Archive for March, 2017

About 100 years ago, a little town called Spoonville stood on the shore of Lake Michigan. Business came and went with the seasons, and times were often hard. Then a clever businessman thought of a plan to draw more tourists.

Moe Kopple was his name, and he ran a nice restaurant and bar right near the shore. When business got too slow, he would get one of his buddies to row out on the lake and then come back with outrageous stories of a water dragon! These stories would run in the local newspaper, and then in the larger papers, and soon a horde of tourists would show up to try and catch a glimpse.

Every year or three, there would be another sighting. Moe always asked a different friend to row out there, so it wouldn’t look too suspicious. Besides, the business was good for everyone, so it became the town’s secret.

One year, Moe asked his friend Sam McGeever to go lake-monster hunting, and he readily agreed. But Sam came back greatly excited. No more mysterious waves or vague shapes — Sam was full of details about the horrible lake monster. Moe scoffed at first, but Sam was totally convinced of what he’d seen. Eventually Moe went out with him to see for himself.

The two men set off in Sam’s boat, Moe teasing that this must be a hoax because everyone knew lake monsters weren’t real. Sam set off straight for a particular spot, and soon Moe saw a commotion ahead of them. To his shock, a terrifying creature erupted from the water. It was huge, with green scales, blazing red eyes, and billows of smoke from a fanged maw. The monster swam toward them. Yelling with fear, both men seized the oars and rowed back to Spoonville as fast as they could.

Now Moe was worried. He told Sam not to talk about the monster any more, for fear of the consequences. If a tourist got eaten, they might never come back again! Sam brooded angrily. He enjoyed the attention from telling his amazing stories, and wanted to show  that he wasn’t a liar. A few days later, he told a friend he was going back out to find some sort of proof. Moe rushed to the dock, trying to dissuade his friend, but it was too late. Sam had already rowed away.

Neither he nor his boat were ever seen again.


Read Full Post »

Here’s another Irish dragon legend for you.

Lig-Na-Paiste was a dragon who dwelt in a forest pool near the headwaters of the Owenreagh River. He managed to keep his head down when Saint Patrick banished all the serpents from Ireland, and so he lingered and waited. Eventually the saint died, and Lig-Na-Paiste figured this was his chance. He took up his evil ways and marauded across the countryside once again.

Of course, people cried out their woes when he ravaged their herds. Word of their troubles reached another holy man, Saint Murrough. After fasting and praying for nine days, Murrough received a divine message. He gathered three rods made out of green reeds and sought out the lair of Lig-Na-Paiste. The dragon thought he must be a sacrifice sent by the local people, and readily came out of his den.

Legends differ as to the details, but Murrough tricked Lig-Na-Paiste  into wearing the reed bands. He then prayed, and the reeds transformed into iron. The dragon struggled mightily, but he could not get free. He then tried his own trickery, begging Saint Murrough to put him in the water, where his power would be greater. He claimed, also, that humans had no power over him. The saint held steadfast and asserted that God had power over all living things, even a dragon.

By Saint Murrough’s prayer, Lig-Na-Paiste was banished downstream to farthest depth of Lough Foyle. He is still bound with iron bands. The people who live nearby often tell of strange forebodings when they are near the water. If there are waves without a source or flooding on the lake shore, it is thought that Lig-Na-Paiste is struggling to get free.

Read Full Post »

The dragons of Irish legend were more associated with water than those of other lands. Ireland was dotted with peat bogs, right into modern times. Though no snakes were native to the island, the peat bogs were home to other wiggly creatures like eels. In addition, Ireland was surrounded by ocean, which is a mysterious realm ripe for magical beings. Thus the dragons of Irish imagination resembled gigantic, malevolent eels more than the winged, flying dragons we picture today.

In pre-historic spirituality, dragons were a force of decay and the underworld. The bubbling stink of a peat bog would have fit right into this legend. The Irish word for dragon was piast or peist (anglicized as pest or beast). If you listened to every story, you might believe that piasts were very widespread in Ireland. Nearly every major hero fought one. Some legends, such as that of Fionn mac Cumhaill (anglicized as Finn MacCool) include lengthy boasts of the piasts and other hauntings he had put an end to.

