Tuesday, 15 March 2011

A tale of a different kind

I thought I'd post this tale, which I found in Grant Stewart's Myth, Tradition and Story from Western Argyll, because it has some interesting similarities with MacKenzie's tale The Coming of Angus and Bride, and it's that time of year where it's still relevant. I don't know about where you are, but the Cailleach's putting up a pretty good struggle round here at the moment.

Grant Stewart attributes the story to a Saxon-Hungarian woman named Malvina (whose name, she points out, will be "familiar to readers of Ossianic poems"), who she met in Romania:

There was once a very great witch, who was head over other eight witches. She had a daughter-in-law, to whom she was very unkind. She was so hard upon her that she made her life miserable. One day she handed her son's young wife a fleece of a brown sheep, bidding her go wash it white before bringing it back to her. The daughter-in-law obeyed. She took it to a brook and washed it till she was weary, weeping as she did so because her work was all in vain. Old Winter came that way, and asked her why she wept. She told him of her mother-in-law's command. "Give it to me," said Winter, and taking the brown fleece from her he washed it white. Giving the fleece back with one hand, he held out in the other a bunch of 'vioréle' (blue flowers resembling our wild hyacinth, but without scent. They are the frst to bloom in Transylvania, when the snows begin to melt). "Take this to your mother-in-law," said Winter. "If she asks any question, hold up these flowers and say, 'The flowers are out on the mountain.' "

The young wife returned home, handed the white fleece to her mother-in-law, and held up the buds, saying, "The flowers are out on the mountain." The old witch was enraged. She callled the other eight, and mounted on their goats, they rode off to the mountain. Borrowing three days from February, they began a fierce contest against all growth. Snow and hail, wind and rain were summoned to do battle, but the warm sun shone out, the south wind breathed, and Spring triumphed. The nine witches were turned into stone, and "there they sit," said Malvina, "on their goats, on the top of the mountain of Sílash in Temesvar; and on the anniversary of their defeat the fountains in their heads overflow, and their faces become blurred with weeping. My mother," added Malvina, "took me there to see them when I was a child of twelve."
 Grant Stewart, Myth, Tradition and Story from Western Argyll, 1925.

4 comments:

Ancestral Celt said...

Not quite the same as being snowed on: I have not seen the sun more than three times in the last two months and not because I work evenings. It's supposed to be Spring, and we've had snowdrops and now daffodils, but it was foggy and raining this morning and I can't see more than half a mile through the pea soup.

It's remarkable how similar the stories are, isn't it?

Tairis said...

We're still getting snow, rain, hail, sleet, but at least a little sunshine now and then, too. And rainbows, like a ray of hope amidst it all.

The similarities are a bit of a puzzle. Tantalising.

Hilaire said...

I've always felt this tale was a bit dubious - lovely though it is. It reads a bit Celtic Twilighty to me and Donald Mackenzie was a journalist, not a folklorist.

Reading his introduction, I wonder if he amalgamated some stories and traditions about Beira and about Bride. I haven't come across this tale anywhere else, have you? Do you know where in Scotland it is supposed to have come from exactly?

Tairis said...

I've no idea where MacKenzie's supposed to have collected his tale from, I don't think he says, and as far as I'm aware he's the only one that puts Bride and the Cailleach explicitly together. He doesn't mention this tale in other work, but in Scottish Folk-Lore and Folk Life he comments, "The writer has heard Bride referred to as the maiden who is kept all winter a prisoner in Ben Nevis by big Cailleach Bheur." That's the only time he connects the two together in that book, which he wrote after Wonder Tales, so it all seems a bit suspect to me, but in theory it could point to the general area he collected it from if he's referring to the same tale.

This tale I've copied up here apparently comes from Hungary, but as Grant Stewart comments, her source's name - Malvina - may hint at some sort of Ossianic connection, and therefore a relatively recent origin.

MacKenzie drew heavily from Grant Stewart in his sections on the Cailleach in Scottish Folk-Lore and Folk Life; what I'm wondering is if there's a common source for The Coming of Angus and Bride, and this tale. They seem a bit *too* similar to me, in some ways. Grant Stewart published this work 8 years after MacKenzie's Wonder Tales, so it's unlikely he took Angus and Bride from her unless they were sharing stories before she published.

She seems generally reliable in her research (though it's difficult to follow a lot of it up), so it does seem that the story's genuine in that it did come from such a source. I'm not convinced that she hasn't flowered it up a little, though. The style seems to be quite consistent with the other stories she gives, so maybe she tweaked it to accord with how she thought it should go. She herself never makes any connection between Bride and the Cailleach, though.