓN

Nevertheless, there were others who were unconvinced he had interpreted the evidence correctly and one of them was 20th century Spanish scholar and physician named Dr. Gregorio Marañón.He argued that the existence of the fish-man was mistaken but admitted that the fact that there were so many credible witnesses and testimonies could not be easily ignored. He proposed there were certain elements of the story that were possible and offered an alternative explanation.

He proposed that the individual presented symptoms of being inflicted with an ailment called cretinism, now usually referred to as “Congenital Iodine Deficiency Syndrome.” This affliction is usually apparent at birth and one cause is inadequate dietary iodine during pregnancy (1).

He pointed out the individual displayed symptoms such as being virtually speechless, only being able to produce a few words. He had thinning red hair and white scaly skin, chewed his nails, and wander around which he asserted are symptoms of the disease. Furthermore, this affliction was often found in mountainous regions such as Cantabria, claiming it was commonly found around the Santander region at that time. Alternatively, he pointed out ichthyosis could have caused the skin problems – a very widespread genetic disease, causing the skin to become exceptionally dry, rough, and flaking, not unlike fish scales.

He suggested the boy had wandered off getting lost and followed the coast from the estuary of Bilbao where he was last seen round to the Bay of Cadiz where he was noticed by fishermen and captured.The scaly white skin gave him an outlandish, and fish-like appearance, to people who knew nothing of the disease. With his discovery by the sea and his scaly and unattractive skin condition, which may have been exaggerated as word spread, people jumped to false conclusions, from these coincidences, erroneously thinking he was part human and part fish.

MARAÑÓN’S THEORY

However, Marañón produced a different explanation as to how he had been found in the Bay of Cadiz. He believed it would not have been possible for him to swim there from the estuary of Bilbao, proposing he had wandered on foot following the coastline. Along the way he searched for food which he may have found readily along the seashore in form of shellfish and marine algae. Importantly, both foods happen to be rich in iodine, which is known to alleviate Congenital iodine deficiency syndrome, especially when given to babies diagnosed with the condition. Sea air is also naturally iodised and may have been a more comfortable environment.

It was purely coincidental that when he was last seen in Estuary of Bilbao, he was swimming out to sea, yet when he was found in the Bay of Cadiz he was also in the sea.

He speculated that when his father died, his mother and family struggled to make ends meet, which was why he was sent to Bilbao to learn carpentry. It may have been a relief to his employer and co-workers to be rid of such an unproductive burden as it may have been to his family.

Marañón further speculated both employers and family were not too sorry to be relieved of him, which was why little fuss was made of his alleged drowning. However, rather than perish in the sea he had wandered off alone, following the shore where possible, with no idea where he was going, he ended up in the Bay of Cadiz.

His diet of algae and seafood sustained and even helped him, but because of his age the iodine intake was of limited value.Nevertheless, the sea air and the warmer environment may have been more to his liking. It may have been the worst thing that could happen to him was to return to a mountain environment of Liérganes. His return to his mother and family may have been an unwelcome emotional and economic burden, an extra mouth to feed, or they may have been simply ashamed of him. Marañón suggests his later disappearance into the sea again was not an accident, and not of his own making, yet provides no firm proof of anything sinister.

The story of Francisco de la Vega Casar is certainly mysterious and unquestionably tragic we can only hope what ever happened to him in the end brought peace.

© 23/06/2022 zteve t evans


REFERENCES, ATTRIBUTIONS AND FURTHER READING

Copyright June 23rd, 2022 zteve t evans


Khasi Folktales: The Legend of Lum Sophet Bneng

Thanks to Cliparts.Co

THE KHASI PEOPLE

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.

KHASI MYTHOLOGY

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.

PLANTING GARDENS

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

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.

A WARNING!

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.

©08/06/2022 zteve t evans


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Copyright June 8th, 2022 zteve t evans


Khasi Folktales: The Cooing of the Doves

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.

Ka Paro

 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.

Marriage

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.

A Test

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.

Hearbreak

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.

© 28/04/2022 zteve t evans


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Copyright April 28, 2022 zteve t evans


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Tales of the Lost, the Drowned and the All-Seeing Eye – Vengeance Will Come!

Available as a Kindle Ebook And Large Print Paperback – Dimensions : 21.59 x 0.48 x 27.94 cm All Images Non-color



Havelok the Dane: Hero-King of Two Realms

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Ukrainian and Slavic Folktales:  The Origin of the Mole

Jos Zwarts, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Presented here is a retelling of a folktale from Ukrainian and Slavic folklore followed by a brief discussion.  The story has similarities to tales from several different countries, and like them is a myth of the origin of the mole and gives a warning which is very relevant to this day. 

