Sunday, June 18, 2023

Folktales about adoptive fathers (International Father's Day)

It's father's day, and I felt like making another post, so here it is. 

(Everybody calm down, this is a stock photo)

We are celebrating fathers - and father figures - all around the world today. I already posted about the importance of caring fathers in folklore a few years ago. Today I decided that I want to highlight stories about adoptive fathers - because adoption is a topic near and dear to my heart, and because it is often represented in a negative way in folklore.

So, let's hear it for great adoptive fathers, both in folklore and in the real world!

(Links in the titles, as usual.)

The Flying Horse of Earthdom (Scottish Traveller tale)

One of Duncan Williamson's tales. A king's son is born with a hump on his back, and the king orders the baby to be abandoned in the woods. He is adopted by an old hunchbacked man who takes him to a secret place called Earthdom, populated by people shunned by society. The boy is raised there, and since his adoptive father teachers him archery, his back straightens by the time he grows up. He returns to court to win a series of contests. When the king finds out the young man is his son, he wants to take him back - but the boy refuses him, and returns to Earthom to the kind people who raised him.

The Wild Man's Daughter (Greece)

A king's daughter sees a dream that foretells her father bowing before her. The king grows so angry that he orders her to be abandoned in the wilderness. She ends up in the house of a Wild Man, who adopts her and cares for her, and helps her grow in confidence and find a worthy husband. Even after his death, he leaves her some magic to ensure her happiness.

Heimer and Aslaug (Iceland)

This is a sequel to the epic story of Sigurd and Brynhildr. The tragic couple has a daughter, Aslaug. After the death of her parents she is saved and spirited away by Heimer, who becomes her foster-father. He hides the baby girl inside a harp and travels with her to faraway places, disguised as a wandering musician. Eventually he is killed, but he manages to save Aslaug's life.

N'oun Doaré (Brittany)

The hero of this story (whose name means "I don't know") is found as a small child by the Marquis of Coat-Squiriou. The kind marquis adopts him and raises him. When N'oun Doaré grows up, he goes through a series of adventures, supported by his parents. Eventually he even finds out about his own origins - however, when asked, he still names the marquis and his wife as his true parents.

Boris Son o' Three (Ukraine)

A boy is kidnapped by an eagle and lost in the woods. He is found by three brothers who decide to raise the baby together; they christen him Boris Son o' Three. When he grows up, the fathers gift him a magic foal, and he goes on to amazing adventures.

The Wild Cat of the Forest (Austria)

A charcoal burner encounters a large man in the forest and invites him to baptize his newborn child. The godfather names the boy Wild Cat. Growing up, the boy keeps getting into trouble and his parents abuse him, so one night he runs away and goes to live with his godfather. The wild man teaches him a useful trade and cares for him, until Wild Cat runs away again to other adventures.

There are more stories, but this is all I had time for today. I hope I managed to demonstrate that kind adoptive fathers do exist in folklore :) 

Happy father's day!

Monday, May 15, 2023

Myths, Vikings, nostalgia: International Storytelling Festival in Budapest

The 10th International Theater Olympics is currently happening in Budapest, and as part of the event series, Karinthy Theater decided to put on a storytelling festival! I attended as part of the audience, and immediately felt at home: I got to hear some of my favorite storytellers, and after 11 years, we had a mini-reunion with tellers from the second Holnemvolt Festival, Berecz András and the Paramythokores trio. For three days, the theater created a friendly community of tellers, listeners, and a dedicated organizing staff.

On Friday, I was reunited with my three lovely Greek friends the Talemaidens (Paramythokores), whom I had last seen in Athens for the MythOff we did together. We took a boat trip on the Danube, ate some Hungarian street food, and caught up, enjoying each other's company despite the pouring rain. In the afternoon, I returned to the theater to attend Tom Muir's show of folktales from Orkney. I have met Tom at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival in Edinburgh last year, and it was great to hear him tell old stories about sea serpents, fairy hills, Viking battles and hidden islands. The performance had a Hungarian interpreter (all of them did) who did a great job of translating the tales' language into eloquent and expressive Hungarian. (You can buy Tom's book of Orkney tales here!)

On Saturday, the Greek ladies of Paramythokores told the Greek myths of Europa, Semele, and Athene, with their usual humor and brilliance, and a lot of music. Their interpreter, Edit, was an especially good choice; she found herself in the stories, and made an entertaining addition to the trio. After Greek mythology, Berecz András did his linguistically elaborate, hilariously funny performance of Hungarian folk humor, wisdom, and eloquence that had us in tears of laughter for ninety minutes straight. He is the greatest master of Hungarian storytelling; he is near impossible to translate, but you can trust me on this. I especially loved that he opened his show with the myth of Momus. Very fitting. The last performer of the day was Piret Päär from Estonia. She is a graceful, soft-spoken teller, who can bring out the magic in old folktales with a single smiling look. She connected the tales with stories from her own life, stringing them one after the other, and especially enjoyed showing us the wisdom of tradition. After the story of The happy man's shirt, she asked the audience to come up with new endings to the tale, and had a lovely conversation with us.

