The Arthurian Realm: The Divine Role of Guinevere

This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com on 23/08/2018, under the title British Legends: The Divine Tragedy of Guinevere, written by by zteve t evans

Guinevere Goes a-Maying

The story began one day in the month of May, when Guinevere called together ten Knights of the Round Table. She told them they would accompany her and ten of her ladies in the traditional seasonal activity of Maying, in place of her own elite guards known as the Queen’s Knights, who usually accompanied her everywhere. In celebration of the season and to enter into the spirit of the celebration, she insisted they leave behind their armour and wear green clothing and bear only light arms. Therefore, bright and early the next morning, the party set off to go a-Maying in the woods and fields around Westminster.

The Malice of Sir Meliagrance

An evil knight named Meliagrance had a castle several miles from Westminster, and he had loved Guinevere since the first day he set eyes on her. He never dared to show this love for fear of Sir Lancelot, who was always near her. On this bright May morning, away from the security of the Royal Court, accompanied by only ten lightly armed knights, and with Sir Lancelot now absent, he saw his chance. He quickly mustered twenty of his own men-at-arms and one hundred archers to aid him in the abduction of Queen Guinevere.

Ambush

Guinevere and her party joyfully entertained themselves fully in the ancient custom, adorning themselves and each other with flowers, leaves, mosses, and herbs. They were all relaxed and enjoying the traditional activity so they were easily caught unawares when Meliagrance with his men came out of the woods and surrounded the happy company. Aggressively, he demanded that Guinevere should be given to him, or he would take her by force. The ten lightly armed knights, without a shields, or armour, were not prepared to allow the queen to be taken easily and vowed to fight to the death to defend her. Meliagrance sternly told them, “Prepare with what weapons you have, for I will have the queen!”

The defenders placed themselves in a ring around the queen and drew their swords. Meliagrance gave the order, and his knights charged on horseback. Despite being vastly outnumbered, the ten knights defended the queen ferociously. After long and fierce fighting, six of the queen’s defenders were too badly wounded to fight on, but four were unhurt and still defiantly defended the queen, until they too were wounded but fought on bravely.

Guinevere Surrenders

Seeing her valiant knights so badly hurt and to prevent their slaying, Guinevere ordered them to lay down their arms on condition they would not be slain and that she and they would remain together no matter what. Meliagrance agreed on the condition they did not try to escape and contact Sir Lancelot.

While Meliagrance was attending to his own wounded knights, Guinevere sent one of her youngest servants on a swift horse to find Sir Lancelot and tell him of her plight. On hearing the news, Sir Lancelot, in fear and alarm for the safety of the queen, called for his horse, his armour, and his weapons. Then he asked the servant to go to his friend, Sir Lavaine and tell him the news of the queen’s abduction and ask him to follow him to the castle of Meliagrance without delay.

The Knight of the Cart

Lancelot rode swiftly over Westminster Bridge and, making his horse swim the Thames at Lambeth, he soon came to the place where Sir Meliagrance had abducted the queen and her knights. Then he followed the tracks through woodlands, where he was waylaid by the archers of Sir Meliagrance who rained arrows down on him and slayed his horse. Having no other choice than carrying his armour, weapons, and shield, he set out on foot to the castle of Meliagrance.

As he walked he was overtaken by a horse and cart carrying a driver, and his assistant that was carrying wood to the castle of Meliagrance. The driver refused his request for a ride, so to avoid further delay Sir Lancelot commandeered the cart. He knocked the driver from his seat and forced his assistant to drive him with all speed to his intended destination. From his manner of arrival at the castle, Sir Lancelot was given the name “The Knight of the Cart,” and jumping from it cried out, “Sir Meliagrance, traitor Knight of the Round Table, where are you? I, Sir Lancelot du Lac challenge you! Come, face me and bring who you will, for I will fight you to the death!”

Read More

Advertisements

Persian Folktales: The Son of Malik ut Tujjar and the Grateful Dead

This is a retelling of a Persian folktale called, The Story Of The Grateful Corpse from “Persian Tales”, by David Lockhart Robertson Lorimer, E. O. Lorimer.  Folklorists use the the Aarne–Thompson–Uther classification system which places this type of story as one of the Grateful Dead tales which is type 505.  In the past in some countries it was a custom  that people who died in debt could not be given a proper burial unless their creditors were paid.  It was believed that without a proper burial the soul of the deceased would not be able to rest or enter heaven.

The Son of Malik ut Tujjar

Malik ut Tujjar was the Chief of the Merchants in the city of Chin.  One day he called his son to him and told him it was time he learnt how to make his own way in the world.  He gave him a bag of money and told him to go down to the bazaar and buy merchandise he could sell on for a profit and so become a merchant and trader.   So his son went down to the bazaar hoping to pick up bargains he could make money on. However when he came to the bazaar he was shocked and appalled at what he saw.  Hung up at a crossroad was the corpse of a man and people were beating it with sticks.

“Why are you beating this dead man?  What terrible crime has he done to deserve this?” he asked.

One man stepped up to him and said,  This man died without paying the money he owed us and we are beating him so that people who pass by will give us money, no matter how little, towards paying back the debt.  We will continue beating him until we have collected enough money to pay off all the money he owed us. When we have collected enough to cover his debt we will bury him, but not until then.”

The young man said, “Well if it is only a matter of paying off his debt that will make you stop beating him then I will gladly pay it.”   With that he gave them the money and they stopped beating him and took him down and gave him a proper burial. Then the young man returned to his father who gave him another bag of money to buy merchandise with.

The Test

This time he went down to the bazaar and brought lots of merchandise and hired men who loaded it upon camels and donkeys ready to go out in the world and trade.  He joined a passing caravan to travel with but a little way along the road a thought came to him, “I wonder if these are the kind of men who would help me if I needed it, or just pass me by if something untoward happened? I will put them to a test.”

So he went to one of his fellow travelers and asked him if he could borrow a jug.  The man obliged and the young man went off the road pretending he was going looking for water.  What he really wanted to see was whether the caravan would stop and wait for him so he dawdled along pretending to look for water.  Then he looked to see if the caravan was waiting, or if someone was coming back to look for him.

