Mythical Monday: Fiddler’s Green by Mae Clair

bigstock-Vintage-compass-quill-pen-sp-45049453Often called the sailor’s version of heaven, Fiddler’s Green is an enchanted place every mariner and fisherman dreamed of reaching in the afterlife.

Some believed it could be found in the physical realm when a man tired of the sea. If a mariner had dedicated at least fifty years of service and no longer wished to sail the waterways, he had only to walk inland with an oar slung over his shoulder.

Eventually, his journey would lead him to a small village tucked deep in the countryside. If asked by the residents what he was carrying, he would know he’d found the haven of Fiddler’s Green. In this enchanted place, he would be treated to a comfortable seat in the sun, given a tankard of ale, and a pipe of sweet-smelling tobacco. The magical tankard would never run dry or the aromatic leaf in the pipe fail to burn. A step away on the village green, young maidens would twirl in dance, accompanied by the lively music of a fiddle player.The sailor had only to relax and enjoy himself as he sent lazy smoke rings wafting into the cerulean sky.

fgreenOthers say Fiddler’s Green is a stretch of water hidden behind the trade winds in the South Atlantic. Eternally calm, its surface is the reflective green of a mermaid’s tail. A peaceful abode, it is a harbor for old ships; a sanctuary for weary seaman in search of rest. As the sun sets each evening melting into the rim of the ocean, the faint strains of a fiddle are heard, prompting the sailors to dance hornpipes on the peaceful water.

Sailors are by nature a superstitious lot, but their vision of an afterlife is a simple one. How lovely to find Fiddler’s Green secreted among the lush rolling hills of a verdant countryside, or nestled among the sandy shores of a tropical paradise. Apparently, for fishermen and sailors, all that was needed to satisfy their wanderlust at the end of days was companionship, plenty of ale, dancing, a nice pipe and the warmth of sunlight.

I think I could be happy in Fiddler’s Green. What about you?

Mythical Monday: Spring Heel Jack by Mae Clair

light in the nightFor today’s Mythical Monday, I’m visiting an era steeped in gas lanterns, cobbled streets, carriages, and gentleman callers in top hats.

Enter Spring Heel Jack, a macabre phantom who terrorized the English countryside in the 19th century. First sighted in 1837, he gained notoriety during the height of the Victorian era.

This maniacal creature was described as a tall, thin man with powerful bony fingers resembling claws. He favored the appearance of a strolling actor or opera-goer, usually spotted wearing a long flowing cloak. Beneath, his clothes were tight-fitting and of a material that several witnesses said resembled white oil skin.

His name was earned from the springs he attached to his boots which enabled him to leap great distances and hop towering eight-foot high walls. A tall metallic helmet and a small lantern strapped to his chest completed his bizarre outfit. Some reports say he breathed blue and white flame, others that he had a devil appearance and eyes that resembled red balls of fire.

In all instances Jack seemed set on terrorizing those he came in contact with, usually preying on females.

On February 19, 1838, eighteen-year-old Jane Alsop was attacked by Jack when she answered the front door of her home after being summed by the violent ringing of the bell. The man who waited on the threshold demanded a lantern, snapping, “For God’s sake bring me a light for we have caught Spring Heel Jack here in the lane.”

When Jane gave the man a candle, he tossed his cloak aside and applied the flame to his breast, “vomiting forth a quantity of blue and white flame from his mouth.” The man seized Jane and began tearing her dress with claws she reported as being metallic in nature. She managed to get away from him and was later rescued by one of her sisters but suffered scratches to her shoulders and neck. Her assailant even ripped out a length of her hair.

Jack_the_Devil_Penny_Dreadfuls_1838

By Penny Dreadful Newspaper (Penny Dreadful Paper 1838) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Eight days later, eighteen-year-old Lucy Scales and her sister were passing Green Dragon Alley in Old Ford when a man in a large cloak stepped into their path. He squirted blue flame into Lucy’s face, temporarily blinding her. Unable to see, she fell to the ground and was overcome by a violent fit which continued for several hours. Lucy’s sister said their attacker had a gentlemanly appearance, wore a large cloak and carried a small lantern.

Jack made several notable appearances during the 1870s, including one where he was shot at by a soldier on guard duty. The bullets had no effect on him and he disappeared into the darkness with “astonishing bounds.”  As his exploits spread, he became a popular subject for newspapers, “penny dreadfuls” and small theatre.

Despite his infamy, some believe Jack was nothing more than a myth given birth by a culture prone to embrace folklore of faeries and impish creatures. Others believe he was the product of mass hysteria and hallucination. Still others insist there was nothing remotely supernatural about him – that he was a disturbed man with a ghoulish sense of humor.

For a time the Marquis of Waterford, an Irish nobleman was considered a prime suspect. An aristocrat who’d had numerous run-ins with the police for public brawling, he was a heavy drinker known to have a strong contempt for women.

