Monday, March 29, 2021

Visiting Kanchil (Following folktales around the world 195. - Malaysia)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Kanchil the Wily One
Tales of the Malaysian Mouse-Deer
Stuart Dickens McHugh
Thornhill Press, 1977.

This was a fairly short book, and not written by a Malaysian person, but I definitely wanted to read about Kanchil for Malaysia. The book contains 9 folktales (9 is a lucky number in Malaysian culture, apparently), and all nine are about the wily Mouse Deer. In case you have missed the signs on this blog, I am a huge fan of Mouse Deer. This made me like this book despite its imperfections.
There were a few imperfections. One is that the tales are clearly re-told by the author. He claims the tales were told to his father by Malaysian sailors, and he translated them to English, telling them to his children and grandchildren. The tales were shaped through many re-tellings. The author notes that he loves Kipling's tales, and these nine stories sounded a lot like them. I could still recognize the folktale types in them, and while they were worded in a literary way, they are still likable and enjoyable as traditional stories.


Have I mentioned Mouse Deer?
I have read many a Kanchil story in my storytelling career, but this book had some that were new for me. There is a good version of Kanchil in the Pit where Mouse Deer falls into a pit (go figure) and lures a bunch of other animals down too, so he can climb out on their backs. I also liked Kanchil and the Crocodiles (I knew another version of this, with fewer casualties). I appreciate that despite the re-tellings the author did not try to conceal the fact that Kanchil's tricks often end with other animals dying or captured (although he made heroic efforts to explain this fact). Kanchil and Mongoose, on the other hand, was a nice story that revolved around Kanchil making a friend and helping a human family.


All stories were classic trickster tales - sometimes Kanchil tricked others, and sometimes he himself was made a fool of. The most well-known story was Kanchil and the Snail, where our trickster ran a race with a water snail and lost, repeating the whole Tortoise and the Hare situation. 

Where to next?

Friday, March 26, 2021

StorySpotting: Fierce feline women (Wonder Woman 1984)

 StorySpotting is a weekly or kinda-weekly series about folktales, tropes, references, and story motifs that pop up in popular media, from TV shows to video games. Topics are random, depending on what I have watched/played/read recently. Also, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. Be warned!

Finally catching up to the DC franchise, I watched WW84. It dabbles - to varying success - in all kinds of lore (most obviously the Midas myth), but since Kristen Wiig totally steals the show, I decided to post about something else.  

Where was the story spotted?

Wonder Woman 1984 (2021)

What happens?

Quirky scientist Barbara Minerva makes a wish to be special and unique like Diana, and unwittingly gains Wonder Woman's superpowers. Then, later in the movie, she wishes to become an "apex predator unlike any other", and transforms into Cheetah, a classic and iconic DC supervillain. She basically becomes an incredibly fast, strong, and agile feline-human hybrid. 
(At the end of the movie she has a big fight scene with Wonder Woman, and eventually it seems like she renounces her wish to save the world along with everybody else. Or does she?)

What's the story?

Women turning into felines is actually quite common in world folklore. I have gathered some of my favorite examples, excluding house cats, and focusing on larger felines, to save space (I am also excluding feline goddesses for the same reason). 

Husband and wife journey through the bush, with the baby strapped to the woman's back, when they come upon a herd of bush cows. The husband tells his wife, who has shapeshifting powers, to turn into a leopard and go fetch some cow. The woman, who doesn't appreciate being ordered around, indeed turns into a leopard and scares the crap out of her husband. Then she kills a cow, transforms back, and tells him never to order her again to do his damn job. (*mic drop*)

Achol and her wild mother
(Dinka people, Sudan)
A woman sells herself piece by piece to a wild lion in exchange for help with gathering firewood, until she turns into a lion herself, and runs away into the wilderness. Her daughter Achol puts food out for her every day, and every day the lion-woman returns to sing to her and eat. Her father and older brother are terrified, but the younger brother helps Achol capture the lion, and tame her until she turns back into a human woman. (Read here)

To win back her husband's love a woman turns to a magician, who uses medicine on her and makes her stand on an anthill. When she walks off, she turns into a lioness; when she returns to the hill, she is human again. Her family gives her up for dead. She lives as a lioness for a long time, only occasionally returning to the hill to "remind herself she is human"; living as a lion makes her stronger and younger. Eventually she finds the magician - who turns out to be a slave, forced by his master to test the medicine on her. They make a plan, kill the master, fall in love, and live happily ever after.