THE ORIGIN OF THE MOLE

This story tells how a rich man, and a poor man once shared a field.  The poor man was humble and respectful and followed God’s laws the best he could.  The rich man was proud and scornful, following no rules but his own.  One year, both simultaneously sowed their allotted parts with the same type of seed.  With the help of God, the poor man’s seed grew healthy and abundant, giving an excellent yield. However, the seed of the rich man, who scorned the Almighty, yielded a poor and spindly crop.

The rich man looked upon the poor man’s yield and grew jealous.  Then, being accustomed to having his way and the best of everything, he unrightfully claimed the part of the field that the poor man had sown, insisting the yield was his. 

See, here,” he said to the poor man, “See how well my seed has grown while your own has grown weak and spindly!”

The poor man was shocked at the false claim and protested.  But the rich man shook his head, refusing to listen to his protestations, and said,

“If you do not believe me, I can provide undeniable evidence of my ownership.  Should you wish to see it come into the field before sunrise, bringing as many witnesses as you choose, and I will give you infallible proof of my ownership for all to witness, and God alone shall be the judge of the matter!”

Upset and bewildered, the poor man went home while the rich man watched him go.  As soon as he was out of sight, he dug a hole in the poor man’s portion of the field and told his son to jump in and hide there until morning, telling him,

“Listen carefully to what I say, my son, and follow my instructions exactly as I tell you.  I will cover you over so that no one will know you hide in this hole.  You must wait here until just before sunrise tomorrow morning, when I, and others, will come into this field.  I will shout out as if speaking to God, asking him to reveal the owner of this part of the field.  You will loudly proclaim that this part of the field belongs in full to the rich man, and it is the other part of the field that the poor man owns.  Make sure you stay hidden in the hole until I tell you otherwise!”

After he was sure his son understood, he covered him over carefully, thoroughly disguising the hole from plain sight, and went home.

The next morning, before daybreak, he returned to the field where the poor man accompanied by a crowd of neighbors to act as witnesses waited. Unfazed, the rich man stood in the center of the disputed part of the field, raised his hands to the sky, and cried,

Oh, great and wise God speak your truth!  Who is the owner of this part of the field where I stand?   Does it belong to this poor man, or I, the rich man?”

His son, hearing his father, shouted back,

“You stand in the rich man’s part of the field with a fine crop growing that you sowed,  and the poor man’s crop that he sowed lies next to it growing weak and spindly.”

The rich man turned and laughed at the poor man whose face had dropped in bewilderment and disappointment.  All those who stood as witnesses were full of awe and wonder, except for one who was not a local man. No one knew who he was, or how he had joined them, but he stepped forward and spoke to the them saying sternly,

“Do not listen to this rich man; he is a cheat and liar!  The part of the field where the good crop grows belongs to the poor man who plowed and sowed it!”

He told the witnesses all about the deception and pulled the camouflage from the hole revealing the rich man’s son. To the rich man’s son, he commanded,

“Stay where thou art, and sit beneath the earth all thy days, so long as the sun is in the sky.” (1)

And the rich man’s son instantly transformed into the first mole.

DISCUSSION

The tale is allegorical and not quite what it seems, giving a fanciful explanation of the origin of moles, while warning those who seek to covet another person’s property to expect unforeseen consequences in the future.  In earlier times families tended to stay together often supporting parents and grandparents through their old age. The loss of such a support would have been a hard blow. The transformation of the rich man’s son into a mole seems like a harsh punishment for the son for following his father’s directions. 

But, if the rich man’s son was only following his father’s instructions, so does it mean the child automatically inherits the parent’s sins?

Maybe not, if the story is considered an allegory.  Children take on much of their behavior from their parents yet are not strictly bound by nature to continue that behavior.  They can, and do, change as they grow older, and this sometimes brings them into conflict with their parents’ values and philosophy of life and sometimes the society in which they live.  If such behavior becomes accepted and practiced from generation to generation, then, yes, the parents’ sins become those of the child.  They also become a continuous source of conflict between citizens, creating an increasing anti-social and dysfunctional society. 

Therefore, wrongdoing must be challenged and replaced by more healthy alternative behavior to prevent this.  Ideally, this should happen at the time of the misconduct or as soon as possible after.  But, unfortunately, sometimes it does pass on through the generations and becomes accepted as the social norm – the share standards of socially acceptable behavior – until someone dares challenge it.  In this light, members of a society are responsible for ensuring dishonest behavior is discontinued as soon as it is recognized.

When parents act immorally it does not make it correct for their children to continue the bad behavior from generation to generation.  The idea may be that rectifying dishonest or harmful behavior, preferably as it happens, or as soon as possible after it is recognized, leads to a more harmonious and fairer society.

