Mythical Monday: The Snow Maiden by Mae Clair

I’m cheating today by reblogging a Mythical Monday post I ran in December of 2012, although I think this will be new to most of my readers. Given the craziness of the holidays and the writing projects I’ve been juggling (final edits for my publisher on MYTH AND MAGIC (releasing June of 2015) and trying to wrap up my Mothman mystery so I can submit it), I neglected to come up with a Mythical Monday post today. I hope you don’t mind this trip down memory lane . . .

~ooOOoo~

As much as I love warm weather (and wouldn’t mind living somewhere tropical year round), I’ve always held a fascination for stories set in cold climates. A few of my all-time favorite novels have earned that distinction because the author employed a winter backdrop. Snow settings can be beautiful and magical, but also claustrophobic. THE RINGED CASTLE by Dorothy Dunnett (book 5 of the Lymond Chronicles) is an amazing read set in 16th Century Russia that conjures all three of those feelings.

Beautiful young woman in dressed in old fashioned winter furs and pearlsRussian folklore is also where I found the legend of The Snow Maiden, a short poignant fairy tale.  There are several variations but all agree on the basics—a woodcutter and his wife, lonely and childless, decide to amuse themselves one day by fashioning a snegurochka, a maiden from snow. Taken with their creation, they fervently wish her to be a daughter they can love and cherish. Their desire is so strong it weaves an enchantment that brings the snow maiden to life. She appears in a robe and cap of pale ivory that is embellished by pearls and trimmed in white fur. Overjoyed, they take her into their home as their own child.

All is well until the first sign of spring when the snow maiden tells them she must head north to lands where winter still reigns. Upset at the thought of losing her, the woodcutter barricades the door as his wife wraps the girl in her arms to prevent her from fleeing. As she holds her, the snow maiden slowly melts into nothingness. Overcome by grief, the couple mourns throughout the year. The next winter their daughter returns and their sadness becomes joy. The snow maiden promises to stay the season and return each year after that.

Young women standing in forest as sun breaks through the treesIn another version of the tale, the snow maiden falls in love with a young man from the village. One day they wander into a birch wood where the last vestiges of winter are fading and green shoots struggle to push up from the ground. The snow maiden turns her face to the sun, and with its touch, dwindles into an icy mist that is whisked away by the wind. And so winter must always yield to light and life as winter yields to spring.

I love these old fairy tales. What about you? Are there any special ones that come to mind? Any favorites from childhood that still resonate with you the way snow and winter resonate with magic?

Mythical Monday: The Cossack and the Vampire by Mae Clair

In the spirit of Halloween, I thought I’d share some spooky shenanigans for Mythical Monday this month.

bigstock-Village-Hotel-Engraving-by-Fl-31216964I want to start with an old tale from Russia about a Cossack who encountered a mysterious stranger one evening while traveling to rejoin his regiment. He’d walked for days, sometimes stopping to shelter from the cold when a farmer offered the hospitality of his barn. More often than not, the villagers he encountered scattered through the harsh countryside were wary of him, making the sign of the cross when he approached.

One evening as twilight was gathering, he spied a man camped along the side of the road. Though dressed raggedly, the stranger had kindled an inviting fire and was calmly mending a pair of boots. He did not react fearfully or superstitiously as the villagers had. The traveling soldier thought it odd the man had chosen to erect his camp beside an old graveyard, but was not deterred by the thought of the dead. Greeting the man with a brotherly hello, he gratefully warmed his hands by the fire.

The stranger’s reply was curt. “I call no man kin.”

Finished with his mending, he donned his boots and kicked dirt over the fire. Without a word, he set off down the road. Undaunted by his behavior, the Cossack followed.

“I will walk with you. Where do you go?”

The stranger’s response was brief, a few grunted words informing the Cossack he sought amusement. It wasn’t long before the lights of a village glimmered in the darkness and the sound of laughter and singing wafted to them on the air. On the edge of the village a small cottage stood with its door ajar, a wedding reception taking place within.

The two men were cheerfully welcomed inside and the Cossack joined in the celebration. The raggedy stranger elected to cling to the corners and sulk in the shadows. Enjoying himself, the Cossack gave little thought to the man’s unsocial behavior. Shortly after midnight, he was pleased to see the stranger approach the bride. These villagers were friendly. Finally the man was going to pay his respect!

The Cossack watched as the stranger knelt before the glowing bride. When she lowered her hands to his accept his well wishes, he buried his face in her palms. Within seconds, she grew pale and swooned, but the stranger’s face was flushed when he stood.

As the wedding company gathered around the distraught bride, the Cossack followed the stranger outside. “I know what you are.”

bigstock-Halloween-night-scene-in-a-spo-37249273The man sneered, his teeth stained with blood. “I’ve had my amusement. Leave me alone before I decide I need more.” He fled down the road to the graveyard where the Cossack had first encountered him. Enraged by what he had done, the valiant soldier chased in pursuit.

“You cannot kill me,” the vampire proclaimed. “The thing that lives inside me can survive even the scourge of fire.” Lunging at the Cossack, he grappled him around the waist.

Strong from many years of soldiering, the Cossack fought back as no man had before. All through the long night he struggled with his adversary. The two fought hand-to-hand, punching and kicking, twisting and rolling on the ground. When dawn arrived with the heralding cry of a cock, the vampire released the Cossack and slithered into a grave.

Injured, but determined, the soldier returned to the village where he gathered up the men. Armed with scythes and shovels, they filled a cart with kindling cut from stout rowans and birch trees. At the graveyard, they set it ablaze, using their pitchforks to heave the vampire’s body onto the pyre. When the ghoul’s charred skeleton crumbled to ash, a raucous shriek splintered the pungent air.

Maggots, rats and lizards surged from the flames; a funnel of dark-winged scavenger birds burst into the air. Swiftly, the villagers set upon the vermin, beating the foul creatures with their weapons. The twitching bodies were heaved back into the fire where they were quickly consumed. Even then more spewed forth in a seemingly endless hoard.

The killing went on for many long hours until finally the hellish creatures stopped coming. Exhausted, the villagers let the fire die and scattered the vampire’s ashes into the wind. Had even one of the nightmarish beasts survived, the vampire’s spirit would have roamed free in search of another host.

Satisfied the vampire’s evil had been thwarted, the Cossack bid the villagers good-bye and continued on his way. In one village at least, he would be remembered fondly.

~ooOOoo~

Although familiar with tales of vampires, this story was new to me. I’d never heard of a vampire’s spirit being released in the form of a rat, lizard or other creature – – or being able to escape the torrent of fire and roam free until finding another host. I’m not sure exactly how old this tale is, but I would guess 15th or 16th century. Were you familiar with this part of vampire lore?

I did stop to wonder why the vampire didn’t just bite the Cossack while they were fighting but maybe he couldn’t because he’d shared a fire with him. What do you think?