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.


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  • 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


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


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


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


(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.

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

Dec 172015

The Fox Cheats the Bear of his Christmas Fare



A bear and a fox had once bought between them a tub of butter, which they intended to keep till Christmas, and, therefore, hid it under a thick pine bush. They then went a little distance and lay down on a sunny bank to sleep.

When they had lain some time, the fox started up and cried out, “Yes,” and ran away towards the butter tub, out of which he ate a good third. When he returned the bear asked him where he had been, as he looked so greasy about the mouth.

He said, “What do you think of my being invited to a christening?”

“Oh, indeed! What is the name of the child?” asked the bear.

“Begun Upon,” answered the fox.

Thereupon they lay down to sleep again. In a little while the fox sprang up again and cried out, “Yes,” and ran to the butter tub. This time he also ate a good portion. When he came back, and the bear again asked where he had been, he answered, “Oh, would you believe it? I have again been invited to a christening.”

“What is the name of the child?” asked the bear.

“Half Eaten,” answered the fox.

The bear thought that was a strange name, though he did not wonder long about it, but gave a gape and went to sleep again. They had not lain long when the same took place as before. The fox sprang up and cried out, “Yes,” and ran to the butter tub, and this time he ate the remainder. When he came back, he had been once more to a christening, and when the bear inquired the name of the child, he answered, “Licked to the Bottom!”

They now lay down and slept a long time.

At length they agreed to go and look after their butter, and when they found it all eaten up, the bear accused the fox, and the fox accused the bear, of having eaten it. One said that the other must have been to the butter tub while he slept.

“Well, well!” said Reynard. “We shall soon see which of us two has stolen the butter. Let us both now lie down on this sunny bank, and the one whose tail is the greasiest when we wake, must be the one who has stolen it.”

The bear was willing to undergo the ordeal. So, feeling conscious of his innocence, and that he had not even tasted the butter, he lay down to have a good sound sleep in the sun. But Reynard, instead of sleeping, crept softly to the butter tub, and got a little that still remained between the staves. Then sneaking gently back to the bear, he rubbed his tail with it, and lay down to sleep as if nothing had happened. When they both woke, the sun had melted the butter on the bear’s tail, so that he was proved to be the one that had eaten the butter.

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  • Source: Benjamin Thorpe, Yule-Tide Stories: A Collection of Scandinavian and North German Popular Tales and Traditions (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853), pp. 279-80. Translation slightly revised by D. L. Ashliman.
  • Thorpe’s source: Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, Bjørnen og reven: Reven snyter bjørnen for julekosten.
Dec 172015

The Altar Cup in Aagerup (Ågerup)


Between the villages of Marup and Aagerup in Zealand, there is said to have lain a great castle, the ruins of which are still to be seen near the strand. Tradition relates that a great treasure is concealed among them, and that a dragon there watches over three kings’ ransoms. Here, too, people frequently happen to get a sight of the underground folk, especially about festival times, for then they have dancing and great jollity going on down on the strand.

One Christmas Eve, a farmer’s servant in the village of Aagerup went to his master and asked him if he might take a horse and ride down to look at the troll meeting. The farmer not only gave him leave but desired him to take the best horse in the stable; so he mounted and rode away down to the strand. When he was come to the place he stopped his horse, and stood for some time looking at the company who were assembled in great numbers. And while he was wondering to see how well and how gaily the little dwarfs danced, up came a troll to him, and invited him to dismount, and take a share in their dancing and merriment. Another troll came jumping up, took his horse by the bridle, and held him while the man got off, and went down and danced away merrily with them the whole night long.

When it was drawing near day he returned them his very best thanks for his entertainment, and mounted his horse to return home to Aagerup. They now gave him an invitation to come again on New Year’s night, as they were then to have great festivity; and a maiden who held a gold cup in her hand invited him to drink the stirrup-cup. He took the cup; but, as he had some suspicion of them, he, while he made as if he was raising the cup to his mouth, threw the drink out over his shoulder, so that it fell on the horse’s back, and it immediately singed off all the hair. He then clapped spurs to his horse’s sides, and rode away with the cup in his hand over a ploughed field.

The trolls instantly gave chase all in a body ; but being hard set to get over the deep furrows, they shouted out, without ceasing:

Ride on the lay,
And not on the clay.

He, however, never minded them, but kept to the ploughed field. However, when he drew near the village he was forced to ride out on the level road, and the trolls now gained on him every minute. In his distress he prayed unto God, and he made a vow that if he should be delivered he would bestow the cup on the church.

