Legend of the Fair Emergilde: Scot


Thou little god of meikle sway, Who rul’st from pole to pole,

And up beyond yon milky way, Where wondrous planets roll:

Oh! tell me how a power divine, That tames the creatures wild,

Whose touch benign makes all men kin, Could slay sweet Emergilde?

It’s up the street, and down the street, And up the street again,

And all the day, and all the way, She looks at noble men;

But him she seeks she cannot find, In all that moving train;

No one can please that anxious gaze, And own to “Ballenden.”

From the high castle on the knowe,  Adown the Canongate,

And from the palace in the howe, Up to the castle yett,

A hizzy here, a cadie there, She stops with modest mien;

All she can say four words convey: “I seek for Ballenden.”

Nor more of our Scotch tongue she knew, For she’s of foreign kin,

And all her speech can only reach “I seek for Ballenden.”

No Ballenden she yet could find, No one aught of him knew;

She sought at night dark Toddrick’s Wynd, Next morn to search anew.

And who is she, this fair ladye, To whom our land is strange?

Why all alone, to all unknown, Within this city’s range?

Her face was of the bonnie nut-brown, Our Scotch folk love to view,

When ‘neath it shows the red, red rose, Like sunlight shining through.

Her tunic was of the mazerine, Of scarlet her roquelaire,

And o’er her back, in ringlets black, Fell down her raven hair.

Her eyes, so like the falling sterns, Seen on an August night,

Had surely won from eastern sun,  Some rayons of his light.

And still she tried, and still she plied, Her task so sad and vain,

The words still four–they were no more–  “I seek for Ballenden.”

No Ballenden could she yet find, No one aught of him knew,

And still at night down Toddrick’s Wynd, Next morn to search anew.

In Euphan Barnet’s lowly room,  Adown that darksome wynd,

A ladye fair is lying there, In illness sair declined;

Her cheeks now like the lily pale, The roses waned away,

Her eyes so bright have lost their light, Her lips are like the clay.

On her fair breast a missal rests, Illumed with various dyes,

In which were given far views of heaven, In old transparencies.

There hangs the everlasting cross, Of emerald and of gold,

That cross of Christ so often kissed,  When she her beads had told.

Those things are all forgotten now, Far other thoughts remain;

And as she dreams she ever renes, “I seek for Ballenden.”

Oh Ballenden! oh Ballenden! Whatever, where’er thou be,

That ladye fair is dying there, And all for love of thee.

In the old howf of the Canongate, There is a little lair,

And on it grows a pure white rose, By love implanted there;

And o’er it hangs a youthful man, With a cloud upon his brow,

And sair he moans, and sair he groans, For her who sleeps below.

No noble lord nor banneret, Nor courtly knight is he,

No more than a simple advocate, Who pleadeth for his fee.

He holds a letter in his hand, On which bleared eyes are bent,

It came afar from Almanzar, The Duke of Bonavent-

A noble duke whom he had seen, In his castle by the sea,

When for one night he claimed the right, Of his high courtesie;

And that letter said, “Kind sir, I write In sorrow, sooth to say,

That my dear child, fair Emergilde, Hath from us flown away;

And all the trace that I can find,  Is this, and nothing more,

She took to sea at Tripoli, For Scotland’s distant shore.

It is a feat of strange conceit, That fills us with alarms:

Oh seek about, and find her out, And send her to our arms.”

And who is he this letter reads,  With tears the words atween?

Yea! even he she had sought to see, The sair-sought Ballenden.

Yet little little had he thought, When away in that far countrie,

That a look she had got of a humble Scot, Would ever remembered be.

But tho’ he had deemed himself forgot, By one so far away,

Her image had still, against his will, Him haunted night and day.

And when he laid him on his bed, And sair inclined to sleep,

That face would still, against his will, Its holy vigil keep.

Oh gentle youth, thou little thought,  When away in our north countrie,

That up and down, thro’ all the town,  That ladye sought for thee.

And little little did thou wot,  What in Euphan’s room was seen,

Where, as she died, she whispering sighed,  “I die for Ballenden.”

Angry and sad shall be my way,  If I behold not her afar,

And yet I know not when that day,  Shall rise, for still she dwells afar.

God, who has formed this fair array,  Of worlds, and placed my love afar,

Strengthen my heart with hope, I pray,  Of seeing her I love afar.


TITLE: Wilson’s Tales of the Borders and of Scotland, Volume XXIV. (1884)

Author: Revised by Alexander Leighton

CONTRIBUTOR: Jenny Dunnaway


Khensu Nefer-Hetepand the Princess of Bekhten:Egyptian


The text of this legend is cut in hieroglyphics upon a sandstone stele, with a rounded top, which was found in the temple of Khensu at Thebes, and is now preserved in the Bibliotheque Nationale at Paris; it was discovered by Champollion, and removed to Paris by Prisse d’Avennes in 1846.  The text was first published by Prisse d’Avennes,[ Choix de Monuments Egyptiens, Paris, 1847, plate xxiv.] and it was first translated by Birch [Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature, New Series, vol. iv., p. 217 ff] in 1853.  The text was republished and translated into French by E. de Rouge in 1858,[ Journal Asiatique (Etude sur une Stele Egyptienne), August, 1856, August, 1857, and August-Sept., 1858, Paris, 8vo, with plate] and several other renderings have been given in German and in English since that date.[ Brugsch, Geschichte Ægyptens, 1877, p. 627 ff.; Birch, Records of the Past, Old Series, vol. iv., p. 53 ff.; Budge, Egyptian Reading Book, text and transliteration, p. 40 ff.; translation, p. xxviii. ff.] When the text was first published, and for some years afterwards, it was generally thought that the legend referred to events which were said to have taken place under a king who was identified as Rameses XIII., but this misconception was corrected by Erman, who showed [Aeg. Zeit., 1883, pp. 54-60.] that the king was in reality Rameses II.  By a careful examination of the construction of the text he proved that the narrative on the stele was drawn up several hundreds of years after the events described in it took place, and that its author was but imperfectly acquainted with the form of the Egyptian language in use in the reign of Rameses II.  In fact, the legend was written in the interests of the priests of the temple of Khensu, who wished to magnify their god and his power to cast out devils and to exorcise evil spirits; it was probably composed between B.C. 650 and B.C. 250.[Maspero, Les Contes Populaires, 3rd edit., p. 166.]

The legend, after enumerating the great names of Rameses II., goes on to state that the king was in the “country of the two rivers,” by which we are to understand some portion of Mesopotamia, the rivers being the Tigris and Euphrates, and that the local chiefs were bringing to him tribute consisting of gold, lapis-lazuli, turquoise, and logs of wood from the Land of the God.  It is difficult to understand how gold and logs of wood from Southern Arabia and East Africa came to be produced as tribute by chiefs who lived so far to the north.  Among those who sent gifts was the Prince of Bekhten, and at the head of all his tribute he sent his eldest daughter, bearing his message of homage and duty.  Now the maiden was beautiful, and the King of Egypt thought her so lovely that be took her to wife, and bestowed upon her the name “Ra-neferu,” which means something like the “beauties of Ra.”  He took her back with him to Egypt, where she was installed as Queen.

During the summer of the fifteenth year of his reign, whilst Rameses II was celebrating a festival of Amen-Ra in the Temple of Luxor, one came to him and reported that an envoy had arrived from the Prince of Bekhten, bearing with him many gifts for the Royal Wife Ra-neferu.

When the envoy had been brought into the presence, he addressed words of homage to the king, and, having presented the gifts from his lord, he said that he had come to beg His Majesty to send a “learned man,” i.e., a magician, to Bekhten to attend Bent-enth-resh, His Majesty’s sister-in-law, who was stricken with some disease.  Thereupon the king summoned the learned men of the House of Life, i.e., the members of the great College of Magic at Thebes, and the qenbetu officials, and when they had entered his presence, he commanded them to select a man of “wise heart and deft fingers” to go to Bekhten.  The choice fell upon one Tehuti-em-heb, and His Majesty sent him to Bekhten with the envoy.

When they arrived in Bekhten, Tehuti-em-heb found that the Princess Bent-enth-resh was possessed by an evil spirit which refused to be exorcised by him, and he was unable to cast out the devil.  The Prince of Bekhten, seeing that the healing of his daughter was beyond the power of the Egyptian, sent a second envoy to Rameses II, and besought him to send a god to drive out the devil.  This envoy arrived in Egypt in the summer of the twenty-sixth year of the reign of Rameses II., and found the king celebrating a festival in Thebes.  When he heard the petition of the envoy, he went to the Temple of Khensu Nefer-hetep “a second time,”[Thus the king must have invoked the help of Khensu on the occasion of the visit of the first envoy.] and presented himself before the god and besought his help on behalf of his sister-in-law.

Then the priests of Khensu Nefer-hetep carried the statue of this god to the place where was the statue of Khensu surnamed “Pa-ari-sekher,” i.e., the “Worker of destinies,” who was able to repel the attacks of evil spirits and to drive them out.  When the statues of the two gods were facing each other, Rameses II entreated Khensu Nefer-hetep to “turn his face towards,” i.e., to look favourably upon Khensu.  Pa-ari- sekher, and to let him go to Bekhten to drive the devil out of the Princess of Bekhten.  The text affords no explanation of the fact that Khensu Nefer-hetep was regarded as a greater god than Khensu Pa-ari-sekher, or why his permission had to be obtained before the latter could leave the country.  It is probable that the demands made upon Khensu Nefer-hetep by the Egyptians who lived in Thebes and its neighbourhood were so numerous that it was impossible to let his statue go into outlying districts or foreign lands, and that a deputy-god was appointed to perform miracles outside Thebes. This arrangement would benefit the people, and would, moreover, bring much money to the priests. The appointment of a deputy-god is not so strange as it may seem, and modern African peoples are familiar with the expedient. About one hundred years ago the priests of the god Bobowissi of Winnebah, in the Tshi region of West Africa, found their business so large that it was absolutely necessary for them to appoint a deputy.

The priests therefore selected Brahfo, i.e., “deputy,” and gave out that Bobowissi had deputed all minor matters to him, and that his utterances were to be regarded as those of Bobowissi.  Delegates were ordered to be sent to Winnebah in Ashanti, where they would be shown the “deputy” god by the priests, and afterwards he would be taken to Mankassim, where he would reside, and do for the people all that Bobowissi had done hitherto.[ Ellis, Tshi-speaking Peoples, p. 55.]

When Rameses II. had made his petition to Khensu Nefer-hetep, the statue of the god bowed its head twice, in token of assent.  Here it is clear that we have an example of the use of statues with movable limbs, which were worked, when occasion required, by the priests.  The king then made a second petition to the god to transfer his sa, or magical power, to Khensu Pa-ari-sekher so that when he had arrived in Bekhten he would be able to heal the Princess.  Again the statue of Khensu Nefer-hetep bowed its head twice, and the petition of the king was granted.  The text goes on to say that the magical power of the greater god was transferred to the lesser god four times, or in a fourfold measure, but we are not told how this was effected.  We know from many passages in the texts that every god was believed to possess this magical power, which is called the “sa of life,” or the “sa of the god,”.[ Text of Unas, line 562.]  This sa could be transferred by a god or goddess to a human being, either by an embrace or through some offering which was eaten. Thus Temu transferred the magical power of his life to Shu and Tefnut by embracing them,[Pyramid Texts, Pepi I., l. 466.] and in the Ritual of the Divine Cult[Ed. Moret, p. 21.] the priest says, The two vessels of milk of Temu are the “sa of my limbs.”  The man who possessed this sa could transfer it to his friend by embracing him and then “making passes” with his hands along his back. The sa could be received by a man from a god and then transmitted by him to a statue by taking it in his arms, and this ceremony was actually performed by the king in the Ritual of the Divine Cult.[Ibid., p. 99.] The primary source of this sa was Ra, who bestowed it without measure on the blessed dead,[Pepi I., line 666.] and caused them to live forever thereby. These, facts make it tolerably certain that the magical power of Khensu Nefer-hetep was transferred to Khensu Pa-ari-sekher in one of two ways: either the statue of the latter was brought near to that of the former and it received the sa by contact, or the high priest first received the sa from the greater god and then transmitted it to the lesser god by embraces and “passes” with his hands. Be this as it may, Khensu Pa-ari-sekher received the magical power, and having been placed in his boat, he set out for Bekhten, accompanied by five smaller boats, and chariots and horses which marched on each side of him.

