Don’t Look Back

Dead things…dead things everywhere! It is that time of the year when the veil is thin and it is so much easier to walk back and forth between the worlds. Lately, on our walks through New Orleans, we have been finding many dead things.

bird

Found dead, Acadian Flycatcher, photo by my S.O.

The weather is finally cooling off here in New Orleans and Fall is upon us. My mother sent me this beautiful picture from her garden in Ohio.

spiderweb

Fate is weaving her web for the new year and it’s time to get ready for the winter.

This is of course the time of year when the Goddess is making her way to the Underworld and it’s hard not to think about Persephone and Inanna and all the other various Underworld Goddess tales we know. The Hades and Persephone myth is probably one of the most well known tales in any tradition or culture and at least here in the US, one that most of us find fairly early on. I grew up loving this story and it has been interesting for me over the years to see how my understanding of the tale changes over time and through aging.

I stumbled across this favorite tumblr meme recently and it always makes me laugh a little.

1

2

3

The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice is of course an excellent example Hades allowing a soul to leave. Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies and Orpheus, who loves his wife so much, goes to the Underworld to ask Hades to allow her to come back to life.

(You can find a beautiful reading of Virgil’s Orpheus and Eurydice in Latin here).

I’ve always disliked Orpheus. His inability to not follow Hades’ directions to not look back bothers me. How can you go through so much to give up at the last minute?

Orpheus is impatient and this is his downfall.

Looking at the dead or the divine or the sacred is a taboo in many cultures.

Semele looks at Zeus and is completely destroyed.

Those who look at the Gorgon are turned to stone.

Pysche looks upon Eros and is cast out of her home and away from her husband and she must venture to the Underworld to win her right to her divine husband back.

Lot’s wife looks back at Sodom and is turned into a pillar of salt.

Peeping Tom peeps at Lady Godiva as she rides by and is blinded for his lack of respect.

But why this rule in the case of Orpheus and Eurydice?

It is often believed that if Orpheus had looked back at Eurydice while she was still technically dead, he would have seen secrets that he, a mere mortal, literally couldn’t stand to see and would, like Semele, be obliterated by the sight of such immortal things.

In the mortal world, we find it important to look someone “in the eye.” Anyone who can’t do so, is generally considered to be deceitful or up to no good. So it’s interesting that not looking is such an important part of myth and fairy tale.

There are many recipes for salves to put on one’s eyes to allow you to see fairy. Of course, if the fey figure out that you can see them, there are also many stories of those who use the salves being blinded by the fey who know what they are doing.

It is never good to attract the attention of the divine or magical.

I stumbled across a short video series by Gia Coppola and Gucci for Vogue, the series is a retelling of the Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice using fashion and NY to express the familiar tale.

It’s beautifully done and I love this video series, because Coppola manages to make you understand why Orpheus looks back. In this scenario, I might have looked back too!

 

 

 

 

Aristaeus plays a big role here. In some versions of the tale, Aristaeus fell in love with Eurydice, chasing her so that she is caught unawares by the snake that bites her. Here it’s interesting that Aristaeus is a woman in red, which symbolizes things like love and lust and vanity. She cannot quit watching Eurydice, inadvertently killing the very thing she wants, which is later echoed by Orpheus himself: “Orpheus’s bomber is stitched with the words “L’Aveugle Par Amour”– blind for love. In the film’s last scenes, we hope Orpheus will heed the phrase and keep his eyes off Eurydice, even as we—and he—know that he won’t” (Studeman, 2016). Orpheus is so distraught over losing Eurydice a second time, that he disdains women for all time. Later, the Maenads tear him apart for this hubris.

378px-death_of_orpheus_by_emile_levy_1866

I think that one of the things these videos proves is that the old myths are never actually old. They are still relevant to us today and still have many things to teach us, even though things have changed so much between their origins and now.

Don’t look back at the things the gods give us. They bring us only heartache and ruin. The gifts of the divine, especially when we transverse the Underworld, should never be taken for granted.

Don’t eat the fruit of the gods or fairy, unless you’re willing to be entrapped and don’t look at the divine unless you want to lose everything.

During this time of year, when the veil is thin, this is an important lesson to remember.

