Ganfer Haar Finn

Nov 172016
 

As @SelineSigil9 posted a little on Jack Frost earlier today on #FolkloreThursday, I thought I’d add a little about Jack’s mythological & legendary ancestors and relatives, one of which is the Slavic folkloric/mythological figure Ded Moroz (more on him in another post).

1526d64904fb8a7fdca1afda4e625168From Russia comes the tale translated as “King Frost” by Andrew Lang (full text below). Other English titles for the story include “Father Frost”, “Old Man Frost” and “Grandfather Frost”, all of which are effectively names for Ded Moroz. This story is usually called Morozko (Russian: Морозко, Morozko) in it’s original language and was collected by Alexander Afanasyev in Narodnye russkie skazki (1855-63). Andrew Lang included it, as “The Story of King Frost”, in The Yellow Fairy Book (1894).

In its current form the story contains the folktale motif (Arne-Thompson type 480) known as “The Kind and the Unkind Girls”.

 


King Frost

There was once upon a time a peasant-woman who had a daughter and a step-daughter. The daughter had her own way in everything, and whatever she did was right in her mother’s eyes; but the poor step-daughter had a hard time. Let her do what she would, she was always blamed, and got small thanks for all the trouble she took; nothing was right, everything wrong; and yet, if the truth were known, the girl was worth her weight in gold—she was so unselfish and good-hearted. But her step-mother did not like her, and the poor girl’s days were spent in weeping; for it was impossible to live peacefully with the woman. The wicked shrew was determined to get rid of the girl by fair means or foul, and kept saying to her father: ‘Send her away, old man; send her away—anywhere so that my eyes sha’n’t be plagued any longer by the sight of her, or my ears tormented by the sound of her voice. Send her out into the fields, and let the cutting frost do for her.’

story-of-king-frost

In vain did the poor old father weep and implore her pity; she was firm, and he dared not gainsay her. So he placed his daughter in a sledge, not even daring to give her a horse-cloth to keep herself warm with, and drove her out on to the bare, open fields, where he kissed her and left her, driving home as fast as he could, that he might not witness her miserable death.

Deserted by her father, the poor girl sat down under a fir-tree at the edge of the forest and began to weep silently. Suddenly she heard a faint sound: it was King Frost springing from tree to tree, and cracking his fingers as he went. At length he reached the fir-tree beneath which she was sitting, and with a crisp crackling sound he alighted beside her, and looked at her lovely face.

1932-_%d0%b1%d0%b8%d0%bb%d0%b8%d0%b1%d0%b8%d0%bd-_%d0%bc%d0%be%d1%80%d0%be%d0%b7%d0%ba%d0%be‘Well, maiden,’ he snapped out, ‘do you know who I am? I am King Frost, king of the red-noses.’

‘All hail to you, great King!’ answered the girl, in a gentle, trembling voice. ‘Have you come to take me?’

‘Are you warm, maiden?’ he replied.

‘Quite warm, King Frost,’ she answered, though she shivered as she spoke.

Then King Frost stooped down, and bent over the girl, and the crackling sound grew louder, and the air seemed to be full of knives and darts; and again he asked:

‘Maiden, are you warm? Are you warm, you beautiful girl?’

And though her breath was almost frozen on her lips, she whispered gently, ‘Quite warm, King Frost.’

 

Then King Frost gnashed his teeth, and cracked his fingers, and his eyes sparkled, and the crackling, crisp sound was louder than ever, and for the last time he asked her:

‘Maiden, are you still warm? Are you still warm, little love?’

And the poor girl was so stiff and numb that she could just gasp, ‘Still warm, O King!’

Now her gentle, courteous words and her uncomplaining ways touched King Frost, and he had pity on her, and he wrapped her up in furs, and covered her with blankets, and he fetched a great box, in which were beautiful jewels and a rich robe embroidered in gold and silver. And she put it on, and looked more lovely than ever, and King Frost stepped with her into his sledge, with six white horses.

In the meantime the wicked step-mother was waiting at home for news of the girl’s death, and preparing pancakes for the funeral feast. And she said to her husband: ‘Old man, you had better go out into the fields and find your daughter’s body and bury her.’ Just as the old man was leaving the house the little dog under the table began to bark, saying:

‘YOUR daughter shall live to be your delight;
HER daughter shall die this very night.’
‘Hold your tongue, you foolish beast!’ scolded the woman. ‘There’s a pancake for you, but you must say:

“HER daughter shall have much silver and gold;
HIS daughter is frozen quite stiff and cold.” ‘
But the doggie ate up the pancake and barked, saying:

‘His daughter shall wear a crown on her head;
Her daughter shall die unwooed, unwed.’
Then the old woman tried to coax the doggie with more pancakes and to terrify it with blows, but he barked on, always repeating the same words. And suddenly the door creaked and flew open, and a great heavy chest was pushed in, and behind it came the step-daughter, radiant and beautiful, in a dress all glittering with silver and gold. For a moment the step-mother’s eyes were dazzled. Then she called to her husband: ‘Old man, yoke the horses at once into the sledge, and take my daughter to the same field and leave her on the same spot exactly; ‘and so the old man took the girl and left her beneath the same tree where he had parted from his daughter. In a few minutes King Frost came past, and, looking at the girl, he said:

‘Are you warm, maiden?’

‘What a blind old fool you must be to ask such a question!’ she answered angrily. ‘Can’t you see that my hands and feet are nearly frozen?’

Then King Frost sprang to and fro in front of her, questioning her, and getting only rude, rough words in reply, till at last he got very angry, and cracked his fingers, and gnashed his teeth, and froze her to death.

But in the hut her mother was waiting for her return, and as she grew impatient she said to her husband: ‘Get out the horses, old man, to go and fetch her home; but see that you are careful not to upset the sledge and lose the chest.’

But the doggie beneath the table began to bark, saying:

‘Your daughter is frozen quite stiff and cold,
And shall never have a chest full of gold.’
‘Don’t tell such wicked lies!’ scolded the woman. ‘There’s a cake for you; now say:

“HER daughter shall marry a mighty King.”
At that moment the door flew open, and she rushed out to meet her daughter, and as she took her frozen body in her arms she too was chilled to death.

kf2


  • Source: Lang, A. (Ed.). (1894). The Yellow Fairy Book. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1894
Nov 102016
 

Dhampyrs in Folklore & Fiction

monster-1454286_960_720This piece will be posted on both my Fiction Writing Blog and my Folklore & Magic Blog. I’m feeling somewhat smug today having just had a story accepted for The British Fantasy Society’s Horizons magazine. Naturally my tale A Taste Of Blood And Honey is a work of fiction but is does draw on genuine folklore and features a variety of supernatural beings in a grim social-surrealistic setting (essentially an experimental form of “Kitchen Sink Urban Fantasy”).

In my story I feature a form of Dhampyr (not quite the usual sort however). The name Dhampyr is generally taken to be a conjunction of two Albanian words, “dham” (teeth) and “pirë” (drink). As Dhampyrs are not especially well known outside Eastern Europe, I thought it might be an idea to explain a little bit about them. Traditionally, a Dhampyr is a creature found in Balkan folklore. It generally appears to be a normal human (at least much of the time) but in reality the creature is most commonly born as the result of a sexual encounter between a vampire and a human. Dhampyr is one of several possible ways of spelling the term in English, others include Dhampir, Dhampyre and Dhamphir.

gothic-1320072_960_720In folklore, Dhampyrs generally possess powers similar to those of Vampires (inherited one presumes from their Vampiric parent). Dhampyrs however frequently have (at least some of) the strengths but not (all of) the weaknesses of Vampires.

In recent Vampire fiction, Dhampyrs have often appeared as hybrids of one human and one vampire parent – not vampires themselves, but a half-breed of both. I put a different spin on things in my own story, while hopefully remaining true to the spirit of the original folklore.

Originally “Dhampyrs”  were specifically associated with Balkan folklore although other names were also used in the region, for example the Serbian “Vampirović”, “Vampijerović” and “Vampirić” or the Bosnian “Lampijerović” (literally meaning “Son of a Vampire).

Often a boy said to have a Vampire parent may be named “Dhampir” and a girl “Dhampirica”. Alternatively, depending on region and local tradition, a male child may be named “Vampir”, while a female child might be named “Vampirica”.

In the Balkan region it was believed that generally most male vampires continue to have a great desire for “female company”, even after death. It was widely believed that a vampire would return and do their best to have intercourse with his wife, girlfriend or with any woman he had been attracted to in life. In at least one well documented case, a Serbian widow blamed her pregnancy on her late husband, who had “allegedly” become a vampire. This belief also led to several cases of Serbian men masquerading as vampires in order to have their wicked way with women they desired.

gothic-1482950_960_720The sexual nature of vampirism has been well established in classic fictional works on Vampires, from Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel through the Hammer Films of the ‘60s & ‘70s and on to the more recent works of authors such as Anne Rice, or even to an extent the Twilight franchise. But this is not simply a literary motif. In Bulgarian folklore for example, vampires were sometimes said to deflower virgins, just like in the later horror movies. Sexually active vampires appear in Southern Slavic vampire beliefs, and likewise in Belarusian legends.

Some Eastern European traditions tell of specific signs by which the children of a vampire can be recognised.

Albanian legends state Dhampyrs have untamed dark or black hair and lack a shadow.

vampire-625851_960_720In Bulgarian folklore, possible indications include being “very dirty,” having a soft body, no nails and no bones (the lack of bones is also ascribed to the vampire itself), and “a deep mark on the back, like a tail.” A long pronounced nose was often also sign, as were larger than normal ears, teeth or eyes.

In some areas, a true Dhampyr possessed a “slippery, jelly-like body and lived only a short life” which may have been a description of a hereditary genetic condition, or side-effects produced as the result of poor nutrition.

Or of course, perhaps it may indicate having a vampire as a parent…

 

Feb 112016
 

Horse shoes and horse shoeing: their origin, history, uses, and abuses/Chapter VIII

Probable date of the invention of shoeing. employment of metals by early peoples. the ‘iron age.’ ancient iron mines. antiquity of iron weapons. value of legends. wayland smith and his craft. traditions. cromlechs. wayland smith’s cave. the armourer and farrier of the celts and gauls. wayland’s renown. morte d’arthur. smiths, their position and traditions. druid smiths. st columbus and celtic priests. smith-craft among the anglo-saxons, domes-day book. monkish smith. st dunstan and the evil one. st eloy and highworth church. zurich. abyssinia. arabia. persia. java. acadie. mysteries of samothrace and druidism. first of november. reasons for roman ignorance of shoeing. the caledonian wall. ‘horse-shoe’ medal. change in designation of the farrier. early mareschals and their rank. age of chivalry. apprenticeship of a chevalier. archbishop hughes of besançon. rights of the marechal. normans in france. origin of marshall and farrier. fleta. the london marescallis. seal of ralph. the marshall farrier. superstitions concerning horse-shoes in various countries. german legends. moonwort.

From the preceding inquiry, we are led to conclude that the Celts, or Gallo-Celts, were the people who most anciently employed nailed iron-shoes for their horses’ feet; but we are yet left to determine the probable date of this invention—an investigation surrounded with many difficulties. It is recognized, however, by means of the proofs furnished by archæological and philological researches, that the different races of mankind which have succeeded one another in Europe have exhibited a constant progression, not only in physical development, but also in intelligence and in the aptitude to practise various industries and arts. The remains found in many regions exhibit this gradual advancement, until, from a state which appears that of savagedom, we arrive at a period when domestic animals are kept, and a knowledge of metallurgy is obvious. It is only, however, when we come to the epoch of the early migrations of the Aryan or Indo-Germanic races, that we find substantial traces of the employment of metals. The most important of these migrations, that of the Cimbri, who, with the Gauls, founded the Celtic race some eighteen hundred years before our era, and introduced Druidism into Gaul, when it reached Europe knew no other metals than gold, copper, tin, and the combination of the last two—brass. A study of Sanscrit, the mother-tongue of all these Aryan peoples, shows this to have been the case. The working in iron, or the ‘IronAge,’ even with some civilized peoples, did not occur until a comparatively recent time. Lucretius admits that gold and brass were known before iron:

Sed prius æris erat quam ferri cognitus usus.

As no other migration of any importance occurred until that of the hordes who destroyed the Roman empire, and as we have seen that iron was worked by the Gauls long before the Christian era, it is between the period when the Gallo-Cimbri arrived, and the conquest of Gaul by Julius Cæsar, that the utilization of iron may be placed. Archæologists are tolerably unanimous in fixing what has been designated the ‘Stone Period,’ at from five to seven thousand years; the ‘Age of Bronze ‘ at from three to four thousand years; and the ‘Iron Age’ at one thousand years before our era. This last period, though to many its commencement is shrouded in darkness, has been pretty accurately determined by Swiss geologists, who have based their calculations on the annual depositions produced by the torrent of Teniere, near Villeneuve, on the Lake of Geneva, and which cover the most ancient human habitations containing iron that have yet been explored.[1] These calculations have been further supported by the very interesting discovery made at Halstatt, in Austria, where more than nine hundred graves of the people who in old times laboured in the salt-mines there, were found. These contained, besides large clay vases, glass ornaments, cinctures, metal slings, swords, knives, lance-heads, and hatchets in bronze, similar to the objects met with in the pre-Roman, Helvetic, and Bisontine tombs. The same forms were reproduced in iron; so that it may be said this metal was abundant with these people. Taking into account the complete absence of lead and silver among these articles,—metals which were largely employed during the reign of Philip of Macedonia, four hundred years before the Christian era,—M. Fournet estimates that the people who rest in the tombs of Halstatt lived at the commencement of the iron age, very likely between b.c. 1000 and 500. Its duration is marked by well-known historical events, and it only ends with the gradual spread of Christian civilization.

Numerous traces of iron-mining in these distant ages yet exist in the Swiss and Jura Alps, Burgundy, and the Pyrenees, In the latter mountains, the refuse of these mines yet remain as when formed. The so-called crassiers, or ancient depots of iron scoriæ, are found in the vicinity of Digoin; they abound near Perigueux, at Royan (Drome), Pont-Gibaud (Auvergne), between Hyeres and Toulon, and on Mount Cenis, at 1800 metres elevation. There were then forests where to-day there are glaciers. On the rich strata of Thortes and Beauregard (Côte d’Or), M. Guillebot de Merville noted the existence of seventy or eighty fragments of scoriæ of Gallo-Roman iron, the age of which is perfectly characterized by the peculiar tiles and the débris of every kind accompanying them.[2]

The remains of the Celtic furnaces M. Quiquerez discovered in the Jura are identical with, though much smaller than, the Catalan furnaces now at work in Ariege, Carinthia, and Dalecarlia.

In Carinthia, this is the primitive mode, according to Malot, by which the iron is extracted from the ore: As soon as a sufficient quantity of live coal has been accumulated in the pit, portions of very pure mineral are spread over it, then a layer of coal, then mineral, layer after layer, until it is judged that the ore is sufficiently reduced, when the fire is extinguished, and some scraps of iron are found among the cinders. In Dalecarlia, the method is the same, only the pit is larger and encircled by a circular stone wall.[3] The Celts in Britain must also, long before the arrival of Cæsar, have smelted quantities of iron, wherewith to make their arms and utensils. Instead of money, they even used pieces of brass or iron reduced to certain weights.[4]

Traces of ancient iron-works are numerous in many parts of Britain; and, from appearances, this metal was smelted as above. Roman remains occur very frequently among the slag or cinders; but it is not unlikely the primitive inhabitants worked these mines before the arrival of the Romans.

Brennus and his Gaulish army at the capture of Rome, and the Helvetians at the conquest of Switzerland, were armed with iron swords, while the Romans yet wielded weapons of bronze. The Cimbri, defeated by Marius two hundred years before the birth of our Saviour, were covered with steel cuirasses.

‘The arms of the Helvetians who took possession of Switzerland,’ says M. Fournet, ‘were identical with those worn by Brennus’s soldiers during the occupation of Rome. They had long iron sabres, without point, and with very large handles; their lances had blades twenty inches long.’ ‘The Cimbric cavaliers who came from the Pont-Euxine to invade Gaul, about the time of the arrival of the Phoceans, wore steel cuirasses when they were defeated by Marius.’ ‘The iron of Norica, as well as that of Celtiberia, was in great esteem with the Romans for swords.’ ‘If, then,’ says M. Megnin,[5] ‘we place the invention of horse-shoeing about the fifth or sixth century before our era—that is, at the period when Druidism was most flourishing—we only follow the indications furnished by the Celtic roads, and we remain within very probable limits. The Druids, taught the structure of the horse’s foot by the numerous sacrifices they made of this animal, accustomed to the manipulation of metals, and their intelligence continually cultivated by study, were marvellously disposed to be the inventors of shoeing by nails. When we also look at the rational form they gave to their work—how wisely they placed the nail-holes, and how skilfully they made the nail-heads to form so many catches to assist travelling in rocky and mountainous regions—one cannot but be astonished at the perfection which the sacred smiths had attained in defending and assisting nature two thousand years ago.’

‘The Druids,’ writes Galtruch,[6] ‘ encouraged the study of anatomy; but they carried it on to such an excess, and so much beyond all reason and humanity, that one of them, called Herophilus, is said to have read lectures on the bodies of more than 700 living men, to show therein the secrets and wonders of the human fabric.’

