Werewolf Folklore by Mae Clair

Wolf in silhouette howling at full moonI am in a werewolfy frame of mind today. My friend, Carmen Stefanescu, invited me to her blog, Shadows of the Past.

A native of Romania (yeah, Dracula territory), Carmen has a very cool hangout, rich in folklore and all things catering to writers.  In the spirit of Halloween, I am sharing a post with her about werewolf folklore. Drop by and say “howl-lo” while you’re roaming the blogosphere. :)

Mythical Monday: Sendings, Ghostly Assassins by Mae Clair

In keeping with the approach of Halloween, I’m staying focused on ghostly apparitions for the remainder of this month’s Mythical Monday posts. October and spooky just effortlessly go hand-in-glove. When it comes to ghosts, we tend to think of them as spirits who are reluctant to move on, or who have left something unfinished when torn from the earthly realm. But there is an additional type of specter, or at least one that makes an appearance in Icelandic folklore.

If legend is to be believed, a ghost can be magically conjured from a human bone. I find the idea pretty ghoulish—imagining some wrinkled  sorcerer or necromancer crouched and chanting over crypt bones—but apparently ghosts can be useful If you’re an unethical practitioner of magic.  In this case, the wraiths are known as “sendings” and were often employed as murderers or dispatched to perform grisly deeds. It makes you feel sorry for the poor soul whose bones were unearthed by an unscrupulous wizard!

The good news (if you were the mortal target of said unscrupulous mage) is that sendings were not without weakness. As a case in point there was once a comely widow who many men sought to marry. She refused all offers—I can’t help thinking the husband she lost was her only true love—but that didn’t stop the men who coveted her, and her land holdings, from pursuing her.Comely young woman, grieving over grave

One day as she was preparing supper a strange sixth sense came over her, warning of danger. Turning toward the doorway she spied a shadow on the threshold, velvet black but for an odd white spot at its center. As the terrified woman watched, the shadow crept toward her, inching nearer across the floor. Snatching up a knife, she struck the apparition where she sensed it was most vulnerable—the odd white blossom at its center.  Instantly, the shadow vanished, her knife claimed along with it.

The next morning she found the knife in the yard, pinioned through a human bone. Her quick thinking and her bravery had saved her life, and from that point forward she was bothered no more.

A strange HEA, but kind of cool nonetheless, and it speaks to my personal belief that some people have only one soulmate. What do you think of this tale?

 

Mythical Monday: The Neck, Water Men, and Nixies by Mae Clair

Last week for Mythical Monday, I ventured into the forests of Germany and Scandinavia for a look at the earthy Moss People. Today, I’m mired in the same region of the globe, but wading into a watery domain with Nixies and the Water-Men of Germany.

Tales vary depending on the branch of folklore you happen to be pursuing. In some legends, the Water-Men are human in appearance but have green teeth and favor green hats. They often mingle with humans in marketplaces where they do their shopping. For the most part they dwell on good terms with men, and even aspire to friendship. Their women are beautiful and ethereal, commonly called Nixies.Fantasy girl taking magic light in her hands, standing on edge of pond at night

In other legends, they appear human-like with amphibious features such as gills, webbed feet and hands. Many claim they are shapeshifters who have no true form.

In Scandinavia, these same creatures are known as Necks, a male water sprite who dwells in rivers and streams. Master musicians who favor the harp and violin, they prey on unsuspecting women and children by luring them to the water to drown. The music they weave is magically enchanted, much like that of a siren, too beautiful for mortals to resist. Pregnant women and unbaptized children are especially susceptible to their bewitching melodies.

In most tales the Neck is doomed, but in some, he is a creature who fervently craves redemption.

A timeworn legend tells of a priest who came upon a Neck as he played along the riverbank. Spying the creature, the priest rebuked the Neck harshly. “Look at this dead staff,” he said, displaying the withered piece of wood he used to aid in his walking. “This piece of rot will put forth green leaves, before your soul is saved.”

By Ernst Josephsson (1851 - 1906) (Swedish) (Details of artist on Google Art Project) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Ernst Josephsson (1851 – 1906) (Swedish) (Details of artist on Google Art Project) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hearing the cruel denouncement and fearing his soul beyond redemption, the Neck burst into tears. He threw his harp aside and buried his face in his hands, mournfully bemoaning his fate.

Satisfied, the priest left him  weeping, but as he walked away, guilt twisted his heart. He had not gone far when his staff abruptly surged with green sap, putting forth a bounty of twigs and leaves—a message from the great I AM that all creatures belong to God. Deeply ashamed, the priest retraced his steps. He found the Neck still sobbing, and humbly begged forgiveness, showing the heartbroken creature his staff. Seeing the change that had overtaken the withered piece of wood, the Neck rejoiced. Reclaiming his harp, he burst into song, his music so utterly beautiful that the river itself echoed with his sweet melody.