 

References:

Bonaparte, M. (1954). The fault of orpheus in reverse. The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 35, 109. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1298189715?accountid=14437

Studeman, K.T. (2016). Gia Coppola’s New Film Takes Downtown Cool to Mythic Levels: A cast of Gucci-clad scenesters animate the director’s Orpheus series. W. Retrieved from http://www.wmagazine.com/culture/2016/06/gucci-orpheus-gia-coppola-lou-doillon/photos/

Advertisements

Finding Lost Things

A few years ago my mother gave me a nice knife set for Yule. Pretty much everything I have in my kitchen has been garage-saled, gifted or purchased in a moment of need (i.e. probably a cheap big box store buy). My dishes are serious older than I am. I keep thinking that as a 30 year old, I should probably go out and buy some new things, that its OK to let go that broken kitchen thing that is probably on its third, or even fourth owner, but…sometimes I just have a hard time letting go.

So with the things like the knife set, that have been gifted to me, I try to take extra care so that they last me a long time.

There are four knives in this set and I keep them in the nice box they came in. About a year after I first received the knives, one of them mysteriously disappeared. We looked everywhere for that knife! I have people over to my house fairly regularly for dinner and I checked with them…did you accidentally take one of my knives home? (We all have kitchenware at this point that goes back and forth between us, so what would one little knife be?) Nope. Nada. Zilch.

We were baffled. Where was the knife?

It wasn’t in drawers or cabinets. It hadn’t fallen behind anything. It wasn’t left in a dish. I checked high and low! It wasn’t in the living room, the studio or even the bathroom!

A few days ago, the SO did the dishes. I had used one of the other knives the night before in making lemon pepper chicken. He goes to the drawer and takes out the box to put the other knife back where it belongs, and…

Guess what had returned?

That’s right! The other knife! *cue the spooky music*

knives

Suddenly, after nearly two years, I had a full knife set again.

Usually when I lose something, I ask the multiple spirits of my house very nicely to bring it back. I live with someone who is so fey it hurts, so usually turning to the fairies that live in the house is a good first bet. This is one of the easier little spells/exchanges that you can do to find lost things and it creates a good relationship with anything else mischievous that you might have in the house with you.

Take something pretty, like a marble or a small piece of jewelry and put it under a jar out in the open. Politely ask that if whoever knows where the thing (car keys, hair brush, knife…ect) that you’re looking for is or if it has been taken, to be returned. In exchange, offer them whatever you have left under the jar when it’s returned. When the thing you lost appears again, as it mostly will, take the thing out from under the jar and leave it in a corner. Don’t pay attention to it and leave the room. A fair exchange.

Usually this works.

But for the knife, nothing I tried did.

So how strange that the knife suddenly reappeared again after so long.

After being somewhat paranoid and running through all the various scenarios in my mind where a murderer snuck into my kitchen, stole the knife, used it to kill multiple people across state lines (quite the feat for a small paring knife) and then snuck it back into my house covered in the resultant DNA…

I took a deep breath and decided it must have been Gremlins.

Most of you hear Gremlins and probably think of that terrible 80’s movie, which gave me nightmares as a small child.

But in reality, Gremlins are small, mechanically minded creatures from English folklore. They like mechanical things and they like to take things apart and put them back together…though not always back together in a way that works. Ever hear the story of the cobbler and elves…very similar to Gremlins. Many people think that they were instrumental in helping people develop modern technology.

But they are also delightfully destructive.

Gremlins_will_push_you_'round^_Look_where_you're_going^_Back_up_our_battleskies^_-_NARA_-_535380

From the US National Archives and Records Administration

Pilots in WWII were terrified of Gremlins getting in their planes and causing issues. In the midst of battle, Gremlins would gleefully help the destruction along. One famous female WWII pilot, Pauline Gower, even went so far as to refer to Scotland as “Gremlin Country” and there are multiple reports of other WWII pilots who saw them.

Listen to an Orson Welle’s radio program about Gremlins here: http://www.richlabonte.net/eps2/orsonradio/421221_Gremlins_64kb.mp3

Roald Dahl, famous author and also a serviceman in the British WWII air force, wrote a famous book about Gremlins after the war was over that became a big children’s hit.