“As I thought” said the young man to himself, “if something bad happened to me they would not help and probably would not even notice.  I won’t go with these I will return to the city and seek out more reliable traveling companions.”  

Returning to the city he waited until the next day and joined up with another caravan. Again he decided he would test them in the same way he had tested the first and again they proved untrustworthy and he decided to remain behind.

A third time he again applied the same test to the caravan but this time his traveling companions missed him and returned to look for him making sure he was alright. Thinking he could trust them he joined them on their journey.

The caravan traveled on until evening and  found a good place where they decided to set up camp for the night.  As they were all sat around the campfire waiting for their evening meal to cook they saw out of the setting sun a fair and valiant youth crossing the desert towards them.

The Valiant Youth

He strode boldly up to them and sat down knee to knee beside the son of Malik ut Tujjar and said, “With great respect, it looks like you are a merchant and I wonder if you are in need of a servant. If so, may I put myself forward for the position? ”

The son of Malik ut Tujjar looked at him in astonishment and after a few seconds of thought  said, “Yes, a servant would be useful and you can be my servant if you like, but tell me, what work you can do?”

It so happened that because they were traveling through the wild desert lands infested with thieves and bandits the members of the caravan had agreed between them that every night they would share the sentry duty between them.  The Valiant Youth looked at the son of Malik ut Tujjar and said, “I can guard the caravan every night. I give you my solemn promise that I shall bring the caravan safely through the dangers of the wild desert to its final destination. If you agree to take on my services you must promise you will say nothing and you must not interfere in what I do, but act as if it was you that were my servant.”

The son of Malik ut Tujjar asked the other the members of the caravan if they minded if he take on the Youth as a servant who would act as their night sentry. All readily agreed and the son of Malik ut Tujjar made the Valiant Youth his servant.  The Valiant Youth started his guard duty that night and the caravan remained safe throughout the night. The next day the caravan moved on and travelled through the wild desert for several days. Each night the Valiant Youth would guard the travellers and they were all kept safe and sound.

Forty Thieves

One clear and starry night as the Valiant Youth guarded the caravan while the others slept, across the desert against the night sky he saw a yellow flame shoot up high and flicker bright against the sky.  Seizing his sword he crept stealthily towards the blaze. When he reached its source he saw that it was a bonfire and around it sat forty thieves all sat huddled together in a circle beside the fire eating from a big pot in the centre.  Standing up he boldly stepped into the firelight and sat down knee to knee with them and also began to eat.

“Who are you, and what do you want?”  they asked.

“No, who are you and what are you doing?” the Valiant Youth replied.

“We are thieves!” replied the thieves.

“Good, because I also am a thief,” he told them and then they all fell to chatting about all of the good people they had robbed and all of the splendid things they had stolen. Then the Valiant Youth jumped up and said, My friends, some evening we must all go out together and rob and steal.”

They all agreed it would be a good thing to do, but then they asked who it was they should rob and what they should steal from them.

The Royal Treasury the King’s Court

“We should break into the Royal Treasury and rob the King of all of his treasure now!” said the Valiant Youth.  They all thought this was a wonderful idea and so they followed the him across the desert until they arrived at the city of the King and stood below the vast walls of his Treasury.  Then the Valiant Youth said, “I am the youngest, the fittest and the strongest, I will climb the walls and pull you up one by one.”  

To this they all gave their agreement and so he threw up a grappling hook with a rope attached to it and when it held firm he quickly scaled the walls.  Then he threw the end of the rope down and a thief caught hold of it and he pulled him up. As soon as he was over the wall and out of sight of the others the Valiant Youth came up behind him and cut his head off.  He did this time and time again until all of the thieves had been pulled up and had their heads cut off. Next he carried them all down one by one to the the King’s Treasury and arranged all forty of them in a semicircle with their chief seated on a chair in the center with his head upon his lap.

After this he found his way to the King’s court where a lion prowling around looking for a victim.  Without hesitation he whipped out his sword and smote the lion killing it instantly. Then he draped the dead body of the beast across the front of the throne.

He went to find the king’s bedroom and found him sleeping soundly. Beside the sleeping king his servants had left food and water.   First, he made a mark on one of the King’s legs, then he ate a small quantity of food and took a puff or two from his pipe. After these exploits he returned to the caravan returning safely back just before sunrise while his master and the others were asleep.

The Next Day

After the sun had risen and his fellow travelers had woken and had breakfast the caravan set off upon its way.  Presently they came to a small fort situated in the middle of the road that was occupied by an elderly ogre, who would attack passersby from it.  She would steal their goods and kill and eat anyone she laid her hands on and no one got past her alive. The caravan stopped at a safe distance to rest the night knowing they would be safe because the Valiant  Youth would be on guard while they slept.

Looking out on the road from her for she saw the caravan approach and then saw the Valiant Youth and  letting out a blood curdling cry rushed out intending to slay and eat him. The Valiant Youth was too quick for her and drawing his sword he whirled it around and cut her clean in two.  Then he went into the fort and found it full of all sorts precious stones, jewelry of gold and silver, and many fine and expensive items that were beyond price. He also found that there were a number of men being kept prisoner which he set free and then locked the doors.  Then he returned to where the caravan was camped before sunrise and finding his master and companions still asleep woke them up crying, “Awake! Awake! The sun has risen and morning is here!”

persian_khwarazmi

By UnknownUnknown author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The King

Meanwhile back in the city, the King had awoken and saw that someone had been puffing on his pipe.   Furthermore, someone had been eating his food and drinking his water. Going into his throne room he saw that someone had killed a lion and draped it over the front of his throne.  Summoning his vizier he said, “Look at these strange things! Whatever has been going on while I have been asleep?”

The vizier replied, “Strange things indeed, but even stranger things have happened in the Treasury.  We have found forty thieves all beheaded and arrayed around their dead leader!”

“It is good that forty thieves are dead but do not let news of these events escape.  If anyone dares to tell anyone else I will have them cut into quarters alive!” the king told his vizier.

