The following is a retelling of a story of Chinese origin from, “The Romance of the Milky Way, and Other Studies & Stories,” by Lafcadio Hearn. The story tells of a Chinese scholar known as Tō no Busanshi who was a great scholar and a keen gardener. To him the acquisition and appliance of knowledge was the planting and cultivation of a garden that was his soul.
Indeed, he was renowned for his love of flowers of all kinds. He was especially fond of peonies which he cultivated himself spending many hours attending to their smallest needs with great love, skill and patience. Under his loving care and attention the peonies blossomed brightly and beautifully and their leaves dripped green. He would speak to them softly and affectionately whenever he was tending to them. In response they all appeared to gaze towards him, nodding and smiling and displaying their beauty, while appearing to lean towards his love. He thought he could hear them whispering but he could not quite understand what was being said.
One day there came to his house a very pretty girl who begged him to take her into his service in his household. She explained she had received a good literary education and loved learning but had become the victim of unfortunate circumstances that forced her to seek employment. Knowing he was a great and famous scholar she thought she would like to work in his household which was a shrine of knowledge and great learning. She told him she was a hard and diligent worker and asked if could employ her.
Surprised, Busanshi looked at her and thought there was something charming and familiar about her as if he had known her from somewhere else. It was something about the way she gazed and gently leaned towards him. He was more than a little flattered and also greatly impressed by her loveliness. Thinking that for her looks alone she would be an elegant and pleasing asset for his household he took her on as a maid servant. Indeed, she proved to be a great asset her beauty enlivened and brought delight to any room she entered. Her work and industry rate was exceptional and she was very obedient and attentive.
The Maid Servant
As well as her work she was adept and perfectly at home with the etiquette and cultivated demeanor one would expect from a lady of the highest circles. Her literary skills were excellent and she composed wonderful poetry which she expressed with great skill using the arts of calligraphy and painting. She impressed him so much he thought she must have been brought up in the court of some high ranking noble family or great lord. There was something that with all his great learning he could not describe which was so appealing about her. Something about her shining eyes, her smile and the way she leaned towards him. It was not long before Busanshi fell hopelessly in love with her and sought ways to please her.
On occasions he was visited by friends who were also also great scholars. He would send for her that she might entertain and impress them with her loveliness, intelligence and grace. All who beheld her were greatly impressed and further charmed by her gentle and amiable nature.
One day one of his friends, a great academic and teacher of morals and high principles, named Teki-Shin-Ketsu arrived at his door unexpectedly. Busanshi was thrilled to receive such a famous celebrity and called his maid servant to meet him expecting her charm and intelligence to impress the great man. However, unusually there was no reply and she did not appear smiling and radiant as she always had before. In fact, although he called again she did not appear at all.
Busanshi really wanted to impress his great friend with his charming and educated maid servant and was mildly irritated that she did not appear obediently and instantly as she usually did. Perturbed by her non-appearance he went seeking her out. With growing irritation he searched the entire house calling and looking in every room but could find her nowhere.
Greatly disappointed and very puzzled he was returning back to his esteemed guest when he caught a glimpse of her gliding quietly and effortlessly before him down the corridor. Calling to her he hurried after her. On hearing him she half turned to see him but flattened herself fearfully against the wall just like a spider in fear might.
The Peony Soul
As he caught up with her he was astounded to see her appearance change. As she flattened her back hard against the wall her entire body became flatter and flatter until there was nothing left that remained of her but a two dimensional image as if painted on the surface of the wall. This flat image slowly began to fade before his eyes until there was nothing else to be seen but a flat barely visible colored shadow. As he watched in fear and amazement he could still see the faded image of her pretty eyes and her beautiful lips which spoke to him in a whisper,
“Please, forgive your humble maid servant for not answering your call. As you now see I am not human but the soul of the peonies that you love so much and take so much good care of. Because of the greatness of your love and care I was able to manifest into human form so that I might repay your love and devotion.
I have treasured my time with you but now an enemy has come into your home. You and other humans consider him a great scholar and wise teacher of morality. I warn you he is a sly one – a being of no morals and evil to the core. He is my enemy searching for me and I dare not keep this form any longer. I must change back to my true shape and return to the peonies. That is where you shall find me and when the time is right join me. Tend well your peony soul with love and dedicated devotion!”
With that she simply faded into the wall leaving no trace of her form to his bewilderment and great sorrow. He still carried on tending his peonies lavishing great care and love upon them. Softly and lovingly he talked to them and more than ever they appeared to lean towards him. At times when he believed he had no more love to offer they attuned to his feeling and he knew they had always been his lover and would always remain that way and with dedication and devotion he continued with the cultivation of his peony soul.
Breton myths and folktales are often a dark blend of Celtic, pagan and Christian influences that result in magic and wonder mixed with the morbid and macabre. There are many tales, myths and legends concerning everyday and important issues such as love and death.
For all of us, death is the great unknown and people all around the world throughout history have invented many different ways of thinking about the subject. One of the most universal ways of representing death was through the use of personifications. In simple terms this the giving of human characteristics or form to abstract ideas, inanimate objects or something that is not human.
Death itself can be personified in many other ways such as the personification known as the Grim Reaper, but there are many other representations, some as dark, others lighter.
In many societies death needed a servant that would guide or bring the soul of the deceased to the place of the afterlife. Such servants were called psychopomps and presented here is a brief discussion of two psychopomps from Breton folklore and mythology. The first is a rather grim and forbidding entity known as the Ankou who was a collector of souls for his master Death. The second tells of a fair knight who came back from the dead to guide his betrothed to the afterlife. In the course of the discussion we also look at a few folkloric motifs present in the examples given.
In Breton mythology and folklore the Ankou can appear in various guises in different regions of Brittany. There are also Welsh, Cornish and Anglo-Norman interpretations of him. In some versions he is either a tall, gaunt man wearing a long black cloak or a skeleton carrying a long scythe though earlier traditions say it was an arrow. He is often mistaken for the Grim Reaper, but they are not the same. In other versions he appears as an old man accompanying a horse drawn coach or cart. His role is not to judge or punish but to ensure the transition of the soul to the afterlife and will tolerate no interference in this.
When he stops outside the house of the dying person he may knock on the door, or he may utter a low mournful wail to summon the dead to his cart. Sometime accompanied by two ghostly assistants he will enter a home and take away the soul of the dead.
He is presented as a very grim and macabre figure and in some places he is the king of the dead. His subjects move in processions along particular paths to the afterlife. Some traditions say he is the last man to die in a parish in the year who will automatically assume the role of the Ankou and the supervision of the souls of the dead.
Nola and Gwennolaïk
A very different kind of psychopomp appears in a Breton folktale calledThe Foster Brother. This story revolves around a relationship between a young man named Nola and a young woman named Gwennolaïk. The story tells how the two fell in love when Gwennolaïk was eighteen years old after her natural mother and two sisters had passed away. After her mother’s death her father had remarried twice and she had gained an older foster brother who was not a blood relative. They had grown to know and love each other deeply spending all their time together. Their relationship deepened and the two promised that they would wed with each other and no one else.
They were very happy in those days thinking and planning their future together but there came a time when Nola grew troubled. He told Gwennolaïk that he had been experiencing strange dreams telling him he had to leave home and find his fortune. This broke Gwennolaïk’s heart but not wanting to stand in his way she consented and gave him a ring that had belonged to her mother to remember her by.
Promising he would return one day to marry her he took a ship to distant shores. During his absence she missed him terribly, spending many hours pining alone and praying he would soon return to marry her. This would release her from the awful life of drudgery and misery she now endured, partly because he was gone and partly because her step-mother treated her cruelly.
She gave poor Gwennolaïk all the hard and dirty jobs berating her with harsh words and kept her hungry all the time making her wear rags. Six years passed in this way and Gwennolaïk was getting so run down and tired she believed she would be better off dead.
The Fair Knight
One day while fetching water from a nearby brook she met a fair knight on horseback waiting by the water. His face was hidden and she could make out none of his features. To her surprise and embarrassment he asked her if she was betrothed. After telling him she was not the knight reached down and placed in her hand a ring. He told her to go back and tell her stepmother she was now betrothed to a knight from Nantes. Furthermore, she was to say that there had been a bloody battle and her betrothed had been badly wounded but would in three days time come and claim her for his wife.
Saying no more he quickly turned and rode off leaving Gwennolaïk staring at the ring too surprised to even move. As she gazed at the ring she realized it was the same one she had given to Nola when he departed and realized the fair knight was none other than him.
She waited in vain those three days and to her heartbreak and disappointment Nola did not come. Worse still her stepmother told her she had decided that she would marry and had chosen someone for her. Gwennolaïk was horrified by the idea and showed her the ring and told her of the knight. She insisted it was Nola who had returned to marry her. Her step-mother would not listen and took the ring from her.
What they did not know was that a knight who had been mortally wounded in the battle at Nantes had been given a Christian burial in the nearby White Chapel.
The husband her stepmother had chosen for her was the stable lad and to Gwennolaïk’s grief and mortification they were married. After the marriage there was a banquet but Gwennolaïk was depressed and miserable and unable to face the reception and her guests. Appalled and driven mad by the thought of being married to anyone other than Nola she ran off into the woods.
A thorough search of the locality was undertaken but no trace of her could be found. In fact she had hidden herself deep in a thicket where she lay weeping and shivering in the cold and damp. As night came black and cold she shivered more and more and weeping and crying for the hardness of the world caught a fever. In her delirium she thought she heard something moving through the thicket towards her and cried out in fear and alarm.
A voice told her that it was Nola and that he had come for her. Disbelieving him at first she looked up and saw a fair knight approach on a white steed. Reaching down he easily lifted her up to sit behind. He told her to hold on tight and he would take her to her mother and sisters in a place where they would all be together forever.
A Magical Journey
From this point she is close to death and he has appeared from beyond the grave to find her and take her back to join him and her family in the afterlife. As her life fades he takes her on a magical journey. They cross the land to the sea and the horse gallops over the top of the waves to a beautiful island where a celebration was being made ready. He explains it is their wedding celebration that is being prepared. The two were married and to her joy she was reunited with her dead mother and two sisters . There was great singing and dancing and at last Gwennolaïk found peace and happiness in the afterlife.
Meanwhile, as the wedding takes place, back in the earthly realm searchers finally find the expired body of Gwennolaïk and give her a proper Christian burial.
There are several interesting folkloric motifs in the story. For example, the loss of Gwennolaïk’s real mother and the wicked stepmother. There is also the foster brother as the love who goes off to find his fortune and in this case returns to die before the wedding. The initial and inexplicable failure of Gwennolaïk to recognise Nola on his return is at first puzzling but then becomes clear that something else will happen. It is a device used in many fairy and folktales as is thering given by Gwennolaïk to Nola which he gives back to identify himself.
Nola, having had a Christian burial and Gwennolaïk a Christian marriage and finally a Christian burial become entwined in pagan and Celtic influences.
The horse he rides is interesting because it takes them on a magical journey over the sea to a magical island. In many traditions the Celtic Otherworld could be reached by crossing the sea and in several tales such as the Irish tale of Oisin and Naimh of the Goldenhair, a magical horse is used to take them there.
Nola as a Psychopomp
Perhaps the most interesting contrast is how the soul of Gwennolaïk is taken to the afterlife by her beloved Nola who she has waited and yearned for. Surely a much more welcome and comforting transition to the afterlife than via the macabre Ankou!
Guiding the Soul to the Afterlife
However, in cultures all around the world psychopomps appear in various forms which may be familiar and comforting taking the form of a family member or friend or they may be dark and forbidding. In whatever form they appear they perform an important task in guiding or helping the soul of the deceased to find their place in the afterlife.
