Bengal Folktales: The Origin of Rubies

Origin of Rubies 2

Image by Warwick Goble from Folk-Tales of Bengal – Public Domain

Bengal Folktales

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

The  Prince

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.

The Boat

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.

The Whirlpool

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.

Marbles

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.

Origin of Rubies 1

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.

Marriage

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: –

Thus my story endeth,

The Natiya-thorn withereth.

“Why, O Natiya-thorn, dost wither?”

“Why does thy cow on me browse?”

“Why, O cow, dost thou browse?”

“Why does thy neat-herd not tend me?”

“Why, O neat-herd, dost not tend the cow?”

“Why does thy daughter-in-law not give me rice?”

“Why, O daughter-in-law, dost not give rice?”

“Why does my child cry?”

“Why, O child, dost thou cry?”

“Why does the ant bite me?”

“Why, O ant, dost thou bite?”

Koot! koot! koot!

© 30/05/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright May 30th, 2018 zteve t evans

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Philippine Folklore: The Legend of Daragang Magayon and Panganoron and Mount Mayon

ezra_acayan_mayon_pic

Mount Mayon – Image By Ezra Acayan [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Daragang Magayon

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.

Panganoron

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.

Death

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.

Two Lovers

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.

© 16/05/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright May 16th, 2018 zteve t evans

 

 

Supernatural Animal Helpers, the Grateful Dead and the Quest for the Bird “Grip”

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.

Escape

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.

The Fox

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.”

The Princess

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.

The Horse with the Four Golden Shoes

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.

Heart’s Desire

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.

The Lion’s Den

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.

Curious Motifs

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.

Interwoven Themes

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.

© 27/02/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 27th, 2018 zteve t evans

Native American Tales: Skeleton Island

This is a retelling of a Native American story from  The Myths of the North American Indians, (1914), collected by Lewis Spence called The Friendly Skeleton.

The Boy in the Woods

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.

The Stranger

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.

Skeleton Island

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 Skeleton

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.

© 25/10/2017 zteve t evans

Reference, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 10th, 2017 zteve t evans

Greenlandic Folktales: Little Kâgssagssuk

The Father of Eskimology

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.

© 18/10/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 18th, 2017 zteve t evans

The challenge of the Swan Maiden

Swan Maidens are peculiar creatures. In many ways they are the embodiment of natural female energy: pure, wild and natural and very beautiful. They have the power to change their shape from a beautiful pure white swan into a beautiful woman. In folktales, men who witness this transformation are invariably struck by a spell causing them to fall in love and they will do anything to win and keep this love, but the Swan Maiden will eventually challenge and test that love. If the man passes he wins the Swan Maiden and happiness in life, if he fails he gets death. This is a version of a folktale that originated in Sweden and was recorded by Herman Hofberg.

Swan princess by John Bauer – Public Domain

Three swans

There was once a young man who often went out on his own hunting. On one particular occasion which happened to be on a Thursday evening, he espied three magnificent white swans flying directly overhead. From their altitude and manner of flight he guessed they were preparing to land on the water of a nearby strand of a river. He had never seen such magnificent swans before and decided to follow them. As he had suspected that was where they landed and to his absolute astonishment took off their gleaming white feathery skins revealing three beautiful maidens underneath.  Read more Continue reading

British Folklore: Legends of the Black Dog

The British Isles are rich in history and tradition and there are many strange and wonderful legends gathered from folklore whose origins are lost in the mists of time.  From these mists there have emerged many folk tales of spectral animals with strange and terrible powers that are said to haunt the forests, hills and remote byways of this ancient land.  Perhaps one of the most terrifying of these is the legend of the Black Dog.

Black Dog – Author: Liza Phoenix – Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Sightings of phantom Black Dogs have been recorded from many parts of Britain for many centuries, with encounters in England seeming to be the most prevalent.  Most of the English counties report incidents and sighting of these mysterious beasts which are known by many names, depending on location. In East Anglia the beast is often known as Black Shuck where it has haunted the countryside even before the arrival of the Vikings.  In Scotland there is the Cu Sith and in Tring, Hertfordshire, the Lean Dog and in other parts of England there is the Church, or Kirk, Grim and many other names.

The Black Dog of Bungay

One of the most frightening incidents ever reported took place in the quiet market town of Bungay, in Suffolk.  On the Sunday morning of the 4th of August, 1577, during the Morning Service at St. Mary’s Church a terrible and violent storm broke out. The sky darkened, thunder crashed and rain fell heavily from the skies.  Lightning flashed wildly as the storm broke upon the church.  Inside the congregation knelt to pray.

