The Celtic Dragon Myth, by J.F. Campbell, , at sacred-texts.com
Number of Notes apply to the Numbered Sections.
1. If Duncan's house was not like that, Donald MacPhie's house, in which I heard this story told in South Uist, was, and Donald told me that Duncan the fisher lived in Skye.
Others say that he lived in the "Green Isle," which is a kind of Gaelic Paradise out in the West. A version of the "Green Isle" from the Tiree tradition is given in the Scottish Historical Review for 1908.
Sometimes a fisherman or a sailor, or a smith who is also a fisherman, almost always a poor man who lives near the sea, in Gaelic; in Italian (Straparola), a poor couple; in Swedish, a smith and a fisherman; in Russian, a poor man.
4. Mouth of night.This phrase has a relation in Sanskrit, and is the common Gaelic equivalent for a nightfall.
Mermaid.Near the Clyde where ships abound and old sailors tell this tale in bits, the mermaid becomes a ship which anchors near the boat, and the iron is bought for gold dust which the sailors shoved out of the ports till the boat is ready to sink. Sometimes the bargain is struck for the first thing that touches the fisher's knee when he lands, and that is his infant son.
According to authorities quoted by Fergusson (Tree and Serpent Worship, p. 35), it is a custom in Dahomey to sacrifice a man occasionally to Hu, the god of the sea. The man is carried in a hammock from the capital dressed as a noble, a canoe takes him to sea, and he is thrown to the sharks.
In one Swedish version, the smith meets a troll maiden in the forest, and by her has a son, who is the supernatural hero. In others the hero is otherwise mysteriously born.
In Russian, the hero is simply a poor man's youngest, lazy, despised son. In the East a gift son, who is an incarnation of some divinity, occurs frequently. In the "Ramayana" (p. 20, vol. ii., History of India, by Talboys Wheeler), sons are born after eating divine food, the gift of the
gods. The childless Maharaja causes a horse sacrifice to be performed. After the rite an Emanation of Brahma appears with a golden vessel filled with rice and milkpyassa, the essence of the sacrifice, the food of the gods. Three wives eat of the food, and give birth to four sons, who are incarnations of Vishnu. These divine men were born to overcome Ravana, the king of demons. He oppressed gods and men, and was invulnerable to celestials. He had ten heads and twenty arms, copper-coloured eyes, and a polished body. He lived in Ceylon, amongst gold and jewels. Amongst his numerous feats he went to Bagavati, the great city of resplendent serpents, and carried off the wife of the snake Takshaka. He afterwards carried off Sita, the wife of Rama, and was overcome. A far older form of this notion of a gift-son will be found in the Aitareya Brahmana of the "Rig Veda" (Haug, 1863, p. 460). King Harischandra wished for a son, and addressed a verse to Narada, who replied in ten verses. The king then went to King Varuna (the god of waters, and therefore the equivalent of the western mermaid) and prayed for a son, promising to sacrifice him to Varuna. Varuna claimed the son when he was born; at ten days old; when his teeth had come; when they had fallen out; when they had come again; when he had got his arms:six times. When the son was told that he was to be sacrificed, he ran away to the wilds. After six years of wandering, and after meeting Indra, the chief of gods in human form, several times, Rohita, the victim, bought a human substitute, Sunahsepa, the son of a poor Brahman, for a hundred cows. The boy was accepted by Varuna and was prepared for sacrifice. His father was to slay him. On repeating hymns he was released by the gods, became a priest, and was promoted to be heir. The resemblance of this very ancient Hindu legend to the history of Abraham is very remarkable. According to accepted chronology, a period of from 500 to 700 years lies between the compilation of the Brahmanas and the birth of Isaac. The distance between the Punjab and the land of Abraham is about half as great as the distance traversed in a few years by Alexander the Great on his march to India. So the Hebrew history may have originated the whole series which extends from East to West.
In the "Vedas" many verses allude to the birth of gift sons to childless sages by the special favour of the celestial powers invoked in these ancient hymns.
These references will serve to show how widely spread the legend is in the East and West, and how closely connected the whole series of tradition is with holy writ. In the Russian story the hero fights a dragon, his two sons, and his wife; of these one transforms himself into a well, and another
into an apple tree, a third into a cushion. By running the scent eastwards we thus get very near serpent worship and tree worship; and an Indian custom founded upon the subjugation of the serpent races by Aryans. In some States the fair-skinned Aryan Raja at his accession mingles his own blood with blood from the arm of a dark-skinned man of the subject races of aboriginal serpent worshippers. Of these races many still adore serpents; of old the worship pervaded all India (see Fergusson on Tree and Serpent Worship, and other books of authority on this curious subject). In 1876, while wandering in India, I found the serpent worshipped all over the country, at Benares and everywhere.
5. This incident in various shapes occurs in the Swedish collection as was told in various parts of Sweden and in Finland. The fish generally is a pike. But in these regions pike generally live in the sea, which in the Gulf of Bothnia is brackish. In Hindu legend Vishnu took the form of a fish and related the history of creation and the deluge.
6. In the Swedish and German collections and in others the wife is a grumbler.
9. The Fisher.Told by Alexander MacNeill, fisherman, Ceann Tangaval, Barra; Alasdair Mac Ruaraidh Bhain to Hector Maclean, 1859.