As someone who adores a happily-ever-after, I love that tale. I can imagine the old priest rejoicing with him, sitting down on the river bank and sharing his bread and wine.

Have you ever heard this legend before? Were you familiar with the Neck?

Mythical Monday: The Moss People by Mae Clair

I feel like I’ve taken a leave of absence, and I guess I have. I was on vacation all last week, enjoying an end of summer fling at the shore. Now I’m officially ready to embrace fall, just in time for another Mythical Monday.

Dense forest with moss-covered treesWith the trees starting to turn color, I thought I’d creep into the forest where they grow in abundance, and spend some time with the Moss People or Wood Folk.

Germanic in origin, Moss People are a type of fairy, often compared to dwarves or elves. They have a strong affinity to trees and the forest. In many tales they are pursued by Odin during the Wild Hunt, and seek shelter by entering trees that have been scored with a cross—a sign a woodsman has marked the tree to be cut down. Some tales describe Wood Folk as gnarled and gray, covered with moss, in others they are said to be comely, endowed with wings like a butterfly.

An unassuming and shy people, they occasionally borrow items from humans, but compensate for any loan generously. Above all, they prize a gift of maternal breast milk from a human woman, something they covet for their own children as a remedy for all ills. Timid by nature, it is hard for them to beseech such a boon, perhaps the reason they choose to reward such generosity in abundance.

Legends of the Moss People are most popular in the forests of Bavaria in southern Germany, and parts of Scandinavia. In closing, this description of a Moss Woman is taken from “The Moss Woman and the Widow,” a tale of southern Germany, shared in The Fairy Family, a series of ballads related to fairy mythology:

“A Moss Woman!” the haymakers cry,
And over the fields in terror they fly.
She is loosely clad from neck to foot,
In a mantle of moss from the maple’s root.
And like lichen grey on its stem that grows,
Is the hair that over her mantle flows.

Her skin like the maple-rind is hard,
Brown and ridgy and furrowed and scarred;
And each feature flat, like the mark we see,
Where a bough has been lopped from the bole of a tree.

As unassuming as she seems, doesn’t it make you wonder why the haymakers flee?

Mythical Monday: The Brier Hill Monster

The autumn of 1926 was by all accounts a regular Pennsylvania autumn in Erie County. The trees were dressed in vibrant shades of orange, cinnamon and gold, with the nip of the coming winter biting at the air. Neighboring farms stretching between Brier Hill and Masontown looked postcard perfect—pastures slowly browning with the tint of fall, and curls of woodsmoke rising from the chimneys of picturesque homesteads.Farm field in autumn beneath a stormy skyThis placid atmosphere was shattered when a farmer found his chicken coop had been broken into. The carnage was gruesome, many of the chickens partially devoured. It seemed unlikely a dog or fox had been the culprit, and the farmer suspected a large predator. Still, others shrugged it off. Chickens were often the prey of wild animals, especially if the coop wasn’t adequately secured. Perhaps the farmer had been negligent in protecting his stock. And if not . . . well, wasn’t that the price of farming?

But within days, other chicken coops were attacked and several pigsties were breached as well. The unknown predator made short work of half-grown hogs, literally ripping them apart. More and more, it seemed some unusual animal was at fault. As the carcass count continued to grow, the creature was dubbed “The Murderous Monster of Brier Hill.” Parents feared letting their children outside. Any creature large enough to kill a hog could do the same to a child, possibly even an adult.

Fear rose to a feverish pitch when a farmer reported losing a cow and a horse to the beast. Both were found disemboweled, their carcasses ripped apart. Though they appeared to have struggled fiercely, even these large animals could not fend off their attacker.

Men quickly banded together in armed possess in an attempt to track the monster. For several weeks the carnage continued, and although blood trails were discovered leading to Brier Hill on two occasions, no evidence of the beast was ever found. After a while, the killings stopped. People latched onto the hope that the creature had tired of the area and moved on. Life eventually returned to normal for the farmers and the residents of neighboring towns, but the memory of that bloody autumn remained.

To this day, no one is certain of the true identity of the Murderous Monster of Brier Hill. Some insist a gorilla escaped from a circus in Brownsville around the same time, but there is no evidence to support an escape. Gorillas are also herbivores and would have no reason to slaughter and partially devour so many animals.

I came across this story in the book MONSTERS OF PENNSYLVANIA by Patty A. Wilson. Have you looked to see if there is a “Monster” book from your own state? It’s amazing the folklore tucked away in murky campfire histories. I wonder if the Monster of Brier Hill could have been a rogue black bear. Though you’d think farmers would certainly have recognized bear tracks. Still . . . it makes for interesting reading and speculating.