Spring Heel Jack was never caught and remains a fixture of myth. He has appeared in literature, movies, comics and even video games. Whether man, phantom or demon, he has left his mark in everything from archaic legends to pop culture.

Have you heard of Spring Heel Jack?

Mythical Monday: The Apple Tree Man and the Green Knight, by Mae Clair

The next time you venture into an apple orchard, if you’re very lucky, you may discover buried treasure.

According to legend, sun-ripened apples don’t simply occur at the whim of nature, or even due to attentive care of the trees which bring forth fruit. The Apple Tree Man oversees the blossoming and ripening of the fruit, ensuring a good crop.

Apple trees with red applesThis orchard spirit is shy, taking up residence in one of the trees while he performs his supervisory tasks. He brings treasure with him, which can be found beneath the tree in which he’s taken up residence. Many have tried to seek out the treasure, but the Apple Tree Man is easily frightened and will quickly depart for another orchard, taking his treasure with him if disturbed.

Some believe he is distantly related to the legendary Green Man of the English countryside, also called Jack-in-the-Green, the Green Knight and Green George.

Unlike the withdrawn and timid Apple Tree Man, the Green Man is a jovial but wild figure tied to nature worship and fertility rights. He is a spirit of trees, nature and foliage. And yet this symbol of early pagan practices is often seen carved into Christian churches, abbeys and graveyards. It’s thought early Christian missionaries tried to adapt local beliefs and absorb them in a manner that kept new converts from feeling alienated.

Green Man English Pagan symbolThe Green Man is usually represented as a face peering from foliage; leaves for hair and beard, vines sometimes sprouting from his nose and ears. When he is depicted as a man, he is covered by leaves and vines, his skin the same green hue as the foliage which engulfs him.

I’ve read several books where the Green Man appeared as a character (most of them fantasy novels) and I vaguely recall a movie from the 1980s called Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

If I remember correctly, the Green Knight (played by non other than Sean Connery with that  killer accent) challenges the knights of King Arthur’s court to play a game with him…a game of life and death. He will allow anyone brave enough a single stroke with his axe to behead him. If the knight is unable to kill him with one stroke, then the knight must take a blow to the neck in turn.

None of the knights will take the challenge. Wanting to honor his king, Gawain, who is only a page at this point, bravely steps forward and announces he will play the game. He takes up the Green Knight’s axe and beheads him, but any elation in the court quickly sours — the Green Knight still lives. As the King and his knights watch, the creature retrieves his head and places it on his shoulders, announcing that Gawain must now suffer a blow as promised.

Gawain knows with one stroke of the axe he will die. But due to his bravery, the Green Knight proposes a riddle. He will return in one year.  If, at that time, Gawain has not solved the riddle, then he must bare his neck to the Green Knight’s axe and suffer the consequences.

Unfortunately, that’s all I remember. So, of course, I hopped over to Amazon and ordered the DVD. I remember the movie as being kind of cheesy, but I’ve always loved Arthurian Legend and I’m curious to see how it ended.

Do you remember any books or movies with the Green Man? Do you have a favorite Arthurian Legend or Knight?

Mythical Monday: Nautical Superstitions, by Mae Clair

Treasure chest at the bottom of the seaWhether it’s ghost ships, sea lore, or whispered tales of phantom winds and water sprites, I’ve always been intrigued by the murky depths of the sea. From ancient times to present, the underwater world has harbored creatures both serene and foul. And, oh, so interesting!

The Old Testament references the leviathan, a mighty seabeast, while legends passed through generations speak of floating islands, vanished cities, and merpeople who live beneath the waves.

But what of the brave men and women who attempted to tame the sea or, at the very least, exist within its dominion? Even today, sailors are a superstitious lot, many of their beliefs retained from an earlier age when water haunts and sea serpents were commonly recognized and feared.

While writing TWELFTH SUN, a novel which centers around a maritime artifact, I had the occasion to sort through a host of nautical superstitions. I referenced a few in the book, but much of the research was strictly for fun. I grew up reciting “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning.” Remember that? I still often mentally conjure that sing-song verse when I notice a red sky.

But that tidbit of seafaring superstition wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy the myth-monger in me, so I went diving for more. Here are some of my favorite nautical superstitions:

Untying knots in a rope bring favorable winds.

Knitting hair into the toe of a sailor’s sock will bring him back to you.

If a sailor dreams of a horse, it is an omen of high seas.

Disaster will follow if you step onboard a vessel with your left foot first.

A ship’s bell will always ring when it is wrecked.

If St. Elmo’s Fire appears around a sailor’s head, he will die within a day.

A woman onboard a ship will make the sea angry.  Unless, she’s naked which will calm the sea. (Gee, wasn’t that a convenient superstition for sailors and pirates?)

