Category Archives for Fairytales and Folklore

Maresch the Midwife

There is a story in Michael Scott’s book Irish Folk and Fairy Tales Omnibus, of a Sidhe named Maresch who helps deliver the early arrival of a baby while the husband is absent having been caught in a storm.  Once the baby is born, Maresch then burns a fire that makes the new mother groggy, and essentially convinces her to hand her the child. When the mother comes to, Maresch and the baby are gone.


The couple does, however, get their baby back. The employ the help of an old wise woman, who then performs a ritual at the foot of the fairy mound where the baby was taken. Nothing is the same though, after that. The wife dies during the birth of their second child, and the husband is later trampled under a horse. The baby, who was named Brigid, lives to her eighteenth year before she is found dead at the foot of the fairy mound (which is, in itself, part of another story).


It’s not clear why Maresch steals the child. It’s said that she had possibly lost her own baby. Another explanation given is that she is sterile, for the Sidhe are a dying race. This story is the only one I have ever seen mentioning the name Maresch, and any searching done for a “fairy midwife” brings up references to Shakespeare (for Mab, but her midwifing doesn’t seem to carry the same meaning as it does here). It is possible the name was made up by the author of the book, but even that indicates that fairies acting as midwife might be a common theme in Irish folklore. Though, it does go both ways. There’s another story of the same old woman—Nano Hayes—going to help deliver a child in the fairy realm. (The child of Brigid, incidentally. The plot thickens.)


Source: Scott, Michael, “The Fairy Midwife” and “… Into the Shadowland…”, Irish Folk and Fairy Tales Omnibus, Time Warner Paperbacks, 2002.


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Lamphyr are my own creation. They are gaunt, wraith-like men shrouded in dark grey cloaks. The most notable feature about them is that they have no eyes, yet they can still see with the aid of the lamps they carry with them. They are generally unpleasant fellows who don’t play well with others.

“It is said that the lamphyr were once sailors, charged with lighting the fires on the cliffs along the sea so that ships would not wreck upon the rocky shores in foul weather.


“But these men, being sailors, did not like being left ashore while their brethren sought adventure upon the waves. So they shirked their duties and let their fires grow cold, causing the ships at sea to crash upon the jagged cliffs and killing those they once called brothers. For their crime they were cursed, struck blind so that they, too, would know the perils of darkness.


“And so they wander the earth, carrying with them a lantern and lighting their way with its fell light. For, even though they are blind, it is said that the lanterns glow with the light of the Otherworld, giving them sight beyond that of mortal men. It is said the lamphyr must never let their light go out, or their spirits will be swept away to the Void, lost forever.”


Excerpt from The Thirteenth Tower


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Kannon is the Japanese goddess of mercy, compassion, and pets. She is usually depicted as female, but can also be depicted as male, which I think is pretty interesting. I’ve read somewhere that androgyny is quite prevalent in myth and lore, but it’s not something I’ve had the opportunity to look into deeper. Perhaps for another day and another blog post.


Of the stories I’ve read that feature Kannon (and there are quite a few, though I’ve not read them all) my favorite is the one where a girl saves a crab from being killed and sets it free. Later, due to an ill-gotten arrangement by her father, a snake comes to claim her as his wife. Well, the girl was having none of it, and she prayed to Kannon for help. In response, the goddess sent a legion of crabs to destroy the snake and save the girl.


There is a moral here, of course. But I mostly like the story because I like imagining a herd (gaggle?) of crabs, walking sideways, raising hell. Good stuff.


Juntei Kannon

By 永厳 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Source: Tyler, Royall, “The Grateful Crab”, Japanese Tales, Pantheon Books, 2002


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I was a big fan of Greek and Roman mythology as a kid. When I first read about Janus, he became an instant favorite, though that might have been influenced by the fact that he seemed to be the only god that was uniquely Roman.


Janus is a two-faced god that is ever looking forwards as well as backwards. As such, he is a keeper of gateways, and of beginnings and transitions. When studying archival science, I was delighted when I found out the National Archives in Sweden has Janus on their coat of arms. I felt like I belonged.

By Ultima Thule, 1927 (Ultima Thule, 1927) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Ultima Thule, 1927 (Ultima Thule, 1927) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I seem to have an affinity for dual-aspect people and creatures. I find myself drawn to the god that looks both forward and back, to creatures that are terrible but also have a benign streak. Even our own publishing imprint “Double Beast Publishing”reflects this.
I’m not sure why this is. I think maybe it has to do with the duality that is in all of us. None of us are what we seem—or rather, we are not only what we seem. I think every one of us has a side that not everyone sees, be this a good side or a bad side.  And I like that. I like that what-you-see is not necessarily what-you-get; that we all have the potential to surprise, and to become more than what people think we are.


I think Stephen Hawking touched on this brilliantly when he said, “Quiet people have the loudest minds.” Very true.


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Iord (or Jord) is the Norse personification of earth. “Jord” is also the Swedish word for “earth,” which is pretty cool. In terms of god relationships, Iord is a consort of Odin, mother of Thor, and daughter of Night.


Interestingly, Night is the daughter of the giant Narfi, which would mean Iord is of giant descent.  I’m not sure if that’s significant or not, as my grasp of Norse mythology is sadly lacking. Iord’s father was someone called Annar, though I can’t find who he was other than being listed in a long line of fathers and sons.


It’s mentioned that perhaps Snorri Sturluson intended “Annar” as a variation of “Odin” due to the following passage regarding Odin: “The earth was his daughter and his wife. Out of her he begot the first of his sons, that is Asa-Thor.” (Sturluson, p. 13). The index found in the Edda however, only makes mention of “Annar” having the literal meaning of “second,” as he was Night’s second husband.


It’s all very interesting, and makes me think that maybe Odin isn’t called the All-father for nothing.


Source: Sturluson, Snorri, Edda, Everyman, 1995. Translated and edited by Anthony Faulkes.


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Not the Hook from Neverland, but the Hook from “Crack, Crook, and Hook” infamy. I wrote about Crack and Crook earlier and their misadventures in stealing from the king’s treasury. Well, the story that includes Hook seems to precede that.


See, Crack, Crook, and Hook, all being premier thieves, are not content until they find out who is the bestest. Crack goes to steal a magpie’s eggs. While he’s busy with that, Crook steals Crack’s bootheels without him noticing. Hook then steals the heels from Crook. It being decided that Hook is, in fact, the most awesome among them, he then says “So long, suckers!” and heads out on his own, amasses a fortune, opens up a butchery shop, and marries a buxom young lass (well, the story doesn’t say she was buxom, but I like to think she was).


Years later Crack and Crook come upon his shop. They go in and try to steal a quartered pig from Hook, but fail miserably because, let’s face it, Hook is the man.


The end.


Source: Calvino, Italo, “Crack, Crook, and Hook”, Italian Folktales, Penguin Books, 2002. Translated by George Martin.

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