Then he made an important announcement saying, “Let it be known that the King will give his daughter in marriage to anyone who can tell him what took place last night in the King’s court and Treasury,” and added, “but let no one know of these events, or else …”

Men came from far and wide to tell the King all sorts of made up stories but the King and his vizier saw straight through them for the lies they were.   After listening to many stories over many days the King said to his vizier, “What can we do?  We have listened to so many liars telling false stories and we are no nearer knowing who it was who killed those forty thieves and slayed the lion.”

“It so happens that a strange merchant has arrived in the city recently.  Could he know anything I wonder?” said his vizier.

“I will speak to him.  Bring him to me,” ordered the King.  So the vizier, sent the Royal soldiers to bring the son of  Malik ut Tujjar who did not want to go with them. However the Valiant Youth insisted that he should go reminding of the promised he had made to obey him and told him he would accompany him.   They were taken before the King who was instantly struck by the Valiant Youth and said, “Well now young man, tell me all that you know and saw!”

The Valiant Youth’s Story

“Your Royal Highness, I myself saw nothing but my friend here” referring to his master, “told me all about it and know not if it is the truth or a falsehood.”

“Then tell me all that you do know,” commanded the King.  The Valiant Youth told him the entire story of the killing of the lion and the forty thieves and finally said, “and what is more there is a mark that he made on one of your kegs.”   This surprised the King who checked his legs and found it to be true and so believed the story.

“And what reward do you seek for the slaying of the forty thieves and the lion?” asked the king.

The Valiant Youth replied,  “Your Royal Highness, I do not speak for myself but for my friend standing next to me, who heroically and single-handedly slayed the forty thieves and the lion and I say, such heroism  deserves the highest reward. Therefore, I humbly suggest an appropriate reward would be the marriage of your daughter to this hero of heroes. As a wedding gift I suggest seven hundred camels and seven hundred mules fitted out with appropriate loading bags, saddlebags, ropes and handlers to take care of them.”

The King nodded thoughtfully and agreed and the son of  Malik ut Tujjar married his daughter and received the the camels and mules with all the equipment and handlers to take care of them.   Malik ut Tujjar, with his bride, set off back to his own country along the same road he had traveled down and the Valiant Youth accompanied them.  When they arrived at the fort they collected together all of the treasures that had been left and loaded it upon the mules and camels and traveled onward back to the hometown of the son of Malik ut Tujjar.

A Test for  the Son of Malik ut Tujjar

As they approached home the Valiant Youth said, “Son of Malik ut Tujjar, let us be honest, you would have none of all of these riches because it was I that slew the forty thieves and the lion and it all came from my deeds.  Still, despite that I would be happy to divide it all in half between us, do you agree?”

Then the son of  Malik ut Tujjar said,  “What you say is true and I agree to your suggestion.”

So they divided all the treasure, all the camels, mules and handlers between them equally and fairly.  The the Valiant Youth said, “All that is left is the King’s daughter, your wife and we cannot divide her.  Therefore, I suggest that either you take all of the treasure and I will take the King’s daughter, or you will take the King’s daughter and I will take the treasure.   What do you choose?”

The son of Malik ut Tujjar was not at all happy with this suggestion and the two began to argue.   In the end the Valiant Youth toòk her and tied her to stakes in the ground and said,  “The only fair way is to have half each and taking his sword swung it in the air as if to cut her in half.”

The son of Malik ut Tujjar wept in fear and horror as he watched him swing his sword but he never dealt the blow.  Just as he was about to strike a black snake wriggled out of the mouth of the helpless princess and quickly slithered off into the desert.

The Valiant Youth lowered his sword and set her free and said,  “Behold, she is now free!  I had to do this to free her of the demon that possessed her.  Now son of Malik ut Tujjar, she is all yours and so is the treasure along with all of the animals.  May God go with you for now I must leave you.”

“Wait!” cried the son of Malik ut Tujjar, “Tell me, who you are?”

“I am the one whose corpse was hung and beaten at the crossroads in the bazaar whose debts you paid, allowing me to be given a proper burial,” replied the Valiant Youth and as he said this he slowly faded before the eyes of the son of Malik ut Tujjar and was gone.

Consequences of the  Return of the Grateful Dead

There are strange consequences implied in tales of the Grateful Dead.  The first is that people still living, such as creditors can influence and prevent the soul of the dead resting and entering heaven until their debts are paid.  This provides a stark warning to those who borrow money to ensure their debts are paid as quickly as possible as we never know when death will call. There is also the idea that the creditor has a degree of ownership of the soul of the debtor and a degree of approval from God who surely has the last say who goes to heaven.  Then there is the idea that a person can return and influence the lives of the living by rewarding someone who has paid off their debts. This often entails putting that person through a test or series of tests to determine their worthiness and highlights the strangeness of this situation and the consequences hidden within the stories of the Grateful Dead.

© 02/01/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright January 2nd, 2019 zteve t evans

The Arthurian Realm: The Romance of Tristan and Isolde

This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com as British Legends: The Tragic Romance of Tristan and Isolde on September 27, 2018 by zteve t evans.

The Romance of Tristan and Isolde

The tale of Tristan and Isolde became a popular Arthurian tale during the 12th century, though it is believed to go back much further, having connections to Celtic legends. It is a tragic romance that tells of the adulterous relationship between Tristan, and Isolde, the wife of Tristan’s uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, making a classic love triangle that sooner or later must be broken by death. In many ways it mirrors the love triangle of Lancelot, Guinevere and King Arthur, though it is believed to be older. The spelling of the names and the names of some characters vary and there are many different versions, but all hold to the same basic structure and story-line. Presented here is a shortened version of their story created from the sources below.

Tristan and King Mark

Tristan was the son of the King Meliadus and Queen Isabella of Lyonesse, but sadly, his mother died giving birth to him. Meliadus loved his son greatly but remarried an evil woman who was jealous of his affections and plotted to kill the boy. Tristan had a devoted servant named Gouvernail, who becoming aware of the plot, took him over the sea to the court of the King of France where he was given sanctuary. As the years passed, Gouvernail sought a place where Tristan could complete his education and took him to the court of King Mark of Cornwall. King Mark was Tristan’s uncle and welcomed him and educated him in all of the knightly manners and fighting skills, at which he soon excelled.