There are many examples in folklore around the world that feature werewolves and lycanthropy where there is a transformation from human to wolf or vice versa. Sometimes a human may transform completely into a wolf or a wolf may transform into a human as is the case in this story. In other examples a beastly hybrid of the two species – half-human – half wolf is the result. Sometimes the human shows some degree of shame or guilt over what they are and what they become. In the story below a werewolf in his human form expresses a frank admission to being both evil and fierce offering no excuses and showing no shame or guilt. He and his family, accept what they are without question and show no desire to be fully human. Quite simply they are what they are.
The Law of Reciprocity
Despite their admission there is a very human law that appears to be of great importance to them and that is the Law of Reciprocity. They never forget a kindness done to them. Part of that law says that when someone receives kindness from another they repay that person with an equal or better act of kindness in return. It can also mean that when someone hurts another the injured party in return repays that person with an equal amount of harm. Another term may be “an eye, for an eye.”
Presented below is a retelling of a story titled “A Wolf Story, from Ancientlegends, Mystic Charms & Superstitions of Ireland,” by Lady Wilde. It is set in Ireland in a time when wolves roamed the wilds of that island and reveals a surprising side to werewolves not often seen while revealing a hidden gem of wisdom.
A Wolf Story
This story begins way back in Ireland many years before before the last wolf was killed in about 1786 and begins with a farmer named Connor. One day as Connor was walking home through a lonely glen he heard a sniveling, whimpering sound, like some creature in great pain. Looking around him he spied hiding in a thick bush a young wolf cub who appeared to be in great distress. He approached carefully and quietly not wishing to frighten it and not wanting to risk a confrontation with any parent wolf that might be at hand.
Seeing it was the cub was in considerable distress for a moment he was caught in two minds. His first thought was that he could kill it and claim the reward the authorities gave on the production of a dead wolf. His second thought was that here was a creature in distress who needed his assistance and without which it would surely die a slow, cruel, death. Either way he could claim the reward. As a farmer he had at times had livestock taken by wolves and had little cause to find sympathy over the death of a wolf cub.
Nevertheless, he was an inherently kind man who objected to seeing the suffering of any creature. A third thought then came to him that he should help it. Carefully examining the stricken creature found a large thorn in its side which he gently removed. The small cub lay still in much distress and Connor thought that it would probably die anyway. Nevertheless, he resolved to help it all he could to live and put aside thoughts of reward. Therefore, before he left he got the stricken cub a drink of water and placed it in a safe place hoping a parent would find it. After offering s short prayers for its recovery he went on his way thinking no more of it.
Time passed and he forgot the incident completely. One day many years later Connor was checking the well being of his livestock and was aghast to discover two of his finest cows were missing. He looked all around his farmyard and searched his fields but no sign of them could he find anywhere on his property. Therefore he began a search of the surrounding countryside. He traveled on foot and in his hand he carried a stout blackthorn staff. This was to aid his walking and also for security for one never knew who or what was abroad in those days.
Having not the slightest idea which way his cows might have gone he walked around and around his property in ever widening circles asking everyone he came across if they had seen them. He traveled many miles in this way and reached a considerable distance from his farm but no sight or sign did he see or hear any word of where his cows might be.
The Desolate Heath
All day long he walked and as evening began to fall he began to feel hungry and tired. He had traveled along way from his farm and inhabited parts and realized he was alone in the wilds of a desolated and dark heath. Looking all around at the dreary darkening landscape at first he could see no sign of any human presence other than a dilapidated, ancient shelter. At first he thought it to be thee den of some outlaw or vagabond or maybe some wild beast.
As he looked weighing up what do in the fast failing light he saw a small chink of light escaping from a crack in the boarding of the shelter. Thinking that there must be some human inhabitants present he took heart and approaching the shelter gently tapped on the door. The door creaked open to reveal a tall, slender man with grey hair and dark glittering eyes. To Connor’ s surprise before he could say a word the old man spoke saying, “Ah! So you have found us at last. Please come in, we have been awaiting you!”
Ushering the bemused farmer through the door and into the dwelling the old man gestured inside to an old woman sitting by the fireside. She was thin and grey and had long,sharp teeth and her eyes eyes glittered lit by the flames of the fire. She gazed upon him and said, “Yes indeed you are welcome, we have been waiting for you to get here and now you are here and it is supper time. Please won’t you join us for a bite to eat.”
A Family of Wolves
Connor was no coward but he was wary of the two and although bewildered he looked both up and down appraising them. They were both old and weary looking but he was young and vigorous and still had his blackthorn staff. He reasoned he could quickly overcome them should he need and he was very, very hungry and outside the heath was steeped in pitch black darkness. He knew he could never find his way back in the dark so he sat down at a table to join them, watching as the old woman stirred a bubbling pot hanging over the fire. Although she appeared to be giving all her attention to the pot he got the strange feeling that all the time she was watching him with her strange glittering eyes.
After a little while their came a knock at the door and the old man got up and opened it. To the surprise of Connor in trotted a young, sleek, black wolf. Ignoring the visitor the black wolf trotted across the floor and disappeared into an adjoining room. Shortly out of the adjoining room their came a handsome young man. He sat opposite Connor and looked hard and deep at him with glittering, penetrating eyes.
“Welcome, we have been awaiting your arrival,” he said at last. However, before the bemused farmer could answer there was another knock at the door. Again the old man opened it and in trotted another handsome wolf that disappeared into the adjoining room. Shortly, there emerged from this same room another handsome youth who sitting next to the first studied Connor intently with his glittering, grey eyes, but said not another word.
“These are our sons, ” said the old man gesturing towards the young men, “Now you must tell us what brings you here and what you want. Few people ever come this way and we do not like strangers or to be spied upon. Speak now and hold nothing back!”
So Connor told how he had lost his two cows and how he had begun searching for them. Although he had searched all of his farm and the area around it but found no sign. He told how he began searching beyond his farm until he had at last arrived on this dark and bleak heath and found their home and was asked to take supper and shelter the night. He told them he was no spy and not remotely interested in their doings though he wished them all good health and well being. Beginning to feel uncomfortable he added that if they could tell him where his cows were he would be most grateful and be off to find them.
After he had spoken his hosts looked from one to the other knowingly and laughed. Connor was appalled at their laughter and although he feared their glittering eyes he grew angry and taking up his blackthorn staff said,. “I have told you my story with honesty and without guile and you mock me!”
Never Forget a Kindness
Now although he was outnumbered his anger was hot and standing up with his staff in his hand asked them to make way and he would go for he would not stay and be mocked and would rather face the the dark, desolate heath than stay. Their laughter stopped and the eldest of the young men who had been the first stood up and said,
“Nay, friend pay our laughter no need. We are fierce and we are evil, but we never forget one who has done us a kindness. Cast your mind back years ago to the day in the glen when you found a young wolf cub pierced through his side by a sharp thorn in agony and waiting for death.
It was you who pulled out that thorn and tended my wound and gave me good water to drink. Having done all you possibly could you said a prayer for the cub’ s recovery and went your way to either die in peace or recover as God pleased. I was that cub and it pleased God that I should recover.”
“Yes indeed I remember it and I am glad God saw fit to heal you,”said Connor,“and I remember how you licked my hand in gratitude!”
“Indeed I did, for I was greatly in your debt and still am but for now put your fear aside, sit down, enjoy supper with us and stay tonight with us without fear. Tomorrow you shall find your cows and more,” the young man told him.
Putting his fear aside Connor sat down with them and partook of the meal. Indeed it was a fine supper and he ate his fill and his hosts were merry, friendly and good company. He soon fell asleep and after enjoying a good night of rest he awoke to find himself lying comfortably on one of his own hayricks in one of his fields.
Three Strange Cows
Remembering the events of the previous night and the words of the wolf he was optimistic he would at last find his cows. Therefore hebset off in a circle looking for them. Although he searched all his fields and his farmyard he could find no trace of them and began to feel bitterly disappointed. As he approached the haystack he had started from he saw that there were three fine looking cows quietly grazing in the field. Although they had a strange air they were very handsome and comely but he had never owned such cows and knew of no else who ever did either. Nevertheless, being an honest man, wielding his blackthorn staff he tried to drive them out through the gate to find their proper owner.
The Black Wolf
However, standing in the middle of the gateway stood a handsome black wolf who prevented the cows from passing through the gate. Each time Connor tried to drive the cows through the wolf jumped up and drove them back. At last it dawned on him that this was the wolf he had spoken to the previous night whose life he had saved long ago in the glen. Then he realized that the strange cows were a reward for saving the life of that wolf and so closed the gate and let the cows graze peacefully in the field.
The Three Cows
Those three cows proved to produce the best milk and cream that made the finest butter and cheese in all of the island of Ireland. Furthermore when he bred them they produced a fine, productive and valuable breed of cattle whose descendants still graze the rich grassy meadows of Ireland to this day.
Connor wanted to thank the wolf but although he tried to find that dark and desolate heath he never could find it. He never again met one of those wolves who had been present that night.Every now and then a hunter, or farmer, brought the body of a slain wolf into town to claim bounty from the authorities for its death. This would cut him to the quick for he feared that it might be the wolf he had saved or one of his family. He could never know for sure but being a good man grieved nonetheless.
Through his kindness in saving the wolf cub Connor grew rich and prospered greatly and became proof of the ancient Irish proverb,
“Blessings are won,
By a good deed done.”
An Eye for an Eye
So on this occasion kindness was rewarded with kindness and Connor benefited greatly from it. Another relevant proverb is, “One good turn deserves another,” but what about when someone does us a bad turn is the opposite then true? Do we we invoke an “an eye for an eye“? When kindness is used people naturally want to repay in kind and there is a kind of gentle competitiveness to be the kindest. This builds strong positive bonds and relationships benefiting everyone, but when we enact an “eye for an eye,” everyone ends up blind.
This work is a retelling of a kaiden, a traditional Japanese ghost story from a collection retold by Grace James titled, Japanese Fairy Tales, and called The Peony Lantern. There are also versions called Kaidan Botan Dōrō. In many ways it is passionate and romantic yet has more than a hint of horror involving necrophilia while hinting on the consequences of the karma of the two main characters.
The Peony Lantern
It is said that by the strong bond of illusion the living and the dead are bound together. Now, there was a young samurai who lived in Yedo. His name was Hagiwara and he had reached the most honorable rank of hatamoto. He was a very handsome man, very athletic and light on his feet and his good looks made him very popular with the ladies of Yedo. Some were very open about their affections, while others were more coy and secretive. For his part he gave little of his time and attention to love. Instead he preferred to join other young men in sports and joyous revelries. He would often be seen socializing and having fun with his favorite companions, very much the life and soul of the party.
The Festival of the New Year
When the Festival of the New Year came he was to be found in the company of laughing youths and happy maidens playing the game of battledore and shuttlecock in the streets. They had roamed far from their own neighborhood to the other side of town to a suburb of quiet streets and large houses that stood in grand gardens.
Hagiwara was good at the game and used his battledore with impressive skill and technique. However, the wind caught the shuttle after he had hit it taking it way over the heads of the other players and over a bamboo fence and into a garden. He ran after it but the others cried, “Leave, Hagiwara, let it stay! We have plenty more shuttlecocks to play with. Why waste time on that one?”
Hagiwara heard them but answered, “No my friends, that one was special. It was the color of a dove and gilded with gold. I will soon fetch it!”
“Let it stay!,” they cried, “we have a dozen here that are dove coloured and gilded with gold. Let it stay!”
Hagiwara stood staring at the garden. For some reason he felt a very strong need for that particular shuttlecock and did not know why. Ignoring his friends he quickly climbed the bamboo fence and jumped down into the garden. He had seen exactly where the shuttlecock landed and thought he would be able to retrieve it quickly, but when he went to the spot it was not there. For some reason he now considered that particular shuttlecock was his most valuable treasure. He searched up and down the garden, pushing aside bushes and plants, but all to no avail. His friends called him again and again but he ignored them and searched feverishly around the garden for the lost shuttlecock. Again his friends called, but he ignored them and continued searching. Eventually, they wandered off leaving him alone searching the garden.