When after a journey of seventeen months Khensu Pa-ari-sekher arrived in Bekhten, he was cordially welcomed by the Prince, and, having gone to the place where the Princess who was possessed of a devil lived, he exercised his power to such purpose that she was healed immediately. Moreover, the devil which had been cast out admitted that Khensu Pa-ari-sekher was his master, and promised that he would depart to the place whence he came, provided that the Prince of Bekhten would celebrate a festival in his honour before his departure. Meanwhile the Prince and his soldiers stood by listening to the conversation between the god and the devil, and they were very much afraid.

Following the instructions of Khensu Pa-ari-sekher the Prince made a great feast in honour of the supernatural visitors, and then the devil departed to the “place which he loved,” and there was general rejoicing in the land.  The Prince of Bekhten was so pleased with the Egyptian god that he determined not to allow him to return to Egypt. When the statue of Khensu Pa-ari-sekher had been in Bekhten for three years and nine months, the Prince in a vision saw the god, in the form of a golden hawk, come forth from his shrine, and fly up into the air and direct his course to Egypt.  Realizing that the statue of the god was useless without its indwelling spirit, the Prince of Bekhten permitted the priests of Khensu Pa-ari-sekher to depart with it to Egypt, and dismissed them with gifts of all kinds.  In due course they arrived in Egypt and the priests took their statue to the temple of Khensu Nefer-hetep, and handed over to that god all the gifts which the Prince of Bekhten had given them, keeping back nothing for their own god.  After this Khensu Pa-ari-sekher returned to his temple in peace, in the thirty-third year of the reign of Rameses II, having been absent from it about eight years.


TITLE: Legends of the Gods (Egyptian Text) 1912

BY: E. A. Wallis Budge

CONTRIBUTOR: Callum McCormick

Of Hauntings


In a letter to Sura the younger Pliny gives us what may be taken as a prototype of all later haunted-house stories. At one time in Athens there was a roomy old house where nobody could be induced to live. In the dead of night the sound of clanking chains would be heard, distant at first, proceeding doubtless from the garden behind or the inner court of the house, then gradually drawing nearer and nearer, till at last there appeared the figure of an old man with a long beard, thin and emaciated, with chains on his hands and feet. The house was finally abandoned, and advertised to be let or sold at an absurdly low price.

The philosopher Athenodorus read the notice on his arrival in Athens, but the smallness of the sum asked aroused his suspicions. However, as soon as he heard the story he took the house. He had his bed placed in the front court, close to the main door, dismissed his slaves, and prepared to pass the night there, reading and writing, in order to prevent his thoughts from wandering to the ghost. He worked on for some time without anything happening; but at last the clanking of chains was heard in the distance. Athenodorus did not raise his eyes or stop his work, but kept his attention fixed and listened. The sounds gradually drew nearer, and finally entered the room where he was sitting. Then he turned round and saw the apparition. It beckoned him to follow, but he signed to it to wait and went on with his work. Not till it came and clanked its chains over his very head would he take up a lamp and follow it. The figure moved slowly forward, seemingly weighed down with its heavy chains, until it reached an open space in the courtyard. There it vanished. Athenodorus marked the spot with leaves and grass, and on the next day the ground was dug up in the presence of a magistrate, when the skeleton of a man with some rusty chains was discovered. The remains were buried with all ceremony, and the apparition was no more seen.

Lucian tells the same story in the “Philopseudus”…thoroughly in keeping with the surroundings.

An almost exactly similar story has been preserved by Robert Wodrow, the indefatigable collector, in a notebook which he appears to have intended to be the foundation of a scientific collection of marvellous tales. Wodrow died early in the eighteenth century. Gilbert Rule, the founder and first Principal of Edinburgh University, once reached a desolate inn in a lonely spot on the Grampians. The inn was full, and they were obliged to make him up a bed in a house near-by that had been vacant for thirty years. “He walked sometime in the room,” says Wodrow,[ Burton’s “The Book-Hunter: Robert Wodrow”] “and committed himself to God’s protection, and went to bed. There were two candles left on the table, and these he put out. There was a large bright fire remaining. He had not been long in bed till the room door is opened and an apparition in shape of a country tradesman came in, and opened the curtains without speaking a word. Mr. Rule was resolved to do nothing till it should speak or attack him, but lay still with full composure, committing himself to the Divine protection and conduct. The apparition went to the table, lighted the two candles, brought them to the bedside, and made some steps toward the door, looking still to the bed, as if he would have Mr. Rule rising and following. Mr. Rule still lay still, till he should see his way further cleared. Then the apparition, who the whole time spoke none, took an effectual way to raise the doctor. He carried back the candles to the table and went to the fire, and with the tongs took down the kindled coals, and laid them on the deal chamber floor. The doctor then thought it time to rise and put on his clothes, in the time of which the specter laid up the coals again in the chimney, and, going to the table, lifted the candles and went to the door, opened it, still looking to the Principal, as he would have him following the candles, which he now, thinking there was something extraordinary in the case, after looking to God for direction, inclined to do. The apparition went down some steps with the candles, and carried them into a long trance, at the end of which there was a stair which carried down to a low room. This, the specter went down, and stooped, and set down the lights on the lowest step of the stair, and straight disappears.”

“The learned Principal,” continues Burton, “whose courage and coolness deserve the highest commendation, lighted himself back to bed with the candles, and took the remainder of his rest undisturbed. Being a man of great sagacity, on ruminating over his adventure, he informed the Sheriff of the county ‘that he was much of the mind there was murder in the case.’ The stone whereon the candles were placed was raised, and there ‘the plain remains of a human body were found, and bones, to the conviction of all.’ It was supposed to be an old affair, however, and no traces could be got of the murderer. Rule undertook the functions of the detective, and pressed into the service the influence of his own profession. He preached a great sermon on the occasion, to which all the neighbouring people were summoned; and behold in the time of his sermon, an old man near eighty years was awakened, and fell a-weeping, and before the whole company acknowledged that at the building of that house, he was the murderer.”

The main features of the story have changed very little in the course of ages, except in the important point of the conviction of the murderer, which would have been effected in a very different way in a Greek story. Doubtless a similar tale could be found in the folk-lore of almost any nation.

Plutarch [“Cimon”, i] relates how, in his native city of Chaeronaea, a certain Damon had been murdered in some baths. Ghosts continued to haunt the spot ever afterwards, and mysterious groans were heard, so that at last the doors were walled up. “And to this very day,” he continues, “those who live in the neighbourhood imagine that they see strange sights and are terrified with cries of sorrow.”

It is quite clear from Plautus that ghost stories, even if not taken very seriously, aroused a wide-spread interest in the average Roman of his day, just as they do in the average Briton of our own. They were doubtless discussed in a half-joking way. The apparitions were generally believed to frighten people, just as they are at present, though the well-authenticated stories of such occurrences would seem to show that genuine ghosts, or whatever one likes to call them, have the power of paralyzing fear.

In the “Mostellaria” [ II. 5. 67.] Plautus uses a ghost as a recognized piece of supernatural machinery. The regulation father of Roman comedy has gone away on a journey, and in the meantime the son has, as usual, almost reached the end of his father’s fortune. The father comes back unexpectedly, and the son turns in despair to his faithful slave, Tranio, for help. Tranio is equal to the occasion, and undertakes to frighten the inconvenient parent away again. He gives an account of an apparition that has been seen, and has announced that it is the ghost of a stranger from over-seas, who has been dead for six years.

“Here must I dwell,” it had declared, “for the gods of the lower world will not receive me, seeing that I died before my time. My host murdered me, his guest, villain that he was, for the gold that I carried, and secretly buried me, without funeral rites, in this house. Be gone hence, therefore, for it is accursed and unholy ground.” This story is enough for the father. He takes the advice, and does not return till Tranio and his dutiful son are quite ready for him.

Great battlefields are everywhere believed to be haunted. Tacitus [“Hist.” v. 13] relates how, when Titus was besieging Jerusalem, armies were seen fighting in the sky; and at a much later date, after a great battle against Attila and the Huns, under the walls of Rome, the ghosts of the dead fought for three days and three nights, and the clash of their arms was distinctly heard. [Damascius, “Vita Isidori” 63] Marathon is no exception to the rule.

Pausanias says that any night you may hear horses neighing and men fighting there. To go on purpose to see the sight never brought good to any man; but with him who unwittingly lights upon it the spirits are not angry. He adds that the people of Marathon worship the men who fell in the battle as heroes; and who could be more worthy of such honour than they? The battle itself was not without its marvellous side. Epizelus, the Athenian, used to relate how a huge hoplite, whose beard over-shadowed all his shield, stood over against him in the thick of the fight. The apparition passed him by and killed the man next him, but Epizelus came out of the battle blind, and remained so for the rest of his life.[ Herod., vi. 117.] Plutarch[“Parallel” 7] also relates of a place in Boeotia where a battle had been fought, that there is a stream running by, and that people imagine that they hear panting horses in the roaring waters.

But the strangest account of the habitual haunting of great battlefields is to be found in Philostratus’s “Heroica”, which represents the spirits of the Homeric heroes as still closely connected with Troy and its neighbourhood. How far the stories are based on local tradition it is impossible to say; they are told by a vine-dresser, who declares that he lives under the protection of Protesilaus. At one time he was in danger of being violently ousted from all his property, when the ghost of Protesilaus appeared to the would-be despoiler in a vision, and struck him blind. The great man was so terrified at this event that he carried his depredations no further; and the vine-dresser has since continued to cultivate what remained of his property under the protection of the hero, with whom he lives on most intimate terms. Protesilaus often appears to him while he is at work and has long talks with him, and he keeps off wild beasts and disease from the land.

Not only Protesilaus, but also his men, and, in fact, virtually all of the “giants of the mighty bone and bold emprise” who fought round Troy, can be seen on the plain at night, clad like warriors, with nodding plumes. The inhabitants are keenly interested in these apparitions, and well they may be, as so much depends upon them. If the heroes are covered with dust, a drought is impending; if with sweat, they foreshadow rain. Blood upon their arms means a plague; but if they show themselves without any distinguishing mark, all will be well.

 Though the heroes are dead, they cannot be insulted with impunity. Ajax was popularly believed, owing to the form taken by his madness, to be especially responsible for any misfortune that might befall flocks and herds. On one occasion some shepherds, who had had bad luck with their cattle, surrounded his tomb and abused him, bringing up all the weak points in his earthly career recorded by Homer. At last they went too far for his patience, and a terrible voice was heard in the tomb and the clash of armour. The offenders fled in terror, but came to no harm.

On another occasion some strangers were playing at draughts near his shrine, when Ajax appeared and begged them to stop, as the game reminded him of Palamedes.

Hector was a far more dangerous person. Maximus of Tyre [“Dissert.” 15. 7] says that the people of Ilium often see him bounding over the plain at dead of night in flashing armour–a truly Homeric picture. Maximus cannot, indeed, boast of having seen Hector, though he also has had his visions vouchsafed him. He had seen Castor and Pollux, like twin stars, above his ship, steering it through a storm. AEsculapius also he has seen–not in a dream, by Hercules, but with his waking eyes. But to return to Hector. Philostratus says that one day an unfortunate boy insulted him in the same way in which the shepherds had treated Ajax. Homer, however, did not satisfy this boy, and as a parting shaft he declared that the statue in Ilium did not really represent Hector, but Achilles. Nothing happened immediately, but not long afterwards, while the boy was driving a team of ponies, Hector appeared in the form of a warrior in a brook which was, as a rule, so small as not even to have a name. He was heard shouting in a foreign tongue as he pursued the boy in the stream, finally overtaking and drowning him with his ponies. The bodies were never afterwards recovered.


Philostratus gives us a quantity of details about the Homeric heroes, which the vine-dresser has picked up in his talks with Protesilaus. Most of the heroes can be easily recognized. Achilles, for instance, enters into conversation with various people, and goes out hunting. He can be recognized by his height and his beauty and his bright armour; and as he rushes past he is usually accompanied by a whirlwind–[Greek: podarkes, dios], even after death.

