The Ankou of Brittany

(Originally posted on Patreon and Twitter, September through October, 2021).


The following is a translation of the article “L’Ankou, l’ouvrier de la mort” serialized on Twitter:

“In Brittany, Death is personified by a fearsome being called the Ankou. The Ankou isn’t exactly ‘Death itself’ but a servant of Death (oberour ar marv) that labors for him.

This equivalent of the grim reaper in other popular traditions is particular to Brittany, where the Ankou is himself a man who died the previous year.

Definition of the Ankou: More than the fact that he consists of a man, the Ankou is different from a grim reaper in many respects.

The Ankou is a skeleton dressed like laborers from Lower-Brittany, wearing a chupenn (vest) and black bragoù braz (a type of puffy pants), and he wears a large, beribboned felt hat over his long white hair.

His gaunt head turns ceaselessly around his cervical vertebrae, looking for the living whom he has a mission to destroy.

He is armed with a scythe, but curiously it is fitted opposite to how scythes normally are, its sharpened edge pointing outwards in order to take lives when he sweeps out his arm.

This he sharpens on human bones.

Who, then, is the Ankou?

The Ankou is not a single being, as an Ankou exists in every parish, and moreover, in every parish the Ankou changes every year. It is the soul of the last to die in the year, who, in each parish, fulfills for a year the functions of the Ankou.

He piles up his victims in a dilapidated and squeaky horse-drawn cart (karriguel an Ankou). The squeaking of the Ankou’s cart is a sign of imminent death within the parish.

The numerous legends of death in Brittany have been collected by Anatole le Braz in his work “The Legend of Death.” There you will find stories of the Ankou, legends of the precursors of death, and other tales of death in Brittany.


In La légende de la mort chez les Bretons Amoricains by Anatole Le Braz, chapter fourteen, see the second footnote on this page:

If you have the courage to hide in the back of the ossuary during midnight mass, you’ll see the Ankou who will come to tell you the name of the people in your parish who will die in the next year.

In a tradition of Morbihan, the Ankou touches with his finger those who will die during the year. In order to see him, you must fast the previous evening until the first nine stars appear and keep your finger submersed in the holy water’s basin.

One man, who met the required conditions and who saw the Ankou coming towards him, tried to flee from the church, but the water of the stoup had frozen and he couldn’t extract his finger. (P.M Lavenot, Revue des traditions populaires, t. VIII, p. 569)


pXXXIII, serialized on Twitter:

(In describing the statues decorating Breton church ossuaries:) Certain of these stone or wooden Ankous are well-known in their regions: there is the Ankou of Bulat, the one in Ploumilliau, the one in Cléden-Poher, in Roche-Maurice, in Landivisiau–and there I’ll move on.

The Ankou of Ploumilliau has sat for a long time upon his throne above the altar of the dead, within the church itself, and, from all the parishes round about, people have come to pray to him, some bringing him offerings.

On the column of granite that rises about the gaunt skull of the Ankou of Landivisiau lies this ironic epigraph: “But here, I am the godfather — Of the one who will meet their end.”


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The Dragons of Saint Ghislain, Belgium

(Selections translated from L’Histoire de la ville de Saint Ghislain (1737). Originally posted on Patreon in April 2021).


[Title page]. History of the Town of Saint Ghislain.

Containing everything of utmost interest that happened since its beginning. The list of Abbots & their principle deeds, with an ample description of its Sieges, its Ruins, its Reestablishments, its Foundations, & other very-surprising Events.

By the Lord G. J. De Boussu, Ecuyer.

[Page 63, concerning the years 1078-1081]

[A former Abbot] died, according to the Chronicles of the Monastery, on the 1st of April 1081. He had for his successor Oduin, who led an Angelic life. During the eleven to twelve years he occupied the Prelature, we see monks applying themselves to the study of the Holy literature and instructing the people of the holy Mysteries of the Catholic Religion. They succored the Sick in their infirmities, the Poor in their needs, and they did not cease to edify one and all by their example as well as their discourse.

The inhabitants of this Township were finding in this some relief and comfort when, in the year 1094, the Land was infected by a Pestilential air that carried away two thirds of the People.