The discoveries in the tombs of Alesia and in the vicinity of Besançon, furnish us with such undoubted testimony to the antiquity of shoeing, that a high authority in France, who had assisted in these researches, declared, ‘after these evidences I have no fear in asserting that from the time of the conquest of Gaul by the Romans, many Celtic peoples, at any rate all the Gauls, knew the art of horse-shoeing.[7]

Legends are generally good evidence, says Mr Wright,[8] of the great antiquity of the monuments to which they relate; and there is a curious legend connected with this art, which lends additional force to the facts already enumerated, and is besides so general over a large part of Europe, and is of so great an age, that it looks as if it had belonged to the days of Druidism, and the infancy of horse-shoeing. This is the legend of Wayland Smith. The Vulcanian art was, we are told, so admired by the Greeks, that Xanthus, the smith, caused it to be inscribed upon his statue, that he was born of iron (σιδηροφυης, ferrogenitus);[9] and over their forges they had a prophylactic against envy, in the form of a phallus hung round with bells.[10] The anvil, hammer, and tongs, and Vulcan’s cap wreathed with laurel, is not unfrequently met with on classical monuments, as the annexed illustration from Montfauçon will show (fig. 138).

Horse shoes and horse shoeing pag367.jpg
fig. 138

But the northern nations always associated something mysterious with the functions and character of their Vulcan, whether in the fabrication of arms or in shoeing their horses: reminding one of the secret arts of the Druids and their weird-like haunts. What makes the remembrance more vivid is, that the abode of this cunning, but awesome, personage, was always supposed to be in a cave, cairn, or cromlech, such as that on the promontory of Alesia.

The early Saxons believed that a cromlech in Berkshire was a workshop of the mythic smith; the monument at Ashbury, in the Vale of White Horse, was called ‘Weland’s Smiththan,’ or smithy, which in time became corrupted to Wayland Smith’s cave. The great defeat given by Alfred to the Danish invaders, is said, by Mr Gough, to have taken place near Ashdown, in Berkshire. The burial-place of Baereg, the Danish chief, who was slain in this fight, is distinguished by a parcel of stones, less than a mile from the hill, set on edge, enclosing a piece of ground somewhat raised. On the east side of the southern extremity, stand three squarish flat stones, of about four or five feet over either way, supporting a fourth, and now called by the vulgar, Wayland Smith, from an idle tradition about an invisible smith replacing lost horse-shoes there.[11] ‘The popular belief still clings to this wild legend,’ adds Sir Walter Scott, ‘which, connected as it is with the site of a Danish (?) sepulchre, may have arisen from some legend concerning the northern Duergars, who resided in the rocks, and were cunning workers in steel and iron. It was believed that Wayland Smith’s fee was sixpence, and that, unlike other workmen, he was offended if more was offered. This monument must be very ancient, for it has been kindly pointed out to me that it is referred to in an ancient Saxon charter, as a landmark.’[12]

With regard to placing a piece of money on the stone, we find it is still a practice among the peasantry at Colombiers, in France, for young girls who want husbands, to climb upon the cromlech called the Pierre-levee, place there a piece of money, and then jump down. At Guerande, with the same object, they deposit in the crevices of a Celtic monument bits of rose-coloured wool tied with tinsel.[13]

‘Cromlech,’ however, really means Druid’s altar. The Celtic mythology, amongst others, had Esus or Crom, who was the creator of the world, and was represented by a circle of stones, an emblem of the infinite. From this name was derived ‘Cromlech’ or Crom-lekh.[14] Mr Davies thinks that the spaces under the cromlechs were used as the places where aspirants to the office of Druid were imprisoned during, or previous to, their initiation into the mysteries of this religion. ‘This opinion,’ says Mr Roberts,[15] ‘seems to be confirmed by the name of a cell near the Ridgeway and the White Horse, in Uffington parish. It is called Wayland Smith, a corruption, I presume, of a Welsh name “Gwely,” or Wely-anesmwyth,” that is, the uneasy bed. I know of no more probable origin of the name, and this explanation bears with it a signification of no small moment, as to the use to which it was probably applied. In Cardiganshire (Wales) there is a kind of cist-vaen called “Gwely Taliesin,” which no doubt was intended for a similar purpose.’

Mallet,[16] we know, asserts that the tradition relating to this mysterious blacksmith is of Northern origin. In Scandinavian mythology, the Völundar-Koiða recounts the tragic adventures of Völundr, who was the Dædalus of the North, and one of its mythical heroes. The same high authority shows that the root of the word, which is Anglo-Saxon, is Wealand, Welond, or Weland, in German Wielant, and is the Velint of the Vilkina-Saga, is derived from the Norse Vel, skill, art, craft, or cunning, and the old German Wielan, Anglo-Saxon Welan, to fabricate, the participle of which would be Wielant and Weland. The word, therefore, according to Mr Mallet, denotes a skilful artificer, in which sense it is still employed by the people of Iceland, who say ‘Hann er völundr à jarn,’ ‘He is a famous smith or workman in iron;’ and a labyrinth with them is a Wayland house.

‘It is in the Icelandic Sagas,’ remarks Depping and Michel,[17] ‘that Veland is the subject of long romantic fictions, and the story regarding him forms one of the oldest fragments of this poetical literature. It has been attempted to trace the romance to a historical period, — to the reign of King Nidung, who appears to have lived in Sweden in the 6th century of our era, and who is reported to have been the protector of the smith. But there is nothing historical in this, and if on the one hand such has been claimed for it, on the other hand it is as likely to belong to Scandinavian mythology.’

We must not forget that the Teutonic word ‘Welsh, ‘Wilisc,’ or ‘Wælisc,’ was the term for stranger or foreigner, and that France was called by the old and mediæval Germans ‘Das Welsche lant;’ while the designation ‘Wälsch’ was applied in its primitive sense by the Saxons to the Britons. ‘Wilisc’ is often met with in the Anglo-Saxon laws, and denotes the Welsh. Might not the Druid blacksmith be designated by the ancient Germans, as the foreign or strange-land smith—Welsch-lant-Schmid? The slight change in the pronunciation might readily occur in a short period.

It maybe mentioned, however, that Langley Mortier[18]concludes that the name ‘Gallia’ was derived from Wal, happy, and Land, country: ‘Walland’ being the designation given to their territory by the Gauls.

This mysterious smith, it would appear, was no other than the traditionary armourer and farrier of the Celts and Gauls, as well as of the German and Northern nations. ‘The sacred blacksmith, such as Wayland,’ remarks M. Castan, ‘not only fashioned the weapons, but he also shod the horses of the heroes.’[19]

At Winchester, or Silchester, we are told in the ‘Morte d’Arthur,’ was a large stone, and ‘in the myddes therof was lyk an anvyld of steel a ffote of hyght, and therein stake a fayre sword,’ which only the heir to the sovereignty of Britain could draw; a feat performed by Arthur.[20] This romance-invested prince was King of the Silures, an ancient British tribe inhabiting the modern counties of Hereford, Radnor, Brecknock, and Glamorgan, and fought most heroically against the Saxons, Scots, and Picts, after the departure of the Romans. The sword found with the anvil of steel, he afterwards wielded with terrible effect against his enemies; it was named ‘caledvwlch’ (the hard cleft), or ‘caliburn’ (well-tempered or massive).[21] This weapon was no doubt fabricated by Weland.

In the metres composed by King Alfred on the ‘Consolations of Boethius,’ the learned monarch asks,

Who then can tell, wise Weland’s (þelanðeȝ) bones
Where now they rest so long?
Beneath what heap of earth and stones
Their prison is made strong?

A direct testimony to the great age of this tradition. And in the Anglo-Saxon poem on Beowulf, that chief, before going to battle, requests that there should be sent to Higelac

My garments of battle.
The best that my bosom bears,
The richest of my clothes,
The remains of the Hred-lan,
The work of Weland.

In some fragments of an old Anglo-Saxon manuscript, published by Professor Stephens, we find this ancient worker in metals and shoer of horses mentioned in a complimentary manner as a maker of sharp swords. ‘The Wieland (þelanð) work will fail no man, who kenneth to wield biting Mimming.’ This, we may be sure, was another of his celebrated blades.

In a French poem, conjectured to be of the 7th century, Weyland is supposed to be mentioned for the first time, when it is said that the cuirass made by Veland could not defend the hero Randolph from death. Gautier de Vascastein, in the legend ‘De Prima Expeditione Attilae regis Hunorum, in Gallias,’ is said to have carried arms fabricated by Veland.

A chronicle of the 12th century relates that Count William of Angoulême received the cognomen of ‘Taillefer’ in consequence of his sword, which had been made by ‘Walander,’ having cut in two a warrior covered with armour.[22] The name of the sword was ‘durissima.’ This Count William was the renowned minstrel Taillefer, who struck the first blow at the battle of Hastings, and who is described by his countryman Wace, in the following century, as having dashed on horseback into the ranks of the Saxons to meet a glorious death, while singing of

De Karlemaigne et de Rollant,
E d’Oliver, et des Vassals,
C’y morurent en Roncesvals.

It is related of Geoffroy Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, ‘Adultimum allatus est ei, ensis thesauro regio ab antiquo ibidem signatus, in quo fabricando fabrorum superlatum Galanus multa opera et studio desudavit.’[23]

In an English romance of the 14th century, it is said, in reference to a sword, ‘Of all swerdes it is king, and Weland it wrought.’ Godefroy of Strasbourg, in his poem of ‘Tristan and Isolde,’ speaks of the smith as ‘Vilint.’

In Scandinavia, the strange personage is well known, and the legends concerning him differ but little from those of other countries.[24] His fame as a remarkably competent shoer of horses is not less than his reputation as a forger of swords. In England, as we have already seen, the popular notion gave him credit for secrecy and despatch in arming the hoofs of animals belonging to less courageous owners who ventured near his mystic abode. The pedantic Erasmus Holiday, in ‘Kenilworth,’ sums up his proficiency in this respect, when alluding to the strange apprenticeship Wayland served to Doctor Doboobie, whom it was supposed the Evil One had flown away with. The faber ferrarius is thus spoken of: ‘This knave, whether from the inspiration of the devil, or from early education, shoes horses better than e’er a man betwixt us and Iceland; and so he gives up his practice on the bipeds, the two-legged and unfledged species called mankind, and betakes him entirely to shoeing of horses.’

In certain provinces of France at the present day, when a horse travels freely, they say, ‘This horse goes as if he had been shod by ” Vaillant.”‘[25] As a proof that the smith with the Gauls, as with the Germans, shod the horses, while he fashioned and tempered the arms of the warriors, it has been observed, that not only do the shoes, weapons, and armour of an early period bear evident traces of fabrication by the same hands, but that they also carry a veritable maker’s name struck upon each alike.[26]

Gay, in his ‘Trivia,’ refers to the weird occupation of this traditionary artisan,—this symbolical personification of the mystery attending the working of metals, particularly of iron, in primeval times:

‘Far in the lane a lonely hut he found.
No tenant ventured on the unwholesome ground;
Here smokes his forge, he bares his sinewy arm,
And early strokes the sounding anvil warm;
Around his shop the steely sparkles flew,
As for the steed he shaped the bending shoe.’

In Germany the same traditions are found, and have been handed down from the remotest times. The brothers Grimm have collected some of these from oral tradition; the following was found in the neighbourhood of Münster. ‘In the Detterberg, about three hours from Münster, in old times, lived a wild man named Grinken Schmidt (Grinken the smith), who lived underground in a deep cave, which is now covered with weeds and briars; but the spot may yet be seen. He had his forge in this pit, and his workmanship was so solid and so extremely perfect that it lasted for ever. No man could open his locks without the keys. There is now on the church-door of Nienberg, a lock made by him, that the thieves and housebreakers have never been able to force. When there was a wedding about to be celebrated, it was customary for the country people to go to Grinken and borrow a spit; but in return for the loan, they had always to give him a beefsteak. One day a peasant appeared before his cave, and said, “Grinken Schmidt, give me a spit.” “You shall not have a spit if you do not give me a steak,” says Grinken. “Then you will not have a steak; so keep your spit,” replied the peasant. Grinken, as furious as possible, thereupon said, “Take care that I do not take one from you by force.” The peasant left the mountain, and returned home. He then saw, on entering his stable, that his best horse had a gash in its thigh: this provided the stake for Grinken Schmidt.’[27]

It is curious to note the different notions entertained with regard to the sons of Vulcan—the protégés of Saint Eloy. In some countries they are looked upon with strange dread; while in others, their handicraft confers on them dignity and special privileges. In Norway, handicraftsmen were known at a very remote period, and were divided into classes; the smith was the most reputable individual, and associated or was on an equality with the freemen. Among the Gauls and the Welsh we have seen they held high office; but it is questionable if, at first, they did so to the same degree among the Anglo-Saxons. The Druids felt the decline of their influence, and experienced the persecutions of the Teutonic invaders; their rites had to be carried on in the greatest secrecy and fear, and their business was transacted in a hidden manner, while their utmost caution was required to elude observation. King Lear’s idea of shoeing a troop of horse with felt[28] may have been derived from the extreme circumspection the Druidical priests, towards the decrease of their power, were compelled to adopt; and the spread of Christianity, so burdened with gross superstitions, no doubt invested the traces of these rites with everything of a repulsive and extraordinary nature. Hence, perhaps, the tradition of Wayland Smith.

Even at a later day, blacksmiths, who, from the importance of their occupation, were very numerous in some parts of England, were not exempt from Christian (?) priestly malediction. The ancient town of Alauna (now Alcester), in Warwickshire, was at an early period famed for its smiths and its forges. Saint Egwin, Capgrave tells us,[29] reported that the inhabitants of this town were an arrogant and luxurious race, and were chiefly workers in iron. The founder of Evesham preached to them, to save them from eternal perdition; but the grimy blacksmiths were either too busy to listen, or cared but little to hear the miracle-working saint. So that, as he imagined, when he attempted to speak, in contempt of his doctrine, they thumped with their hammers upon the anvils, and made a great noise. Then this good man, full of love and mercy for his species, addressed a prayer to Heaven that the workers in iron might be destroyed:—’Contra artem fabrilem castri illius dominum imprecatus est.’ And the town was immediately destroyed: ‘Et ecce subito reædificato usque in hodierum diem in constructione novarum domorum in fundamentis antiqua ædificia reperiuntur. Nunquam enim postea in loco illo aliquis artem fabrilem recte exercuit, nec aliquis eam exercere volens ibi vigere potuit.’

But Saint Egwin appears to have been an exception to the priests of his age; for many of them were skilled workers in metals, and even shoers of hoofs; and they would have been far more likely to give the anvil-ringing burn-the-winds of Alcester, a hint for some new feat in metallurgy, than dooming them and their glowing forges to destruction. In Ireland, so long the stronghold of everything Celtic, the monks appear to have been clever workmen, and to have excelled in smithery. In Andamannus’ Life of St Columba, a holy man who lived in the 6th century, there is mention made of one Columbus, a noted faber ferrarius, who dwelt in the centre of Ireland (mediterranea scotiæ). The notice of him is contained in a chapter ‘Concerning an Apparition of Angels which a man of God had seen bearing to Heaven a certain soul, by name Columbus, a “fabri ferrarii,” who was known by the cognomen of Coilriginus.’ St Columba, who had fixed his abode in the island of Iona, hearing of the death of his colleague, gathered his priests around him and said: ‘Columbus Coilriginus the smith (faber ferrarius) hath not laboured in vain, for he hath reached eternal happiness and life by the work of his hands (propria manum laboratione), and now his soul is being borne by angels to the celestial country. For whatever he acquired by the practice of his trade he spent in works of charity.’[30] From the mention of this monk’s occupation and the immortality he derived from it, we may suppose him to be the Colum Zoba (Colum the Smith) commemorated in the calendars on June 7th. We also find that St Patrick (4th century) had three smiths, who duly appear in the same Irish calendar.[31] St Dega, Bishop of Iniscaindega (now Iniskeen, Monaghan), derived his name of Dayg (hoc enim nomen Scotica lingua magnam flammam sonat) from his employment in making ‘plurima de ferro et æere de auro atque argento utensilia ad usum ecclesiæ.’[32] His day in the calendar is the 18th of August.

Smithcraft was no doubt as important an occupation among the Anglo-Saxons as among the Gauls or Celts. Under the designation of ‘isern-smithas,’—the Gothic or old German appellation introduced into England by the Anglo-Saxons, the grimy workman is frequently mentioned in their records, and he appears, in time, to have been held in nearly as high honour as his congener at the ancient British court. Verstegan, referring to those who derived their surnames from their occupations, speaks of the origin of Smith:—

‘From whence came Smith, all be he knight or squire.
But from the smith that forgeth at the fire?’

Aldhelm[33] is eloquent in describing the ‘convenience of the anvil, the rigid hardness of the beating hammer, and the tenacity of the glowing tongs;’ and remarks that ‘the gem-bearing belts and diadems of kings, and the various instruments of glory, were made from the tools of iron.’

