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. 🙂
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.
Others 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?
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.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?
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.
This 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.
The 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?
Whether 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.
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? 🙂
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.
Remember 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.
I 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?
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.
Most 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.
With 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?
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.
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.
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?
Today is the last day you can enter for a chance to win giveaways in the Heartbreaker Blog Hop. To enter, follow this link and comment on THAT post. But wait!
Before you scamper off to do more blog hopping, I invite you to check out my Mythical Monday post. It’s something I do each Monday. This week, keeping with the heartbreaker theme, I’m looking at legends of valor.
Let’s face it. There was a lot of heartbreak taking place in heroic ballads of yore. The romantic in me has always been attracted to long ago heroes like Robin Hood, King Arthur, Tristan and Taliesin to name a few. I think I’ve always felt saddest for Arthur, probably why I’ve never been a huge Lancelot fan. I wanted Arthur and Guinevere to be together, the kingdom of Camelot to shine brightly, and for Arthur’s dream of ‘might does not make right’ to live on through the chivalrous deeds of the Knights of the Roundtable. Today, I want to focus on a lesser known legend. One that’s rife with heartbreak and valor—Tristan and Iseult.
You can find several different renditions of this tale, but the core element is the same—the doomed romance between Marc of Cornwall’s heir and Iseult of Ireland. Here is the version I am most familiar with:
Tristan is King Marc’s nephew during a time when Cornwall and Ireland are at war. Every ten years, Ireland demands Cornish tribute, or a combatant of princely blood must face their champion, Morholt, who has never been defeated.
Marc sends Tristan, his greatest knight and heir to the throne. Tristan defeats Morholt, a giant of a man, but is grievously wounded during the battle. As Morholt lies dying he tells Tristan he used a poisoned sword to inflict the wound, and only the Queen of Ireland, a skilled healer can save him from death. Tristan disguises himself as a musician and seeks out the Irish queen. While in her care, he glimpses her daughter, Iseult the Fair, and is overcome by her beauty. When he returns to Cornwall he tells his uncle about her.
Marc has been under increasing pressure to marry from the nobles of his court. Knowing a marriage to Iseult will bring peace between Cornwall and Ireland, he sends Tristan back to win her hand for him.
Iseult has no love for him or Marc but, like the Cornish king, sees how marriage would benefit their realms. Knowing it will not be easy for her daughter to lie with an enemy, the Queen of Ireland prepares a love potion for Iseult and Marc to drink on their wedding night. Unfortunately, Tristan and Iseult mistakenly drink it during the voyage and fall instantly, madly in love.
Eventually, they flee together and live in the woods, hunted by Marc’s men. After three years on the run, Iseult returns to Marc and Tristan is banished from the kingdom.
Tristan begins to serve many kings and kingdoms, eventually marrying a woman known as Iseult of the White Hands (I’m going to refer to her as Isolde to keep things less confusing). Despite the marriage, Tristan’s heart still belongs to Iseult. Isolde realizes she is a pale substitute for the woman he truly loves, and her heart grows hard with bitterness and jealousy.
One day while battling to save a friend, Tristan is struck with a poisoned lance. Nothing is able to save him, but he knows Iseult has inherited her mother’s healing magic. He sends a ring to her with a message asking her to come to him. He will be on the beach, waiting to see her ship. If she still loves him and wishes to be with him, she should fly a white sail. If she wants nothing to do with him ever again, she should hoist a black sail and continue past.
Iseult rushes to help him, setting sail immediately, but Tristan’s health continues to deteriorate. He drags himself to the shore on the day he expects her ship to arrive, propping himself to rest against a rock. It’s there Isolde finds him. Close to death, Tristan sinks to the sand, too weak to keep himself upright. He can’t see the ocean, and thus asks Isolde to look for the ship.
His wife has learned of his message to Iseult. She spies the ship approaching, flying a blinding white sail but, when Tristan asks, she tells him it is black. Heartbroken, he surrenders to grief and dies.