More recent legends tell that Saint Patrick came to Ireland and banished all serpents in the name of God. It is thought by modern scholars that this reflects the change from the traditional folk religion to that of Christianity. This was probably a gradual process, and that is reflected in a few tales of piasts who lingered after the expulsion.

I’ll share one such folktale next Wednesday.



Read Full Post »

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here is an Irish dragon tale.

Long ago, a great serpent lived in the sea off Ireland. They called him Master Stoorworm. Of course, such a mighty beast had a mighty appetite. He ate so much fish that the poor fishermen could hardly catch a one, but was that enough? Oh, no! Every morning, he rose up near a town and he yawned seven times. His yawn was so mighty that his tongue lashed out and seized seven things from the town. People, cattle, you name it.

The people cried out to their king for relief against Master Stoorworm. Some of them wanted to put out sacrifices, hoping to appease the monster, but the king would not hear of it. Instead, he proclaimed that anyone who could slay Master Stoorworm would be given his daughter’s hand in marriage and a prized sword as well. No fewer than thirty-six warriors took up this challenge, but alas! When they actually saw the beast, they all fled in terror.

In this town there was a young man named Jamie. He was so small that everyone laughed when he said he would take up the challenge. Undaunted, young Jamie gathered an iron pot with some coals, and some peat. He stole a boat and paddled out to the place where Master Stoorworm usually surfaced.

As soon as the creature appeared, his mighty yawn sucked poor Jamie down his gullet. Instead of trying to escape, Jamie paddled deeper until he reached the beast’s belly. Soon he saw the monster’s liver pulsing above him. The brave lad used the coals to light a peat fire. With this he set the liver on fire. Master Stoorworm writhed in agony! He lashed the sea into foam, but Jamie kept the fire burning hot.

As the sea dragon struggled, pieces of his body flew off. First some teeth fell and created the Orkney Islands. Then more teeth created the Shetland Islands. Finally he lost the rest of his teeth and created the Faroe Islands. Once the dragon’s teeth were gone, Jamie let go of the liver and paddled back out the way he came.

But Master Stoorworm had reached his end. Dying, he curled up in a ball, and his body became Iceland. Even to this day, the fire Jamie lit still burns deep under the ground in Iceland.

Read Full Post »

If you’re like me, you grew up knowing of pythons as the biggest snakes in the zoo. Only recently did I learn that Python was actually a deity in Greek mythology.

The great serpent Python was a spirit of the underworld and servant of Gaia. He lived at her cult headquarters in Delphi. A stone called the omphalos represented Gaia’s bellybutton and was believed to be the center of the Earth. Python guarded both this sacred landmark and the famous oracle nearby. The priestess at the oracle was known as the Pythia in his honor.

After the rule of the titans gave way to that of the Olympian pantheon, Python got dragged into some of their drama. It seems Zeus had cheated on Hera and gotten Leto pregnant. Hera, who had strong ties to Gaia, commanded Python to pursue Leto across all the world so that she could never find a resting place to deliver her babies. Eventually Leto did give birth to the twin gods Apollo and Artemis.

Having failed his mission, Python took up residence at Mount Parnassus. Some tales say that Hera again called on him when she needed a mentor to raise her monstrous son, Typhon.

Decades later, when Apollo had grown into his godhood, he came looking for payback. A long and fierce battle took place, ending in Python’s death. Apollo then buried his foe beneath the omphalos. Gaia’s temple was desecrated.

Zeus was displeased. He commanded Apollo to take over responsibility for the oracle. In addition, Apollo was to hold the Pythian Games every four years. These are believed to be a predecessor to the more famous Olympic Games.

Read Full Post »

What do Hydra, Cerberus, Zeus, Hera, Tartarus and Gaia have in common? They are all connected to the most hideous monstrosity of all Greek legend — Typhon.