In Elfric’s colloquy, the smith says, in alluding to the multiplicity of objects he could make: ‘Whence the share to the ploughman, or the goad, but for my art? Whence to the fisherman an angle, or to the shoe-wyrhta (shoemaker) an awl, or to the sempstress a needle, but for my art?’ And to this the other replies: ‘Those in thy smithery only give iron fire-sparks, the noise of beating hammers, and blowing bellows.’[34] We have selected two representations of the Anglo-Saxon Vulcan from ancient manuscripts in the Cottonian library. The first (fig. 139) represents this worthy working at an anvil, which, it is proper to note, has no beak or horn. The hammer he wields is not unlike those in use at the present day. In the compartment adjoining him, but

Horse shoes and horse shoeing-105.jpg

which is not shown here, was a harper, a combination that reminds us of the Welsh king’s court, or the multiple functions assumed by some of the Anglo-Saxon priests, who were musicians, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, and other handicraftsmen combined. The second figure (fig. 140) shows the ‘isern-smithas’ at work in a less ostentatious manner, and at a hearth like those of our own time. His apron is of the most meagre dimensions, and his naked legs must often have been tickled by the burning sparks. His hammer is curious, and may have been used in battering the heads of enemies as well as bars of iron; for, according to Fabricius, ‘the ancient Saxons had their shields suspended by chains, their horsemen used long iron sledge-hammers, and their armour was heavy.’ Behind the iron plate that screens the fire is seen the gigantic aide, who appears to be engaged in blowing the bellows. He, too, is gaunt and unprotected about the lower limbs, though his brawny arms and hairy chest bespeak a man eminently fitted to perform the more physical portion of the labour. On the hearth, and partly concealed by the blazing fire, lies a piece of iron-work which looks not unlike the calkin of a horse-shoe.These are the earliest representations of the Anglo-Saxon farrier I can find, and they are certainly curious.

In the royal household of the king’s palace, we discover a number of officers similar in rank and functions to those we have already indicated as attending the Court of British sovereigns or chiefs: these are the ‘hors thegn,’ or master of the horse, the ‘ambiht-smith,’ and the ‘hors wealh.’ The latter has been already noticed. The rank of the Court smith may be inferred from what is mentioned in the laws of the Anglo-Saxon king, Athelbirht (6th century): ‘If the king’s ambiht-smith slay a man, let him pay a half leod-geld (or wer-geld, compensation money),’ This was one-half the amount paid by ordinary individuals, and shows that this iron-worker was one of the privileged ‘ministeriales’ of the Crown.

In the laws of King Ine (7th and 8th centuries), we observe that the smith was still an important individual, and also attached himself to a lower class than the great nobles and kings. ‘If a gesithcund-man (a somewhat similar rank to the leudes of the Franks and Visigoths) go away, then may he have his reeve (steward) with him, and his “smith,” and his child’s fosterer.’

In the Saxon Chronicle, the song on King Edgar’s death designates the Anglo-Saxons as ‘the illustrious smiths of war!’ The Dooms-day Book, though composed in the reign of the first Norman king of England, may be said, for our present purpose, to be Saxon: it often alludes to workers in iron. For instance, we find that in the City of Hereford there were six smiths, who paid one penny each for his forge, and who made one hundred and twenty pieces of iron from the king’s ore. To each of them threepence was paid as a custom, and they were freed from all other services. It would appear that the iron-mines of England were well worked in Saxon times. Iron-ore was obtained in several counties, and there were furnaces for smelting. The mines of Gloucestershire, in particular, are alluded to by Giraldus Cambrensis as producing an abundance of this valuable metal; and there is every reason for supposing that these mines were wrought by the Saxons, as they had been by their predecessors, the Romans.[35]

The Anglo-Saxon monks were, as already hinted, like the Druid priests, skilful workers in iron, and the Venerable Bede describes one of these people as well skilled in smithcraft. Speaking of Easterwin, Abbot of Weremouth, he says: ‘This abbot, being a strong man, and of a humble disposition, used to assist his monks in their rural labours, sometimes guiding the plough by its stilt or handle, sometimes winnowing corn, and sometimes forging instruments of husbandry with a hammer upon the anvil.’[36]

King Edgar even enacted that the clergy should pursue this and other crafts: ‘We command that every priest, to increase knowledge, diligently learn some handicraft.’[37]

The famed St Dunstan, the most proficient man of his age, and who lived in the l0th century, among his other accomplishments, was a cunning worker in metals, and particularly iron.

Glastonbury Abbey, where Arthur, the last of the British kings, had been buried, was, on the admission of the future abbot, principally filled by Celts or Scots from Ireland, who were at that time the most learned men. This abbey was famous throughout all the land for the ability of its monks, and a British population dwelt in the surrounding country. The usual austerities of a monastic life did not suffice for Dunstan in his earlier years, but, like a Druid, he gave himself up to a solitary existence, practising his skill in secret. He built a kind of Wayland Smith’s cave by the side of the sacred edifice, in which he enclosed himself. This cell or hole was only 5 feet in length and 2½ in width, and it barely rose 4 feet above the ground. The earth was excavated just enough to enable him to stand upright, though he could never lie down. His biographer (Osberne) was so puzzled with this strange retreat that he knew not what to call it. Cells were commonly dug in an eminence or raised from the earth, but this was the earth itself excavated. Its only wall was its door, which covered the whole, and in this was a small aperture to admit light and air. In this sepulchre he abode, denying himself rest as well as needful food, fasting to the point of starvation, and constantly working at his forge when not engaged in prayer. The hammer was always sounding, except when silenced by his orisons; and here he imagined himself assailed by the Evil One. On a certain night all the neighbourhood was alarmed by the most terrific howlings, which seemed to issue from his den. In the morning the people flocked to him to inquire the cause. He told them that the devil had intruded his head into his window to tempt him while he was heating his iron-work; that he had seized him by the nose with his red-hot tongs; and that the noise was Satan’s roaring at the pain![38]

The simple people are stated to have venerated the recluse for his amazing exploits with the enemy of mankind; and indeed he appears to have been as expert in fabricating tales as horse-shoes or other iron-work.

That priests of the highest rank on the continent at a very early period shod horses, tradition abundantly testifies. Saint Eloy or Eloi, who lived in France in the 7th century, during the reign of Clotaire II., is frequently spoken of as a goldsmith;[39] but in mediæval delineations he is most commonly represented shoeing solipeds. We have alluded to him elsewhere as a rather popular saint among horsemen during the Middle Ages. He has been the patron of the horse-shoer in nearly every country in Europe, and was the protector of animals not only in England, France, Italy, and Burgundy, but even in Germany we find that St Job and St Eloy were invoked in the incantations against the maladies of horses.

One of the most curious representations of the patron saint of the farriers is that given in the frontispiece to this work. The original was a distemper painting, discovered on the north side of the eastern pier, between the nave and north transept of St Michael’s church, Highworth, Wiltshire, during very recent restorations. This painting was unfortunately destroyed during the alterations, but not before a drawing of it was obtained. A copy of this, for which I am indebted to the Rev. Mr Bowden, the rector of the church, shows a chapel-like building, with forge apparently outside. To the left is the blazing fire, with the bellows behind, and hung round with shoes which have clumsy calkins, and only four nail-holes each; while near it is perhaps a trough containing a lot of tongs. St Eloy, in his full array of church vestments, stands behind a peculiar anvil holding a shoeing hammer in his right hand, on the back of which is a curious mark, while the other has evidently grasped the leg of a horse, whose hoof rests on the anvil, and to this the Saint attaches the shoe. At the foot is seen the Evil One, who never appears to have been absent from the company of these holy men.

The painting might be ascribed to the 13th or 14th century, and had sustained rough treatment at some time; parts of it having been rubbed off. A marble tablet, dated a.d. 1650, had been fastened over the centre of it. In the Library of Zurich, Switzerland, there is a painting belonging to the 14th or 15th century, representing St Antony of Padua and St Sebastian, with a farrier between them shoeing a vicious horse, one foot of which rests in his hand, perhaps in consequence of some magical spell induced by a witch who is present, and whose nose the farrier pinches in an enormous pair of tongs, as a punishment for her witchcraft.

Travelling from the Anglo-Saxon period to other lands and recent times, we come to Abyssinia, where the trade of blacksmith is hereditary, and considered as more or less disgraceful, from the fact that blacksmiths are, with very rare exceptions, believed to be all sorcerers, and are opprobriously called ‘Bouda.’ They are supposed to have the power of turning themselves into hyænas, and sometimes into other animals; as being, in fact, either tormented by or allied with evil spirits, like the Middle-Age saints.

‘I remember a story of some little girls, who, having been out in the forest to gather sticks, came running back breathless with fright; and being asked what was the cause, they answered that a blacksmith had met them, and entering into conversation with him, they at length began to joke him about whether, as had been asserted, he could really turn himself into a hyæna. The man, they declared, made no reply, but taking some ashes, which he had with him tied up in the corner of his cloth, sprinkled them over his shoulders, and, to their horror and alarm, they began almost immediately to perceive that the metamorphosis was actually taking place, and that the blacksmith’s skin was assuming the hair and colour of the hyaena, while his limbs and head took the shape of that animal. When the change was complete he grinned and laughed at them, and then retired into the neighbouring thickets. They had remained, as it were, rooted to the place from sheer fright, but the moment the hideous creature withdrew, they made the best of their way home . . . . Few people will venture to offend a blacksmith, fearing the effects of his resentment.’[40]

Burton says: ‘It has been observed that the blacksmith has ever been looked upon with awe by barbarians, on the same principle that made Vulcan a deity. In Abyssinia all artisans are Budah, sorcerers, especially the blacksmith, and he is a social outcast as among the Somal; even in El Hejaz, a land, unlike Yemen, opposed to distinctions amongst Moslems, the Khalawigah, who work in metal, are considered vile. Throughout the rest of El Islam the blacksmith is respected as treading in the path of David, the father of the craft.’[41]

Barth writes: ‘ All over the Tawárek country, the “enhad” (smith) is much respected, and the confraternity is most numerous. An “enhad” is generally the prime minister of every little chief. The Arabs in Timbuktu call these blacksmiths “mállem,” which may give an idea of their high rank and respected character.’[42]

With the Arabs, farriers are held in great esteem, and enjoy extensive and invaluable privileges, in consequence of the benefits their art confers on the indispensable complement of the Arab—his horse. The smith lives in a tent set apart from the tribe, called the ‘master’s douar;’ he pays no contributions, and when grain is bought, he gets a share without payment; neither is he called upon to offer shelter to any one; so that he is exempted from what in many cases is imposed upon all—hospitality. The constant toil demanded by his calling, the unavoidable accidents to which he is liable through the urgent wants of his brethren night and day, and the sleepless nights he has to undergo, entitle him to certain gifts called ‘master’s dues.’

On their return from the purchase of grain, every tent makes him an allowance of wheat and barley, and a quantity of butter. In the spring he gets the fleece of a ewe; and if a camel is killed for eating, he gets the part between the withers and tail. When dividing plunder, no matter whether or not he has taken part in the expedition, he gets his share, usually a sheep or a camel, and this is called the horseman’s ewe. The most important privilege accorded to him, however, and which shows more than anything else the high esteem in which his art is held, is the gift of life on the field of battle. If a farrier is on horseback, with arms in his hands, he is as liable to be killed as any other horseman; but if he dismounts, kneels down, and imitates with the two corners of his burnous the movements of his bellows, he will be spared. This is only, however, when he has led an inoffensive life, and followed his art. ‘A “lanæ” (one share of the plunder) is given to the farrier of the tribe, for he contributes his skill and labour to the success of the enterprise. To kill a farrier is deemed infamous. It is a deed that will recoil upon the guilty tribe, who will be pursued by a curse ever after.’ So afraid are the Arabs of losing their farrier, that if he happens to grow rich, a quarrel is fastened upon him, and a portion of his wealth taken away to prevent his leaving the district. A farrier whose tribe has been plundered, seeks out the robbers, and on the simple proof of his trade, recovers his tent, tools, utensils, and horse-shoes.[43]

In Persia the traditions belonging to the craft are many and curious. One of these relates to Baduspan, who, very many centuries ago, possessed himself of the sovereignty of Ruyan and Rostemdar, a district of that country, and who was a descendant of that blacksmith so famous in the history of the East—Kawe by name. This valiant worker in iron overthrew the tyrant Sohak, and hoisted his leather apron for a flag; which distinguishing badge, adorned with pearls and jewels, glittered till the end of that monarchy, as the national standard.

After conquering the tyrant, Feridun, the legitimate heir to the throne, was duly proclaimed king by the magnanimous smith, Kawe. Feridun’s mother had taken refuge in the forests soon after his birth, and had fed the child with the milk of a buffalo cow, the head of which, sculptured on that monarch’s mace, has become no less celebrated among the national insignia than the leather apron.[44]

In Java, and throughout the Eastern Archipelago, the workers in iron hold very high rank, and in ancient times were not unfrequently kings or princes. In other countries, it has often been the boast of monarchs and great chiefs that they could handle the tools of the smith.

Longfellow declares that —

‘Since the birth of time, throughout all ages and nations.
Has the craft of the smith been held in repute by the people.’

In speaking of Basil the blacksmith,

‘ Who was a mighty man in the village, and honoured of all men; ‘

he intimates that even in the New World the traditional attributes of the grimy occupation had found a congenial home. There is something very pleasant in reading of the home-like scenes in ‘Evangeline,’ where, in the far-off Acadie, the children of the village, hurrying away to Basil’s forge,

‘Stood with wondering eyes to behold him
Take in his leathern lap the hoof of the horse as a plaything.
Nailing the shoe in its place; while near him the tire of the cartwheel
Lay like a fiery snake, coiled round in a circle of cinders.
Oft on autumnal eves, when without in the gathering darkness
Bursting with light seemed the smithy, through every cranny and crevice.
Warm by the forge within they watched the labouring bellows,
And as its panting ceased, and the sparks expired in the ashes,
Merrily laughed, and said they were nuns going into the chapel.’

There appears to be every reason to believe that the mysteries of Druidism, and those secret metallurgical rites anciently practised in the East, and known as the ‘Samothracian Mysteries,’ were very closely allied. From a comparison of the texts of Strabo, Diodorus of Sicily, Herodotus, Clement of Alexandria, and others, who speak of the Dactyli, Cabiri, Curetes, Corybantes, and Telchines, as people who came from the far East to Phrygia and Crete, where they introduced the working of bronze and iron, and worshipped in Rhea and on Mounts Ida in Phrygia and Crete, but chiefly in Samothracia, M. Rossignol draws the following conclusions: ‘In the collection of facts which spring from the same source, are woven together by regular deductions, and all tend to the same end, it is impossible to mistake the existence of a religious doctrine founded on the discovery and the first employment of metals, as that of Eleusis was on the introduction of the culture of wheat. Therefore we do not hesitate to believe, that by this comparison we have thrown light on the mysteries of metallurgy, hidden under the name of the Mysteries of Samothracia.’[45]

And Martin writes: ‘The ancients have not mistaken the close relationship of these mysteries (of Druidism) with those of Samothracia, where the same symbol is found nearly entire. Gwyon is the Gijon of the Phœnicians, the Pelasgic Casmil; Koridwen is the grand goddess of the Cabiric rites of Thrace and Phrygia (Rhea). A very positive indication is to be found in the names of the Cabires—those cosmical genii from Western Asia, which exist scarcely changed in Irish poetry. The Gaëls no doubt carried these symbols with them from the West.’[46] Strabo lends his authority to this assertion in an unequivocal manner: ‘In one of the sacred islands near the coast of Britain, are celebrated mysteries similar to those of Samothrace and Eleusis; these are the mysteries of Koridwen, to the observance of which the Druidesses appear to be more particularly devoted.’[47]

In the mysteries of Samothrace, the sacred order of the Cabiri were the artificers, and reserved to themselves the monopoly of working in metals; they made the arms, armour, and all other metallic articles, in great secrecy, as did the ovates among the Druids. The chief workmen of the Druids guarded the centre fire to which so much mysterious importance was attached.[48]

But, it may be asked, if the Gauls and the Germans, long before the Romans came in contact with them, shod their horses with iron plates nailed to the hoofs, why was a practice of so much utility, and indeed of necessity, not adopted by the Romans, and mentioned in their writings, when they became acquainted with these races? This, like so many others, is a difficult question to answer. Unless we admit that the soleæ ferreæ were the nail-shoes of the Teutons and Gauls, or that the glantæ ferreæ only once found in the Roman writings were attached by nails to the hoofs, we have nothing whatever in the way of written evidence, as before stated, to show that this device was resorted to by the Romans. The custom was, in all likelihood, prevalent in Gaul, Switzerland, Germany, and perhaps also in Britain, when invaded by the imperial armies, and it would appear that in time the Romans did resort to it. If we admit that the soleæ ferreæ were not like the modern shoes, then it might be surmised that with people professing Druidism—a religion represented by a caste who had a monopoly of working in iron, the requisite knowledge being only acquired after initiation, and which it was worse than sacrilege to divulge—would not be likely to yield their most sacred secrets to their conquerors, and put them on an equality with themselves. We know that the Romans were, for centuries, in contact with the Gauls, and yet had only weapons of bronze; and that while their plough was of the most primitive description, even in the time of Virgil, the Gauls had an implement approaching perfection; and so with other objects in metallurgy.