Each year King Mark was obliged to pay tribute to King Argius and Queen Isolde, the rulers of Ireland. To collect this payment, they sent their strongest and most feared knight, Moraunt, the brother of Queen Isolde. Tristan went to his uncle, offering to fight Moraunt if he could be fully knighted. King Mark was very fond of Tristan and feared for him, but his nephew persisted until he reluctantly agreed, and Tristan challenged Moraunt to a duel to the death. After being wounded in the thigh, Moraunt told Tristan his sword was smeared with a deadly toxin and the only one who could save him was his sister, Queen Isolde, who was a skilled healer. In reply, Tristan struck a blow to Moraunt’s head, incapacitating him and notching his own sword in the process.

The servants of Moraunt carried him back to his sister but he died on the way. When his body was finally brought home, his sister found a splinter from Tristan’s sword embedded in his skull. Removing it, she studied it carefully and kept it.

Healing in Ireland

For Tristan, the initial wound was not that bad but the poison was now spreading through his body and the best healers could not find a cure. He decided to seek out Queen Isolde hoping she would heal him. Arriving at the Irish court, and aware of the queen’s relationship with Moraunt, he told them his name was Trantis. Not knowing his true identity, Queen Isolde agreed to heal him, and using special herbal baths and potions she gradually began restoring him to health.

The King and Queen of Ireland had a beautiful daughter, who they had named after her mother. She was known as Princess Isolde the Fair. While Tristan was there, they held a tournament and a knight named Sir Palamedes won the honors on the first day. On seeing Princess Isolde for the first time, he was so smitten he could not take his eyes off her, making no secret of his feelings. Seeing this, Tristan grew jealous and decided he would enter the competition the next day despite still not being fully fit.

In every fight he was victorious and when he fought Sir Palamedes he defeated him and was named champion. Despite Tristan’s triumph, the extraordinary physical effort caused his wound to open and he began to bleed profusely. Princess Isolde took over his care and nursed him back to health, growing to love him more and more every day.

One day while cleaning Tristan’s sword, a servant noticed that it was notched. He had been present when Queen Isolde removed the metal splinter from the head of Moraunt and took the sword to her knowing she still had the splinter. On examination, she found it fitted perfectly together and realized that this was the weapon that had killed her brother. She took the sword and the splinter to the King and, telling him of her suspicions, demanded the death penalty for Tristan.

Read More

Native American Tales: Raven and the Shadow People

raven1

From The Thunder Bird Tootooch Legends – Sacred Texts

Presented below is a retelling of The Shadow People and the Raven, from The Thunder Bird Tootooch Legends, by W.L. Webber.

The Shadow People and Raven

Raven flew down softly alighting on the beach. Taking off his wings and beak he became a man and walked along the strand.  It was a very hot and sunny day and his naked skin began to burn as he walked in the sunshine beside the sea. The beach was covered with shells and as he walked they scrunched underneath him cutting and bruising his feet. Raven made his way to the village to the lodge where the Shadow People lived

The Shadow People saw him coming and whispered among themselves,

“Careful, Raven is here!  

He who twists truths!

 He who is cunning is here!

Watch him, watch him, watch him!

Carefully!”

Raven entered the large shady lodge, glad to escape the burning sun and to rest his cut and wounded feet. Looking around he noticed with surprise how clean and orderly everything was and how everything had its place.  Hanging from the beams were salmon and halibut.  The roof planks had been left open for the smoke hole and light streamed in illuminating all the corners of the lodge.  Raven walked around the lodge and as he did so, he caught a quick glimpse of something from the corner of his eye.  He quickly looked around and but there was no one there.  He began snooping around just to see what he could see.

He saw lots of different kinds of food stored neatly on shelves around the lodge.  There were berries, nuts, roots and many other kinds of food. He was feeling hungry and seeing the red salmon hanging from the beams he took one down and as he did so out of the corner of his eye he thought he saw someone following him.  Turning quickly, he saw a shadow was following him everywhere he went but saw no person. Ignoring the follower he made his way over to the Chief’s beautifully carved cedar chest and sat down placing the fish beside him while he looked at his cut feet which were hurting him.

Reaching beside him for the salmon he found to his surprise that it was gone.  Thinking he must have been imagining things and had not picked it up after all, he went back and chose another.  While doing so he noticed again that a shadow was following close behind him all the time.

He thought this was very strange and mysterious and while he sat thinking about it he put the salmon down beside him to considered the matter.  After awhile he reached down beside him for the salmon, but it was gone, which he found very disconcerting. He tried a third and a fourth time but the same thing happened and all the time the shadow followed him.  Looking over to where the salmon were hanging he saw the ones he had taken were hanging in exactly the position when he had take them and still the shadow was beside him.

Raven began to lose his temper and tried to stamp and jump on the shadow but it jumped as he jumped and was quicker than him.  Then to his surprise someone he could not see said in a loud voice next to him,

“You look to be well fed,

What are you going to do?

Where will this lead you to?”

Whence the questions came,

Raven could not name.

Their bodies were not plain;

He gazed and looked in vain.

Sane or insane was he!

Afraid to wait and see,

He limped toward the door

But, moving as before,

His angry Shadow wriggled.

The others laughed and giggled.

Raven knew ’twas near.

“Something strange is here,

I’ll out, and quick away,

They’ll have no more to say.” (1)

Raven left the lodge and walked back through the village.  The villagers ignored him as if he was invisible but he knew they really saw him. To test them he walked over to where a group of children were playing, but still they appeared not to see him.  Raven found that no matter where he went and no matter what he did he could not escape from the shadow that followed him.

He came to a place where there were a number of strange wooden carvings and he sat down to try and think things over.  Was he cleverer than his own intelligence? Was he stronger than his own self? Would he always be followed by this shadow?