Even Bugs Bunny encountered Gremlins!

There are multiple arguments over where Gremlins get their names, but my favorite is the explanation that it comes from an old English word that means “to vex.”

In this case, I was definitely vexed by the loss of my knife!

I still don’t know what they needed it for, but hopefully as a tool to do something fun (and you know, not stabby…).

I’m just super glad to to have my knife back! And in the future, I will remember to acknowledge and appease these unusual creatures that are often easily forgotten.

 

No airplanes were harmed in the writing of this blog…

 

The Rusalka

I am a huge opera fan. I grew up going to the opera with my mother. Carmen was my first opera experience and while it’s not one of my favorites, it certainly left a vivid impression on my imagination. Somewhere I have pictures of 8 year old me dressed up as Carmen for Halloween. Looking back on it, I’m not sure Carmen was quite the appropriate persona for an 8 year old to try and embody, but… Carmen opened the door to the wonderful world of opera for me ever after.

Strangely enough, New Orleans does not seem to have a lot of opera, even though it was the first place in America to have one! This year there are only two being shown here. (And sadly enough, the first one is happening while Kenny and I are at Pantheacon next week. Come out and say hi!) So…I’m really glad that the AMC movie theaters are presenting The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD. If you’re an opera fan and aren’t familiar with this series, you’re missing out. AMC streams the New York Metropolitan Opera live during one of their performances and then presents an encore two weeks later. You get a front row seat for some of the most beautifully put together operas in the world.

This week, they presented Dvorak’s Rusalka. This is one of my favorite operas, which has one of my favorite arias. Renee Fleming, who considers “Song to the Moon” to be one of her signature arias, performs the lead character, Rusalka. (This is also a fitting topic for the Olympics this week).

Mesiku na nebi hlubokem
Svetlo tve daleko vidi,
Po svete bloudis sirokem,
Divas se v pribytky lidi.
Mesicku, postuj chvili
reckni mi, kde je muj mily
Rekni mu, stribmy mesicku,
me ze jej objima rame,
aby si alespon chvilicku
vzpomenul ve sneni na mne.
Zasvet mu do daleka,
rekni mu, rekni m kdo tu nan ceka!
O mneli duse lidska sni,
at’se tou vzpominkou vzbudi!
Mesicku, nezhasni, nezhasni!

Moon, high and deep in the sky
Your light sees far,
You travel around the wide world,
and see into people’s homes.
Moon, stand still a while
and tell me where is my dear.
Tell him, silvery moon,
that I am embracing him.
For at least momentarily
let him recall of dreaming of me.
Illuminate him far away,
and tell him, tell him who is waiting for him!
If his human soul is in fact dreaming of me,
may the memory awaken him!
Moonlight, don’t disappear, disappear!

Not only is this a beautiful invocation of the Moon, but I love the story and the explanation of the Rusalka in the opera.

In traditional fairy lore, the Rusalka is a Russian fairy who lures young men to their deaths in ponds and streams. She is very similar to Jenny Greenteeth and the Lorelei. The Rusalka lives at the bottom of waterways and comes out at night to dance on the shores. If she saw a handsome man, she would capture him with her beauty and song and lure him to a watery grave.

In Russian myth, the Rusalka is the spirit of a woman who died young, usually from suicide or during a pregnancy. The great grief that caused the death ensured the young woman’s spirit would linger.

Rusalkas don’t just lure young men to an early grave, they also bless the surrounding fields with abundance and fertility. In many ways, the Rusalka are very similar to the mermaids of Western European lore. They like to sit in trees or on docks and sing music, siren like, calling men to their doom.

In June, the Rusalka are supposedly at their most dangerous. They come out of their waters and dance and swing through birch (a tree that banishes evil and builds courage) and willow (a tree of enchantment and music that is often seen as a tree for female rites of passage) trees. Many women go out during Rusal’naia and leave offerings to appease the Rusalka and also set out protective charms to ward them off. No one swims during this week, just in case… People also do a ritual with a birch tree, where a tree is brought in from the forest and is seen to represent the vegetative power of the land. Young women dance and sing around the birch, making it promises for the coming year. At the end of the week, the semik as it is called, is drowned, to ensure that the land will have enough water throughout the rest of the year.

