Fairy Tale of the Month: June 2019 The Fairy Harp – Part One

Fairy harp sirr_harp_wilde_fig159Sirr Harp, Robert Wilde

A Harp

Thalia insisted on bringing Melissa to Megan’s By the Green, a good restaurant, but Thalia had a not-so-good reason in mind.

A good reason, I can cite, is to celebrate Melissa’s birthday.

A good reason, in Thalia’s mind, is that they serve pizza.

A good reason, this being an up-scale restaurant, is that they serve an up-scale pizza.

The up-scale pizza we order, labeled The Veggie One, contains sweet potatoes, rocola, feta, pine nuts, mozzarella and tomato, all on a sourdough crust. We go over the top with toppings, adding mushrooms and red onion.

The not-so-good reason we sit in Megan’s By the Green—and both Melissa and I know this—is Thalia’s desire to see the ceiling.

I am being a little hard on Thalia. The ceiling is a reason to come here. It appears to be alive with dark vines and branches, laden with white roses and interspersed with small fairy lights. Thalia basks in the gentle glow that permeates the room. I am but in mind of Sleeping Beauty’s rose briar-protected castle.

“While we wait for the extraordinary pizza,” Melissa says, pointing to the ceiling, “I have memorized a story for us, in recognition of the fairy lights.”

Delight creases Thalia’s face and I settle back to enjoy.

“It’s called The Fairy Harp.” Melissa pauses a second to collect her thoughts.

Melissa tells us of a company of fairies in the habit of going around from cottage to cottage to judge the welcome given to them. Bad luck followed the cottagers who were not gracious, but good luck followed those who gave the strangers a warm welcome.

Old Morgan ap Rhys sat one night in his chimney-corner all alone, as his wife was out, entertaining himself with his tobacco pipe and some ale, and by singing. His singing was only notable in that a bard had offended Morgan by describing that voice as similar to the yelping of a blind dog that has lost its way.

Thalia giggles at that.

Morgan had reached a crescendo in his song when there came a knocking at the door. Delighted with the prospect of someone to listen to him, he shouted for the visitor to come in.

In came three fairies, disguised as travel-stained weary men asking for a little bit of food, to test Morgan’s treatment of strangers. Morgan points them to his table on which is bread and cheese, entreating them to help themselves and take more for the road. Just as generous, he sings to them for their entertainment.

“What did the fairies think of his singing?” Thalia grins.

“The story does not tell us,” Melissa says. “But if his manners and singing were rough, the fairies appreciated his good intent.”

The fairies, on departing, offered to grant him one wish. Morgan, although he thinks it a joke, declared he’d like a harp that plays merry tunes no matter how he plucks the strings. The fairies disappear and there is the harp.

Morgan is playing the harp when his wife and some friends come home and immediately begin to dance about. It seems anyone who hears the harp is compelled to dance. The news of Morgan’s fairy harp soon spreads about and many come to listen to his music and to dance.

One day, the very bard who had so insulted Morgan came to hear the fairy harp. Morgan reaped his revenge by playing his harp faster and faster until the dancing bard broke both his legs.

“By the next morning,” Melissa ends the tale, “the fairy harp disappeared, never to be seen again.”

Thalia applauds, and on cue our pizza appears.

Fairy Tale of the Month: June 2019 The Fairy Harp – Part Two

Fairy harp the-wedding-of-kloris-and-roosje-ken-welsh Welsh Wedding

The Pizza

The pizza, for all its odd ingredients, tastes quite good. Thalia revels in her culinary experience, justifying all the scheming to talk us into coming here.

“What attracted you to that story?” I ask Melissa. “I suspect it is from The Welsh Fairy Book, by Thomas.”

“Wow, this is so good,” Melissa addresses the pizza rather than my question.

I munch and wait.

“The fairy harp lies at the center of my attraction to this tale. But, really, it’s not about the harp.”

Her comment stalls here for a bit. I let her indulge in our meal and do not pry.

Eventually she says, “Our relationship with the fair folk is complicated.”

“The fair folk,” I take note. “That term includes more than the fairies, leprechauns, and such.”

“The shee,” nods Melissa, “all those beings from the Tuatha De Danaan to Thalia’s fairy. They populate our dreams, our fears, and our uncertainties at the same time they live in the fairy mounds and sometimes our bedrooms.” Here she points to Thalia. “They are the ‘other’ to whom we will never quite reconcile.”

“You make that sound uncomfortable,” I venture.

“And so it should be. Although the stuff of our dreams, they keep us from falling asleep and never awakening.”

“I don’t follow you,” I say.