Suddenly to the horror of the congregation from out of a flash of lightning there appeared in the church a huge and monstrous Black Dog.  Howling wildly as the lightning flashed and thunder pealed, the beast ran amok attacking the terrified parishioners and causing havoc.

Two people at their prayers were killed and a third man was badly burned from being mauled by the beast, but did survived the ordeal.  There was great damage inflicted upon the church, as the tower was struck by lightning and the clock destroyed, before the Black Dog finally ran wildly from the church to the relief of the petrified congregation.

Around twelve miles away in the Holy Trinity Church at Blythburgh, at a about the same time the Black Dog, or another beast like it, appeared and also attacked the frightened congregation at prayers killing three people.  There are scorched scratch marks on the church door that can still be seen to this day.

Title page of the account of Rev. Abraham Fleming’s account of the appearance of the ghostly black dog “Black Shuck” at the church of Bungay, Suffolk in 1577: “A straunge, and terrible wunder wrought very late in the parish church of Bongay: a town of no great distance from the citie of Norwich, namely the fourth of this August, in ye yeere of our Lord 1577.” – Author Abraham Fleming – Public Domain

The Lean Dog of Tring in Hertfordshire

In the Hertfordshire town of Tring a phantom with red, glowing, eyes and known as the Lean Dog is said to haunt the site where a gallows once stood.   In 1751 an old woman was accused of witchcraft by locals and drowned.   A local chimney sweep was accused of taking part in her murder and was hanged from the gallows.  In the 19th century two men who encountered the Lean Dog reported it as being gaunt, haggard and unkempt.

A local schoolmaster who encountered it reported it to being about the size of a Newfoundland dog with a shaggy coat and tail and long ears.  There are also reports that state that with its first appearances it materialize as, or from, a fiery torch.

The Cu Sith

In Scottish and Irish legend the Cu Sìth, which means ‘fairy dog,’ was said to have a dark-green, shaggy coat and to be about the size of a large calf.  Its eyes were large and had a fiery glow and its tail was curled and sometimes braided.

In Celtic tradition phantom dogs are usually black though sometimes they are white but have red ears.  The Irish Cu Sith is describe as being a huge black hound. Green is associated with ‘fairies’ in Celtic lore and it is named the ‘fairy dog’ and seems to be in league with them.

The Cu Sith was feared as a harbinger of death.  In much the same way the Grim Reaper appears at death to lead the soul to the afterlife, so the Cu Sith takes the soul to the underworld.

The hound is said to have hunted silently for its victim but would sometimes rend the air with three blood-curdling yowls that carried for a great distance. When this was heard men would lock up their women to prevent the Cu Sith from stealing them and taking them to the fairy world where they would be made to give up their milk to the children of the fairies.

The Church, or Kirk, Grim

The Vikings brought many of their customs and traditions to England from Scandinavia and may well have influenced the legends of the Black Dog.  The Church Grim was also known as Kirk Grim and in Finnish, ‘Kirkonväki’ and in Swedish, ‘Kyrkogrim.’  Both appear in English and Scandinavian folklore as sentinel spirits whose task was to protect a church and its grounds.  They could appear as small, dark, grotesquely formed people, or as a Black Dog.

In many parts of Europe, including Britain, early Christians are believed to have sacrificed animals when a new church was built.   A black dog would be buried alive on the north side of the land which would then become the guardian spirit keeping the church and grounds safe from the devil.  It was often regarded as a herald of doom bringing death to anyone who encountered it.

Hound of the Baskervilles – Image Author: w:Sidney Paget – Public Domain Image

The Black Dog of Galley Hill, Luton

In ancient times Galley Hill was home to a hill fort and barrow.  Later in 16th-and 17th century it became a place of execution and a gallows was erected.

Galley Hill is a highly visible landmark where witches and criminals were executed there and their bodies covered in tar to preserve them.  They were then left to hang on the gallows which stood high on the hill as a warning to others before being eventually buried.

It is reported that one night the hill was hit by a ferocious storm.   The gallows were struck by lightning setting it and the ground around it on fire.  In the flames a Black Dog was said to have been seen howling and capering wildly.  People believe that the beast comes for the souls of criminals and witches driving them through the Gates of Hell for Satan.

Benevolent Black Dogs

Sightings and encounters with Black Dogs are still reported though they seem less horrific than those of the past and in some cases even benevolent with the beast acting as a guardian or guide ensuring travellers arrive at their destination safely.  Sometimes they have been reported by drivers who have seen them in their headlights in the road at night only to vanish when the vehicle is about to make contact.  There are also reports from many other parts of the world about similar ghostly encounters which suggest that the Black Dog is not just a British phenomenon.

                                                                                                                    © 24/04/2014 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

 Copyright 24/04/2014 zteve t evans