(Haya people, Tanzania)
A man has a daughter with a leopard woman, and the girl sometimes takes on a feline shape for fun. As she gets older, she scares more and more people, so when she gets married, she promises not to transform anymore. However, her father-in-law wants to see her leopard form, and begs her to show him. Eventually she gives in to his pleas, but she sets up such a clever situation that when he runs around scared, no one believes what he saw. (Read here)

Nyavirezi (Rwanda)
The daughter of a chief accidentally drinks lion urine, and gains an urge to eat raw meat and the ability to transform into a lion. When she is married off (to a man who likes her because she is "big and strong"), she hides her powers. However, after the birth of their first child the husband finds out, they get into a fight, and Nyavirezi kills and eats him. Later on, she marries a man named Babinga who turns out to hail from a family of spirits, and has no problem with having a shapeshifter wife whatsoever. She gives birth to a hero-son, and also eventually trains a younger lion-shifter girl how to control her powers. The girl becomes her daughter-in-law.

The wife of the Dawn's Heart Star
(San people)
Lynx and Hyena are sisters, and Lynx is married to the Dawn's Heart Star (Jupiter). The younger sister in her jealousy feeds some grubs to Lynx, and she turns into a feline creature and runs away into the wilderness. However, her baby is without milk, so she tells her sister to bring the baby out every day to the bush to be suckled. But every day, she forgets a little bit more, until she tells her not to bring the baby anymore, because she is becoming fully feral. Eventually the husband finds out, the family goes out, captures the lynx, and turns her back into a woman. (Read here)

The jaguar's wife (Opaye-Shavante people, Brazil)
A girl wishes to live with a jaguar, because she longs for eating good meat every day. The jaguar takes her into the woods and marries her; they keep supplying meat to her family. Eventually the jaguar suggests they should move into the village. People, however, are troubled by the transformation of the jaguar's wife: she is slowly becoming feline. Dark spots appear on her skin, claws on her hands and feet, and fangs in her mouth. Eventually her grandmother gets so scared that she kills her with witchcraft. The family, afraid of his revenge, offer the jaguar another girl but he doesn't accept. He just say "I do not wish you any harm", and returns to the jungle.

A woman, looking for clean water, accidentally drinks from a water hole that a tiger uses, and she starts transforming into a tiger. She snaps at things and she craves raw meat, until she gains the ability to fully transform. From that on she hunts at night, but returns to her children in the morning. One day, she kills a person, and brings a leg home. Her husband is terrified, and she realizes that she is a danger to her family, so she runs away into the wilderness. The husband fills in the watering hole. 

A man, trying to climb up to the sky, falls into the distant land of the tiger people. He and his dog end up in the house of an old tiger-woman, who takes pity on them and promises to help. She hides them from the tiger-men, and figures out a way to help them escape and stall the hunters.

A proud hunter sets out to kill the last mountain lion. While wandering in the wilderness, he meets a strange old woman with a beautiful necklace, who claims she can show him where to find the last mountain lion. She leads him deep into the mountains, until suddenly she disappears, and he is left stranded. He catches a glimpse of a mountain lion, wearing a beautiful necklace, running away...
(Story by Si Kahn, not sure if it is based on a folk tradition. Many American tellers tell it. Reference here.)


Boy, women turn into large felines a lot. Be warned.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Thailand, complex and fascinating (Following folktales around the world 194. - Thailand)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Fascinating Folktales of Thailand
Thanapol Lamduan Chadchaidee
BooksMango, 2014.

