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Posts Tagged ‘folklore’

Taniwha are nature spirits in the folklore of New Zealand’s Maori culture. They can appear as large sharks, whales, crocodiles — or dragons! According to legend, these spirits traveled alongside the canoes that carried Maori ancestors over the sea from their original islands. After the Maori established their new homes, the taniwha remained to watch over them. Even in modern times, many tribes and local communities can name a specific taniwha who is their guardian.

Taniwha could be both friendly or deadly. They made their homes in deep rivers, caves, and ocean shores prone to dangerous currents or sneaker waves. Friends of the taniwha might be guided away or rescued from drowning. It was believed that taniwha granted visions to priests, warning of natural disasters or that enemies were nearby. In return, taniwha expected to be treated with respect. They received offerings of the first fruit each season. Even friendly tribesmen passing near a taniwha’s home would make offerings to please these spirits.

Respect for the taniwha has remained strong even into modern times. Several news reports from the early 2000s related that construction projects had been moved or redesigned to avoid disturbing areas where taniwha were believed to dwell.

In addition to spiritual guardianship, taniwha were enforcers of tapu (commonly Anglicized as taboo), the social code governing Maori life. Violations of tapu would be met by swift retribution. So would any intrusion into the taniwha’s domain. Though they protected their own people, outsiders were fair game. Strangers might be dragged into the water or attacked and devoured. Women might be captured as brides.

Check back on Saturday for a few taniwha legends.

 


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Legend tells that a dragon named Blue Ben once lived in the county of Somerset, on the west coast of England. He dwelt in shale caves near the sea, so if his fiery breath over-heated him he could dip into the waves and refresh himself.

Blue Ben was huge, as all dragons are. Due to his great size, he sometimes got stuck in the mud flats along the Somerset coast. The legend says that, in order to save himself, the dragon built a limestone causeway so he could reach solid ground without becoming trapped.

Ben seems to have been a mild-mannered dragon. There’s little mention of him ravaging the countryside or devouring livestock. Alas, being a good neighbor did not spare the mighty beast. The Devil himself happened to spy the dragon frolicking in the waves. He cast a spell that chained Blue Ben’s will. Poor Ben became the Devil’s steed for a wild ride all through the fires of Hell.

No one knows how long this went on. The dragon ultimately freed himself and escaped back to Somerset. Desperately hot and tired, he flung himself into the water to cool off as he usually did. Alas, he had chosen a spot far from his causeway. As he emerged from the sea, Blue Ben became stuck in the mire. No matter how he struggled, he couldn’t get free. In the end, he succumbed to his exhaustion and was entombed in the mud. A sad end for such a magnificent creature.

True fact #1: Blue Ben’s “causeway” is a naturally occurring limestone formation that resembles a paved road. Several sections can be seen along the coast, near the town of Kilve.

True fact #2: In the 19th Century, a shale quarry outside Kilve yielded the fossil skull of an ichthyosaur. The local people immediately proclaimed that this was the skull of Blue Ben. The fossil can still be seen in a Somerset museum.


Sign up for my newsletter and win a free E-book, The Weight of Their Souls. Just to go my Facebook page, AuthorDebyFredericks, and click the link on the left that says “Join my mailing list.” Easy, right?

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I spotted this brass platter leaning against the wall at a friend’s house. Check out the dragons in the border.

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Embossed platter at a friend’s house.

They look a lot like lindworms, with only fore paws and the long tail but no hind legs. However, my sources disagree whether a true lindworm would have wings.


A few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection and Masters of Air & Fire, her middle-grade novel.

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

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One of the great heroes of Persian lore is the mighty warrior Rostam. He is part of several legends, but the most substantial of these is the epic poem Shahnameh, recorded by Ferdowsi around 1010 C.E.

Rostam dwelt in Sistan, part of modern-day Iran, where he stood high in the favor of King Kay Kaus. Unfortunately, the king undertook an ill-fated invasion of neighboring Mazandaran. He was defeated and captured. Learning of this, Rostam rode to the rescue on his faithful stallion, Rakhsh. The hero endured several trials. He was lost in the dessert and battled a lion, several demons — and a dragon.

Rostam was asleep one night when Rakhsh heard a noise near the camp. A dragon was lurking in the bushes! The horse whinnied and stamped on the ground, making such noise that the hero woke up. He also forced the dragon to retreat, so that Rostam saw no danger and was highly annoyed with his steed.

He lay down to sleep again, but a short time later the dragon returned. Again, Rakhsh sounded the alarm and woke his master. Rostam was furious and threatened to kill the horse, but then he spotted the dragon! The battle was joined, the monster was defeated, and all was well. One hopes that faithful Rakhsh got a good brushing as reward for his help.


A few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection and Masters of Air & Fire, her middle-grade novel.

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

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Legends from all over the world tell glorious tales of heroes who kill mighty dragons. (It seems unfair to the dragons, but there you go.) Here are my picks for the five best known dragon slayers.

5. Beowulf, the epitome of the Norse warrior. He’s most famous for killing the monster Grendel, but in his old age he still had enough courage to take on a dragon that was attacking his people. (They both died.)

4. Saint George, a Medieval English knight, killed a dragon in Libya and converted the populace to Christianity. (This could be a bit of wishful thinking, since modern day Libya is a Muslim majority country.)

3. Hercules, from Greece, defeated the dreaded Hydra in order to win  forgiveness from the goddess Hera. (It didn’t work.) Later, he used trickery to steal golden apples from their guardian dragon, Ladon.

2. Tokoyo, from Japan. She took the place of a maiden who was about to be sacrificed, and killed the dragon Yofune-Nushi. This healed an emperor’s curse. In gratitude, he released her father from prison.

1. Sigurd, a.k.a. Siegfried, killed the dragon Fafnir. Then he bathed in his blood to become invulnerable. He was also able to understand the language of birds, which allowed him to overcome a treacherous attack. Finally, Sigurd roasted and ate Fafnir’s heart! From this he gained powers of prophecy.

Perhaps you disagree with my choices? Comment away! I’d love to hear who you think are the most famous dragonslayers! Also, check out this Top-Five Dragonslayers list that’s more focused on media and video games.


A few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection

Masters of Air & Fire, Lucy D. Ford’s middle-grade novel

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

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Back in 2007, the American Museum of Natural History, in New York City, featured a group of linked events around legendary and mythical beasts. Collectively known as Mythic Creatures, the exhibit included beasts of the sea (mermaids, sea serpents), earth (giants, griffins), sky (phoenix and roc) and of course, many tales of dragons!

Though the exhibits are long over, you can still see a great overview on their web site. Check it out!

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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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