On Sunday the featured tellers had a roundtable meeting with the audience where they spoke about their work and experiences. They talked about difficult situations where stories won the day; turning points in their lives, memorable audience feedback, and strange places where they had performed. It was a fun, fascinating conversation that inspired a lot of questions from the listeners. After the roundtable, I went out for lunch with the Greek group, and then ran back to the theater to catch Berecz András' second show. I was drenched in the rain and arrived like a drowned rat, but it was worth it.

The last show of the festival was The golden tree by the Paramythokores. It is an hour-long enchanting Greek fairy tale with singing, music, and a lot of deep emotions. I have been looking forward to hearing it because we worked on the same folktale type parallel to each other (Paramythokores for this show, and me for my book last year), and Vasileia and I talked a lot about it at the time. It was absolutely brilliant: it took us on a journey were time ceased to exist, and words came alive. Even the interpreter was swept along, adding her own voice to the story. It was a perfect closing event for the festival. We applauded so much that we even got an encore story at the end!

Image from here

It was great to see international storytellers on a Budapest stage again. The organization of the festival was smooth, the staff was welcoming and friendly, and the program was just enough to fill our ears and hearts for three days. I really hope they will do it again next year!

Monday, May 1, 2023

A to Z Challenge Reflections: Body Folktales



I am usually a very organized A to Z participant. In the past several years, I have had all my posts scheduled before the start of April, so I could spend my time going around and visiting other people. This year, things unexpectedly piled up. The Internet went out for days, my phone died, I went on a spring break trip and work crashed down on me after... I started April with A-M scheduled, and then worked ahead, but I still ended up pantsing the last five letters day to day. It was a close call, but I managed to crawl across the finish line!

With that said, I absolutely loved this year's theme. Every time I began researching a new body part, fun, weird, and fascinating folktales jumped out at me left and right. It was probably the most entertaining research binge I have ever done, and it added a lot of cool new stories to my repertoire!

The sad part is, I barely had any time to go visiting. So many of you had such wonderful themes, and you were all kind enough to come visit me every day! I am planning on catching up over the course of the next weeks. I love the visiting part of A to Z, so it will be like an extension of the challenge experience :) Thank you all for sticking around and leaving comments!

As for statistics: I am very surprised that the most popular post of the month was not one of the adult-themed body parts... but ELBOWS! By a wide margin. All y'all really like elbows. Go figure.

Thank you all, and congratulations on another fun Challenge year!

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Z is for the Zygomatic bone (Body Folktales)

This year, my A to Z Challenge theme is Body Folktales. Enjoy! 

The zygomatic bone is your cheekbone; it's part of the skull. Since I have already done cheeks this month, I'm going to look at folktales about skulls.

Sosruquo and the giant's skull (Abkhaz legend)

One of my favorite tales among the Nart sagas of the Caucasus. The heroes encounter a huge skull, and decide to bring its owner back to life, to ask some questions just out of curiosity. They revive the giant, who tells them of his life long ago. (In other versions, they mistake the skull for a cave, and sleep in it first.) As an archaeologist, I'd love to have this power.

Ottilia and the skull (Tyrol)

A poor girl is chased away from home by her cruel stepmother, and seeks shelter in a castle in the woods. Turns out the castle is inhabited by a talking skull, who turns out to be quite friendly. Ottilia carries it in her apron and cooks food for the both of them. At night, a skeleton appears, threatening the girl, but she holds out without fleeing, and thus breaks the curse that had turned the castle's mistress into a skull. (You can read a friendlier retelling here.)

Céatach (Ireland)

A long hero story featuring an apprentice magician who saves a girl from a giant named Steel Skull. he giant is undefeatable, because when his head is cut off, it rejoins his body and he becomes stronger. Céatach, however, finds a way to cut off the head and kick it far away, finally defeating the giant.

The wicked mendicant (India)

A prince is promised to a sinister mendicant before he is born. When he turns twelve, the mendicant comes to claim him, and takes him into the woods to a shine of Kali, to sacrifice him. The boy, however, finds a pile of skulls by the shine (the previous victims) and the skulls tell him how to survive. After he kills the mendicant, the brings the other victims back to life.

The laughing skull (India)

A banker gives out loans to people, agreeing to get repaid in the next life. Some ruffians borrow money from him with no intention of paying, and spend it on sweets. However, on the way they encounter a human skull that tells them his story: he didn't believe in next-life payments either, and yet he still could not rest in peace before his debts. The ruffians reconsider the loan.

The talking skull (Nigeria)

A hunter encounters a skull in the wilderness, and wonders how it ended up there. The skull speaks: "Taking got me here!" The hunter runs to the king, claiming he's found a talking skull. The king doesn't believe it, so he follows the hunter into the bush. The skull, however, remains silent. The king, angered by the wasted trip, orders the hunter to be beheaded. Once his head is left alone with the skull, the skull speaks: "What brought you here?" "Talking got me here!"... This motif (K1162) is typically African, and also appears in African traditions across the Atlantic.

