Posts Tagged ‘folk tales’

Previously, I related how Sir John Lambton unwittingly loosed a lindworm that ravaged his home.

As a returned Crusader, Sir John was not afraid of battle. But he remembered that he’d already thought he killed the creature once before, and so he sought aid. A wise woman lived in the village of Durham, not far away. Sir John told her why he must defeat the lindworm and asked for her advice. The wise woman told him to put spear blades on his armor and that he must face the wyrm in the River Wear. If he fought it on dry ground, he would surely lose.

But there was more. Because he had turned his back on this task as a young man, a curse had now grown up with it. To break the curse, Sir John had to slaughter the next living thing he saw after defeating the wyrm. If he failed to do this, the curse would fall upon him and his family. For nine generations, not one of them would die peacefully in bed.

Sir John returned home and explained the wise woman’s instructions. His father agreed to help fit the armor with spear heads, and they planned that , if Sir John defeated the wyrm, he would blow his horn three times. The father was then to release his favorite hound. Sir John planned to kill the hound and avert the curse.

When all was ready, Sir John went down to the River Wear. The lindworm was now wrapped around a rock at mid-stream.The moment it saw him, it attacked! They first fought on the bank, where the evil beast tried to catch him in its coils. Luckily, the sharp blades kept it from getting a grip. Sir John struck back, but soon discovered that any piece of the wyrm he lopped off would instantly re-attach itself and the wyrm was just as strong as ever!

Remembering the wise woman’s advice, Sir John backed into the river, where the current was strong. Now when he cut the beast, the pieces floated away and could not re-grow. Not long after, Sir John finished the lindworm off and sounded his horn three times. Alas, the father was so relieved to know his son was alive, he forgot about letting the hound go first. He rushed to the riverbank, where Sir John was aghast to see him. For in order to lift the lindworm’s curse, he would have to kill his own father!

As a loyal son, Sir John could not bring himself to do that. The two men returned home and killed the hound, but it was too late. Though the Lambton family eventually rebuilt their fortunes, the curse shadowed their descendants. For nine generations, no man of that family died peacefully in his own bed.

Read Full Post »

Last time, I started the story of the Lambton Wyrm, one of the best known legends from England. I paused when Lambton, having fished a baby wyrm out of the River Wear, threw it into a well and left it to die.

A few years passed and the impulsive young John Lambton became a more responsible man. Eventually he decided to join the Crusades and make up for the incident with the wyrm, and other sins. His father, who was a knight and lord of the country around there, gave his blessing.

Sir John Lambton fought honorably in the Holy Land, but when he returned after seven years something was terribly wrong. The countryside was deolate, his proud castle home shabby and crumbling. Only a few sickly servants remained with his poor old father. When Sir John asked what had happened, he heard a tale of woe.

It began with a well near the River Wear. The water became foul, so that all who drank it fell ill. Then livestock started to vanish. The father investigated the well and found deep, slithering tracks around it. They led to a nearby hill. There the horrified father discovered a lindworm, so large that its coils passed seven times around the hilltop. Because his son was far away, the father called for aid. Many knights came to battle the dreaded wyrm, but none could defeat it. It often grew so angry that it pulled up a tree with its tail and flattened everything for miles.

This creature terrorized the land for months on end, snatching first the cattle and then young children. Peasants fled the area, and soon the lindworm came to the lord’s own castle. As a desperate measure, the father put out a trough of milk from nine good cows. This treat calmed the wyrm and it went back to its hilltop. However, the wyrm came to expect this bounty every day — and it was still growing!

As he heard all this, a great weight fell upon Sir John, for he knew where the lindworm came from. He had brought this vile creature into the world and he would have to deal with it, just as the old man foretold.

Come back Saturday to find out how he did!

PS — I’ve recently updated my book pages. Please take a look!

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

Coco/Coca are a type of wicked spirit in folklore from Spain and Portugal. They sometimes take the form of dragons, sometimes of a ghostly floating head or skull, and even a horrifying hairy brute that lurks under the bed. Males are called Coco and females are Coca, though otherwise they have the same attributes.