This plague was accompanied by a frightful horror caused by the sight of a fire Dragon that appeared on the first of August. This Phenomenon was seen flying through the air and spreading terror everywhere, according to the report of the author of the Chronicles of Lobbes: one would have said that this mass of fire was going to launch itself on several Townships to reduce them to cinders. Alas! in these moments of affliction when our conscience opens our eyes, how many frightened people threw themselves into the arms of the Religious Saints to reconcile themselves to God? But a discussion on morality is not the style of this chronicle.

[Page 66, concerning the years 1112-1133:]

Historians note nothing in particular happening in this little Township, nor in its environs, until the year 1133, memorable for the remarkable victory Gilles de Chin won against a raging Dragon that occupied a cave near Wasmes, a Village a half league from St. Ghislain of which the Abbot is the spiritual and temporal Lord. This generous Knight was of the house of Berlaimont. Every Historian has made mention of this perilous combat. It is reported rather briefly in the History of Mons but given better details and context in the history of Notre Dame de Wasmes. The register of the Convent also makes mention of it under the Authority of the Venerable Oduin of the second of this name. This tale is too relevant to the history [of the Township and Monastery St. Ghislain] to not insert it here, even more so that this generous Soldier is buried in the Monastery of St. Ghislain to which he gave great gifts.

What follows is the depiction of this combat reported in these cited works.

An appalling Beast, a Monster of enormous size was ravaging the Land, and rendering it desolate by its insatiable hunger and its terrible roars. The Monster would not leave the cavity that is still seen at Wasmes except to dart out and pin Beasts or Travelers to make them its prey by devouring them with a mouth foaming with blood and rage. Everyone fled its environs; the Land was gripped by the most bitter fear, when a valorous Knight named Gilles de Chin, Chamberlain to Bauduin VI the Count of Hainaut, resolved to fight this carnivorous Monster.

After securing the Count’s agreement, Gilles de Chin prepared himself with prayer and fasting in order that Heaven might bless his enterprise. He armed his Servants most skilled with the lance. He had a machine of war made of an admirable height, and after having trained his Hounds & his Horses in manège and to fight against an inanimate figure, he left Mons with his little troop to go fight this monstrous beast who had the similitude of a Dragon. He passed near the Chapel of Notre Dame de Wasmes. There, he entered, and, after having prostrated himself at the foot of its Altar while asking for Heaven’s aid, he left full of confidence and marched with haste to the awful den where this cruel monster had its retreat. He did not search for it long: this Beast scented him from afar off. At the sight of this little troop of Knights, it leaves its hole, and, with rapid flight, heads straight for them to make of them an appalling carnage.

Already its eyes are full of fire, shining bright with anger. Already the open mouth armed with horrible teeth seems to present an abyss that is about to bury these courageous Champions in its starving entrails. But these Knights’ demeanor terrifies it. The Monster falters. It back-wings, it surges with rage, it beats its wings, it retreats, it endeavors to surprise the troop: it spins around. Chin approaches, the Beast spears him with a horrible look and comes at him. The combat commences; the Monster is rebuffed. In its wrath, it strikes the earth with powerful blows of its massive tail. It returns to the charge, it launches itself with fury on the troop. It kills instantly several Dogs, knocks several Horses to the ground: victory hangs in a balance, Gilles de Chin lifts his eyes to Heaven, he calls the Holy Virgin to his aid, & in this same moment, alive with a new courage, he buries his lance in the open mouth of this Monster descending on him, & strikes so hard that the lance pierces its throat from skin to skin–all the way through. The vanquished Dragon falls, and amidst its dreadful roars, it expires in its own blood.

Noise of this victory spread everywhere immediately; the count Bauduin felt a joy at the news equal to the worry he had felt by the uncertainty of this dangerous enterprise’s success. He went to see the field of Battle, he embraced the Vanquisher and had the frightful Dragon brought to Mons, the sight of which–even dead–still provoked terror.

The head of this Monster is preserved with care in the Treasury of the Maps of the Country, and is shown to curious visitors. In gratitude for this remarkable victory, Gilles de Chin took it upon himself to adorn the Chapel of Notre-Dame de Wasmes & presented it with several beautiful gifts. He engaged the People to reestablish themselves in this area & gave them the communes & the neighboring woods; & after having filled to overflowing these Inhabitants with a thousand other good deeds, he went to find death at the siege of Roucourt where he was killed by lance strike while fighting valiantly in the year 1137. His body was brought back to the Church of Saint Ghislain where he was buried.