Never rename a ship, for it is bad luck.

A ship’s name ending in “a” is unlucky.

Nail a shark’s tail to the bow of a ship and it will ward off other sharks. (Of course, you’ve still got the problem of convincing a shark to give up its tail. I don’t imagine there were a lot of volunteers for that job).

The feather of a wren will protect a sailor from death by shipwreck.

Death comes with an ebb tide and birth with a rising tide.

Black traveling bags are bad luck for a seaman.

möwe_abendrotA silver coin placed under the masthead ensures a successful voyage. Pouring wine on the deck also brings good luck.

Gulls harbor the souls of sailors lost at sea.

There are a host of other superstitions, but these are a few of my favorites. Next Monday, I have one particular belief I want to share, including how it gave birth to an entire urban legend. Intrigued? I hope you’ll be back next week for the details.

In the meantime, are there any superstitions you adhere to, nautical or otherwise? I tend to knock on wood a lot and I’m freaky about the number thirteen. What makes you superstitious? :)

Mythical Monday: The Lore of the Leprechaun by Mae Clair

Top ‘o the morning to you! My friend, Christina McKnight, is splashing my cover for TWELFTH SUN on her blog today. Given I’m so besotted with it, I had to make sure everyone knew it was available for another gander. If you’re interested, you can find it here.

And yes, I know St. Patrick’s Day has passed, but I couldn’t let a Mythical Monday slip by without a tip of the hat to such a momentous celebration. Enjoy a virtual green beer on me while I trot out a much beloved figure from myth.

Leprechaun Sitting on ToadstoolRemember when you were a kid, and you wanted to catch a leprechaun? If you were like me, it had nothing to do with that legendary pot of gold. What was gold to a kid? The allure was the idea of a magical wee creature who could move between worlds. Spying a leprechaun meant maybe, just maybe, the veil between everyday reality and a hidden otherworld grew thin enough to cross over. What child wouldn’t want to explore a fairytale realm where enchantment was king?

Shoemakers by trade, Leprechauns were mostly solitary, but they enjoyed a good reel with the fiddle and tin whistles at night. Kindred to the Fair Folk, they were descended from the great Tuatha Dé Danann, and squirreled their gold away in buried pots. If you were crafty enough to catch a leprechaun and kept your eye fixed on him, he’d have to reveal the location of his gold when asked. One blink, however, and he quickly vanished from sight.

When I was a kid, there was a huge open field across the street from where I lived. It backed up to the rear yards of the houses on that side and stretched the entire length of the neighborhood. It was a magical place fully of whimsy. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was an enchanted realm all its own. There were walnut trees and wild flowers, clusters of honeysuckle and patches of sun-sweetened strawberries. When dusk settled, my friends and I gathered to watch bats launch from the tops of snarled dark trees. In the winter we donned skates and glided on frozen ground water beneath the full moon. Autumn was perfect for gathering acorns and trekking to the ‘big hill’ that sprouted from the earth like a mythical fairy mound.

Pot of GoldI never did find a leprechaun in that magical kingdom, not that I ever put any great energy into the search. I preferred to imagine one of the wee folk watching from beneath a shaded leaf or a plump toadstool. The problem with magic is that when captured, the enchantment fades. Perhaps that is why leprechauns and pots of gold only exist at the end of rainbows. Rainbows have no end.

I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in my veins – – I’m Italian and German with a smidgen of Brit mixed in – – but I think all of us feel a connection to the Emerald Isle, especially during the month of March. So whether you’re Irish (Hi, Emma!) or just honorary for the day like me, here’s hoping your day is filled with rainbows and the blessings of the wee folk.

Was there place that held magic for you as a child?

Mythical Monday: The Boogeyman and Other Childhood Monsters, by Mae Clair

Childhood days are filled with fun, a time of delight and discovery. But children also have vivid imaginations for conjuring the denizens of make-believe. Like most otherworldly elements, the fantastical is inhabited with beings of light and dark.

Full moonMost of us remember the boogeyman under the bed, a malevolent creature born from the blood of midnight, dust and shadow. When darkness settled, the boogeyman left its realm, oozing to life through the floorboards beneath a child’s bed. We knew better than to dangle a hand or foot over the edge of the mattress. The temptation was a blatant invitation for the boogeyman to “get us.” Although it was never really clear what that amounted to, we knew it would be terrifying.

Trying to convince an adult of the boogeyman’s existence was pointless. Once a light switch was activated, or a parent peered under the bed to reassure us, the boogeyman retreated, seeping back through the floorboards before it could be spied. Clever and ghastly, it wasn’t the only menacing creature to haunt our bedroom.