“I mean ‘falling asleep’ metaphorically. If the fairies were not here, if they did not troop through the terrain of our subconscious, or on the winds of a stormy night, our species would become complacent, thinking there is nothing to challenge our superiority, and we would slip into unawareness.

This pizza is really good. Its flavor is growing on me.

“The fairy harp represents .  .  . ?” I prod.

Melissa takes another bit and hesitates before answering. Thalia, I know, is not listening to us at all as she reaches for another slice.

“The harp was a gift and a challenge. Because of Morgan’s generosity, the fairies gave him a harp that played of its own, but played such music that no one could refrain from dancing. Morgan had the power to delight and entertain. He seemed content with this until the bard with the sharp tongue appeared again. Morgan used the power of his harp to harm a fellow musician. After that, the harp is gone.

“Morgan’s challenge?” Melissa takes another bit. “To recognize there are rules and understand the rules without being told. Morgan’s failure is our failure. So many times, over and over, no one has told us the rules and we have not asked.”

“The unspoken rules,” I say to myself, looking at Thalia who sits back on her chair, her hand on her stomach.

“This is what I mean by ‘falling asleep.’” Melissa continues. “We accept our gifts but neglect to seek out the rules. Too often we use our gifts for wrong purposes and may lose them, when we should be using those very gifts to explore the rules.”

“Wait,” I say, “you describe what sounds to me like the creative process. Is all my creativity inspired by the fairies giving me challenges?”

“I like that,” Melissa muses. “Maybe, maybe.”

Fairy Tale of the Month: June 2019 The Fairy Harp – Part Three

Fairy harp Fairies at Market

Wait Again

Melissa and I linger in my study over our glasses of malbec. Thalia, soporific from the consumption of too much pizza, slumbers on my lap. I am happy she heard a story earlier this evening. She faded long before I could tell her one.

“Wait, again,” I say, returning to my thoughts of our conversation at Megan’s, “not all the human/fairy encounters involve challenges.”

“Well,” says Melissa, “I can think of The Field of Boliauns where the protagonist gets tricked by a leprechaun, and The Fairy Ointment where the poor midwife loses not only her fairy sight but also the use of her right eye. Then there is Brewery of Eggshells with the stealing of a mother’s baby. These pose a different kind of challenge, but I say a challenge nonetheless.”

“True,” I concede, “but I am thinking of another story from The Welsh Fairy Book, only a few pages from your tale, The Green Isles of the Ocean. I forget where the story takes place, but it is in Wales, of course, and by the sea.

“The market in that town was frequented by the fairies. They would appear before a market vendor, never dicker over price, knowing the price without asking, and, in fact, never saying a word. No one really saw them coming or going. The merchants wondered where they came from, where they lived; at least those merchants with whom the fairies chose to deal. The fairies’ particular favorite was a fellow called Gruffydd, who did much business with them.

“Well, one day Gruffydd stood in the local churchyard. From there he could see islands out to sea he had never seen before. He realized these must be the Green Isles of the Ocean, spoken of by the bards as the home of the fairies. He went down to the shore intending to row across to the islands, but from there he could not see them. Returning to the churchyard, there they were.

“Being a clever man, he dug up a bit of the churchyard sod and by keeping his foot upon it he could navigate himself to the islands. When he arrived, the fairies greeted him warmly and gave him a tour of the islands’ wonders. They loaded him with presents, but made him surrender the sod from the churchyard. He continued to visit them through a secret tunnel they showed him and he remained great friends with the fairies for the rest of his life.”

Melissa sips from her glass, focusing her thoughts. “Not actually a story,” she concludes.

“No, it’s not. More of an anecdote, really, but, as I say, no challenge involved.”

“True, though I think it’s an exception; but your tale brings to my mind an entirely different thought.”

“And that thought is?” I prompt when she fails to go on.

“The fairy tales’ Christian/pagan struggle for the minds of its listeners. Take note: the merchant stood in a churchyard. Being on sacred Christian ground, the glamour that the fairies cast over their isles didn’t affect his eyes, and that piece of sod he surrendered to keep their friendship.

“That, if subtle, shows the power of Christianity over the charms of the fair folk.”

Thalia rustles in my lap to get more comfortable.

“Now that you bring up the Christian/pagan thing,” I say, “when you told us The Fairy Harp, in which the three fairies came to Morgan’s door, the image of the three angles coming to visit Abraham flashed through my thoughts. They too were testing. I wonder if that biblical story lent that image to this tale.”

“Likely,” Melissa looks into the bottom of her wine glass, “and yet, may not the shee be among the fallen angels, bent, as the lord’s angels, upon testing us?”

With that notion in mind, I will carry Thalia off to bed.