Cocos function rather like the Bogeyman in Northern Europe. Parents warned unruly children that the Coco would come get them if they didn’t behave. They were especially associated with getting children into bed on time. One lullaby translates: “Sleep child, sleep now. Here comes the Coco and he will eat you!” Sometimes legend said the Coco would snatch the victim into the land of the dead, rather than eating him.

Cocos must not have been all that awful, though. In Portugal, if someone was “given coca,” they had been charmed and made weak by magic or sweet words. The root word Coca appears in a few phrases about children who are “spoiled rotten,” thus carrying through the association with a Bogeyman to threaten naughty children.

The draconic form is most associated with the female, or Coca. Legends all over Portugal and northern Spain related how a terrible she-dragon came from the sea and was devouring the young women, until a band of young men put an end to her reign of terror. Even into the 21st Century, village festivals feature re-enactments around the time of Corpus Christi in late May or early June. Oddly enough, St. George often comes into the tale, too! He battles a large Coca puppet or mannequin that has been paraded through the streets. If St. George is victorious, the crops will be good and no famine is expected. If Coca wins, well…

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

This is a mythic being of Aboriginal Australian lore, and a striking symbol to bridge past with present. The Rainbow Serpent is held in common by numerous Aboriginal tribes. Because of this, it has many names. Some of these are Wanamangura, Goorialla, Numereji, Yurlunggur, Taipan, Ungur, and Ngalyod. Its legend takes many forms. So the Rainbow Serpent may be an individual deity, or it may be a family of related deities who moved across the Earth. It may be male, female, or androgynous. It can be cruel and proud, or gentle and helpful. As god/dess of water in parched Australia, its power was never to be taken lightly.

What frustrates me in exploring this ancient dragon is how much information comes from scientists and settlers who weren’t part of the Aboriginal world. The Aborigines themselves seem to be left out of the telling. Perhaps this is their choice, to maintain their cultural privacy. Most likely, it’s a function of how the Aborigines were marginalized by colonial rule. Yet they still live on, and their faith is a living religion.

Most accounts say the Rainbow Serpent is a great snake with scales of many colors — a literal personification of the rainbow. As it arched across the sky, folk believed the Rainbow Serpent was traveling from one watering hole to another. Australia has been arid though most of recorded history, and any pool that held water during the dry season was a vital resource. Perhaps it isn’t surprising the tribal members thought these must be the dwellings of a god.

The legends also agree that the Rainbow Serpent came from the Dreamtime, a mystical neverworld that exists both together and apart from the earthly world. It is eternal, where mortal creatures may perish. The Rainbow Serpent came from the Dreamtime deep underground. In its struggle toward the surface, it raised mountains and carved valleys. At last it made its home in deep pools where the water never dried out, even during droughts. This cemented the Rainbow Serpent’s connection with the vital element of water.

On Saturday, I’ll recount some of the Rainbow Serpent’s legends.

Read Full Post »

Knuckers are an English variety of dragon who live in pools and ponds called knucker holes. Like most dragons, they are predatory and have voracious appetites.

Legend tells there was a knucker hole near the town of Lyminster, West Sussex. A knucker made its lair in the depths. The knucker wasn’t the largest or smartest dragon in the world, but it still caused plenty of trouble. It kept eating the local sheep and cattle, and when those became few, people were afraid they would be next on the menu!

In desperation, the mayor called for a hardy warrior to get rid of this menace. What he got was a farmer’s son named Jim Pulk. Jim’s plan was to bake a huge Sussex pie — like a pot pie, with meat and vegetables and a crust of mashed potatoes — with a special spice of lethal poison.

Pulk made his deadly feast and took it to the knucker hole in a horse drawn cart. He left it and ran off to hide. Moments later, the knucker burst from the water and gobbled it all up — horse, cart, pie and all! But soon it began to shudder, and then it dropped down dead. Pulk came out of his hiding place and cut off the knucker’s head with a scythe, as proof of his success.