Then we hear the story of the White Isle. Helen and Achilles fell in love with one another, though they had never met–the one hidden in Egypt, the other fighting before Troy. There was no place near Troy suited for their eternal life together, so Thetis appealed to Poseidon to give them an island home of their own. Poseidon consented, and the White Isle rose up in the Black Sea, near the mouth of the Danube. There Achilles and Helen, the manliest of men and the most feminine of women, first met and first embraced; and Poseidon himself, and Amphitrite, and all the Nereids, and as many river gods and spirits as dwell near the Euxine and Maeotis, came to the wedding. The island is thickly covered with white trees and with elms, which grow in regular order round the shrine; and on it there dwell certain white birds, fragrant of the salt sea, which Achilles is said to have tamed to his will, so that they keep the glades cool, fanning them with their wings and scattering spray as they fly along the ground, scarce rising above it. To men sailing over the broad bosom of the sea the island is holy when they disembark, for it lies like a hospitable home to their ships. But neither those who sail thither, nor the Greeks and barbarians living round the Black Sea, may build a house upon it; and all who anchor and sacrifice there must go on board at sunset. No man may pass the night upon the isle, and no woman may even land there. If the wind is favourable, ships must sail away; if not, they must put out and anchor in the bay and sleep on board. For at night men say that Achilles and Helen drink together, and sing of each other’s love, and of the war, and of Homer. Now that his battles are over, Achilles cultivates the gift of song he had received from Calliope. Their voices ring out clear and godlike over the water, and the sailors sit trembling with emotion as they listen. Those who had anchored there declared that they had heard the neighing of horses, and the clash of arms, and shouts such as are raised in battle.

Maximus of Tyre [“Dissert.” 15. 7] also describes the island, and tells how sailors have often seen a fair-haired youth dancing a war-dance in golden armour upon it; and how once, when one of them unwittingly slept there, Achilles woke him, and took him to his tent and entertained him. Patroclus poured the wine and Achilles played the lyre, while Thetis herself is said to have been present with a choir of other deities.

If they anchor to the north or the south of the island, and a breeze springs up that makes the harbours dangerous, Achilles warns them, and bids them change their anchorage and avoid the wind. Sailors relate how, “when they first behold the island, they embrace each other and burst into tears of joy. Then they put in and kiss the land, and go to the temple to pray and to sacrifice to Achilles.” Victims stand ready of their own accord at the altar, according to the size of the ship and the number of those on board.

Pausanias also mentions the White Isle. On one occasion, Leonymus, while leading the people of Croton against the Italian Locrians, attacked the spot where he was informed that Ajax Oileus, on whom the people of Locris had called for help, was posted in the van. According to Conon,[42] who, by the way, calls the hero Autoleon, when the people of Croton went to war, they also left a vacant space for Ajax in the forefront of their line. However this may be, Leonymus was wounded in the breast, and as the wound refused to heal and weakened him considerably, he applied to Delphi for advice. The god told him to sail to the White Isle, where Ajax would heal him of his wound. Thither, therefore, he went, and was duly healed. On his return he described what he had seen–how that Achilles was now married to Helen; and it was Leonymus who told Stesichorus that his blindness was due to Helen’s wrath, and thus induced him to write the “Palinode”.

Achilles himself is once said to have appeared to a trader who frequently visited the island. They talked of Troy, and then the hero gave him wine, and bade him sail away and fetch him a certain Trojan maiden who was the slave of a citizen of Ilium. The trader was surprised at the request, and ventured to ask why he wanted a Trojan slave. Achilles replied that it was because she was of the same race as Hector and his ancestors, and of the blood of the sons of Priam and Dardanus. The trader thought that Achilles was in love with the girl, whom he duly brought with him on his next visit to the island. Achilles thanked him, and bade him keep her on board the ship, doubtless because women were not allowed to land. In the evening he was entertained by Achilles and Helen, and his host gave him a large sum of money, promising to make him his guest-friend and to bring luck to his ship and his business. At daybreak Achilles dismissed him, telling him to leave the girl on the shore. When they had gone about a furlong from the island, a horrible cry from the maiden reached their ears, and they saw Achilles tearing her to pieces, rending her limb from limb.

In this brutal savage it is impossible to recognize Homer’s chivalrous hero, who sacrificed the success of a ten years’ war, fought originally for the recovery of one woman, to his grief at the loss of another, and has thus made it possible to describe the “Iliad” as the greatest love-poem ever written. One cannot help feeling that Pindar’s Isle of the Blest, whither he was brought by Thetis, whose mother’s prayer had moved the Heart of Zeus, to dwell with Cadmus and Peleus, is Achilles’ true home; or the isle of the heroes of all time, described by Carducci, where King Lear sits telling Oedipus of his sufferings, and Cordelia calls to Antigone, “Come, my Greek sister! We will sing of peace to our fathers.” Helen and Iseult, silent and thoughtful, roam under the shade of the myrtles, while the setting sun kisses their golden hair with its reddening rays. Helen gazes across the sea, but King Mark opens his arms to Iseult, and the fair head sinks on the mighty beard. Clytemnestra stands by the shore with the Queen of Scots. They bathe their white arms in the waves, but the waves recoil swollen with red blood, while the wailing of the hapless women echoes along the rocky strand. Among these heroic souls Shelley alone of modern poets–that Titan spirit in a maiden’s form–may find a place, according to Carducci, caught up by Sophocles from the living embrace of Thetis.[ G. Carducci, “Presso l’urna di P.B. Shelley,” in the “Odi Barbare”]



BY: Lacy Collison-Morley

CONTRIBUTOR: Cade Pomeraan

Serpents eggs or Snake Stones: Druid



In ancient Gaul certain glass or paste beads attained great celebrity as amulets under the name of serpents’ eggs; it was believed that serpents, coiling together in a wriggling, writhing mass, generated them from their slaver and shot them into the air from their hissing jaws. If a man was bold and dexterous enough to catch one of these eggs in his cloak before it touched the ground, he rode off on horseback with it at full speed, pursued by the whole pack of serpents, till he was saved by the interposition of a river, which the snakes could not pass. The proof of the egg being genuine was that if it were thrown into a stream it would float up against the current, even though it was hooped in gold.

The Druids held these beads in high esteem; according to them, the precious objects could only be obtained on a certain day of the moon, and the peculiar virtue that resided in them was to secure success in law suits and free access to kings. Pliny knew of a Gaulish knight who was executed by the emperor Claudius for wearing one of these amulets. [Pliny, “Naturalis Historia xxix. 52-54.] Under the name of Snake Stones (“glain neidr) or Adder Stones the beads are still known in those parts of our own country where the Celtic population has lingered, with its immemorial superstitions, down to the present or recent times; and the old story of the origin of the beads from the slaver of serpents was believed by the modern peasantry of Cornwall, Wales, and Scotland as by the Druids of ancient Gaul. In Cornwall the time when the serpents united to fashion the beads was commonly said to be at or about Midsummer Eve; in Wales it was usually thought to be spring, especially the Eve of May Day, and even within recent years persons in the Principality have affirmed that they witnessed the great vernal congress of the snakes and saw the magic stone in the midst of the froth. The Welsh peasants believe the beads to possess medicinal virtues of many sorts and to be particularly efficacious for all maladies of the eyes.

In Wales and Ireland the beads sometimes went by the name of the Magician’s or Druid’s Glass (Gleini na Droedh andGlaine nan Druidhe). Specimens of them may be seen in museums; some have been found in British barrows. They are of glass of various colours, green, blue, pink, red, brown, and so forth, some plain and some ribbed. Some are streaked with brilliant hues. The beads are perforated, and in the Highlands of Scotland the hole is explained by saying that when the bead has just been conflated by the serpents jointly, one of the reptiles sticks his tail through the still viscous glass. An Englishman who visited Scotland in 1699 found many of these beads in use throughout the country. They were hung from children’s necks to protect them from whooping cough and other ailments. Snake Stones were, moreover, a charm to ensure prosperity in general and to repel evil spirits. When one of these priceless treasures was not on active service, the owner kept it in an iron box to guard it against fairies, who, as is well known, cannot abide iron.[see NOTE 1]

[NOTE 1] W. Borlase, Antiquities, Historical and Monumental, of the County of Cornwall (London, 1769), pp. 142 sq.; J. Brand, Popular Antiquities of Great Britain (London, 1882-1883), i. 322; J.G. Dalyell, Darker Superstitions of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1834), pp. 140 sq.; Daniel Wilson, The Archaeology and Prehistoric Annals of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1851), pp. 303 sqq.; Lieut.-Col. Forbes Leslie, The Early Races of Scotland and their Monuments (Edinburgh, 1866), i. 75 sqq.; J.G. Campbell, Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (Glasgow, 1902), pp. 84-88; Marie Trevelyan, Folk-lore and Folk-stories of Wales (London, 1909), pp. 170 sq.; J.C. Davies, Folk-lore of West and Mid-Wales (Aberystwyth, 1911), p. 76. Compare W.W. Skeat, “Snakestones and Stone Thunderbolts,” Folk-lore, xxiii. (1912) pp. 45 sqq. The superstition is described as follows by Edward Llwyd in a letter quoted by W. Borlase (op. cit. p. 142): “In most parts of Wales, and throughout all Scotland, and in Cornwall, we find it a common opinion of the vulgar, that about Midsummer-Eve (though in the time they do not all agree) it is usual for snakes to meet in companies; and that, by joining heads together, and hissing, a kind of bubble is formed, which the rest, by continual hissing, blow on till it passes quite through the body, and then it immediately hardens, and resembles a glass-ring, which whoever finds (as some old women and children are persuaded) shall prosper in all his undertakings. The rings thus generated, are called Gleineu Nadroeth; in English, Snake-stones. They are small glass amulets, commonly about half as wide as our finger-rings, but much thicker, of a green colour usually, though sometimes blue, and waved with red and white.”


TITLE: A Study in Magic And Religion (1913)

Author: Sir James George Frazer

CONTRIBUTOR: Jenny Dunnaway

Necromancy: Greco-Roman



 The belief that it was possible to call up the souls of the dead by means of spells was almost universal in antiquity. We know that even Saul, who had himself cut off those that had familiar spirits and the wizards out of the land, disguised himself and went with two others to consult the witch of Endor; that she called up the spirit of Samuel at his request; that Samuel asked Saul, “Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up?” and then prophesied his ruin and death at the hands of the Philistines at Mount Gilboa. We find frequent references to the practice in classical literature. The elder Pliny[“N.H.”, 30. 1. 16] gives us the interesting information that spirits refuse to obey people afflicted with freckles.

There were always certain spots hallowed by tradition as particularly favourable to intercourse with the dead, or even as being actual entrances to the lower world. For instance, at Heraclea in Pontus there was a famous [Greek: psychomanteion], or place where the souls of the dead could be conjured up and consulted, as Hercules was believed to have dragged Cerberus up to earth here. Other places supposed to be connected with this myth had a similar legend attached to them, as also did all places where Pluto was thought to have carried off Persephone. Thus we hear of entrances to Hades at Eleusis,[ “Hymn. Orph.” 18. 15] at Colonus,[ Soph., “O.C.”, 1590] at Enna in Sicily,[ Cic. “Verr.” iv. 107] and finally at the lovely pool of Cyane, up the Anapus River, near Syracuse, one of the few streams in which the papyrus still flourishes.[ Diodor., v. 4. 2] Lakes and seas also were frequently believed to be entrances to Hades.[ Cp. Gruppe, “Griechische Mythologie und Religionsgeschichte”, p. 815, where the whole question is discussed in great detail]

The existence of sulphurous fumes easily gave rise to a belief that certain places were in direct communication with the lower world. This was the case at Cumae where Æneas consulted the Sybil, and at Colonus; while at Hierapolis in Phrygia there was a famous “Plutonium,” which could only be safely approached by the priests of Cybele.[Strabo, 13. 29, 30; Pliny, “N.H.”, 2. 208] It was situated under a temple of Apollo, a real entrance to Hades; and it is doubtless to this that Cicero refers when he speaks of the deadly “Plutonia” he had seen in Asia.[ “De Div.” i. 79] These “Plutonia” or “Charonia” are, in fact, places where mephitic vapours exist, like the Grotto del Cane and other spots in the neighbourhood of Naples and Pozzuoli. The priests must either have become used to the fumes, or have learnt some means of counteracting them; otherwise their lives can hardly have been more pleasant than that of the unfortunate dog which used to be exhibited in the Naples grotto, though the control of these very realistic entrances to the kingdom of Pluto must have been a very profitable business, well worth a little personal inconvenience. Others are mentioned by Strabo at Magnesia and Myus,[ Strabo, 14, 636; 12, 579] and there was one at Cyllene, in Arcadia.