Your thoughts?

 

 

 

Fairy Tale of the Month: April 2018 The Power of Saint Telga’s Well – Part One

Healing wells four dupathFrom Hope’s Legendary Lore

Healing Wells

For our traditional Sunday brunch, Melissa and I have decided on the Queen’s Lane Coffee House instead of the Vaults, so as not to be too much like sticks in the mud.

The coffee house deserves our attention, serving the public since 1654. It claims to be the oldest coffee house in all of Europe.

Melissa and I have seated ourselves right next to the long bank of small-pane windows looking out on High Street, lending the narrow room much light. The décor is simple and cheerful.

From of the menu, I order the Full English Breakfast. Melissa chooses the Niçoise Salad.

“I’ve started a new project,” Melissa announces. “A magical guide book for UK tourists.”

“That sounds like fun,” I remark. “Where does one start on such a thing?”

“Well, I want to feature the unusual, not the known tourist haunts. I decided to start with healing wells.”

“Really? How is that going?”

Melissa’s enthusiasm fades a little. “Most of them are gone, or at best not accessible to the public. Oh, there are still hundreds, but there had once been thousands. For my purposes, healing wells and springs that tourists can visit are down to a handful. With a few exceptions, I’ll confess, there is not a whole lot to see.”

“With that in mind, what attracts you to them?” I say as our food arrives.

“Their stories of course. For example, in my research I came across a Welsh tale, The Power of Saint Tegla’s Well.”

A farmer and his wife had an only son, but one given to unexplained fits. At the time he turned twelve there followed signs his parents took as predicting his imminent death.

It started with one apple tree blooming before its time. The old cock began crowing at midnight, and the wife dreamt of a wedding, which prognosticates a funeral. One night a bird flapped its wings against their window. They knew it must be the featherless Corpse Bird, meaning death will soon visit the home.

The culminating event came when the farmer was returning home one night and saw Cyhiraeth, the black-toothed, skin-and-bones Hag of the Mist, splashing her long, withered hands in the river, moaning, “My son. My son,” before she vanished.

This is followed by the poor man seeing the Corpse Candle floating before him as he travels. The candle is small and red flamed. Were the flame white, it would indicate his wife might die. The flame being red might indicate that he himself who would die. But the Corpse Candle being small meant his son’s death was coming.

I lose my appetite for the sausage I am digging into. Melissa is unaffected, sampling her salad.

The next day, the farmer goes to a wise man for advice. The wise man tells the farmer what his son must do.

The boy goes to Saint Tegla’s Well in Denbighshire after sunset. He walks around the well three times, uttering the Lord’s Prayer, and carrying a cock in a basket. Then he walks around the nearby church three times in the same manner.

Entering the church, he crawls under the altar and sleeps there until daybreak, a Bible for his pillow and the altar cloth as his blanket. Placing six pence on the altar and leaving the bird in the church, he goes home. The bird dies in a few days taking the youth’s illness with it, leaving the lad to live to a ripe old age.

My appetite returns and I eye the eggs.

 

Fairy Tale of the Month: April 2018 The Power of  Saint Tegla’s Well – Part Two

Healing wells twoFrom Hope’s Legendary Lore

A Clootie

“Down near Penzance in Cornwall is Saint Madron’s Well,” Melissa continues her monologue. “It’s a clootie well, one which I must visit. I know that’s a bit of a drive, but it is one of the better-known wells.”

“Clootie well?” I ask.

“Clootie is Scottish for cloth.”

“So?” I say, attacking my beans with a fork.

Melissa grins. “At a clootie well a strip of cloth is dipped into the water and used to wash the diseased area of a person who is ill. Then the cloth is tied to a nearby tree limb, preferably one of a white thorn or an ash. As the cloth rots and disintegrates, the disease dissipates.”

“Ah,” I say, “sympathetic magic.”

“Quite. And then there are the pin wells, where a bent pin needs to be sacrificed into the well.”

“Hmmm,” I muse, reaching for a rasher of bacon, “an iron talisman?”

“Maybe, but the pin wells had a darker side. A piece of paper with someone’s name on it could be pierced with a pin and thrown into the well achieving the opposite effect of healing.”

“That’s a little nasty,” I say.

“There is always a dark side.” Melissa stares off into the distance.

“Do the supplicants ever get around to drinking the water?” I ask while finishing off the toast.

“Oh, yes. Both drinking and bathing. Often these wells and springs have high mineral content, which does not hurt. The Chalice Well at Glastonbury—very pretty, set in a garden—has so much ferrous oxide it’s also called the Red Spring.