This book is true to its title: it was one of the best ones I read for this challenge. It was written by a Thai author who personally translated the tales into English. The text is a bit strange at points (e.g. "palace police" instead of "palace guards"), but it did not take anything away from the enjoyment of the stories.
The only thing I was disappointed by is that the tales are included in a shortened, summarized version (because otherwise they would have been too long for the volume). They are mostly told in short basic sentences ("Prince and princess met. Fell in love. Married. A giant attacked the palace. The prince defeated it." etc.). But even so, they are still exciting and interesting, mostly because of their colorful complexity. I would love to read the more extensive versions...


The first story I liked was about an ungrateful man who helped a beggar and received magic powers in exchange: he could make any tree burst into flowers and fruit with his touch, in any season. He used his power to grow rich, however when he was too ashamed to admit it was given to him by a beggar, the power went away.
The story of Krai Thong was about a conflict between people and crocodiles - crocodiles could take on human forms, and their daughters even married mortal men.
By far my favorite story was the God of Three Seasons. Three deities who were very good friends wanted to be born to earth together, but a mistake was made, and they all ended up sharing one body. The body changed with the seasons - winter, summer, rain - into a man, a woman, or a giant respectively. The whole story is very long and complex, but you can always tell what season it is by what form the hero is in. They had a wife, a husband, children, and a whole lot of adventures. 
The Garuda, who
appears in multiple
There were multiple small moments in the stories that I really liked. In one, there was an assassin who could swim in earth as if it was water, and he could pop up from the ground anywhere. In another, there was a tree with colorful leaves, and each color turned the person who ate the leaf into a different animal. One story featured a hermit who walked around with his eyes bandaged because whatever he looked at way burned to ash (hello, Scott Summers). There was also an evil Christian priest, and a passive-aggressive talking cat that accompanied a persecuted princess through her adventures.
I liked it that in most stories villains were exiled or reprimanded rather than killed, saying hate can't be erased by vengeance, and karma will take care of them anyway (while killing them would have added to the hero's negative karma). Buddhist values showed up in multiple stories, for example in endings that went "everyone who committeed good deeds lived happily."


Many motifs were familiar from European tales. There was a false bride, babies exchanged for puppies, baby put into the river in a basket, princes and princesses disguised in animal skins, dead wives turning into trees, a girl born from bamboo, and even a silent princess. One story resembled Grimm's Queen Bee (here a fruit fly helped select the real princess from a crowd of identical women), another the Golden-haired twins, and the Golden-haired gardener tale type seemed especially popular in Thailand.
There was a frog bride type tale, except here it was a prince who came out of his hiding place and cleaned his family's house while they were away (we like domestic princes). There were shapeshifting demons and magic arrows I knew from the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Ramayana.
The most interesting connection was the Weaverbird story, which was made up of three parts, all three familiar from the Tibetan Tales of the Golden Corpse. One was a version of the Silent Princess, one was about a girl who remembered her previous lives, and one was the tale of the wandering (body-snatching) spirit. It was a fascinating tale with some very logical explanations.

Where to next?

Monday, March 15, 2021

Tricksters and justice in Cambodia (Following folktales around the world 193. - Cambodia)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Cambodian folk stories from the Gatiloke
Muriel Paskin Carrison
Tuttle Publishing, 1987.

This was a fairly short book, but a very interesting read. 
The Gatiloke is a collection of Buddhist teaching tales that lived in the oral tradition for hundreds of years, and were written down at the end of the 19th century. Most of them are short, to the point, and reflect Buddhist values and world views. This book was re-told by an American lady for young readers, from the translation of a Cambodian Buddhist monk. Despite the fact that they are retold by a foreigner, the stories stayed close to the original texts (unlike the book from Myanmar).
It is also true for these tales that villains don't usually get punished (storytellers assume karma will take care of that). Victims also don't get justice in this life, because, according to the explanation, if someone falls for trickery, they deserve to be tricked...


I loved the first story about Princess Amaradevi (and added it to my Feminist Folktales series). It is about a clever, capable, well educated princess, whom four evil ministers try to tear away from her beloved husband. In turn, she tricks the mercilessly, and proves their treachery in front of the whole royal court.
I also liked the tale of King Bimbisara, which proved that all crime has to be judged on an individual basis, considering the context, and the background of the perpetrators.
The story of Bikkhu Sok was a lovely tale about prejudice and family: a boy's family was killed because his father went to foreign lands, and when he returned home the was accused of using black magic. The boy was hidden and adopted by a kind merchant, and eventually became a famous monk.


The one familiar tale in the book was a type I know from Near Eastern collections, as well as LaFontaine: the one about the father, the son, and the donkey, a story that proves that no matter how you do things, there will always be someone to criticize you for it...

Where to next?

Monday, March 8, 2021

The 2021 A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal!

It's that time of the year again! We are coming up on April, the month of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. I have been doing this challenge for 9 years, and in the past 8 I've always had a theme:

Weird Princesses (2013)
Tales with Colors (2014)
Epics A to Z (2015)
Diversity A to Z (2016)
WTF - Weird Things in Folktales (2017)
WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales (2018)
Fruit Folktales (2019)
Folktales of Endangered Species (2020)

This year, once again, I am doing a "Mythology and Folklore" theme. Drumroll, please! The theme for the 2021 A to Z Challenge on this blog is:


Confession: for someone who works with folklore and storytelling, I have never really been into esoteric or spiritual things at all. But last year a dear friend of mine introduced me to tarot cards, and my brain just clicked: these are great for storytelling! And for introspection. (Okay, first my goblin brain clicked, because SHINY AND COLLECTABLE!).
Tarot cards speak a language of symbols and metaphors that is very familiar to me from traditional tales. So, I looked into it, and I did find some decks that are folklore and myth themed (such as Tarot of the DivineFairy Tale Tarot, or my latest favorite, the Yokai Tarot).

However, once I started learning the meanings of cards and the symbols around them, I kept thinking of tales that would fit them well. And then I thought this would make a great A to Z theme - so, here we are!

Over the course of April, I'll be posting folktales that fit cards from the classic RWS tarot deck. I'll be focusing on the Major Arcana (covering all 22 cards), and for the remaining 4 spaces I'll look at some other cards. For each card I'll select one story, and give you a summary, sources, and interesting information. 

I have been working on the posts ahead of time (I always do this, so that I have time to visit around in April), and I can already tell you this project is a lot of fun! I'll make sure that it is equally enjoyable to everyone, even if you don't know about tarot (or folklore) at all.

See you all on April 1st!

Bonus question: Do you have tarot cards? Do you have favorite decks? Do you have favorite images? Share in the comments! :)

International Women's Day: Woman healers

It has become a tradition on the blog to post lists of folktales centered on women for International Women's Day. I did Badass Grandmas and Women Helping Women, and this year I thought it would be fitting to give a shout out to some of the many spectacular woman healers of myth and lore. Here we go!

(Links in the titles, as usual)

The daughters of Asklepios (Greece)

More personifications than active characters in mythology, the daughters of the God of Medicine represented various parts of the healing process. Their mother was Epione, the Goddess of the Soothing of Pain. Myths tell of five sisters: Hygieia (Health), Panakeia (Panacea - Medicine, Cure), Iaso (Remedy), Aigle (Radiance), and Akeso (Healing process). They also had brothers, making up a large, divine extended medical family. 

Eileithyia (Greece)

Greek goddess of childbirth (sometimes there is more than one of her). In mythology, she travels from the Far North to the island of Delos to help Leto deliver her twins, Apollo and Artemis. There is also a fun story about how she was tricked by a handmaid at Herakles' birth.

The Witch of the Forgotten Island (Scottish Travelers)

I read the tale of The Snake Shirt in this new collection, and fell in love with it. A prince gets a cursed shirt from his stepmother that turns into a snake and tries to crush him. He travels far and has many adventures until he finds the Witch of the Forgotten Island, the only one who can save him. He falls in love with her daughter, and the two women together find a way to rid him of the snake.

Bebind (Ireland)

Bebind is a fae woman, one of the Tuatha de Danann, who heals the hero Caoilte Mac Ronan after he receives a serious chest wound. In the book I linked above there is the full story of how the cures him while also demanding he fight for her people in exchange. It even has some love-hate romance woven in. Cool story.

Airmed (Ireland)

Another woman of the Tuatha de Danann, Airmed is the daughter of Dian Cécht, the God of Healing. Together with her brothers she helps her father treat the wounded during the war between the Tuatha and the Fomorians. When her father kills her brother, she mourns for him, and from her tears spring 365 different kinds of healing plants and herbs. She organizes them all, but her angry father mixes them up, so no one knows which can be used for what, except Airmed.  

He Xiangu (China)

Chinese immortal known for her association with health and healing; the only female member of the famous Eight Immortals. In one tale she disguises herself as a mortal girl and helps young Lan Caihe (a gender-fluid singer who later joins her as a member of the Eight) figure out how to cure a wounded man. Her symbol is the lotus flower that promotes good health.

The fairy midwives 

This is not a single story, but rather an international folktale type. It usually features a midwife who is spirited away by fairies or other supernatural creatures to help with a difficult birth. When she does, the supernatural family usually rewards her handsomely in some way (but if she goes to far, they can punish her too). 

Yirang Pamo (Bhutan)

This powerful female shaman features in a very interesting Bhutanese legend. On her way home across the mountains one day she meets a young woman who begs her to come help her sick son. The woman turns out to be a spirit, and her son has wounds caused by mustard seeds: he made a human to fall ill, and when he was exorcised by a healer the exorcism left him sick. Not sure how to heal a spirit of illness, Yirang Pamo prays to the guardian spirits of humans for forgiveness. The boy gets better, and the mother hands a cow to the shamaness in return. The cow, however, later on transforms into a giant rat. Rude.

Hiiaka (Hawaii)

In Hawaiian mythology Hiiaka is a powerful goddess of dancing, magic, and medicine, and the younger sister of the volcano goddess Pele. She fights demons and defeats monsters in many amazing stories. In one of them she meets some girls mourning their drowned father, and she takes it upon herself to find his ghost, and slap it back into his body in an elaborate ritual.

Saint Elizabeth of Hungary 

A princess born in 1207, Elizabeth was married off to a son of the Landgrave of Thuringia very young. Her most famous miracle is the Miracle of the Roses: she was sneaking bread to poor people in secret, and when she was caught, the stolen food turned into flowers in her apron. After her husband's death she founded a hospital and worked as a nurse, caring for many patients herself. She is the Catholic patron saint of hospitals, nurses, mothers, wives, and loving care.

Crescentia (Germany)

This medieval romance gave its name to an entire folktale type (ATU 712). The story revolves around a noblewoman who is repeatedly (innocently) accused of adultery and murder, and goes through a whole lot of trials and hardships. Eventually she gains great healing powers, and her enemies come to her to be cured from various illnesses. At the end of her life she attains peace by retiring to a convent. 

Pari Gongju (Korea)

Also known as Princess Bari/Pari, she is the ancestor of shamans in Korean tradition. As a seventh daughter, she is abandoned by her father, but later on when the king gets sick she is summoned back to court to heal him. She sets out on a long and adventurous journey to the Otherworld for magic healing water; she saves her sick parents, and becomes a goddess of shamans and the companion of souls on their journey to the other side. 

Anne Jefferies (Cornwall)

Anne was a famous healer in the 17th century, who allegedly got her magic healing powers from the fairies, who abducted her into their own realm for a while when she was nineteen years old. She was almost accused of witchcraft for her powers, but she survived and lived to a ripe old age. According to the stories, she never accepted any payment for her healing services. 

Biddy Early (Ireland)

A legendary woman from the 19th century who made her way into the folklore of Co. Clare as an herbalist and a clairvoyant. She was an expert of healing plants and folk remedies, worked spells, and knew a lot about fairy lore. There are entire books written about her. (See this one too.)