Of course, there is much more that could be said, but it is entirely up to the reader to form their own opinions should they wish, or maybe accept it as no more than an entertaining tale.

© 16/03/2022 zteve t evans


REFERENCES, ATTRIBUTIONS AND FURTHER READING

Copyright March 16th, 2022 zteve t evans


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Tales of the Lost, the Drowned and the All-Seeing Eye – Vengeance Will Come!

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Havelok the Dane: Hero-King of Two Realms

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Divine Retribution: Three Doomed Cities of Myth and Legend

Divine Retribution: Three Doomed Cities of Myth and Legend

Moreau.henri, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Myths and legends of great and wealthy cities lost or destroyed appear worldwide. A common theme is an excessive pride or ungodly behavior of the rich or ruling classes that eventually invokes divine retribution upon the city. Presented here are three examples of such legends taken from the collection, “Tales of the Lost, The Drowned and the All-Seeing Eye: Vengeance Will Come!” by zteve t evans.

THE DROWNING OF KER-IS

In Breton folklore, a beautiful city named Ker-Is, or Ys, was located in the Bay of Douarnenez, Brittany, France, reaching its zenith during the reign of King Gradlon before disaster struck. Unfortunately, tidal erosion from the sea threatened to drown the city. So the rulers built massive walls around it to keep out the rising water installing great gates giving access and egress between the harbor and the sea. Gradlon wore the key to these gates on a chain around his neck at all times. 

He fell in love with Malgven, a beautiful pagan woman who bore him a daughter named Dahut. Shortly after, she told him her time in the world was over and she must leave. However, she insisted Dahut should be well-schooled in pagan ways. Gradlon honored this though he chose to convert to Christianity himself.

Dahut grew up to be as beautiful as her mother and became a high-priestess of the old faith. Gradlon gave her Ker-is to rule but retained the key. She planted beautiful gardens filling them with exotic animals and plants, and the city flourished.  One day there came to Ker-is, a mysterious stranger known as the Red Knight who stole Dahut’s heart.  On the night of a great storm, to please him, she foolishly stole the key from her father as he slept, and the Red Knight used it to unlock the gates allowing the sea to flood the city.  

Gradlon managed to mount a horse and rescue his daughter, but the horse could not carry both of them to safety. As the horse struggled, God spoke to Gradlon, commanding him to throw her into the sea. After initially refusing, he complied and survived.  

The old pagan gods rescued their high priestess transforming her into a sea morgen. But, even today, local people and mariners say she is still to encountered sitting on rocks along the wild coastline singing strange songs to lure passing sailors to their doom.

TANNEN-EH: THE CITY ENTOMBED IN SNOW

Kenwbar – Kenneth Barclay – Public Domain

High in the snowy Alps, there was once a beautiful city named Tannen-Eh whose citizens were honest, hardworking, and god-fearing, living harmoniously with one another and their environment.  They fulfilled their basic needs by careful husbandry of agriculture and natural resources. Artisans and those who worked by physical labor were granted as much respect as academics and administrators. The rich happily looked after the poor, who lived in the valley below, who repaid by giving their best service. In this way, for many centuries isolated in the alps, time moved slowly, and Tannen-Eh flourished peacefully untainted by the world beyond.

Outside everything moved faster. Factories churned out toxins contaminating the environment and consuming natural resources ever more quickly and quicker. There was never enough; they wanted more, more, more. Airborne toxins spread far and wide, eventually blighting the pure white snow of Tannen-Eh, but with it came something more frightening. It came slowly, quietly, and unseen, but it was a blight of the worst possible kind.  It crept into the human heart, into the very soul, and the people of Tannen-Eh fell victim to it.

The wealthy grew richer, craving ever more frivolous luxuries. The more they brought, the more they wanted. Their wealth increased, and so did their pride, and they regarded the struggling poor with disdain.   Putting the poor to work, they built a great tower like that of Babel and in it placed a bell. The bell would ring out for every birth, christening, marriage, or death of the fortunate wealthy ones, but not for the poor who they now regarded as unworthy of acknowledgment or commemoration.

 The poor prayed for help, and their prayers went up beyond the tower, beyond the skies, and heard.  But, Heaven works in mysterious ways, and there came a great famine, and the poor starved and suffered. The rich locked their treasure in strongrooms, refusing to spend it to alleviate poverty and distress, and many people died of starvation.

In the first days of winter, snowflakes began to fall, gently at first but soon thick and fast. Soon snow rose above the windows, covering the roofs, leaving only the top of the magnificent tower visible. The rich folk struggled to their tower and tolled the bell seeking assistance from outside. No one came. Snow entirely entombed the city below, and the building became encrusted in an icy white shell so thick it prevented the sound of the bell from escaping.  