In addition to these there were numerous special temples or places where the souls of the dead, which were universally thought to possess a knowledge of the future, could be called up and consulted–e.g., the temple at Phigalia, in Arcadia, used by Pausanias, the Spartan commander;[ Paus., 3. 17, 19] or the [Greek: nekyomanteion], the oracle of the dead, by the River Acheron, in Threspotia, to which Periander, the famous tyrant of Corinth, had recourse;[ Herod., v. 92] and it was here, according to Pausanias, that Orpheus went down to the lower world in search of Eurydice.

Lucian[“Dial. Deor.” 7. 4] tells us that it was only with Pluto’s permission that the dead could return to life, and they were invariably accompanied by Mercury. Consequently, both these gods were regularly invoked in the prayers and spells used on such occasions. Only the souls of those recently dead were, as a rule, called up, for it was naturally held that they would feel greater interest in the world they had just left, and in the friends and relations still alive, to whom they were really attached. Not that it was impossible to evoke the ghosts of those long dead, if it was desired. Even Orpheus and Cecrops were not beyond reach of call, and Apollonius of Tyana claimed to have raised the shade of Achilles.[Philostr., “Apoll. Tyan.” 4. 16]

All oracles were originally sacred to Persephone and Pluto, and relied largely on necromancy, a snake being the emblem of prophetic power. Hence, when Apollo, the god of light, claimed possession of the oracles as the conqueror of darkness, the snake was twined round his tripod as an emblem, and his priestess was called Pythia. When Alexander set up his famous oracle, as described by Lucian, the first step taken in establishing its reputation was the finding of a live snake in an egg in a lake. The find had, of course, been previously arranged by Alexander and his confederates.

We still possess accounts of the working of these oracles of the dead, especially of the one connected with the Lake of Avernus, near Naples. Cicero describes how, from this lake, “shades, the spirits of the dead, are summoned in the dense gloom of the mouth of Acheron with salt blood”; and Strabo quotes the early Greek historian Ephorus as relating how, even in his day, “the priests that raise the dead from Avernus live in underground dwellings, communicating with each other by subterranean passages, through which they led those who wished to consult the oracle hidden in the bowels of the earth.” “Not far from the lake of Avernus,” says Maximus of Tyre, “was an oracular cave, which took its name from the calling up of the dead. Those who came to consult the oracle, after repeating the sacred formula and offering libations and slaying victims, called upon the spirit of the friend or relation they wished to consult.

Then it appeared, an unsubstantial shade, difficult both to see and to recognize, yet endowed with a human voice and skilled in prophecy. When it had answered the questions put to it, it vanished.” One is at once struck with the similarity of this account to those of the spiritualistic seances of the famous Eusapia in the same part of the world, not so very long ago. In most cases those consulting the oracle would probably be satisfied with hearing the voice of the dead man, or with a vision of him in sleep, so that some knowledge of ventriloquism or power of hypnotism or suggestion would often be ample stock-in-trade for those in charge.

This consulting of the dead must have been very common in antiquity. Both Plato[“Leg.” x. 909B] and Euripides[“Alc.” 1128] mention it; and the belief that the dead have a knowledge of the future, which seems to be ingrained inhuman nature, gave these oracles great power. Thus, Cicero tells[“De Div.” 1. 58] us that Appius often consulted “soul-oracles” (psychomantia), and also mentions a man having recourse to one when his son was seriously ill.[ “Tusc.” 1. 48] The poets have, of course, made free use of this supposed prophetic power of the dead. The shade of Polydorus, for instance, speaks the prologue of the Hecuba, while the appearance of the dead Creusa in the “Æneid” is known to everyone. In the “Persae”, Æschylus makes the shade of Darius ignorant of all that has happened since his death, and is thus able to introduce his famous description of the battle of Salamis; but Darius, nevertheless, possesses a knowledge of the future, and can therefore give us an equally vivid account of the battle of Plataea, which had not yet taken place. The shade of Clytemnestra in the “Eumenides”, however, does not prophesy.

Pliny mentions the belief that the dead had prophetic powers, but declares that they could not always be relied on, as the following instance proves.[ Pliny, “N.H.” 7. 52, 178] During the Sicilian war, Gabienus, the bravest man in Caesar’s fleet, was captured by Sextus Pompeius, and beheaded by his orders. For a whole day the corpse lay upon the shore, the head almost severed from the body. Then, towards evening, a large crowd assembled, attracted by his groans and prayers; and he begged Sextus Pompeius either to come to him himself or to send some of his friends; for he had returned from the dead, and had something to tell him. Pompeius sent friends, and Gabienus informed them that Pompeius’s cause found favour with the gods below, and was the right cause, and that he was bidden to announce that all would end as he wished. To prove the truth of what he said, he announced that he would die immediately, as he actually did.

This knowledge of the future by the dead is to be found in more than one well-authenticated modern ghost story, where the apparition would seem to have manifested itself for the express purpose of warning those whom it has loved on earth of approaching danger. We may take, for instance, the story [Myers, “Human Personality” ii. 328, 329] where a wife, who is lying in bed with her husband, suddenly sees a gentleman dressed in full naval uniform sitting on the bed. She was too astonished for fear, and waked her husband, who “for a second or two lay looking in intense astonishment at the intruder; then, lifting himself a little, he shouted: ‘What on earth are you doing here, sir?’ Meanwhile the form, slowly drawing himself into an upright position, now said in a commanding, yet reproachful voice, ‘Willie! Willie!’ and then vanished.” Her husband got up, unlocked the door, and searched the house, but found nothing. On his return he informed his wife that the form was that of his father, whom she had never seen. He had left the navy before this son was born, and the son had, therefore, only seen his father in uniform a very few times. It afterwards came out that her husband was about to engage in some speculations which, had he done so, would have proved his ruin; but, fortunately, this vision of his father made such an impression on him that he abandoned the idea altogether.

Lucan [“Pharsal.”, vi. “ad fin.”] describes how Sextus Pompeius went to consult Erichtho, one of the famous Thessalian witches, as to the prospects of his father’s success against Caesar, during the campaign that ended in the disastrous defeat at Pharsalia. It is decided that a dead man must be called back to life, and Erichtho goes out to where a recent skirmish has taken place, and chooses the body of a man whose throat had been cut, which was lying there unburied. She drags it back to her cave, and fills its breast with warm blood. She has chosen a man recently dead, because his words are more likely to be clear and distinct, which might not be the case with one long accustomed to the world below. She then washes it, uses various magic herbs and potions, and prays to the gods of the lower world. At last she sees the shade of the man, whose lifeless body lies stretched before her, standing close by and gazing upon the limbs it had left and the hated bonds of its former prison. Furious at the delay and the slow working of her spells, she seizes a live serpent and lashes the corpse with it. Even the last boon of death, the power of dying, is denied the poor wretch. Slowly the life returns to the body, and Erichtho promises that if the man speaks the truth she will bury him so effectually that no spells will ever be able to call him back to life again. He is weak and faint, like a dying man, but finally tells her all she wishes to know, and dies once again. She fulfills her promise and burns the body, using every kind of magic spell to make it impossible for anyone to trouble the shade again. Indeed, it seems to have been unusual to summon a shade from the lower world more than once, except in the case of very famous persons. This kind of magic was nearly always carried on at night. Statius [“Theb.”, 4. 405] has also given us a long and characteristically elaborate account of the calling up of the shade of Laius by Eteocles and Tiresias.

Apuleius, [“Met.”, ii. 28] in his truly astounding account of Thessaly in his day, gives a detailed description of the process of calling back a corpse to life. “The prophet then took a certain herb and laid it thrice upon the mouth of the dead man, placing another upon the breast. Then, turning himself to the east with a silent prayer for the help of the holy sun, he drew the attention of the audience to the great miracle he was performing. Gradually the breast of the corpse began to swell in the act of breathing, the arteries to pulsate, and the body to be filled with life. Finally the dead man sat up and asked why he had been brought back to life and not left in peace.”

One is reminded of the dead man being carried out to burial who meets Dionysus in Hades, in Aristophanes’ “Frogs”, and expresses the wish that he may be struck alive again if he does what is requested of him. If ghosts are often represented as “all loath to leave the body that they love,” they are generally quite as loath to return to it, when once they have left it, though whether it is the process of returning or the continuance of a life which they have left that is distasteful to them is not very clear. The painfulness of the process of restoration to life after drowning seems to favour the former explanation.

These cases of resurrection are, of course, quite different from ordinary necromancy–the summoning of the shade of a dead man from the world below, in order to ask its advice with the help of a professional diviner. As religious faith decayed and the superstitions of the East and the belief in magic gained ground, necromancy became more and more common. Even Cicero charges Vatinius [“In Vat.” 6] with evoking the souls of the dead, and with being in the habit of sacrificing the entrails of boys to the Manes. Tacitus mentions a young man trying to raise the dead by means of incantations,[ “An.” ii. 28] while Pliny [“N.H.” 30. 5] speaks of necromancy as a recognized branch of magic, and Origen classes it among the crimes of the magicians in his own day.

After murdering his mother, Nero often declared that he was troubled by her spirit and by the lashes and blazing torches of the Furies.[ Suet. “Nero” 34] One would imagine that the similarity of his crime and his punishment to those of Orestes would have been singularly gratifying to a man of Nero’s theatrical temperament; yet we are informed that he often tried to call up her ghost and lay it with the help of magic rites. Nero, however, took particular pleasure in raising the spirits of the dead, according to the Elder Pliny [ “N.H.” 30. 5] who adds that not even the charms of his own singing and acting had greater attractions for him.

Caracalla, besides his bodily illnesses, was obviously insane and often troubled with delusions, imagining that he was being driven out by his father and also by his brother Geta, whom he had murdered in his mother’s arms, and that they pursued him with drawn swords in their hands. At last, as a desperate resource, he endeavoured to find a cure by means of necromancy, and called up, among others, the shade of his father, Septimius Severus, as well as that of Commodus. But they all refused to speak to him, with the exception of Commodus; and it was even rumoured that the shade of Severus was accompanied by that of the murdered Geta, though it had not been evoked by Caracalla. Nor had Commodus any comfort for him. He only terrified the suffering Emperor the more by his ominous words.[Dio Cassius, 77. 15]

Philostratus [“Apollon. Tyan.” 4. 16] has described for us a famous interview which Apollonius of Tyana maintained that he had had with the shade of Achilles. The philosopher related that it was not by digging a trench or by shedding the blood of rams, like Odysseus, that he raised the ghost of Achilles; but by prayers such as the Indians are said to make to their heroes. In his prayer to Achilles he said that, unlike most men, he did not believe that the great warrior was dead, any more than his master Pythagoras had done; and he begged him to show himself. Then there was a slight earthquake shock, and a beautiful youth stood before him, nine feet in height, wearing a Thessalian cloak. He did not look like a boaster, as some men had thought him, and his expression, if grim, was not unpleasant. No words could describe his beauty, which surpassed anything imaginable. Meanwhile he had grown to be twenty feet high, and his beauty increased in proportion. His hair he had never cut. Apollonius was allowed to ask him five questions, and accordingly asked for information on five of the most knotty points in the history of the Trojan War–whether Helen was really in Troy, why Homer never mentions Palamedes, etc. Achilles answered him fully and correctly in each instance. Then suddenly the cock crew, and, like Hamlet’s father, he vanished from Apollonius’s sight.



BY: Lacy Collison-Morley

CONTRIBUTOR: Cade Pomeraan

The Soul after death: Greco-Roman



Though there is no period at which the ancients do not seem to have believed in a future life, continual confusion prevails when they come to picture the existence led by man in the other world, as we see from the sixth book of the “Æneid”. Combined with the elaborate mythology of Greece, we are confronted with the primitive belief of Italy, and doubtless of Greece to–a belief supported by all the religious rites in connection with the dead–that the spirits of the departed lived on in the tomb with the body. As cremation gradually superseded burial, the idea took shape that the soul might have an existence of its own, altogether independent of the body, and a place of abode was assigned to it in a hole in the center of the earth, where it lived on in eternity with other souls.

This latter view seems to have become the official theory, at least in Italy, in classical days. In the gloomy, horrible Etruscan religion, the shades were supposed to be in charge of the Conductor of the Dead—a repulsive figure, always represented with wings and long, matted hair and a hammer, whose appearance was afterwards imitated in the dress of the man who removed the dead from the arena. Surely something may be said for Gaston Boissier’s suggestion that Dante’s Tuscan blood may account to some extent for the gruesome imagery of the “Inferno”.