He continued searching into the evening ignoring the glorious spectacle of the setting sun and as dusk fell gently he suddenly looked up. To his surprise there was a girl standing a few yards in front of him. Smiling, she motioned with her right hand while in the the palm of her left she held the shuttlecock he had been searching for. He moved eagerly towards her but she moved back still presenting the shuttlecock to him, but keeping it out of reach, luring him into him into following her. He followed her through the garden and up three stone steps that led into the house.
On one side of the first step a plum tree stood in white blossom and on the third step stood a most beautiful lady. She was dressed in celebration of the festival in a kimono of patterned turquoise with long ceremonial sleeves that swept the ground Underneath she wore garments of scarlet and gold and in her hair were pins of coral, tortoiseshell and gold.
O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew
On seeing the the beautiful lady, Hagiwara immediately knelt before her in reverence and adoration touching his forehead to the ground as a sign of respect. The lady smiled down on him with shining eyes and then spoke softly, “Welcome, Hagiwara Sama, most noble samurai of the hatamoto. Please allow me to introduce myself and my handmaiden. My name is O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew and this is O’Yone my handmaiden. She it it is that has brought you to me and I thank her. Glad am I to see you and happy indeed is this hour!”
Gently raising him she led him into the house and into a room where ten mats were placed upon the floor. He was then entertained in the traditional manner as the Lady of the Morning Dew danced for him while her handmaiden beat upon a small scarlet and gold drum. They set the red rice for him to eat and sweet warm wine to drink as was the tradition and he ate all he was given. It was getting late when he had finished and after pleasant conversation he took his leave and as she showed him to the door the Lady of the Morning Dew whispered, “Most honourable Hagiwara, I would be most happy if you came again.”
Hagiwara was now in high spirits and flippantly laughed,“And what would it be if I did not return? What is it if I do not come back, what then?”
O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew flinched and then stiffened and her face grew pale and drawn. She looked him directly in the eye and laid a hand upon his shoulder and whispered, “It will be death. Death for you, death for me. That is the only way!”
Standing next to her O’Yone shuddered and hid her face in her hands.
Perplexed and very much disturbed, Hagiwara the samurai went off into the night wandering through the thick darkness of the sleeping city like a lost ghost, very very afraid.
He wandered long in the pitch black night searching for his home. It was not until the first grey streaks of dawn broke the darkness that he at last found himself standing before his own door. Tired and weary he went in and threw himself on his bed and then laughed,“Hah, and I have forgotten my shuttlecock!”
In the morning he sat alone thinking about all that had happened the day before. The morning passed and he sat through the afternoon thinking about it. Evening began to fall and suddenly he stood up saying, “Surely, it was all a joke played on me by two geisha girls. They will be laughing at me expecting me to turn up but I will show them. I will not let them make a fool of me!”
Therefore dressing in his best clothes he went out into the evening to find his friends. For the next week he spent his time sporting and partying and through all these entertainments he was the loudest, the happiest, the wittiest and the wildest, but he knew things were not right. At last he said,“Enough, I have had enough! I am sick and tired of all this charade!”
Leaving his friends he took to roaming the streets alone. He wandered from one end of Yedo by day and then back again at night. He sought out the hidden ways of the city, the lost courtyards, the back alleys and the forgotten paths that ran between the houses, searching, always searching, for what he did not know.
Yet, he could not find the house and garden of the Lady of the Morning Dew although his restless spirit searched and searched. Eventually finding himself outside his own home he went to bed and fell into a sickness. For three moons he ate and drank barely enough to keep himself alive and his body grew weak, pale and thin, like some hungry, restless, wraith. Three moons later during the hot rainy season he left his sickbed and wrapping himself in a light summer robe set out into the city despite the entreaties of his good and faithful servant
“Alas, my master has the fever and it is driving him mad!”wailed the servant.
Hagiwara took no notice and looking straight ahead set out with resolve saying,“Have faith! Have faith! All roads will take me to my true love’s house!”
Eventually he came to a quiet suburb of big houses with gardens and saw before him one with a bamboo fence. Smiling, Hagiwara quickly climbed the fence and jumped down saying,“Now we shall meet again!”
Hagiwara the samurai stood in shocked silence staring at it. An old man appeared and asked,“Lord, is there something I can do for you?”
However, he was shocked to find the garden was overgrown and unkempt. Moss had grown over the steps and the plum tree had lost its white blossom, its green leaves fluttered forlornly in the breeze. The house was dark, quiet and empty, its shutters closed and an air of melancholy hung over it.
The Lady Has Gone
“I see the white blossom has fallen from the plum tree. Can you tell me where the Lady of the Morning Dew has gone?” Hagiwara sadly replied.
“Alas, Lord, the Lady of the Morning Dew has fallen like the blossom of the plum tree. Six moons ago she was taken by a strange illness that could not be alleviated. She now lies dead in the graveyard on the hillside. Her faithful handmaiden, O’Yone, would not be parted from her and would not allow her mistress to wander through the land of the dead alone and so lies with her. It is for their sakes that I still come to this garden and do what I can, though being old now that is but little and now the grass grows over their graves.”
Devastated by the news Hagiwara went home. He wrote the name of O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew, on a piece of white wood and then burned incense before it and placed offerings before it. He made sure he did everything necessary to pay the proper respects and ensure the well being of her spirit.
The Festival of Bon
The time of the returning souls arrived, the Festival of Bon, that honors the spirits of the dead. People carried lanterns and visited the graves of those deceased. They brought them presents of flowers and food to show they still cared. The days were hot and on first night of the festival Hagiwara unable to sleep walked alone in his garden. It was cooler than the blazing heat of the day and he was thankful for it. All was quiet and calm and he was enjoying the peacefulness of the night. It was around the hour of the Ox, that he heard the sound of footsteps approach. It was too dark to see who it was but he could tell there were two different people that he thought were women by the sound of their footsteps. Stepping up to his rose hedge he peered into the darkness to catch sight of who it was approaching. In the darkness he could make out the figures of two slender women who walked along the lane hand in hand towards him. One held before them on a pole a peony lantern such as those the folk of Yedo used in their traditions to honour the dead and it cast an eerie light around them. As they approached the lantern was held up to reveal their faces and instantly he recognized them and gave a cry of surprise. The girl holding the peony lantern held it up to light his face
“Hagiwara Sama, it is you! We were told that you were dead. We have been praying daily for your soul for many moons!” she cried.
“O’Yone, is it really you?” he cried, “and is that truly your mistress, O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew, you hold by the hand?”
“Indeed, Lord, is is she who holds my hand,” she replied as they entered the garden, but the Lady of the Morning Dew held up her sleeve so that it covered her face.
“How did I ever lose you?” he asked,“How could it have happened?”
“My Lord, we have moved to a little house, a very little house in the part of the city they call the Green Hill. We were not allowed to take anything with us and now we have nothing at all. My Lady has become pale and thin through want and grief,”saidthe handmaiden.
Hagiwara the samurai gently drew his Lady’s sleeve away from her face but she turned away.
“Oh, Lord, do not look upon me, I am no longer fair,”she sobbed.Slowly he turned her around and looked into her face and the flame of love leapt in him and swept through him but he never said a word
As he gazed upon her the Lady of the Morning Dew shrank away saying,“Shall I stay, or shall I go?”
“Stay!” he replied without hesitation.
The Green Hill
Just before dawn Hagiwara fell into a deep slumber, eventually awakening to find himself alone. Quickly dressing he went out and went through the city of Yedo to the place of the Green Hill. He asked all he met if they knew where the house of the Lady of the Morning Dew was but no one could help him. He searched everywhere but found no sign or clue as to where it could be. In despair he turned to go home, lamenting bitterly that for the second time he had lost his love.
Miserably he made his way home. His path took him through the grounds of a temple situated on a green hill. Walking through he noticed two graves side by side. One was small and hardly noticeable but the other was larģe and grand marked by a solemn monument. In front of the monument was a peony lantern with a small bunch of peonies tied to. It was similar in fashion to many of those used throughout Yedo during the Festival of Bon in reverence of the dead.
Nevertheless, it caught his eye and he stood and stared. As if in a dream he heard the words of O’Yone, the handmaiden,
“We have moved to a little house, a very little house in the part of the city they call the Green Hill. … My Lady has become pale and thin through want and grief,”
Then he smiled and understood and he went home. He was greeted by his servant who asked if he was alright. The samurai tried to reassure him that he was fine emphasizing that he had never been happier. However, the servant knew his master and knew something was wrong and said to himself,“My master has the mark of death upon him. If he dies what will happen to me who has served him since he was a child?”
The faithful servant of Hagiwara realized someone was visiting his master in the night and grew afraid. On the seventh night he spied on his master through a crack in the window shutters and his blood ran cold at what he saw. His master was in the embrace of a most fearful and terrifying being whose face was the horror of the grave. He was gazing lovingly into its eyes and smiling at the loathsome thing while all the time stroking and caressing its long dark hair with his hands.
Illusion and Death
Nevertheless, Hagiwara was happy. Every night the ladies with the peony lantern came to visit him. Every night for seven nights no matter how wild the weather they came to him in the hour of the Ox. Every night Hagiwara lay with the Lady of the Morning Dew. Thus, by the strong bond of illusion were the living and dead merged and bound to each other
Just before dawn the fearful thing from the grave and its companion left. The faithful servant, fearing for his master’s soul went to seek the advice of a holy man. After relating to him all that he had seen he asked,“ Can my master be saved?”
The holy man thought for a moment and then replied, “Can humans thwart the power of Karma? There is little hope but we will do what we can.”
With that he instructed the servant in all that he must do. When he got home his master was out and he hid in his clothes an emblem of the Tathagata and placed them ready for the next morning for him to wear. After this, above all the doors and windows he placed a sacred text. When his Hagiwara returned late in the evening he was surprised to find he had suddenly become weak and faint. His faithful servant carried him to bed and gently placed a light cover over him as he fell into a deep sleep.
The servant hid himself that he may spy on whatever might come to pass that night. With the arrival of the hour of the Ox he heard footsteps outside in the lane. They came nearer and nearer and then slowed down and stopped close to the house and he hears a despairing voice say,
Entry is Barred
“Oh, O’Yone, my faithful handmaiden, what is the meaning of this? The house is all in darkness. Where is my lord?”
“Come away, come away, mistress, let us go back. I fear his heart has changed towards you,”whispered O’Yone.
“I will not go. I will not leave until I have seen my love. You must get me in to see him!” whispered the Lady of the Morning Dew.
“My Lady, we cannot pass into the house – see the sacred writing over the door over the windows, we cannot enter,” warned the handmaiden.
The Lady wailed and then began sobbing pitifully, “Hagiwara, my lord, I have loved you through ten lifetimes!” and then footsteps were heard leaving as O’Yone led her weeping mistress away.
It was the same the next night. At the hour of the Ox, footsteps in the lane were heard and then a long pitiful wail followed by the sound footsteps disappearing back down the lane as the ghosts departed sobbing and crying.
The next day Hagiwara got up, dressed and went out into the city. While he was out a pickpocket stole the emblem of Tathagata but he did not notice. When night came he lay awake unable to sleep but his faithful servant, worn out with worry and lack of sleep dozed off. In the night a heavy rain fell and and washed the sacred text from over the round window of the bedroom
The hour of the Ox crept round and footsteps were heard in the lane and entering the garden. Hagiwara listened as they came nearer and nearer until they stopped just outside.