Down in the valley, the poor saw the entire city completely covered in snow with only the tower reaching up to Heaven like a glimmering, silvery-white needle. Today, the Oetzthal Glacier entombs the city of Tannen-Eh.

THE DROWNING OF STAVOREN

Statue of the “Lady of Stavoren” in the harbour of Stavoren – Emperoredwin, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

A Dutch folktale called “The Lady of Stavoren” tells of the ruin of a wealthy widow and the divine retribution inflicted upon the city named Stavoren. The widow moved in the highest circles of Stavoren society, whose members were all rich, proud, and very arrogant, competing continuously to outdo one another. The town was populous and prosperous, but only the elite few owned the wealth. Insatiably, the fortunate ones clawed in ever more wealth while the poor endured beggary and poverty.  

The richest and proudest of these elites was the widow who was always seeking new ways to increase her fortune. One day, she had an idea, and to bring it to fruition, sent for the captain of Stavoren’s largest cargo ship. Giving him a chest of gold, she commissioned him to sail the seven seas and buy her the most precious commodity in the world.  The captain had no idea what the most precious merchandise was but set sail in search of it anyway. Eventually, he decided the most precious commodity was wheat, so he purchased a complete cargo and returned to Stavoren. 

Meanwhile, the widow boasted to her wealthy friends how she would soon possess the most precious commodity in the world. Intrigued, they asked what it could be, but she teasingly told them to wait and see.

When the captain returned, she went down to the ship, and he showed her the wheat. She was furious, ordering him to dump every kernel into the sea. The shocked captain begged her to alleviate the hunger of the poor of Stavoren with it. She refused, again commanding him to dump it overboard.  As the wheat went overboard, beggars gathered at the harbor begging for food. Nevertheless, the widow would not relent. The captain was ashamed and angrily foretold God would punish her and know hunger herself.

The widow looked coldly upon him and, removing her most expensive ring from her finger, held it aloft. Then, arrogantly, she told him there was as much chance of that as the precious item of jewelry returning to her as cast it into the sea. 

Divine retribution works in strange ways. The next day she attended a splendid civic banquet attended by all the city elites and served fresh fish. Imagine her shock to find the ring she had thrown into the sea in the body of the fish she was eating.  From then on, her luck changed. All her businesses and investments failed, forcing her forced into begging, but none of her former friends would aid her. She died impoverished, hungry, and cold.

With her death, the elites of Stavoren continued with their arrogant and greedy ways, unaware divine retribution was still unfolding. A sandbar formed blocking the harbor and on that strand grew wheat, but with no kernel. With the port unable to trade, the prosperity of the town plummeted. Businesses failed, shops closed, and the elites lost their wealth. 

One night a powerful storm blew in from the sea, causing the tide to rise, sweep away the dykes, and flood the town. Today Stavoren is a village of about one thousand people, and in the square is a statue representing “The Lady of Stavoren.”

DIVINE RETRIBUTION

Tales such as these provide a quiet but powerful reminder of the consequences of deviance from God’s laws. They attempt a subtle form of social control by interpreting natural catastrophes as the vengeance of an angry God while providing an engaging experience for the audience. The message is that God will not tolerate hubris, uncharitable behavior, and ungodliness in anyone. God knows and sees all, is both omnipotent and omnipresent, and when required, punishes or rewards at will, in a manner of his own choosing. 


Copyright 05/01/2022 zteve t evans

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Copyright January 5th 2022 zteve t evans 


Bernardo Carpio: Legendary Strongman of the Philippines

Bernardo Carpio

EARTHQUAKES

In the Philippines, several etiological myths and legends attempt to explain the cause and origin of earthquakes. One of these tells of a culture hero named Bernardo Carpio, a legendary strongman whose struggles to break free from an underground trap causes earthquakes. In some stories, he must continuously hold back two massive stone slabs toppling in upon him to prevent himself from being crushed to death.  There are many different versions of tales about Bernardo, and presented here are some of the legends and folklore of how he became associated with causing earthquakes.  

GIANT, OR HUMAN?

Legends of Bernardo mostly center around a mountainous region of the Philippines known as Rodriguez today. In earlier times, the region was known as Montalban and is still sometimes referred to by that name today. The area has a geological fault system and known for earthquakes. 

He is often associated with the Montalban Gorge, formed by the Marikina River, a part of the Pamitinan Protected Landscape, and the Pamitinan Cave, which was once known as The Cave of Bernardo Carpio.  According to this local legend, the old gods punished Bernardo for insolence, chaining him to the Montalban Gorge, where he must stand forever, preventing two mountains from colliding together by the strength in his arms and body. In some stories, he is a giant of enormous stature and strength. In others, he is human with extraordinary muscular power and master swordsman, and some say whatever his fingers grasped died. However, all tales concerning him commonly present him as a man of exceptional strength and courage sharing many attributes with other cultural heroes and legendary strongmen in other parts of the world.

