Posts Tagged ‘folk stories’

In Gascony, during the reign of King Charlemagne (742 – 814), there was a dragon named Jilocasin. He enjoyed mingling with humans and often assumed the guise of a troubadour in order to entertain the nobility with poetry and song. One day as he traveled through a forest, Jilocasin heard a woman calling out for help. He rushed to the site found a young lady being accosted by bandits.

A dragon as powerful as Jilocasin had no trouble dealing with such ruffians. However, the lady had swooned and did not see her rescuer in his true form. The kindly dragon carried her back to his castle and resumed his human appearance to tend to her. In doing so, he was startled to discover a tiny baby was wrapped inside the lady’s robes.

When she recovered, the young lady explained why she had been alone in the forest. It seemed she was recently widowed, and in order to maintain control of her wealth, her family had forced her to marry a cousin. They hadn’t even observed the traditional year of mourning. Her second husband was a repulsive person who cared only for her fortune. Soon she discovered that she was with child by her first husband. Her cousin would not permit anyone to rival his claim and demanded that her child be killed immediately after birth.

Somehow, the lady managed to escape into the woods with her child. The desperate widow begged for the (as she believed human) lord of the castle to protect her from her vicious husband. Jilocasin immediately agreed, and made provisions for widow and child to live in his castle.

By the time three years had passed, the two had become very close. In fact, Jilocasin loved her so dearly that he revealed his true identity as a dragon. The widow, in turn, loved Jilocasin so completely that she accepted his nature without complaint. Although they could not marry, they lived together as if they were husband and wife. Soon enough, she became pregnant again.

Alas, the lady died in childbirth, but Jilocasin raised both of her sons as brothers. Though neither became a dragon, they were fine and valiant knights who fought to avenge their dear mother. When the time was right, they attacked and seized the castle of their mother’s second husband. The elder son assumed ownership of his rightful heritage, while Jilocasin’s son ruled his own domain as a peaceful neighbor. Jilocasin helped and advised them until the end of their days.

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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.

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Long ago, the English county of Hampshire was covered by thick woodlands called the New Forest. Near these woods was a tall hill known as Burley Beacon, and the den of a dragon was high upon it. The beast caused the usual trouble — devouring cattle and also any humans foolish enough to interfere with its predations.

The nearest manor was at Bisterne, where Sir Maurice Berkeley was visited by a delegation pleading for his help. The villagers had managed to reach a detente that involved them giving all their cows’ milk to the dragon each day. Sir Maurice decided to use this. He had his armor coated with glass, and then set up a hunter’s blind where the dragon came to get the milk. There he hid himself along with his two best hunting hounds.

The next day, the dragon came. Sir Maurice waited until the beast was occupied with its treat. He let his hounds out, and they instantly rushed at the dragon. A furious battle raged across the countryside. It was visible to villagers in Lyndhurst and Bisterne. At length, Sir Maurice managed to strike the dragon from behind. Dragon and dogs died together in a bath of poisoned blood. It’s said that the dragon’s body turned into a hill known as Bolton’s Bench.

The knight’s glass-coated armor shed the blood without harming him… or so it seemed. But Sir Maurice was never the same after the battle. The dragon’s breath was merely a slower poison. He lost his strength and his mind wandered in nightmares. After a month of torment, the doomed knight returned to Bolton’s Bench. He died, and his body changed into a yew tree, which was said to still exist in the 17th Century.

A green dragon became part of the Berkeley family arms. Nearby villages of Bisterne, Alderbury and Brook have all had Green Dragon Inns at various times. The New Forest is a nature reserve, one of Britain’s largest intact native forests. It’s mystique is such that it is frequently referred to in stories by British writers.

And the yew trees grow thick on Bolton’s Bench, even to this day.

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As we were packing up for the end of the school year, I happened upon this retelling of a Chinese folk tale. So if you were wanting to hear about Mozart’s opera, The Golden Flute, you’ll have to forgive me. The translation here is by Robert Morgan, with illustration by Anik McGrory. I tried to find other versions of this story, to confirm that it actually is of Chinese origin, but I didn’t have any luck. Bear that in mind.

There once was a woman who lived in the mountains along with her daughter, Little Red. But one day a horrible dragon swooped down and snatched Little Red. The mother ran after it, wailing and crying, but she couldn’t keep up. As the dragon vanished into the west, Little Red’s voice floated back to her. “One day my brother will rescue me!”

The grieving mother wept as she went home. Little Red was her only child, so how could a brother save her? She passed close to a bayberry tree growing at the side of the road. Her hair got tangled, and she stopped to free herself. It was then she noticed a bright red berry hanging on the branch. She ate the berry and went on her way.