The Romans were, in several respects, slow to adopt or improve; and prejudice, especially towards the arts of a conquered and a barbarous people, may have operated strongly with regard to shoeing. After a time they appear to have practised it, but to a limited extent; and only (to judge from the evidence at present before us) in those countries where it was already in use on their arrival did they attempt it. But why was it not mentioned by their historians or hippiatrists? When we find these writers anxiously describing the evils resulting to the hoofs from travelling, it might be expected that so simple, and yet so bold, a means of preventing them would have obtained notice. This omission, however, need not cause us so much surprise when we learn that sometimes great undertakings were overlooked, forgotten, or left unrecorded by the Roman historians. The Caledonian Wall, for example, was a most important work, entailing a vast amount of labour, and built by the Romans themselves, yet only one of their writers makes the faintest allusion to its erection.[49]

As already observed, the climate of the North, where hoofs are soft, roads rugged, and moisture prevails, may have had much to do with the invention of shoeing among the Celts, and compelled the Romans to resort to it when they left their sunny southern climate, where hoofs are hard, and their wonderful paved strata.

Horse shoes and horse shoeing-106.jpg
fig. 141

If the relics found in the battle-field of Alesia belong to the final struggle between Julius Cæsar and the Gauls, then the Romans must have been cognizant of this means of defending horses’ feet at a comparatively early period. Beger[50] has figured a curious bronze medal (fig. 141), which he classes among those of Julius Cæsar, though he heads them ‘Numismata Incerta;’ and this uncertainty deprives it of much of the great interest it might possess with regard to the subject of our treatise. On the obverse of this medal appear two snakes with their tails entwined, and in the middle of the circle they form are two objects resembling one of the German shoes found by schmidt at Gaufelfingen. These may be horse-shoes; they have each eight holes, disposed three on each side and two at the toe; and the extremities have an appearance as if there were calkins, though the engraver has unfortunately forgotten to copy them accurately; but altogether their form and the disposition of the holes is peculiar, and certainly not like the shoes of the earlier periods. On the reverse of the medal is a laurel-tree, with the letters I O on each side of the trunk, and the legend TRIVMP (triumph). Nothing is known as to the history of this curious relic, or where it was discovered; but as it was in the collection of the Elector of Brandenburg, it may be of Germano-Roman origin, in which case we may then conclude that the objects resembling shoes are really intended to represent them, and may be compared with the specimen from the Gaufelfingen tumulus.

It may be added, however, that Beger[51] seems to have been much baffled by the medal, and could come to no conclusion as to its import. ‘Quid autem serpentes caudis connexio? quid calces equorum? nisi cum Patino bellum prudentia gestum intelligas, non explicavero.’ Eckhel, in his ‘Doctrina Nummorum Veterum,’ asserts that he has also seen this money, on which is impressed the ‘two shoes placed between two serpents with interlaced tails.’ He observed it in several collections, and thought it an evident allusion to the success of a race-horse in the circus. One or two of these coins were in the museum of the late M. Blacas.

M. Nickard, who appears determined not to admit that horses were shod with the ancients, has been as much troubled with these specimens as other numismatists and archaeologists, and is inclined to think that what we have designated horse-shoes are intended to represent fetters (entraves) for slaves, supporting this opinion by several references to the practice of manacling these unfortunate creatures. He does not, however, attempt to describe the fetters, or account for the presence of holes in these supposed examples.

As I have just said, I am willing to believe that they are horse-shoes, and that Eckhel is not far from the truth in ascribing the origin of the coin to victories in the hippodrome.

As tending to confirm this opinion, it is worthy of note that quite recently, in a German work on farriery,[52] a tail-piece to one of the chapters shows a serpent encircling a well-arranged and characteristic group of objects (fig. 142), consisting of a horse-shoe (modern German pattern), nails, hammer, pincers, buffer, rasp, and ’boutoir’ or ‘hufmesser.’

Horse shoes and horse shoeing-107.jpg

It must not be forgotten that the serpent is the emblem of the metempsychosis and eternal renovation of Oriental mythology, and held a prominent place among the superstitions of the Druids. The egg of that creature was looked upon by them as a most potent talisman, and Pliny [53] describes how these articles were procured. The Druids wore them round their necks richly set, and sold them at a very high price. They appear, nevertheless, to have been nothing more than the shells of echini or ‘sea-eggs.’

At a very early date we discover another evidence of the high antiquity of shoeing among the Celtic and cognate races, in the frequent occurrence of a name to designate those who had charge of horses, and who had to attend to their shoeing. In French, German, and early British writers, instead of ἱΠΠίατξος and mulomedicus, employed in classical times to denote the veterinary surgeon, there is used the designation ‘mariscalcus,’ ‘manescalcus,’ ‘marescallus,’ ‘mareschallus,’ and finally ‘mareschal;’ all, as Verstegan asserts, derived from the German word ‘march’—horse. ‘In the ancient Teutonicke,’ he says, ‘mare had sometime the signification that horse now hath, and so served for the appelation of that whole kind, to wit, both male and female, and gelding, and so all went in general by the name of horse. Scale, in our ancient language, signifieth a kind of servant, as the name of scalco (though a Teutonicke denomination) in Italy yet doth. Marscale (or marschal) was with our ancestors, as with the ancient Germans, curator equorum, one who had charge of horses. The French, who (as we in England) very honourably esteeme of this name of office, doe give unto some nobleman that bare it the title of Grand Maréschal de France. And yet notwithstanding they doe no otherwise terme the smith that cureth and shueth horses than by the name of mareschal.’[54] Lobineau[55]says it is formed from the Breton word signifying ‘horse;’ but as the Britons, expelled from this country in the 5th century, took refuge there, giving it their name, and as the Bas-Bretons yet speak a dialect of the Celtic, this only lends additional proof as to the origin of the term. Pausanias, in his ‘ hocians,’ intimates that the term march is ancient Gaulish.

The first part of the word ‘maréschal’ is evidently Celtic, and the second, schal, Teutonic; the designation being therefore composed of a Celtic and Teutonic root, it does not appear to date earlier than the fixation of the Francs on the soil of Gaul, and their renunciation of vagabond habits, and in this way characterizes the amalgamation of the two people. The history of the first maréschal mentioned in the early chronicles, supports this opinion. This individual, whose name was Leudaste, was a Gaulish slave belonging to the island of Ré, who at a later period of his life became a great dignitary. Markowefe, the wife of Haribert (a.d. 556), confided the charge of her best horses to him; and among the domestics of the royal household he was enrolled by the title of ‘Mariskalk.’[56] Encouraged by his success, he did not remain satisfied with this title, which gave him the highest rank among the fiscalin serfs, but aspired to have the entire control of the royal stud, and to gain the position of comes stabuli, or constable, a dignity the barbarous kings, with many other things, had introduced at the imperial court. At the death of the queen, he so cultivated the growing esteem of King Haribert, as to distance all competitors and gain his object. After enjoying for a year or two the superior rank he held in the domesticity of the palace, this fortunate son of a serf vine-grower in the island of Ré, who had run away several times to escape slavery, and had one of his ears cut off in consequence, was made Count of Tours, one of the most considerable cities in the kingdom ruled by Haribert.[57]

The compound word, then, was originally used, it appears, to signify a groom or horse attendant;[58] afterwards, as the importance of the office increased, it was applied to a man who had charge of twelve horses, as exemplified in the following extract from an ancient German law:[59] ‘Si mariscalus, qui super xii caballos est, occiditur.’

Subsequently, and particularly in the time of the Merovingians, the individual who had under his charge all the ‘mareskalks’ was designated by the title of ‘Comes Marestalli’ or ‘Stabulorum;’[60] probably in imitation of the ‘contostaulos’ of the Byzantine empire,[61] The position, however, was as yet one of no great honour; for we find that the wehr-geld, or ‘blood-money,’ of the mareschal in the Salic, German, and Burgundian laws, was only forty sous-d’or, a lower price than that fixed for a Roman tributary, which was sixty sous. The murderer of a Frankish noble had to pay six hundred sous, and for a common Frank two hundred. A Roman or Gallo-Roman’s life was valued at one hundred sous. The sous-d’or was equal to about fifteen francs present money.

With the more universal adoption of nail-shoeing, the horse was rapidly becoming a very important animal in civilization at the commencement of the middle ages, and by far the most essential portion of a chevalier’s property. The ‘comes marestalli’ was, therefore, as we might expect, a very distinguished personage, and held high rank. We have already seen that with the Celts in Wales, the groom of the rein occupied a dignified position as well as the smith; and the mareschal in France was no less in favour, as we have had occasion to notice; for after the time of Charlemagne, he had not only the care of all the horses of kings or princes, but was appointed to superior commands in the army, ranking finally as one of the most exalted personages at Court.

There was nothing degrading in a nobleman shoeing horses during the era of chivalry; and the maréschal, in the 10th and 11th centuries, was on a footing of equality with the chamberlain, falconer, and other officers who formed the establishment of the chevalier or prince. In the suite of a great noble there was an écuyer de corps, the highest in rank; then an écuyer de chambre, or chamberlain; an écuyer de table, or carver; an écuyer d’écurie, or maréchal; an écuyer of song; and one falconer, etc. The écuyer of a poor chevalier had to perform the duties of four or five; for it was not enough to understand birds, dogs, and horses—to know how to handle a lance, battleaxe, and sword—to get over a fence or a ditch—to climb well in an assault—to speak with politeness to ladies and princes—to dress and undress his master—to wait upon him at table—to parry the blows aimed at him in a melèe — but, in addition, he should know something of medicine, and be capable of dressing wounds. He should also be able to shoe a horse, and repair with the hammer broken armour, or with the needle mend a hole in a mantle. These varied acquirements were all necessary to make up the accomplished écuyer (or squire), who might afterwards aspire to the honours of chivalry, and flatter himself to be worthy of them.[62]

The Cartulary of Besançon furnishes some curious details relative to the establishment kept up by Archbishop Hughes I., in the 10th century: ’The grand officers of the Archbishop, all of whom possessed fortified hotels in the town, were nine in number. These were the chamberlain (camerarius), the master of the household (sénéchal, or dapifer), the butler (pincerna), the pantler (panetarius), the maréchal (marescalus), the forester (forestarius), the purse-bearer (monetarius), the “vicomte” (vicomes), the mayor (major or villicus). . . . The maréchal held the superintendence of the Archbishop’s stables and the command of his men-at-arms (maréchaussée). Those innkeepers who desired to be established in the street La Lue, could only do so after paying him the tribute of a cask of wine; and all the workers in metal who sought to open shops in Besançon had to pay him a tax of as much as five sous. When the Archbishops of Besançon, or their assistant-bishops, entered the town for the first time, the maréchal escorted them, and afterwards claimed the horses or mules they had ridden, as also the cup with which they had made their first repast. When it happened that the emperor came, the same right was exercised, but only on the condition that the maréchal had previously garnished with his own hands the hoofs of the monarch’s steed with four silver shoes![63]

The Normans, on their arrival in France, were, like the Saxons and the Franks, far behind the Celts and Gauls in equitation or their management of the horse. On their reaching Neustria, Wace, the troubadour of the 12th century, sings:

N’étoient mie chevaliers
N’ils ne saroient chevalchier
Tot à pié portoient lor armes.

And Rollo, the ‘Walker,’ as the chroniclers tell us, never rode.[64] Yet they soon conformed to the customs of the people among whom they settled, and in a hundred and fifty years after disembarking from their ships, they had established the finest studs of horses in France. So that we need not be surprised that the Norman princes should also have instituted the office of ’March-shall,’ to superintend their extensive stables in various parts of Normandy, but particularly at Rouen and Caen. This office sometimes became hereditary, and frequently gave a title of nobility to families—among these may be mentioned the ‘Maréchal de Venoix.’ To the fief of Venoix, near Caen, was attached the duty of managing the stables of the Duke of Normandy, and everything relating to them: as the gathering of the forage from the fine prairies of Caen, Venoix, and Louvigny, for the use of the Duke’s horses. Through holding this office, the owner of the fief was designated ‘Marechal de Venoix,’ or ‘Marechal of the Prairie.’[65]

Among the noble families of France who derived their origin from this Norman source, we find Laferrière and Ferrière; and these yet bear on their scutcheon eight horseshoes.[66] The King of France, as also the nobles, his vassals, had among his officers a maréchal, who, under the ‘connétable,’ officiated as master of the horse, superintendent of the shoers, and as veterinary surgeon. Father Anselmo,[67] speaking of the duties of the constable, gives an example: ‘The king pays to the cavaliers the value of the horses they have lost in war, and for all those killed or disabled on service; the constable ought to value, through his maréchal, the war-horses belonging to him and his companions and all the people of his hotel, and such price as the maréchal may fix, the king should allow.’

The first French maréchal to the king who commenced to elevate the dignity of his office in a military point of view, was Alberic Clement, lord of Metz, in Gâtinais. He accompanied King Philip Augustus to the Holy Land, and distinguished himself at the siege of Acre, where he was killed at an assault conducted by William the Breton and Rigord, in 1191. He had on many occasions led the advanced guard into battle,[68] and it was he who inaugurated the brilliant series of French marshals. His son, though very young, was, in recognition of the father’s services, made maréchal, and in 1225 commenced his duties, which, though military in their character, were yet made to include the management of the king’s horses, and everything pertaining to them.[69] It is not, however, until the 15th century that we find the maréchal separating himself from horses and stables, and occupying a position second only to that of the sovereign.

In relation to shoeing, the designation, elsewhere than in France, is of very frequent occurrence. In the reign of James II., King of Aragon (13th century), in appointing a maréchal, it is ordained: ‘Which Marescallus shall be near our person when we journey, furnished with nails and shoes, and other necessaries.’[70] In the Hist. Dalphini, for the year 1340, in defining the duties of this person, it is stated: ‘Also the said Marescallus, every morning and late at night, is to see that the horses are properly groomed, . . and also to ascertain that they are well shod.’ It is also found in the Charta Buzelinum (p. 528) for the year 1034; in the ‘Statutis Ordinis de Sempringham ‘ (p. 743); in ‘Institu. Cap. Gener. Cisteric (cap. 36); and in Foris Bigorre (art. 40).[71]

After the arrival of the Normans in England, and who in all probability brought it with them, the designation or title is a common one; the marechal or smith being often typified by hammers, tongs, anvils, and horse-shoes, and marshall or marescallus became a common name. For instance, in the ‘Annales Cambriæ,’ for the 11th century, it is recorded, ‘Willielmus Marescallus factus est comes Penbrochiæ.’

We also notice that Walter Marshall, seventh Earl of Pembroke, who died in the Keep of Gooderich Castle, in 1246, had for his seal a horse-shoe, and a nail within its branches. This seal is of interest to us in not only showing the origin of the name, but as affording a good idea of the shoes and nails in use at this period (fig. 143).

Horse shoes and horse shoeing-108.jpg
fig. 143

In the curious work entitled ‘Fleta,’ written in the reign of Edward I., the ‘Marescalcia’ and ‘Marescallo’ are specially alluded to. For example, in speaking of the ‘Hospitio Regis,’ it is written: Item eleemosynar’ janitorem, servientem ad custod’ summar’, et carectarum deputatum, et clericum de Marescalcia cum Marescallo, ferratore equorum, qui quidem clericus de expensis fœni et avenæ, literæ ferrure equorum et harnes’ pro equis, et carectis, ac de vadiis servientum, scutiferorum, clericorum, et garcionem respondebit cujus interest scire de hiis qui de novo erunt admisi ad vad’ Reg. quam de extravagantibus,’ etc. And again, ‘Marescalli autem de supervenientibus debent inferiori Marescallo testimonium perhibere.’[72] The functions of this dignitary are thus defined: ‘Officium autem Marescalli est præbendam contra præpositum talliare, et numerum equorum Senescallo hospitii in compoto diei qualibet nocte computare, at ipse in rotulo suo numerum equorum possit inverere, specifiando nomina supervenientium de eorum adventu, et morâ. 2. Item furfur a præposito per talliam recipere, cum vide necesse habuerit, et inde Sen compotum reddere, ut fiat de furfure, sicat de avena. 3. Item contra præpositum de ferris et clavis ab eo receptis talliam recipere, tam de numero ferrorum, quàm de eorum custibus, et ubi ea allocaverit Sen’ demonstrare; nec sine sua licentia alienos equos vide licebit ferrare. Item fœnum et literam equis deliberare.’[73]

In London, during the reign of Edward I., we not only find the designation of ‘Mareschal’ in every-day use, but also a regulation defining the prices to be charged by him for his labour and materials; from which we learn, that for putting on a common shoe with six nails, 1½d. was to be paid; with eight nails, 2d; and for removing the same, ½d. For putting a shoe on a courser, 2½d.; on a war-horse, 3d.; and for removing a shoe on either, 1d. This is notified in the Norman French of the ‘Liber Albus’ of the London Guildhall, and is headed as follows:

‘De Marescallis, Fabris, et Armuraris.

‘Qe Mareschals preignent pur fer de chival, de vi clowes, i denier obole; de viii clowes, ii deniers; et pur remover dicel, obole; et pur fer de courser, ii deniers obole; et pur fer de destrer, iii deniers; et pur removere un diceux, i denier.’

From Letter-Book G, dated from a.d. 1353 to a.d. 1375, and preserved in the Records of the City of London, we make the following extract:

‘Item, qe Mareschal preignent pur ferure des chivalx, cest assavoir, pur fer de viii clowes, ii deniers; et de meyns, i denier obole; et pur remover, obole.’