Raven rested until his feet were healed and then putting on his beak and wings assumed the shape of a bird.  Flying up into the bright, happy sky he felt free of these concerns. Whether Raven found the answers to all of his questions we do not know, but even now as he flies high in the sky his shadow follows his every move on Earth.

© 28/11/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright November 28th, 2018 zteve t evans

(1) The Thunder Bird Tootooch Legends – Sacred Texts

The Arthurian Realm: The Abductions of Guinevere

Coveting Guinevere

The theme of the abduction of Queen Guinevere runs throughout Arthurian tradition and is taken up by numerous medieval writers.  Caradoc of Llancarfan mentions it in his version of the Life of Gildas, as does Geoffrey of Monmouth, in Historia Regum Brittaniae, (History of the Kings of Britain).  The theme is also taken up by medieval French poets Chrétien de Troyes and Robert de Boron, and in the work of Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur.   Here we look in brief at various versions of the abduction and then discuss ideas about how they may have been influenced by pagan elements and may be distant echoes of the dramas of ancient gods and goddesses before the arrival of Christianity.

Caradoc of Llancarfan

Probably one of the earliest examples of the abduction of Guinevere comes from The Life of Gildas, By Caradoc of Llancarfan (c.1130-1150).  Guinevere’s abductor is the evil King Melwas of the Summer Country, or Somerset. He may have been an early prototype for Chrétien de Troyes Méléagant, and Malory’s Meliagrance.   In this story Guinevere is abducted and violated and Arthur, who is referred to as a tyrant, spends an entire year seeking her out.  Finally learning she was being in held by King Melwas in Glastonia, or Glastonbury. He raises a vast army intending to free his wife but as the two sides were about to clash, the cleric, Gildas and the clergy step between them. Gildas persuaded the two kings to parley and negotiated that Guinevere be returned to Arthur in peace and goodwill preventing a bloody battle to free her.

Geoffrey of Monmouth

Geoffrey of Monmouth names Mordred, Arthur’s nephew and illegitimate son, as the villain who attempts to covet  Guinevere. Arthur had left Britain in Mordred’s stewardship while he went off fighting the Procurator of Rome, Lucius Hiberius, leaving Guinevere at home.   While he was out of the country with most of his army, Mordred seduced Guinevere and claimed the crown from Arthur forcing him to return to Britain and fight.  This culminated in the catastrophic Battle of Camlann where Mordred was killed and the badly wounded Arthur taken across the sea to Avalon to recover and the end of the Arthurian realm.

Chrétien de Troyes

In Lancelot, Le Chevalier de la Charrette, also known as Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, by Chrétien de Troyes, Lancelot is the hero of the story who saves Guinevere from the Méléagant, the evil son of King Bagdemagus.  In this story he races to the rescue of Guinevere having a series of adventures along the way. These include having to suffer the indignity, for a knight, of riding in a horse and cart driven by a dwarf that was carrying criminals to their execution.  He then had to scramble over a sword bridge whose edge was turned upright and razor sharp. Although sustaining serious wounds crossing the bridge he was still ready to combat Méléagant, but Guinevere at the request of King Bagdemagus stopped the fight.

Later he was forced to fight Méléagant after the  badly wounded Sir Kay was accused of raping Guinevere while she slept.  Sir Kay was too bad wounded and had no strength available for such exertions and had been wrongly accused.  Blood had been found on her sheets and because he was laid recuperating in the same room as her, he was blamed.  In fact the blood was from Lancelot who had kept an illicit tryst with the queen and slept with her. Lancelot, knowing, but not admitting the truth, stepped in to fight and clear Sir Kay who was too weak to defend himself.

Malory’s, Le Morte d’Arthur

In Malory’s, Le Morte d’Arthur,  wehn the month of May came, Guinevere decided she would participate in the age old tradition of a-Maying in the woods and fields of Westminster.  Therefore, she set off with a party of ladies-in-waiting, along with servants and ten lightly armed Knights, who she insists wear all wear green. Sir Meliagrance, a name probably derived from the Méléagant in Chrétien de Troyes work,  had long lusted after the queen and with 160 men-at-arms attacked the small company. Although her knights fight valiantly they are lightly armed and hopelessly outnumbered. To prevent their slaying she agreed to surrender provided they are spared and remain by her side.  Meliagrance agrees but she manages to send a messenger boy to Lancelot telling of her abduction and requesting his aid.

On hearing the news Lancelot immediately set off in pursuit.  Meliagrance, realising he would follow, set a trap for him and archers killed his horse.  Lancelot was forced to hijack a horse and cart carrying wood for the fires of Meliagrance’s castle.  From this he was given the name, Knight of the Cart. On arrival at the castle gates he shout for Meliagrance demanding he come down and face him.  On learning Lancelot is at his gates Meliagrance begs Guinevere her forgiveness for his behaviour and begs that she protect him from the enraged knight.  She agrees and persuades Lancelot to put his sword away. Lancelot agrees and she leads him to the chamber where the ten knights are kept.

They are both so glad to see each other they agree on a secret midnight tryst. Lancelot appears at her window at midnight and Guinevere tells him she would prefer it if he was inside with her.  Although the window is barred Lancelot pulls the bars out cutting himself in the process and climbs in through the window. The two slept together that night and Lancelot stole away before Sunrise, replacing the bars of the window as he left.

The next morning Meliagrance seeing blood on the sheets of Guinevere’s bed accuses her of sleeping with one, or more, of her wounded knights.  Lancelot, without revealing the truth, challenges Meliagrance to a fight to clear the queen’s name. Meliagrance brings a charge of treason against Guinevere believing she had slept with one or more of the knights.  Although innocent of this accusation, Guinevere had slept with Lancelot which is not revealed to him, but he was not one of the individuals accused. The case is brought before King Arthur and he reluctantly agrees she must be burnt at the stake unless Lancelot proves her innocence by defeating Meliagrance. In the resulting duel Lancelot slays Meliagrance proving her innocence of the charges brought against her and freeing her.