When the woman got home, she suddenly doubled over in pain. Soon she gave birth to a little boy with red cheeks like the berry she had eaten. She decided to call him Bayberry. Indeed this was a remarkable child, for he grew so quickly that within a few days he looked like a teenager. The mother longed to tell Bayberry about his sister’s plight, but she also feared losing her second child to the dragon, so she said nothing.

But this was a secret too powerful to keep. Bayberry was working in the yard when a crow started scolding him. “Your sister suffers while you live in comfort!” Bayberry went to find his mother. He asked, “Do I have a sister?”

When the woman heard what the crow had said, her eyes filled with tears. “Yes, my son. Your sister is called Little Red, and an evil dragon snatched her away.”

Bayberry picked up a big stick and said, “I’m going to find her and kill that dragon so nobody else has to suffer.” Off he went, while his mother smiled through her tears.

Next time, Bayberry’s adventures begin in earnest!

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Chylde Wynde received a desperate plea from his home in Northumberland. A dragon was ravaging the countryside! He barely made it ashore in a boat of enchanted Sorb, but then he and his companions were enveloped in blinding fog. As they stumbled forward, they saw a huge eye, the color of a lemon, surrounded by the malevolent glitter of scales. A savage muzzle pierced the fog.

The soldiers closed ranks, and fearless Chylde Wynde raised his sword . Margaret-the-dragon let loose a great cry of despair as black magic forced her to attack her own brother. Somehow, within the howling, the knight recognized his dear sister’s voice. Though horrified to see her so changed, he knew what he must do.

Chylde Wynde ordered his men to stand down, while he sheathed his sword and approached the dragon. Her breath scorched his cheeks and stung his eyes, but he knelt to kiss her face. Sharp scales tore his skin, but still he embraced his sister. Twice more he kissed her. Margaret-the-dragon gave another shriek and stumbled back. Her fearsome body began to decay. The hellish light went out of her eyes and the scales crumbled like autumn leaves. From the midst, a naked girl stumbled out. It was Margaret, restored to her former beauty! Chylde Wynde ran forward to give her his cloak, and they shared a tearful reunion.

Soon he and his men escorted Margaret back to Bamburgh Castle, where their father was overjoyed to see them. But Chylde Wynde still had work to do. He burst into the chambers of his mother-in-law, the wicked queen, only to find her backed into a corner of her room. The moment the ship of Sorb had touched the shore, her magic unravelled. All she could do was stare in dread as he approached with a rod of Sorb from his ship.

The queen wailed in agony when the magical wood touched her. She withered and shrank into the form of a toad, which finished her scream as a shrill croaking. Everyone was shocked, but then Chylde Wynde burst out laughing. The toad sprang away, pursued by mockery. Down the stairs she fled, over the drawbridge, and no one ever saw where she finally took refuge.

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In the 1300s, a samurai’s daughter named Tokoyo went to search for her exiled father in the Oki Islands of Japan.

She stopped to rest on a beach, but was soon awakened by the sound of weeping nearby. She looked for the reason and saw two people dressed in white atop a nearby rock. A priest clapped his hands and prayed, “Namu Amida Butsu” (a Buddhist prayer, literally “think of Buddha” but more poetically “you will be remembered”). Meanwhile a beautiful maiden sobbed with despair. The priest was about to push the girl into the sea when Tokoyo rushed up and stopped him.

She demanded why this was happening, and the priest replied with sorrow that a dragon named Yofune-Nushi lived in a cave deep beneath this cove. The wicked creature had been terrorizing the people of the island for centuries, raising storms at sea and destroying their fishing fleet. It demanded the sacrifice of a virgin woman every spring. The villagers couldn’t live without fishing, and so they had to give in.

Tokoyo replied that her heart was already broken by losing her father, so she offered to be the sacrifice and let the younger girl go home. The priest was very surprised, but the maiden gratefully accepted. They changed clothes, so that Tokoyo wore the white robe of sacrifice. Holding a small dagger in her teeth, she leapt into the sea.

Moonlight illuminated the clear water of the cove, so she was able to swim down past fish and seaweed. She came to a grotto where gleaming pearls and awabi (abalone) shells surrounded a wooden statue. Tokoyo recognized that this represented Takatoki Hojo, the same man who had banished her father. She was furious, and wanted to destroy the statue, but she realized it would be easier to do this if she took it up to the shore.

Before she could lay hands on the statue, a horribie monster lunged at her. This was the dreaded Yofune-Nushi — a twenty-foot-long serpent with clawed legs, fiery eyes, and phosphorescent scales. The dragon assumed she was his annual sacrifice and approached without fear. But as he closed in, Tokoyo slipped aside and struck at his right eye with her dagger. Yofune-Nushi reeled with shock and pain. He tried to flee to his lair, but in turning he exposed his neck. Tokoyo’s blade struck true, and that was the end of the evil sea dragon.