Cicero [Tusc. Disp._ i. 16.] tells us that it was generally believed that the dead lived on beneath the earth, and special provision was made for them in every Latin town in the “mundus,” a deep trench which was dug before the “pomerium” was traced, and regarded as the particular entrance to the lower world for the dead of the town in question. The trench was vaulted over, so that it might correspond more or less with the sky, a gap being left in the vault which was closed with the stone of the departed—the “lapis manalis.” Corn was thrown into the trench, which was filled up with earth, and an altar erected over it. On three solemn days in the year–August 25, October 5, and November 8–the trench was opened and the stone removed, the dead thus once more having free access to the world above, where the usual offerings were made to them.[ Ov., “Fast.”, iv. 821; Fowler, “Roman Festivals”, p. 211]

These provisions clearly show an official belief that death did not create an impassable barrier between the dead and the living. The spirits of the departed still belonged to the city of their birth, and took an interest in their old home. They could even return to it on the days when “the trench of the gods of gloom lays open and the very jaws of hell yawn wide.”[Macrob., “Sat.”, i. 16.] Their rights must be respected, if evil was to be averted from the State. In fact, the dead were gods with altars of their own,[Cic., “De Leg.”, ii. 22.] and Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi, could write to her sons, “You will make offerings to me and invoke your parent as a god.”[“Deum parentem” (Corn. Nep., “Fragm.”, 12).] Their cult was closely connected with that of the Lares—the gods of the hearth, which symbolized a fixed abode in contrast with the early nomad life. Indeed, there is practically no distinction between the Lares and the Manes, the souls of the good dead. But the dead had their own festival, the “Dies Parentales,” held from the 13th to the 21st of February, in Rome; and in Greece the “Genesia,” celebrated on the 5th of Boedromion, towards the end of September, about which we know very little.[Rohde, “Psyche”, p. 216. Cp. Herod., iv. 26]

There is nothing more characteristic of paganism than the passionate longing of the average man to perpetuate his memory after death in the world round which all his hopes and aspirations clung. Cicero uses it as an argument for immortality.

Many men left large sums to found colleges to celebrate their memories and feast at their tombs on stated occasions.[ Dill, “Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius”, p. 259] Lucian laughs at this custom when he represents the soul of the ordinary man in the next world as a mere bodiless shade that vanishes at a touch like smoke. It subsists on the libations and offerings it receives from the living, and those who have no friends or relatives on earth are starving and famished. Violators of tombs were threatened with the curse of dying the last of their race–a curse which Macaulay, with his intense family affection, considered the most awful that could be devised by man; and the fact that the tombs were built by the high road, so that the dead might be cheered by the greeting of the passer-by, lends an additional touch of sadness to a walk among the crumbling ruins that line the Latin or the Appian Way outside Rome to-day.

No one of the moderns has caught the pagan feeling towards death better than Giosue Carducci, a true spiritual descendant of the great Romans of old, if ever there was one. He tells how, one glorious June day, he was sitting in school, listening to the priest outraging the verb “amo,” when his eyes wandered to the window and lighted on a cherry-tree, red with fruit, and then strayed away to the hills and the sky and the distant curve of the sea-shore. All Nature was teeming with life, and he felt an answering thrill, when suddenly, as if from the very fountains of being within him, there welled up a consciousness of death, and with it the formless nothing, and a vision of himself lying cold, motionless, dumb in the black earth, while above him the birds sang, the trees rustled in the wind, the rivers ran on in their course, and the living reveled in the warm sun, bathed in its divine light. This first vision of death often haunted him in later years; [Carducci, “Rimembranze di Scuola,” in “Rime Nuove”] and one realizes that such must often have been the feelings of the Romans, and still more often of the Greeks, for the joy of the Greek in life was far greater than that of the Roman. Peace was the only boon that death could bring to a pagan, and “Pax tecum aeterna” is among the commonest of the inscriptions. The life beyond the grave was at best an unreal and joyless copy of an earthly existence, and Achilles told Odysseus that he would rather be the serf of a poor man upon earth than Achilles among the shades.

When we come to inquire into the appearance of ghosts revisiting the glimpses of the moon, we find, as we should expect, that they are a vague, unsubstantial copy of their former selves on earth. In Homer the shade of Patroclus, which visited Achilles in a vision as he slept by the sea-shore, looks exactly as Patroclus had looked on earth, even down to the clothes. Hadrian’s famous “animula vagula blandula” gives the same idea, and it would be difficult to imagine a disembodied spirit which retains its personality and returns to earth again except as a kind of immaterial likeness of its earthly self. We often hear of the extreme pallor of ghosts, which was doubtless due to their being bloodless and to the pallor of death itself. Propertius conceived of them as skeletons; but the unsubstantial, shadowy aspect is by far the commonest, and best harmonizes with the life they were supposed to lead.

Hitherto we have been dealing with the spirits of the dead who have been duly buried and are at rest, making their appearance among men only at stated intervals, regulated by the religion of the State. The lot of the dead who have not been vouchsafed the trifling boon of a handful of earth cast upon their bones was very different. They had not yet been admitted to the world below, and were forced to wander for a hundred years before they might enter Charon’s boat. Æneas beheld them on the banks of the Styx, stretching out their hands “ripae ulterioris amore.”

The shade of Patroclus describes its hapless state to Achilles, as does that of Elpenor to Odysseus, when they meet in the lower world. It is not surprising that the ancients attached the highest importance to the duty of burying the dead, and that Pausanias blames Lysander for not burying the bodies of Philocles and the four thousand slain at Ægospotami, seeing that the Athenians even buried the Persian dead after Marathon.

The spirits of the unburied were usually held to be bound, more or less, to the spot where their bodies lay, and to be able to enter into communication with the living with comparative ease, even if they did not actually haunt them. They were, in fact, evil spirits which had to be propitiated and honoured in special rites. Their appearances among the living were not regulated by religion. They wandered at will over the earth, belonging neither to this world nor to the next, restless and malignant, unable to escape from the trammels of mortal life, in the joys of which they had no part. Thus, in the “Phaedo” we read of souls “prowling about tombs and sepulchers, near which, as they tell us, are seen certain ghostly apparitions of souls which have not departed pure … These must be the souls, not of the good, but of the evil, which are compelled to wander about such places in payment of the penalty of their former evil way of life.”

Apuleius[“De Genio Socratis”, 15] classifies the spirits of the departed for us. The Manes are the good people, not to be feared so long as their rites are duly performed, as we have already seen; Lemures are disembodied spirits; while Larvae are the ghosts that haunt houses. Apuleius, however, is wholly uncritical, and the distinction between Larvae and Lemures is certainly not borne out by facts.

The Larvae had distinct attributes, and were thought to cause epilepsy or madness. They were generally treated more or less as a joke,[Cp. Plautus, “Cas.”, iii. 4. 2; “Amphitr.”, ii. 2. 145; “Rudens”, v. 3. 67, etc.; and the use of the word “larvatus.”] and are spoken of much as we speak of a bogey. They appear to have been entrusted with the torturing of the dead, as we see from the saying, “Only the Larvae war with the dead.”[ Pliny, N.H., 1, Proef. 31: “Cum mortuis non nisi  Larvas luctari.”] In Seneca’s “Apocolocyntosis”, [Seneca, _Apocol._, 9. At the risk of irrelevance, I cannot refrain from pointing out the enduring nature of proverbs as exemplified in this section. Hercules grows more and more anxious at the turn the debate is taking, and hastens from one god to another, saying: “Don’t grudge me this favour; the case concerns me closely. I shan’t forget you when the time comes. One good turn deserves another” (Manus manum lavat). This is exactly the Neapolitan proverb, “One hand washes the other, and both together wash the face.” “Una mano lava l’altra e tutt’e due si lavano la faccia,” is more or less the modern version. In chapter vii. we have also “gallum in suo sterquilino plurimum posse,” which corresponds to our own, “Every cock crows best on its own dunghill.”] when the question of the deification of the late Emperor Claudius is laid before a meeting of the gods, Father Janus gives it as his opinion that no more mortals should be treated in this way, and that “anyone who, contrary to this decree, shall hereafter be made, addressed, or painted as a god, should be delivered over to the Larvae” and flogged at the next games.

Larva also means a skeleton, and Trimalchio, following the Egyptian custom, has one brought in and placed on the table during his famous feast. It is, as one would expect, of silver, and the millionaire freedman points the usual moral–“Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow we die.”

The Larvae were regular characters in the Atellane farces at Rome, where they performed various “danses macabres.” Can these possibly be the prototypes of the Dances of Death so popular in the Middle Ages? We find something very similar on the well-known silver cups discovered at Bosco Reale, though Death itself does not seem to have been represented in this way. Some of the designs in the medieval series would certainly have appealed to the average bourgeois Roman of the Trimalchio type–e.g., “Les Trois Vifs et les Trois Morts,” the three men riding gaily out hunting and meeting their own skeletons. Such crude contrasts are just what one would expect to find at Pompeii.

Lemures and Larvae are often confused, but Lemures is the regular word for the dead not at rest–the “Lemuri,” or spirits of the churchyard, of some parts of modern Italy. They were evil spirits, propitiated in early days with blood. Hence the first gladiatorial games were given in connection with funerals. Both in Greece and in Rome there were special festivals for appeasing these restless spirits. Originally they were of a public character, for murder was common in primitive times, and such spirits would be numerous, as is proved by the festival lasting three days.

In Athens the Nemesia were held during Anthesterion (February-March). As in Rome, the days were unlucky. Temples were closed and business was suspended, for the dead were abroad. In the morning the doors were smeared with pitch, and those in the house chewed whitethorn to keep off the evil spirits. On the last day of the festival offerings were made to Hermes, and the dead were formally bidden to depart.[Greek: thhyraze, keres, oukhet Anthesteria.] Cp. Rohde,”Psyche”, 217]

Ovid describes the Lemuria or Lemuralia. They took place in May, which was consequently regarded as an unlucky month for marriages, and is still so regarded almost as universally in England to-day as it was in Rome during the principate of Augustus. The name of the festival Ovid derives from Remus, as the ghost of his murdered brother was said to have appeared to Romulus in his sleep and to have demanded burial. Hence the institution of the Lemuria.

The head of the family walked through the house with bare feet at dead of night, making the mystic sign with his first and fourth fingers extended, the other fingers being turned inwards and the thumb crossed over them, in case he might run against an unsubstantial spirit as he moved noiselessly along. This is the sign of “le corna,” held to be infallible against the Evil Eye in modern Italy. After solemnly washing his hands, he places black beans in his mouth, and throws others over his shoulders, saying, “With these beans do I redeem me and mine.” He repeats this ceremony nine times without looking round, and the spirits are thought to follow unseen and pick up the beans. Then he purifies himself once more and clashes brass, and bids the demons leave his house. When he has repeated nine times “Manes exite paterni,” he looks round, and the ceremony is over, and the restless ghosts have been duly laid for a year. Lamiae haunted rooms, which had to be fumigated with sulphur, while some mystic rites were performed with eggs before they could be expelled.

The dead not yet at rest were divided into three classes–those who had died before their time, the [Greek: aoroi], who had to wander till the span of their natural life was completed; those who had met with violent deaths, the [Greek: biaiothanatoi]; and the unburied, the [Greek: ataphoi]. In the Hymn to Hecate, to whom they were especially attached, they are represented as following in her train and taking part in her nightly revels in human shape. The lot of the murdered is no better, and executed criminals belong to the same class.

Spirits of this kind were supposed to haunt the place where their bodies lay. Hence they were regarded as demons, and were frequently entrusted with the carrying out of the strange curses, which have been found in their tombs, or in wells where a man had been drowned, or even in the sea, written on leaden tablets, often from right to left, or in queer characters, so as to be illegible, with another tablet fastened over them by means of a nail, symbolizing the binding effect it was hoped they would have–the “Defixiones,” to give them their Latin name, which are very numerous among the inscriptions. So real was the belief in these curses that the elder Pliny says that everyone is afraid of being placed under evil spells; and they are frequently referred to in antiquity.



BY: Lacy Collison-Morley

CONTRIBUTOR: Cade Pomeraan

Fairies of Caragonan (Welsh)


Once upon a time a lot of fairies lived in Mona. One day the queen fairy’s daughter, who was now fifteen years of age, told her mother she wished to go out and see the world. The queen consented, allowing her to go for a day, and to change from a fairy to a bird, or from a bird to a fairy, as she wished.