The Rusalkas are a particularly femininely inspired spirit.

In the opera, Rusalka falls in love with a human prince who hunts around her lake. She goes to her father, a water-goblin and begs him to tell her how she can be with the prince. Even though he warns her that it’s a bad idea, he sends her to the witch Ježibaba, who can turn her into a human woman. Ježibaba warns Rusalka that if she becomes human, she will lose the ability to speak (gee, where have we heard this story before?) and if the prince betrays her, both she and the prince will be damned. Rusalka drinks the potion that Ježibaba has given her and the Prince finds her and takes her home with him.

The Prince plans the wedding, but many people in his household suspect witchcraft and treat Rusalka badly. A foreign princess comes to the wedding and slowly lures the prince away. When it looks like the prince will choose Rusalka over her, the foreign princess curses them and the prince finally rejects Rusalka. Rusalka flees back to her father and the foreign princess scorns the prince. Ježibaba tells Rusalka that if she kills the prince, she can save herself, but Rusalka refuses, throwing the dagger that Ježibaba has given her into the lake. Her grief and rage turn her into a spirit of death, and Rusalka begins haunting the lake. The Prince comes to the lake searching for Rusalka. He begs her to kiss him, even though he knows that it means his death. He dies and Rusalka’s father comments “All sacrifices are futile.” Rusalka thanks the dead prince for allowing her to experience human love. She returns to the lake, forever after an evil fairy.

I think the moral of the story is that love changes us and not always for the better. It’s a force that can have long lasting consequences. So love well and be faithful, otherwise you might end up as an evil fairy in a dreary lake forever luring young men off to die and seriously, who wants that?

rusalka

Compair Lapin at the Laura Plantation

My mother is visiting me and so of course, we went out to tour the plantations. While we roamed about my favorite, the Laura Plantation, our very colorful guide regaled us with several Br’er Rabbit stories.

The Laura Plantation

The Laura Plantation

As a very little girl, my grandmother used to let me go to my grandfather’s book cabinet and bring out  her antique book of children’s stories. We read these stories again and again. Somewhere, that book still lurks in my grandfather’s book cabinet at my parent’s house, even though both of my grandparents are long gone.  One of my favorite memories remains that of my grandmother reading “Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby” to me from that book.

My grandmother was one of those teeny tiny old ladies with perfectly coiffed hair who always wore a fifties style house dress. She went to church twice a week, wore her high heels to do the housework and when she died, she was the oldest living Avon Lady in Ohio. I was the only grandbaby that lived nearby and was spoiled rotten accordingly.

Looking back on it, picturing my grandmother acting out Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox is more than a little bit hilarious, but at the time I was simply delighted and would help her act the story out.

Fritz-Eichenberg Uncle Remus Illustration of the Tar Baby from The Wren's Nest

Fritz-Eichenberg Uncle Remus Illustration of the Tar Baby from The Wren’s Nest

If you don’t know the story, Br’er Rabbit is a Trickster and he manages to annoy Br’er Fox to no end.

Br’er Fox comes up with a way to get back at him though. Fox mixes some tar and turpentine and makes a tar baby that he leaves in the road where Br’er Rabbit will find it. He then hides in the bushes to see what will happen.

Sure enough, Br’er Rabbit comes along and greets the Tar Baby. When the Tar Baby doesn’t answer him, Br’er Rabbit threatens bodily harm if the Tar Baby isn’t going to be polite. When the Tar Baby still doesn’t answer, Br’er Rabbit hits the Tar Baby and gets his hand stuck deep in the Tar.

Br’er Rabbit demands that the Tar Baby let go of his hand and when he doesn’t, hits him again with his other hand. This goes on until Br’er Rabbit is entirely stuck in the Tar Baby.

At this point, Br’er Fox pops out of the bushes:

“I’ve got you this time, Brer Rabbit,” said Brer Fox, jumping up and shaking off the dust. “You’ve sassed me for the very last time. Now I wonder what I should do with you?”