The Power of Karma
“Tonight is the last chance, O’Yone. You must get me inside to my lord, Hagiwara. Remember the love of ten lifetimes. The power of Karma is great but we must overcome it. There must be a way you can get me in to see him!”said the Lady mournfully.
Inside Hagiwara heard them and called out,“Come to me my beloved, I await you!”
“We cannot enter. You must let us in!” she cried.
Hagiwara tried to sit up but he could not move.“Come to me my beloved!”he called again.
“I cannot enter and I am cut in two. Alas, for the sins of our previous life!” wailed the Lady.
Then, O’Yone grasped the hand of her mistress and pointed at the round window,“See, Lady, the rain has washed away the text!”
Holding hands the two rose gently upwards and passed like a mist through the round window into the bedroom of the samurai as he called out, “Come to me my beloved!,”
“Verily Lord, verily, I come!”answered the Lady.
The next morning the faithful servant of Hagiwara of the most honorable rank of hatamoto found his master grey lifeless and cold. By the side of him stood a peony lantern that still burned with a pale, yellow flame. The faithful servant seeing his master lying still and cold wept saying, “I cannot bear it.”And so the strong bond of illusion bound together the living and the dead.
Emily Pauline Johnson, also known as Tekahionwake, was a Canadian poet and performer. Her father was a hereditary Mohawk chief of mixed ancestry, while her mother was an English immigrant. In 1911, she published a collection of legends and folktales told to her by Chief Joe Capilano, based on the stories and traditions of his people. She called the collection, “Legends of Vancouver,” and published under the name E. Pauline Johnson. In her Author’s Foreword she says,
“These legends (with two or three exceptions) were told to me personally by my honored friend, the late Chief Joe Capilano, of Vancouver, whom I had the privilege of first meeting in London in 1906, when he visited England and was received at Buckingham Palace by their Majesties King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.
To the fact that I was able to greet Chief Capilano in the Chinook tongue, while we were both many thousands of miles from home, I owe the friendship and the confidence which he so freely gave me when I came to reside on the Pacific coast. These legends he told me from time to time, just as the mood possessed him, and he frequently remarked that they had never been revealed to any other English-speaking person save myself.”
Chief Joe Capilano, was also known as, Su-á-pu-luck, a leader of the Squamish people, indigenous to southwestern British Columbia, Canada. Presented here is a retelling of one of those folktales called The Island.
Su-á-pu-luck spoke saying, “Tekahionwake, our people have lost much over the years. Our lands are gone, our hunting grounds and our game. Our religion, language, legends and culture that our ancestors taught us from the beginning are forsaken and forgotten. Many young people do not know them today.
These things are gone and can never return. The world has turned. Although we may seek them out in the hidden places; the high mountains, the dark forests or the concealed valleys of the world we will not find them. They are gone forever like the island of the North Arm. Once it was there and now it is gone. Maybe it is somewhere near, but we just cannot see it. Although we paddle our canoes in the sea around the coast we’ll never again find the channel, or the inlet, that leads to the past days of our people and the lost island.”
Tekahionwake replied, “You know well there are many islands on the North Arm and many channels and inlets.”
“Yes, but none of these are the island that our people have sought for many, many years,” Su-á-pu-luck told her sadly shaking his head.
“Perhaps it was never there,” she suggested.
Sighing and shaking his head he said,
“Once it was there. Both my grandfathers saw it and their fathers saw it. My father never saw it and neither did I. My father spent many years searching for it. He searched all the sounds along the coast north and south, but he never found it. In my youth I sought it for many days. At night I would take my canoe and paddle in the stillness of night. Twice, long ago, I saw its shadow. I saw the shadow of it high cliffs and rocky shores and the shadows of tall pines crowning its mountain summit as I paddled my canoe up the arm one summer night. The shadow of the island fell across the water, across my canoe, across my face and across my eyes and entered into my head and has stayed. Then, I looked. I turned my canoe around and around and looked but it was gone. There was nothing but the water and the moon reflecting on it, and no, it was not a moon shadow, or a trick of the moon, “
“Why do you keep searching for it?” asked Tekahionwake, perhaps thinking of all of the dreams and hopes in her own life she could never attain.
“You see the island has something I want. I shall never stop searching!” he replied and fell silent. She said nothing because she knew he was thinking and would tell her a legend from the old days. At last, Su-á-pu-luck spoke,
“I tell you, Tekahionwake,long before the great city of Vancouver appeared when it was but a dream of our god Sagalie Tyee, before the new people had thought of it, only one medicine man knew that there would be a great camp of new people between False Creek and the inlet. The dream had come to him from Sagalie Tyee and it had haunted him ever since. When he was among his people laughing and feasting it was there. When he was on his own in the wilds singing his strange songs and beating upon his drum it was there in his mind. Even when enacting the sacred rituals that cured the sick and the dying, it was there. The dream came to him again and again.
I tell you, Tekahionwake,it stayed with him following him through life wherever he went and he grew old and the dream stayed. Always he heard the voices that had spoken to him in the days of his youth. They told him, ‘ There will come many, many, people who have crossed the sea and crossed the land. They will be as the leaves in the forest and they will built a great camp between the two strips of salt water. Their arrival will bring the end of the great war dances. The end of wars with other people. The end of courage, the end of confidence. Our people will be dispossessed of our ways, of our tradition, of our land and who we are. Our people will learn the ways of the newcomers and our ways will be forgotten and we will no longer know ourselves.’
I knew the old man hated the words – hated the dream. He was the strongest man, the most potent medicine man on the North Pacific Coast but even he could not stop it, could not defeat it.
I tell you, Tekahionwake,he was a tall man, strong and mighty. His endurance was like Leloo the timber wolf. He did not need to eat for many days and could kill the mountain lion with his bare hands. He could wrestle and defeat the grizzly bear. He could paddle his canoe through the wildest sea and the strongest wind riding upon the crest of the highest waves.
No warrior could stand against him, he could defeat whole tribes. He had the strength and courage of a giant and feared nothing on land, sea, sky or in the forest, he was completely fearless. The only thing he could not defeat – could not kill – was the dream of the coming of the newcomers. It haunted him! It was the only thing in life he had faced that he could not defeat.
I tell you, Tekahionwake,It obsessed him. The obsession drove him from the village. He left his people, the dancing, the story telling, he left his home village by the water’s edge where the salmon gathered and the deer quenched their thirst. Chanting wild, wild songs he climbed through the trailess forest to the summit that the newcomers call Grouse Mountain.
On top of the world on Grouse Mountain he ate nothing and drank no water and fasted for days. He chanted his medicine songs day and night. Below him, beneath the mountain, lay the strip of land between the two salt waters and in that high place the Sagalie Tyee – the god of our people – gave him the gift of seeing into the future. As he looked out from the mountain over the strip of land his eyes saw across one hundred years.
He looked over what is called the inlet and saw great lodges built close together in straight lines. Some were tall and vast being built of wood and stone. He saw the strait trails the newcomers made between the lodges and saw crowds of newcomers swarming up and down them.
He saw the great canoes of the newcomers and how they moved without paddles. He saw the trading posts of the newcomers and how they multiplied. He saw the never ending stream of newcomers pouring steadily on to the strip of land and watched as they multiplied among themselves.
At last the vision faded and he saw the world in his own time and was afraid. He called out to the Sagalie Tyee, ‘I have not much longer on this earth. Soon I shall meet my ancestors in the place prepared. I pray to you not to let my strength and endurance die. I pray to you not to let my courage and fearlessness die. I pray to you not to let my wisdom and knowledge die. Take them, keep them safe for my people that they may be strong and wise enough to endure the rule of the newcomers and remember who they are. Take these things from me and hide them where the newcomers cannot find them, but where someone from my people one day will.’
Finishing his prayer he went down from the top of Grouse Mountain singing his songs of power to where he kept his canoe. Launching it he paddled far up the North Arm, through the colors of the setting sun and long into the night. At last he came to an island surrounded by high grey cliffs, where a mountain soared in its center crowned with pine trees.As he drew near he could feel all of his courage, his bravery, his fearlessness and his great strength float from him as wisps of mist that wrapped themselves around the high cliffs and mountain shrouding the island from view.
With all his strength gone he barely managed to paddle back to the village. When he arrived he called the people together and told them they must search for ‘The island’ where they would find all of his strength and courage still alive forever to help them with their dealings with the newcomers. That night he drifted into sleep and in the morning he did not wake up.
Ever since our men, young and old, have sought for the island. Somewhere, in some lost channel, some hidden inlet along the coast, it awaits us but we cannot find it. The great medicine man told them one day we will find it and when we do we will get back his power along with all his strength, all his courage, all of the wisdom of our forefathers, because such things do not die but live on through our children and grandchildren and their children.”
His voice quivered and ceased and her heart went out to him as she thought of all of the of courage and strength he possessed. She said,
“Su-á-pu-luck,you say the shadow of this island has fallen upon you!”
“That is true, Tekahionwake,” he answered mournfully, “but only the shadow!”
Image by Warwick Goble from Folk-Tales of Bengal – Public Domain
Bengal is a region of the Indian subcontinent giving its name to the Bay of Bengal and the following story is a retelling of a folktale from that region. The story retold here is based on a story called the Origin of Rubies, from a collection compiled by Lal Behari Day, and illustrated by Warwick Goble titled, Folk-Tales of Bengal. According to the compiler it ends with a verse that traditional Bengali storytellers used to conclude their tale. He makes it clear he does not know what it means and why they did it and neither do I, but I chose to end this story in the same way in keeping with the tradition.
The Origin of Rubies
There was once a king who had four sons. Sadly, this king died and left his sons in the care of his wife and Queen to bring them up. The favorite son of the queen was her youngest and she made sure he had the best food, the best clothes and the most affection at the expense of her other sons making no secret of her deep love for him. As her other three sons grew up they saw all of the love and attention their mother heaped upon their younger brother and grew increasingly jealous and resentful. They made him and their mother move into a separate house and plotted against him. With all the attention and affection heaped upon him by his mother the youngest son grew up very selfish and wilful. He always demanded to have his own way and always got it.
One day his mother took him down to the river to bathe. The young man was intrigued to see that a boat had tied up along the bank and while his mother bathed he went to investigate it. There was no captain, or crew, on the boat so the prince went on board to have a look around and shouted to his mother to come and join him. His mother told him to get off the boat as it did not belong to him but the prince replied, “No, I will not! I am going on a voyage and if you want to come with me you must hurry up and get on board, for I am leaving.”
Hearing this, his mother again told him to get off the boat immediately but her son ignored her and began to untie the ropes that held it to the bank. The queen ran up the bank and boarded the boat as it began to float off down the river and taken swiftly by the current. Neither the prince or his mother knew anything about boats so they had to watch as the current took them rapidly down the river to the sea where it continued to float out of control at the whim of providence. On and on the boat floated with its two passengers helpless to control it as it took them out into the open sea.
After a while the boat came to a giant whirlpool and looking down into it the young prince saw hundreds of huge rubies whirling around in the maelstrom of the pool. Reaching down the prince caught many of these red round rubies and brought them on board. His mother said, “You should not take those red balls because they may be the property of someone who has had the misfortune to be shipwrecked and they may think we are stealing them!” At first the prince refused to throw them back, but after his mother continued to insist he eventually did, but kept one back which he hid in his clothes.
The boat then began to drift to shore and came to rest in a great port where they disembarked. The port was a thriving, bustling city and the capital of a rich and powerful king who had a beautiful palace and the prince’s mother found lodgings that looked out over the palace lawns.
Like all boys the young prince loved to play and when the king’s children came out to play he would go down and join them. The royal children liked to play marbles and although he had none he would play with the round red ruby that he had got from the whirlpool. Using this every time he hit another marble that marble would shatter into shards.