A Mausoleum of black marble was raised on his sepulcher on which he is represented lying armed with his powerful weapons of the most exquisite workmanship. He bears on his left arm an escutcheon which carries this inscription:

Here lies Messire Gilles de Chin Chamberlain of Haynau Lord of Berlaimont as well as of Chièvres & of Sars by way of his Wife Lady Idon : Personage worthy of memory as much for his zeal in the service of God as for his valor in weaponry, who, aided by the Virgin, killed a Dragon that was wreaking great destruction in the territory of Wasmes. He was at last killed at Roullecourt in the year 1137.  And here buried, having given great Goods to this house in the Village called Wasmes. Requiescat in pace. [Rest in Peace, Latin].


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Some Dragon-lore of Alsace

The following paragraphs are translated from Revue d’Alsace, 1851. They were originally published on Patreon in March 2021.


The serpents that can be seen, sometimes, at night on the banks of the river Mossig in the Kronthal valley, and shine with a phosphorescent glow, are also specters from hell.  The devil also appears in the Jura mountains, under the form of winged serpents, dragons with eyes that cast a light brighter than diamonds. They also exist in the region of Montbéliard where the monster is called a vouivre(*).

At Riedheim, near Bouxwiller, one can see at certain hours of the night, a dragon entirely covered in fire flying above the village; sometimes it enters by way of dormer windows into the attics of houses and steals wheat and other provisions there, only to leave them behind in other houses.

An old schoolmaster of Riedheim(**), who was also a carpenter, had worked hard at his workbench well into the night. (He was working, I believe, on a coffin). After extinguishing his light, he was going to disrobe by his window, when he abruptly saw the fire dragon, with its prodigious length, glide and disappear down the chimney of a neighboring house.  Villagers claim that the treasures of the dragon brought this way belong only to the following second generation. A family of Riedheim is at this moment in possession of just such a treasure. Villagers also say about members of this family: “They have happiness and good fortune; their grandparents received a visit from the dragon!”


(*) We call vouivre, vivre, guivre, a winged serpent that only has one eye (called a carbuncle) that shines with so radiant a light that the monster appears to be entirely on fire. According to an ancient tradition, the village of Dung (3 km from Montbéliard) owes its emancipation to the one who delivered the region from a vouivre. (See Duvernoy, Ephémérides du comté de Montbéliard. ((This book still exists for us!)) For more details, see also, X. Marmier, (Féerie franc-comtoise), Paris 1845, p. 73 and pages following. ((This book I found for the year 1841!)))  The vouivre that dwells on the shore of springs and fountains might well have once been called Mélusine.

(**) According to a recounting by his granddaughter, who died four years ago, then a woman of fifty years. –For the dragons who fly through the air at night, see Grimm, Mythol. in German, p. 652.


With that first footnote, I’m sold. I’m not sure I can fully picture a dragon with only one eye, but I can completely get behind the idea of a “fire dragon” covered in radiance so intense it looks like being covered in fire. 

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“The Bride of the Dead,” Alsatian folktale

(Originally posted on Patreon in October 2020).

“La fiancée du mort,” collected by Anatole Le Braz in La légende de la mort chez les Bretons Amoricains, 1902.


In Bégard, the title of “handsomest peasant’s son that ever lived” fell to René Pennek, son of Ervoann, and the “prettiest girl in ten leagues around” was Dunvel Karis, René Pennek’s sweetheart. The two youth loved each other ever since they had met on the pews of catechism.  Both were from good families. Yet the Penneks possessed double the wealth of the Karis.

Consequently, Ervoann Pennek could not look upon his son’s affection for Dunvel without being opposed to it.

On his end, Juluenn Karis, Dunvel’s father, had a proud disposition; nothing in the world could compel him to take those first steps towards Ervoann Pennek, whom he treated as an equal and maybe even with a little contempt precisely because he knew himself to be inferior to the man in regards to their fortunes.

This did not stop the two adolescents from giving each other a “private summons” at every excuse for a rendez-vous, such as at every uttered pardon, or at harvest festivities, or frikadek bolc’h.