The girl who married a skull (Efik people, Nigeria)

A girl decides to only marry a perfect man. A skull from the spirit world borrows body parts from various spirits, and turns himself into a dream husband. However, when he takes his smitten wife back home, he returns the body parts too, and she realizes too late she's married a skull spirit. Luckily, an old woman helps her escape and go back home. She even gets her a spider hairdresser. (I really like this folktale type for some reason, it has many exciting variants.)

Whew! That's the last letter done! Thank you all so much for following along, see you all tomorrow for Reflections! :)

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Y is for Yoke (Body Folktales)

This year, my A to Z Challenge theme is Body Folktales. Enjoy! 

Alright fine, this letter was hard. Yoke is a term used in body building for the neck, trapezius muscles and deltoids together. So, I basically just went with neck. Sue me.

Edao plays hide and seek (Marshall Islands)

Edao is the resident trickster of Marshallese folklore, famous for dirty jokes and shapeshifting abilities. There is one story where he repeatedly tricks his brother Jemaluit by transforming into various things (such as into a tree which lets Jemaluit fall when he climbs it). Finally, he bends over and transforms himself into a palm tree, with his anus serving as a water hole in the tree. Jemaluit, feeling thirsty while walking in the woods, sticks his head in the water hole to drink... at which point Edao clamps down on his neck. He eventually lets go and they both laugh - but people's necks have been narrower than their head ever since. Just so you know.

The guru and his disciple (Mauritius)

A guru and his disciple visit a foreign country where the king is doing justice all wrong. He first wants to punish an old woman because her house accidentally falls on some thieves breaking in, and then changes his mind and wants to punish the builder of the house. However, the builder's neck is too thin for the hangman's noose, so the king orders his men to find someone whose neck fits the noose and hang them instead. They arrest the guru's disciple - but the two clever men manage to find a way to survive, and trick the cruel king into being hanged instead.

Rokurokubi (Japan)

Rokurokubi is the name of a female yokai who can stretch her neck to great length, allowing her head to wander around freely at night (sometimes without the woman realizing this while awake). Sometimes the head hunts animals, sometimes it licks the oil out of lanterns, and sometimes it just scares people.

Jacob and Esau (Bible)

The story of Jacob and Esau in the Book of Genesis is a story of sibling rivalry. After Jacob cheats Esau out of their father's blessing, the brothers part ways for several years before they meet again. Their reunion is described as a preparation for battle that turns amicable when Esau runs to Jacob to embrace and kiss him. However, Talmudic sources have a different explanation for the same moment: they claim that Esau tried to bite his brother in the neck and suck his blood. In a moment of miracle, Jacob's neck turned "hard as ivory" or marble, making Esau's teeth "melt like wax." Instead of weeping for joy, they wept in anger and pain. (I am sure there is vampire fan fiction about this somewhere.)

Friday, April 28, 2023

X is for the Xiphoid process (Body Folktales)

 This year, my A to Z Challenge theme is Body Folktales. Enjoy! 

The xiphoid process is a small projection on the bottom of your sternum. It's not exactly a popular folktale topic, but I did rustle up some stories featuring breastbones in general.

The singing breastbone (Scotland)

A princess' lover is seduced by her younger sister, so she drowns the girl out of jealousy. A harper finds the body of the drowned princess, and he makes a harp out of her breastbone, strung with her golden hair. At a banquet at the royal court he plays the harp, and it sings the true story of the murder.

The Old Man of the Cliff (Iceland)

A king is sailing on his ship with his men when an old man calls to them from a cliff. The king asks how many men he has in his household, to which the stranger answers with a riddle. While the king is trying to work out the riddle, the old man's troll magic is pulling the ship dangerously close to the cliff. A sailor named Thorgeir sees this, and braces the ship's sailyard pole against the rocks and against his own chest. He pushes against the magic, snapping his breastbone and his ribs with the effort, but manages to heroically save the ship from the enchantment.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

W is for Wax (Body Folktales)

This year, my A to Z Challenge theme is Body Folktales. Enjoy! 

In case you ever wondered: yes, there are stories about ear wax.

Why mosquitoes buzz in people's ears (Gabon)

Ear and Mosquito go bathing together, and ear begins to treat his skin with oil (wax) after. Mosquito ask for oil and Ear promises to lend some, but never fulfills his promise. He just puts the rest of the oil back inside the ear and walks away. Ever since then, mosquitoes have been buzzing in people's ears, asking for the promised wax.

Why mosquitoes buzz (Garifuna people, Saint Vincent)

Wax and Mosquito are friends. Wax goes bankrupt, and borrows some money from Mosquito, but never pays it back. Eventually, trying to avoid his creditor, Wax hides in a human's ear, and has been hiding ever since. Mosquito, on his part, has been angrily buzzing, demanding payment.

Madhu and Kaitabha (India)

In Hindu mythology Madhu and Kaitabha are two beings born from the ear wax of the god Vishnu. One of them is soft and one of them is hard. They gain the power to only die with their own consent, from the goddess Mahadevi, and use it to challenge the gods to a fight. Eventually, Vishnu defeats them with deception.

Next time you hear a mosquito, I hope these stories will come to mind...