The King’s Daughter
The King’s daughter greatly admired the brilliant red marble this strange, unknown boy played with and wanted it for her own. She ran to her father and told him all about the beautiful red orb the strange boy was playing with. She told it she wanted it for her own and if she did not get it she would starve herself to death. The King loved his daughter greatly and indulged her every whim and so he sent his servants to seek out the strange lad with the beautiful red stone.
His servants went out and found the prince and took him to see the King. He asked to see the red stone and when the prince showed him it he was astounded at his size and rich red beauty for he had never seen its like before. The King was so impressed he did not believe another of its like existed anywhere else in the world and asked the prince where he had got from. The prince told him he had found it in the sea and when the king offered to pay him a thousand rupees for it the boy, not knowing the value of rubies eagerly accepted and ran quickly back to his mother with the money. At first his mother was terrified he had stolen the money but he continued to reassure her that he had got the money by selling the red stone to the king had brought the red stone and at last she believed him.
Image by Warwick Goble from Folk-Tales of Bengal – Public Domain
The Pet Parrot
Back in the palace the king had given the red stone to his daughter who had put it in her hair and ran to her pet parrot and said, “Tell me beloved parrot how beautiful I Iook!” The parrot looked at her then retorted, “Beautiful! You look like a poor serving girl. What princess would ever wear a single ruby in their hair? It would be more befitting of your royal station if you had at least two in your hair.!”
Hearing her pet parrot’s stinging answer she was flushed with shame and ran to her bedroom and took to her bed refusing to eat or drink. When her father heard she was not eating and drinking and refusing to get out of bed he went to see her to ask her why she was so sorrowful.
The princess told her him what her parrot had said and told him, “I am very sorry father, but if you do not find one another ruby to match the one I have I will kill myself!”
The king was frightened that she meant it and was very worried because he did not know where he could get another ruby to match the one he had bought for her. Therefore he sent his servants to bring before him the boy who had sold him the ruby.
When his servants brought the prince before him the king asked him where he could get another ruby like the one he had sold him from. The prince told him he did not have another ruby in his possession but he knew where he could find one saying, “I found that ruby in the sea and I know where to go to find many more. They are all swirling around in a whirlpool far over the sea, but I can go and get some more for you, if you like.”
The young prince clearly had no idea of their value and the king was astounded at his reply because he knew their worth. He promised to pay the boy handsomely if he would bring to him a ruby to match the one his daughter now had.
The young prince ran home to his mother and told her he was going back to sea to bring back a ruby for the king. His mother was not at all happy with idea being frightened for his safety. She begged him not to go but he would have none of it. His mind was set and he was intent to go to sea and bring back a ruby for the king and would not change his mind. Without listening to his mother’s entreaties he ran to the boat, untied the ropes and set sail for the whirlpool without her.
The Palace of Siva
When he arrived at the whirlpool he looked into it and saw the rubies swirling around in the maelstrom and looked to find the source of where the stream of rubies were coming from. Once he had located it he went into the centre of the whirlpool where he could see through the funnel of water the ocean floor. Then he dived in leaving the boat riding round and round in the whirling current.
On reaching the ocean floor he was amazed to find a beautiful palace and he went inside to explore. He made his way to a vast central hall where he he found the god Siva sitting with his eyes closed engaged in a meditative state. Just behind the god and just above his head that was covered in matted hair, was a platform where a beautiful young woman reclined. Seeing her and being enthralled by her beauty the prince went to the platform where the he was shocked to find her head had been severed from her body. The horrified prince did not know what to make of the terrible scene but as he looked on he noticed a stream of blood was trickling from her severed head on to the matted hair of the head of Siva and then seeping into the ocean, which turned into the red rubies that were whirling around the maelstrom of water.
As he looked on in horror he noticed two batons lying close to the head of the woman. One was silver and the other was gold. Moving to pick up the batons to examine them closer he accidentally touched the severed head of the woman with the golden one and to his shock the head instantly joined with the body and the woman stood up.
She looked at him in astonishment as is if she had never seen another human being before and then she asked the prince how he had managed to find his way to the palace. After hearing his story she shook her head and said, “Foolish young man, get you gone from this place now with all speed, for when Siva awakens the very glance from his eye will burn you to ashes! Go now before it is too late!”
The prince had fallen head over heels in love with the beautiful young woman and would not leave without her. At last after much begging and pleading she agreed to runaway with him and he led her back the way he had come, through the whirlpool to the boat. Together they collected a great chest of rubies and departed.
When they arrived safely back at the port he had left he found his mother anxiously waiting and we can only imagine her wonderment at seeing the young woman who accompanied him. Bright and early the next morning the prince took a basket of rubies to the king who was astonished at seeing so many big beautiful gems. His daughter was delighted that now she had more gems to match the one she already had demanded of her father that she marry the strange and marvelous bringer of rubies.
Even though the prince had the beautiful woman he had brought with him from the palace on the ocean floor he accepted a second wife and they all lived happily together for many years. They had many sons and daughters between them and now this story is brought to an end in keeping with the traditional way of Bengali storytellers: –
In Philippine folklore two lovers named, Daragang Magayon and Panganoron, feature in a folktale that explains how Mount Mayon, a active stratovolcano on the island of Luzon in the Philippine archipelago was formed and was named. The volcano and story of the two lovers hit the headlines in January 2018 when an eruption spurted forth lava and smoke. Many people believed they saw an image in the fumes that resembled two lovers. Another image appeared in the lava flow that resembled the figure of a woman. Many people associated the perceived images with the story and presented here is a version of the legend.
Daragang Magayon the Beautiful Maiden
A chief of the Rawis people named Makusog had a lovely daughter who he named Daragang Magayan, which means beautiful maiden in English. She was his only child because her mother whose name was Dawani, which means fairy, had died shortly after giving birth to her and he never wanted another wife.
Magayon grew into a beautiful woman with a sweet nature, who was much sought after by young men far and wide who competed for her affections. However she showed no interest in any of them, or even the handsome Pagtuga who was a great hunter and chief of the Iniga people. He would shower her with expensive gifts and although she politely thanked him showed no romantic interest in him at all.
One day as Panganoron, the son of a chief from the Tagalog region of the country, was passing along the Yawa river he spied Daragang Magayon going into the water to bathe. He was enthralled by her beauty but as he watch she slipped on some wet rocks and fell into the river. At first he thought it was funny, but as she began to splash and struggle he realized she could not swim and was in danger of drowning. With no regard for his own safety he ran into the river and pulled her out saving her life. From then on the two became friends and their friendship blossomed into romance. After what he hoped was an appropriated time Panganoron proposed marriage to her and she accepted and her father gave them his blessing.
When Pagtuga found out about their impending marriage he became jealous and took Magayon’s father hostage, demanding she marry him in exchange for his life and freedom. As soon as Panganoron learnt of this he called together the warriors of his people and led them to war against Pagtuga. The two sides clashed in a spectacular and bloody battle and the people and Magayon watched in awe and fear as they fought. Eventually, Panganoron defeated and killed Pagtuga and in her joy at his victory Magayon ran to embrace and kiss him.
However, because of the death of Pagtuga, in anger, one of his warriors fired a final arrow at Panganoron piercing his back and entering into his heart and killing him as the two lovers embraced. In shock and horror, Magayon held him in her arms as people rushed to help, but before they could do anything she took a knife from Panganoron’s belt and plunged it into her own heart, crying out his name as she died.
Her father had seen what had happened and buried them together in the same grave. From their grave there grew a great mountain of fire and Makusog named it Mount Mayon, after his daughter. Many people say that Mount Mayon is as beautiful as his daughter, saying that Daragang Magayon is the volcano and the clouds that are surround it are Panganoron. Smoke from an eruption of the volcano in January 2018 appear to show the two lovers in the image above and in a video what appears to be a woman is seen on the peak.
Themes and motifs in folk and fairy tales are devices that help to enrich the story. They are not the story-line but are woven into the narrative to enhance and highlight certain parts, or points the narrator wishes to make, or to provide an overall meaning, which is sometimes deliberately hidden. Presented here is a retelling of a Swedish fairy tale called The Bird “Grip” whose song was said to cure blindness of kings. This tale is classified as Aarne-Thompson folktale type 550, “The Golden Bird”, a Supernatural Helper in the Aarne–Thompson–Uther classification system and it also involves the Grateful Dead (type 505). This is followed by a brief discussion about some of the motifs and themes that appear in the story and what they may mean.
The Quest for the Bird “Grip”
This tale begins with a great king who ruled a great kingdom. However there are some things in the world that do not recognize greatness in either kings or kingdoms and this king was afflicted by a condition that closed both of his eyes tragically leaving him blind. All of the great physicians in his entire great kingdom could not bring back the sight of the king no matter what they tried. Many great physicians from many other great countries also tried to cure him but to no avail. At last a poor old woman came to the palace and asked to see the king because she thought she could help him. Out of desperation he agreed and let her examine him. She told him that although she could not cure him herself his only hope was to seek out the bird “Grip” whose song alone brought light and vision to all who heard it, even the eyes of the king.
The bird Grip was kept by another king in distant realm in a golden cage. This king thought the bird was beyond price and he kept it closely guarded at all times. How he would possibly seek out this rare and treasured bird the blind king did not know and fell into despair. Now, the king had three sons. When the eldest of these heard this he offered to go and seek out the bird Grip and bring it back to his father so he could listen to its song and it would open up his eyes.
The Eldest Son
This greatly pleased his father and he agreed to this proposition. He gave his son plenty of food supplies, a good horse, and a big bag full of gold coins. So the prince began his journey with the intention of finding and bringing back the bird Grip to cure his father’s blindness. He rode many miles though woods and dales until he came to an inn. Feeling tired and in the need of refreshment he placed his horse in the stables and went into the inn. As he entered he became aware of many people all drinking and chatting happily. Seeing him enter they all greeted him cordially making him feel very welcome. A drink was thrust in his hand and soon he was laughing and chatting, playing dice and singing and he began to feel very jolly. He was enjoying himself so much that he decided to stay for just a bit longer. Indeed, he was enjoying himself so much he kept putting off his departure. In fact, he was having such a good time he completely forgot about his poor blind father and his quest to bring back to him the bird Grip and there he stayed enjoying the company and revelry of the inn.
While the eldest prince was making merry his poor blind father was sitting at home waiting patiently and hopefully for his son’s return with the bird Grip to cure his blindness. The more days that passed by with no sign of him the more he began fretting about where his eldest son had got to. His second eldest son saw his father’s worry and went to him seeking permission to go and look for his brother and search for and bring back the bird Grip to cure his poor blind father.
The Second Eldest
The King agreed and furnished his second eldest son with a plentiful supply of food, a good horse and a big bag of money. The prince set out following the same road as his brother and after many days arrived at the inn where he found his brother drinking and making merry. His elder brother welcomed him warmly and introduced him to his friends who made a great fuss of him. Soon he was chatting and singing and playing dice and having such a wonderful time that he clean forgot about his poor blind father and his promise to bring back to him the bird Grip to cure his blindness.
Back at the Palace
Back in his palace the king waited in hope that his sons would safely return to him not just to cure his blindness but because he loved them dearly and was genuinely concerned for their welfare. When his youngest son saw how worried his father was he felt so sorry for him. He went to him and asked him for permission to go and look for his brothers and to search out and bring back the bird Grip to cure his blindness. He told him he was certain that he would succeed in finding them and also be able to bring back the bird. However, having lost two son the king was reluctant to give permission to his youngest son for fear of losing him too. Nevertheless, his youngest son was adamant that he should go and continued to beg his father’s permission until he eventually reluctantly agreed. The young prince was given a fine horse and provisions of food and a big bag of money to help him on his way.
The Youngest Son
He took the same road as his two brothers had taken and after many days of traveling came to the inn where they had stopped. Just as they had been, he was tired and in need of refreshment so he took his horse to the stable and went inside the inn. There he found both his brothers drinking and making merry in the bar. As soon as they saw him they made a great fuss of him and entreated him to join them but refused to go back to their father or join him on the quest for the bird Grip.