The townspeople were pleased to see them together, as they seemed made for one another.  Often people would ask them in a bantering way: “When’s the wedding?”

Then Dunvel would blush beneath her coif and respond sadly, “When it pleases my Lord God.”

But René would rectify this with, “One thing is certain,” he would say, “that it will happen despite everything and everyone.”

This was the way things were, when one morning Ervoann Pennek said to his son René: “I sent laborers to cut down the beeches on our land at Mézou-Meur.  I would like you to go supervise so they will do the job quickly.”

René Pennek obeyed his father’s request without thought. He went to the stables, saddled the stallion who was the best trotter in the countryside, and set out on the journey.

Mézou-Meur was a terroir situated in Louargat on the far slope of Ménez-Bré.  It belonged to Ervoann Pennek by way of the steward of his wife who came from there.  René, in order to get there, had to travel four whole leagues.  And, at the time of which I’m telling you this story, the roads barely resembled those of today.  The road to Ménez consisted only of water-carved tracks. From there it was necessary to ascend the mountain slope by way of ravines that were dried-up riverbeds, then descend by the opposite slope, more dangerous still than the climb.

“An entire day of being out there,” René said to himself, seated in the saddle.  By that he meant it would be an entire day without seeing his sweetheart.

To ease his heart, he doubled back and passed by the Karis’ courtyard. Dunvel was on the lawn close to the house in the middle of spreading out their laundry.  René Pennek held her in his arms then took up his journey again, whistling a merry tune.  As for Dunvel, she seemed sad for the rest of the day, without her even knowing why.

The sun had reached noon when René Pennek arrived at the terroir of Mézou-Meur.  Up until then, his trip had been no trouble.  The stallion, during that whole stretch, had been perfectly docile.  But it would not remain the same, alas! at the end of the journey.  As he approached the place where they were felling trees, the young man had to squeeze the flanks of his horse and hold its bridle high. The noise of the hatchets chopping into wood had the horse’s ears pricked forward. Suddenly a beech fell just across their path.  The stallion leapt in fear.  And René fell…. He fell so badly that he was killed on impact.  His head had struck a rock buried in the embankment.

The workers ran to him.  They improvised a stretcher with some branches.  The poor, dear young man was laid to rest in the lodging of the clog makers whom his father had brought in to work the hewn logs.

They went in search of a cart at the nearest farm, then drew lots to see who would bring back the news of the corpse to the old parents, because no one wished to be the messenger of such terrible news.

Night had only just fallen when René returned home to his parents, “dearly departed.”

Meanwhile, at the Karis’ household, everyone had gone to bed that night, as usual.  They had not gotten wind of the misfortune that had occurred.  Dunvel, alone, could not sleep.  She could only toss and turn in her bed, as if tormented by fleas.  A lover’s heart has extraordinary presentiments.  She wondered, especially, why René hadn’t come to wish her good evening as he had promised to do that morning.  Because, she thought, he should have already been long since returned from Mézou-Meur.

As she was reproaching him in her thoughts for not fulfilling his promise, she felt an intense joy:

A horse’s hoof sounded on the paving stone of the courtyard; and, almost immediately afterward, three vigorous knocks shook the wood of the door.

Without a doubt: it was him! It was René!

The house’s clock, at that very moment, struck midnight.

Dunvel waited for the hour to finish its loud tolling before answering the stranger’s appeal. “Is that you, René?” she said.

“Yes, of course, it’s me!”

“You did well to come tell me good night.  I was beginning to think you were nothing more than a deceiver. The idea soured my blood. But now that I’ve heard the sound of your voice, I will be able to sleep peacefully.”

“This is indeed about sleeping.  I’ve come to find you in order to bring you to my home and make you my wife.”

“Are you dreaming, René? Do you know what time it is?”

“The time doesn’t matter!  All time is mine. Get up, Dunvel, and come with me!”

“Then your parents consent?”

“They can no longer refuse, now.  Hurry, if you do not wish me to tire of waiting.”

Dunvel arose, but taking a step like this, at an hour so-unchristian…. The strangeness of it would not relinquish her.  Before opening the door to René Pennek, she went barefoot to her mother’s bedside and woke her gently in order to seek her council.