He was now riding along just by the wall of the churchyard, and he hastily flung the cup over it, that it at least might be secure. He then pushed on at full speed, and at last got into the village; and just as they were on the point of catching hold of the horse, he sprung in through the farmer’s gate, and the man clapt to the wicket after him. He was now safe; but the trolls were so enraged, that, taking up a huge great stone, they flung it with such force against the gate, that it knocked four planks out of it.

There are no traces now remaining of that house, but the stone is still lying in the middle of the village of Aagerup. The cup was presented to the church, and the man got in return to best farmhouse on the lands of Eriksholm.

  • Source: Thomas Keightley, The Fairy Mythology: Illustrative of the Romance and Superstition of Various Countries (London: H. G. Bohn, 1850), pp. 109-110.
  • Keightley’s source: “Oral.”
  • In a footnote Keightley gives the Danish-language version of the trolls’ verse:

    Rid paa det Bolde,
    Og ikke paa det Knolde.

  • In a second footnote Keightley provides the following additional information:

    This is an adventure common to many countries. The church of Vigersted in Zealand has a cup obtained in the same way. The man, in this case, took refuge in the church, and was there besieged by the trolls till morning. The bridge of Hagbro in Jutland got its name from a similar event. When the man rode off with the silver jug from the beautiful maiden who presented it to him, an old crone set off in pursuit of him with such velocity, that she would surely have caught him, but that providentially he came to a running water. The pursuer, however, like Nannie with Tam o’ Shanter, caught the horse’s hind leg, but was only able to keep one of the cocks of his shoe: hence the bridge was called Hagbro, i. e. Cock Bridge.

  • In modern Danish Aagerup is spelled Ågerup.
Nov 232015
“The logical man must either deny all miracles or none,
and our American Indian myths and hero stories are perhaps,
in themselves, quite as credible as those of the Hebrews of old.”
Charles Eastman
Nov 192015

Weyland’s Wort, Volund’s Herb, Velands-Urt (Valeriana officinalis)

According to Jacob Grimm the name “Velands urt” (Weyland’s Wort or Volund’s Herb) is/was a Scandinavian name for the medicinal herb Valerian (Teutonic Mythology, Chapter 37, Herbs and Stones).

Grimm clearly identified the name of this plant as relating to Velend / Wieland (the NorseVolund & Old English Weyland), and his identification seems perfectly possible, however it is also quite possible that “velends urt” may simply have been an approximate rendering of the Latin “valerian” into local language. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (second edition 1989), valerian is derived from a Latin adjectival form of the personal nameValerius, and Velend seems to be fairly close phonetically to either Valerian or Valerius. Another possible etymology of Valerian relates the name to the Latin word valere (to be in health), which does fit with its medicinal usage and its English folkname “All Heal”. Some support for the suggestion of the identification of Valerian/All-Heal as Weyland’s Herb may be found in the tradition of Weyland’s father, Wate (a sea-giant) being a noted healer as well as a few mentions of Weyland himself being known as a healer (as well as as smith) in some English folk beliefs.

Weyland’s Wort / Valerian has been used as a medicinal herb since at least the time of ancient Greece and Rome. Hippocrates described its properties, and Galen later prescribed it as a remedy for insomnia. In medieval Sweden, it was sometimes placed in the wedding clothes of the groom to ward off the “envy” of the elves. (Thorpe, Benjamin; Northern Mythology, Vol. 2, pp. 64-65). Weyalnd’s Wort / Valerian can be consumed as a tea.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis, Valerianaceae) is a hardy perennial flowering plant, with heads of sweetly scented pink or white flowers which bloom in the summer months. Valerian was used as a perfume in the sixteenth century.

Native to Europe and parts of Asia, valerian has been introduced into North America. It is consumed as food by the larvae of some Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) species including Grey Pug.

Other names used for this plant include garden valerian (to distinguish it from other Valeriana species), garden heliotrope (although not related to Heliotropium) and all-heal.The garden flower red valerian is also sometimes referred to as “valerian”, but is a different species from the same family and not very closely related.

Valerian, in pharmacology and phytotherapic medicine, is the name of a herb or dietary supplement prepared from roots of the plant, which, after maceration, trituration and dehydration processes, are packaged, usually into capsules. It is believed to have a sedative and anxiolytic effect.

The amino acid valine is named after this plant.

Because of valerian’s historical use as a sedative, anticonvulsant, migraine treatment and pain reliever, most basic science research has been directed at the interaction of valerian constituents with the GABA neurotransmitter receptor system. These studies remain inconclusive and all require independent replication. The mechanism of action of valerian in general, as a mild sedative in particular, remains unknown. Valerian extracts appear to have some affinity for the GABAA receptor, a class of receptors on which benzodiazepines are known to act.