However, as tired and in need of refreshment as he was the young prince refused to stay. As he had now succeeded in finding his brothers and was sure of their safety he continued alone on the quest not wanting his poor blind father to suffer longer than he needed to. Bidding his brothers farewell he went off alone looking for another inn in which to spend the night further on along the road.
He rode on and came to a dark tangled forest and he followed the road on through the trees which took him deep into the woods. Just as the sun was going down he came to an inn. Now feeling very tired and in need of refreshment he thought he would knock on the door and ask politely for board and lodging for the night as he still had all of the money that his father had given him. So he knocked on the door. It was opened and he was greeted by the innkeeper in the most friendly and sociable way possible which put him at ease. The innkeeper told him he would be pleased to put him up for the night and invited him in. He told a servant to take the horse to the stable while he showed the prince to his room. He called for a maid who came in and promptly lay a table cloth over a table and brought in dishes and plates of different food and goblets of wine for him to enjoy for his supper.
Inside the Inn
Outside the sun had now gone down and it was very dark in the forest and the prince was glad he was now inside eating heartily by a warm fire. As he was enjoying his supper he suddenly heard the most terrible screaming and wailing coming from the room next door. Jumping up in fright he called to the maid who came running in. “What in the world is that terrible screaming and wailing?” he asked anxiously.
Looking terrified the maid told him
“Those are not the shrieks of this world, they are from the next! They come from a dead man who was murdered by the master because he could not pay for the board and lodging he had taken. Furthermore, because the man had not enough money to pay for a funeral either the master refused to give him one. Every night he goes into that room where the dead man lays and whips and scourges the corpse. Those shrieks you hear come from the man who is now in the place of the living dead. There he must remain until his debts are paid.”
As she finished speaking she quietly lifted the cover of a large dish on the table. Lying on that dish there was an axe and a sharp knife and as he looked in horror upon it he knew that the master of the inn was going to offer him the choice of his own death unless he paid a ransom. Therefore, he called to the master and gave him a large sum of money in ransom for his own life. Then he paid him what the dead man had owed him and then gave him more money to ensure the deceased at last had a proper burial, which to his credit at least, the murderer did arrange.
Despite having paid the ransom the prince still feared for his life and asked the maid to help him escape in the night. She agreed but only on the condition that he take her along with him telling him she was a prisoner and also feared for her own life. Then she told him the master kept the key to the stables under his pillow at night and if he would keep watch she thought she could take it. In the dead of night she bravely crept into the room of her sleeping master while the prince stood ready to aid her in case he woke and managed to take the key without disturbing him.
The two quietly saddled his horse and with her seated behind the prince they rode off into the night leaving the master of the house still sleeping peacefully. They rode through the night and for many days thereafter until at last they came to an inn where they rested. The innkeeper agreed to take on the maid as a servant and the prince left her there while he rode on in search of the bird Grip.
He continued long the forest road for many days until one morning as he was riding along he came across a fox sitting in the middle of the road as if waiting for him.
“Good morning,” said the fox, “and where are you going this fine sunny morning?”
“It so happens,” said the prince, “that I am on a quest that is too important to tell to any stranger that I may meet along the road.”
“Yes, indeed,” said the fox, “your quest for the bird Grip is far too important to tell to any old strange fellow you meet on the way. Of course you must never tell how you hope to find it and take it home to cure your poor blind father, the King. If you like I can help you to complete your task, but in return you must follow my instructions and my advice to the letter.”
The prince was astounded that the fox seemed to know all about his quest, nevertheless he realized he had no idea where to find the bird Grip and so he agreed.
The Castle of the Bird Grip
The fox told him that the bird Grip sat in a golden cage in a castle and that he would lead him there. Then he told him when they arrived he would then tell him exactly what he must and must not do. So after a few days of traveling the fox led the prince to the castle. The fox then gave the prince three grains of gold and told him that he must throw one grain into the guardroom as he passed by. Another grain must thrown into the room where the bird they called Grip sat in his golden cage before he entered it. The last grain of gold was to be thrown into its cage. When that had been done it would then be safe to open the cage and take the bird but he must not on any account stroke the stroke the bird Grip or disaster would follow.
So the prince crept into the castle and as he tiptoed past the guard-room he threw a grain of gold inside and all of the guards fell asleep. When he came to room where the bird Grip was kept he threw in another grain of gold and all those whose duty it was to guard and take care of it fell asleep. Then he went to the cage and threw the last grain of gold inside and the bird Grip fell asleep. The Prince opened the cage door reached in had gently took hold of the bird and brought it out. As he looked at it admiringly he was struck by how beautiful it was. Gently he caressed its neck with his finger but as he did so the bird immediately awoke and began to screech. All the people in the room awoke and the guards in the guard-room awoke and ran to the room and taking him prisoner threw him into jail.
In his small bare cell the prince thought how foolish he had been to ignore the advice of the fox. His disobedience it had brought him to this miserable jail but worse it had destroyed any chance his father had of regaining his sight. As he was lamenting his own stupidity the fox suddenly appeared before him. The prince was delighted to see him and took his reproaches meekly promising that in future he would obey his instructions to the letter, if the fox would only get him out of the dreadful fix he was in now.
The fox nodded and told him he had indeed come to help him. He told the prince that when he was brought to trial the judge would ask him questions and that he must answer “yes” to all of them. If he did that the fox promised everything would be alright. So when the prince was brought before the judge, the judge asked him directly if he had come to steal the bird Grip.
The prince said, “Yes.”
Then the judge asked him if he was a master-thief.
The prince said, “Yes.”
The king who was attending the trial heard this and said he would forgive the prince and would pardon him for trying to steal the bird Grip. However there was a catch, The King told him to earn forgiveness and a pardon he would have travel to a neighboring kingdom and steal a princess who was the most beautiful woman in the world and bring her back to him.
The prince, as before said, “Yes.”
So he was set free and taking his leave set off along the road to the neighboring kingdom to steal the princess who was the most beautiful woman in the world. As he walked along the fox appeared next to him and showed him the way to the castle where she resided. When they arrived outside the fox gave the prince three grains of gold. He told the prince to throw one into the guard-room, one into the chamber of the princess and the last one into her bed. Then he gave him a stern warning telling him that he must not kiss the princess.
With that he prince crept into the castle. When he came to the guard-room he threw a grain of gold inside and the guards all fell asleep. When he came to the chamber of the princess hr threw in a grain of gold and all of he maids-in-waiting fell asleep. Then he threw a grain of gold on the princess’s bed and she fell asleep. He went to her and as he lifted her in his arms he noticed how beautiful she was and he could not help but steal a kiss as she slept. As he did so she immediately awoke and so did her maids-in-waiting who screamed and woke the guards who ran up and arrested the prince and threw him into jail.
As the prince was lamenting his foolishness the fox appeared in front of him and sharply rebuked him off for his stupidity in not obeying his instructions. Nevertheless, he promised to help him on condition that when the judge questioned him he would answer “yes” to all his questions to which the prince agreed. When he was brought to trial the judge asked him if he had meant to steal the princess. The prince replied “yes.” Then the judge asked if he was a master-thief and the prince said, “yes”.
The king was attending the trial and when he heard this he told the judge that he would pardon the prince if he would but go into the next kingdom and bring back for him the horse with the four golden shoes. To this the prince said “yes” and he was set free to go and steal the horse with the four golden shoes for the king.
He had not gone far along the road when the fox appeared next to him as he walked along. This pleased and comforted the prince and he asked the fox the way to find the horse with the four golden shoes. The fox told him he would take him there and after a few days of journeying they arrived outside the castle where the fox said the horse with the four golden shoes was kept in a stable.
For the third time the fox gave the prince three grains of gold. One to make the guards in the guard-room sleep, one to make the stable boys sleep and the third to throw into the stall where the horse with the four golden shoes was kept. The fox told him that on the wall behind the horse there was a hook with a beautiful saddle made of gold was hung. He warned him that on no account should he touch it or worse would befall him than had already befallen him and he would no longer be able to help him.
So the prince did exactly as he was told and when he threw the last grain of gold into the horse’s stall he noticed the beautiful golden saddle hung on a hook in the wall. He thought how splendid it would look upon the horse with the golden shoes. Although he fought the urge he found himself reaching out and was just about to touch it when something suddenly knocked his hand away. With that sharp shock he quickly recovered his senses and led the horse quietly out of the castle while everyone still slept soundly.
Along the road the fox appeared next to him as he led the horse along. “I almost touched the saddle,” said the prince.
“Yes, it is a good job I jumped up and knocked your arm or you would have been beyond my help,” said the fox.
They traveled on taking the horse with four golden horseshoes back to the castle of the king where the princess was. The prince told the fox that he could not get the beautiful princess out of his mind and that she was his heart’s desire. He asked the fox if he thought it would be a good idea for him to ride home to his poor blind father on the horse with four golden shoes with the princess sitting behind him and with the bird Grip on his arm. The fox agreed that would be something quite special and when they arrived at the castle he gave the prince three grains of gold with the exact instructions he had previously given him.
This time the prince did exactly as the fox had instructed and carried off the princess while she slept without kissing her. As he set her upon the horse with the four golden horseshoes she woke up and smiled at him and together they rode happily along their way with the fox trotting alongside. Eventually, they came to the castle where the bird Grip sat in its golden cage. The fox gave the prince three grains of gold and the exact instructions he had previously given him and this time while everyone was asleep the prince resisted the urge to stroke the bird and carried it back to where the princess, the horse with the four golden shoes and the fox were waiting for him.
Parting of Ways
The prince was now very happy as he would be able to return to his father with the bird Grip and restore his sight. He also had the horse with the four golden horseshoes and the beautiful princess who he had fallen in love with and who now loved him. So they all traveled together until at last they came to the place in the forest where the prince had first met the fox who turned to him and said,
“This is the place where you found me and I can go no further. Now you have obtained your heart’s desire it is time for us to part. Listen well! I will tell you that you will have a good and safe journey back to your father, but do not on any account pay a ransom for the life of anyone. Do not forget!”
The prince was sorry they were parting ways. He had come to rely on the wisdom of the fox but he thanked him for all of his help and promised that he would note his warning after all that had happened to him. The fox vanished before his eyes and the prince rode on chatting happily to the princess and on his arm he carried the bird named Grip back to his poor blind father.
Return to the Inn
After a few days they arrived back at the inn where he had found his brothers merrymaking with their quest forgotten. However, he was now struck by how grim and glum it seemed and there was no merrymaking now. As he drew neared he was chilled to see two gallows standing upright in the yard. He noticed all of the windows had been covered by black curtains and there was a sorrowful and depressing atmosphere hanging over the inn, where once it had been bright, warm and cheery.
Feeling concerned, he asked what had happened to bring such changes to the place. He was told that everyone was sad and gloomy because two princes were to be hanged that day. They told him that they had spent all their money drinking and merrymaking. Instead of stopping when their money ran out they had run up a massive bill with the innkeeper which they could not pay. It was the law in these parts of the world that those who were in debt and could not pay must be hanged unless someone was prepared to pay a ransom for their lives.
Immediately the prince realized it was his two brothers who were to be hanged having spent all the money their father had given them and run up debt merrymaking. Despite their foolishness he was sorry that they should come to such an ignoble end. Therefore, as he had enough money he settled the ransom by paying off all their debts and saving their lives.
Of course, his brothers were relieved and grateful to begin with but when they saw that he had a princess along with, the horse with the four golden shoes and the bird Grip their gratitude turned to jealousy and resentment. They began to plot to kidnap the princess, and steal the horse with the four golden shoes and the bird Grip. They wanted to ride back to the castle with these treasures and present them to their grateful father who would be cured of his blindness and heap rewards upon them.