EARLY YEARS

In one version of the legend, Bernardo was the son of Don Sancho Díaz of Cerdenia and his lover Jimena, the sister of King Alfonso of Spain. King Alfonso was very protective of his sister and kept her in seclusion. One of the king’s generals, Don Rubio, had designs on her she rejected his advances in favor of Don Sancho, who was the one she truly loved. Despite her brother forbidding her any liaison with men, a baby boy was born to Jimena and Don Sancho. The child grew fast, quickly gaining extraordinary strength; anything he grasped broke in his hands. The priest who baptized him suggested they name him after Bernardo del Carpio, the legendary Spanish hero, and the baby was Christened Bernardo Carpio.

Rejected by Jimena, the jealous Don Rubio let it be known to King Alfonso about his sister’s love affair and the baby. As a result, the king imprisoned Don Sancho, intending to punish him further by blinding him, and doubled the guard on his sister. At the King’s command, Don Rubio adopted Bernardo as his foster son.   Bernardo soon grew big and incredibly strong and became a master swordsman. He fought for the King in many battles, becoming his greatest knight. However, when Don Rubio revealed his parentage to him and how the king had mistreated his parents, Bernardo became bitter and resentful.  

He had fought against many of the king’s pagan enemies thinking that his sovereign, being a Christian, was morally superior to them. After this news, his entire perception of the King changed. For Bernardo, the revelation had turned his whole life upside down and bitterly challenged Don Rubio to a duel and killed him.

He found the King’s treatment of his parents shocking. He now him as was no better and maybe worse than the same pagans he had fought against for him. He could not understand how he could, on the one hand, claim belief in a God of love while treating two human beings who had found true love together so cruelly. After ensuring his parents’ release, he decided he would no longer fight for God and King but fight for God and redeem the human race from wickedness and battle against sin.

REDEMPTION OF HUMANITY

Another legend tells how the Spanish engaged a shaman, known as engkantado in the Philippines, to use magic to trap him. The engkantado lured him to a cave under the mountains of Montalban, using a powerful magical talisman known as an agimat to trap him between two massive boulders, which continuously fell towards each other.  To save himself, Bernardo had to use his herculean strength to hold the boulders apart to prevent them from toppling upon him. However, in doing so, he could not let go of one without being crushed by the other. The talisman of the engkantado was of equal power to his physical strength, so he could not escape.

Some of Bernardo’s friends searched for him and found the cave hoping to rescue him. Unfortunately, a series of rockfalls blocked their way, killing several of them and forcing them to abandon him, and he remains to this day. Local people believe that when an earthquake occurs, it is Bernardo adjusting his shoulders or shrugging them to make them more comfortable. However, a powerful earthquake is seen as a sign he is fighting to free himself.

BERNARDO CARPIO AND THE MAGICAL ONE

The following legend tells of a marred couple living in abject poverty in the mountains of San Mateo, Rizal. Every day was a struggle for survival. Yet, despite the hardness of life, they were overwhelmed with joy and happiness when the woman gave birth to a strong, healthy baby boy. They named their son Bernardo Carpio, and he was their pride and joy. Like all children, Bernardo loved to play, but there was something extraordinary about him. It soon became apparent that he was an exceptional child. His fingers were so strong he could pull the nails from the wooden flooring as he crawled. When he first began to walk, any rail, bar, or banister he gripped for support crumbled by the strength in his tiny hands. New toys never lasted long because he had not yet learned how to control the power in his hands, which broke items to pieces as soon as he grasped them.

He grew up to be a physically powerful and handsome young man, his strength increasing as he grew along with his fame.  He was courageous and could defeat anyone in a fight and was courteous, polite and humble. Nevertheless, he was different from other young men of his age. He avoided parties, festivities, and social gatherings and showed no interest in even the most beautiful girls, who were all very interested in him.  Instead, he preferred to roam deep into the forest, losing himself in the solitude of the trees. He liked to be in the remotest, wildest, and thickest part of the forest, where he felt at home with the animals as his friends.

In the densest part of the forest, there lived a magical being. This being was huge and very strong and had an evil nature with a tendency towards envy, causing harm and mischief top others. This magical one had seen Bernardo and visited him on many occasions, initially admiring the handsome, strong Bernardo. Eventually, getting word of his fame, the magical one became jealous and began to hate him.