What do you think?

Mythical Monday: Tommyknockers by Mae Clair

Ancient mining tools and basket full of rocks inside a tunnel in a mineStephen King made the name famous in his 1987 science-fiction novel. But people of the Old World, and those who worked in coal regions, knew about Tommyknockers long before then. Some believe them to be the spirits of departed miners, others insist they are sprite-like creatures who cast an eerie blue glow as they move through darkened mine shafts.

Whatever their nature, Tommyknockers dwell in the shadowy recesses below ground. Like many supernatural beings they can be helpful—digging industriously and assisting miners in locating ore—or harmful if not treated well. As a result, workers frequently left pans of water and food, occasionally even coins as gifts to these gnomish mine-dwellers. In the event of an impending cave-in, Tommyknockers alerted the miners by a repeated sharp rapping sound. They were even known to lead rescuers to injured workers or guide men clear of dark shafts seconds before collapse.

It is believed the Tommyknocker legend grew from the tales of Welsh immigrants who arrived to work the coal mines of Western Pennsylvania. After the California gold rush of 1848, the legend spread west.

Often simply called Knockers in Welsh and Cornish folklore, Tommyknockers were the equivalent of the Irish leprechaun or Scottish Brownie. Mischievous as well as helpful, they had a fondness for unattended tools. Thus most misplaced items or petty thefts were blamed on the creatures. Welsh mine workers believed so strongly in these fey spirits, they would not work in a mine until assured by the owners that Tommyknockers were already in residence.

As late as the mid-twentieth century, mine workers clung to the superstition. When a large mine was sealed in 1956, workers petitioned the owners to reopen it in order that the Tommyknockers could be set free and find a new mine. The owners complied.

Today, though many scoff at the idea there are Tommyknockers, others who live in the vicinity of mines insist they still see blue lights weaving among the dark passages, and hear the sound of industrious workers digging away.

Or perhaps steadily knocking . . .

Mythical Monday: The Phantom White Wolf of French Creek

When I think of folklore, there are several creatures particularly suited for the mystical and eerie trappings of legends. Owls, cats, crows, and wolves immediately spring to mind. For today’s Mythical Monday, I stumbled over a a fireside tale about a town in West Virginia that was plagued by a mysterious white wolf.

In the mid-1800s an albino wolf began attacking and slaughtering livestock in and around French Creek. The residents hadn’t seen a wolf in years, leading many to believe the creature must be supernatural—especially given its ghost-white appearance. Fear blossomed and spread quickly, fueled by growing rumors.

a white wolfOne local farmer who lost several sheep to the wolf,  claimed he’d shot the beast three times, but the bullets had no effect. (Hmm…perhaps he should have used silver). Later the same month, the wolf was shot at close range, but again bounded away without being harmed. In the meantime, farm animals and pets continued to fall prey to the animal’s nighttime raids.

One of the farmers who lost a cow was a man named Bill Williams. In earlier years, when wolves dominated the countryside, Bill had been renowned for his prowess as a hunter. He’d killed hundreds of wolves, the bounties he’d collected allowing him to retire a wealthy man. Eventually turning from the practice, he took up farming, vowing never to hunt the majestic creatures again.

But the slaughter of his cow drew him from retirement. The townspeople and other farmers were relieved when he said he’d find and kill the albino wolf, putting an end to its reign of terror. Loading his rifle, he headed for an area the wolf was known to haunt. He took a small lamb with him and tied the helpless animal to a stake. Then he sat back and waited for the wolf to arrive, certain he would have an easy kill.

But fate was not kind to Bill.

When he failed to return the next day, several townspeople hiked to the area they knew he’d staked out. They found Bill with his throat mangled, his head nearly ripped from his body. In direct counterpoint to the grisly scene, the lamb was unharmed, still tied to the stake. Even stranger, there were no signs of blood or paw prints anywhere in the vicinity.

People believed the white wolf had exacted vengeance on Bill for breaking his vow to never hunt its kind. Others said the creature was a demon, for surely only a demon could do something so heinous and leave no trace of its passing. But why spare something as innocent as the lamb if that was the case?

A wolf in silhouette howling at the moonIt is unclear whether the white wolf continued to haunt the people of French Creek after Bill’s death, but tales of white wolves still circulate in remote areas of West Virginia.

According to legend, the ghost-like creatures slip from the darkness on nights illuminated by a full moon. They are impossible to catch or kill, and will simply vanish if cornered . . . only to return again when the full moon rises.

It makes you think twice about walking through the woods alone!