After much thought they at last agreed on a strategy to be rid of him forever and take his prizes for themselves. They lured him to a den where a pride of lions lived and pushed him into it and left him thinking they would eat him leaving no trace. Then they took the princess on the horse with the four golden shoes and the bird Grip. They told the princess to say nothing of their younger brother and if anyone asked she was to say that it was they who had brought her here or they would kill her.
The two brother rode proudly back to their father at his palace in triumph. He was delighted at their return and ordered great feasting and celebrations and praised them for their courage and dedication to him. Then their father asked if they had seen anything of their younger brother. They told him that they had found him merrymaking at the inn and had spent all of the money he had been given. He had run up a great debt with the innkeeper and because he could not pay had been hanged as was the law.
This news greatly upset the king as his youngest son was his favorite and furthermore the happiness for the treasures that the two brothers had brought back faded. The princess cried bitterly day and night and would speak to no one. The horse with the golden shoes turned vicious and could not be approached so no one could see its golden shoes. The bird Grip, whose sweet voice could cure blindness would not sing.
The Return of the Fox
It so happened that when the young prince was flung to the lions he had closed his eyes expecting the worst. When nothing happened he opened them and saw the fox sitting before him with the pride of lions all friendly and docile towards him. The fox was not angry that he had forgotten his warning. All he would say was that brothers who would forget their poor blind father while making merry were nothing but a disgrace to their royal blood. As such he was not surprised that they would cruelly betray their younger brother. Then he led the prince out of the lion’s den and gave him instructions to follow that would return to him all that had been lost. The prince was truly grateful and thanked the fox for all of his help and for being a true friend. The fox replied that it was the prince that had he had been of service to him he would now ask for a service in return. The prince told him he would do anything that was possibly in his power and asked him what he could do for him. The fox became deadly serious and told him sternly.
“I have but one thing and one thing only that I ask of you. To be of service you must take your sword and cut off my head,”
This greatly shocked the prince who insisted he could never do such a thing to his good friend. The fox was adamant that it must be done. He insisted he would be doing him a great service but the prince continued to refuse. At last the fox hung his head in sorrow and told the prince that if he would not comply with his request he would have to do a terrible thing himself and that was to kill the prince. At this the prince realized the fox meant what he said and he took out his sword and cut off the head of his friend but as he did so a handsome youth sprang up from out of the fox and stood before him smiling.
“From the bottom of my heart I thank. You have broke the spell that even death could not undo. You should now know that I am the dead man who lay so long without burial and rites who was murdered by the innkeeper. You paid my debts, ransomed me and gave me a proper funeral and because of this I have helped you gain your heart’s desire!”
Then he took his leave and left the prince vanishing before his eyes. Now, although the prince was on his own he knew just what to do without the help of the fox.
The Return of the Prince
He disguised himself as a blacksmith and went to the palace of his father to offer his services. The King’s servants opened the door and told him that there was a horse that needed his shoes looked at but it would not let anyone near it. Although many had tried, no one had been able to complete the job. The prince told them he was confident he could do the job so they took him to the stable where the horse with the four golden shoes was angrily stamping the ground whenever anyone went near it. As soon as it saw the prince its demeanor changed. It stopped stamping and took on a docile and friendly manner and was obedient and calm as the prince lifted its hooves one by one to reveal its golden shoes.
The King’s servants were very impressed and told the prince about the bird Grip and how it would not sing no matter what was tried. The prince told them he knew the bird very well for he had attended to it when he had visited another King who had kept it in a golden cage. He told them he knew more about its ways than anyone else and if it would not sing it was because there was something that it did not have. If they took him to see it he was sure he would be able to tell what was amiss and provide what was missing so that it would sing.
The King is Cured
The servants decided they would go and ask the poor blind king for his permission as the bird was kept in the same room where he would sit along with the princess who would not stop crying floods of bitter tears. The king was desperate and readily agreed and the prince was led into the room. As soon as the princess set eyes on him she stopped crying and began smiling radiantly and the bird Grip began to sing. It sang and it sang and the darkness that had blighted the king’s eyes were driven away and he could see everything. He looked at the blacksmith and saw through his disguise recognizing his youngest son and he embraced him happily. Then he saw through the lies that his two sons had told him about his youngest son and he banished them from his kingdom.
As for the young prince, he married the princess and his father gave him the horse with the four golden shoes and half of the kingdom. From then on peace and happiness flooded into the the king’s court which was filled with the wonderful singing of the bird Grip.
There are several curious recurring patterns or motifs throughout the story that are also found in folktales around the world. The number three has a special role. The king has three sons. There are three brothers. There are three tasks. Three grains of gold. The prince fails three times then has three successes and wins the three prizes; the princess, the horse with the four golden horseshoes and the bird Grip. An exceptionally curious motif and perhaps the grimmest of all is the decapitation of the fox. Decapitation is found in many folktales around the world. In this case, it seems to be a device to reveal the identity of the magical fox who turns out to be the soul of the dead man whose ransom was paid by the prince. Perhaps understandably, it also often represents a change in the nature of a person from the physical plane to that of the spiritual.
The appearance of the dead man, whose burial the prince had paid for, as a magical fox is unusual. In most folktales involving the Grateful Dead – those of the dead who return to repay the living – usually appear as human or a ghost. The Grateful Dead theme explores the Law of Spiritual Reciprocity, which is also known as the Law of Sowing and Reaping, but there are two aspects of this presented in the story. The Prince’s two older brothers would have reaped the grim consequences of their bad behavior and were only saved from the gallows by the intervention of their younger brother. Yet still, they did not change their wicked ways and ended up banished from the kingdom by their father when the bird Grip finally sang and cured his blindness to see through them. The young prince who keeps true to his purpose is helped find his heart’s desire by the magical fox which was an incarnation of the soul of the dead man’s whose burial and ransom he paid.
There is also the blindness of the king who despite his own greatness and that of his kingdom succumbs to a natural tragedy that could just as easily have afflicted anyone one of his subjects from the highest to the lowest, but in this story it afflicts the greatest. Great though his physicians are they cannot help him and it is only through the advice of a poor old woman that the cure he seeks is eventually found, thus greatness is humbled and the quest to cure the king’s blindness is born.
The theme of the quest for a special bird is also found in many other folktales around the world and often involves an animal or supernatural helper. During the quest, the young prince undergoes a coming of age through which he is offered the good advice of the fox but does not follow it. It is only when he learns to follow the advice of the fox that his own personal growth begins until he can, at last, be confident enough to follow his own animal instincts which the fox perhaps may represent. Of course, all stories are very much open to interpretation and the one that matters is always your own.
Once there was a boy who lived in the woods with his elderly uncle. Although the boy was free to play in the woods close to the lodge his uncle always warned him that he must not go eastwards. The boy was always full of life and like most boys filled with a natural curiosity about his surroundings and explored the woods all around his uncle’s lodge except those that lay to the east. Although the boy often wondered what could possibly lie eastwards he always obeyed his uncle’s warning.
One day his uncle went on a long hunting expedition leaving the boy alone in the lodge. After playing in the woods north, south and west the boy became bored and he thought about his uncle’s warning not to go eastwards. The more he thought about it the more his curiosity was aroused and he decided he would go eastwards in the woods but be very, very careful.
He set off to the east through the woods and eventually came to a large lake and he stopped on its shores to rest and noticed there was an island in the middle of it . While he was resting a strange man approached him and asked him his name and where he had come from and the boy told him.
After he had told him the stranger said, “Very well, now let us fire an arrow and see who can shoot it the highest” The boy agreed and he shot his arrow much higher than the man did. Next the stranger suggested they have a competition to see who could swim the furthest underwater without coming up for breath. Once again the boy won the competition. Then the stranger suggested they sail to the island in the middle of the lake to see the beautiful birds that lived there.
The stranger showed the boy his canoe which was most strangely carved and was pulled by three swans. Two swans were harnessed to each side and one was tethered to the front. The man motioned the boy to take a seat next to him in the canoe and began singing a strange song. The swans moved off taking the canoe along with them. It didn’t take them long to reach the island which the boy now noticed was a considerable distance from the shore and surrounded by deep water making him feel his trust in a stranger was foolish.
Then the strange man ordered him to undress and he took his clothes and got back into the boat and said, ‘Come swans, let us go home,” and the swans took him in the canoe back towards the shore leaving the boy naked and alone on the island.
The boy was angry at his own foolish naivety but as evening came and darkness fell he began to feel very cold, very miserable and very frightened. Huddled alone in the darkness to his utter shock he heard a husky voice nearby that appeared to be talking to him. Looking around the boy was terrified to see lying on the ground next to him a bleached white skeleton. “I feel very sorry for you and I will help you if you will help me.” With no other choice the boy agreed though he too felt sorry for the skeleton.
The Skeleton then told him, “I will tell you that tonight a man is coming to look for you. If you make as many tracks as you can all over the island and hide in that hollow tree over there, the man will become confused by so many marks and will not find you.”
The boy obeyed the skeleton and when the man came ashore he had three dogs with him. Fortunately the boy had made so many tracks going this way and that all over the island that the dogs were so confused they could not find him in his hiding place and the man left empty handed and angry.
The next morning the boy went to the skeleton who said, “Beware, tonight the man who brought you to this island is coming back to drink your blood. You must dig a hole in the sand on the shore and hide in it. When his canoe arrives and he steps onto the island you must quickly jump into the canoe and say to the swans, ‘Come swans, let us go home,” and they will immediately take the canoe back with you on board. The man will call to you but you must not look back.”
Escape From Skeleton Island
So the boy dug a hole in the sand and hid in it. Just as the skeleton had said the canoe arrived and the man got out and stepped ashore and began searching for the boy. The boy jumped in the canoe and said, ‘Come swans, let us go home,” and began to sing just as he had heard the stranger sing when he had brought him in the canoe to the island. The man called to him but the boy did not look back and the swans took the canoe back to a cave on the shore of the lake.
The boy found his clothes in the cave and put them on and found plenty of food and he ate his fill. He then lay down and went to sleep. The next morning he went back to the island and found the dead body of the stranger lying in the sand. He went to see the skeleton who told him he must now take the canoe and go eastwards across the lake to look for his sister who an evil man had captured many years ago to be his wife.
The Evil Man
He set off eastwards across the lake in the canoe and after three days he came to the place where the evil man kept his sister which was just a hut. The evil man was out and he soon found his sister and said, “Sister, Let us go quickly from this place now!”
“I dare not! An evil man keeps me here and he will be back any minute and will surely catch us. Let me hide you away and in the morning we shall runaway together!” said she said. She dug a hole and told her brother to hide in it and just as she had finished hiding him the evil man came into the hut with his dogs demanding his dinner. The boy’s sister had cooked a child for the evil man and put it before him. He looked on her grimly and said, “You have had visitors while I was out!.”
The girl shivered inside and tried not to let him see this and said, “No one has been and you are the only person I have seen.” But the evil man said, “I will wait until tomorrow and then I will find and kill him and you shall cook him for me to eat!”
He knew someone was there by the way the dogs were snuffling about. He said nothing more and the next morning he left the hut saying he was going hunting to a distant swamp. However, instead of going hunting he hid himself where he could easily spy on the entrance to the hut. Presently he saw the boy and his sister leave the hut and make their way to the lake shore and get into a canoe. Barely had they sat down when they saw him running quickly towards them with a large hook in his hand which he threw and it latched onto the vessel as they moved through the water and he began pulling them back. The boy reached down into the shallow water and grabbed a stone and smashed the hook with it and the canoe shot forward over the lake.
For a second the man did not know what to do and then he dropped down to the ground and began to drink in the water. This began to draw the canoe back to him but the boy took aim and threw the stone hitting the man on the head killing him instantly. This caused the water to gush out of him and back into the lake sending the canoe rapidly on its way.