You have more stories that are not included in the list? Add them in the comments!

After this list of legendary ladies, let's give a shout out to all women working in healthcare and medicine! Happy International Women's Day!

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Butterflies, crabs, immortals (Following folktales around the world 192. - Vietnam)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Land of Seagull and Fox
Folk tales of Vietnam
Ruth Q. Sun
C.E.Tuttle, 1967.

This book is interesting because it was written in the middle of the Vietnam War, by a woman on a Fulbright scholarship who happened to be in Saigon. In the Introduction she writes about Vietnamese people and culture with appreciation. Stories have been re-told eloquently by her; she appears to know the storytelling tradition very well. Bonus points because she didn't translate Tien (immortals) as "fairies". 


I liked the story that explained why people are not immortal - the water of the Well of Immortality was so cold that the first people only dipped their fingers, toes, and head into it (which is why our nails and hair keep growing after death, says the legend).
I also enjoyed the practical tale of the butterfly in the granary, where a kind fisherman acquired a cloak of invisibility, which he used to steal grains from the granaries of rich people, and give it to the poor. He was caught because he put a patch on the torn cloak, and people could see the non-magical fabric. However, when the enemy attacked the kingdom, everyone he'd ever helped followed him to battle, and with the help of the cloak he won the victory.
One of the most well known Vietnamese tales is One year in Fairyland - one of those stories where someone spends a short time in a magic realm, only to find out centuries had passed in the real world. This version is especially beautiful and heartbreaking.
One of my favorite tales was the origin story of Da-Trang Crabs - mostly because the hero who learned the language of animals used his knowledge in very creative ways. After he lost his magic pearl, and his powers with it, he turned into a sand crab, and he has been trying to push sand into the ocean to dry it out and find his pearl again...


Vietnamese tales (for historical reasons) have a lot in common with Chinese stories. For example, there was a classic Weaver Girl and the Cowherd legend in this book, one of the most well-known love stories in the world (and it was missing the stolen-dress motif, which is a plus).
I found a more distant connection in a legend I've known from Central American traditions before. A man goes to war, and when he returns his young son talks about "another father". The jealous husband kills his wife, only to find out the "other father" was shadow play the patient mother used to entertain her child...
I was reminded of Italian Renaissance short stories by Friends and Brothers, where a husband (inspired by his wife) puts his friends and his brother to a test to see who would help him bury a body. The moral of the tale is that you can only really trust family.
There was also a Vietnamese Cinderella, a Fortunatus story, and some tales that reminded me of Japanese and Korean folklore.

Where to next?

Monday, March 1, 2021

Pit stop in Laos (Following folktales around the world 191. - Laos)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Lao folktales
Wajuppa Tossa, Kongdeuane Nettavong, Margaret Read MacDonald
Libraries Unlimited, 2008.

I usually love the Libraries Unlimited folktale series, because they are very high quality collections, but this one I was a bit slow to get through. I'm not sure if it was the language or the tales, but I found my attention wandering quite often. With that said, this is still a very good book. It has historical background, cultural explanations, it notes the names and background of the storytellers, and a separate chapter has recipes, games, and even crafts from Laos. There is also a good wide range of stories, from animal tales to folk epics.


There were a few tales that stood out to me. One of my favorites was a small story about why dogs lift their leg when they pee (because their fourth leg was given to them by the god Indra, and they are very careful with it). One of the folk epics was also fascinating; it told about the quarrel between a husband and wife that lasted through several rebirths, underpinned by the quarrel of two dragon kings who could not agree whether a porcupine is larger than an elephant. 


I found several connections to Chinese tales, such as the one where a king promises to pick an heir based on who grows the most beautiful flower from the seeds he hands out. However, the seeds are boiled, and the king picks the only boy who is brave enough to tell him the truth. (Story also known as the Empty Pot). 
I was surprised to find a Flying Turtle tale in the collection; so far I've only known it as a North American indigenous story. From the notes it turns out it exists around the world.

Where to next?