Horse shoes and horse shoeing-109.jpg
fig. 144

That the designation was general wherever the Normans had established themselves in England, is proved by the accompanying drawing (fig. 144) from the brass matrix of a curious seal now in the possession of Mrs Wooler, of Darlington, and which was found at Piersbridge, near that town. A farrier displays a horse-shoe, heavy and clumsy, and pierced with six almost square holes, as well as a shoeing hammer and two nails, as a badge of his craft, the legend around them being S. Radul, Maréchal d’ l’Evechie d’Dureme—which signifies that it was the seal of Ralph, farrier to the bishopric of Durham.The word mareschal remained in vogue in England long after the Norman French had ceased to be the popular or Court language, though it generally gave place to ‘farrier,’ ‘ferrier,’ or ‘ferrator,’ a designation which had also been in use for very many centuries, and was derived, no doubt, from the ‘faber ferrarius,’ who not only worked generally in iron, but also shod the horses. In old French records it is not uncommon to find ferrier and maréschal employed to designate the shoer.

In the list of the slain at the battle of Bannockburn, fought between the English and Scottish armies on 25th June, 1318, in which the first was defeated and the national independence of Scotland established, we find on the English side, among the knights and knight bannerets, the name of William Le Mareschal, and among the prisoners in the hands of the Scots, the knight Anselm de Mareschal and Thomas de Ferrers.[74] These individuals, however, may not have been in any way connected, but by name, with the shoers of horses.

It is curious, notwithstanding, to find the two designations combined so late as the 16th century, and applied to the healer of equine maladies. For instance, in an account of Queen Elizabeth’s expenses from 1559 to 1569, there is an entry for ‘Curinge and Dressinge of the Queen’s Horses;’ and among other sums disbursed by ‘John Tamworthe, Esquire, one of Her Majesties grooms,’ and which were to be refunded to him, it is written: ‘Also he is allowed for money paide to Martin Hollyman, Marshall Ferrer, and others, for curinge and dressinge of the Queen’s Majesties coursers, horses, and geldings, at divers tymes, within the tyme of this accompt, as in the said book doth appere, £65 10s. 4d.’[75] The designation of ‘Farrier’ or ‘Ferrator’ is very ancient, and may have been in general use before the introduction of the Norman one. For instance, in the reign of Alexander II. of Scotland, at the commencement of the 13th century, a family named Ferrier lived in Tranent, in Haddingtonshire, whose seal of arms was appended to an alienation of some lands in that locality to the family of Seton, and on this seal was a shield charged with three horse-shoes.[76]

It is somewhat surprising to find the mareschal as an officer of importance in the household of the ancient Celtic, or rather Hebridean, chiefs in the Western Isles of Scotland. Every family had two of these functionaries, who, in their language, were called ‘Marischal Tach,’ both of whom had an hereditary right to their office in writing, and each had a town and land for his service. Some of these rights Martin has seen fairly written on good parchment.[77]

For the year 1240, the Ferrator is mentioned as being, it would appear, on an equal footing with the cook: ‘Besides these there were two offices of the same kind, namely, the office of cook and that of “Ferratoris;” the liberty of exercising these lies with the citizens and the clergy.’[78] And in the Miracles of St Ambrosius it occurs: ‘ D. Gescæ uxor Fei Ferratoris de populo S. Martini.’[79] ‘Fabros’ is sometimes substituted for ‘ferrator,’ as, for example, in a charter of Henry V. of England (1413),[80] where it is said: ‘Thou knowest that we have assigned thee as many horse-shoes and nails as may be necessary for the shoeing of the horses of our stables in our present travelling, with Fabros et ferrum, and all other necessaries required for the office of shoeing {ferruræ)’ In connection with the various designations for the farrier in use during the Middle Ages, we also find a diversity of names for the horse-shoes, not the least frequent of these being ‘ferratura.’ So early as 1184, in Charta Lucii III.[81] it is enacted: ‘Pro se et duobus scuteriis et tribus equitaturis fenum et avenam habeat, et candelas, et Ferraturas equorum de curia ipsa percipiat.’ In another charter for the year 1252, it also occurs, ‘Una Ferratura equi.’

The general name, however, was ferrum or ferrus. In the ‘Regestum Constabulariæ Burdegal’ (fol. 106) the former is expressed: ‘Dixit se teneri facere D. Regi Sex Ferra nova equi cum suis clavis in mutatione Domini;’ and the latter in the Acta St Raynerii Pisani (vol. iii,, Junii, p. 432), ‘Ferrati enim equi qui illuc equitabant, sine aliquo ferro in pedibus regrediebantur, et qui suos Ferros reservabant, optimos habere pedes perhibebantur.’ This affords us some evidence as to the insecure manner in which the shoes were attached to the foot at this period, as well as the wise conclusion arrived at, that those hoofs which longest retained their armour were generally the best. With regard to the word ‘maréchal,’ it is still the only designation for the farrier in France; but to distinguish between the shoer of horses and the highest dignitary in the land—though both originally were one— the word ferrant is added to the title of the former (Maréchal ferrant).
Some strange superstitions are allied with horse-shoes and horse-shoeing, but chiefly with the shoes. It is impossible to fix the age of many of these curious fancies, but they appear to belong to the remotest antiquity—to be coeval, indeed, with the early mysteries, and to have held their ground long after these had disappeared, descending from one age to another, until they have even reached our own day. Finding a horse-shoe, and nailing it to a door or other place in order to keep away witches or ill-luck, is one of those frailties of the human mind not alone confined to the West, but ranging over a large extent of the earth’s surface.

Burnes,[82] in travelling through Central Asia, remarks: ‘Passing a gate of the city, I observed it studded with horse-shoes, which are as superstitious emblems in this country as in remote Scotland. A farrier had no customers: a saint to whom he applied recommended his nailing a pair of horse-shoes to a gate of the city. He afterwards prospered, and the farriers of Peshawur have since propitiated the same saint by a similar expedient, in which they place implicit reliance.’

Aubrey[83] tells us that in his time ‘it is very common to nail horse-shoes over the thresholds of doors, which is to hinder the power of witches that enter into the house. Most houses of the West-end of London have the horse-shoe on the threshold. It should be a horse-shoe that one finds.’ He adds: ‘In the Bermudas they used to put an iron into the fire when a witch comes in. Mars is enemy to Saturn.’ ‘Under the porch of Stainfield church, in Suffolk, I saw,’ he mentions, ‘a tile with a horse-shoe upon it, placed there for this purpose, though one would imagine that holy-water would alone have been sufficient. I am told there are many similar instances.’

Ramsey[84] speaks of nailing shoes on the witches’ doors and thresholds to keep them in; and Mr Francis Douce, in his manuscript notes, says; ‘The practice of nailing horse-shoes resembles that of driving nails into the walls of cottages among the Romans, which they believed to be an antidote against the plague: for this purpose L. Manlius (a.u.c. 390) was named Dictator,—to drive the nail.’

We have already noticed the singular custom for many centuries prevailing at Oakham, in Rutlandshire. In Monmouth-street, London, Brand,[85] in 1797, saw many shoes nailed to the thresholds of doors; and Henry Ellis, in 1813, counted no less than seventeen in that street fixed against the door-steps.

The fair, but frail, ladies of Amsterdam, in 1687, believed that a horse-shoe which had either been found or stolen, and placed on the chimney-hearth, would bring good luck to their houses.[86]

There is a curious and somewhat remarkable old German saying in reference to a damsel who has met with a misfortune—’Ein Mädchen dass ein Hufeisen verloren hat.’ The origin of this strange application of the word is unknown; but the mishap may have been compared to a horse stumbling and losing its shoe.[87]

In Germany horse-shoes are stuck up in all the ‘Schmiedeherbergen,’ or ‘Gasthausern’ (smiths’ public-houses), and are called the ‘arms of the guild’ (Zunftgilde).

Holiday, in his comedy of the ‘Marriage of the Arts,’ among other good wishes introduced, gives one to theeffect ‘ that the horse-shoe may never be pulled from your threshold.’

To nail a horse-shoe, which has been cast on the road, over the door of any house, barn, or stable, is an effectual means of preventing the entrance of witches in Cornwall and the West of England to this day.[88] I have recently met with instances of this custom in Kent.

Butler,[89] in his unrivalled ‘Hudibras,’ says of his conjurer that he could

‘Chase evil spirits away by dint
Of cickle, horseshoe, hollow flint.’

Misson[90] mentions the popularity of this custom in England, and its being intended as a defence from witches: ‘Ayant souvent remarque un fer de cheval cloué au seuils des portes (chez les gens de petite étoffe), j’ai demandé a plusieurs ce que cela vouloit dire? On m’a répondu diverses choses differentes, mais la plus générale réponse a été, que ces fers se mettoient pour empêcher les sorciers d’entrer. Ils rient en disant cela, mais ils ne le disent pourtant pas tout-à-fait en riant; car ils croyent qu il y a là-dedans, ou du moins qu il peut y avoir quelque vertu secrete: et s’ils n’avoient pas cette opinion, ils ne s’amuseroient pas à clouer ce fer à leur porte.’

And Guy, in his fable of the Old Woman and her Cats, makes her complain that

                            ‘crowds of boys
Worry me with eternal noise;
Straws laid across my path retard,
The horse-shoes nail’d (each threshold guard).’

It was considered a lucky omen to find a horse-shoe on the road; for one obtained in this way was far more potent against the ill-natured old ladies than one procured otherwise. Scott[91] alludes to the virtues of the hoofarmour in this respect, when he causes Summertrees to rail Crosbie with, ‘Your wife’s a witch, man; you should nail a horse-shoe on your chamber-door.’

Only a few years ago, when the wealthy banker, Coutts, went to reside at Holly Lodge, two old horse-shoes were fixed on the upper step of the marble flight of stairs.

Specimens will be shown of two horse-shoes—one of the 13th, the other of the 16th, century—which had been fastened to the church door of Saint-Saturnin, in France.

It used to be the custom in Devonshire and Cornwall, to nail to the great west doors of churches these old articles to keep off the malicious witches, one of whose special amusements it was

‘To untie the winds and make them fight
Against the churches.’

Church doors appear to have been rather favourite depôts for horse-shoes. On that of the church at Halcombe, Devonshire, were formerly four shoes, said to be those taken from a horse ridden some distance into the sea byone of the Carews, for a wager.The odd custom even appears to have extended itself from the church to the precincts of the grave; for Lindenschmidt found horse-shoes in the tombs of Gaufelfingen, and could not account for their presence there.

At Schwarzenstein, about half-a-league from Rastenburg, Prussia, two large horse-shoes, says tradition, were to be seen hanging to the church walls, and this is their antiquated history: ‘Not far from the church dwelt a tavern-keeper, who, in selling beer to the people, did not give them just measure. The devil came upon him unawares one night, and, before mine host could give the alarm, he was carried off to the village forge. His Satanic Majesty with difficulty wakened up the smith, and said to him, “Master, shoe my horse!” The astonished Vulcan, who was justly suspected of being in partnership with the publican in his fraudulent transactions, knew not what to do; but as soon as he drew near the beer-seller whispered in his ear, “Partner, don’t be in a hurry, but work slowly.” The smith, who had taken him for a horse, was greatly terrified when he heard the familiar voice, and the fright caused him to tremble in every limb; consequently the operation of shoeing was greatly retarded, and in the interval the cock crew. The devil was then obliged to take to flight; but the inn-keeper was very ill, and did not recover for a long time after.’ If the devil were to shoe all the inn-keepers who give short measure, runs the moral of the tradition, iron would soon be beyond price![92]

There was to be seen at Ellrich, in Germany, in days long gone by, four horse-shoes, of immense size, nailed to the door of the old church. They astonished everybody; and since the church was destroyed, they have been carefully preserved in the curate’s dwelling. In very ancient times, Count Ernest rode one Sunday morning from Klettenberg to Ellrich, in order to contend, glass in hand, with the most intrepid tippler, for a chain of gold. He met a great number of rivals, and defeated them all; and having put the chain round his neck, he was returning, as conqueror, through this little town to Klettenberg. As he crossed the principal thoroughfare, he heard the vespers chanted in the church of Saint Nicholas: drunk as he was, he made up his mind to enter the sacred building. So he rode in, through and over the people, up to the very altar; but scarcely had his horse put its feet on the steps to clear them, than all at once its four shoes were torn off, and it fell with its rider, both stiff dead on the floor. The shoes have been preserved for ages as a memorial of this event.[93]

Even the loss of shoes from the hoofs appears to have given rise in the middle ages to as great an amount of superstition, as the virtues ascribed to their discovery. So late as the 16th century we find the accomplished diplomatist, brave soldier, and skilled poet, Du Bartas, blaming the humble little plant, moon-wort (Botrychium lunaria), for drawing the iron coverings from the horses’ feet.

‘ And horse that, feeding on the grassy hills,
Tread upon moon-wort with their hollow heeles;
Though lately shod, at night goe bare-foot home.
Their master musing where their shooes become.
O moon-wort! tell us where thou hid’st the smith,
Hammer, and pincers, thou unshoo’st them with?
Alas! what lock or iron engine is’t
That can thy subtile secret strength resist,
Sith the best farrier cannot set a shoo
So sure, but thou (so shortly) canst undoo?’

Longfellow speaks

‘Of the marvellous powers of four-leaved clover and horse-shoes’

as a superstition among the primitive settlers in Acadie, now Nova Scotia. And we have quoted M. Megnin’s opinion that the apex of the ensign of a Roman cohort, figured on Trajan’s column, was surmounted by a hoof-iron. If this be really a horse-shoe, it not only demonstrates that the custom of shoeing was known to the Romans, but that the strange virtues superstitiously attached to that object had already been credited by them; as it would also appear to have been by the Arabs in Mahomet’s time.

 

  • Fournet. Le Mineur.
  • Fournet. Op. cit.
  • Gmelin. Metallurgie du Fer.
  • Cæsar. Bell. Gall. lib. v. cap. 10. ‘Utuntur aut ære aut tallis ferreis ad certum pondus examinatis pro nummo.’
  • Op. cit. p. 31.
  • Poetical History.
  • Moniteur Universel, 1862.
  • The Celt, the Roman, and the Saxon.
  • Pollux, vii. 24.
  • Βασκανια. ibid. vii. 24, x. 31.
  • Camden. Britannia, vol. i. p. 221. Edit. Gough.
  • Scott. Kenilworth. Note B.
  • Wright. The Celt, the Roman, and the Saxon.
  • H. Martin. Hist, de France, vol. iii. p. 58
  • Popular Antiquities of Wales, p. 45.
  • Northern Antiquities. Note.
  • Le Forgeron Veland. Paris, 1833
  • Etymologies Gauloises.
  • Les Tombelles Celtiques d’Alaise.
  • With the Mongols, the anvil of Genghis Khan is still preserved on Mount Darkan. It is made of a particular metal called ‘Bouryn,’ says the tradition, which has the properties of iron and copper, being at once hard and flexible.—Timkowski. Op. cit., vol. i. p. 173.
  • The Chronicle of Tysilio.
  • Adhemar. Chronic MS.
  • Hist. Gaufredi Ducis Norman. Recueil des Hist. de France. See also C. Depping. De la Tradition Populaire sur l’Armurier ou Forgeron Veland. Mem. de la Soc. des Antiquaires de France.
  • Saga Bibliotek, vol. ii. Kjobenham, 1816.
  • De Sourdeval. Journal de Haras, 1862
  • Megnin. Op. cit.
  • Deutsche Mythologie.
  • ‘It were a delicate stratagem, to shoe
    A troop of horse with felt.’ Act iv., scene 6.
  • Nova Legenda Angliæ. The Celt, the Roman, and the Saxon, p. 139.
  • Vita Sancti Columbæ. Auctore Andamnano. Lib. iii. cap. 9. Dublin, 1857.
  • O’ Donovan. Annals of the Four Masters.
  • Act. SS. August, vol. iii. p. 659.
  • Aldhelm. De Laud. Virg. 298.
  • MSS. Tiberias, A. 3.
  • Pictorial History of England, Book ii. chap. 6.
  • Hist. Abbat. Weremath., p. 296. I
  • Wilkins. Ibid. p. 83.
  • S. Turner, F. Palgrave. Hist. Anglo-Saxons. This fable concerning the attacks of his Satanic Majesty on the crafty Dunstan, is paralleled by that sustained by St Benedict in the 6th century. That worthy was tempted by the devil, who appears to have been particularly addicted to trifle with the feelings of the mediæval saints, in the form of a mulomedicus: ‘ei antiquus hostis in mulomedici specie obviam factus est, cornu (to give the horses medicine) et tripedicam (an instrument to bind horses’ feet) ferens,’ etc.—Vita St Benedicti, Muratori. Scrip. Rer. Ital., vol. iv. p. 223.
  • Michelet. Histoire de France, vol. i. p. 243, 1852.
  • Mansfield Parkyns. Life in Abyssinia, vol. ii. p. 144.
  • First Footsteps in East Africa, p. 33.
  • Travels in Africa.
  • E. Daumas. Les Chevaux du Sahara.
  • C. Von Hammer. Histoire des Assassins, p. 230. Paris, 1833.
  • Des Origines Religieuses de la Métallurgie.
  • Hist, de France.
  • Strabo. Lib. iv. p. 190.
  • Megnin. Op. cit., p. 9. ‘La nuit du 1er Novembre, les traditions Irlandaises rapportent que les druides se rasseniblaient autour du “perefeu” gardé par un pontife-forgeron et l’éteignaient. A ce signal, de proche en proche s’éteignaient tous les feux de l’île; partout regnait un silence de mort; la nature entière semblait plongée dans une nuit primitive. Tout à coup le feu jaillissait de nouveau de la montagne sainte, et des cris d’allégresse éclataient de toutes parts; la flamme empruntée au “pere-feu” courait, de foyer en foyer, d’un bout à l’autre de l’ile et ranimait partout la vie.’ Martin. Op. cit., vol. i.
  • Wilson. Prehistoric Annals of Scotland, vol. ii. p. 39.
  • Numismata Romanorum, vol. ii. p. 597.
  • Thesaur. Elect. Brandenburg, vol. iii, p. 597.
  • Lehr- und Handbuch der Hufbeschlagskunst. Von J. T. Grosz. 3rd edition. Stuttgart, 1861.
  • Hist. Naturalis. Lib. xxix. cap. 44.
  • Restitution of Decayed Intelligence in Titles of Honour. 1635.
  • Hist. de Bretagne.
  • Greg. Turon. Hist. France, vol. ii. p. 261.
  • Megnin. Op. Cit., pp. 30, 63.
  • See Leges Salic. Walter. Corp. Jur. German., vol. i. p. 22.
  • Anton. Geschicte der Deutschen Landwirthschaft, vol. ii. p. 298
  • A. Thierry. Récits de Tems Merovingiens, vol. ii. p. 198.
  • The fondness for display in the matter of horses and stables manifested by the Byzantine Emperors, and which was quickly imitated by the Goths and Franks, gave a great impulse to veterinary science. In the reign of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, the Master of the Horse was one of the lirst dignitaries of the court, and was styled χόμης τοῦ σταβoῦ. ‘Magnus contostaulos comes stabuli, Gallis connétable, nomen conflatum ex contos seu conto comes, et staulos stabulum, σταυλος seu σταυλον ex latino stabulum detortum. Habebant quoque veteres Franci comitem stabuli, ut videre est in epist. 3. Hincmari, c. 16, quem vulgus corrupte appellabat constabulum, ut est apud Regionem, I. 2, et apud Tyrium passim legere est conslabularis.’—Codini.
  • A. Callet. Dictionnaire Encyclopédique. Art. Ecuyer.
  • Mem. Soc. d’Emulation. Besançon, p. 379, 1859.
  • E. Houel. Hist. du Cheval. Snurlson. Heimskringla. The Saga in this work says he received the sobriquet in consequence of his enormous size; no horse could be found to carry him, so he was compelled to walk.
  • E. Houel. Op. cit., p. 178. Megnin, p. 75.
  • Le Nobiliaire de Normandie.
  • Histoire de la Maison Royale de France.
  • Guillainne le Breton. Vie de Philippe Auguste:

    Fit subito tetra castris irruptio nocte
    Quippe marescallus festinum duxerat agmen.

  • Père Anselme. Hist. de la Maison Royale de France, Paris, 1730.
  • Leges Jacobi ii. Reg. Majoric. vol. iii.
  • Du Cange. Glossarium ad Scriptores Mediæ et Infime Latinitatis.
  • Fleta, Lib. ii. cap. 14, p. 4.
  • Ibid. cap. 74.
  • Trivet’s Annals. Hall’s edit. vol. ii. p. 14. Oxford, 1712.
  • J. Nichols. The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth^ vol. i. p. 269. Loudon, 1823.
  • The Scottish Nation, vol. ii. Edinburgh, 1868.
  • Martin. Western Isles.
  • Hist. Dalphin. vol. i. p. 142.
  • Chronic. Senoniense, lib. iii. Martin, p. 205.
  • Rymer’s Fœdera, vol. ix. p. 2-50.
  • Miræus, vol. iii. Diplom. Belgic. p. 1189.
  • Travels into Bokhara, vol. ii. p. 87.
  • Miscellanies; on Apparitions, Magic, Charms, &c. London, p. 148, 1696.
  • Elminthologia, p. 76.
  • Popular Antiquities.
  • Putanisme d’Amsterdam.
  • Notes and Queries, vol. v. p. 391.
  • Romances of the West of England. Second Series, p. 240.
  • Canto iii. pt. 2, line 291.
  • Travels in England, p. 192.
  • Red Gauntlet, chap. v.
  • Prætorius. Weltbeschreib. vol. ii. Grimm. Deutsche Mythologie.

Otmar and Grimm. Deutsche Mythologie.

 

Jan 282016
 

The Lindorm

Lusatia

According to an old legend, a long, long time ago horrible lindorms and dragons lived in the swamps and lakes of Lower Lusatia. They were like snakes, only much larger, and they breathed smoke and flames. They laid to waste the surrounding land, and they devoured people and animals in large numbers.

Near the village of Zilmsdorf [Cielmow] (one of the oldest places in Lusatia) there is a place out in an open field where flames as tall as a man often shoot up from the ground. People call it dragon-fire, and they say that the great dragon killed by Saint George lived there.

Next to the old salt road that leads to Sorau [Zary] is a pile of stones. This is where the battle took place, and this is where a stone monument to the saint once stood, depicting him high on his horse, lance in hand, and with the dragon at his feet.

This dragon had been eating thirty people every day and laying to waste the farmland far and wide. It also was able to assume human form, in which it caused the downfall of many people. It would rob them of their money and then bury them deep in the woods behind the Forstner Heath.

Normally it would fly through the air, and when it did so it had to take a route above Zilmsdorf. A certain man by the name of Wochner lived there who was a well-known exorcist. He had the ability to detain the dragon until a crowing cock from the area caught it by surprise. Every time this happened it would have to drop its gold.

Note by Karl Haupt: People made pilgrimages from far and wide to a statue of Saint George near Zilmsdorf. In 1615 the provincial governor Count Promnitz had it rebuilt, namely at the request of Emperor Matthias (given at a dedication ceremony in Sorau in 1611). In about 1710 the stone was still standing there. On the north side was a carving of the knight Saint George on a horse with the lindorm beneath him. The stone was seven yards high and three yards wide. The inscription from the seventeenth century on the west side read:

Effigiem Christi dum cernis semper honora
Non tamen effigiem sed quem designat honora.
Aspice, mortalis, pro te datur hostia talis.

Above this, on a stone cross, was an image of Christ made of gilded tin. (Magnus, Geschichte von Sorau, p. 115)

Here, in Protestant reinterpretation, the knight is transformed into the Savior himself, who “treads upon the serpent’s head.”


  • Source: Karl Haupt, “Der Lindwurm (waka, palowaka),” Sagenbuch der Lausitz, vol. 1 (Leipzig: Verlag von Wilhelm Engelmann, 1862), no. 80, p. 74.
  • Lusatia (German Lausitz, Sorbian Luzia) is a historic region crossing present-day eastern Germany and western Poland, with a mixture of German and Slavic cultures.
  • Translator’s note: Although the above legend takes place in present-day Poland, I have retained the German place names of my source, giving the Slavic equivalents in square brackets.
Jan 282016
 

King Lindorm

Denmark, Swen Grundtvig

9df53a3b9597

Once upon a time there was a king who had a beautiful queen. On the first night of their marriage, nothing was written on their bed when they retired, but when they got up the next day, they read there that they would have no children. The king was very sad about this, and the queen even more so. She found it most unfortunate that there would be no heir for their kingdom.

One day, while deep in thought, she wandered to a remote spot. There she met an old woman who asked her why she was so sad. The queen looked up and said, “Oh, telling you will do no good. You can’t help me.”

“But perhaps I can,” said the old woman, and asked the queen to tell her story. So the queen agreed, and told how on their wedding night a message had appeared on their bed that they would have no children. This was why she was so sad. The old woman told her that she could help her have children. That evening at sunset she should place a platter upside down in the northwest corner of the garden. The next morning at sunrise she should take it away. Beneath it she would find two roses, a red one and a white one. “Take the red one and eat it, and you shall have a boy; take the white one and it will be a girl. But do not eat them both,” said the old woman.

The queen returned home and did what the old woman had told her to do. The next morning, just as the sun was coming up, she went to the garden and picked up the platter. There were two roses, a red one and a white one. Now she did not know which of the two she should take. If it were the red one, she would have a boy, and he might have to go to war and be killed, and then again she would have no child. So she decided to take the white one; then it would be a girl who would stay at home with her, and then get married and become queen in another kingdom. Thus she picked up the white rose and ate it. But it tasted so good that she picked up the red rose and ate it as well.

Now it so happened that at this time the king was away at war. When the queen noticed that she was pregnant she wrote to him to let him know, and he was very pleased. When the time for her delivery came, she gave birth to a lindorm. As soon as he was born, he crawled under the bed in the bedroom, and stayed there. Sometime later a letter arrived from the king announcing that he soon would return home. When his carriage pulled up in front of the castle and the queen came out to receive him, the lindorm came too and wanted to greet him. He jumped up into the carriage, calling out, “Welcome home, father!”

“What!,” said the king. “Am I your father?”

“Yes, and if you will not be my father, I shall destroy you and the castle as well!”

The king had to agree. They went into the castle together, and the queen had to confess what had happened between her and the old woman. Some days later the council and all the important people in the kingdom assembled to welcome the king back home and to congratulate him on the victory over his enemies. The lindorm came as well and said, “Father, it is time for me to get married!”

“What are you thinking? Who would have you?” said the king.

“If you do not find a wife for me, be she young or old, large or small, rich or poor, then I shall destroy you and the entire castle as well.”

So the king wrote to all the kingdoms, asking if someone would not marry his son. A beautiful princess responded, but it seemed strange to her that she was not allowed to see her future husband before entering the hall where the wedding was to take place. Only then did the lindorm make his appearance, taking his place beside her. The wedding day came to an end, and it was time for them to retire to the bedroom. They were scarcely inside, when he ate her alive.

Sometime later, the king’s birthday arrived. They were all seated at the dinner table when the lindorm appeared and said, “Father, I want to get married!”

“What kind of a woman would have you?” asked the king.

“If you do not find a wife for me, whoever she may be, I shall eat you up, and the entire castle as well!”

So the king wrote to all the kingdoms, asking if someone would not marry his son. Once again a beautiful princess came from far away. She too was not allowed to see her groom until she was in the hall where they were to be married. The lindorm entered and took his place beside her. When the wedding day was over and they went into the bedroom, the lindorm killed her.

Sometime later, on the queen’s birthday, they were all seated at the dinner table when the lindorm came in and said once again, “Father, I want to get married!”

“I cannot get you another wife,” answered the king. “The two kings whose daughters I gave to you are now waging war against me. What am I to do?”

“Just let them come! As long as I am on your side, just let them come, and even if there were ten of them! But if you do not find a wife for me, be she young or old, large or small, rich or poor, then I shall destroy you and the castle as well!”

The king had to give in, but he was not happy about it. Now one of the king’s shepherds, an old man who lived in a little house in the woods, had a daughter. The king went to him and said, “Listen, my dear man. Won’t you give your daughter in marriage to my son?”

“No, I can’t do that. I have only the one child to care for me when I am older, and further, if the prince can’t take care of beautiful princesses he will not take care of my daughter, and that would be a sin.” But the king insisted on having her, and the old man had to give in.

The old shepherd went home and told his daughter everything. She became very sad and, deep in thought, took a walk in the woods. There she met an old woman who had gone into the woods to pick berries and wild apples. She was wearing a red skirt and a blue jacket. “Why are you so sad?” she asked.

“I have every reason to be sad, but there is no purpose in my telling you about it, because you can’t help me.”

“But perhaps I can,” she said. “Just tell me!”

“Well, I am supposed to marry the king’s son, but he is a lindorm and has already killed two princesses, and I know for sure that he will kill me as well.”

“If you just listen to me, I can help you,” said the old woman.

The girl was eager to hear her advice. “When you go to the bedroom following the ceremony, you must have ten nightshirts on. If you don’t have that many, then you must borrow some. Ask for a bucketful of lye water, a bucketful of sweet milk, and an armful of switches. All these things must be taken to the bedroom. When he comes in, he will say, ‘Beautiful maiden, take off your nightshirt!’ Then you must say, ‘King Lindorm, take off your skin!’ You will say that to each other until you have taken off nine nightshirts and he has taken off nine skins. By then he will not have another skin, but you will still have on a nightshirt. Then you must take hold of him. He will be nothing more than a clump of bloody meat. Dip the switches into the lye water and beat him with them until he has almost fallen to pieces. Then you must bathe him in the sweet milk, wrap him in the nine nightshirts, and hold him on your arm. You will then fall asleep, but only for a short time.”

The girl thanked her for the good advice, but she was still afraid, for this was indeed a dangerous undertaking with such a sinister animal.

The wedding day arrived. A large and splendid carriage brought two ladies who prepared the girl for the wedding. Then she was taken to the castle and led into the hall. The lindorm appeared, took his place next to her, and they were married. When evening arrived, and it was time for them to go to bed, the bride asked for a bucketful of lye water, a bucketful of sweet milk, and an armful of switches. The men all laughed at her, saying that it was some kind of a peasant superstition and all in her imagination. But the king said that she should have what she asked for, and they brought it to her. Before going into the bedroom, she put nine nightshirts over the one she was already wearing.

When they both were in the bedroom the lindorm said, “Beautiful maiden, take off your nightshirt!”

She answered, “King Lindorm, take off your skin!”

And thus it continued until she had taken off nine nightshirts and he had taken off nine skins. She found new courage, for he was now lying and the floor with blood flowing freely from him and barely able to move. Then she took the switches, dipped them into the lye water, and beat him as hard as she could until there was scarcely a twig left among the sticks. Then she dipped him into the sweet milk and laid him on her arm. She fell asleep, for it was late, and when she awoke, she was lying in the arms of a handsome prince.

Morning came, and no one dared to look into the bedroom, because they all believed that the same thing had happened to her as to the two others. Finally the king wanted to look, and as he opened the door she called out, “Do come in! Everything is all right!” He went in and was filled with joy. He fetched the queen and the others, and there was a great celebration about the bridal bed unlike any that had ever been seen before. The bridal couple got up and went into another room where they got dressed, because the bedroom was in a horrible mess. Then the wedding was celebrated anew with pomp and joy. The king and queen liked the young queen very much. They could not treat her too well, for she had redeemed their lindorm.

Sometime later she became pregnant. There was another war, and the old king and King Lindorm had gone to the battlefield. Her time arrived, and she gave birth to two beautiful boys. At this time the Red Knight was at court. They asked him to take the king a letter announcing the birth of the two beautiful boys. He rode away a short distance and opened the letter, then changed it to read that she had given birth to two young dogs. The king received the letter and was very sad. He found it unbelievable that she had given birth to young dogs, although it would have not surprised him if it had been a lindorm or something like that. He wrote back that the creatures should be allowed to live until he returned home, that is if they could be kept alive at all. The Red Knight was to deliver this letter, but a short distance away he opened it as well and wrote that the queen and her children were to be burned alive.

The old queen was greatly saddened by this letter, for she liked the young queen very much. Soon thereafter another letter arrived, announcing the king’s return home. The queen became frightened and did not know what to do. She could not bring herself to have them burned. She sent the two children to live with a wet nurse, for she hoped that the king might change his mind once he was back home. She gave the young queen some money and food and sent her into the forest.

She wandered about in the woods for two days and was in great need. She came to a high mountain, which she climbed without stopping. At the top there were three benches. She sat down on the middle one and squeezed the milk from her breasts, for she was in great distress, not having her children with her. Then two large birds, a swan and a crane, flew down and sat on either side of her, and she pressed her milk into their beaks. They were that close to her. And even as they sat there, they turned into the two most handsome princes that one can imagine, and the mountain turned into the most beautiful royal castle, with servants and animals and gold and silver and everything that there should be. They had been enchanted, and the spell would never have been broken if they had not drunk the milk from a queen who had just given birth to two boys. She went with them, with King Swan and King Crane. Each one wanted to marry her, for she had redeemed them both.

Meanwhile King Lindorm arrived home and asked about the queen. “Indeed!” Said the old queen. “You should be asking about her! Who do you think that you are! You paid no attention to the fact that she redeemed you from your curse. You just went ahead and wrote to me that she and the children should be burned alive. For shame!”

“No!” answered King Lindorm. “You wrote to me that she had given birth to two young dogs. And I wrote back that you should let the creatures live until I returned home.”

They talked back and forth for a long time and finally realized that the Red Knight had been behind the treachery. He was captured, and he had to confess. They locked him in a barrel studded with nails, hitched it to four horses, and they ran with him over mountains and valleys.

The king was full of despair about his wife and children, when he discovered that they were two beautiful boys. The old queen said to him, “Don’t worry, the boys are well cared for. They are staying with wet nurses, but I do not know how she is faring. I gave her some food and money and sent her into the woods, but since then we have heard nothing from her.”

The king ordered that the children be brought back. Then he took some food and some money and went into the woods to look for her. He wandered about for two, then three days looking for her, but he could not find her. Finally he came to the castle in the woods. He asked if the people there had not seen a strange maiden in the woods, but they had not seen anyone. Then he wanted to enter the castle to see what kind of royalty lived there. He went inside. Just as he entered he saw her, but she was afraid, for she thought that he had come to burn her alive, and she ran away.