Return to Skeleton Island
In three days time the brother and his sister arrived back on the island and together they went to see the skeleton to thank him. The skeleton told the boy that it was now turn for the boy to help him as he had promised. He said,
“Take your sister back to your uncle’s lodge and then return to the island. There are very many bones laid around the island and when you come back in a loud voice tell them to arise and this will bring them all back to life.”
When the brother and sister arrived at their uncle’s lodge the old man was delighted to see them back safe and sound. He had come home to find the boy gone and had spent the rest of the time worrying and fretting over his safety. On hearing about the boy’s adventures he advised they should build a new lodge to accommodate all the people who he would bring back with him. When the lodge was finished the boy went back to the island and said in a loud voice, “All arise!” and the bones formed into people and he took them back to the new lodge he and his uncle and sister had built for them. There they all lived very happily together for a very long time.
Knud Rasmussen (1879-1921) was a polar explorer and anthropologist who was the first European to cross the Northwest Passage by dog sled. He was born in lulissat, formerly Jakobshavn in Greenland. His mother, Lovise was of Inuit-Danish descent and his father was a Danish missionary and vicar named Christian Rasmussen. He was brought up in Greenland and spent his early years living among the Kalllitt, a group of the Greenlandic Inuit people learning the Kalaallisut language they spoke and learning how to live, hunt and use the dog sleds used to traverse the harsh Arctic terrain. He said,
“My playmates were native Greenlanders; from the earliest boyhood I played and worked with the hunters, so even the hardships of the most strenuous sledge-trips became pleasant routine for me.” (1)
He was called the “Father of Eskimology,” and collected data for the Fifth Thule Expedition, (1921–1924) which sought to investigate the origin of the Eskimo people and published in a ten volume work “The Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-1924,” containing ethnological, archaeological and biological data he had collected. He also published accounts of his expeditions and exploits and a book of folk stories, “Eskimo Folk-Tales.” The story that follows is a rewrite from this book and was called, “Kâgssagssuk, The Homeless Boy Who Became A Strongman”. Really, it is a story that could be found throughout the history of human society in any human culture around the world and is still very relevant today.
Kâgssagssuk, The Homeless Boy Who Became A Strongman
They say there was once a day when the men and women had gone to a spiritual meeting held by a wizard and had left the children in one house to keep them safe. The children played lots of noisy games together and as might be expected made a great deal of noise. Outside, a homeless orphan boy called Kâgssagssuk walked by. Hearing the noise the children were making he shouted out, “You are making so much noise the evil Fire Spirit will come for you!”
The children made fun of him and would not believe him and carried on with their noisy game. They were having such great fun and grew louder and louder and just as Kâgssagssuk had warned the an evil Fire Spirit appeared. Kâgssagssuk ran into the house crying, “Quick, quick, lift me up, I need my gloves that are drying up there!” So the children lifted him up to the great drying frame under the roof. Then the evil spirit ran into the house with a live ribbon seal in his hand that had long sharp claws attached to it that he used as a whip . Each time he whirled his whip he caught one of the children and dragged them towards him and as they drew near him they were frizzled up in his flames. He did this until all the children were frizzled up and then he turned to leave. As he was about to go he reached up and touched a skin that was hanging from the drying frame and then left the house.
When he sure it was gone Little Kâgssagssuk climbed down from the drying frame and ran to the wizard’s house where the spiritual meeting with the adults was taking place. Kâgssagssuk told them what had happened but they would not believe him and accused him of killing the children. Kâgssagssuk said,
“It was not me it was the noise they were making that roused the Great Fire. If you don’t believe me you make a noise like the children made and see what happens!”
The adults began cooking a big vat of blubber which they had positioned over the door of the building on the outside. As the blubber heated up all the oil came out and began boiling and bubbling creating a great noise, Sure enough, this roused the the evil Fire Spirit who appeared outside. The adults had ordered little Kâgssagssuk to stay out of the house so he hid himself in the outside shed.
Once again the evil Fire Spirit came wielding a living ribbon seal as a whip. The adults heard it coming and quickly tipped the vat of boiling blubber over the whip as it came through the door. This caused the Fire Spirit to crackle and spark and with the whip extinguished and destroyed it went away.
Although little Kâgssagssuk had been proved right and had told the truth, from that time onwards the people were cruel to him. Being an orphan little Kâgssagssuk had lived at the house of one of the great men of his community named Umerdlugtoq. Now he was restricted from entering his house and Kâgssagssuk was now only allowed enough time indoors to dry his boots. When the time was up Umerdlugtoq would grab Kâgssagssuk by the nose and lifting him off the floor throw him through the door.
The only family little Kâgssagssuk had was two grandmothers and neither were very nice to him. One would beat him if he tried to shelter in her passage and although the other, who was the mother of his mother, was kinder and would dry his clothes for him she would do nothing else.
Sometimes the people would only give him the tough hide of a walrus to eat.This was out of malice because they knew how tough it was and how hard it was to eat and digest.To help him chew the hide Kâgssagssuk kept a small sharp stone in his pocket which he placed between his teeth to bite down on. Sometimes he would be so hungry he would eat what the dog’s had left and refused. He would sleep with the dogs and would climb on the roof of a building to feel the warm air rise through the smoke hole. Whenever Umerdlugtoq caught him he would grab him by the nose and pull him off the roof. Things went on like this for a long time for little Kâgssagssukv all through the dark days of winter. As spring began to show and the days grew longer and lighter little Kâgssagssuk took to roaming out of the settlement into the countryside.
One day while he wandered in the country he came across a huge man who he realized was a giant. The giant was cutting up his catch and Kâgssagssuk was feeling very hungry and cried out, “Hey, giant, let me have some meat please!”
Although he shouted at the top of his voice the giant could not hear him. Kâgssagssuk kept shouting and eventually the giant heard his voice and not knowing who was talking but thinking it was one of the dead, dropped some meat, saying, “ There now, bring me good luck!” as he deliberatley dropped a small slice of meat on the ground as he said it.
Now, although little Kâgssagssuk was still young he had some helping spirits who looked after him and they turned the small slice of meat into a big slice. Little Kâgssagssuk ate as much as he could and when he was full he was pleased to see there was still a lot left. In fact there was so much that he struggled to drag it to a hiding place he had found to store it in so that he could eat it later. Nevertheless, after a struggle he managed it and went back to the settlement.
Then few days later little Kâgssagssuk said to the mother of his mother, who was his kindest grandmother, “I have been given some meat and now I find I keep thinking about it and I am now going out to check it.” With that he went to the place he had hidden it, but when he got there it had gone. He was bitterly disappointed and began to cry. While he was stood crying the giant came up and said, “Why is it you are weeping?”
Little Kâgssagssuk replied, “I am upset because a few days ago I hid some meat here and now it has gone.”
“I see,” said the giant, “but I found that meet and thought it had belonged to someone else so I took it.” and because the giant had taken to little Kâgssagssuk and felt pity for him he said, “Come and play with me!” This seemed good to little Kâgssagssuk and he went off with the giant. As they went they came across a small boulder and the giant said, “ Let us push this boulder.” So they pushed the boulder until it twirled round and then little Kâgssagssuk tried to push it on his own but he just fell backwards.
“Once more, once more!” cried the giant and, “Quick, now, once more!” and in this way the giant took little Kâgssagssuk from boulder to boulder each one bigger than the last. Llittle Kâgssagssuk found that eventually he stopped falling backwards and could push them so hard even the biggest twirled in the air.
“Good!”said the giant, “Now you are as strong as me and are indeed, a very strong man. Because it was all my fault you lost your meat I will now make three bears walk into your settlement”
Little Kâgssagssuk went back to his village and went to warm himself by a smoke hole on one of the roofs. Umerdlugtoq saw him and grasped him by the nose and pulled him from the roof and threw him to the ground. So little Kâgssagssuk went to lay with the dogs to keep warm, but the mother of his father took a stick to him and beat him and the dogs
That night when all the villagers had fallen asleep Kâgssagssuk went out to the kayaks which were all frozen fast in the water and lifted one free, breaking the ice. Then Kâgssagssuk went and climbed upon the roof of a home to get the warm from its smoke hole and there he spent the night.
In the morning when the men went down to make their kayaks out fishing they were greatly surprised to find one had been hauled out of the ice in the night and they all gathered round to discuss this remarkable feat. “Who is the strongman who pulled the kayak from the ice? asked one.”
“Indeed there must be a strongman among us,” said another.
“No one is that strong,” said yet another.
“Ha! Here is the mighty man!” said Umerdlugtoq mockingly pointing to Kâgssagssuk who had wandered down to the edge of the group.
Later on that day the people of the village began to call out excitedly that three bears – a mother and two cubs – were approaching the village just as the giant had sad they would. At this time Kâgssagssuk was drying his boots by a fire of his mother’s mother and mindful of what the giant had told him borrowed her boots and ran outside and across the snow covered ground to find the bears. The snow had been packed hard where everyone had walked upon it and usually little Kâgssagssuk would leave no footprints when he walked upon it being small and light. Now as he ran over the hard packed snow he left deep footprints such as would be made in newly fallen snow. He soon found the bears and the villagers watched in surprise as he approached them. “Hey, what has come over Kâgssagssuk, he is running towards the bears!” cried one. “What has gotten into him? shouted another.
Umerdlugtoq was astounded to see him running to confront the bears and looked on in astonishment as Kâgssagssuk grabbed the mother bear in his bare hands and wrung her neck and threw her to the ground dead. He then grabbed the two cubs, one in each hand and battered their heads together killing them instantly. Then he threw the great mother bear over his shoulders and grasping a cub in each hand he casually walked back to the village to the mother of his mother’s house. There he skinned the bears and cut them up and placed their flesh into a large pot ready to cook them for her and built a big fireplace to cook the meat on.
Umerdlugtoq had been shocked when he saw little Kâgssagssuk kill the bears and made haste to get away from him taking his wives with him. His father’s mother who would beat him came by to threaten him and he threw her on the fire and she burned up leaving only her stomach. His mother’s mother saw this and tried to run away but he held her and said to her, “You have nothing to fear, for you were kind to me and would always let me dry my boots and now I shall be kind to you!”
After the bear meat was cooked and he had eaten a meal of it he went looking for Umerdlugtoq who had climbed a high hill and pitched a tent by the side of a precipice and there he stayed with his wives. Kâgssagssuk reached into the tent and grabbing Umerdlugtoq by the nose pulled him out. He held him at arm’s length off the ground and shook him until his nostrils burst and Umerdlugtoq feared he would be killed.
Kâgssagssuk shook him again and said, “Fear not, you did not kill me so I will not kill you!” and threw him on the ground. Then went into the tent and shouted, “Hey I am in here with your wives. Come and take a gòod look!” Umerdlugtoq had often threatened and beaten little Kâgssagssuk if he had so much as glanced at one of his wives and now little Kâgssagssuk was taking his revenge. When he was satisfied he had punished Umerdlugtoq enough he went back to the village to seek out others who had made his life a misery. When he had taken vengeance on these he left the village and traveled south and lived with the southern people.
There are those who say that he would go out hunting with other men but because he had grown so strong he began to enjoy filling them with fear. They say he turned bad and began catching children and squeezing them to death. The men in the village harpooned him one day while he was out in his kayak to put an end to his bullying and that was the end of the story of how Kâgssagssuk, the homeless boy who became a strongman. Sadly, it was not the end of the story.
The Story Continues
Little Kâgssagssuk was a boy in this story but could easily have been a girl. Such children, perhaps orphaned, abandoned or lost, still exist today in many places around the world living alone and on the fringes of society, or invisible to it. Abuse and neglect breed abuse and neglect and shamefully the story continues.