Half-conscious, the brave samurai’s daughter swam back up with the statue and the body of the dragon. The priest and the maiden were very surprised to see her. By the blood in the water, they thought she must have perished. The priest ran to help her out of the waves, while the maiden brought help from her home village. They celebrated until dawn that their village had been saved by the valiant heroine, Tokoyo.

A few days later, the priest reported to his lord, Tameyoshi, that Yofune-Nushi had been slain. In turn, Tameyoshi reported to Hojo that a statue with his likeness had been pulled out of the sea. It turned out that Hojo had been very ill with a disease no physician could understand, but just a few days ago he had miraculously recovered. Now, with the priest’s report, it was evident that he had not been ill but cursed. Since Tokoyo had unknowingly broken the spell, Hojo showed his gratitude by releasing her father from prison. The two of them returned to their home and lived happily for many years.

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This draconic legend is something of an oddity. It was published in 1918 as part of Richard Gordon Smith’s volume, Ancient Tales and Folk-Lore of Japan. However, many aspects are more reminiscent of European dragon lore. Even the author admitted that the tale couldn’t be authenticated as Japanese. This raises a question: where did the story come from?

Sometime in the 1300s, there lived a samurai named Shima Oribe, who fell into disgrace and was banished by his lord, Takatoki Hojo. Shima was commanded to live on an island called Kamishima, in the Oki island group. Oribe had a beautiful daughter, about 18, named Tokoyo. She was devoted to her father, as he was to her. Alone in her house, she wept for over a year.

When Tokoyo could no longer bear the loneliness and grief, she set off to find her father. She was a courageous young woman who knew how to sail and had learned how to swim from the women of her village. At times, she even dove with them to collect oysters and awabi (abalone). Having sold a few of her fine possessions, Tokoyo made her way to a village called Akasaki, where the Oki Islands could be seen in the distance. She asked the local fishermen to take her there, but her money was nearly gone. They refused to help her.

Tokoyo had a bold heart. She found a small boat and sailed off on her own. Coming to land, she searched for her father. He was not there, so she sailed on, from island to island, day after day, always searching. Despairing, she found a sheltered place to rest on land.

Wait a minute — wasn’t there supposed to be a dragon in this story? Yofune something? Check back on Saturday and see if he shows up!

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A friend mentioned this legend in comments after I related the story of the Whitby Wyrm last Tuesday. I really thought I had already covered it, but a search of the archive didn’t turn it up. So here it is, and thanks to M. Q. Allen for the suggestion!

1,000 years ago, at the time of the Crusades, a young man named John Lambton lived in the Northeast of England. One fine Sunday morning, Lambton decided he would rather go fishing than go to church, so off he went to the banks of the River Wear. He met an old man who warned him about the danger to his soul if he didn’t go to church. Lambton scoffed at that.

He went on fishing, but caught nothing until the bells rang for the end of the church service. Only then did he pull up a strange and ugly creature with a limbless body like an eel or lamprey, but the head of a salamander. Even on the fisherman’s hook, it lashed its body and tried to bite.

“What devil is this?” cried Lambton.

The old man was passing by on his way back from church. When he saw what Lambton had caught, he gave a dire warning. “You have brought this vile creature into the world, and you must deal with it!”

“I’ll deal with it, all right,” Lambton cried, and he threw it down a well. “There! Let’s see it get out of that.”

He went on his way, expecting that the little wyrm would perish in the prison of the well. Do you think he was right? Check back on Tuesday for more of the legend!

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Are all the dragons dead?
Are all the giants fled?

These are the first two lines of a very old good-night poem I used to hear as a child. I think it’s originally from Scotland or Ireland. I’ve searched far and wide, but I can’t find the whole thing. It’s just killing me.

If anyone knows of a source, please share!

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The Rainbow Serpent may be best known for its presence in Aboriginal religion and folk tales, but there are numerous instances where this mighty spirit seems connected to other dragons of world lore.

For instance, several African tribes have legends of a divine serpent called Aidu-Hwedo which has a certain resemblance to the Rainbow Serpent. As I’ve written previously, Aidu-Hwedo is an Ouroboros — a gigantic serpent that circles around and eats its own tail. In the process, it supports the whole world. Click here if you’d like to check out that post.

At the same time, the Rainbow Serpent is very much associated with water. This makes it also akin to dragons of Asian myth, who are nature spirits dwelling in rivers and seas. Even mo’o, the dragons of Hawai’ian lore, were believed to live in fishing ponds.

To me, it’s fascinating how different people all around the world generated stories about dragons in such similar ways. This is yet another reminder that people have much more in common than we sometimes can see.

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