Valerian also contains isovaltrate, which has been shown to be an inverse agonist for adenosine A1 receptor sites. This action likely does not contribute to the herb’s sedative effects, which would be expected from an agonist, rather than an inverse agonist, at this particular binding site. Hydrophilic extractions of the herb commonly sold over-the-counter, however, probably do not contain significant amounts of isovaltrate.

The chief constituent of valerian is a yellowish-green to brownish-yellow oil which is present in the dried root, varying from 0.5 to 2.0 percent, though an average yield rarely exceeds 0.8 percent. This variation in quantity is partly explained by location; a dry, stony soil, yields a root richer in oil than one that is moist and fertile. The volatile oils that form the active ingredient are extremely pungent, somewhat reminiscent of well-matured cheese. Valerian tea should not be prepared with boiling water, as this may drive off the lighter oils.

Valerian is used for insomnia and other disorders as an alternative to benzodiazepine drugs. A sedative for nervous tension, hysteria, excitability, stress, intestinal colic or cramps, sleeping disorders, restlessness and anxiety, and as a muscle relaxant. Valerian often seems only to work when taken over longer periods (several weeks), though many users find that it takes effect immediately. Some studies have demonstrated that valerian extracts interact with the GABA receptors. Valerian is also used traditionally to treat gastrointestinal pain and irritable bowel syndrome. However, long term safety studies are absent. Valerian is often indicated as transition medication when discontinuing benzodiazepines.

Valerian has uses in herbal medicine as a sedative. The main current use of valerian is as a remedy for insomnia. It has been recommended for epilepsy, but this has not been supported by research (although valproic acid—an analogue of one of valerian’s constituents, valeric acid—is used as an anticonvulsant and mood-stabilizing drug). Valerian root generally does not lose effectiveness over time.

While shown to be an effective remedy for the reduction of anxiety, it has also been reported to cause agitation, headaches and night terrors in some individuals. This may be due to the fact that some people lack a digestive conversion property necessary to effectively break it down. One study found valerian tends to sedate the agitated person and stimulate the fatigued person, bringing about a balancing effect on the system.

Nov 122015

Odin the Hunter



In old days there lived in Hjørring a king, who ruled over Vendsyssel [the northernmost province of Jutland], and was widely known for his wild delight in the chase and his contempt for Christianity.

One Sunday, while the people were at church, and King Jon was hunting in its neighborhood, his dogs started and followed a hare, which, to conceal itself, ran into the church, and up before the altar. Both the dogs followed at its heels, and of course greatly disturbed divine service, as the priest was just in the middle of his sermon, but the confusion was made still worse, when King Jon came riding into the church to get hold of his prey, which the hounds had already secured.

The priest grew angry at this, and said that he thought it highly unbecoming thus to disturb the service, but the King did not trouble himself for that.

“If I may only keep my hunting both here and after my death,” said he, “other folk may well keep both divine service and heaven for me.”

Having by this time got hold of the hare, he turned his horse in front of the altar and trotted out of the church.

He died some time after this, but can find rest nowhere, and on clear summer evenings he rides in the air followed by his hounds. The sound of this can often be heard, and it is bad to meet him when one is alone.


When three doors with locks stand open in a line with each other, Jon the hunter and his dogs have power to enter, if they are in the neighborhood. In this way he entered a large farm on Hjorte-naes, and asked what they had to spare for Jon the hunter that day. The farmer went out and brought a big ferocious bull, every bit of which they ate up on the floor of the room, for they were thoroughly hungry. When this was done, the hunter told the farmer that in future he should have great luck with his cattle, and so it turned out: his cows often had two calves thereafter.


A woman in Svendstrup [Svenstrup?] was up one morning before daybreak to brew the Christmas ale, and had let the two doors of the brew-house stand open. These were right opposite each other, and by and by three hounds came running in and began to lap the ale out of a vessel. She guessed they were Un’s hounds, and was afraid, but thought it best to make friends with them, so she went up and patted them, saying, “Poor things.”

They then ran away again, but it was not for nothing that she had been so friendly with them, for when she went outside after daybreak she found a gold horse-shoe lying outside one of the doors.

  • Source: William A. Craigie, Scandinavian Folk-Lore: Illustrations of the Traditional Beliefs of the Northern Peoples (London: Alexander Gardner, 1896), pp. 22-23.
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