When she returned one night she said: “I’ve been to a gentleman’s house, and as I stood listening, I heard the gentleman was witched: he was very ill, and crying out with pain.” “Oh, I must look into that,” said the queen.

So the next day she went through her process and found that he was bewitched by an old witch. So the following day she set out with six other fairies, and when they came to the gentleman’s house she found he was very ill. Going into the room, bearing a small blue pot they had brought with them, the queen asked him: “Would you like to be cured?” “Oh, bless you; yes, indeed.”

Whereupon the queen put the little blue pot of perfume on the center of the table, and lit it, when the room was instantly filled with the most delicious odour. Whilst the perfume was burning, the six fairies formed in line behind her, and she leading, they walked round the table three times, chanting in chorus:  “Round and round three times three, We have come to cure thee.”

At the end of the third round she touched the burning perfume with her wand, and then touched the gentleman on the head, saying: “Be thou made whole.” No sooner had she said the words than he jumped up hale and hearty, and said: “Oh, dear queen, what shall I do for you? I’ll do anything you wish.”

“Money I do not wish for,” said the queen, “but there’s a little plot of ground on the sea-cliff I want you to lend me, for I wish to make a ring there, and the grass will die when I make the ring. Then I want you to build three walls round the ring, but leave the sea-side open, so that we may be able to come and go easily.” “With the greatest of pleasure,” said the gentleman; and he built the three stone walls at once, at the spot indicated.

Near the gentleman lived the old witch, and she had the power of turning at will into a hare. The gentleman was a great hare hunter, but the hounds could never catch this hare; it always disappeared in a mill, running between the wings and jumping in at an open window, though they stationed two men and a dog at the spot, when it immediately turned into the old witch. And the old miller never suspected, for the old woman used to take him a peck of corn to grind a few days before any hunt, telling him she would call for it on the afternoon of the day of the hunt. So that when she arrived she was expected.

One day she had been taunting the gentleman as he returned from a hunt, that he could never catch the hare, and he struck her with his whip, saying “Get away, you witchcraft!” Whereupon she witched him, and he fell ill, and was cured as we have seen.

When he got well he watched the old witch, and saw she often visited the house of an old miser who lived nearby with his beautiful niece. Now all the people in the village touched their hats most respectfully to this old miser, for they knew he had dealings with the witch, and they were as much afraid of him as of her; but everyone loved the miser’s kind and beautiful niece.

When the fairies got home the queen told her daughter: “I have no power over the old witch for twelve months from to-day, and then I have no power over her life. She must lose that by the arm of a man.”

So the next day the daughter was sent out again to see whether she could find a person suited to that purpose. In the village lived a small crofter, who was afraid of nothing; he was the boldest man thereabouts; and one day he passed the miser without saluting him. The old fellow went off at once and told the witch.

“Oh, I’ll settle his cows to-night!” said she, and they were taken sick, and gave no milk that night. The fairy’s daughter arrived at his croft-yard after the cows were taken ill, and she heard him say to his son, a bright lad: “It must be the old witch!” When she heard this, she sent him to the queen.

So next day the fairy queen took six fairies and went to the croft, taking her blue pot of perfume. When she got there she asked the crofter if he would like his cows cured? “God bless you, yes!” he said. The queen made him bring a round table into the yard, whereon she placed the blue pot of perfume, and having lit it, as before, they formed in line and walked round thrice, chanting the words: “Round and round three times three, we have come to cure thee.” Then she dipped the end of her wand into the perfume, and touched the cows on the forehead, saying to each one: “Be thou whole.” Whereupon they jumped up cured.

The little farmer was overjoyed, and cried: “Oh, what can I do for you? What can I do for you?” “Money I care not for,” said the queen, “all I want is your son to avenge you and me.” The lad jumped up and said: “What I can do I’ll do it for you, my lady fairy.” She told him to be at the walled plot the following day at noon, and left.

The next day at noon, the queen and her daughter and three hundred other fairies came up the cliff to the green grass plot, and they carried a pole, and a tape, and a mirror. When they reached the plot they planted the pole in the ground, and hung the mirror on the pole. The queen took the tape, which measured ten yards and was fastened to the top of the pole, and walked round in a circle, and wherever she set her feet the grass withered and died. Then the fairies followed up behind the queen, and each fairy carried a harebell in her left-hand, and a little blue cup of burning perfume in her right. When they had formed up the queen called the lad to her side, and told him to walk by her throughout. They then started off, all singing in chorus: “Round and round three times three, tell me what you see.”

When they finished the first round, the queen and lad stopped before the mirror, and she asked the lad what he saw?  “I see, I see, the mirror tells me, It is the witch that I see,” said the lad. So they marched round again, singing the same words as before, and when they stopped a second time before the mirror the queen again asked him what he saw?  “I see, I see, the mirror tells me, It is a hare that I see,” said the lad.

A third time the ceremony and question were repeated. “I see, I see, the mirror tells me, The hares run up the hill to the mill.” “Now”, said the queen, “there is to be a hare-hunting this day week; be at the mill at noon, and I will meet you there.” And then the fairies, pole, mirror, and all, vanished and only the empty ring on the green was left.

Upon the appointed day the lad went to his tryst, and at noon the Fairy Queen appeared, and gave him a sling, and a smooth pebble from the beach, saying: “I have blessed your arms, and I have blessed the sling and the stone.

  “Now as the clock strikes three, go up the hill near the mill, and in the ring stand still till you hear the click of the mill. Then with thy arm, with power and might, You shall strike and smite the devil of a witch called Jezabel light, and you shall see an awful sight.”

The lad did as he was bidden, and presently he heard the huntsman’s horn and the hue and cry, and saw the hare running down the opposite hill-side, where the hounds seemed to gain on her, but as she breasted the hill on which he stood she gained on them. As she came towards the mill he threw his stone, and it lodged in her skull, and when he ran up he found he had killed the old witch. As the huntsmen came up they crowded round him, and praised him; and then they fastened the witch’s body to a horse by ropes, and dragged her to the bottom of the valley, where they buried her in a ditch. That night, when the miser heard of her death, he dropped down dead on the spot. As the lad was going home the queen appeared to him, and told him to be at the ring the following day at noon.

 Next day all the fairies came with the pole and mirror, each carrying a harebell in her left-hand, and a blue cup of burning perfume in her right, and they formed up as before, the lad walking beside the queen. They marched round and repeated the old words, when the queen stopped before the mirror, and said: “What do you see?” “I see, I see, the mirror tells me, It is an old plate-cupboard that I see.”

A second time they went round, and the question, was repeated.  “I see, I see, the mirror tells me, the back is turned to me.”

A third time was the ceremony fulfilled, and the lad answered “I see, I see, the mirror tells me, a spring-door is open to me.” “Buy that plate-cupboard at the miser’s sale,” said the queen, and she and her companions disappeared as before.

Upon the day of the sale all the things were brought out in the road and the plate-cupboard was put up, the lad recognizing it and bidding up for it till it was sold to him. When he had paid for it he took it home in a cart, and when he got in and examined it, he found the secret drawer behind was full of gold. The following week the house and land, thirty acres, was put up for sale, and the lad bought both, and married the miser’s niece, and they lived happily till they died.


Title: Welsh Fairy-Tales And Other Stories (1894) (A Collection)

Author: Edited by P. H. Emerson

CONTRIBUTOR: Jenny Dunnaway

Lohengrin and Elsa The Beautiful (Germanic)



The young Duchess of Brabant, Elsa the Beautiful, had gone into the woods hunting, and becoming separated from her attendants, sat down to rest under a wide-branching linden-tree.

She was sorely troubled, for many lords and princes were asking for her hand in marriage. More urgent than all the others was the invincible hero, Count Telramund, her former guardian, who since the death of her father had ruled over the land with masterly hand. Now the duke, her father, on his death-bed had promised Telramund that he might have Elsa for wife, should she be willing; and Telramund was continually reminding her of this. But Elsa blushed with shame at the mere thought of such a union, for Telramund was a rough warrior, as much hated for his cruelty as he was feared for his strength. To make matters worse he was now at the court of the chosen King Henry of Saxony, threatening her with war and even worse calamities.

In the shade of the linden Elsa thought of all this, and pitied her own loneliness in that no brother or friend stood at her side to help her. Then the sweet singing of birds seemed to comfort her, and she dropped into a gentle sleep. As she dreamed it seemed to her that a young knight stepped out of the depths of the forest. Holding up a small silver bell, he spoke in friendly tones: “If you should need my help, just ring this.”

Elsa tried to take the trinket, but she could neither rise nor reach the outstretched hand. Then she awoke. Thinking over the apparition Elsa noted a falcon circling over her head. It came nearer and finally settled on her shoulder. Around his neck hung a bell exactly like that she had seen in the dream. She loosened it, and as she did so the bird rose and flew away. But she still held the little bell in her hand, and in her soul was fresh hope and peace.

When she returned to the castle she found there a message, bidding her appear before the king in Cologne on the Rhine. Filled with confidence in the protection of higher powers, she did not hesitate to obey. In gorgeous costume, with many followers, she set out.

King Henry was a man who loved justice and exercised it, but his kingdom was in constant danger from inroads by wild Huns, and for this reason he wished to do whatever would win the favor of the powerful Count Telramund. When, however, he saw Elsa in all her beauty and innocence he hesitated in his purpose.

The plaintiff brought forward three men who testified that the duchess had entered into a secret union with one of her vassals. Only two of these men were shown to be perfidious; the testimony of the other seemed valid, though this was not enough to condemn her. Then Telramund seized his sword, crying out that God Himself should be the judge, and that a duel should decide the matter. So a duel was arranged to take place three days later.

Elsa cast her eyes around the circle of nobles, but saw no one grasp his sword in defense of her innocence. Fear of the mighty warrior Telramund filled them all. Remembering the little bell, she drew it forth from her pocket and rang it. The clear tones broke the stillness, grew louder and louder until they reached even the distant mountains. “My champion will appear in the contest,” she said; whereupon the count let forth such a mocking laugh that the hearts of all were filled with intense fear.

The day of the contest was at hand. The king sat on his high throne and watched the majestic river that sent its mighty waters through the valley. Princes and brave knights were gathered together. Before them stood Telramund, clad in armor, and at his side the accused Elsa, adorned with every grace that Nature can bestow.

Three times the mighty hero challenged someone to come forward as a champion for the accused girl, but no one stirred. Then arose from the Rhine the sound of sweet music; something silvery gleamed in the distance, and as it came nearer it was plain that it was a swan with silver feathers. With a silver chain he was pulling a small ship, in which lay sleeping a knight clad in bright armor. When the bark landed, the knight awoke, rose, and blew three times on a golden horn. This was the signal that he took up the challenge. Quickly he strode into the lists.

“Your name and descent?” cried the herald. “My name is Lohengrin,” answered the stranger, “my origin royal: more it is not necessary to tell.”

“Enough,” broke in the king, “nobility is written on your brow.” Trumpets gave the signal for the fight to begin. Telramund’s strokes fell thick as hail, but suddenly the stranger knight rose and with one fearful stroke split the count’s helmet and cut his head. “God has decided,” cried the king. “His judgment is right; but you, noble knight, will help us in the campaign against the barbarian hordes and will be the leader of the detachment which the fair duchess will send from Brabant.”

Gladly Lohengrin consented, and amid cries of delight from the assembled people he rode over to Elsa, who greeted him as her deliverer. Lohengrin escorted Elsa back to Brabant, and on the way love awoke in their hearts, and they knew that they were destined for each other. In the castle of Antwerp they were pledged, and a few weeks later the marriage took place. As the bridal couple was leaving the cathedral, Lohengrin said to Elsa: “One thing I must ask of you, and that is that you never inquire concerning my origin, for in the hour that you put that question must I surely part from you.”

It was not long after the ceremony that the cry to arms came from King Henry, and Elsa accompanied her husband and his troops to Cologne, where all the counts of the kingdom were assembled. Here there were many inquiries concerning Lohengrin, and when none seemed to know of his origin, some jealously claimed that he was the son of a heathen magician, and that he gained his victories by the power of black arts.