Mothers are none too happy to find a place for their daughters.  Dunvel’s mother deplored the pride of her husband, which, even more than the Pennek’s wealth, was the major obstacle to her child’s happiness.  She said to her daughter: “If René Pennek came looking for you in the middle of the night, it’s that he’s finally wrangled his old folks’ consent and that he hopes to strike while the iron is hot.  Go with him, if he’s beckoning to you.  It’s the worst of foolishness to turn one’s back on a favorable star.”

“But isn’t your presence necessary, as well as father’s?”

“Do not pain yourself over nothing.  I will prepare Juluenn Karis for this event that he wishes to see happen as much as I do, for all he doesn’t admit it.  You may go on ahead, with your promise.”

Dunvel did not need to be told twice.  Her mother’s words reassured her troubled imaginings.  She quickly pulled on her skirt and bodice, pinned her coif, seized her clogs in one hand and turned the lock with the other.

“At last!  Then you’ve decided!” exclaimed the voice of René Pennek on the threshold.

Dunvel’s mother waited for the gallop of the horse taking away her daughter and her daughter’s fiancé to fade into the distance.  Then she nudged Juluenn Karis who was sleeping at her side from the deep sleep of those who, during the day, have worked hard in the field.

Juluenn Karis did not need to be pleaded with much.  His wife had told the truth: the announcement of the marriage of his daughter to the son of Ervoann Pennek filled him with joy.  He let himself be clothed in his best without any protest, and, with his “old woman” dressed as if for Easter Sunday as well, set out on the path for Quinquiz where the Penneks lived.  The boy who saw to their cows led the way with a lantern because the night was black as mortal sin.

Arriving at the fields of Quinquiz, they saw the ground floor brightly lit. They knew for certain there was to be a regal event.  The others were only waiting on their arrival to sign the contract and begin the pomp and ceremony.

So they were entirely surprised when, stepping through the doorway, they heard them reciting the “litanies of the dead”….

On the kitchen table adorned with a white tablecloth that touched the floor, they saw the body of René Pennek laid out.  He had a slit in the middle of his forehead, and in this crack, they could see his brain exposed.  At the foot of the table was placed a napkin where a boxwood branch was dipped in holy water with which the dead are sprinkled.  On either end of the hearth, the father and mother of the departed wept in silence.

Juluenn Karis and his wife did not dare question it.

The same thought struck them both.  René Pennek had met his death between their manoir and Quinquiz.

But what had happened to Dunvel?

In vain they searched with their eyes among the women on their knees reciting funeral prayers.

What had happened to her was this:

René Pennek, or, if you prefer, his ghost, had first set her to ride pillion behind him, then the horse had taken off, fleet as the wind.  This horse had a mane so long that in the speed of its flight, it whipped Dunvel’s cheek till it drew blood.  Of the sort that she cried out many times: “René, my love!  Don’t you think we’re going too fast?”

But at the young woman’s complaint, René Pennek only knew to answer: “It’s necessary, my darling!  We must go!”

“René, my love!” Dunvel tried again, “Are you sure this is the way?”

“Every road, my darling, leads to where we must go!”

“René, my love! Is it really to Quinquiz that you are taking me by this route?”

“I am taking you to my place, sweetheart!  Do you not long for it as I do?”

Such were the words they exchanged in the night.

Suddenly Dunvel saw standing before her like a big black thing, the town church.  The cemetery gate was wide open. The horse raced down the path, leapt over four or five rows of tombs, and stopped at the edge of hole freshly dug.

Before she knew what was happening, Dunvel Karis was lying at the bottom of the pit.

“Here is our wedding bed,” said René Pennek, and he stretched himself out over her.

The next day, when the gravediggers came to bury the sole heir to Quinquiz, they drew back in horror.  The crushed and disfigured body of Dunvel Karis was lying in his grave.

(Told by Françoise Omnès, Bégard, September 1890).


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“The Women of Rouffach,” Alsatian folktale

(Originally posted to Patreon in September 2020).

“The Women of Rouffach,” is an Alsatian folktale collected in Les récits historiques et légendaires by Robert Wolf, 1922, found here.