The two princes came in. They talked together and became good friends. They invited him to stay for dinner. He mentioned the beautiful maiden and asked where she was from. They answered that she was a lovely person and that she had freed them both. He wanted to know what she had freed them from, and they told him the entire story. Then he said that he liked her very much and asked them if they could not come to an agreement concerning her. He proposed that her dinner should be over salted, and that the person she would ask to drink to her health should receive her. The princes agreed to this arrangement, for this would enable them to determine which of the two of them would have her, for they did not believe that she would ask a stranger to drink to her health.

They went to dinner, and she said:

The food is too salty for me,
King Swan sits next to me,
King Crane is good to me,
King Lindorm drinks with me.

He picked up the silver tankard and drank to her health. The others drank to their own health, but then they had to drink to her health as well, even though they were not satisfied with the outcome. Then King Lindorm told how she had redeemed him before she had redeemed them. Therefore he was the closest one to her. After hearing this, the two princes stated that if he had told them this in the first place, they would have given her to him. But he said that he could not have known that for sure.

Then King Lindorm returned home with the queen. Meanwhile the children had also been taken back home. King Swan kept the castle in the woods and married a princess from another kingdom. And King Crane went to a different country where he got married. Thus each one of them had something. King Lindorm and his queen stood in high honor as long as they lived. They were very happy and had many children.

When I was there the last time, they offered me a tin sandwich in a sieve.


  • Source: Klara Stroebe, “König Lindwurm,” Nordische Volksmärchen: Teil 1, Dänemark / Schweden (Jena: E. Diederichs, 1915), pp. 3-11. First published in this German translation, 1915.
  • Stroebe’s source: Svend Grundtvig, “Kong Lindorm,” Gamle danske Minder i Folkemunde (Copenhagen: C. G. Eversens Forlag, 1854), no. 216, pp. 172-80.
  • Grundtvig’s source: Maren Mathisdatter, 67 years of age.
  • English translation © 1998 by D. L. Ashliman.
  • A lindorm (also spelled lindworm) was a mythological beast much feared in ancient northern Europe. It is depicted variously as a giant snake or a wingless dragon. The name derives from an Old Norse word for “serpent.”
Jan 282016
 

Mansfeld

Before there were any Counts of Mansfeld, a knight by the name of George lived in Mansfeld Castle. A lindorm lived on a hill outside the city (in the direction of Eisleben), and even today this hill is called Lindberg. To save their own lives, the inhabitants had to give a maiden to the lindorm every day as a tribute. Soon there were no more virgins to be found in the little city, and the lindorm demanded the knight’s daughter. The following morning the knight himself challenged the dragon and slew him, freeing the city. Henceforth he was called Saint George, instead of George.

As a memorial the image of him killing the dragon was carved in stone above the Mansfeld church entrance, and can be seen even today.


  • Source: Emil Sommer, “Sankt Georg,” Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Sachsen und Thüringen, erstes Heft (Halle: Eduard Anton, 1846), pp. 80-81.
  • Sommer’s source: “Oral, from Mansfeld.”
  • A lindorm (also spelled lindworm) is a legless, wingless dragon, similar to the wyvern.
  • The coat of arms of the city of Mansfeld depicts Saint George, mounted on a horse and battling a dragon.
Jan 282016
 

Lindwurm – Mecklenburg

In the vicinity of the main road between Neubrandenburg and Stavenhagen, adjacent to the field belonging to Gevezin and Blankenhof, there are three hills: Blocksberg, Jabsberg, and Lindberg.

A long time ago lindorms lived there. When they lay outstretched, they resembled a felled fir tree, and they were feared far and wide.

Once a wagon was driving along the road, and not far from the watermill it came to a young lindorm lying across the road asleep in the sun. Thinking that it was a fir log, the driver drove over it. Only after the run-over beast cried out did the driver realize what it was, and he drove away.

Hearing the cry, the old lindorm rushed forward and found its young one dead. Enraged, it attacked a wagon loaded with straw headed in the direction of Neubrandenburg. The driver saw it and fled in a gallop. Fortunately, on the far side of the Neuendorf Enclosure he lost his connecting pin, leaving the rear part of the wagon behind with its load of straw, while the driver hurried away all the faster on the front part of the wagon.

The lindorm tore about in the straw, but finding no one there, it continued in pursuit of the driver. In order to gain speed, it bit into its tail, then rolled along after the wagon like a hoop. The driver just barely made it to the Brandenburg gate, which was quickly closed behind him, with the lindorm on the outside.

The lindorm remained lying just outside the gate, there where Saint George’s Church now stands, and no one from Brandenburg dared to go through the gate.

Now a foreign prince by the name of George was in the city, and he made the decision to challenge the lindorm. After a difficult battle he succeeded in cutting off the beast’s tail, which was the source of its strength, and then he quickly killed it.

In commemoration of this event Saint George’s Church was built, and the story is depicted on its altar.


  • Source: Karl Bartsch, “Lindwurmsage,” Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg [Mecklenburg], vol. 1 (Vienna: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1879), no. 57, pp. 39-40.
  • A lindorm (also spelled lindworm) is a legless, wingless dragon
Jan 282016
 

CEREMONY UPON CANDLEMAS EVE

(Goblin Version)

by Robert Herrick

DOWN with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe ;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas Hall :
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind :
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected, there (maids, trust to me)
So many goblins you shall see.


Source:
Herrick, Robert. Works of Robert Herrick. vol II.
Alfred Pollard, ed.
London, Lawrence & Bullen, 1891. 129.

Jan 282016
 

CEREMONIES FOR CANDLEMAS EVE
by Robert Herrick

(baptised 24 August 1591 – buried 15 October 1674)

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DOWN with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the misletoe ;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box (for show).

The holly hitherto did sway ;
Let box now domineer
Until the dancing Easter day,
Or Easter’s eve appear.

Then youthful box which now hath grace
Your houses to renew ;
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.

When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside ;
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin
To honour Whitsuntide.

Green rushes, then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift ; each thing his turn does hold ;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.

Source:
Herrick, Robert. Works of Robert Herrick. vol II.
Alfred Pollard, ed.
London, Lawrence & Bullen, 1891. 104-105.

Jan 282016
 

GRÝLA, GRÝLUR, GRØLEKS AND SKEKLERS:

FOLK DRAMA IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC IN THE EARLY MIDDLE AGES?

by Terry Gunnell


Terry Gunnell is an assistant professor in Folkloristics in the Social Science Department of the University of Iceland.

Euans outfit in MuseumOne of the oldest Icelandic folk traditions – if not the oldest – is that connected with the figure of Grýla, the ugly, ever-ravenous mother of the Icelandic jólasveinar, who, in league with the dreaded jólaköttur, annually terrorises the under-six year-olds when she descends from the mountains at Christmas in search of badly-behaved children to bundle into her sack (Íslenzkar þjóðsögur 1861-1864, I, 218-219; Árni Björnsson 1961, 113-119). Despite the recent efforts of certain parties to ease the fears of the young by announcing Grýla’s death, the ancient ogress seems to hang on interminably. She is not so easily persuaded to give up the ghost.

Considering the fact that the some of the earliest references to Grýla are found in the thirteenth century in Íslendinga saga and Sverris saga (the first part of which is named after Grýla), it is fitting to re-examine the background of this slightly enigmatic figure at this present conference. Indeed, the case of Grýla is one of many examples that should remind us to be wary of imagining that even the contemporary sagas provide a trustworthy overall view of early medieval Scandinavian society. There is a great deal that they do not tell us. As other scholars have pointed out, the things that tend to be placed on record are those things which are out of the ordinary, or play an important role in the narrative. Daily activities and those stories and beliefs known to everybody are commonly taken for granted, as can be seen, for example in the scarcity of accounts of spinning in the sagas (cf. Opland 1980, 97; Jón Hnefill Aðalsteinsson 1991). With regard to Grýla, the number of extant thirteenth-century references stress that the associations of her name must have been well-known to most people, yet no record was ever made of what these associations were. So exactly who or what was the original Grýla that people knew in the thirteenth century, and why, of all figures, should her name have been given to a book written about a male king?

Two different explanations exist for why the first part of Sverris saga was called “Grýla”. According to the prologue of the saga contained in AM 327 4to (c.1300), “Oc sua sem a liðr bokina vex hans (Sverris) styrkr. oc segir sa hinn sami styrkr fyr[ir] hina meiri luti. kalloðu þeir þaN lut bocar fyrir þui Grylu” (Sverris saga 1920, 1). These words sound uncertain, and as will be shown below, this explanation is extremely odd in the light of all the other references to Grýla during this period, none of which ever states anything about the old lady’s strength. The explanation for the title given in the Flateyjarbók version of the prologue (c.1390) makes much more sense: “Kölluðu men þui enn fyrra lut bokarinnar grylu at margir menn tolodu at þa efnadiz nockurr otti edr hræðzla sakir mikils strids ok bardaga enn mundi skiott nidrfalla ok allz eingu verda” (Flateyjarbok 1860-1868, II, 534).

Whatever Grýla was, there seems little question that in Iceland at this time, her name was synonymous with something threatening. This can be seen in the expression “að gera grýla” (“sýna fjandskap, glettast til við”: Jón Jóhannesson et al. 1946, II, 307), as in the statement in Þorgils saga skarða that “Sturla … þótti þeir (Þorgils Böðvarsson and Þorvarðr Þórarinsson) gört hafa sér grýlur um sumarit” (Sturlunga saga 1878, II, 213). The same meaning applies in Þórðar saga hreðu (1959, 188), when Ormr Þorsteinsson says to Sigríðr Þórðardóttir, “Ekki hirði ek um grýlur yðrar”, the “grýlur” in this case being the threat of Sigríðr’s brothers. A third reference of the same type occurs in Michaels saga (Heilagra manna sögur 1877, I, 683): “Her hia fram kostar uvinrinn aa … at maðrinn … teli þat sem opptaz i huginn, at kristnir menn ok skirðir meghi ekki firirfaraz, þo at læ(r)ðir menn geyri grylur afheimis ok sege slikt, er þeim likar”. It is worth noting that in all three cases, the word grýla is used in the plural.

In general terms, there would seem little question that the same general association is implied in Íslendinga saga when Loftr Pálsson quotes a verse about Grýla while riding to attack Björn Þorvaldsson and his associates at Breiðabólstaðir in 1221 (Sturlunga saga 1878, I, 246). Loftr, however, is referring to one particular figure rather than a breed:

Hér ferr Grýla í garð ofan

ok hefir á sér hala fimmtán.

That Grýla must have been a recognised ogress in early medieval Icelandic folk belief is clear from the fact that her name appears alongside those of other “trollkvinna” in a þula attached to the AM 748 version of Skáldskaparmál (Edda 1926, 197). Nonetheless, the verse fragment quoted by Loftr Pálsson contains the only description of this figure in early medieval sources.

hat is interesting about the above references is that they all show men putting themselves or other men in the role of Grýla/ grýlur (cf. the name Grýlu-Brandr in Sturlunga saga 1878, II, 171), yet nowhere is there any intimation of unmanliness in this comparison. That is certainly not what Loftr Pálsson had in mind when he used the verse. Furthermore, as has been mentioned above, grýlur were obviously imagined to exist in the plural. Grýla herself, however, did not just exist. She came from outside the farm and was also associated with deliberate movement. This is not only indicated by Loftr’s verse, but also by another odd Grýla verse from Íslendinga saga apparently uttered by Guðmundr Galtason before he and Jón sterki rode off to visit Brandr Jónsson at Staðar in Hrútafjörðr, where they maimed Brandr’s follower, Vandráðr:

Hvat er um? hví kveðum sæta? heim gengr sterkr af verki?

Vitu rekkar nú nökkut nýlegs um för  Grýlu?”

 

(Sturlunga saga 1878, I, 283).

 

Even more interesting is the fact that one of Loftr’s main targets at Breiðabólstaðir is a man from Ísafjörðr named Steingrímr Skinngrýluson (Sturlunga saga, 1878, I, 244-247). Steingrímr was almost certainly one of the Breiðbrælingar who previously “færðu … Lopt í flimtan, ok görðu um hann danza marga, ok margs-konar spott annat” (ibid, 245), especially since later at Oddi on Nichulas-messa, when “sló … í orða-hendingar með þeim Lopti ok Birni, ok vinum hans … Var mest fyrir því Steingrímr Ísfirðingr” (ibid, 246). The name Skinngrýla is particularly intriguing because, apart from providing another example of a man using a female name (cf. Grýlu-Brandr above), it points to an association between Grýla and animal skins. Furthermore, when attached to Steingrímr it raises the possibility of links with public entertainment. In general, it can be no coincidence that Loftr Pálsson uses the Grýla verse when going to attack the son of Skinngrýla. The verse and the name must have been associated in some way.

 

In very general terms, considering Steingrímr Skinngrýluson’s probable associations with the “danza marga” at Breiðabólstaðir, it is tempting to consider the possibility of a link between the two verse fragments uttered by Loftr Pálsson and Guðmundr Galtason and the verse accompanying the so-called “Theoderik version” of the cursed dance at Kölbigk as it is described in the Old Swedish Legendarium from c.1340-1350 (Et forn-svenskt Legendarium 1847-1858, II, 876-880). The Kölbigk tale is based on events that supposedly took place in Germany in the eleventh century (cf. Strömbäck 1961 and 1970), but in the Legendarium, the setting is transferred to Orkney. In brief, the account tells of how a group of young men lured the daughter of the priest at St.Magnus’ church in “Celoberka” to dance with them outside the church at Christmas. They ignored the priest’s orders to stop dancing, and “Sidhan the vildo honom ey lydha tha sagdhe han swa gudh ok sancte magnus læti idher ey j aare atir vænda aff thenna danz ok ængin fra androm skilias”. This curse then immediately took effect, thus demonstrating Magnús’ power.

 

In the Legendarium, the verse sung by the group to accompany their linked dance runs as follows:

 

Redh(u) kompana redhobone jwer thiokka skogha

Oc gildo mz synd venisto jomfrw.

Hwi standom vi hwi gangom vi ey.

 

Loosely translated, this means “The prepared company rode over (through) thick forest/ and banqueted (?) with their loveliest of maidens./ Why do we stand? Why do we not move?” (In the Legendarium the verse is written as prose.) The original Latin verse contained in the twelfth-century

 

account on which the Legendarium was based reads:

 

Equitabat Bovo per silvam frondosam,

Ducebat sibi Merswinden formosam,

Quid stamus? cur non imus?

 

(Strömbäck 1961, 9.)

 

As Steenstrup points out (1918-1920, 242), the first line in the Legendarium account probably should have been translated as “Redh(u) Bovi og kompana ywer thiokka skogha” (cf. Mannyng’s translation of the same line in Handlyng Synne in the thirteenth century: “By the leved wode rode Bevolyne”: Tydeman 1984, 15).

 

The parallels between this verse and those to do with Grýla are faint, but cannot be totally ignored, since both sets of verses not only include the motive of a devilish figure (Grýla and Bovi, the leader of the dance) travelling through the countryside, but also two rhetorical questions about the lack of movement. Furthermore, the Legendarium proves that oral versions of the Kölbigk tale must have put down firm roots in Orkney, if not further north, before the end of the thirteenth century. Regarding the figure of Bovi, it is also worth considering another possibly related thirteenth-century account given by a Danish Franciscan monk named Petrus in Dublin. According to Petrus, the name Bovi was given to a “possessed” straw figure that was carried by certain Danish women as part of a ring-dance which had been designed to entertain a pregnant friend (Olrik and Olrik 1907, 175-176). Petrus’ account, which has a different verse (“Canta Boui, canta Boui, quid faceret”), must have also existed within the oral tradition, since the same motif later reappears in several folk legends from Denmark and Sweden. In one of these, the possessed “Bovmand” danced with by a farm-girl has become a straw Julebukk (cf. Olrik and Ellekilde 1951, 932-933). Is it possible then that both the Grýla figure and the Grýla verse go back to a popular dance song from the early thirteenth century (cf. Tydeman 1984, 15, on the possibility that the Kölbigk story was enacted in dances), or even to sermons that were preached against the growing dance traditions in Scandinavia at this time?

 

The “Celoberka” parallel is challenging, but it is far from proven, and does not explain why Grýla should have been more threatening than any other troll. Nor does it explain her “för”, why men were associated with her, why she had fifteen tails, or the context for the name “Skinngrýla”, which, as Finnur Jónsson has pointed out, must mean a form of “skind-uhyre” or “skind-skræmsel” (Finnur Jónsson 1907, 347).

 

More interesting is the fact that several other variants of the Grýla verse uttered by Loftr Pálsson seem to be well known on the Faroe Islands, while yet another was recorded on Foula in Shetland (Jón Samsonarson 1991, 48-54). One version of the Faroese verse runs as follows:

 

Oman kemur grýla frá görðum

við fjöriti hölum,

bjálg á baki, skálm í hendi,

kemur at krivja búkin úr börnum

ið gráta eftir kjöti í föstu.

 

(Hammershaimb 1949-1951, 308; cf. Thuren 1908, 65.)