The magical one believed no one in the world, including Bernardo, could match his own power and strength and wanted to kill him. Therefore, he challenged him to a fight, thinking he would back down, but Bernardo had never hidden from a fight in his life and accepted. So the two fought a duel which Bernardo won but refused to kill his opponent.  The two fought several more fights that Bernardo won but refused to kill the magical one each time. Eventually, after one particularly long battle, Bernardo defeated the magical one and again refused to kill him. Then, still feeling full of hatred and jealousy for Bernardo, the magical one slunk off to a quiet part of the forest to rest and make a plan to get his revenge.

After a while, the magical one went to Bernardo pretending friendship and invited him visit his home in a remote part of the forest. He took him deep into the trees to a hidden grove where two massive slabs of stone stood upright. The magical one told Bernardo that this was his home and inviting him in stood aside politely so his guest could enter first.  

As soon as Bernardo reached the center point between the two slabs, the magical one vanished, and the two slabs of stone simultaneously fell into the center, threatening to crush him. Bernardo managed to get a hand on each of the slabs and, by his sheer strength, stopped them from crashing down on him. Although he succeeded, he found he was trapped and unable to let go of the slabs without being crushed to death by one or the other.

THE KING-UNDER-THE-MOUNTAIN MOTIF

The legend of Bernardo Carpio contains the King-under-the-Mountain folklore motif where a heroic king lies asleep for many years, either in a cave under a mountain or a hill. Then, at a predetermined time, or when his people are in dire peril, he will awake to save them from their enemy. This motif appears worldwide, and other examples include King Arthur, Frederick Barbarossa, or Charlemagne and also known as the king asleep in mountain motif appearing in Stith Thompson’s Motif-Index of Folk-Literature, and categorized as D 1960.2. The Tagalog people of the Philippines did not have kings until the Spanish imposed their own upon them, being ruled by feudal lords. In this context, it may be the heroic savior who sleeps under the mountain and will one day awake and return to save his people from an enemy or lead them to freedom. According to one legend, chains bind him to massive boulders he struggles to keep apart. Local people say that Bernardo is adjusting his shoulders or trying to break free every time there is an earthquake. Now and then, he manages to break a chain in his struggle. When the last one shatters, he will return and lead his people to freedom. 

SAVIOR OF HIS PEOPLE

Here we see the idea of him as a freedom fighter or savior of his people, possibly alluding to the occupation of the Philippines by foreigners such as the Spanish, United States of America, and the Japanese.  The legend later evolved that Bernardo would save his people from poverty and oppression rather than just a foreign occupier, thus providing a sense of hope and encouragement through troubled times.

© 03/11/2021 zteve t evans

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Copyright November 3rd, 2021 zteve t evans

Influential Women: Sammuramat to Semiramis – From History to Myth

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 Queen Sammuramat 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.

QUEEN SAMMURAMAT

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.

Stele of the Assyrian queen Shammuramat, from AssurOsama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg), CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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).

MILITARY CONQUESTS

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.

ARMENIAN TRADITION

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.

© 29/09/2021 zteve t evans

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Copyright September 29th, 2021 zteve t evans

South Sea Island Folktales: Sina and the Eel

Sina and the Eel

South Seas Myths

In many places in the South Seas there is a myth of origin of the coconut tree (Cocos nucifera) and its nut.   It is a popular and well known tale in Oceania with many different variations found from region to region. Names and details vary from region to region but there is a similar structure and story-line in many of these tales.   It should be noted that in the folklore of the people of Samoa there is a legend they call “Sina ma le Tuna” which tells of the origin of the coconut tree and in the Samoan language, “Tuna,” means, “eel.” (1) Presented here are two versions of folktales that deal with this myth.  The first is from the island of Savai’I, Samoa and the second comes from American Samoa.  

The Savai’l Samoan Version

This folktale begins with a girl named Sina who was famous around the South Seas for her loveliness.  The King of Fiji, who was known as the Tui Fiti, heard of her beauty and was intrigued.  Although he was much older than Sina he decided he had to meet the beautiful one in person to see if all he had heard was true.  Calling on his Mana, which is his own personal magic, he transformed into an eel and swam to the island home of Sina.  Discovering the village pool was used by all the villagers as a communal bath he slithered into its waters hoping Sina would come to bathe.

Concealing himself at the bottom of the pool he waited patiently hoping she would enter the pool.  Many of the villagers came to the pool to bathe but he remained hidden knowing that these were not the beautiful one he sought. Eventually, the most beautiful girl he had ever seen or imagined entered the pool to bathe.  Immediately he knew it was her for such outstanding loveliness could only belong to the famous Sina, the beautiful one, he sought.   He lay at the bottom of the pool staring up through the water at her lovely face.

Eventually, Sina felt a peculiar sensation and noticed the eel staring at her.  Taken by surprise she became angry, shouting in Samoan, “E pupula mai, ou mata o le alelo!” which means, “You stare at me, with eyes like a demon!” (2). However, after the initial alarm Sina noticed the eel did not look dangerous or aggressive.  In fact it actually seemed very nice and friendly so she took it home for a pet.