Mordred’s Attempted Abduction

In Le Morte d’Arthur, Mordred, Arthur’s illegitimate son and nephew by his sister Morgause, covets Guinevere, but does not quite manage to abduct her.  Mordred lied to Guinevere telling her4 Arthur had been killed by Lancelot and claimed the throne for himself intending to marry her. Guinevere persuaded Mordred to  allow her to go to London so she could procure all the things a wedding needed but instead locked herself in the Tower of London with her entourage.  Although Mordred tried to persuade her to come out his efforts were cut short by the news that Arthur had arrived back in Britain with his army.  Consequently, he was forced to leave Guinevere and confront Arthur, resulting in his own death and Arthur being severely wounded and taken to Avalon.

Gods of the Round Table

Some scholars of Arthurian legend and romance see many of the stories of King Arthur and his knights, in legend and medieval romance, as being dramatizations of the adventures of Celtic gods and important natural events. They believe there was a special relationship between the king and the gods and the king and the land and to ensure the fertility of the land the king was wedded to the goddess of the land.

David Dom, in his book King Arthur and the Gods of the Round Table proposes that Arthur, Guinevere and the main companions of the Round Table to be a the distant and distorted memories of the old Celtic gods and Arthur is seen as representing a Solar God.  To complicate matters, these stories were overwritten, or influenced by various culture over time, including Roman, English, French and European medieval Christianity and modern thinking. It centers around the idea that Arthurian legends and stories originally were dramatizations of the deeds and adventures of ancient pagan gods with the King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table making up the pantheon, being a part of it.

Pagan Origins

There is an intriguing idea that the stories of the abduction of Guinevere are echoes of earlier pagan traditions centered around the annual cycle of the seasons in Northern Europe. One of the ways this annual cycle may have been dramatized was in that the seasonal changes were due to the activities and adventures of the gods. In both Malory’s version and that  of Chrétien de Troyes, Guinevere is abducted in the spring, and in Malory’s it is while she is celebrating May Day, or Beltane, the time of the renewal of vegetation. Many scholars see this as evidence that the kidnapping was originally a season myth with Guinevere being a goddess and her abductor a god. In the original versions by Chrétien de Troyes , after being abducted Guinevere was take across water – an indication that she was leaving the Earthly world for the Otherworld – and her rescuers had to cross the water to reach her in that world.  After her rescue Guinevere and Lancelot became lovers which also happened in the spring, around Beltane.

This comes after the bleak barren days of winter and is seen to represent the marriage of the god and goddess heralding the end of the dark, bleak period of winter and the greatly looked forward to renewal of vegetation and fertility to the Earth.  In the Chrétien de Troyes version the entire episode takes place over one year, tying it further to the annual seasonal cycle. The abduction stories while only hinting at pagan influence on the surface have been heavily overwritten with Christian influences which tend to cover up the inherent pagan elements of the loves and romances of the gods.  To pursue this further it is worth taking a look at the annual cycle of seasons for Northern Europe and what follows is a very simplified version of one of the many versions

Winter

In winter the days are cold, dark and short.  Vegetation dies and crops do not grow and food becomes in short supply.   In some pagan northern European societies winter was thought of as the imprisonment of the eternally young, Earth goddess in the depths of the Earth by the aging winter solar god.  As winter progressed the power of the Sun god waned as the Sun rode low in the sky. As his power waned he became more like a malignant god of the underworld and feared the arrival of a young, potent Sun god who would steal the Earth goddess from him.  Desperate to preserve his own power and survive, he imprisoned the Earth goddess in the underworld to prevent anyone from stealing her. The imprisonment of the Earth Goddess resulted in a loss of fertility and renewal being withdrawn from the Earth, causing dramatic and disastrous consequences for humanity.

Spring

In spring the young Sun god arrives and takes a higher path across the sky providing longer days, more daylight and warmer weather.  His youth, strength and virility defeats and supplants the aging Sun god and frees the Earth goddess from imprisonment.  With a  more agreeable climate and the freeing of the goddess the Earth returns to life and seeds germinate, plants bud and grow and animals breed. The young Sun god takes the eternally young Earth goddess for his bride around the time of the festival of Beltane, commonly held on the 1st of May, or halfway between the March, or vernal equinox and the summer solstice, or midsummer,  when the Sun’s power is at its height.

Summer

As the  days grew longer and warmer, with the marriage of the Sun god and the Earth goddess the Earth is fertilized, plants grow and thrive and harvest time arrives which is the product of this marriage.  The young Sun god has reached the heights of his power at midsummer and the coming days will see his power decline.

Autumn

With the decline of power of the now aging Sun god there is a steadily decrease in sunlight and warmth, the days grow steadily shorter, vegetation begins to shrivel and die.  The cycle of the previous years repeats and slowly and inevitable the aging Sun god loses his strength, vigor and virility just as his predecessors had and just as those who come after him will.

Winter Returns

As his strength and potency diminish he appears lower in the sky, days become shorter and darker as winter sets in.  In a desperate attempt to keep his beautiful and eternally young wife he imprisons her in the underground. The Sun god reaches his lowest and weakest point at midwinter, or the Winter Solstice and is defeated by the young Sun god who frees and marries the Earth goddess.  This cycle must continue eternally to bring fertility, renewal and growth to the Earth.

In the version of the abduction of Guinevere by Chrétien de Troyes the drama was played out over one year with Meleagant, Guinevere’s abductor representing the doomed and aging Sun god and Lancelot the virile and potent, young Sun god.

Goddess of Sovereignty

There is also an idea that Guinevere was either an ancient Goddess of Sovereignty, or a representative of one.  A Goddess of Sovereignty was an aspect or servant of the Earth goddess, also known as the Earth Mother or Mother Earth and Goddess of the Land, in some cultures.

Those who follow this idea point to the fact that the story begins in May which is around the festival of Beltane.  It is at this time of year the everywhere is green and fertile and in celebration Malory tells how Queen Guinevere decides she will go a-Maying.  Those who see Arthurian characters as divinities, see Guinevere as representing a Goddess of Sovereignty that bestows the sovereignty of the land onto the King, who in this case is Arthur. As such his role is taking care of the land and inhabitants ensuring it remains fertile.  To do this she needs a strong, virile king but in these stories Arthur is usually portrayed as aging and losing power. Lancelot being the younger and more potent of the two may be seen by a Goddess of Sovereignty as an ideal replacement, but despite his love for Guinevere he remains loyal to Arthur not wanting the crown.