When Iseult arrives and finds her dead lover on shore, she lies down beside him, kisses him and dies in his arms.
I originally read this story in high school and still have my battered paperback copy. The romantic in me has always been saddened by stories that don’t have HEA’s like those of Tristan and Iseult, Arthur and Guinevere. At least Robin Hood and Maid Marian had a happily-ever-after.
Do you have a favorite legend of valor or heroic tale? If you could rewrite the ending would you give the principal players a different ending to bring happiness?
I’ve been holding off addressing nautical folklore and sea myths on my Mythical Monday posts, saving them for closer to the release of my contemporary romance/mystery TWELFTH SUN. I’m still on schedule for August having just wrapped my second round of content edits, but the pull of the sea is hard to resist 🙂
TWELFTH SUN is the name of a 19th Century schooner I invented. An artifact from the ship becomes the focal point of a treasure hunt in which my novel’s hero and heroine find themselves competing. Ship lore has always fascinated me, so it was fun to sprinkle a few tidbits and superstitions throughout the book. No mythical creatures, however, so I thought I’d share some of those my blog, starting with the mermaid.
We’ve all heard the speculation that ancient mariners mistook the manatee for a mermaid, a belief that has always left me scratching my head. Don’t get me wrong – – I love manatees. They’re graceful in the water and gentle, but a man would have to be seriously lonely or swilling too much rum to mistake a 1200 lb. aquatic mammal for a sea nymph. Can you imagine the disappointment when reality set in?
But let’s assume mermaids did exist. Disney put a lovely HEA spin on the story of the Little Mermaid. As a child, I remember the fairytale ending differently and was saddened the mermaid and her prince couldn’t be together. In the original rendition, mermaids lack a soul, becoming sea foam when they die unlike humans who live for eternity.
One day the Little Mermaid spies a ship in the distance and immediately falls in love with a handsome prince she sees onboard. A storm arrives and he is tossed into the sea, unconscious, at the mercy of the waves. The Little Mermaid saves him and takes him ashore, staying beside him until she sees a human girl approaching. She slips into the sea before the prince awakes. When he does recover, he finds the human girl at his side and mistakenly believes she has rescued him.
Days pass, but the Little Mermaid is unable to forget her prince. Desperate to be with him, she visits a sea witch who gives her a potion in exchange for her beautiful voice. The potion gives her legs but every step she takes is agony, as if she is walking on swords. The witch tells her she will gain a soul if the prince loves her and marries her. Through true love’s kiss she will become a human but, should he marry another, she will turn into sea foam at dawn of the next day.
In love with her prince, the Little Mermaid drinks the potion. She finds him at his palace, but now mute, is unable to tell him she loves him or that she saved him from the sea. He is kind and attentive, but his heart belongs to the girl he believes rescued him. Eventually, he marries her and the Little Mermaid’s heart is broken.
That night, her sisters bring her a knife from the witch. She has one final chance to save herself– kill the prince before dawn, and she can return to the sea as a mermaid. Unable to do it, the Little Mermaid throws herself into the sea at daybreak, expecting to become foam. Instead, she is welcomed by the Daughters of the Air and told she will be granted a soul after 300 years of helping others.
I’m sure a lesson lurks in there somewhere, but I much prefer the Disney ending with the Little Mermaid marrying her prince. Even as a kid, I was all about an HEA. I’m all for classics, but sometimes you have to wonder about the guys who were writing them.
That aside, not all mermaids were interested in romantic love, especially with a human. They had strong devoted meremen of their own. In certain legends mermaids behaved much like the sirens of Greek mythology who lured sailors to their doom with enchanted signing. In some tales they rescued men from storm-tossed seas, while in others they spirited them to their underwater kingdom, drowning them in the process. As with most mythical creatures, there is a touch of beguiling enchantment and a darker side to the mermaid legend.
Which do you prefer?