Saturday, April 22, 2017

S139. Brains of enemies fashioned into balls (as trophies for play) (WTF - Weird Things in Folktales)

Welcome to my A to Z Challenge blog series titled WTF - Weird Things in Folktales! Find the introduction post (explaining the theme) here. Find all other participating blogs in the comments of each day's post on the main blog! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

S in the Motif Index stands for Unnatural Cruelty (it says a lot about traditional stories that this one needed its own category...). It includes things such as "S10. - Cruel parents," "S20. - Cruel children and grandchildren," and of course the all-time classic: "S31. - Cruel stepmother." Also, this:

S139. Brains of enemies fashioned into balls (as trophies for play) 

This is actually a pretty well known Irish legend, but it is worth repeating. 

The story starts with Mes Gegra, the king of Leinster, who is killed in single combat, and his brains are fashioned into a hard little ball with lime. (That'd the motif, everyone can go home now.)
The ball is kept as a trophy by the King of Ulster, Conchobar Mac Nessa. He likes to take it out sometimes to show it off. One day, the brain-ball-thingy is stolen by Cet, a notorious troublemaker from Connaught, who decides to save it for killing Conchobar. Every time there is a fight between Ulster and Connaught, Cet is there with the little brain-ball, until finally one day he gets a clean shot at the King of Ulster. He puts the brain-ball into a sling, and hits Conchobar right in the forehead.

And this is how Conchobar died.

Just kidding. He survived the shot, even thought two-thirds of the ball went into his own skull. The physician that examined him concluded that he would die if the ball is taken out, but he would live if it was left in there. Conchobar was keen on the latter, so they stitched the skin over the brain-ball with golden thread, and Conchobar went on living for another seven years. The physician also warned him not to ride a horse, lie with a woman, run, eat too much, or get angry, so those seven years were probably not much fun for him.
Eventually one day the sky darkened and the earth trembled. Conchobar asked his druids what was going on, and he was told that Christ, the son of God, had been crucified. Conchobar got so angry over the news, and so indignant about Jesus' death, than the brain-ball flew out of his skull, and he dropped dead. It's all good, though; according to some versions of the legend, the blood flowing from his forehead qualified as a baptism, as he was one of two people who believed in God in Ireland before the arrival of Christianity.

(Read the story here.)

Picture from here

S110.3. Princess builds tower of skulls of unsuccessful suitors
S110.3.1. Princess makes necklace of heads of unsuccessful suitors
S111.2. Murder with poisoned lace
S111.7. Murder with poisoned slippers
S111.9. Murder by placing a poisoned fingernail on step
S115.3. Murder by piercing with pins and needles
S139.5. Murder by cutting off uvula
S143.2.1. Tortoise placed in tall tree and left
S263.1. Highest ranking man in land to be sacrificed for good crops
S268.2. Son sold for transfusion of blood to sick king
S326.1. Disobedient child burned
S461. Tale-bearer unjustly drowned for lack of proof of accusation


  1. That is a weird tale and honestly one I have never heard.

    Blogging from A-Z,

    M.M. Hudson aka Naila Moon of:
    Reading Authors

  2. Now that's a lot of mixed motifs, believing in God combined with brain balls.

    There are some pretty grim cruelties in your list today - humans are so good at coming up with nasty things to do to each other.

    Sophie's Thoughts & Fumbles - Dragon Diaries

  3. I haven't come across this one - know shamefully little about the Irish. Except their writers and poets of course.

    Child burnt for disobedience - drastic, and beyond cruel, even for times past. :((

    Best wishes,

  4. The original Man with Two Brains. :D


    Love all the princesses building things out suitor bones. And the poor tortoise!

    A to Z 2017: Magical and Medicinal Herbs

  5. That was definitely a weird one - didn't expect the Christ connection either. It could have gone in a different direction with the brain of the dead king taking over his brain and causing him to go mad. Wonder how that would've ended...

  6. brains as balls? and the interesting Christ connection! always such an interesting post... Thanks.

    joy @ The Joyous Living

  7. Now that is one strange story, and I'm definitely creeped out by the idea of a brain ball.

    1. But so typical of the folklore of this country! I have heard this one before, yes, though I only remembered the bit about the reason for his anger.

      Highest ranking man in the land sacrificed for good crops sounds a bit like Frazer's sacred king.

  8. Agree completely with your comment about the category. I blogged today about Lange Wapper. Have you ever blogged about him?

  9. That's certainly a macabre story! I wasn't expecting the twist it took at the end.

  10. I'm of Irish descent, but never heard this one! Pretty weird.

  11. Fascinating story of brain ball and lime. Feeling a tad queasy after reading it though!
    S is for Silver Serendipity

  12. That was the craziest thing I've ever read. I have never heard of this because I would definitely would have remembered brain balls. Just wow.

    The runner ups were as morbid and twisted as the balls.

  13. Now I understand the title is weird things in folktales...
    Eva - Mail Adventures

  14. Wow that story has so much going on I don't know where to start with the questions! hehe. But I can see there is a lot of murder in the runner-ups, although the one that caught my eye is "tortoise placed in tall tree and left"...awww! Poor thing! :(

    Can't wait for your "T" post on Monday!

    Here's my "S" post :)

  15. That is an interesting tale to say the least! o.O

    ~Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

  16. I wonder what he thought of the idea of carrying another man in his brain. Couldn't have been fun.