Many years passed and the King of Fiji lived happily as Sina’s pet enjoying the love and attention she unknowingly lavished on him as an eel.  Nevertheless, the king was growing older and with age his magic weakened and he found it harder to keep his eel form.  Therefore, he decided that it was time to reveal his true identity and explain himself to her. 

He told her how he was the Tui Fiti, the King of Fiji, who had heard of her great beauty and come to see it for himself.  To make the long sea journey from Fiji to Sina’s island home he had transformed himself into an eel so that he could swim the great distance. In this way he could wait in the pool until she arrived and he could see her.  Once he had seen her he fell in love. 

Realizing he was too old and she would rightly reject him he had kept his eel form so that she would not recognize him as an old man.   He had been overjoyed when she had taken him as a pet because he would remain always near her and enjoy her love and care.  Sadly, because of his great age, his magic had grown weak and he could not keep his eel form much longer and would die.  Therefore, he wished for her to plant his head into the ground near her home. Sina had loved him greatly as her pet and was heartbroken when he died and granted his wish.

From his head there grew the first coconut tree.  On a coconut there are three round marks which look like two eyes and a mouth.   When the coconut is pierced to drink the milk through one of these holes the milk is taken through the pierced hole through the drinker’s mouth.  According to the legend, whenever Sina took a drink of coconut milk from a coconut she was kissing the mouth of the eel.

In Samoa in the village of Matavai, in the district of Safune on the island of Savai’i,is a fresh spring pool. This pool is called, Mata o le Alelo, from the words that Sina first spoke to the eel and is still strongly associated with the legend.

An American Samoan Version

Another version from American Samoa tells how the King of Fiji, heard heard of the beauty of Sina and decided he wanted her for his wife.  However, she lived on a distant island so using his magical power he transformed himself into a young eel and swam all the way from Fiji to Sina’s island home (3).

One day as she was out foraging for shellfish along the seashore she noticed the young eel looking at her from a rock pool.  She thought it looked harmless and had a friendly face and being quite small would make a nice pet.  Therefore, she caught it and put it in the container she used for her shellfish and took it home.

She kept it in a bowl in her home and carefully nurtured it and it became very placid and affectionate towards her.  Under her care it soon grew too big for the bowl so she placed it in a spring near her home.  However, the eel soon grew too big for the spring and she did not know what to do with it.  She asked her mother who suggested she put it in the large freshwater spring the villagers used as a communal bath.  Sina thought this a good idea as the large pool would give the eel space to grow and be free so she placed it in the pool and it hid its self at the bottom.

All the villagers used the pool to bathe but none of them ever seemed to notice the eel. It would come out of hiding to greet Sina as soon as she stepped into the water.   It grew very long and big but was always very affectionate towards her and very playful with her yet no one seemed to notice its presence.  One day the eel became too boisterous and playfully wrapped itself around Sina in a loving embrace.  This frightened her and after that she would not bathe in the communal pool.

From then on she bathed in the small spring near her home.  This was fine at first but somehow the eel found out where she was bathing and appeared in the water as she bathed.   Still no one else could see the eel and its behaviour alarmed her and began to make her angry and frightened.  

Determined to escape the eel, one morning just before dawn, while her family still slept, she quietly left her home to walk to the next village.  It was good distance and she would stop at a spring along the way for a refreshing drink and to cool down and rest.  To her dismay at every spring she stopped at the eel would appear staring out of the water at her.   This terrified her and she continued journeying from village to village trying to escape the eel.  Each time she stopped at the springs along the way it would appear.  Where ever she went the eel appeared and it was growing longer and longer and to her fear and bewilderment, no one else could see it.  

There came a time when it left a pool she had found it in and wriggled onto the land and followed on behind her like pet dog.  Wherever she went it followed her and still no one else could see it.   On her wanderings she came across a group of people having a meeting.  In desperation she ran and sat between the two lead speakers. 

This surprised everyone but the eel had now grown as long as a person. Now everyone could see and hear it and all sat terrified at the strange creature.  It slid through the crowd to rest before where Sina was sitting between the two speakers.   Raising itself up to look her in her eyes the eel said,

“Sina, my beautiful one, please forgive me!   Know now that my true shape is that of a human.  I am the King of Fiji.  I have used my magic to attain this eel form you see me in now.  I took this form when I first heard of your beauty and grace that I might swim the great distance from Fiji to your home on this island to see you for myself.

My intention was to woo you and win your love but I now see that the form I took frightened you and I am sorry.  After so much traveling and keeping this form my magic and power is all used up.  I am tired and my death draws near. Before I die I wanted to explain these things to you hoping you would think better of me. 