Around the 12th Century, the capital of the holdings belonging to the bishops of Strasbourg was Rouffach. There, these prelates had an important fortress built that was given the name Isenbourg, the castle of iron.

But around the year 1166 when the war of Investitures arrived to shake up Europe, the Emperor Henry IV declared himself for the antipope Clement.  In order to force all the prelates of his empire to recognize Clement, Henry IV had all the goods of the bishops who refused to imitate him seized and confiscated.  Among them was the bishop of Strasbourg.  By order of the emperor, the territory of Rouffach was seized, the castle occupied by men-at-arms, and soon the paternal government of bishops gave way to oppression, tyranny, and terror.

But one day, this takeover that the presence of an army sanctioned, this tyranny that bent the city beneath a scepter of iron, was overthrown by the sobs of one woman.

On Easter day, the governor of the castle dared to kidnap a young noble maiden whose mother was taking to church. The weeping mother, in her pain, called out to its citizens to have courage and take offense.  She entreated them to save her life and the honor of her daughter.  But the fear of punishment, the threat of the garrison chilled their hearts and paralyzed their willingness to devote themselves to another.  So this woman, in her despair, stirred up the mothers with families, depicted for them her shame which one day or another might be theirs.  And the women armed themselves and stormed the castle. Soon the doors flung open beneath their blows.  The surprised garrison could not defend themselves, and the emperor himself was obliged to flee to Colmar.  The women seized his crown, his scepter, and his imperial mantle which they placed on the altar of the Virgin.

To commemorate this event, the magistrate accorded them the place of honor at every public ceremony. It is said that they maintain this privilege to this day, because they hold this right at the church.


If you’ve enjoyed this series of folklore translations and would like to support my further translation endeavors, please feel free to support my work on Patreon.

Fairer wide release!

Once upon a time, there lived a princess so beautiful her people named her Fairer-than-the-Fairies. Of course, with a name like that, Fairer was destined for trouble.

When the wicked queen of the fairies hears of Fairer’s reputation, she swears to avenge her subjects’ pride. She captures the princess and condemns her to complete an impossible task by daybreak on pain of death.

But while Fairer is held prisoner, she meets a fellow captive—another mortal princess—and the rebellious fairy prince. Together, they must complete the wicked queen’s tasks and rescue the good queen of the fairies or all is lost.

Read two translations of this lesser-known 1698 French fairy tale, with commentary, and discover a tale featuring the power of friendship and love in its many forms. Come for the princesses and princes, queens and fairies. Enjoy the poetry, ancient history, and mythology. Stay for the friendship, and, perhaps, fall in love.

***

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A Sunken City of Ys

(I found a book about Death legends in Brittany, and I couldn’t resist. Then I encountered a chapter all about a sunken city I had never heard of…and I just had to explore it. Come with me on this trip to the sunken City of Is.)

One night, some sailors from Douarnenez were moored in the bay, fishing. When they had finished, they went to haul up the anchor, but all their unified efforts could not bring it up. The anchor had gotten stuck. To free it, one of the sailors, a strong diver, let himself slip down the length of the chain. 

When he returned to the surface, he said to his companions, “Guess what our anchor was stuck on!”

“Well, obviously, some rock.”

“No. The framework of a window.”

The fishermen thought he had gone crazy.

“Yes,” he continued, “and it was a church window!  It was all lit up. The light shining from it illuminated the deep sea for a long ways. I looked through the stained glass window and saw a crowd gathered in the church.  A lot of men and women with rich clothes.  A priest was standing at the altar.  I heard him asking a choir boy a question, in the middle of holding mass. 

“That’s not possible!” cried the sailors.

“I swear it on my soul!”

It was agreed they would go tell the rector. And that is what they did.

The rector said to the sailor who had dived down: “What you saw was the cathedral of Is.  If you had gone up to the priest in order to listen to his mass, the entire city of Is would have risen again from the waves and France would have a new capital.”

(Told by Prosper Pierre, Douarnenez, 1887).

~

(One of the pleasures and hazards of folklore is how tied to a sense of Place they are, and how they figure people that may or may not have really lived. For a full exploration of this folktale’s setting and characters, see my notes.)

The City of Is extended from Douarnenez to Port-Blanc.  The Seven-Isles are some of its ruins.  The city’s most beautiful church was located where today stand the reefs of the Triagoz.  That is why they are still called the Trew-gêr.