Returning to Lyminster, Pulk celebrated his victory at the Six Bells Inn. He regaled his comrades with the tale of his clever victory over the beast. But then he suddenly shuddered. He fell to the floor and soon breathed his last.

It seemed some of the knucker’s blood was still on Pulk’s glove after he cut its head off. When he wiped his mouth after drinking, he inadvertently poisoned himself. Thus the knucker avenged its own death!

Read Full Post »

Of late I’ve been focusing on Chinese dragon lore, since Chinese New Year will be on the 19th. I’ve also spent time with Japanese folklore in the past. Now I’d like to take a break and acknowledge that the Chinese and Japanese, while amazing and beautiful, are not the sum of Asian culture. Most Asian cultures, from India to Korea and throughout the archipelagos, have dragon legends passed down from antiquity. Here are a few of them.

Vietnamese dragons are known are Rong, and are very similar to China’s Long or Lung dragons. They are symbols of life and growth.

In Korea, dragons begin as lesser water spirits known as Imugi. These benevolent serpents aspire to become true dragons, or Yong. Some legends state they must live for 1,000 years and do good works to reach this goal. Other tales claim they have been cursed and can never realize their dream. Still others say an Imugi must capture a yeouiju, the celestial pearl, in order to ascend.

The Naga of India are great serpents with human torso, arms and head whose mythic civilization played a vital role in Indian legend. I’ve written about them in the past, if you’d like to check it out. Hindu lore also includes Makara, a semi-draconic goddess of the Ganges River.

The Khmer people of Cambodia tell of the Neak, benevolent spirits that appear as giant cobras with multiple heads. Some can have as many as nine cobra heads! Male Neak have odd numbers of heads, while females have even numbers.

I know there are more. If you’ve heard of any other Asian dragons, please share!.

Read Full Post »

Long ago, the Jinjiang River in Fujian Province, China, was ruled by a dragon king. This mighty spirit had three daughters who loved to travel the countryside. Each year in spring, the three of them embarked on a grand tour around Lake Erhai and the Canshan Mountains. One day they came to a small village near the foot of Lianhua Mountain. The people were suffering through a terrible drought. There was no water for humans or animals to drink, let alone grow rice. The villagers had been reduced to eating seeds from wild grass.

The three sisters were very sad to see this, and especially the eldest sister. She sent her younger sisters back home to the Dragon King, while she vowed to take responsibility for the people. The eldest sister assumed the form of an old woman and wandered freely, observing the kindness of these villagers despite their dire straits. Finding them worthy, she went to the foot of Lianhua Mountain. There she called upon her magic and caused a spring to burst forth.  As water flowed down, the villagers were able to drink and grow rice again. In gratitude, the residents of three villages — Bangzhuang, Puhe and Huaying — combined their resources and built a temple to honor the dragon king’s eldest daughter. She took up residence there and was known as Jinjiang River Goddess. That region never again suffered a drought.

Next spring, the two remaining sisters continued their traditional journeys. The visited a country fair in Dali during the month of March. Now the middle sister was beautiful indeed, so that a man named Dongjia Luolong took it upon himself to put a flower in her hair. This was a great disgrace, since it implied a relationship were none existed.Furious, the dragon king’s two daughters pursued Dongjia to his home village of Haidong. On the way, they passed a place called Rock Mountain, which labored beneath a deadly drought.

Although she was angry, the middle daughter felt sorry for the weak and hungry people. She used her powers to make rain fall on the slopes of Rock Mountain. This ran down to water the valleys, so that Haidong grew green once again. Once the two sisters had punished Dongjia for his presumption, they returned to Rock Mountain, where the natural beauty had won their hearts. They took up residence in one of the creeks. No longer did Rock Mountain suffer from any shortage of water. The people around Haidong built a temple to the middle sister and honored her as Ciyun Creek Goddess.

The two sisters lived happily, but the following spring, the third and youngest daughter again grew restless. Her sister let her travel to Green Dragon Mountain, as long as she took along a trusted servant named Wuzhong. As her sisters before her, the youngest daughter discovered a crisis unfolding as no clouds had been seen on Green Dragon Mountain for many long months. She, too, summoned her magic and caused rain to fall. She, too, was honored by grateful villagers with a temple and the title of Jinling Goddess.