Brer Rabbit’s eyes got very large. “Oh please Brer Fox, whatever you do, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”

“Maybe I should roast you over a fire and eat you,” mused Brer Fox. “No, that’s too much trouble. Maybe I’ll hang you instead.”

“Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please,” said Brer Rabbit. “Only please, Brer Fox, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”

“If I’m going to hang you, I’ll need some string,” said Brer Fox. “And I don’t have any string handy. But the stream’s not far away, so maybe I’ll drown you instead.”

“Drown me! Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please,” said Brer Rabbit. “Only please, Brer Fox, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”

“The briar patch, eh?” said Brer Fox. “What a wonderful idea! You’ll be torn into little pieces!”

Grabbing up the tar-covered rabbit, Brer Fox swung him around and around and then flung him head over heels into the briar patch. Brer Rabbit let out such a scream as he fell that all of Brer Fox’s fur stood straight up. Brer Rabbit fell into the briar bushes with a crash and a mighty thump. Then there was silence.

Of course old Br’er Rabbit was thinking on his feet and escapes, “Then Brer Fox heard someone calling his name. He turned around and looked up the hill. Brer Rabbit was sitting on a log combing the tar out of his fur with a wood chip and looking smug. ‘I was bred and born in the briar patch, Brer Fox,’ he called. ‘Born and bred in the briar patch.’” (To read the full story, go here).

Br’er Rabbit is a character from Joel Chandler Harris’ collection of stories that were gathered from slaves at the Turnwold Plantation near Atlanta right before the Civil War. While Harris himself supported slavery (and in fact interpreted Uncle Tom’s Cabin to be a “wonderful defense of slavery”), the stories themselves are an interesting collection of a mix of Yoruba and Native American folklore and myth. I love the Br’er Rabbit stories because they show how much the many different cultures mixed down here in the South (which of course also resulted in things like Spiritualism, Hoodoo and Voodoo).

Most people are familiar with the Trickster Coyote, but Coyote belongs to the Western side of the United States. In the East, the Trickster is usually regarded as the Hare. The lessons that Br’er Rabbit teaches are about thinking on your feet and using cunning over strength. He doesn’t fight fair and he usually gets away with it.

While Harris himself strongly believed in slavery, Br’er Rabbit is usually seen as a character of defiance against slavery. Br’er Rabbit challenged the social order and stood up to authority. It’s more than slightly ironic that Br’er Rabbit is probably the most remembered character from Harris’s Uncle Remus stories.

Harris’ early folklore is well known; what is less well known is that he was not the first person to translate these stories in the U.S.

That person was Alcée Fortier right here in Southern Louisiana. His Br’er Rabbit character was called Compair Lapin and was written down in the patois of Creole French on the Laura Plantation.

As I’ve said, the Laura plantation is one of my favorites to visit. Not only is it beautiful, but it is an excellent example of the differences between American plantations and Creole plantations. It was also run by several generations of wealthy, successful women.

Fortier

Fortier

Fortier himself was the grandson of Valcour Aime, who was the richest man in the South at that time and grew up near the Laura Plantation. While I’m sure that Br’er Rabbit stories were told all over the South, it’s fascinating to be able to the visit the place where they were first written down and translated.  Sometimes I get so focused on European mythology and folklore, that I forget that I’m sitting the middle of some of the most fascinating bits of our very own American mythology and folklore. Compair Lapin is certainly a character you won’t find anywhere else.

Slavery itself was a terrible institution and the working conditions in the sugar cane fields were inhuman, but Br’er Rabbit is an example of a people that refused to be broken. There is a great deal to be learned from Br’er Rabbit and it is important to remember these stories as a part of our American heritage. Not just for their morals, but for the culture they came from. I’m glad that my grandmother took the time to read those stories to me. When times are hard, it’s good to remember that even the thorniest spots can be places of hope and that there is always a way out. And that it is possible for you to take a bad situation and turn it into one that is advantageous for you.

Br’er Rabbit certainly gets in the last laugh at Br’er Fox, and even though we still suffer from issues of racism and hatred, the plantations are a standing testament to the courage of those that abolished slavery and assured freedom for those of all races.

 

* I realized after writing this yesterday that today (9/17) was my grandmother’s birthday as well as the day that she died. She would have been 102 today.