In the rocks of Saint-Gildas, when the nights are clear and beautiful, one can hear a siren sing.  She is the siren Ahès, the daughter of King Grallon*.

Sometimes, too, bells chime far out at sea.  You will never hear a more melodious chiming than the ringing of the bells of Is.

~

( I told myself that translating two folktales about Is/Ys would be enough, but then I tripped and committed another.)

A woman from Plumeur-Bodou, having descended to the shore to fetch water from the sea in order to cook her meal, suddenly saw an immense portico surge out of the water before her. 

She stepped within the colonnade and found herself in a splendid city.  The streets were lined with lit shops.  In the shop windows, fine fabrics were displayed.  Her eyes went wide, taking it all in, and she walked along, mouth agape in admiration, amidst all these riches.

The merchants were standing on the thresholds of their doors. 

As she passed by them, they cried: “Buy something from us! Buy something from us!”

She was stunned, distraught.

At last, she ended up responding to one of them: “How do you want me to buy something from you? I haven’t a penny in my pocket.”

“Well then! That’s a great pity,” said the merchant. “By purchasing even a ha’penny’s worth of merchandise, you would have saved us all.”

Barely had he spoken than the city disappeared.

The woman found herself alone on the shore.  She was so shocked by this occurrence that she fainted. Some customs officials making their rounds transported her home.  Two weeks later, she died.

(Recounted by Lise Bellec.  –Port-Blanc.)

Fairer released!

Once upon a time, there was a princess so beautiful that her people named her Fairer-than-the-Fairies.  Of course, with a name like that, Fairer was destined for trouble.

When the wicked queen of  the fairies hears of Fairer’s reputation, the wicked queen swears to avenge her fairies’ pride. She captures the princess and condemns her to complete an impossible task by daybreak on pain of death.

But while Fairer is held prisoner, she meets a fellow captive—another mortal  princess—and the rebellious fairy prince. Together, they must complete  the wicked queen’s tasks and rescue the good queen of the fairies or all is lost.

Read two translations of this lesser-known 1698 French fairy tale, with commentary, and discover a tale featuring the power of friendship and love in its many forms. Come for the princesses and princes, queens and fairies. Enjoy the poetry, ancient history, and mythology. Stay for the friendship, and, perhaps, fall in love.

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Fairer is now released on Amazon/Kindle Unlimited:

Amazon US: https://amzn.to/2oTanw8
Canada: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B08114LL9T/
UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08114LL9T/
Australia: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B08114LL9T/
Brazil: https://www.amazon.com.br/dp/B08114LL9T/

Universal link to all Amazon stores worldwide: Fairer.

With more retailers to come!

And it looks like the algorithm gods have provided us with a page for Fairer on Goodreads.

“The Wondrous Scarab,” an Alsatian folktale

Strangely enough, I’ve encountered many Alsatian folktales about scarab beetles. I say strange, because when I think of scarab beetles I immediately picture Ancient Egypt, but here we are instead in the liminal forests between France and Germany, encountering many forms of wondrous scarabs1. This particular folktale is pulled from the collection Révue des traditions populaires. 1901.


A foreign knight left the monastery of Murbach one day, garbed in the robes of pilgrimage. He passed through the valley and, in order to expiate his sins, went in search of other prayers.

He arrived on the hill where later the village of Bühl would be built, and weary from his journey on foot, reclined beneath a linden tree to rest. He fell asleep, and when he awoke near evening, he perceived an exquisite fragrance. The scent was emanating from an unknown species of scarab clinging to the stem of a flower. Examining it more closely, he discovered that the insect bore, beneath its closed fore-wings, the image of a black cross.

He saw it as a sign from heaven2 and swore an oath to construct a little chapel on this very spot. He kept his word and erected the church of Bühl3 surrounded by a cemetery, from which vantage point one can behold the whole valley and the plains up to the Rhine and the Black Forest.


1. One of the first Alsatian scarab folktales I encountered featured golden scarabs, or scarab beetles turning into living gold. Such a wondrous image was entirely folkloric, I thought, until I saw this tweet showing off the species chrysina resplendens found in Costa Rica.