“Drinking the water of a healing well had its own particular ritual. The cup usually needed to be made from the skull of a decapitated head. In the case of Saint Teilo’s well, it is the saint’s skull from which one needs to drink for the water’s healing to be effective.”

My appetite slips a little. Melissa finishes her salad.

“Besides healing, the wells were for fortune telling too,” Melissa continues, sitting back on her chair. “Some of the wells were attended by old women with an oracular bent. The future could also be divined out by drinking the water and sleeping at the well to receive a revealing dream.

“Celtic mythology speaks of the Well of Wisdom in the courtyard of Manannan mac Lir, king of the fairies, around which grow hazelnut trees that feed the Salmon of Wisdom. We can be sure the healing wells are a reflection of that well.

“Oh, there is an Arthurian connection too. In one of the medieval texts, The Damsels of the Well, in a place called Logres, brought food and drink to all travelers until an evil king raped one of them and stole her golden cup. The damsels never appeared again, the well dried up, and the place became The Wasteland, not to recover until the Holy Grail was found.”

A thought strikes me. “Do these wells have anything to do with wishing wells?”

“Pretty much one and the same. A few of these places have been excavated by archaeologists who uncovered coins, jewelry, and trinkets; sacrifices to the spirits of the spring.”

“‘Spirits of the spring’ sounds very romantic if a little pagan,” I say, sipping my coffee.

“Oh, the church fixed that by rebranding a spring or a well with a saint’s name and building a church beside it,” Melissa chuckles.

Fairy Tale of the Month: April 2018 The Power of Saint Tegla’s Well – Part Three

Healing wells six doninicksFrom Hope’s Legendary Lore

A Visit

As we step out onto Queen’s Lane, Melissa stops and takes my hand in both of hers.

“Will you take me to visit the nixie?”

“The nixie? You should be afraid of the nixie.”

“Are you afraid of the nixie?”

“Yes.”

“And still you visit her.”

She has me there. And she knows I cannot deny her anything.

“We’ll have to make some popcorn,” I say.

On our return walk, my thoughts stray back to The Power of Saint Tegla’s Well.

“I’m not familiar with Saint Tegla. I assume it is not made up?”

“Not at all. Saint Tegla’s Church is in Wales. She was a disciple of Saint Paul. Assigning her name to the church and well, I am sure, was arbitrary, but significant in that it was a female saint chosen. The Celtic spirits of the wells were female.

“Saint Tegla’s Well had the speciality of healing epilepsy. I did some extra research on this one and found some things not mentioned in the story. Besides the supplicant bathing in the well—in this case a sunken stone trough—a pin was stuck into a chicken. In the case of girls and women a hen was used, cockerels for boys and men, and the pin thrown into the well. There was also something about putting the bird’s beak into the patient’s mouth.”

“That’s rather disturbing,” I say.

“Oh, but it doesn’t come up to the level of violence associated with Saint Winifred’s Well, also in Denbighshire.”

“Oh dear me, tell me about that.”

“Saint Winifred was the niece of Saint Beuno, both seventh-century Welsh saints. As a member of a royal Welsh family, she was pursued by Prince Caradog. She refused his advances, wanting to be a nun. The prince then tried to take her by force. She escaped him, but in his rage at her rejection he caught up with her and cut off her head.

“It rolled down the hillside, and where it came to rest, up rose a spring. Prince Caradog, in short order, fell down dead and the earth swallowed him up. Winifred’s uncle rejoined the head to the body and with prayers restored her to life.”

“Well,” I reflect, “if a bit gory, it is a satisfying story.”

“And,” Melissa adds, “the well, known as Holywell, is now sheltered in Winifred’s Shrine, a structure worth seeing. It has been a pilgrimage site for thirteen centuries.”

“Admirable,” I say.

We soon arrive at my place and make some popcorn for the nixie. Thalia joins us briefly to consume a good bit of it before going off to her Brownie’s meeting.

Popcorn in bag, we head to the study and out the French doors toward the Magic Forest. When we get to the forest’s edge, Melissa stops again, and takes my hand once more.

“I want to visit the nixie alone.”

“Alone?” Dread flitters around the edges of that word.

“When last we visited the nixie’s pond, I spotted a spring along the path. I intend to bathe in it before I visit the nixie. That means I must be naked.”

For what disease? goes through my mind. My mouth says, “Won’t you need a towel?”

She laughs gently. “No, I’ll be fine.”

“I’ll build up the fire in the hearth. You’ll be chilled till you come back.”

“I’ll appreciate that.” She kisses me on the forehead, takes the popcorn, and turns. I watch the Magic Forest envelop her with its darkness.

Your thoughts.