Fairy Horses

I’m getting ready to start graduate school. I’ve been putting it off for years, but things have finally clicked into place and away I am about to go.

I received my first syllabus tonight. The first book that I have to have read (by the first class, yay grad school!) is Jane Eyre. That’s easy enough, it’s not like I haven’t already read it several times, so it will just be a matter of rereading it and giving it a more “critical” look.

One of the things I love most about this story is that Jane Eyre thinks she has a brush with a piece of folklore.

As this horse approached, and as I watched for it to appear through the dusk, I remembered certain of Bessie’s tales, wherein figured a North-of-England spirit called a “Gytrash,” which, in the form of horse, mule, or large dog, haunted solitary ways, and sometimes came upon belated travellers, as this horse was now coming upon me. It was very near, but not yet in sight; when, in addition to the tramp, tramp, I heard a rush under the hedge, and close down by the hazel stems glided a great dog, whose black and white colour made him a distinct object against the trees. It was exactly one form of Bessie’s Gytrash — a lion-like creature with long hair and a huge head […], with strange pretercanine eyes […]. The horse followed, — a tall steed […]. Nothing ever rode the Gytrash: it was always alone […].  ~ Jane Eyre Chapter 12

Jane Eyre has an encounter with a Gytrash…at least she thinks she does. In reality, this is the scene where she meets Mr. Rochester, her mysterious employer and the hero (anti-hero possibly?), for the first time.

A lot of scholars like to use this as an example of Romanticism in Bronte’s writing. But I think that a lot of it simply has to do with the fact that the Gytrash was a piece of British folklore that most people probably still regularly had encounters with and would have talked about. People were probably warned to watch out for the Gytrash as they traveled through unfamiliar countryside

The Gytrash falls into that category of spirits that haunt lonely roads and weary travelers. Usually appearing as a horse, a dog or sometimes a mule, the Gytrash can either be helpful or harmful.

Jane Eyre is not the only famous piece of literature to depict a Gytrash. The legend of a Gytrash also shows up in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles nearly 60 years later.

There are many types of spirits like this that people would have been weary of meeting on a deserted country road. We’ve all heard of the Will-O-the-Wisp, which are present even in American folklore. The Bridgewater Triangle in Massachusetts is famous for sightings. They even come up in children’s movies these days!

Kelpies and Pukas are also similar to the Gytrash. These water horses can bring good or bad fortune to whoever they encounter. The Puka is known for showing up as a horse, a goat or a rabbit. It is usually associated with Samhain, since it was known for demanding an offering from the last harvested crops. Without the offering, they would cause trouble for the whole community. The Puka can also speak with a human voice and was known for trying to tempt people to come out of their houses at night. (The Puka is also a character in one of my favorite novels, Peter S. Beagle’s Tamsin. If you’re interested in British folklore this is a great book to check out).

Kelpies could appear as beautiful women who would lure men to their watery deaths. The Kelpie usually liked to eat its victims. Sometimes also appearing as a horse, it would tempt someone to get on it’s back and then ride them into a body of water where they could drown and devour their victim. One of the more famous stories of the Kelpie was about one who had convinced nine friends to get on its back. The tenth refused, but put his hand on the Kelpie’s nose. The hand became stuck there and instead of getting on the horses back as the others had done, the tenth child cut off his hand and escaped.

There are also many stories of Kelpies kidnapping women to be their wives in their watery homes which were usually at the bottom of the local loch. (As I write this, my partner is at GenCon without me. This year their guest of honor is another one of my favorite authors…Mercedes Lackey. One of Lackey’s less well-known works is The River’s Gift, a story about a Kelpie. I also recommend this book).

These types of creatures are also related to the Mari Lwyd. The Mari Lwyd or the Grey Mare is a Welsh tradition. Men would carry a horses skull (usually made out of wood or cardboard), decked out in a white sheet (that disguised the man carrying it), ribbons, and a hinged jaw that could snap at people door to door as they wassailed the new year in. Unlike England, where the focus of the wassail ritual was on the birds and the crops, the Welsh focused on the Mari Lwyd, which was a tradition that connects back to the goddess Rhiannon.