It may also be the case that simply being in possession of a representative of the goddess would be enough to give authority to the claim of kingship. This would make Guinevere a valuable prize for anyone who would be king and helps explain her numerous abductions, especially Mordred’s interest in her.  It also explain why, for the most, part Arthur appears reluctant to acknowledge, or deal with the situation of her affair with Lancelot until he is forced into it.

The affair with Lancelot may not have been about Guinevere’s alleged sexual promiscuity but more about her fulfilling her role as representing a Goddess of Sovereignty. Furthermore her abductions may not necessarily have been about love, lust or desire for her as a woman, but more about possessing the representative of the goddess. For all of that these are just ideas and theories and it is up to each person to decide what it means to them.

© 20/11/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright November 20th, 2018 zteve t evans

The Legend of Nurse Maggie, The Crystal Palace and Old Father Rhine

Presented below is a retelling of a story called The Crystal Palace from, The Crystal Palace and Other Legends, by Marie H. Frary and Charles Maurice Stebbins

There was once a rather quaint old lady who was named Nurse Maggie by the children who lived in a village called Zurdof along the great River Rhine.  Nurse Maggie was very kindly and caring and was a very good nurse and was often called upon to care for the village children when they fell ill.   The children loved this because she would tell them the most wonderful stories of the olden days; of  bold knights and lovely ladies and the great castles they lived in. She told them stories of the nymphs of the wood and water and of fairies and elves, but the stories they liked the beast were the ones she told of old Father Rhine and what follows was one of their favorites.

One Dark, Wet, Night

The story begins one dark, wet,  night while Maggie was sat at home in her tiny cottage knitting before the fire. All of a sudden she heard a sharp knock at the door.  Putting her knitting on the table she went to the door to see who was rapping upon her door.  Opening it she found a very strange man carrying a lantern of peculiar design and pattern.  He did not say a word but instead beckoned to her to follow him, but Maggie hesitated.  Outside the rain was pouring down and the road was littered with puddles deep and wide, but that was not the reason for her hesitation.  The reason was because the man was a stranger and she had never seen anyone like him before in her life.

Seeing her hesitate and understanding her wariness, the stranger smiled kindly upon her, easing her anxiety and again he beckoned to her to follow him.  This time she followed him of the warmth and shelter of her cottage and down the dark street that led to the River Rhine. Along the way she paddling through puddles that became deeper and deeper.  Suddenly water began to flow all around her and she began to panic, but the stranger beckoned her on.

“Sir,” she said, “I cannot go on!  What kind of a man are you and what do you want of me, this of all nights?”

The River Rhine

The stranger said nothing, instead he scooped her up into his arms and plunged forward into the River Rhine which had burst its banks.  Its waters were rose fast swirling all around poor, terrified Maggie who was now carried in the arms of the stranger.   Down into the swirling water he took her, down, down and deeper than down, through the cold, dark, water he carried her.  She closed her eyes and prayed for surely this was her end and stopped her struggling giving into the overwhelming force of the water.  Down the stranger carried her and Maggie wondered why she had not drowned and after what seemed like age they came through the water and she found herself in the most marvelous crystal palace.

The Crystal Palace

Mighty relieved at finding herself out of the cold water Maggie gazed around her and was awestruck at what she saw.  All around her were walls of pure crystal imbedded with precious stones and gems. A massive, magnificent, crystal dome arched over her head and she saw she was in an enormous crystal palace. Above and around it flowed the cold, dark waters of the mighty Rhine. All around were ornaments and artifacts of  gold and silver and then she spied, laid upon a bed of pure crystal with silk coverings a most lovely golden-haired nymph. She looked very pale, very weak and very ill and yet had fragile kind of beauty and the kind heart of Maggie reached out to her knowing she was close to death.

Nursing the Nymph

The strange old man turned to Maggie and said,  “I know you are an excellent nurse and this is my beautiful wife, who is very ill as you can see.  I have bought you here to my crystal palace in the hope that you will agree to nurse her back to health.  If you agree and bring her back to health, I will reward you so well you shall never regret it.”

Maggie looked upon the poor wan nymph and was touched by how beautiful she looked and as compassion rose in her heart she instantly agreed.   Maggie nursed her so carefully and diligently that her charge soon began to improve in health and gain strength and soon she was well and whole again.

When she became strong enough to talk, the nymph told her that her husband was, in fact, the water god that people called Old Father Rhine.  She explained that she had once lived on earth and that her father was King Rheidt and told her the story of how she had met her husband.

The Dance

One day she was at a dance held in a village alongside the Rhine, when a strange old man wearing clothes of foamy green had asked her to dance.  Being someone who is polite and friendly she had agreed. He took her round and round the dance floor, faster and faster with each turn, until finally they danced alongside the river and they had plunged into it.  Taking her in his arms, he took her down, down deeper than down, to his crystal palace. There they fell in love and had married and lived happily together ever since.  

Then she said,  “With your kindness, compassion and skill you have nursed me back to health and I thank you for that, but soon it will be time for you to return to earth.  When it is time Father Rhine will offer to reward you most generously, but only accept from him your normal fee. He will offer try to persuade you to accept far greater reward but you must insist he only pay you your normal charge.   Father Rhine detests greedy money-grabbing people, but loves those who are generous and sincere and he will remember you.”

Maggie’s Reward

As she finished talking Father Rhine came into the room and seeing his wife healthy and once again in full bloom asked Maggie to follow him.  She followed him through many wonderful halls of the crystal palace until they came to a vast room filled with all kinds of treasure. There were piles of gold and silver, diamonds, emeralds and rubies and precious gems of all kinds.  The river god was grateful to old Maggie for nursing his beautiful wife back to health and he implored her to take whatever she wanted from the treasure. As she gazed at all the wonderful treasures before her eyes he watched thoughtfully waiting to see what she would select.