 

Another variant reads: “Oman kemur grýla av görðum/ við fjöruti hölum,/ bjölg á baki, skölm í hendi,/ kemur at skera búkin burtur úr börnum/ ið gráta eftir kjöti í föstu” (Rasmussen 1985, 140, cf. Williamson 1948, 247-248). Most recently, in the Faroese television programme Manna millum (17 February 1991) the violent fourth line runs “kemur at skera tungum úr börnunum”.

 

The less common, but no less important Shetland variant from Foula reads as follows:

 

Skekla komena rina tuna

swarta hæsta blæta bruna

fo’mtena (fjo’mtan) hala

and fo’mtena (fjo’mtan) bjadnis a kwara hala.

(Jakobsen 1897, 19.)

 

Loosely translated, this means “Skekla (an ogress) rides into the homefield/ on a black horse with a white patch on its brow,/ with fifteen tails/ and fifteen children on each tail.” The connection between the above verses almost certainly goes back to before 1500, since after that time, Shetland’s direct connections with the Faroes and Iceland broke down (Jón Samsonarson 1975, 428; Smith 1978, 23-25; Manson 1983, 13-15).

 

The close textual relationship between the Grýla verses quoted above does not constitute their only interest. An even more intriguing question is what kept them alive for so long. Indeed, the Grýla verses in the Faroes and Shetland are never associated with Loftr Pálsson or Iceland, although the mentions of Grýla riding a horse (Foula) and carrying a “skálm” (Faroes) might help to explain why Loftr chose to quote the verse while riding to attack Björn and Steingrímr. The variants prove that the Grýla verse must have lived within the oral traditions of the North Atlantic Scandinavian settlements, and altered in accordance with local vocabulary and traditions. It was no learned literary phenomenon, but was firmly rooted in popular culture. Yet a verse of this kind needs some form of context to survive. Since this verse was not closely connected to any historical context and has no gnomic value, it must have had other associations. Was it related perhaps to a weather belief, the “hala fimmtán” that Grýla “hefir á sér” being fifteen days of similar weather that tended to follow a particular date? Considering the thirteenth century evidence, this seems highly unlikely. The only answer would seem to be a shared myth of some kind relating to an adult-created bugbear that in later times (in Iceland and the Faroes) was used to frighten children. Yet such figures also tend to be related to a specific date, and as will be shown below there is little agreement about the precise time of arrival in the Grýla and Skekla beliefs of the Faroes, Shetland and Iceland. Certainly Loftr Pálsson does not seem to link his verse to any particular date. It was the figure itself that was important. So, what other context might have kept these verses alive?

 

Something that has not been noted previously is the fact that both the Shetland and the Faroese verses are closely associated with popular costumed traditions involving female “monsters” which, disguised in tattered animal skins, straw or seaweed, used to visit farms and villages on varying dates during the winter period to demand offerings (originally in the form of meat).

 

The Faroese grýlur, which are well-known even today, usually appear on grýlukvöld, the first Tuesday in Lent (Rasmussen 1985, 140), although this Christian association must be regarded as a later development (Thuren 1908, 66; Joensen 1987, 204). Nonetheless, on the evidence of Svabo’s Dictionarium Færoense, the present tradition was well known in the late-eighteenth century, at which time the costumed figure was also simply known as “Lengeføsta”/ “langaføsta”/ “Langefaste” (Svabo 1966, 491). The same dictionary describes a “grujla”, like Lengeføsta as a “Bussemand hvormed man skræmmer Børn i Fasten. Manducus”, a related word being the adjective “grûiliur”, meaning “abominable” (Svabo 1966, 290). In one early account from 1821, the figure of “Langefasten” is described as having a “stor Tangstakke, som slæbe bag after hende som Halen og en rustet sort Krog i hver Haand”, and “paa Bagen en stor Skindpose, som hun rasler med” (Thuren 1908, 67-68). This description closely parallels that of the costumes used by two poverty-stricken young children from Miðvágur who, at the turn of this century, used to dress up as grýlur as a means of collecting food: “Tari varð hongdur uttan á tær spjarrarnar, tey vóru í, nakað tvörtur um herðarnar, og nakað upp á eitt sterkt beltisband. Um hálsin hövdu tey ein bleytan skinnlepa, og upp á skövningarnar vóru drignir fiskamagar til muffur. Reipatari og hoytari varð vavdur upp á hövdið til hár. Gekkaskort hövdu tey ikki, men vóru málað svört við kjönnroyki, og síðst fingu tey ein tongul til hala” (Rasmussen 1985, 140).

 

The most interesting description, however, is that given of the traditions on Svinoy by William Heinesen in his short story “Grylen” (1957), which was based on an account Heinesen heard from Esmar Hansen, a wholesale merchant from Svinoy (letter from Professor Jóan Pauli Joensen, dated 20 January 1994). The single Grýla in this tale seems to be a predominantly feminine being, but is enormous, “som en tørvestak at se, en lang, raslende hale slæber hun efter sig, den runger og skramler som af tomme kedler og kasseroller” (Heinesen 1970, 38). “Hun er meget lådden og bærer horn og hale” (ibid, 33), and a large, wooden phallus (“standaren”) which supposedly has the quality of being able to bestow fertility on barren women (ibid, 39). There is little doubt that Heinesen’s account has been fictionalised to some extent, but a recent television interview with certain older inhabitants of Svinoy has confirmed that the basic features of the costume described by Heinesen were correct, at least as regards the use of a wooden mask, animal skins, and a bag for offerings. These informants also agreed that on Svinoy, Gryla was usually played by the same man (Manna millum; see above).

 

Neither the Svinoy Grýla or the costumed children described by Rasmussen spoke in their normal voices. Instead, they tended to make animal noises and use “reverse speech” like the disguised julebukker in Norway (Heinesen 1970, 33-35, 38 and 43; Manna millum; and Rasmussen 1985, 141). Heinesen’s “Grylen”, however, occasionally “kvæder gamle rim og forblommede omkvæd” (Heinesen 1970, 33-34). These “gamle rim” probably refer to the fact that in earlier times the langefaste is said to have introduced herself with the Faroese Grýla verse, albeit spoken with a “fordrejet mæle”. Other direct associations between the Faroese Grýla verse and the costumed tradition are seen in the features of the ragged, tailed costume, the regular use of a staff and bag, and the appearance of the costumed figures from outside the farm.

 

Unlike the Faroese Grýla verse, there is no evidence that the variant from Foula in Shetland was ever spoken by a costumed figure. Yet in spite of this, the connections between the Foula verse and seasonal disguised house visits in Shetland are just as intimate as those in the Faroes. One of the most interesting features of the Shetland verse is the fact that the name Grýla has been substituted with that of “Skekla”, a name that was used for a bogey figure not only on the island of Unst, but also in the Faroes and northern Norway where the term skekel or jólaskekil/ joleskjekel is known to have been applied to the same sort of being (Jakobsen 1897, 53; and 1928-1932, II, 778-779; and Lid, 1928, 62). So why was the name altered? And how did the verse come to exist in Shetland in the first place?

 

In the Shetlands, before the days of Up-Helly-A’, there seems to have been a more widespread tradition in which groups of costumed figures, wholly disguised in straw and sometimes also in white shirts or petticoats, used to visit houses (go “hoosamylla”) on “Winter Sunday” (14 October), around All Saints’ Day (1 November) and Martinmas, during the Christmas period, and at Shrovetide. On the islands of Unst and Mainland, these figures were known as grøleks (grølek being spelled variously as grøli/ grölik/ grulek/ gruli/ grulick/ grulja/ grülik and grillock): in other words, grýlur. On Yell and Fetlar, however, the same figures went under the name of skeklers or skekels, a name that seems to have become more common in recent times. Both groups appear to have been led by a leader known as the skudler (skudlar/ skuddler/ scuddler) especially on those occasions when they appeared to bless weddings (Marwick 1975, 91). Like the Norwegian julebukker, and the Faroese grýlur, the Shetland grøleks and skeklers did not speak in a normal fashion when visiting in the night. Instead, they went out of their way to avoid recognition, making animal-like grunting noises, or (more recently) using “reversed speech”, in other words, speaking while inhaling (Marwick 1975, 116, and 91). It is also noteworthy that, like the Faroese grýlur and mainland Scandinavian julebukker (Weiser-Aall 1954, 24 and 76), the skeklers used to demand some form of offering when they made their visits, most particularly meat (Marwick 1975, 116).

 

As with the grýlur, there are no early records of the skekler and grølek traditions. The first description of them appears in 1822 in Hibbert’s A description of the Shetland Islands (1931, 289 and 293). In general, it seems likely that certain features of these particular costumed traditions, such as the straw costumes and the wedding visits, belong to a Gælic tradition known on the west coast of Ireland where similarly dressed “strawmen” or “straw-boys” used to visit weddings to bestow “luck” by dancing with the bride and other women present (Gailey 1969, 74-75 and 91-93). These Irish figures, however, were much less closely linked to seasonal festivals than the grøleks and skeklers, the names of which are also unquestionably Scandinavian. In general, the Shetland customs point to a blend of two dramatic folk traditions, one coming from Ireland or the Hebrides, the other from Scandinavia. Indeed, it should be noted that straw-clad figures similar to the skeklers also existed in Sweden as part of the Halm-Staffan tradition (Olrik and Ellekilde 1926-1951, II, 1079-1080; and Celander 1928, 274 and 277), and considering the account of Bovi given above, such “living” straw figures must have also appeared in Denmark at one time. Yet it is difficult to visualise any large straw figure like the fully-clad skeklers attempting to “rina tuna” (“ride onto the home-field”). The likelihood must be that the costumes connected with “Skekla” were originally simpler, and possibly even made of skin. Indeed, A. W. Johnston proposed that the word skekler might be related to the Old Icelandic word skekill, meaning the “shanks or legs of an animal’s skin when stretched out” (British calendar customs 1946, 76; Cleasby and Guðbrandur Vigfússon 1957, 543).

 

Of course, there is a six hundred year gap between the accounts in Íslendinga saga and Hibbert’s description of the skeklers in Shetland. Yet it is probable that the annual reappearance of the skeklers, grøleks and grýlur provided a living context for the Grýla verses in Shetland and the Faroes and kept them alive. And since these variants of the Grýla verses were so closely associated with seasonal disguise traditions, all logic suggests that the same must have also applied in Iceland where the earliest example of the verse is found being uttered by a man who is obviously placing himself in the role of Grýla. Certainly, a tradition involving a horned, skin-clad being like that described by Heinesen would help explain the name “Skinngrýla”, and why Grýla should have been visualised from the start as having so many tails. Furthermore, since men tended to act the grýlur elsewhere as part of a “custom or “game”, this might answer why it was not considered offensive for a man to be compared with such a figure.

 

There is no direct evidence that a costumed Grýla tradition has ever existed in Iceland. Yet it is interesting to note that when Þorsteinn Pétursson wrote his Manducus eður leikfæla attacking on the vikivaki games in the mid-eighteenth century, he made use of the expressions “Grýlu andlit”, “Grýlu maður” and “Grýlumynder” when referring to the disguises used in these games and to other devilish animal guises known to have been adopted in mainland Europe (MS JS 113 8to, 43[42]v, 47[46]v, and 48[47]v: the numbering of the pages is questionable; see also Jón Samsonarson 1964, I, xliii, and Ólafur Davíðsson 1894, 23): The words “Grýlu maður” are applied to a man in Europe acting a satyr (“skógvættur”), while the expression “grýlumynder” is used in a general sense for all such costumes. Séra Þorsteinn clearly saw Grýla in visual terms, associated her with animal disguises, and expected his readers to do the same. Furthermore, he associated her directly with the costumed figures of the vikivaki dance games like the þingálp and hjörtur, the hestur, the kelling and Háa-Þóra (cf. Jón Samsonarson 1964, I).

 

Considering séra Þorsteinn’s application of the expression “Grýlu maður” to animal-like guises, it is worth noting the earliest detailed descriptions of Grýla written by poets in the seventeenth century. In Stefán Ólafsson’s “Grýlukvæði”, which is contemporary with earlier accounts of the vikivaki games, Grýla is described as being three-headed, and having a “hrútsnef”, a beard, a “kjaftur eins og tík” and eyes like burning embers (Stefán Olafsson 1948, 18-20). In Guðmundur Erlendsson’s “Grýlukvæði” (1650) she has “horn eins og geit”, “hár um hökuna/ sem hnýtt garn á vef”, and “tennur í óhreinum kjapt”, and goes about in “loðnu skinnstaks tetri”, bearing “sína rauðbrota staung” (quoted in Ólafur Davíðsson 1898-1903, 114-115).

 

In the eyes of these particular poets, Grýla seems to have borne a very close resemblance to the Svinoy “Grylen”, and the supernatural Faroese Grýla which is described as having “a sheep’s body, but walking upright like a man” (Williamson 1948, 248). In very general terms, she looks less like a woman, and more like the figures of the earlier mentioned julebukk and julegeit which were once well known all over Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Like the Faroese and Shetland grýlur and grøleks, the julebukker used to visit houses seasonally, terrify children and demand offerings. The archetypal julebukk costume involved a pole topped with a horned goat’s head (made of various materials) which had clacking jaws. The performer holding this would then be covered with a sheet or skins (Lid 1928, 34-55; Celander 1928, 305-309; Weiser-Aall 1954; and Eike 1980). Once again, records of such traditions do not go back much further than the mid-sixteenth century (Gunnell 1991, 130-131). Nonetheless, it seems that the same being and same costume were probably already known at this time in Iceland, albeit under a different name. This is suggested by Jón lærði Guðmundsson’s brief account of the “Fingálpn” monster that he saw in his youth in the late-sixteenth century (Jón Samsonarson 1964, I, clxxiv). Jón never describes this costumed creature in detail, but the þingálp described as appearing at vikivaki gatherings during the seventeenth-eighteenth century is not only equipped with two ram’s horns, but also has sheep-skin cheeks and clacking jaws (Niðurraðan quoted in Jón Samsonarson 1964, lv). The fact that the þingálp had its own name, and is never compared to a julebukk by contemporary commentators suggests that while they share the same roots, both traditions must have existed separately for some time.

 

The same applies to yet another figure with clacking-jaws, known as the jólhestur, which seems to have appeared at Faroese Christmas dances at one time (Joensen 1987, 197-198). The roots of all of these disguises have to be old. Indeed, it might also be noted that, just as the enacted Grýlur supposedly had supernatural counterparts that lived in the mountains, so too did the julebukk and the “Fingálpn” which apparently lived for the rest of the year “á heiðum og skógum” (Jón Samsonarson 1964, clxxiv; and Bø 1970, 146).

 

Returning to the naming of the first part of Sverris saga, it should now be a little clearer why somebody should have chosen to compare the first part of Sverrir’s life to that of a fearful figure like the ragged supernatural “Fingálpn” or julebukk which lived in the mountain wilderness for most of the year, and periodically descended, inspiring terror and demanding offerings. The appearance of Grýla’s name in connection with Sverris saga on the surface suggests that the beliefs and/ or traditions related to Grýla must also existed in Norway at one time (if they did not stem from there), although the dispute about the name in the two versions of the prologue must raise doubts about this. Nonetheless, as other scholars have shown, vague similarities do exist between the modern image of Grýla as a female troll and the Norwegian folk figures of Guro Rysserøver, Stallo and Lussia (Árni Björnsson 1961, 117; Lid 1928, 60-61; Lid 1933, 44-63; Weiser-Aall 1954, 32-33; and Eike 1980, 265-269). Considering the Shetland form of the word, grølek, it might also be noted that the term grøkle used to be applied to a julebukk or jolegeit in Kviteseid, Telemark (Weiser-Aall, 1954, 80, note 100).

 

Returning to Loftr Pálsson, Steingrímr Skinngrýluson, and the other references to Grýla in Íslendinga saga and other contemporary accounts from this period, there is little question that such a costumed tradition would help explain the various references to Grýla’s threatening nature, her “för”, and her ragged tails. Indeed, both Steingrímr and the later Faroese jólhestur find interesting parallels in a document from Bergen dated 1307 which refers to a man known as Arnaldus Jolahest (Diplomatorium Norvegicum, VIII, 29)

 

As I have shown elsewhere, figures dressed in horns and/ or animal skins appear to have played a central role in Scandinavian pagan ritual as late as the time of the Oseberg burial (c.850), and two full-sized, tenth-century animal masks have recently been found in the harbour in Hedeby (Gunnell 1991, 65-99; Hägg 1984, 69-72). Furthermore, it seems likely that some of the dialogic poems of the Edda were still being presented in an elementary dramatic fashion somewhere in Scandinavia as late as the early thirteenth century (Gunnell 1993). Even though the sagas are silent on the subject of such activities, it is highly unlikely that the thirteenth century Scandinavians were so unique that they lacked all forms of dramatic tradition. Considering the information given above, a custom involving mid-winter house-visits by a masked “Grýla” figure (or a group of grýlur on horseback like the later Staffan riders in Norway: Eike 1980) would make much sense. If this was so, the likelihood is that while the traditions further south continued, the Icelandic Grýla moved indoors as the weather worsened, and eventually became part of the vikivaki games. Such an argument can never be anything more than hypothesis, but if it has any basis in fact, then Íslendinga saga and Sverris saga provide us with some of the earliest references to popular dramatic “games” known in northern Europe.

 

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