The glaistig is a faerie that is one part sexy woman, one part goat. She wears a flowing green dress to hide her beastly features. It is said that she lures men to dance with her before feeding upon them by drinking their blood. But like many faeries, she also has a benign side to her personality, and has a gentle hand when tending children or the elderly. She has even been known to herd cattle for farmers.
I love this kind of duplicity in faeries. It makes it seem like whatever terrible quality they might have is merely a consequence of their nature rather than any malevolent intent. That’s just how they are, and there’s no reason why a lovely woman in a green dress can’t care for Nana or take Bessie out grazing. Just don’t dance with her.
Source: Froud, Brian; Lee, Alan, Faeries, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1978.
Foxes aren’t exactly mythological creatures, but they do show up in a fair amount mythological tales. In the books I have at home, the ones they showed up in the most were the Japanese and Russian tales. It was interesting reading stories related to foxes from these two cultures, for the stories themselves, as well as the role the foxes played, varied greatly.
In Japanese lore, the foxes were interesting creatures, usually playing the part of a spirit of some sort. The foxes in these stories frequently took human form, either to make mischief or to copulate with human males. There was a story where a fox took the form of a certain variety of tree that had a spiritual significance. And there were a couple of stories where a fox basically possessed a woman in order to communicate with people. Some pretty odd stuff, that.
Sparing the foxes in these stories (or giving them what they wanted) often resulted in the fox providing protection or riches. Overall, the stories had kind of a lighthearted feel that evoked a smile rather than disdain over any perceived trickery.
The Russian stories, however, were very different. In those stories the foxes were rather despicable creatures, constantly trying to trick various poultry in order to eat them. Yet it wasn’t only the foxes that were conniving. Humans in these stories proved to be just as dastardly. These humans would be faced with a problem, which the fox would then solve for them. For their trouble, the foxes were tricked and then killed, with one story touting the moral, “Old favors are soon forgotten.”
I’m not really sure what conclusion to draw from this, if one even needs to be drawn at all. I just find it very interesting comparing the two, and the glimpses these stories provide of how these beautiful creatures might have once been regarded.
Sources: Afanas’ev, Aleksandr, Russian Fairy Tales, Pantheon Books, 2006. Translated by Nobert Guterman.
Tyler, Royall, Japanese Tales, Pantheon Books, 2002
Emma is the king of hell in Japanese lore. In the few stories I read with him in it, people who die are brought before him for judgment. He sometimes sends them back, either for a chance to atone for their sins, or to carry out unfinished business (after which they will again immediately die). Overall, he seems to be quite a reasonable and not at all unpleasant fellow.Source: Tyler, Royall, Japanese Tales, Pantheon Books, 2002.
In this tale, Deer Hunter and White Corn Maiden are two beautiful, talented individuals that are thought to be gifted by the gods. They fall in love and marry, yet their infatuation for each other only deepens, and they in turn neglect their duties, traditions, and religious obligations.
When White Corn Maiden suddenly dies, Deer Hunter is inconsolable. He refuses to accept her death and, long story short, convinces her to return with him, promising he’ll always love her and be with her, no matter what.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that White Corn Maiden is still dead, and dead people don’t exactly make pleasant bedmates. Her body continues to deteriorate, and Deer Hunter tries to avoid her, but White Corn Maiden holds him to his promise and follows him around wherever he goes.
In the end, having drawn the ire of the gods, they are put into the sky as a pair of stars. The brighter one being Deer Hunter, having been in the prime of his life; and the dimmer one White Corn Maiden, having died, yet forever following her husband through the sky.
It breaks my heart a little bit paraphrasing this story so crudely, because it really is beautiful and if you can (and have the inclination) it’s really worth seeking out to read in its entirety.
I love this story because it touches upon so much that I love in mythology and folklore. Like Orpheus and Eurydice, it’s portrays the mourning husband who refuses to let his dead wife go. I don’t know why that resonates with me so much (I’ve loved that Greek myth ever since I first heard about it, when I was around 12 or so I think). Maybe I just like the idea of loving someone so much that the laws of nature no longer have a say in the matter. It’s a beautiful notion, and, like my strong childhood desire for Narnia to actually exist, I suppose I want it to be true.
I also love myths that tell how constellations came to be, which this one has.
Lastly, this story is wonderful because it’s a little bit creepy. White Corn Maiden is dead. Her skin turns ashen; she develops an unpleasant odor. It’s both gross and interesting, and I love the contrast between the grotesque and beautiful. I give it 10 stars out of five. Truly love it.
Source: Erdoes, Richard, Ortiz, Alfonso, “Deer Hunter and White Corn Maiden”, American Indian Myths and Legends, Pantheon Books, 1985. Translated from the Tewa by Alfonso Ortiz.
“Crack and Crook” is an Italian folktale of two thieves who find each other by trying to steal from each other. They then team up and break into the king’s treasury and make away with much of his riches. Flummoxed by this, the king consults a thief in his dungeon on how to best capture these rogues. Continue reading
“Foul little men that like to steal children, sometimes leaving a basket of leaves in its place. Quite fond of shiny things, though. Where I’m from, superstitious wives will leave a coin or silver spoon in the crib so that should a boggan arrive it will take that rather than the babe.”
Boggans are my own creation, inspired partly by boggarts and hobgoblins of the faery realm (with a little bit of Annis if you noted the part about stealing children). They are generally harmless creatures that are prone to mischief where tall-folk are concerned. Any theft of children is done more out of curiosity and a desire to collect things than any desire to do the child harm (the leaves are considered to be payment, and is quite a fair arrangement as far as the boggans are concerned). Yet they have a streak of cruelty that is quick to surface if they are provoked or denied the practice of their misdeeds.
A man no larger than a child gazed up at her with bulbous eyes. His hooked nose hung over sneering lips while a tiny white spider crawled within a cavernous nostril. His clothes were mottled green and brown as though someone had woven together a sack of leaves and moss. Bright red berries hung from the hem of his garment as pearls might hang from a fine dress. On his feet he wore two hollowed gourds, the ends removed to allow his long toes—with even longer, yellowed nails—to dangle freely. He grinned at her, showing rows of darkened teeth that looked of rotten wood.
Excerpts from The Thirteenth Tower.