2. I really enjoy tales where the pattern of religious–in this case Catholic–legends intersects with faerie and folkloric themes. For example, a righteous man encounters a sign then builds a church on that very location is a fairly common story behind many churches scattered throughout Europe. A traveler encountering a wondrous creature that asks him for something or that changes his perspective is just as common in faerie folklore. And so here we have the tale of “traveler encounters wondrous scarab” intersecting with “man searching for greater holiness finds what he seeks.” It’s like an early “cross-genre” tale.

3. According to wikipedia and Bühl’s own website, the medieval town’s earliest church was actually built starting in 1514. That century to me doesn’t invoke the image of a knight on pilgrimage and feels a couple hundred years too late. Is this an instance of a 19th Century tale mistaking the dates of a historic location? That has certainly happened before. Or is this seeming discrepancy due to Alsatians not knowing as much about the German town of Bühl as they thought? (Strasbourg and Bühl share a historic connection through a feud in the 14th Century).


If you’ve enjoyed this series of folklore translations and would like to support my further translation endeavors, please feel free to support my work on Patreon.

“The Astronomical Clock of Strasbourg Cathedral”

I translated this particular version of the tale from Récits historiques et légendaires d’Alsace, collected by Robert Wolf. 1922.


For a long time the Strasbourg Cathedral clock remained unfinished. The master who had invented it had died without finding anyone capable of finishing his work.

At last a foreign master craftsman who promised he could finish the work arrived in Strasbourg. He completed the masterpiece, far surpassing all hope for it. One day, at noon, he presented the moving clock to the astonished gathering of people. The bells tolled and Death indicated the hours. The apostles passed before the Savior, bowing before him. The two lions that held the city’s coat of arms began to roar. It was a festive and joyful day for all the city.1

With the work completed, the young artist desired to take his leave, but the council of the city’s municipal officers did not consent. They feared the artist would create a similar masterpiece in another city, and they desired to be the only ones to possess such a marvel. Therefore, they had the artist’s eyes blotted out.

But soon the city was punished for this cruelty. The blind artist became weaker and sicker from day to day, and the clock itself no longer worked with precision. When the master died, it stopped entirely. (1) Later, another artist, Schwilgué, succeeded in restarting the clock in 1842.

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(1) In truth, the clock built under the direction of Dasypodius, a strasbourgeois mathematician, and that of the brothers Isaac and Josias Habrecht of Schaffhouse, stopped working in 1789.2


1. If you would like to see the astronomical clock’s various parts and figures, this page has a great collection of photos of the current version of the clock. ↩

2. The famous astronomical clock of the Strasbourg Notre Dame Cathedral has been built several times throughout history. The first clock was built of wood in the 1350s. The second, started in 1547 by the mathematicians Chretien Herlin, Michel Heer, and Nicolas Briiker, was interrupted by the death of Herlin and not finished until 1574 by Dasypodius and the Habrecht brothers Isaac and Josias. While work on the clock was still in progress, Josias was called away by the officials of Cologne to build the clock of Kaiserswerth castle. He was also unable to return, due to the illness and subsequent blindness of his sister. Grandidier proposes that this is one of the keys to the creation of the legend surrounding the clock.

Once again the clock stopped working, this time in 1789 in the midst of the French Revolution, a time of great turmoil for the city. Although the young Schwilgué was but a boy of twelve at the time, he determined to be the one to bring the clock back to life. He grew up to make his dream come true, finishing a complete overhaul of the clock and its figures in 1842.

The Astronomical Clock of Strasbourg Cathedral was once counted as “one of the seven marvels of Germany.” Over the centuries, it has collected quite a number of legends, including the assertion that its creator was none other than Copernicus himself. Most of the legends surrounding it, however, deal with ablind mathematician. Either the mathematician becomes old and blind, thereby unable to express to others the true workings of the clock; the clock itself refuses to be touched by any other hand but its master’s; the city municipal council blinds him and the city is cursed by a clock that refuses to work for cruel masters; or else the blind mathematician takes revenge on those who destroyed his eyes by asking to visit his clock one last time, and, plunging his hand into its gears, withdraws a critical piece.↩


If you’ve enjoyed this series of folklore translations and would like to support my future translation endeavors, please feel free to support my work on Patreon.