Lastborn of the primordial titan race, Typhon was a gigantic man with numerous… uh… extra features. Not only was he taller than mountains. Not only did he have a savage and lawless nature. No, Typhon had 100 snake heads growing from his shoulders, and each snake head had heat vision! Even more remarkable, each of the heads spoke some language of beast kind and they were all shrieking constantly. Roaring lions, howling wolves, bulls, elephants, eagles, you name it. Typhon existed in a vortex of the most horrendous noise imaginable, punctuated by fiery eye-beams.

How could such a being exist? As I mentioned, Typhon descended from the titans who ruled the Earth before Zeus overthrew them. Furious at his betrayal, Gaia conceived one last child with Tartarus, a titan who lived in the underworld and gave it his name. That child was Typhon.

However, another legend says that Hera was responsible for this terror. She was angry that Zeus had brought forth Athena all on his own, so she prayed to Gaia for a son as strong as Zeus. Her prayer was answered and she became pregnant. When Typhon was born she gave him to another mythic serpent, Python, to be raised.

A final version of the story combines these ideas. Gaia, in her anger, told Hera lies about Zeus. This caused Hera to seek aid from her father, Cronos, who gave her an egg smeared with his own semen and told her to bury it in the earth. Typhon supposedly hatched from the egg.

Whatever his origin, it was Typhon’s destiny to battle Zeus. He rose up to conquer the Earth and was making good progress until he reached Mount Olympus. Some legends say that he snuck into Olympus while Zeus was asleep and tried to murder him that way. Others say Zeus confronted Typhon’s challenge head on.

What a battle it was! For many days they fought, causing earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes and tidal waves. Storm clouds blocked the sun, and Typhon’s 100 heads howled the whole time. Eventually, Zeus landed a hit with his thunderbolts that blew Typhon off Mount Olympus. The giant fell to earth and was imprisoned in Tartarus with the rest of the titans.

Incredible as it may seem, Typhon managed to find true love! His wife was Echidna, a half woman, half serpent descended from the primordial ocean god, Phorcys, and possibly also related to the dreaded Medusa. Among their numerous offspring were Cerberus, three-headed dog, and Hydra, the many-headed dragon.

Read Full Post »

From the dawn of time, the dragon has been the ultimate monster. Always lurking, looking for a virgin maiden to devour. I decided to play with this trope when I wrote my short story, “The Dragon Stone.”

You know the setup, right? A young woman, accused of witchcraft, is dragged to the stake. She must die for her evil ways! In the village of Terncliff, they have a Dragon Stone where witches are offered to the sea dragon, as payment for their crimes. Although young Aldrina is a witch, she has never hurt anyone. And when the sea dragon comes — let’s just say, the outcome isn’t what the villagers were expecting.

You can read the full story, “The Dragon Stone,” in my collection, Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, at fine e-booksellers everywhere.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Aunt-Ursulas-Atlas-Fairy-Tales-ebook/dp/B01N0RIQSS

Other formats: https://www.books2read.com/u/bxg6qP

Or in paperback: https://www.createspace.com/6939815

Read Full Post »

I’ve been investigating Welsh folklore the past week or so, due to a short story I’m writing. As part of that, I discovered a pair of large dragon sculptures being unveiled for St. David’s Day.

St. David’s Day is the national holiday of Wales, celebrated on March 1st each year. St. David was born in Wales and died there on March 1, 589. The anniversary is celebrated by wearing daffodils and leeks, meals featuring traditional foods such as rarebit, and wearing the national costume. For women, this includes a wool skirt and bodice called a bedgown, with a scarf over the shoulders and neck, and a distinctive hat somewhat like a stovepipe hat but narrower toward the top. Men wear a more generic outfit of breeches and waistcoat.

In recent decades, celebrations include parades and other festivities. Which brings us to the dragons. In 2016, the heritage organization Cadw unveiled a giant-sized dragon sculpture complete with steam jets. “Dewi” attracted crowds all over Wales. This year, Dewi has a new friend, a female dragon named “Dwynwen.” Dwynwen is more lavender compared to Dewi’s red. Both are sculpted out of fiberglass.

The pair are shown “cwtching,” or cuddling, at Caernarfon Castle. They will be there all March and then begin their tour of Wales. You can see images and watch a pair of short videos here.

Read Full Post »