We meet Rhiannon in the Mabinogion. Rhiannon is an underworld woman who appears to the hero Pwyll on top of a fairy mound riding a horse. After they are married (which is a long story in and of itself), she is accused of eating her newborn son. In recompense she has to bear men on her back like a horse and tell them what she has done.

The penance that was put on her was as follows: she was to stay at the court of Arbeth for the duration of seven years. There was a mounting-block by the gate. She had to sit beside it every day telling anyone coming by the whole story (of those she supposed did not know it) and offering whichever guest and stranger would allow themselves to carried, to be carried on her back to the court. But only rarely did anyone allow the carrying. In this way she passed the next part of the year.

~ From the third part of the First Branch of the Mabinogion

And while Rhiannon’s son is eventually returned and all is well, it seems as though Rhiannon has to go through her own initiation to lose her underworld nature and does so in this way.

Rhiannon is also usually known for embodying an example of the idea of Celtic sovereignty. Rhiannon represents the land, Pwyll has to marry her to have the right to rule over the land. The book Women of the Celts discusses this idea at length if you’re interested in that.

Rhiannon Alan Lee Illustration, 1984

Rhiannon
Alan Lee
Illustration, 1984

In general, these horse spirits seem to be tied into the land. They either haunt travelers who are in their territory, or they are a part of the rituals of the harvest and the turning of the Wheel. Rhiannon is a goddess that is a big part of my own work. I love that the mythology of the original horse goddess still remains present in a great deal of folklore and literature. I don’t know what I would do if I were to meet a Gytrash or a Puka on the road. They are seductive creatures and even though I know better, even I might be tempted to see where one would lead me…

Other Readings:

The Great Queen and the Sovereignty of Self

Rebellion of the Queen

The Wedding of Sir Gawain & Dame Ragnell

The Celtic Goddess of Sovereignty as Warrior: Boudicca and the Death of a Druid Prince

The Rabbi’s Cat and Sita Sings the Blues

I manage the Acquisitions department of the library and I get to see some really cool things. Today we received The Rabbi’s Cat, by Joann Sfar. This looks like it’s going to be pretty hilarious and the graphics are beautiful.

The cat reminds me of my own Bansidhe...

The cat reminds me of my own Bansidhe…

It’s a French graphic novel series about a cat who swallows the family parrot and is then able to talk. The cat belongs to a rabbi in 1920’s Algiers. Apparently the Atheistic cat wants a Bar Mitzvah.

There is also a movie based on the novels.

But in the process of looking at this, I was reminded of Sita Sings the Blues.

This animated movie is based on the Indian epic, The Ramayana and the blues of Annette Hanshaw.

The movie is beautiful, the music is great and it will keep you entertained. If you are into the Hindu epics and Gods and haven’t checked this movie out you are definitely missing out! My New Orleans self also loves that it is set to the Blues…

After all, what other style of music could better sum up most epics, personal or mythological?

The Jackalope

I was in Texas just last weekend for the Texas Renaissance Festival. Coming home, we made a quick gas station stop. I was waiting for my friends to finish checking out as I browsed the area full of Texas souvenirs. You know how bigger gas stations always have those areas of cheap shot glasses and key chains and other various and sundry junk that you can take home to your loved ones? I’m always a little horrified and fascinated by these things, and usually take a second to look at whatever the gas station I find myself in has to offer. This time around I was delighted to find a Jackalope keychain for sale on the shelves. It had a Texas plaque attached to it, but that didn’t matter: The Jackalope was too awesome for me to pass up.

(It’s little arms and legs even move!)

The Jackalope is a quintessential piece of American folklore. It also happens to be one of my favorites.

The Jackalope was first “spotted” in Wyoming by cowboys out on the range. It is said that the animal can mimic human voices. One of the most common stories is that when cowboys sat around their campfires, singing at night, the Jackalopes would sing along with them.

For those of you that don’t know what a Jackalope is, it’s a horned hare found out West. The Legend of the Jackalope is that it is one of the rarest animals in the world. Most say that it is a cross between the now extinct pygmy-deer and a species of killer-rabbit (speaking of mythical, who knew we had those?). None have ever been captured alive.