As time passed, the dragon king of Jinjiang River grew lonely and missed his three daughters. He went to visit each of them and was delighted by the scenery of Canshan and Lake Erhal. Soon he too moved to Green Dragon Mountain.

After that, the villages along the Jinjiang river held a festival each spring, honoring the three river goddesses and their love of the countryside. The images from each temple would travel by boat or palanquin from town to town along the river, met at every stop by singing, dragon dances and so forth. At the end of the festival, the statues were returned to their temples to preside over the Jinjiang River and its tributaries for another year.

Read Full Post »

Here is a folk tale from Korea, in honor of the approaching Chinese New Year.


The Rabbit and the Dragon King

Long, long ago, there was a Dragon King who ruled a kingdom beneath the Southern Sea. Mighty though he was, this monarch was laid low by a lingering illness. All his physicians consulted together and determined that only the liver of a rabbit could cure him.

The Dragon King summoned all his followers: the whales, squids, fishes and crabs. He asked who would go and fetch a rabbit’s liver. Now the surface of the land was as mysterious and forbidding to these denizens of the deep as the undersea is to land dwellers. Everyone was afraid to go. After much hemming and hawing, a lowly turtle stepped forward.

“Majesty, I can breathe the air and my shell protects me. Allow me to go in search of the rabbit.”

The Dragon King agreed at once. So the turtle swam up, up, up, from the Dragon King’s palace at the bottom of the sea. He came to a place where gentle waves washed a sandy shore. Emerging, he looked around, blinking in the bright daylight. Soon a furry animal came hopping along.

The turtle called, “Pardon me, good sir, but do you know where I can find a rabbit?”

“Why, I am a rabbit.”

“Good sir, I am an emissary of the Dragon King. He requests the honor of such a guest in his marvelous palace beneath the southern waves. Would you kindly come along with me?”

“I would love to visit such an honorable person,” said the rabbit, “and relax in a marvelous palace. Alas, I cannot swim, and anyway, how can a creature from the land breathe under water?”

“I will carry you on my shell, good sir. And because the Dragon King is eager to meet a remarkable animal like yourself, his magic will allow you to breathe water just like air.”

“Wonderful!” cried the rabbit. “I look forward to such an adventure.”

So he hopped on the turtle’s back and they swam down, down, down to the bottom of the Southern Sea. The rabbit delighted in strange sights all around: coral reefs teeming with brilliant fishes, eels that glowed in the dark, forests of seaweed waving in the currents. Most of all, he marveled at the Dragon King’s power that allowed him to see these things. But when they arrived at the undersea palace, the rabbit soon realized he had been deceived.

“Thank you for coming, good rabbit,” said the Dragon King. “You see, I am very sick. If I do not eat your liver, I shall never recover. So accept my deepest thanks, and please go with my doctors now.”

The rabbit was terrified, but he was a clever beast. He quickly bowed and cried, “Majesty, it would be a great honor to sacrifice my life for yours. If only I had known that you needed my liver! For it is very valuable, you see. I keep it hidden deep in the forest, and I didn’t bring it here with me. Please allow the turtle to take me back to the shore. I will run and get my liver right away, for your need exceeds my own.”

The Dragon King was disappointed, but pleased to know of the rabbit’s devotion. He agreed to let the rabbit return home and fetch his liver. Up, up, up the turtle swam until they reached exactly the same beach where he first met the rabbit. Of course, the rabbit immediately sprinted away.

As he ran, he called back, “Thanks for the ride, but I must get home now.”

“You said you would bring your liver for the Dragon King,” the turtle protested.

“Old turtle, did you really believe I keep my liver hidden in the forest?” laughed the rabbit. “And why would I give up my life for your spoiled king?”

So he disappeared into the forest. The turtle was ashamed and never went back to the Dragon King’s palace. As for the Dragon King, his fate is unknown.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »