Friday, May 20, 2022

Sisterhood of the Wolf: The hunt for female werewolves (Girl in the chair)

Girl in the Chair is a blog series on research for storytellers. You can find the details about it in the opening post here


I am preparing for this year's Story Camp that my organization (the Világszép Foundation) runs for children in the foster system. This year's theme is Transformations/Shapeshifting. First step is usually for the camp staff to choose folktale roles for themselves, so we can greet the children in character. I have spent the past few weeks researching tales about shapeshifters. When it came to picking my own character, I decided I'd like to turn into a wolf. 
(I recently read the book about Wolf 21 and I am in love with positive wolf representation. In addition, Werewolf is one of my favorite RPGs.)

So, I set out to find folktales or legends or myths about female werewolves or wolf shifters. I set some pretty specific criteria:

1. It has to be a traditional story with a narrative (folktale, legend, myth)
2. It has to be a good story
3. It has to feature a female character who can turn into a wolf
4. This female character has to be portrayed in a positive light, and has to achieve a happy ending
5. Wolves have to be portrayed in a positive (or non-negative) light
6.The transformation should happen at will, not as a curse or a one-time thing

Yeah. The bar was pretty high.

1. Thompson Motif Index

I turned to the motif index first, looking for "transformation: man to wolf" (D113.1). Werewolves do get their own motif number (D113.1.1), but I did not want to dig into those one by one unless I had to - werewolves are almost always male. Since Thompson usually notes when transformation happens to a woman, I filed this away for later. Too broad.

2. Keyword search

I set out with the most obvious search terms on Google Books and Google Scholar: "female werewolf", "she turned into a wolf", "wolf princess", "wolf fairy", etc., combined with "folktales", "legends" and other keywords. I had to work through a lot of fantasy novels (Google autocorrects "folktale" to "story" for some godforsaken reason), and several references to Princess Mononoke and Angela Carter.
No story really jumped out at me, but I did flag a book about the cultural history of female werewolves.

3. She-Wolf

The aforementioned book is a fascinating collection of articles on female werewolves. Only one really goes into folktales, but that one is a treasure trove, about female werewolves in Estonia (apparently, Estonia is unique with its strong female wolf tradition, go figure). I did get a couple of stories from it, but they didn't tick all the boxes: either the wolf was cursed, or evil, or it died in the end, or the story was simply not all that interesting. Still, great book.
(There was also a study on Burgundian werewolf trials, but the women accused of lycanthropy were all executed.)

4. I take to Twitter

When in doubt, tweet about it. The online folklore community rallied around my question, and I received quite a few suggestions from lovely people. Some were literary examples (again, Angela Carter, also Sergeant Angua),but others were promising. 

4A. 

A Croatian friend was kind enough to send me translations of two She-Wolf folktales, both variants of the "swan bride" tale type, with a girl whose wolf fur is stolen by her husband. I loved these, but I couldn't really use them in the story camp setting. 

4B.

Multiple people pointed me to the Werewolves of Ossory. It's an interesting tale, but once again it is short, with nameless characters, and the wolves are cursed. But it did point me to the Irish wolf tradition, which I circled back to later.

4C.

Someone brought up Romulus and Remus. I went on a side quest, looking into the lupa of Rome, and Acca Larentia as a possible wolf goddess - but in the end, Romulus and Remus is not a story that gets me excited either. And I thought a wolf mom to abandoned babies would hit a little too close to home with the foster kids.


4D.

Someone suggested looking into the Wulver, but I couldn't find a tale with a female Wulver. Or any tale, really. Some say this whole thing might be fakelore.

4E.

Someone linked me to a Chinese tale about an old woman who turns into a wolf, and eventually has to leave her family. It was a touching story, but with a sad ending.

4F.

Jürgen Hubert mentioned a tale about a wolf-woman who fell into a trap, and later killed the hunter with his own rifle. I liked this one, but it's not really much to build a character on. Translation forthcoming.

INTERLUDE: Pinkola Estés

Yes, a bunch of people mentioned Women Who Run With the Wolves. While I have a bone to pick (heh) with CPE and her treatment of folktales, I did look up the book to refresh my memory. One of my problems with this book is that it comes with notes, but it does not cite the sources for the stories - and she tends to change them a lot. And then everyone quotes her as a folklore source. I checked both in English and Spanish, and could not find the story she references.

5. Peeira

Fables, 1001 Nights
of Snowfall
My "wolf fairy" search took me to the topic of the peeira, a Portuguese creature of legend often translated as "fairy of the wolves." These women are usually seventh daughters in their family, and at one point they run off to live with wolf packs who take care of them.
It gets a mention in this book (which a Twitter friend kindly looked up for me), but the story itself attached only deals with wolves symbolically (as punishment for an unkind girl). Also this one, which looks fun, but I could't get a copy. Following the trail, I found this video which tells an amazing peeira legend, but it is kind of dark and bloody. I found a source in Portuguese as well, but it didn't really give a full story, just a belief. I found a reference to another (non-peeira) Portuguese female werewolf story, but in this one the girl was definitely evil, and she ate a baby. Boo.
(Here is a blog post on Portuguese werewolves)
All in all, I like the peeira as a concept, but couldn't find any convincing narratives to use.

6. Irish wolves

I circled back to the Irish tradition, as one of the Portuguese sources cited a source about Irish wolves. The source cited is pretty short; it says the Irish word for female werewolf was conoel (which Google promptly autocorrected to colonel), and mentions women who go into wolf shape, but alas no stories. Conoel did not yield any as a search term either.
The mentions of the Werewolves of Ossory led me to look into Laignech Faelad, a legendary figure whose descendants can turn into wolves. Couldn't find a direct reference to women, though.
I did get a few hits here and there. I found a literary poem featuring the warriors of the Fianna, and a Wolf-Girl whose curse is broken by a kiss from Oisín. In one of the folktales collected by Curtin a woman cursed into the shape of a wolf gave birth to a human baby (but then promptly died). The Acallam na Senórach mentions the three wolf-daughters of Airitech who came out of their cave to hunt, but they are murdered by warriors in the end. There was also a tale about a family of shapeshifting wolves, and a man they rewarded for saving and healing one of their pups. The family included a fierce mother, so this tale was a definite maybe.
I also found some references to lycanthropy and women in Ireland, such as this article, but no convincing stories. There was an entire side quest about the wolf-woman to be tamed by Irish kings through marriage (see references here). Some sources that looked interesting I could not track down (like this study from this book. It referenced a 17th century text here, but I did not have the bandwidth to go through it in search of the mention of a female wolf).

7. More keywords

I found a reference to a Persian tale called "The Wolf-Girl and the Fairy", but despite the enticing title, it turned out to be one of those tales were a hero's sister transforms into a monster. You can find it in this book. I also found a reference to ATU tale type 409, "Girl as Wolf", but it was another "woman cursed to be a wolf" story.

8. Wolf Queen

And then it dawned on me that might not have searched for "Wolf Queen" earlier. So I did. Lo and behold: a story! A Cape Malay story, specifically, from Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales. (This is the original source.) It's a version of the Donkeyskin tale type: a girl tries to avoid marrying a sultan by transforming into a wolf - and then occasionally forgets to transform back. In the end, her true love recognizes her anyway. And she has a name! (Amina.) And she lives happily ever after!

WHEW! That was an intense three-day dive into a rabbit hole... wolf den? I am sure there is more to rustle up, but I'm satisfied for now.

The real treasure was the citations I found along the way!


Monday, May 9, 2022

Brave girls and great loves (Folktales of Chinese minorities 21. - Kam/Dong)

As a sequel to the Following folktales around the world reading challenge, I decided to start reading minority and indigenous folktales. First up are the minority peoples who live in China. You can find previous posts here, and you can follow the challenge on Facebook here.

I gathered the stories of the Kam people (officially called Dong in China) from various books - herehere, here and here. I managed to find a total of eight folktales. The Kam are an ethnic minority numbering close to three million people in Southern China and in Vietnam. They are known for their beautiful folk songs and embroidery. You can read more about their culture here.

Highlights

The tale of the Long Haired Girl was a lovely story about a girl who discovered a hidden spring and saved her people from drought. A monster wanted to punish her for disclosing the secret of the spring, but an old man helped create a statue that looked just like her, and the monster punished the statue instead. (This story appears in another collection as well.)

The story of the two brothers reached a sad end. The elder brother gave all the fish he caught to his little brother, and only kept the heads for himself. A mean neighbor told the younger boy that the heads were the best part, and he got so upset that he pushed his brother into the river. Once he found out the truth, he turned into an egret, and he has been calling his brother ever since. Another sad story was that of Ding Lang and the Dragon Princess; the girl brought him good fortune and prosperity, but he chased her away for not giving birth to children - and she took the luck with her.

The story of Suo Lao is one of the famous Kam love songs. A girl was not allowed to marry the man she loved, and she died of heartbreak. Another girl, Shu Mei, managed to find a happier ending: while a jealous man tried to separate her from her beloved (with whom she stayed in contact from a distance with the help of a magic scarf), in the end they found their way back together, and the troublemaker turned into a crow.

Connections

The Kam tradition also had a myth about saving the sun, and an especially beautiful one too! A demon hid the sun underground, and two siblings, brother and sister, set out to rescue it. The girl found it and tied a rope around it, and the boy pulled it back to the sky. The girl, sadly, was killed by the demon - from her blood came sunflowers.

The story of the stonecutter was familiar: a man wanted to turn into something stronger, and each time a fairy fulfilled his wish. He became a rich merchant, then an official, then a Kam warrior (and thus stronger than the Han Chinese), then sun, cloud, wind, and stone, until he returned to his old self. The story of the older brother who neglected his siblings was also familiar - his wife pretended that he'd killed a man, and only the siblings showed up to help bury the body. Go figure.

Who is next?

The Hezhe/Nanai people!

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

White dragon, golden frog (Folktales of Chinese Minorities 20. - Tu/Monguor)

As a sequel to the Following folktales around the world reading challenge, I decided to start reading minority and indigenous folktales. First up are the minority peoples who live in China. You can find previous posts here, and you can follow the challenge on Facebook here.

China's Monguor minority
Ethnography and folktales
Kevin Stuart & Limusishiden
Sino-Platonic Papers, 1994.

The Tu/Monguor are a Mongolic ethnic group with strong cultural ties to Tibet. They number about one hundred thousand people. The book contains 94 folktales, translated from written and oral sources.
In the first part of the book we get a lot of information on the traditional Monguor way of life. Some of this text is strongly political (e.g. "in the days before the Liberation, when people were exploited by the ruling class", etc.). Shorter chapters introduce us to beliefs, Buddhism, traditions, marriage, folk arts, history, clothing, etc. - as well as mythology, epics, and proverbs. The stories themselves are divided into two chapters: Huzhu Monguor and Minhe Monguor tales.

Highlights

The myth about the origin of the five elements and the creation of the earth was interesting: the first dry land was placed on the belly of a golden frog. Another, very beautiful origin story concerned the tung tree: a boy set out to find a way to make the moon shine and give warmth every night. He acquired a potion from an old sage, which turned him into a tung tree. The oil of the tree has been used for lamps for centuries, so the boy is still bringing people light and warmth. I also loved the legend of the White Dragon Horse, who brought rain to people against the orders of the Heavenly Emperor, and was sent to hell for it. People solved an impossible riddle to win his freedom back.
One of my favorite stories was the love between Dala and Shalan Gu. A poor boy borrowed money from his rich uncle, and lied that he needed it for a wedding. When the uncle came to visit, the boy needed a fake wife, and decided to steal a goddess statue. In the darkness, however, he accidentally stole a real girl who was sleeping in the temple. They fell in love, obviously. Prime romcom material.
There was a story about three abandoned sisters that illustrated how women are just as valuable as men. The girls had been abandoned because their parents wanted sons. They found their fortune and lived happily; when later on they returned to help their old, miserable parents, they found them still mourning that they could not have sons. So the girls left them to their own devices. I also liked the story where three brothers set out to find their fortune; two became wealthy merchants, and the youngest became a musician. The daughter of the Lake King fell in love with the latter's music, and fulfilled all his wishes. The funniest moment was the proof of a perfect wife: when a piece of noodle fell onto her shoe while cooking, she gracefully flicked it back into the pot with her foot.
This book also had of the best versions I have ever read for a "language of animals" story: a young man found out, with the help of a small green stone, that an earthquake was imminent. However, people wouldn't believe him until he disclosed where he got the knowledge - and he willingly broke the secret, turning into stone to save his people.

Connections

There were several familiar story types in the book, including some unexpected complications. The Black Horse, for example, started as a "three kidnapped princesses" tale, but then turned into one of those stories where someone borrows fire from a monster. In the end, the three brothers killed the monster together. Bawo Mori was a classic Frog Husband story, but in the end we found out that if the frog skin had not been burned ahead of time, the hero would have ended social injustices... There was also a "princess in the shroud" tale, where the hero exchanged his dead father's head for useful gifts that helped him defeat serpents that crawled out of the cursed princess' nose (yup). I also found another tale about the magpie teaching birds how to build a nest, as well as a myth about a hero shooting down nine suns.

Further familiar tale types: contest of Truth and Lies (The blind healer), kidnapped princesses (The evil whirlwind), donkey, stick, tablecloth (Stick of revenge), Brementown musicians (where animals and objects helped an old woman get rid of a monster), multiple "kind and unkind" tales with boys and girls (the best one was about a girl who stole a chicken for her mother-in-law), frog husband, unjustly punished animal (here a monkey protected a baby from a wolf). I was reminded of Vasilisa the Beautiful by the story where a kind girl was helped in her journey by a doll gifted to her by her mother-in-law. There was also a tale where a man wanted to abandon his old, feeble father by taking him to the wilderness in a basket - and his little son reminded him to bring the basket back, because one day he'll need it too. There was a "clever girl" tale with a boy hero who outwitted an evil lama. I was reminded of the story of the ay-ay-ay nuts by the story where a boy had to bring a pot full of "ow" for a rich man.

The trickster in residence is Huairighasuu, a boy born from a lamb's tail, who played a series of tricks on an evil lama. Further tricksters included Fox (who played the classic tail-fishing trick on Wolf), Hare (who cruelly tricked wolf and other animals), and occasionally Frog. The latter was featured in the "animals racing" tale where he did not only defeat Tiger, but also managed to convince him he ate tigers for dinner. Frog also starred in the "talkative animal" story where he was carried by birds while holding on to a stick (but couldn't keep quiet, and fell down), as well as a "monkey heart" type tale where he tried to trick Fox out of his fur.

Who's next?
The Kam/Dong people

Monday, May 2, 2022

A to Z Challenge Reflections: Gemstone Folklore

#AtoZChallenge 2022 WINNER badge

I have completed my 10th A to Z Challenge!

My theme this year was Gemstone Folklore. You can now find a list of all my posts on this page. It was a theme years in the making, and probably the one that has required the most research ever. I greatly enjoyed it, and it seemed to resonate with people too!

Over the course of April, the blog had more than 10k hits and almost 300 comments (fun fact: diamonds got the most comments, go figure). Hits and comments both tapered off a little towards the end of the month - likely because every participant was running out of steam, and also because I got covid a week ago (owww), and did not have the energy to do as much visiting as I wanted to.

I have a lot to catch up on, in terms of visiting - there were a lot of awesome blogs and themes this year!

Here is a list of some of my favorites, in no particular order:

Fanni Sütő's Ink, Maps & Macaroons - she is a writer friend of mine who participated for the first time this year, and I had great fun reading her personal and honest posts about life intermingled with fiction

From Cave Walls - a fellow mineral & gemstone theme which I loved reading

Brizzy Mays Books and Bruschetta - a theme of Trailblazing Australian Women, from which I learned a whole lot, and put a bunch of books on my TBR about women's history

Sarah Zama's The Old Shelter - an A to Z veteran, Sarah once again brought a really cool historical theme to the challenge, this time about the birth of the New Woman in the 1920s

Anne E.G. Nydam's Black and White - an amazing and artistic theme about designing mythical creatures, and the many features they can have. You can tell it's well researched because she showed me a bunch of new creatures I didn't know about!

Story Crossroads - a fellow veteran with a folktale theme, about dualities in folktales :)

Literacious - the theme was Reaching Reluctant Readers, with a whole lot of cool advice on how to inspire childen to read

Deborah Weber - Pointed Ponderings, a series of posts based on rare and fascinating words. Deborah's A to Z posts always inspire me

Timothy S. Brannan's The Other Side - an A to Z of conspiracy theories, which was great fun to read, and also sometimes mind-numbing

Shout out to the A to Z Challenge team! I love working with you guys :)

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Z is for the Zircon and the Idol (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.

ZIRCON (JACINTH)

Zircon is a gemstone also known as zirconium silicate. It comes in various colors, from colorless through blue all the way to brown. The yellow, orange, and red variants are called jacinth or hyacinth.

The King's Idol and His Daughter
14th century Arab legend from Spain

This is a story within a story. According to the 14th century manuscript, Dulcarnain (Alexander the Great?) comes across a great idol on an island, and asks to know the story of who created it. An old man tells him the tale of The King's Idol and His Daughter:

A great and powerful king has a thousand concubines, but only one child: a daughter. When she is born, astrologers all agree that she will give birth to a son who will become a great hero. The king constructs a fortress and locks his daughter - Omr - inside, giving her all she could wish for, except freedom. When she grows up, the girl looks out the window, falls in love with the vizier's son Xams, and finds a way to sleep with him. From their union, a child is born in secret. The princess puts a jacinth stone around his neck and a gold band on his ankle, puts him in a wooden coffin, and sets him out on the sea, praying to God to take care of the baby.
The baby is guided by the winds to an island inhabited by animals only. A gazelle finds a child and gives him milk. He grows up among the animals, observing their behavior, and when he grows up, he learns to make tools and hunt. He soon becomes the leader and judge of the animals.
Meanwhile, the kind is looking for his precious jacinth stone, and can't find it anywhere (he kills six thousand people who can't present it to him). When his vizier dies, Xams ascends to the position. The king sees a dream of Xams' son taking over his throne, and in a fury exiles the young man in a ship alone. The winds take the ship to the same island. Father and son meet and get to know each other. Eventually they are picked up by a ship and taken to the kingdom of the princess' father. The king recognizes the scene from his dream, including the precious jacinth around the boy's neck - and the princess claims the young man as her child. The sos ascends to the throne, and becomes a wise and powerful ruler.

Sources: Read the story (in Spanish) here. Read more about it here.

This is it, people! Another year of the A to Z Challenge completed!
Did you enjoy the ride? 
Which one was your favorite story?
See you on Monday for Reflections!

Friday, April 29, 2022

Y is for Yellow Diamonds (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.

YELLOW DIAMONDS

I have already written about diamonds earlier in the challenge. Yellow diamonds gain their color from nitrogen being trapped in their crystal structure. They are the most common among the colored diamonds.

The death of the demon Bala
Myth from India

This myth is from the Garuda Purana, a Hindu religious text written in Sanskrit. Manuscripts originate from the 9th-10th century CE, but the myths themselves are likely much, much older.
This story takes place at a time when there was a fierce battle raging between the gods and various demons. The most fearsome duel ensued between the god Indra, and the demon Bala. Bala's body was radiant and no weapon could pierce it; at his laughter, pearls fell from his mouth. Seeing that he could not kill him, Indra praised him, and asked for a boon. Bala agreed to grant a wish for the gods - and they asked him to sacrifice himself. Bala gave his life willingly as a sacrificial offering. Indra struck him with a thunderbolt, shattering Bala's body into pieces - and because of the merit earned by voluntary sacrifice, various parts of the body, falling to the ground, became gemstones. 
Bala's eyes turned turned into sapphires, ears and blood into rubies, bone marrow and nose into emeralds, tongue into corals, teeth into pearls. His semen produced silver, his urine turned into copper, from his sweat came brass, his nails gold, his blood mercury, his marrow crystals. The gods fought over the gems, and as they flew in the air with their chariots, many gems scattered, landing in places where they are still mined today. Bala's grieving widow, Prabhavati, transformed into a river, uniting her body with her husband's, and polishing the gems that came from him.
The text says that yellow diamonds, coming from Bala's body, were especially reserved for kings. They were also sacred to Indra, for doing the original sacrifice.

Sources: The death of Bala here, more lore about diamonds in the Garuda Purana here. Find another text here.

If you could pick a colored diamond, what color would you go for?

Thursday, April 28, 2022

X is for Fairy Crosses (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.

STAUROLITE

Staurolite (lit. cross-stone) is a type of mineral that often crystallizes twinned, forming a natural cross shape. These crystals are often found in Georgia and Virginia, and generally well known in Appalachia.

"Fairy crosses"
Cherokee legend

There are legends among the Cherokee that claim that they knew about Jesus Christ before the first white people landed on their continent. One of these stories claim that the news arrived through the Aniyvwi Tsunsdi, the Little People (often translated as "fairies"). They gathered one day for a day of dancing and celebrations, when one of them arrived late, bringing the news from far away that Jesus had been crucified. At the news the Little People wept in sorrow, and their tears transformed into the small cross-shaped crystals one can still find on the ground today. They are believed to bring good luck, and ward off evil.

Sources: Read about the legend here, here, here, or here.

Have you ever found a natural fairy cross?
Or another stone of peculiar shape?

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

W is for the Weise Stone (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.

WHAT IS THE WEISE STONE EXACTLY?

Der Weise (originally Die Waise, the orphan) was a famous gemstone set in the Holy Roman Emperors' crown. Some sources (like the Grimm Wörterbuch) claim it was probably a milky white opal. White opals are quite magical looking gems anyway. It was lost sometime in the 14th century, and its alleged place is taken up by a large sapphire in the crown (see top of the left plate in the picture above). Reading the story below, I wondered if the sapphire was the original gem, since the legend resembles other stories about Sri Lanka and its gemstones.

The legend of Duke Ernst
12th century German legend

This story begins with the young Duke Ernst losing his father when he's still a child. His mother, Adelheid, marries the Holy Roman Emperor Otto. The emperor treats the duke (now a grown lad) kindly, but then a jealous count fills his head with lies. The emperor, believing Ernst is trying to take his crown, starts a war against the young duke who holds out for six years but finally has to go into exile. He takes the cross along with a thousand of his knights, and journeys towards the Holy Land. In Constantinople they all board a ship, but a terrible storm takes them out to sea, and they only find land again after three months.
They first land on an island named Grippia, with a splendid city built from colorful marble. They don't find any people living there, so they help themselves to food and supplies. Duke Ernst and his best friend Count Wetzel return to the city in the afternoon to look around. They explore the palace, full of jewels and precious stones, take a bath in tubs that have hot-cold running water, sleep in the royal bed. In the evening they see from the window the people of the city finally returning: they are all finely dressed, but they are human from the neck down and cranes from the neck up. They have kidnapped a princess from India, and they are forcing her to marry the Grippian king (who has the head of a swan). The duke and the count want to attack the wedding but decide against it; instead, they wait to rescue the bride later. However, they are soon discovered, and the Grippians kill the hostage princess. Duke Ernst and Count Wetzel fight their way back to their ship with the help of their men, but lose five hundred knights to Grippian arrows in the process.
Sailing on from the island in a hurry, the travelers encounter the Lodestone (magnetic) Mountain next. It draws in the ship by its iron nails, and they crash and sink. The men swim ashore, but now they are stranded among the various treasures of all the other sunken ships - and no food. Most of them starve to death, until only Ernst, Wetzel, and five others are left. Every time someone dies, griffins fly in and take the corpse. Eventually Wetzel suggests the survivors should wrap themselves in hides, and let the griffins take them too. Him and Ernst go first. In the griffins' nest on the mainland they cut themselves out of the hides, and escape.
Coming down the mountain the survivors encounter a river that flows into a cave. Having no other way out, they make a raft and float inside the cave, which is lit up by precious gems. Duke Ernst reaches out and takes one - a stone of such exceptional, unique radiance that it is later named Lapis Orphanus, the Orphan Stone. It is set into the imperial crown (the writer of the legend notes this proves that the story is true).
After this the duke and his men have more adventures; they befriend a Cyclops king, and help him defeat his warlike neighbors the Flat Hoofs, the Big Ears, a flock of giant cranes that eat the tiny nation of the Prechami, and the Canaanite giants. He collects one of each and eventually (after six years) sails on to Enthiopia with his ragtag band, where he fights for the Christian king against an invasion from Egypt. Then he moves on to Egypt, then Jerusalem, where he gets news from Germany about the emperor discovering the truth and forgiving him. He travels to Rome (losing the Flat Hoof on the way), and then to Bavaria, arriving to the imperial court on Christmas Eve for a big family reunion. He makes peace with the emperor, gets his lands back, divides up his fantastic retinue, and apparently gifts the Orphan Stone to the ruler, who sets it in the imperial crown.

Sources: There is an entire book about the stone (see review here), and also an article here. You can read Duke Ernst's story in this book. By the way, this story sounds a whole lot like Sindbad's journeys.

What gems would you want to grab from a magical cave?

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

V is for Volcanic Glass Mountain (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.

OBSIDIAN

Obsidian is natural volcanic glass, known for its black or dark grey color. Sometimes it comes with small white cristobalite inclusions - then it's called "snowflake obsidian." Due to the way it fractures it can be turned into extremely sharp objects, which made it a favorite material for arrowheads, knives, and other instruments from prehistoric times.

The theft of obsidian
Wintu myth

In this story (animal) people go hunting, with various degrees of success. Adder is the only hunter who kills a deer right away at every attempt: that is because Adder has an obsidian arrowhead. But he keeps it a secret. Whenever he shoots a deer, he runs to it first and retrieves the arrowhead before anyone else can see it.
The other hunters grow suspicious of Adder's success. They agree that the fastest among them - Hummingbird and Fox - should keep an eye out and try to uncover the secret. Finally a man named Puimeminbes manages to get to a deer first, steals the arrowhead, and runs up a mountain. Adder grows furious at the theft, and starts setting the whole world on fire.
Puimeminbes hands the arrowhead over to Ground Squirrel, telling him to run as far as he can. Despite the fact that the obsidian is growing bigger, heavier, and hotter, Ground Squirrel runs and runs and runs, listening to the fading cries of his helper Sandhill Crane. When the cries finally stop, Ground Squirrel drops his burden at a place called Glass Mountain (California), where obsidian can still be found today. From the hot obsidian, Ground Squirrel still carries a black mark on his back.

Sources: Find the story in this book.

Other stories: Obsidian plays an important role in other indigenous traditions as well. Theft of obsidian happens in an Achomawi creation myth. In Pomo mythology, Obsidian Man is Coyote's child (born from an obsidian arrowhead). In a Tlingit myth, Raven fells a dangerous obsidian tree. In Aztec mythology, there were several gods and goddesses who were manifestations of obsidian. 
In the Banks Islands of Vanuatu, a story tells about a creator who cuts the night with an obsidian knife to bring the dawn (more info here). There is a Polynesian legend about Maui seeking immortality, and being bitten by a goddess with obsidian teeth. On some versions, those teeth are not in her mouth... Obsidian also figures into Maori mythology (see here, here or here). Read more about obsidian mythology in general here.

Have you ever been to California? 
Do you own anything made of obsidian? 


Monday, April 25, 2022

U is for Uktena Stones (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.

MICA, QUARTZ, DIAMOND

Diamonds and quartz have already been discussed earlier in the challenge. Mica, the third mineral featuring into the Uktena legends, is a group of minerals known for their special structure that lets them split into flat plates or sheets.

The Uktena and its gem
Cherokee legend

According to Cherokee tradition, the Uktena was a giant serpent with deadly powers (and many descendants). It had a brilliant gem on its forehead called Ulstitlu that could blind anyone trying to attack the serpent. Even when sleeping, the Uktena could bring death to a person's whole family; even the scales it shed retained their dangerous power.
There is a legend that says that once a medicine man captured by the Cherokee offered to bring them the magic crystal from the Uktena's forehead. He spent a lot of time seeking the serpent. When he finally found it, he first prepared a shelter for himself, then shot the Uktena through the seventh spot on its back (where the heart is hidden). The dying Uktena spouted venom and poisonous blood, but the medicine man had his ring of fire and shelter ready. Once the serpent was dead, he called on the birds to clean the carcass - then climbed a tree and recovered the magic stone from where a raven had discarded it. Taken from the serpent the magic gem was now called Ulunsuti, and it had the power to bring good weather, success in hunting, and help its owner see the future.
(One drop of blood did hit the medicine man - so he had a small snake growing out of his head for the rest of his life.)
According to researchers, Ulunsuti stones owned by medicine men were most often quartz crystals (sometimes the rutilated kind), or other transparent stones. In Cherokee mound burials quartz crystals (Ulunsuti stones) and mica flakes (the Uktena's scales) were often included.

Sources: Read the story here. Read about mound burials here. Read about medicine men and their use of minerals here. Read about more accounts of the Uktena and its crystal here. Read about the Uktena's place in indigenous astronomy here.
There is also a belief recorded from the Delaware Nation that placing Uktena scales (mica) on a rock can help bring rain.

Would you chance a fight with a large serpent for a magic gem? 

Saturday, April 23, 2022

T is for Traces of Tourmaline (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.

TOURMALINE

Tourmaline is a very complex silicate mineral that comes in many colors - pink, red, yellow, green, blue, or even black. It crystallizes is long, slender prismatic columns, some of which can be more than one color - like the famous "watermelon tourmaline", which is green on the outside, and pink on the inside.

The Argonauts on the Island of Elba
Greek myth

The Argonautica is an ancient Greek myth of a group of heroes that set out on an epic journey to reclaim the Golden Fleece from faraway Colchis. Under the leadership of Jason, the ship Argo is filled with the most famous heroes of its day - including Heracles, Orpheus, Atalanta, Castor and Pollux, and many others. The most well-known iteration of the story is the epic written down by Apollonius of Rhodes in the 3rd century BCE.
In AR's version, the heroes take a very convoluted route on the way home from the Black Sea. They sail up the Danube, then cross to the Adriatic (the author thought they were connected), then sail up the Po and cross over to the Tyrrhenian Sea. At one point, they land on the island of Aethalia (Elba), and organize races on the beach. As the many heroes compete against each other in various sports, their sweat splatters on the beach, staining the rocks with dark, round spots that have been visible ever since.
The rocks on the beach below the Capo Bianco cliffs are white, stained with round, blue and black spots of tourmaline. Fun fact: the dark marks were associated with sweat stains because Greek athletes usually scraped dirt/sand and sweat off themselves with specific instruments (strigils) and flung them to the ground.

Sources: Read the text of the Argonautica here. The image below is from this article. Read a long reserch article on this myth in this book.

Other stories: Read a more recent legend from San Diego about tourmalines here.

Are you familiar with the myth of the Argonauts? 
Do you have a favorite part or character?

Friday, April 22, 2022

S is for Spitting Sapphires (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.

SAPPHIRE

Sapphire is the blue variety of corundum, one of the most precious gems in the world. The blue color is due to titanium and iron. Contrary to popular belief, however, not all sapphires are blue. Yellow, purple, and pink sapphires also exist. (If a corundum doesn't reach a deep enough red hue to be called a ruby, it's called pink sapphire.)

The magic tree
Gujarati folktale from India

Four friends set out to seek their fortune. One night they sleep under a mango tree. Ramji, the one keeping watch, sees three mangos fall, and hears the tree declare what will happen to those who eat them: 
one will become king 
one will laugh sapphires and cry pearls
one will go to prison. 
Then he falls asleep, and his three friends, waking up, unwittingly eat the mangos for breakfast.
Soon they end up in a city seeking to elect a new king. As foretold by the tree, the man who ate one of the mangos is chosen. His friend laughs in joy, and a sapphire falls from his lips. He realizes he can laugh sapphires and cry pearls. His royal friend immediately declares him the first minister. The other two friends go on to seek their fortune; the minister gives them a handful of his pearl-tears for the road.
However, when the friends try to sell the pearls, people think they are thieves, and one of them is arrested. He goes to prison. The king and the minister refuse to help, pretending not to know him. The remaining friend, Ramji - the one who did not eat a mango - returns angrily to the magic tree to chop it down. The tree begs to be spared, and gives him a fourth mango, telling him to feed it to a horse. The fruit transforms the horse into a magic steed, with whose help Ramji rescues his friend from prison.
They then fly to the palace, where the horse kicks the crap out of the king and the minister (telling them to "eat your sapphires and pears!"). It then flies the two friends home, and when they land, the horse transforms into a basketful of sapphires and pearls. The friends live happily ever after.
In the meantime, the king loses his throne and becomes a beggar. The minister is cursed: whenever he tries to eat, whatever he touches turns into sapphires and pearls. Thus, they are punished for their disloyalty.

Sources: Read the story (in Hungarian) here.

Which mango would you have chosen?

Thursday, April 21, 2022

R is for Ruby Revenge (Gemstone Folklore)

 Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.

RUBY

Ruby is the red variety of corundum (aluminum oxide), one of the hardest minerals on earth. It gains its signature red-pink color from chromium. For much of history, rubies were deemed more valuable than diamonds because of their color. I found dozens of tales and legends about them, so this time, it was a matter of picking favorites.

(Warning: this one gets a bit bloody.)

The story of Prince Mahbub
Folktale from India

The beginning of this story is not too nice, but the rest more than makes up for it by being fascinating. It begins with a Persian king who doesn't have a son, so he adopts a butcher's boy as his own. The adopted child grows up to be evil because of his lowly birth (yikes). However, the queen later becomes pregnant unexpectedly. The adopted son, hearing the news, sneaks into the palace and kills the king, taking over the empire. The queen flees, and gives birth to her son, Mahbub, in hiding.
Time goes by, and the young prince accidentally reveals himself to his tyrant brother in an archery contest. He manages to get away, but he and his mother have to flee again ahead of their pursuers. In the wilderness they encounter a fakir, who gives them two magic objects: a torch to keep wild animals away, and a rod that has power over water. The latter, when placed in the sea, makes sure that the water in a circle around mother and son is only knee-deep. 
Using the magic rod, the queen and the prince begin crossing the ocean. They are basically surrounded by high walls of water as they wade at the bottom, seeing many sea creatures and endless wonders on their strange journey. In the middle of the ocean, they notice a current of water that is carrying brilliant rubies. Mahbub secretly plucks one out of the water and hides it.
Arriving to a new city, the prince sells the ruby and it ends up in the king's possession, who gifts it to his daughter. However, the princess overhears some birds making fun of her for having just one ruby instead of a pair, so she demands to be given a second, identical gem. The king asks Mahbub to provide one.
The prince returns to the ocean with the magic rod, and follows the current, seeking the origin point of the rubies. He eventually reaches a whirlpool where he sees a column of water rising into the air, spouting rubies. He jumps into the whirlpool and swims down. He enters a magical underwater realm through a gate - and there finds his beheaded father, whose blood is dripping into a stream, transforming into rubies. 
The body is cared for by peris, fairy maidens. Suddenly, the fakir appears, and reveals the truth: the king was one of the Magi, commanding genies and peris, and therefore he cannot truly die. At the touch of his son, the king's body heals and he comes back to life; they return to the Queen together. Mahbub goes to the princess and her father, and demonstrates his newfound power: he cuts his finger, drips his blood into a cup of water, and every drop turns into a ruby. Thus proving he is true royalty, he conquers his father's kingdom, and executes the tyrant (whose blood turns into toads.)

There is a lot to unpack in this tale, but I just can't tear myself away from the visual effects of the underwater journey and the floating rubies.

Sources: You can read this story here. Interestingly, the motif of rubies in water originating from someone's blood is fairly common in many Asian tales. In one from Bengal it is a maiden whose blood-rubies appear in a whirlpool, and a prince manages to bring her back to life. Another variant of the same, from India, has the hero kill a giant who is keeping the maiden hostage.

Other stories: One tale from Punjab features a Ruby Prince, a child mysteriously born from a ruby. When his wife questions where he came from, he disappears, and she has to fulfill a task to win him back. In another tale from India, a clever turtle uses a ruby to save a deer from a hunter. In a fun one from Simla, a woman hides rubies in bread, and later joins the police to save her husband who's kidnapped for the gems. There is a shorter tale from India where a ruby breaks into small pieces when it is taken by a greedy person. A while ago I also blogged about a myth about the origin of rubies from Myanmar. There is also a very amusing Spanish legend about a king who sneezes a ruby.

The conversion of bodily fluids into gems is actually not uncommon in folklore.
People in stories sneeze, spit, bleed, or even pee gemstones sometimes.
Would you accept such a superpower?

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Q is for Quartz Crystals (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.

ROCK CRYSTAL (QUARTZ)

Quartz is a crystalline mineral composed of silicone dioxide. Clear, transparent quartz is often called "rock crystal".

The legend of Manpupuner
Mansi/Komi legend

In the Ural mountains there is a fascinating geological site that features seven tall stone pillars. They are 30-40 meters high, standing on a plain, and made of schist rock with veins of quartz. A local Mansi (according to other sources, Komi) legend explains their origin.
According to the story, once there lived a powerful chief who had a son and a daughter. They were both brave and handsome, and their people flourished. The chief was on good terms with the spirits, who helped him build a tower (and/or castle) of crystal.
However, the giants that lived in the nearby mountains heard about the beautiful maiden, and their chief decided to take her as his wife. His suit was rejected, so he returned with six of his men to attack the tribe and steal the girl. The chief's son was away on a hunting expedition. People fled to the crystal building, seeking shelter. The giants fell upon the crystal walls and shattered them - scattering rock crystal all over the Ural mountains, where it can still be found.
Eventually the spirits, hearing the cries of the besieged, sent a thick fog. Under the cover of the fog, the people escaped. By the time the fog lifted the chief's son returned with a sword and shield gifted to him by the spirits. They reflected the sun so strongly that the giants, hit by the rays of light, turned into stone. Their king is the seventh pillar that stands apart from the others.

Sources: Read versions of the story here, here, and here. Read more about Manpupuner here and here.

If you built a castle from one gemstone, what would it be?

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

P is for Pounamu (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.

POUNAMU

Pounamu (sometimes translated as greenstone) is the Maori term used for green colored stones found in New Zealand that play an important role in its indigenous culture. It includes more than one type of mineral - usually nephrite jade, and bowenite (see the letter B earlier). 

Rata and the First Greenstone Axe
Maori legend

Rata's father, a chief, is killed by another chief called Makutu before the boy is born. When he grows up, Rata decides to set out and seek revenge on Makutu. First he needs to make a canoe for the quest, and for that, he needs an axe sharp enough to fell a giant tree. He seeks out a mythical being called Kahué to ask for a stone axe. Hearing Rata's story, Kahué agrees to split some rocks and provide the strongest greenstone for the axe. However, the axe thus formed is not sharp yet. Rata has to take it to the Whetstone Goddess, and sharpen it over her backbone. Rata seeks out the goddess, prays to her, and she allows him to sharpen his greenstone axe.
(In another variant of the story, the greenstone axe is left to Rata by his ancestors, buried underground until he needs it.)
With the use of the axe Rata manages to create a giant canoe (although he fails at it multiple times, because he doesn't show proper respect to the deities of nature). He sets out to the far east, and reaches the land of the Ponaturi, beings who hide underwater in the day and come to land at night. With the help of a captive woman Rata and his men manage to trap Makutu, cut him, and transform him into a bittern bird. They return home victorious, carrying the bones of Rata's father so they can give him a proper burial.
Rata becomes a famous chief, and teaches all his people how to make pounamu axes. The red-blossoming rata tree is named in his honor.

Sources: Read versions of this story here, here, here, and here. Read more Maori legends about pounamu here.

Have you ever been to New Zealand? Have you read any literature from there?