Friday, April 30, 2021

Tarot Tales: Z is for Zero (the Fool)

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

This is the last day of this year's A to Z Challenge - and, fittingly, we are closing this theme with the very first card of the Major Arcana!

The card: The Fool

Meanings: If you see the 22 cards of the Major Arcana as a continuous story, the Fool is the character who sets out on the quest. The Fool is about beginnings, jumping in with both feet, setting out on a journey with no expectations, come what may. The Fool is spontaneous and free, full of potential. deliberately stepping (not falling!) off a cliff. They are still innocent, trustful, and optimistic, and they love having fun. They have a lot to learn, but they are sure it will all work out in the end.

Selection process: I already knew which folk character I would choose for this card before I even started the challenge.

The story: Jack seeks his fortune

Origin: Appalachia

Jack is the main hero of hundreds of Appalachian folktales, transported from Great Britain and Ireland over the centuries. You probably know him from the beanstalk story, but as a trickster-fool-hero, he also appears in many other tales in many ways. My personal favorites are Lady Featherflight (where Jack takes up service with an evil giant), and Jack and the Varmints. The latter has several variants, all of which are part of the Valiant Little Tailor tale type (ATU 1640). Jack kills seven flies with one slap, and he thinks himself such a great hero that he starts advertising he can "kill seven at a whack." The King immediately hires him to get rid of various beasts prowling his forests: a giant boar, a vicious unicorn (!), and a man-eating lion. Jack takes up the job, then tries to get out of it, gets into all kinds of trouble, but his luck always holds out and he manages to defeat the beasts in hilarious ways.
Jack is not a fool because he is dumb, although he does dumb things sometimes. He is actually fairly clever - but also easygoing enough to set out into the world again and again to seek his fortune. And the rest is history. 

Sources & notes: Read Richard Chase's classic collection of Jack tales here, and Donald Davis' Jack tales here. There are also many other books to pick from. 

We have circled back to the beginning, and that's the end of this year's A to Z of Tarot Tales. Thank you all for visiting, commenting, and cheering me on! See you on Monday for Reflections!

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Tarot Tales: Y is for Youth (the Pages)

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

For the last time this month, I am doing court cards, four instead of one. We have already met the Kings, Queens, and Knights - it is time to meet the Pages! They are all about youthfulness, new beginnings, and potential. 

Page of Cups
This Page is full on unbridled creativity. They are open to new possibilities, follow their intuition and their feelings, they are curious about everything, and they love surprise discoveries. This card is about new creative endeavors, and seeing the beauty in new things around you. 

From a very old book, but it's a beautiful story. Thashira, daughter of the Queen of Fountains, is in love with colors. She collects flowers, berries, different kinds of dyes, and paints her own skin as well as the rocks around her home. She admires anything colorful. The Sun falls in love with her and creates colorful sunsets. The Wind also falls in love and brings rain to make colorful flowers. Thashira chooses the Sun, and as she rises into the sky to meet him, she becomes the rainbow.

Page of Swords
This Page is looking for knowledge. They want to learn new things, come up with new ideas, explore new theories, and find new ways to express all these. Since Swords are related to intellect and communication, this Page also has an affinity for wording or explaining things in innovative ways.

This story features two very clever brothers who understand the language of birds and are "clever at drawing deductions from the smallest signs" (hmm, where have I heard this before?). They set out to see the world and exercise their skills. They solve a mystery about a lost cow, get framed for murder, and then dazzle a magistrate with all kinds of clever observations and deductions - including the one when they tell him who his biological father is.

Page of Wands
This Page is about restless energy. They are ready to go, starting out on a journey, full of inspiration and creativity. They want to discover the world, find new things, and go places.

The Ocean-Jumping Shoes (Hungarian folktale)
One of my favorite Hungarian tales. It's about a girl who wishes for ocean-jumping shoes so she can travel the world and see all there is to see. When her father finds her the shoes, she sets out on all kinds of adventures, including a visit to the Glass Mountains and an encounter with an evil witch. The brave and clever girl rescues a prince and his sisters, and goes on to many other adventures in her magic shoes.

Page of Pentacles
This page is about material, practical things: learning new skills, starting new business opportunities, finding a new profession, a source of income or wealth. They are actively beginning to turn ideas into tangible things, practicing, learning, exploring.

Archie's besom (Scottish Traveller tale)
One of my favorite tales from legendary Traveller storyteller Duncan Williamson. Archie is a poor boy who makes a living from doing odd jobs with his brother. One day they meet an old Traveller who makes brooms from heather, and Archie decides he wants to learn his craft. He gets to work with great determination and enthusiasm, asking questions and experimenting with making his first broom. The end result is a bit strange: Archie's besom is huge, much bigger than any broom should be. But Archie doesn't despair, rather he cheerfully sets out to sell it. As luck would have it, he meets a very strong-boned witch who has been looking for a broom big enough to carry her. She happily buys the broom, and pays Archie with a magic coin.

Which Page do you feel closest to? Have you started any new things lately?

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Tarot Tales: X is for X of...

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

Today I once again post about four cards instead of one: the Tens (X's) of the Minor Arcana. Tens are the highest non-court cards, and thus they represent the completion or fulfillment of the symbolism of their entire suit.

Ten of Cups
This one is a lovely card (although I struggle to differentiate if from the Nine of Cups...). It is about joy, happiness, love - living a whole and harmonious life filled with nurturing and meaningful relationships. Cups represent water and emotion, therefore this is all about nice warm and fuzzy emotions.

A young man sets our from a cold and desolate village to bring the Bird of Happiness to his people. As he climbs higher and higher in the mountains he encounters various monsters that threaten him, and demand payment for letting him pass. The payment is always killing or hurting someone else from the village, so the young man repeatedly refuses, and suffers the consequences instead. Finally, blinded, starved, and bruised, he finds the Bird of Happiness. The bird heals him and carries him down to the village, singing a beautiful song that makes the sun shine, the fields bloom, and everyone's heart fill up with joy.

Ten of Swords
This is a baaad card. It is about deep pain, grief, loss, and despair. It is about hitting rock bottom, going through your darkest hour, being betrayed, hurt, abandoned. Lots of hard, painful feelings. The silver lining of this card is the proverbial "nowhere to go from here but up." 

The Nameless Son of Urizhmag (Ossetian Nart saga)
One of the most heartbreaking stories I know. The great hero Urizhmag kills his own child in a freak household accident. The child's spirit begs the ruler of the Underworld to let him return to the land of the living, to go on one adventure with his grieving father. He receives permission, and returns to his father's village. Urizhmag does not recognize him, but he decides to go on an adventure with the brave young warrior anyway. When they return, the boy has to go back to the Underworld; his mother realizes too late who he was. She runs after him, begging the sun to stand still on the horizon, giving her a few precious moments to catch a glimpse of her child before he disappears again.

Ten of Wands
As an overachiever, I relate to this card a lot. It is about taking on too much, and struggling to carry all the responsibility. It is about things weighing you down. This card usually signals that you have to learn to say no, and choose your battles carefully. The workload is too much, and something's gotta give.

The Magic Hen (Hungary)
There are many legends in Hungary about a creature called a lidérc, a kind of spirit that can be both helpful and dangerous. In one story, the lidérc takes the shape of a black hen that never stops working. It brings its owner whatever she desires - gold, silver, diamonds, food, etc. - and keeps bringing more and more of it until it is told to stop (or until the house fills up). If it doesn't get a new task, it takes the owner's soul to Hell. It is very hard to get rid of: the only way to kill a lidérc is to give it a task it cannot fulfill.

Ten of Pentacles
Another nice card. It is about long-term wealth, success, and financial security. Basically it represents achieving a place in life where you can provide safety and comfort to your own family - whether they are blood relations or otherwise. It is about an abundance of material resources that create a secure and nurturing environment. 

A version of the King Thrushbeard tale, but with a better outcome. A pasha's wise and clever daughter refuses to marry anyone she doesn't love. When she rejects a very high ranking suitor, her father grows furious and orders her to be married to the most wretched man in the city. Such a man (a fire stoker from a public bath) is selected, and married to the girl, then they are both kicked out of the palace to fend for themselves. However, the young woman, Uns-ul-Juloos, does not panic. She starts befriending her new husband, little by little, and he turns out to be a kind, trustworthy man. She sells her jewelry and begins renovating the small hovel they live in. She also helps her husband find a new job, and slowly but surely their lives turn for the better. By the end of the tale, with the help of a friendly jinn, they become a wealthy and respected couple. They live in their own palace comfortably, and even manage to make peace with the girl's parents and family.

These cards all represent great highs and lows. How are you feeling about them? 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Tarot Tales: W is for the Wheel of Fortune

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: The Wheel (of Fortune)

Meanings: This one is pretty self-explanatory. The card stands for good luck (or a turn of luck), the constant changing of things, destiny, karma, and moving from one phase of life into another. It is a card of turning points and the acceptance of the impermanence of everything.

Selection process: I have recently been working on a book of trickster tales, and came across this story, which I found both enchanting and very wise.

The story: The Hedley Kow

Origin: England

A good-natured old woman finds a pot full of gold coins by the road. She starts happily dragging it home (she is too weak to lift it). When she glances back after a while, she notices the pot of gold has turned into a chunk of silver. She decides silver is just as good, in fact less trouble than gold, and happily walks on. When she glances back again, she notes the silver has transformed into iron. Mulling it over, she concludes iron is just as good because she doesn't have to fear thieves, and she can sell it to the blacksmith. The next time she glances back, the iron has turned into a rock. She decides it's a rather pretty rock, and she needs one to prop the door open anyway. However, when she arrives home, the rock suddenly sprouts legs and ears, and turns into a strange fairy creature, running away with a mischievous laugh. The old woman concludes she was rather lucky to meet the Hedley Kow, a famous shapeshifting trickster, and she settles for getting a good story out of the whole thing. Whatever happens, she just goes with the flow, never losing her optimistic view on the world.

Sources & notes: Read the story in Joseph Jacobs' More English Fairy Tales here.

Runner-ups: Honestly, the Jewish folktale known as "This too shall pass" would have been the prefect candidate for this card, but it has been written about a lot, and I wanted to pick something less obvious.

Have you ever made the most of an unlikely situation? Do you think you would have handled the encounter with the Hedley Kow differently?

Monday, April 26, 2021

Tarot Tales: V is for Victory (The Chariot)

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: The Chariot

Meanings: This card is about being in control. It symbolizes willpower and confidence to stay on task, stay on course, follow through, and work towards a goal with passion and focus. It is about driving through obstacles, not being distracted, standing up for yourself, and standing by your decisions. It is a card about being assertive and stepping up. It's a "this is a hill I'm willing to die on" type thing.

Selection process: I was tempted to pick some tales from Celtic traditions again, but decided the series needed to be less Eurocentric. I wanted a story that symbolized both focus and perseverance, and featured a form of transportation, even if not a chariot.

The story: Behula

Origin: Bangladesh

This story is still told today, and is the topic of several epics. Mansa Devi, a snake goddess worshiped by a "lower caste" of snake charmers, wants to rise into the higher echelon of deities. For this she needs to receive a divine offering from the hand of a rich merchant. She tries to bribe one to worship her, promising untold riches, but he refuses. In revenge, Mansa Devi sends a venomous snake which kills the merchant's son on his wedding night. Since snakebitten corpses can't be cremated, the mourning family puts the body in a ship, sending him down the river to be devoured by crocodiles and fish. 
However, the young bride Behula loves her husband so much even in death that she decides to accompany him on his last journey (despite the family trying to dissuade her). She gets into the boat, and sets out down the river with the body of her husband. As she travels, she goes through many dangers - crocodiles, storms, wind, rain, torrential waters, robbers, witches, nothing can stop her journey. Eventually the gods take notice, and Parvati, wife of Shiva starts demanding they should revive the husband, because she is worried the faithful Behula would become an even greater goddess than her. The gods have a council, and order Mansa Devi to revive the young man. In exchange, his father worships the minor goddess, and she gains her place in the Heavens.
(In some other versions, Behula actually visits and convinces the gods to revive her husband.)

Sources & notes: Read it in this book. The story also has its own Wiki page.

Runner-ups: I have already blogged about Loktanur, the woman who invented the first sails in Marshallese legend. I was also considering Eachtach's Revenge, a sequel to the famous Irish love story of Diamruid nad Gráinne. The daughter of the tragic lovers grows up and wages war on Fionn, who caused her father's death. She is such a force of nature that she breaks Fionn's magic shield which is supposed to be unbreakable.

What is the cause or mission you are most passionate about?

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Why are there no tigers in Borneo? (Following folktales around the world 199. - Indonesia)

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!

Indonesian legends & folk tales
told by Adéle de Leeuw
Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1961.

This book would have benefited from a map and a source list. Each story notes which island it is from, but it was hard to keep track. It also has no introduction, even though I would have been curious about the author, and the collection process of the tales (and how much they have been rewritten). All the volume has is a glossary of Indonesian words. However, the stories themselves were fairly interesting.


I had two favorite tales in the book. One was The sea of children, about a boy who ate the sacrifice meant for the sea goddess, so in punishment his father was washed away while collecting swallow nests. The boy set out to save him, changed into a lizard with the help of a spirit, and did not only rescue the father from octopuses, but also managed to fix his own mistakes. The other tale, the sacred fish of Polaman, was about a pariah who set out into the jungle with a handful of magic fish. He met a brahman woman who was about to be burned on her late husband's funeral pyre. They ran away together, fell in love, survived in the jungle, and even made a miracle happen. 
There was a dark story about Cholera, Death, and Fear traveling together and visiting a town; while Cholera killed 400 people, Fear killed more than a thousand. It is a folktale type people love to bring up these days about the coronavirus. There was also a lovely story about a boy whom people accused of having a bad spirit and bringing bad luck to the rice fields; in the end an old woman adopted him, and they worked a small rice paddy until the gods rewarded them for their kindness to each other. The story of the exiled prince was a love story where the lovers turned into a tree and a fountain, and the prince's faithful brother into a bird, because he wanted to watch over them in their exile. 
There were smaller details I loved, for example the King of Rains who lives in a rainbow palace, or the magic tree that bore silk leaves and earrings as flowers.
As an archaeologist I loved the tale where the pots of a divine potter were scared by a storm, so they buried themselves in the ground to escape... and that is why people still find old pots in the ground today.


I was familiar with the tale type where a hunter started planning how he was going to grow rich from his catch - and because of his daydreaming the catch escaped. The story of fire, water and honor was familiar from American storytellers - the three of them were friends who got lost, and while fire and water were found again, lost honor could never be regained. The tale of the spider that wove a net in the mouth of a cave to hide the fleeing Prophet was also a classic.
The trickster in residence is Mouse Deer, on his home turf. There were tales about crocodile counting, tiger tricking, apocalypse, etc. After Brunei I once again encountered the tale that explains why there are no tigers in Borneo (because Kanchil scared them away, obviously). Talking about tricksters: Hanuman also made a guest appearance.

Where to next?
East Timor!

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Tarot Tales: U is for the Universe (The World)

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: The World

Meanings: The World is pretty much what is sounds like. It's an all-encompassing card. It's about completing something, arriving to a destination, achieving an accomplishment. It is a view of a whole, an understanding of how things fit and work together. It also stands for travel, because the more one travels the world, the more they see the bigger picture.

Selection process: This is one of those abstract cards that was hard to find a tale for at first. I wanted the story to have to do with travel, but also achieving something universal and infinite. Then, it clicked. 

The story: The prince who sought immortality

Origin: Hungary

A prince, terrified of dying, sets out on a journey to find a land where people never die. He travels far, and encounters interesting places of long-lived people. One is ruled by an Eagle King, who is slowly picking apart a giant tree; until he is finished, no one dies in his kingdom. Another king is moving a mountain basket by basket, and until he is done, no one dies in his kingdom. Finally at the end of the world he arrives to the Blue Kingdom, ruled by a queen who has to wear out a roomful of embroidery needles before anyone in her kingdom can die. Still, none of these are enough for the prince, who truly wants to be immortal, forever. 
So, he keeps going. Eventually he finds the floating palace of the Queen of Immortality. He happily moves in and marries her, and forgets all about the outside world. Eventually, however, he becomes homesick and wants to visit his family (against his wife's warning). He sets out on the journey, only to find out that thousands of years have passed unnoticed. All the kingdoms he'd visited are deserted. He uses magic water to bring them back to life. Eventually, he arrives to the ruins of his former home - and there, waiting for him, is Death.
Death begins to chase the prince, who flees back towards the floating castle. The people he'd helped try to slow Death down, but they don't succeed. Just when the prince reaches the castle, Death grabs him by the ankle, and the queen grabs him by the hand. A tug-o-war ensues. Eventually they agree to throw the prince up in the air, and see whose side he lands on. Luckily, he lands inside the castle. He lives with his wife in blissful immortality ever after.

Sources & notes: You can read the story here.

What are your thoughts on immortality? Would you have stopped in any of those kingdoms?

Friday, April 23, 2021

Tarot Tales: T is for the Tower

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: The Tower

Meanings: The Tower is about sudden, devastating change. Something that comes out of nowhere and wipes the board; "lightning from the clear sky" that breaks everything down in a moment. It symbolizes the feeling when life pulls the rug from under you, when everything you knew turns out to be wrong. Things come crashing down because they were not built well in the first place. The Tower symbolizes the imploding of lies, false beliefs and pretenses - but also, the possibility of rebuilding after the destruction, on more solid foundations. 

Selection process: At first, I was thinking of flood myths, for obvious reasons. There are thousands of them. And then I somehow ended up reading legends about sunken cities, which seemed much closer to the kind of story I wanted to choose.

The story: The Drowning of the Bottom Hundred

Origin: Wales

The Bottom Hundred was a fertile lowland in Wales, protected from the sea by a great stone wall and watchtowers. Each tower had a captain responsible for its upkeep, and the whole embankment was under the supervision of Prince Seithenyn - one of the "Three Immortal Drunkards of Wales". The prince, who loved parties more than work, let the wall fall into disrepair. There was only one decent captain, Teithrin, who kept his tower at the end of the wall in good shape. One day he took a walk along the embankment and he was shocked to discover how dilapidated the whole thing was becoming.
Knowing the Bottom Hundred was in danger, Teithrin tried to warn Prince Seithenyn but he didn't listen. So Teithrin went to the great King Gwyddno Garanhir - but he was having a feast and not taking any visitors. So Teithrin moved on to Elphin, the king's son, who was a more attentive man, and listened to the warning. Prince and captain returned to the embankment to talk to Seithenyn, but they found him busy getting wasted. In the meantime, a storm was starting up at high tide, and the embankment began to shake and crumble.  
With the help of Angharad, Seithenyn's daughter, they lit the warning beacons of the wall, so the people of the lowland would know to evacuate and run to high ground. Then, as the embankment was breaking down all around them, Teithrin, Elphin and Angharad managed to get out to safety with some of the people that followed them. Seithenyn on his part tried to fight the tide with a sword, and drowned. Many people and villages were lost as the sea swept over the lowland. 
The legend of the Bottom Hundred is sometimes called the Welsh Atlantis. In one night, the fertile lands transformed into Cardigan Bay. 

Sources & notes: Read one version of the story here, and some background information here.

Runner-ups: I was also thinking about using the famous Dutch legend about the sunken city of Stavoren.

What other myths, legends or tales would you associate with sudden disaster? Which one speaks to you the most?

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Tarot Tales: S is for the Star

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: The Star

Meanings: The Star is a lovely card. It is about hope, a ray of light in the darkness. It is a promise that things will get better. Things are calming down (probably after some difficult times), there is a breath of fresh air, new inspiration, awakening creativity. It's a very optimistic card.

Selection process: Obviously there are millions of stories around the world that involve stars. I recently ran into a special one that I'd like to share. I also wanted it to be a story about hope in times of darkness.

The story: My Beauty 

Origin: Haiti

A dying mother gives her two sons and her daughter a special parting gift. She puts one seed in the forehead of each of them. The seeds turn into shining stars. She promises that when they need strength, they can touch their star and think of her. Also, each star can fulfill three wishes.
After the death of the mother, the children soon get a stepmother. The boys grow up and move away across the sea, while My Beauty, the girl, stays at home. The stepmother, who is a washerwoman, meets the Devil at the river one day, and promises to give him her stepdaughter. However, My Beauty is loved and admired so much by the children of the village that every time she is sent to the river, they surround her and the Devil can't take her. Eventually he decides to catch her at night, on her way home from a party. When the Devil attacks, My Beauty uses her star to banish him twice. The third time, she uses her last wish to call to her brothers for help. Using their own stars, the brothers come to her rescue. 
Once the Devil is killed, the brothers take My Beauty across the sea to live with them. Years later they return and reveal the truth. The stepmother, along with the father who did nothing to stop her (!) is exiled.

Sources & notes: Read the story on JSTOR here.

Runner-ups: How Sasruquo plucked down a star (Nart saga). A story about a hero who is not accepted by his fellow warriors, until he saves them by shooting down a star to keep them from freezing in a blizzard.

Do you have a favorite star? Or a favorite story about stars?

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Tarot Tales: R is for Rebirth (and Death)

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: Death

Meanings: The Death card, while various TV shows like to use it for dramatic effect, is not as tragic as it sounds. Yes, it means something important is coming to and end, and things are changing forever, but it is not a bad thing. It is about transformation, transition, and new things growing out of something old. In a way, it is about rebirth. Look at the images above.

Selection process: Death is one of the basic motifs of the human experience, and figures into millions of folktales and legends. Some of them talk about death as an inevitability, or a curse, while others claim that even death can be cheated. I wanted to find a story that focuses on the transformational aspect of this card, where death is a natural part of moving on to another state of existence. 

The story: The origin of the coconut

Origin: Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia

The islands are suffering from a drought; people have no fresh water to drink. The gods want to help them. Storm and Typhoon offer to bring rain to the islands, but the divine council deems them too dangerous, and look for a more gentle solution. In the end, the god of the Coconut volunteers. He offers to be reborn from a mortal woman (because people will only appreciate a gift if they have a personal connection to it). The gods throw him a farewell party, since he will never be able to return to heaven.
Coconut descends into the womb of a mortal woman, and in nine months she gives birth to a coconut. The coconut instructs the - somewhat baffled - father to bury it in soil and wait. Soon, a tree sprouts from the ground, and it bears fruit. Ever since then, coconuts have been a good source of drinking water, food, and fiber for people all over the island world. 
(This story features not one, but two major transformations!)

Sources & notes: I found the story in this book.

Runner-ups: In a legend from the Maldives a sorcerer grows the first coconut trees from the graves of people who died in a famine - to save those who are still alive. In another story from Taiwan, a widowed father sends up the first sweet potato plants from the grave to feed and console his grieving son. I was also considering a legend from the Solomon Islands, where a girl is brought back to life by the roots of a tree after being buried, and then she travels to the surface along the underground streams.

If you had the chance to spend your next life as a plant, what plant would you want to be?

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Tarot Tales: Q is for the Queens

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

Once again, I am doing Court Cards from the Minor Arcana, so there will be four stories instead of one.

Queen of Cups: The king who trusted his kingdom to his daughters (Jewish tale)

This Queen is about compassion, caring, and empathy. She is a mom friend, a naturally loving and nurturing person. She feels everything deeply, but she does not get lost in her emotions. For this card, I chose the tale with the very long title above; I blogged about it in detail in my Feminist Folktales series here. It features a princess who is very compassionate. She finds a way to turn her tears into diamonds, and uses the gems to help people in need. In the end, she becomes a beloved queen. 

Queen of Swords: Balqis, Queen of Sheba 

This Queen is smart, direct, outspoken, and just. She is independent and respected, an authority by her own right, and she likes clear things - be it communication, boundaries, or logical, unbiased solutions to problems. Since I had King Solomon as King of Swords, I thought it would be fitting to have his intellectual and political equal, the Queen of Sheba as Queen of Swords. 
There are many legends about her from many cultures; I especially like the Arabic stories. Balqis (or Bilquis) is the ruler of the Land of Sheba (associated with Yemen). When she hears about King Suleyman (Solomon), the two of them start up an exchange of messages with the help of a hoopoe. Balqis sends Suleyman some riddles to solve and tricky tasks to fulfill to test him; when he passes the tests, she goes to visit him herself. Upon arrival Suleyman managed to trick her too (out of all things, he wants her to lift her skirt to see if her legs are hairy... and they are). Balqis asks a series of riddles, which Suleyman manages to answer, and they ascertain that they are well matched in wisdom and intellect. In some legends they get married (or at least sleep together), but in most stories Balqis eventually returns to her own country to rule in her own right. (Read another version here.)

Queen of Wands: Brave Seventee Bai (India)

This Queen gets things done. She is brave, active, determined, and confident. She is a force to be reckoned with, and draws a lot of attention. She is a social butterfly with a lot of connections; she is just all-around very likable, friendly, and warm. 
For this card I chose an Indian folktale hero, Seventee Bai. She is the daughter of a wazir who becomes a prince's second wife. However, when the family is exiled into the wilderness, the prince bails on his wives. Seventee puts on his clothes and moves on, saving herself and her co-wife. They live in another kingdom for 12 years, and Seventee becomes the beloved and trusted advisor of the local raja. Eventually he sends Seventee out on various quests and errands, all of which she fulfills, rescuing/winning six other princesses in the process. Magic trees, giant snakes, horse races, nothing is impossible to Seventee Bai. Eventually her husband returns from the wilderness as a wretched beggar - and she hands over all seven princesses and the wealth she gained to him. Not gonna lie, I'm infinitely miffed about that ending. But it's a very cool story almost all the way.

Queen of Pentacles: Queen Anait (Armenia)

This Queen is also a nurturing person, but in a more practical sense. She is a person who creates a safe home, a loving environment, provides food and financial security as her way of showing affection. She is practical, hands-on, supportive, and independent. She immediately reminded me of Queen Anait from Armenia, one of my favorite feminist folktales. The Anait in the story weaves beautiful carpets and teaches people to read and write. She is only willing to marry a man who has a practical profession, and when she becomes queen, this principle saves her husband's life and the entire kingdom. 

Do you have women like these in your life? Are you one of them? Do they remind you of anyone?

Monday, April 19, 2021

Tarot Tales: P is for the Priestess and the Pope (High Priestess, Hierophant)

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

Today I'm doing two cards, because I couldn't shove the Hierophant in anywhere else. But at least they go well together.

The card: High Priestess

Meanings: This card is about the "divine feminine." Wise women, spiritual teachers, keepers of mystic lore. It is about knowledge, intuition, the subconscious, and liminal spaces only the initiated can cross into. It is about learning things, asking questions, digging deep, and listening to that hidden voice that goes beyond reality.

Selection process: I knew exactly what story I wanted for this card.

The story: Elena the Wise

Origin: Russia

Summary: A soldier is recruited to guard the three daughters of an evil spirit. He soon finds out that the girls sneak out every night in the shape of pigeons. He secretly follows them, and arrives to a meadow filled with girls. Suddenly, a beautiful woman appears on a carriage drawn by six fiery dragons, sits down on a golden throne, and starts teaching the girls magic. This is Elena the Wise. 
The soldier falls in love with her, and keeps sneaking into the nighttime magic classes. Eventually he follows Elena home. She wants to kill him when she finds out, but he manages to convince her to make a challenge instead: if he can hide from her, she'll marry him. She finds him twice with the help of her magic book, but the third time he turns into a pin and hides inside the book itself. Elena admits she was defeated by the clever trick, and marries the soldier.
(Honestly, I don't care for the latter half of the story, but I love the whole secret magic girl school thing. And the dragon chariot.)

Sources & notes: Read the story here.

The card: Hierophant

Meanings: While the Priestess is about intuition and mystery, this guy is about structure, learning, and tradition. It is often said to symbolize organized religion. But even beyond that, the Hierophant stands for established rituals, sets of values, institutions of education, and rules. It is about learning acquired by hard work and study, about wisdom gained from gathering knowledge. 

Selection process: I wanted to keep this card's connection to religion in some form, but once again, I wanted to relate it to a story I like. And I wanted it to carry the learning, knowledge-seeking and mentorship aspect as well. 

The story: Journey to the West 

Origin: China

Summary: Alright, so the character I most readily associated this card with is Xuanzang (Tripitaka) from the Chinese epic Journey to the West. He is a real historical figure, and also one of the leading characters in the medieval, epic. He is the Buddhist monk and scholar best known for traveling to and around India, and bringing the holy scriptures of Buddhism to China (with the help of some supernatural helpers such as the Monkey King). I have blogged about Journey to the West in detail in another A to Z challenge here. It's one of my favorite books. 

Who are your favorite teachers, mentors, and role models?

Sunday, April 18, 2021

A stroll around seven thousand islands (Following folktales around the world 198. - Philippines)

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!

Tales from the 7,000 Isles
Popular Philippine Folktales
A.R. Guillermo & Nimfa M. Rodeheaver
Read Me Books, 1996.

A lovely volume with many colorful illustrations (some better than others), containing 20 folktales on a mere 87 pages. It was interesting, but I did not fall in love with it. The authors claim some stories were "rewritten" to make them more dramatic, but don't specify what parts they changed. There was a short introduction about the flora and fauna of the islands; they also mentioned they selected from the larger ethnic groups of the Philippines, but did not specify them with the stories. Names came with notes and explanations (animal's names were often the word used for that animal). There was not much extra information included, but it was an entertaining read.


Most of the memorable stories were placed among the myths in the beginning of the book. My favorite was the completely conflict-less story about how different plants went to the Great Spirit to be told where they will live. It was interesting to observe who became ambassadors to various plant groups: hardwood was represented by mahogany, grasses by bamboo, fruit trees by mango, food plants by rice, and tall trees by coconut, who was deemed the most important of all. Another interesting myth explained why sea is salt - it was about a hero who wanted to build a salt castle for his love, and while building a salt-bridge to another island the bridge collapsed under him. 
The book also had a short version of one of the great epics of the Philippines, Ibong Adarna the magic bird. I read the original in translation, so this summarized version was not nearly as exciting, but I was still happy to see it here. And the rainbow colored magic bird somehow got translated as a nightingale...


There were many. Most oft he stories belonged to familiar types, such as animals running a race (here buffalo and tortoise), fairy bride with stolen wings (or rather, star bride), and even an Aladdin story that was so close to the 1001 Nights I wondered how it ended up on the Philippines. There was also a version of the story where sea animals want a monkey's liver, but he manages to convince them he's left his organs on dry land. I knew this one from Japan.

Where to next?

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Tarot Tales: O is for the Old Man (Hermit)

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: The Hermit

Meanings: The Hermit is about being alone, but not really about loneliness. Rather, it's a card of introspection, soul-searching, self-reflection, inner guidance, and focusing on yourself. Obviously it can also symbolize taking a break from worldly things and concerns. 

Selection process: Hermits do appear often in world folklore and legends, usually as religious role models or spiritual guides. However, I wanted to find a story that dealt with self-reflection and seeking a truth - and also wanted it to be a good story.

The story: King Cormac's journey

Origin: Ireland

Cormac Mac Airt, High King of Ireland, is visited by a mysterious stranger who carries a golden branch with nine golden apples. Such beautiful music emanates from the ringing apples that even wounded warriors and women in labor fall into a peaceful sleep from it. King Cormac asks for the branch as a token of friendship. The guest agrees to give it up - in exchange for the king fulfilling three of his wishes. Cormac, not even considering the consequences, agrees.
After that, the stranger returns three time in three years with his three requests. First, he takes away Cormac's daughter, then his son, then his wife. Finally, Cormac is left alone, as as he waits the return of his family every day on the ramparts of Tara, he re-evaluates the worth of the magic branch that puts everyone easily to sleep. He realizes that making sorrow disappear with music is not helping anyone.
So, King Cormac sets out to find his family. He gets lost in the mists and wanders alone for a long time until he arrives to a magic land, where he sees many strange things. Eventually, he finds a castle, and he is greeted as a guest. His hosts put a pig over the fire to roast, but they announce that it will only be done when four true stories are told over it. Everyone takes turns telling stories, and Cormac realizes his host is none other than Manannan Mac Lir, the King of the Otherworld and god of the sea. Cormac finally tells his own story, admitting he had made a bad choice when he traded his family for the golden branch. Lesson learned, Manannan gives him his family back, and sends him home, to rule more wisely and honestly over Ireland.

Sources & notes: Read the story here or here, and find more info here.

Runner-ups: I read an entire book of tales about Taoist immortals which was quite fascinating. Lots of hermits in here.

What is your favorite place to be alone? Where do you go or what do you do when you need to think things over?

Friday, April 16, 2021

Tarot Tales: N is for Nine of...

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

This is once again an unconventional Minor Arcana post. I am picking four tales for the four Nine cards in the tarot deck. I have struggled with the Nines, because they are not easy for me to grasp in concrete terms, but I am trying my best.

Nine of Wands

Nine of Wands is exhausted but not broken. It is a card about still standing after going through a lot. It is about resilience, overcoming obstacles, standing your ground and not giving up. It is also about boundaries - the boundaries that protect you, that you have fought hard for. They keep others from bringing you down, even when it feels like everything is testing your resilience.

In this tale, a girl's Destiny appears to her in the shape of an eagle, and asks her if she wants to be fortunate when she is young, or when she is old. She chooses fortune for her old age - which means misfortune plagues her while she is young. The eagle follows her everywhere, and messes up whatever she tries to achieve. She goes through a lot, gets kicked out of all her jobs, until finally she manages to find a place as a servant in a king's palace. In her most desperate moment, her misfortune finally breaks, and she ends up marrying a prince.
This tale type has many other variants. You can read one here, or here, or here. It's tale type ATU 938A.

Nine of Swords

This is not a nice card. It is about anxiety, fears, worries, and all those other dark things that literally keep you up at night. It is despair, lack of self-confidence, and haunting thoughts. 

A princess dies of a broken heart, and demands that someone should guard her crypt every night. However, each guard is found dead in the morning. Turns out the princess transformed into a monster who crawls out of her coffin at night to eat people. One brave man volunteers to spend three nights in the cathedral where she is buried. On the first two, he hides in various places, terrified she'd find him; on the third, he jumps into her coffin and locks himself in. She screams and scratches the lid all night, but he holds out. By morning, the curse is broken.
Yes, you know this one from The Witcher. I always thought this folktale is about anxiety. Folktale type ATU 307.

Nine of Cups

This one is also known as the wish card. It is about wishes coming true. It is about satisfaction, blessings, happiness, gratitude, living your best life, having it all. I wanted to find a story that has a water element (Cups), a wish, and a content happy ending.

A king is searching for someone who would bring water from a magic lake to cure his sick son. Two young men set out but they fail. Eventually, their little sister sets out on a journey too, and with the help of her pet llama and some grateful birds, she manages to find a lake. The birds make her a magic fan from their feathers, a fan that fulfills her every which. At the lake, she uses it to defeat a giant crab, an alligator, and a flying serpent. She takes the water to the king in a golden jar. In return, the king grats her three wishes. She receives a large farm for her family, and lives happily ever after. The ever-full golden jar keeps the royals healthy and safe.
(You can also read the story here or here, or find a lovely Spanish telling here.

Nine of Pentacles

If Cups is about wishes, this one is about wealth. It is about having financial security, the ability to enjoy the fruits of your hard work. It is a card for luxury and comfort. It also usually depicts a woman surrounded by nature, enjoying her life. It's the treat yourself card.

A poor widow supports herself and her three sons from her weaving. One day she sees a beautiful painting of a palace with gardens, and she decides to weave it into a brocade, escaping into the beautiful imaginary world while she works. When the brocade is finally finished, the winds picks it up and carries it away, and the widow, after so much work, falls ill from disappointment. Her sons set out to find the brocade, but only the youngest succeeds; he finds it in a palace of fairies, where they are busy copying it. He takes the brocade home - and when he unfolds it, it comes to life, providing a gorgeous garden and a palace for the widow (and a fairy wife for her son). They live happily ever after.

If you could have a wish, what would you wish for? If you had the resources, what would you treat yourself to? What keeps you going when times are hard?

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Tarot Tales: M is for The Magician

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: The Magician

Meanings: This card speaks for itself. It is about power, knowledge, energy, and action. This person has all the tools and resources to turn ideas into reality. He is a master of what he's doing. It is a card full of confidence. He's got this.

Selection process: World folklore is teeming with magicians of all kinds - this was another one of those too many to choose from situations. Once again it would have been easy to pick Merlin. I wanted to pick someone equally legendary and powerful, but from outside of Europe.

The story: Abe no Seimei

Origin: Japan

Abe no Seimei in a game 
called Onmyoji
Abe no Seimei is a very famous onmyoji (diviner and magician) in Japanese lore, who was originally a real historical figure from the 10th century. There are many legends about him, and he's even transferred into popular media. 
According to the stories, Abe no Seimei was only half human: his mother was a kitsune, a fox spirit, who fell in love with a mortal man. Their son had supernatural powers from an early age, he could see hidden things (like his mother's true nature), and command spirits. When he grew up, he became a powerful diviner and magician. He even understood the language of animals.
In one story, Abe no Seimei saves the emperor from a fox maiden named Tamamo no Mae, who lives in his court in the disguise of a concubine, and makes the emperor sick. In another legend, he helps the samurai Watanabe no Tsuna in defeating a terrible demon
One of the most famous legends, however, deal with the divination duel between Abe no Seimei and his rival Ashiya Douman. Over the course of this challenge, Abe no Seimei even summons a dragon, and with its help creates a flood that almost drowns his rival. Later, they both have to guess the contents of a box that was buried. Douman guesses correctly (fifteen oranges), but Abe no Seimei guesses fifteen rats... and then uses his powers to turn the oranges into rats. 

Sources & notes: See the links above. You can also read about Abe no Seimei in this fascinating book.

Runner-ups: I was also seriously considering Vergilius (who in medieval legends transformed from Roman poet into a powerful wizard), Taliesin the Welsh bard, Don Juan de Salamanca the Spanish wizard, a host of Icelandic wizard legends, the red princess' story from Nizami, Kampó the Hungarian wizard, and even Prince Ariel from Madame D'Aulnoy's fairy tales.

Who is your favorite wizard or magician from folklore, from history, or from modern popular culture?