In compensation for alarming you I have a valuable gift to offer you.  When I die cut off my head and plant it outside your home.  It will soon grow into a tree that will be of great value to you and your people.  It will have long green leaves that can be used as a fan to cool you in the summer’s heat.  

These leaves will also provide good covering for the roofs of your homes.  The leaves, bark and wood you will find will have many uses that will be of great service to people.  It will also bear a nut that gives food and a nourishing drink.   The nut will have three marks that resemble human features.  To drink from the nut puncture one of these holes and you will pour its milk from its mouth!”

With that it died.  Sina felt sorrry for the King of Fiji and thought perhaps if she had known the full story in the first place things might have turned out differently.  She did as he had asked and planted his head.  As he had foretold a tree grew from it bearing long green leaves and a large nut.  The tree and the nut proved to be extremely useful to humans and became an important part of their lives.  It spread beyond Sina’s isle to neighboring islands and beyond often carried by humans and some times carried by the sea.  The same tradition of kissing the eel when drinking from the coconut applies to this legend as well.

© 21/07/2021 zteve t evans

FURTHER PUBLICATIONS BY ZTEVE T EVANS

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 21st, 2021 zteve t evans

Celtic Lore: Exploring the Otherworld

Image by Varun Maharaj from Pixabay

This article was first published on #FolkoreThursday.com under the title, Exploring the Otherworld of the Celts, on 18 March, 20211, written by zteve t evans.

The concept of a magical, mysterious, “Otherworld” has been a common component in many myths and legends of diverse human cultures all around the world throughout history. The ancient Celtic people also had their own ideas of this enigmatic and ethereal region. Their territories included Ireland, the United Kingdom and a swathe of continental Europe, including areas of the Iberian Peninsula and Anatolia. As such there were variations in philosophies concerning this world and the next from region to region.  Presented here is a brief exploration of their idea of the Otherworld and how it appears in different Celtic regions.

Celtic Mythology

The Celtic Otherworld is sometimes presented as the realm where their deities lived, or the place of their dead and sometimes both. Other stories tell of a magical paradise where people enjoyed eternal youth, good health and beauty, living in joy and abundance with all their needs satisfied. It could also be the abode of the fairies, Twylyth Teg, Aos Sí and many other similar magical entities.

Entry to the Otherworld

The Otherworld is usually hidden and difficult to find but certain worthy people manage to reach it through their own efforts. Others may be invited, or escorted by one of its dwellers, or given signs to follow. Sometimes entry is gained through ancient burial mounds or by crossing over, or under, water, such as a river, pool or the sea. There are also special places such as certain lakes, bogs, caves, burial mounds or hills where access to and from the Otherworld can be gained. Another idea is that the Otherworld exists in a different dimension alongside the earthly one as a kind of mirror-world. At certain times of the year, such as Samhain and Beltane, the veil that separates the two grows thin, or withdraws, making entry and exit easier.

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Celtic Lore: Shapeshifters of Myth and Legend

This article was first published 11 March 2021 on #FolkloreThursday.com titled, Shapeshifters from the Celtic World by zteve t evans.

Shapeshifters

Shapeshifters are found in most mythologies and folk traditions around the world from ancient to modern times. In such traditions, humans change into vampires, werewolves, frogs, insects, and just any about any other creature imaginable and back again. Sometimes the transformation is controlled by the transformer who shifts shape at will.  Other times it is an unwelcome event such as a punishment and sometimes it is forced by a magical spell but there are many other reasons besides. Shapeshifters can be good or bad, often moving the story forward in a novel way or have some kind of symbolism that the teller wants to get across to their audience. There are many different kinds of shapeshifting and here we look at different examples from Ireland, Wales and Scotland that provide differing glimpses of shapeshifters in action in the myth, folklore, and tradition of these three Celtic nations.

Irish Shapeshifters

In Irish mythology, the Morrigan was a shapeshifting war goddess who could transform into a woman of any age and also change into animal or bird form. She had the power of prophecy and as a war goddess would sing her people to victory in battle. Sometimes she could be seen swooping over the battlefield in the form of a raven or crow and devouring the bodies of the slain.

In the story of the “Táin Bó Cúailnge”, or “The Cattle Raid of Cooley,” the Morrigan appears as a crow to warn the bull named Donn Cuailnge that Queen Medb is plotting to abduct him. Queen Medb attacks Ulster after the bull but is resisted single-handedly by the hero Cú Chulainn fighting a series of duels with her champions at a ford. In battle, Cú Chulainn undergoes a spectacular change in his form described as ríastrad or “warp-spasm” that sees him his body twist and contort into the most grotesque and fearsome appearance terrifying his opponents.

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