Elsa, who had heard rumors of these charges, was deeply grieved; for she knew the noble heart of her husband. He had even relieved her fears for his safety by the assurance that he was under the protection of powers higher than human. But she could not banish the evil rumors from her mind, and forgetting the warning her husband had given her on the day of her marriage, she dropped to her knees and asked him concerning his birth. “Dear wife,” he cried in great distress, “now will I tell to you and to the king and to all the assembled princes, what up to this time I have kept secret; but know that the time of our parting is at hand.”

Then the hero led his trembling wife before the king and his nobles who were assembled on the banks of the Rhine. “The son of Parsifal am I,” he said, “the son of Parsifal, the keeper of the Holy Grail. Gladly would I have helped you, O King, in your fight against the barbarians, but an unavoidable fate calls me away. You will, however, be victorious, and under your descendants will Germany become a powerful nation.”

When he finished speaking there was a deep silence, and then, as upon his arrival, there rose the sound of music–not joyful this time, but solemn, like a chant at the grave of the dead. It came nearer and again the swan and the boat appeared.

“Farewell, dear one,” Lohengrin cried, folding his wife in his arms. “Too dearly did I hold you and your pleasant land of earth; now a higher duty calls me.” Weeping, Elsa clung to him; but the swan song sounded louder, like a warning. He tore himself free and stepped into the boat. Was it the ship of death and destruction, or only the ship that carried the blessed to the sacred place of the Grail? No one knew.

Elsa, lonely and sad, did not live long after the separation. Her only hope was that she would be reunited to her dear husband; and she parted willingly with her own life, as other children of earth have done when they have lost all that they held most precious.



BY:  Logan Marshall (translated and edited) (From:Robert Hertwig)

CONTRIBUTOR: Jenny Dunnaway

The Great Knight Siegfried (Germanic)


Once upon a time there lived in the Netherlands, in Xante, a wonderful castle on the river Rhine, a mighty king and queen. Siegmund and Sieglinde were their names, and far and wide were they known. Yet their son, the glorious hero Siegfried, was still more widely celebrated. Even as a boy he performed so many daring feats that his bravery was talked of in all German lands.

The two most remarkable of these feats were the slaying of a frightful monster known as the “Dragon of the Linden-tree” and the capture of the rich treasure of the Nibelungs. The hoard was an ancient one and had this wonderful property–that no matter how much was taken from it the quantity was never less.

All this happened before Siegfried reached the age of manhood. When it was time for the youth to be knighted, King Siegmund sent invitations far and wide throughout the country, and a great celebration took place. Siegfried was solemnly girded with a sword and permitted to take his place among the warriors of the kingdom. Then there was a great tournament, a wonderful occasion for Siegfried, who came off victor in every encounter, although many tried warriors matched their skill against his. Altogether the festivities lasted seven whole days.

After the guests had departed, Siegfried asked permission of his parents to travel into Burgundy to seek as bride for him-self Kriemhild, the maiden of whose great beauty and loveliness he had heard. Gunther, the king of Burgundy, recognizing the young hero, went out to meet him and politely inquired the cause of his visit. Imagine his dismay when Siegfried proposed a single combat, in which the victor might claim the land and allegiance of the vanquished. Neither Gunther nor any of his knights would accept the challenge; but Gunther and his brother hastened forward with proffers of unbounded hospitality. Siegfried lingered a year in Gunther’s palace, and though he never caught a glimpse of the fair maid Kriemhild, she often admired his strength and manly beauty from behind the palace windows.

One day a herald arrived from King Ludeger of Saxony and King Ludegast of Denmark, announcing an invasion. Gunther was dismayed; but the brave Siegfried came to the rescue, saying that if Gunther would give him only one thousand brave men he would repel the enemy. This was done and the little army marched into Saxony and routed the twenty thousand valiant soldiers of the enemy’s force. All the men did brave work, but Siegfried was the bravest of them all.

When the hero returned, a great celebration was held in his honor, and Kriemhild, Ute and all the ladies of the court were invited to be present at the tournament. It was there that Siegfried first saw the fair maiden. Her beauty was more wonderful than he had ever been able to imagine. What was his delight, then, to learn that he had been appointed her escort? On the way to the tournament Kriemhild murmured her thanks for the good work Siegfried had done for her, and Siegfried vowed that he would always serve her brothers because of his great love for her.

Soon after the tournament Gunther announced his intention of winning for his wife, Brunhild, the princess of Issland, who had vowed to marry no man but the one who could surpass her in jumping, throwing a stone and casting a spear. Gunther proposed that Siegfried go with him, promising him, in return for his services, the hand of Kriemhild. Such an offer was not to be despised, and Siegfried immediately consented, advising Gunther to take only Hagen and Dankwart with him.

Gunther and the three knights set out in a small vessel. Siegfried bade his companions represent him as Gunther’s vassal only; but Brunhild, seeing his giant figure and guessing its strength, imagined that he had come to woo her. She was dismayed, therefore, when she heard that he had held the stirrup for Gunther to dismount. When he entered her hall, she advanced to meet him; but he drew aside, saying that honor was due to his master Gunther.

Brunhild ordered preparations for the evening contest, and Gunther, Hagen and Dankwart trembled when they saw four men staggering under the weight of Brunhild’s shield and three more staggering under the weight of her spear. Siegfried, meantime, had donned his magic cloud cloak and bade Gunther rely upon his aid.

The combat opened. Brunhild poised her spear and flung it with such force that both heroes staggered; but before she could cry out her victory Siegfried had caught the spear and flung it back with such violence that the princess fell and was obliged to acknowledge defeat.

Undaunted, she caught up a huge stone, flung it far into the distance, and then leaping, alighted beside it. No sooner had she done this than Siegfried seized the stone, flung it still farther, and lifting Gunther by his broad girdle bounded through the air with him and alighted beyond the stone. Then Brunhild knew that she had found her master. “Come hither all my kinsmen and followers,” she said, “and acknowledge my superior. I am no longer your mistress. Gunther is your lord.”

The wedding was fitly celebrated and then Gunther and his bride were escorted back to Issland by a thousand Nibelung warriors whom Siegfried had gathered for the purpose. A great banquet was given upon their return, at which the impatient Siegfried ventured to remind Gunther of his promise. Brunhild protested that Gunther should not give his only sister to a menial, but Gunther gave his consent and the marriage took place immediately. The two bridal couples then sat side by side. Kriemhild’s face was very happy; Brunhild’s was dark and frowning.

You see, Brunhild was not pleased with the husband she had gained and preferred Siegfried. Alone with her husband the first night she bound him with her girdle and suspended him from a corner of her apartment. There she let him hang till morning. Released, Gunther sought out Siegfried and told him of the disgraceful affair.

The following evening Siegfried again donned his cloud cloak and entered the apartments of Gunther and Brunhild. As he entered he blew out the lights, caught Brunhild’s hands and wrestled with her until she pleaded for mercy. “Great king, forbear,” she said. “I will henceforth be thy dutiful wife. I will do nothing to anger thee. Thou art my lord and master.”

Having accomplished his purpose, Siegfried left the room, but first he took Brunhild’s girdle and her ring. These he carried with him when after the festivities he and Kriemhild returned to Xante on the Rhine.

Siegmund and Sieglinde abdicated in favor of their son, and for ten years Siegfried and Kriemhild reigned happily. Then they were invited to pay a visit to Gunther and Brunhild. They accepted, leaving their little son Gunther in the care of the Nibelungs.

Brunhild received Kriemhild graciously, but at heart she was jealous and wanted Kriemhild to acknowledge her as superior. One day they had a hot dispute, Kriemhild declaring that her husband was without peer in the world, and Brunhild retorting that since he was Gunther’s vassal he must be his inferior. Kriemhild made an angry avowal that she would publicly assert her rank.

Both queens parted in a rage and proceeded to attire themselves in the most gorgeous costumes they possessed. Accompanied by their ladies-in-waiting they met at the church door. Brunhild bade Kriemhild stand aside while she entered, and Kriemhild would not. A storm of words followed. Finally Kriemhild insulted the other queen by declaring that Brunhild was not a faithful wife. “You loved Siegfried better than Gunther,” she declared. “Here are your girdle and ring which my husband gave to me.” So saying, she displayed the girdle and ring which Siegfried had unwisely given her when he confided to her the story of Gunther’s wooing.

Brunhild summoned Gunther to defend her, and he sent for Siegfried. The latter publicly swore that his wife had not told the truth and that Brunhild had never loved him or he her. “This quarrel is disgraceful,” he said. “I will teach my wife better manners for the future.” Gunther promised to do likewise. The guests departed, but Brunhild still smarted from the insult and longed for revenge. Hagen, finding her in tears, undertook to avenge her. He continually reminded Gunther of the insult his wife had received. The king at first paid no attention to the insinuations, but at last he consented to an assault on Siegfried.

He asked the great hero to help him in a war which he pretended his old enemy Ludeger was about to bring upon him. Siegfried consented, and Kriemhild, because she loved her husband very deeply, was much troubled. In her distress she confided to Hagen that Siegfried was invulnerable except in one spot, between the shoulder blades, where a lime leaf had rested and the dragon’s blood had not touched him. “Never fear,” said Hagen, “I myself will help to protect him. You sew a tiny cross on Siegfried’s doublet, just over the vulnerable spot, that I may be the better able to shield him.” Kriemhild promised to obey his instructions, and Hagen departed, well pleased, to carry the news to Gunther.

At last the day came for Siegfried to leave his queen. He talked to her and comforted her and kissed her rosy lips. “Dear heart,” he said, “why all these tears? I shall not be gone long.” But she was thinking of what she had told Hagen, and wept and wept and would not be comforted.

When Siegfried joined Gunther’s party he was surprised to learn that the rebellion had been quelled and that he was invited to join in a hunt instead of a fray. So he joined the hunting party. Now Siegfried was as great a hunter as he was a warrior, and while the noonday meal was being prepared he scoured the forest, slew several wild boars, caught a bear alive and in a spirit of mischief turned him loose among the guests. Then, tired and thirsty, he sat down, calling for a drink.

Not a bit of wine was at hand; it had all been carried to another part of the forest. Hagen pointed out a spring near by and Siegfried proposed a race, offering to run in full armor while the others ran without armor or weapons. In spite of the handicap, Siegfried reached the spring first. Always polite, Siegfried bade his host, Gunther, drink first, while he himself disarmed. Siegfried then stooped over the spring to drink, and as he stooped, Hagen, gliding behind him, drove his spear into his body at the exact spot where Kriemhild had embroidered the fatal mark.

Siegfried struggled to avenge himself, but found nothing but his shield within reach. This he flung with such force at his murderer that it knocked him down. Exhausted by the effort, the hero fell back upon the grass, cursing the treachery of Gunther and Hagen. Curses soon gave way to thoughts of Kriemhild, however, and overcoming his anger he recommended her to the care of her brother Gunther. Then the great hero died.

The hunting party agreed to carry the body back to Worms and say that they had found it in the forest. But Hagen, bolder than the rest, ordered the bearers to deposit the corpse at Kriemhild’s door, where she would see it when she went out for early mass the next morning. As he expected, Kriemhild discovered her dead lord and fell senseless upon him. Recovering, she cried out that he had been murdered: no foeman in a fair fight could have killed the glorious knight.

A great funeral took place and Siegfried’s body was laid in state in the cathedral at Worms. Thither many came to view it and to express their sympathy for the widow Kriemhild. The latter, suspecting treachery, refused to listen to Gunther until he promised that all of those present at the hunt should touch the body. “Blood will flow afresh at the murderer’s touch,” he said.

One by one the hunters advanced, and when Hagen touched the great warrior’s form, lo, the blood flowed again from his wounds. At this the Nibelung warriors wanted to avenge the dead, but Kriemhild would not permit them to interrupt the funeral. So the ceremonies were concluded and Siegfried’s body was laid to rest.



BY: Logan Marshall (translated and edited)

CONTRIBUTOR: Jenny Dunnaway



Long ago there ruled over the Danes a king called Hrothgar. He gained success and glory in war, so that his loyal kinsmen willingly obeyed him, and everything prospered in his land.

One day it came into his mind that he would build a princely banquet-hall, where he might entertain both the young and old of his kingdom; and he had the work widely made known to many a tribe over the earth, so that they might bring rich gifts to beautify the hall.

In course of time the banquet-house was built and towered aloft, high and battlemented. Then Hrothgar gave it the name of Heorot, and called his guests to the banquet, and gave them gifts of rings and other treasures; and afterwards every day the joyous sound of revelry rang loud in the hall, with the music of the harp and the clear notes of the singers.