Kindred of the boogeyman, the closet monster was every bit as sinister. Like the boogeyman it appeared at night, summoned when a closet door was left standing ajar. That crack, no matter how minuscule, summoned it with the lure of slipping into our world. Shut the closet and the monster would be trapped inside. For all its menacing presence, it was powerless to open the door on its own.

bigstock-Silhouette-of-branches-19396952With the closet monster contained and the boogeyman prowling beneath the bed, that left only the dark enchantment born from the night. Wind, moonlight and shadow had the power to turn everyday tree branches into writhing snakes and skeletal fingers. When those same grasping fingers tapped against night-blackened window panes, we knew the danger lurking outside actively sought a way indoors.

In the morning, the touch of sunlight banished all dark creatures to their shadow-draped warrens and we could almost believe the danger wouldn’t return. Almost. In the bright wash of daylight, darkness and the denizens that inhabited its realm held no power.

We rode bikes, raced across open fields, picked wild strawberries and climbed trees. When dusk fell, we danced with fireflies, told ghost stories and played hide-and-seek. Twilight was magical, nothing to fear. But night eventually settled, forcing us to crawl into bed, certain the boogeyman had returned.

Somehow, despite all the ghoulish creatures that wanted to “get us,” we emerged from childhood unscathed. In time, we reached an age where they no longer existed, and ceased to trouble our sleep.

Maybe it’s just me, but dangling my hand over the edge of the bed is something that still gives me pause. Even as logic tells me there is nothing down there, I get that shivery sensation that has me snatching my hand back to safety after a short time. Silly? Yes. But a writer’s imagination is every bit as vivid as a child’s. How about yours?

Bet honest. How comfortable are you dangling a hand or foot over the edge of the bed? What nighttime creatures frightened you in childhood?

Mae Clair’s Mythical Monday: The Nine Lives of Cats

Arafel

Arafel, my first cat came from a litter of farm kittens. I always told her she looked like a little woodland creature from myth.

I love all animals, but cats are my favorite. As a kid I grew up with cats, dogs, goldfish, hamsters, gerbils, a parakeet, tropical fish and even a chinchilla. As an adult, I bonded with cats and never looked back. These animals have alternately been revered and feared throughout time. From the ancient Egyptians who worshipped them as demi-gods, to the people of Medieval England who believed them to be the accomplices of witches, felines have known extreme highs and lows. Perhaps this is the reason they are said to have nine lives.

More likely, the cat’s agility and its uncanny self-righting mechanism allowing it to survive falls from great heights, is where the myth originated. Felines are extremely graceful, swift, and able to squeeze into small spaces–traits that add to its undeniable mystique. Of all domesticated animals, the cat is the least tame. Like its wild kin, it is most active during early morning hours and at night, the best times for hunting prey. The nocturnal aspect of the cat and its ability to see in the dark also support the nine lives belief.  Blessed with enhanced senses and fluid agility, this clever and crafty animal could easily live nine lifetimes.

McDoogal

McDoogal was a rescue cat who entered our lives a year after Arafel. I joke with my husband that McDoogal worshipped me. He was definitely MY cat.

When superstition was rampant, many believed a witch could take the form of her cat familiar nine times, thus giving the cat nine lives.  Another tale related to the myth involves a cat entering a home where nine hungry children resided. Nine fish had been set out for the children to eat, but the cat devoured them all. The poor children died of starvation while the cat met an untimely end from gluttony. When the feline arrived in Heaven, God was so angered by its selfishness he made it fall to the earth for nine days. The nine lives of the children reside in the cat’s belly, which is why it must die nine times before finally being able to rest.

Sometimes those nine lives came in handy.  Seafarers knew cats were able to predict storms, which is why they considered a cat onboard ship good luck. It wasn’t simply a matter of running roughshod over vermin.

That was something Noah knew about. When the ark set sail, there were no cats onboard. Rats and mice multiplied and soon overran the boat.  In desperation, Noah asked the lion for help. The great beast sneezed and two cats were born, the only animal not originally created by God.

Onyx

Onyx, my last lovely boy. Everyone said he was so handsome with his silky black coat he should have been a show cat. I preferred spoiling him rotten.

Whatever you believe, there’s no denying these frisky and entertaining animals have found a place in our hearts, whether for a single lifetime or nine. Disney gave us The Three Lives of Thomasina while Stephen King terrified us with Pet Sematary.

I prefer my cats cuddly and affectionate over Mr. King’s variety which is why I’m dedicating this post to the lovely felines who graced my life with companionship–Arafel, McDoogal and Onyx. All are gone now. It would have been nice had they hung around for eight more lifetimes!

To close, I leave you with one of my favorite cat quotes. Nothing against dogs, (I love them too), but I think this quote speaks volumes about the mind of a cat:

A dog looks at you and says, “You take care of me. You must be a god.”  A cat looks at you and says, “You give me food and shelter. I must be a god.”

Wish I could credit it, but I don’t remember who said it.

What’s your take on cats (or dogs)? Do you have a favorite pet story or a strange superstition to share?