Most agree that a Jackalope will attack you on sight,  but that when they flee they like to shout out things to misdirect pursuers, like “There he goes!” or “Over there!”. I always found it odd that such a supposedly fearsome beast would like to sing with the cowboys and would use misdirection to escape instead of attacking. I imagine Jackalopes have some fearsome teeth!

Jackalopes are also known to love whiskey.

One website claims that the Jackalope “will attack if cornered or provoked.  To avoid injury, quickly fall to the ground, remain calm and still while humming the Roy Rogers song, “Happy Trails to You”.”

Who wouldn’t attack if cornered and provoked? And who wouldn’t be calmed down by some Roy Rogers? Add some whiskey into all of that and it sounds like you and the Jackalope could make a pretty good night of it.

Most will argue that the Jackalope is purely a creature of myth. But it is interesting to note, that while jackalopes are thought to be distinctly American, there have been other stories around the world that described a “Horned Hare”.

Zakariya Ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini (1203-1283), a Persian scholar who wrote accounts of Alexander the Great, tells a story about Alexander saving an island from a dragon by feeding it poisoned cattle. In return, the islanders gave him many gifts, one of which was a “large and ferocious yellow animal with black spots and a dark horn”. This animal was never actually named, but “other medieval Muslim scholars copied his manuscript and called the animal “al Miradj”, a horned hare”.

Joris Hoefnagel painted this picture of the Jackalope in the 1570’s.

Animalia Qvadrvpedia et Reptilia (Terra): Plate XLVII, c. 1575/1580

Animalia Qvadrvpedia et Reptilia (Terra): Plate XLVII, c. 1575/1580

In 1606, the edition of Conrad Gesner’s Thierbuch (a German version of the first book his Historia Animalium by Konrad Forer, first published in 1563) and P. Gaspar Schott’s Physica Curiosa published in 1667 shows a tiny horned figure in the lower left hand corner.

Frontispiece of P. Gasparis Schott's Physica Curiosa, Sive Mirabilia Naturae et Artis Libris, 1667

Frontispiece of P. Gasparis Schott’s Physica Curiosa, Sive Mirabilia Naturae et Artis Libris, 1667

Another interesting myth is that Jackalopes only mate in the middle of thunder storms when lightning strikes. I personally think this must make things rather interesting for the poor Jackalope. Can you imagine mating in the midst of all of that and trying to avoid lightning while you’re at it?

The Jackalope is also known for producing milk that will heal almost anything. It is often called the “warrior rabbit.” Legend has it that if you catch a female Jackalope sleeping on its back, you can milk it and harness the amazing healing powers for yourself.

There are scientific explanations of the Jackalope. Rabbits are known to get what is called the Shope papilloma virus, a virus that is essentially a type of HPV, the same HPV that humans carry. In rabbits, it causes horny growths and horn-like warts. Extreme cases of this can also occur in humans (go Google “Tree Man of Indonesia” if you want to be more than a little horrified). But I’m sure that if you dig deep enough into any sort of mythical beast or any bit of folklore, you can find many different logical explanations to make whatever into a natural phenomena.

I’ve personally never seen a Jackalope, but would love to have the chance to do so. One of these days, I’m going to take a massive roadtrip across the Southwest to see some of the sights and visit the National Parks. Catching sight of a Jackalope is definitely going to be one of my high priorities for that trip.

I’m fascinated by the place that the Jackalope holds in American Folklore. Our folklore is so new in comparison to the lore of old world countries, and thus can be tracked much differently. Many people say that the Jackalope was made up by a man named John Colter of Wyoming in 1829. To this day, the town that Colter lives in has a Jackalope Day and a town statue of the Jackalope. One can obtain Jackalope hunting licenses. This is also the reason that most Americans will tell you that the Jackalope is a hoax; Most people trace the stories back to John Colter and dismiss it.

I prefer to think that there is no logical explanation for  the Jackalope. It is a being of magic and mystery. I hope to one day be camping out West, singing around the campfire one night, and to hear something start to sing along with me. I’ll be sure to bring an extra bottle of Whiskey with me for the occasion.

And as the Pixar short film Boundin’ has to say, “Now in this world of ups and downs, so nice to know there are Jackalopes around”.