But it was not long before the pleasure of the king’s men was broken, for a wicked demon began to work mischief against them. This cruel spirit was called Grendel, and he dwelt on the moors and among the fens. One night he came to Heorot when the noble guests lay at rest after the feast, and seizing thirty thanes as they slept, set off on his homeward journey, exulting in his booty.

At break of day his deed was known to all men, and great was the grief among the thanes. The good King Hrothgar also sat in sorrow, suffering heavy distress for the death of his warriors. Not long afterwards Grendel again appeared, and wrought a yet worse deed of murder. After that the warriors no longer dared to sleep at Heorot, but sought out secret resting-places, leaving the great house empty. 

A long time passed. For the space of twelve winters Grendel waged a perpetual feud against Hrothgar and his people; the livelong night he roamed over the misty moors, visiting Heorot, and destroying both the tried warriors and the young men whenever he was able. Hrothgar was broken-hearted, and many were the councils held in secret to deliberate what it were best to do against these fearful terrors; but nothing availed to stop the fiend’s ravages. 

Now the tale of Grendel’s deeds went forth into many lands; and amongst those who heard of it were the Geats, whose king was Higelac. Chief of his thanes was a noble and powerful warrior named Beowulf, who resolved to go to the help of the Danes. He bade his men make ready a good sea-boat that he might go across the wild swan’s path to seek out Hrothgar and aid him; and his people encouraged him to go on that dangerous errand even though he was dear to them. 

So Beowulf chose fourteen of his keenest warriors, and sailed away over the waves in his well-equipped vessel, till he came within sight of the cliffs and mountains of Hrothgar’s kingdom. The Danish warder, who kept guard over the coast, saw them as they were making their ship fast and carrying their bright weapons on shore. So he mounted his horse and rode to meet them, bearing in his hand his staff of office; and he questioned them closely as to whence they came and what their business was. 

Then Beowulf explained their errand, and the warder, when he had heard it, bade them pass onwards, bearing their weapons, and gave orders that their ship should be safely guarded. Soon they came within sight of the fair palace Heorot, and the warder showed them the way to Hrothgar’s court, and then bade them farewell, and returned to keep watch upon the coast. 

Then the bold thanes marched forward to Heorot, their armor and their weapons glittering as they went. Entering the hall, they set their shields and bucklers against the walls, placed their spears upright in a sheaf together, and sat down on the benches, weary with their seafaring. 

Then a proud liegeman of Hrothgar’s stepped forward and asked: “Whence bring ye your shields, your gray war-shirts and frowning helmets, and this sheaf of spears? Never saw I men of more valiant aspect.” 

“We are Higelac’s boon companions,” answered Beowulf. “Beowulf is my name, and I desire to declare my errand to the great prince, thy lord, if he will grant us leave to approach him.”

 So Wulfgar, another of Hrothgar’s chieftains, went out to the king where he sat with the assembly of his earls and told him of the arrival of the strangers, and Hrothgar received the news with joy, for he had known Beowulf when he was a boy, and had heard of his fame as a warrior. Therefore he bade Wulfgar bring him to his presence, and soon

Beowulf stood before him and cried: “Hail to thee, Hrothgar! I have heard the tale of Grendel, and my people, who know my strength and prowess, have counseled me to seek thee out. For I have wrought great deeds in the past, and now I shall do battle against this monster. Men say that so thick is his tawny hide that no weapon can injure him. I therefore disdain to carry sword or shield into the combat, but will fight with the strength of my arm only, and either I will conquer the fiend or he will bear away my dead body to the moor. Send to Higelac, if I fall in the fight, my beautiful breastplate. I have no fear of death, for Destiny must ever be obeyed.” 

Then Hrothgar told Beowulf of the great sorrow caused to him by Grendel’s terrible deeds, and of the failure of all the attempts that had been made by the warriors to overcome him; and afterwards he bade him sit down with his followers to partake of a meal. 

So a bench was cleared for the Geats, and a thane waited upon them, and all the noble warriors gathered together, and a great feast was held once more in Heorot with song and revelry. Waltheow, Hrothgar’s queen, came forth also, and handed the wine-cup to each of the thanes, pledging the king in joyful mood and thanking Beowulf for his offer of help. 

At last all the company arose to go to rest; and Hrothgar entrusted the guardianship of Heorot to Beowulf with cheering words, and so bade him good night. Then all left the hall, save only a watch appointed by Hrothgar, and Beowulf himself with his followers, who laid themselves down to rest. 

No long time passed before Grendel came prowling from his home on the moors under the misty slopes. Full of his evil purpose, he burst with fury into the hall and strode forward raging, a hideous, fiery light gleaming from his eyes. In the hall lay the warriors asleep, and Grendel laughed in his heart as he gazed at them, thinking to feast upon them all. Quickly he seized a sleeping warrior and devoured him; then, stepping forward, he reached out his hand towards Beowulf as he lay at rest. But the hero was ready for him, and seized his arm in a deadly grip such as Grendel had never felt before. Terror arose in the monster’s heart, and his mind was bent on flight; but he could not get away.

 Then Beowulf stood upright and grappled with him firmly, and the two rocked to and fro in the struggle, knocking over benches and shaking the hall with the violence of their fight. Suddenly a new and terrible cry arose, the cry of Grendel in fear and pain, for never once did Beowulf relax his hold upon him. Then many of Beowulf’s earls drew their swords and rushed to aid their master; but no blade could pierce him and nothing but Beowulf’s mighty strength could prevail. At last the monster’s arm was torn off at the shoulder, and sick unto death, he fled to the fens, there to end his joyless life. Then Beowulf rejoiced at his night’s work, wherein he had freed Heorot forever from the fiend’s ravages.

 Now on the morrow the warriors flocked to the hall; and when they heard what had taken place, they went out and followed Grendel’s tracks to a mere upon the moors, into which he had plunged and given up his life. Then, sure of his death, they returned rejoicing to Heorot, talking of Beowulf’s glorious deed; and there they found the king and queen and a great company of people awaiting them. And now there was great rejoicing and happiness. Fair and gracious were the thanks that Hrothgar gave to Beowulf, and great was the feast prepared in Heorot. Cloths embroidered with gold were hung along the walls and the hall was decked in every possible way.

 When all were seated at the feast, Hrothgar bade the attendants bring forth his gifts to Beowulf as a reward of victory. He gave him an embroidered banner, a helmet and breastplate, and a valuable sword, all adorned with gold and richly ornamented. Also he gave orders to the servants to bring into the court eight horses, on one of which was a curiously adorned and very precious saddle, which the king was wont to use himself when he rode to practice the sword-game. These also he gave to Beowulf, thus like a true man requiting his valiant deeds with horses and other precious gifts. He bestowed treasures also on each of Beowulf’s followers and gave orders that a price should be paid in gold for the man whom the wicked Grendel had slain.

 After this there arose within the hall the din of voices and the sound of song; the instruments also were brought out and Hrothgar’s minstrel sang a ballad for the delight of the warriors. Waltheow too came forth, bearing in her train presents for Beowulf–a cup, two armlets, raiment and rings, and the largest and richest collar that could be found in all the world.

 Now when evening came Hrothgar departed to his rest, and the warriors cleared the hall and lay down to sleep once more, with their shields and armor beside them as was their custom. But Beowulf was not with them, for another resting-place had been assigned to him that night, for all thought that there was now no longer any danger to be feared.

 But in this they were mistaken, as they soon learnt to their cost. For no sooner were they all asleep than Grendel’s mother, a monstrous witch who dwelt at the bottom of a cold mere, came to Heorot to avenge her son and burst into the hall. The thanes started up in terror, hastily grasping their swords; but she seized upon Asher, the most beloved of Hrothgar’s warriors, who still lay sleeping, and bore him off with her to the fens, carrying also with her Grendel’s arm, which lay at one end of the hall.

 Then there arose an uproar and the sound of mourning in Heorot. In fierce and gloomy mood Hrothgar summoned Beowulf and told him the ghastly tale, begging him, if he dared, to go forth to seek out the monster and destroy it.

 Full of courage, Beowulf answered with cheerful words, promising that Grendel’s mother should not escape him; and soon he was riding forth fully equipped on his quest, accompanied by Hrothgar and many a good warrior. They were able to follow the witch’s tracks right through the forest glades and across the gloomy moor, till they came to a spot where some mountain trees bent over a hoar rock, beneath which lay a dreary and troubled lake; and there beside the water’s edge lay the head of Asher, and they knew that the witch must be at the bottom of the water.

 Full of grief, the warriors sat down, while Beowulf arrayed himself in his cunningly fashioned coat of mail and his richly ornamented helmet. Then he turned to Hrothgar and spoke a last word to him. “If the fight go against me, great chieftain, be thou a guardian to my thanes, my kinsmen and my trusty comrades; and send thou to Higelac those treasures that thou gavest me, that he may know thy kindness to me. Now will I earn glory for myself, or death shall take me away.”

 So saying, he plunged into the gloomy lake, at the bottom of which was Grendel’s mother. Very soon she perceived his approach, and rushing forth, grappled with him and dragged him down to her den, where many horrible sea-beasts joined in the fight against him. This den was so fashioned that the water could not enter it, and it was lit by the light of a fire that shone brightly in the midst of it.

 And now Beowulf drew his sword and thrust at his terrible foe; but the weapon could not injure her, and he was forced to fling it away and trust in the powerful grip of his arms as he had done with Grendel. Seizing the witch, he shook her till she sank down on the ground; but she quickly rose again and requited him with a terrible hand-clutch, which caused Beowulf to stagger and then fall. Throwing herself upon him, she seized a dagger to strike him; but he wrenched himself free and once more stood upright.

 Then he suddenly perceived an ancient sword hanging upon the wall of the den, and seized it as a last resource. Fierce and savage, but well-nigh hopeless, he struck the monster heavily upon the neck with it. Then, to his joy, the blade pierced right through her body and she sank down dying.

 At that moment the flames of the fire leapt up, throwing a brilliant light over the den; and there against the wall Beowulf beheld the dead body of Grendel lying on a couch. With one swinging blow of the powerful sword he struck off his head as a trophy to carry to Hrothgar.

 But now a strange thing happened, for the blade of the sword began to melt away even as ice melts, and soon nothing was left of it save the hilt. Carrying this and Grendel’s head, Beowulf now left the den and swam upwards to the surface of the lake.

 There the thanes met him with great rejoicings, and some quickly helped him to undo his armor, while others prepared to carry the great head of Grendel back to Heorot. It took four men to carry it, and ghastly, though wonderful, was the sight of it.

 And now once more the warriors assembled in Heorot, and Beowulf recounted to Hrothgar the full tale of his adventure and presented to him the hilt of the wonderful sword. Again the king thanked him from the depth of his heart for his valiant deeds; and as before a fair feast was prepared and the warriors made merry till night came and they repaired to rest, certain this time of their safety.

 Now on the morrow Beowulf and his nobles made ready to depart to their own land; and when they were fully equipped they went to bid farewell to Hrothgar. Then Beowulf spoke, saying: “Now are we voyagers eager to return to our lord Higelac. We have been right well and heartily entertained, O king, and if there is aught further that I can ever do for thee, then I shall be ready for thy service. If ever I hear that thy neighbors are again persecuting thee, I will bring a thousand thanes to thy aid; and I know that Higelac will uphold me in this.” 

“Dear are thy words to me, O Beowulf,” Hrothgar made answer, “and great is thy wisdom. If Fate should take away the life of Higelac, the Geats could have no better king than thou; and hereafter there shall never more be feuds between the Danes and the Geats, for thou by thy great deeds hast made a lasting bond of friendship between them.” Then Hrothgar gave more gifts to Beowulf and bade him seek his beloved people and afterwards come back again to visit him, for so dearly had he grown to love him that he longed to see him again.

 So the two embraced and bade each other farewell with great affection, and then at last Beowulf went down to where his ship rode at anchor and sailed away with his followers to his own country, taking with him the many gifts that Hrothgar had made to him. And coming to Higelac’s court, he told him of his adventures, and having shown him the treasure, gave it all up to him, so loyal and true was he. But Higelac in return gave Beowulf a goodly sword and seven thousand pieces of gold and a manor-house, also a princely seat for him to dwell in. There Beowulf lived in peace, and not for many years was he called to fresh adventures.


TITLE: Stories from Old English Romance

BY: Joyce Pollard

CONTRIBUTOR: Jenny Dunnaway