Maggie gazed upon the treasure and it filled her eyes.  She thought just how much good she could do if she only had a fraction of that glittering hoard and after all she had earned a reward for saving the life of his wife.  Then she thought of all the people she had heard of who had let greed enter their rule their hearts and rule them.  

Stooping down she select a small item of the value she would have charged for her normal fee.  Old Father Rhine urged her to take more, but she firmly and most courteously refused. She told him nursing was her gift from god and it was her duty to help others with that gift.  Therefore, seeing his wife whole and healthy was for her the greatest gift possible.

Nurse Maggie

The river god nodded and took her by the hand and led her along a long, dark, corridor and she found herself in cold swirling water, but he took her up in his arms and swam up through the water and gently placed her on the bank of the Rhine near her own dear cottage.  As he turned to say goodbye, he placed a handful of gold coins into her lap and dived into the swirling waters and was gone. Ever since Nurse Maggie has continued to nurse the sick people, especially the children, of her village back to health. All her patients – especially the children – love her tell them the story of Old Father Rhine and how she nursed his wife in the crystal palace under the waters of the mighty River Rhine.

© 13/11/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright November 13th, 2018 zteve t evans

 

 

Beowulf’s Last Battle: The Great Flame Dragon

This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com as British Legends: Beowulf and the Great Flame Dragon by zteve t evans on 26/07/2018

Role Model

Beowulf is an anonymously written long poem originally written in Old English, the language commonly spoken in England in Anglo-Saxon times. It is named after its protagonist, Beowulf, a warrior from Geatland, and tells of his heroic adventures, great strength, courage, and prowess in battle. As well as providing an exciting story, its hero displays all the desired virtues of the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy and warrior class in which it is set, making Beowulf a role model and inspiration for others of the time to follow. The main events of the poem tell how he defeated two monstrous beings, and ends with a battle with a flame dragon that costs him his life.

Beowulf and JRR Tolkien

The poem has influenced many modern works such as The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Fans of Tolkien will recognise many of the motifs and themes in the poem. In 1936, Tolkien gave a distinguished lecture,“Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics“ which was published in the journal Proceedings of the British Academy and a translation of the poem “Beowulf” was published posthumously. The underlying theme of the poem was the mortality of humankind and the struggle to live in an unsympathetic and often unfriendly world, which inevitably brings defeat and death in due time regardless of fame, status, and achievement. There are many different versions that have been made of the story by many different writers. Presented here is a retelling from the poem of Beowulf’s battle with the flame dragon and his death, influenced by various sources listed below.

Grendel and his Monstrous Mother

In his youth, Beowulf set out leading a company of young men to Denmark to slay the monstrous being called Grendel. Beowulf encountered Grendel in the great hall of King Hrothgar, and successfully defeated and mortally wounded him. Grendel escaped to the lair he shares with his mother at the bottom of a lake and dies. His mother, seeking vengeance, returned to the hall and killed one of King Hrothgar’s earls. Beowulf tracked her back to the lake and, entering the water, sank to the bottom where he found a cave which is the lair of the two monstrous beings. There he fought and killed Grendel’s mother and cut off Grendel’s head, returning with it to the surface as proof of his victory. For slaying the monsters, Beowulf won great praise and was richly rewarded by King Hrothgar of Denmark. Returning to his homeland of Geatland, he was welcomed by King Hygelac, his uncle, who proclaimed him the greatest warrior in the north lands. Songs and stories were made of his encounter with Grendel and his monstrous mother, and his fame spread far and wide.

Beowulf is Crowned King

After King Hygelac was killed in battle and death took his son and heir, Beowulf was crowned King of Geatland.  Beowulf’s rule was long and happy and the country prospered. With age, Beowulf grew wiser and more dignified and his people loved him and looked up to him. Despite his fame and past success, he yearned for a chance to once again prove himself in some test of strength and courage. He had won many battles, but nothing appeared to match the slaying of Grendel and his monstrous mother, and he grew restless.

One dark, cold winter’s night, as Beowulf sat in his great mead hall with his earls about him, there came a frantic knocking at the door. On opening the door, the doorkeeper found a ragged stranger, begging to be taken to the king. The man was poorly dressed for a cold winter’s night, and what he did wear was torn and dirty. Not liking the look of the man the doorkeeper forbade him entry. Wiglaf, the son of Weohstan, one of the king’s most faithful earls, came over to see what was happening. On seeing the state of the man and the terrified look upon his face, he spoke to him saying:

“Welcome stranger, the night is bitter and I see you shiver.  I know not whether you shiver from the cold or some unknown terror, for I see fear in your face and eyes. Whatever the cause tell us your name and come in and eat and drink with us and explain yourself to our king.”

The Stranger’s Tale

The stranger became confused and his head jerked this way and that. Wiglaf, thinking the man was refusing to say his name and rejecting the hospitality offered, dragged him before the king saying:

“Sire, this man comes knocking at your door this bitter winter night and refuses to say his name and refuses our hospitality. Therefore, I bring him to answer in person to you. What would you have me do with him?”

Beowulf leaned forward and set his keen blue eyes upon him and, looking kindly upon the shivering, ragged stranger, said:

“Come now man, have no fear. No one will harm you here. Tell us your name and why you come knocking at the door of my mead hall on this cold night.”

The stranger knelt before Beowulf and said in a trembling voice:

“Sire, I have no name and I have no home, and because of this, these last few days I took to wandering in the wilds in search of a place I could shelter through the winter. This morning I found a great barrow, and seeking shelter I found an entrance that turned into a long tunnel. The tunnel at least offered the potential of shelter, so I followed it until I entered a great wide and high space and found it lit by some unknown light. Looking about I was amazed to see piled all around the sides masses and masses of gold and silver artifacts and many, many chests of precious jewels of all kinds and colors. Indeed, the worth of all this treasure must be beyond measure. Then I realized the light was coming from a sleeping dragon that glowed in the dark, lighting up the cave, and in terror I ran back the way I had come.”

Read More