The Fisher's Son.Twice told by John MacPhie in South Uist to J. F. Campbell, 1859, 1860.
The cow also got a bit, according to MacPhie.
"West Highland Tales," No. IV., told by John Mackenzie, fisherman, near Inveraray, to Hector Urquhart and to J. F. Campbell.
Compare Grimm ("Gold Children," p. 241) and various versions in Swedish. In most versions there are but two mysteriously born heroes. In one Swedish version three are born of three maidens who drank from a well.
The sons result from the eating of two enchanted apples in one Swedish story, and from drinking at a well in another. They are sons of a princess and her maiden who are shut up in a tower.
11. The sons are twins in one Gaelic version which I have. From the sequel these ought to be twins; in home and foreign versions they are twins.
In "The Fisher," the Gaelic version which I followed as most complete, the birth of each son is told in the same way, nearly in the same words, so they are not twins, but a leash of sons growing up a year apart, each to succeed
the other. Taking all I know about this story, I think that the sons ought to be born together, so I have shortened my story by two repetitions.
(2) Straparola.They adopt a foundling. In the "Ramayana" four sons are born to a childless old Raja by three wives, who eat pyassa, the rice and milk of the gods, which is brought from heaven in a golden vessel by a celestial being who steps out of the fire. These sons are incarnations of Vishnu. Only three play conspicuous parts in the Hindu epic, so I suspect that three was the original number of brothers and that the story is Aryan, older than the Hindu epics, and older than the Celtic migration from the East.
12. This incident occurs in one Gaelic version only. Possibly this may be the enemy who fights the smith's son afterwards in the shape of the dragon. He may be the servant or second sailor or second character in other versions; he may be the same character as the Swedish hero who was son of Smith and troll maiden of the forest. In the Russian version of the dragon-slaying story the dragon left a wife and two sons to be slain afterwards, of whom one was a well and the other a tree.
Probably this sea-baby is one of them, and a water-serpent myth.
13. "West Highland Tales," No. IV., as told by John Mackenzie. This is like Varuna, see note on 4.
15. Horses and hounds fourteen years of age vitiate the unities. But in some versions of this story the heroes set out as soon as they are born. See "Shortshanks" in Norse Tales. Being gift-children, they probably were superhuman at first.
18. In Swedish the smith forges three swords of enormous weight, the last the biggest and heaviest. In Russian, Ivan of the Ashes makes for himself three iron clubs of like proportions and weights. The incident is common in many Gaelic stories and varies exceedingly. In other Swedish versions the swords are otherwise acquired. All agree in making these iron weapons.
19. This from the telling of a lad near Inveraray.
20. From the same Inveraray lad. Compare "A Sop for Cerberus." A similar incident is in a story of Fionn, who went to Scandinavia and there captured a mighty hound. The hounds of the Fenians are very mythical and
play a large part in the Fenian Romance. Some of them are transformed human creatures. In that they resemble Hindu avatars such as Hunymàn the divine monkey.
26. From An Gille Glas (p. 370). In Swedish the lad is angry because his father did not make the first sword heavy enough. In Russian the lad tosses the iron clubs so high that they are up for days, and catches them on his forehead. Two break, the third nearly knocks him down; so he is satisfied. Indian jugglers in fact cast cocoa-nuts high into the air and catch them on their foreheads, where they break. It is a common athletic performance.
29. In the "Rig Veda Sanhita" (Wilson's trans.) it appears that Indra's weapon, the thunderbolt, was originally made of the bones of a man. This may indicate the use of bone weapons and of ivory clubs by ancient tribes in the East and West or at the centre of the Aryan migrations.
The incident of trees which live while brothers live, and wither and warn their mother when they die, is in a central American myth given in "Popul Vuh."
In Russian the hero leaves gloves which drop blood when he is in straits. In Swedish and in other languages he gives a knife which drips blood or rusts. The token with this property varies, but the life of man and tree accords best with Indian ideas about tree worship. A man told me in India that he had been present at the marriage of a pet plant to a divinity with all ceremony.
31. Straparola.The foundling discovers his origin and goes to seek his fortune with a horse and a sword.
32. Told by Margaret MacFhingon, in the island of Berneray, Sound of Harris, to Hector Maclean. She learned the story from John Morrison in Rusgary, Berneray, who, in August 1859, was a tenant in North Uist. Her story follows one sonnot the oldeston the way to fortune by courting and courage.
34. In Swedish the hero is followed by beasts but they are otherwise obtained. So it is in German. This transformation occurs in Gaelic and in Italian.
Lion, Falcon, Wolf.John MacPhie, S. Uist, "W. H. Tales," vol. i., 94.
Wolf, Hoodie, Fox, Smith's Son.The creatures vary to suit the incidents in the sequel, and these are associated with the herding of cattle with castles won from giants by brute force, and with the slaying of the dragon. In other stories they are Great Dog, Falcon, Otter (p. 73, vol. i.), Hector Urquhart; John Mackenzie, Inveraray.
Lean Hound of the Green Wound, Falcon, Otter.The Young King of Easaidh Ruaidh.Maclean; James Wilson; MacQueen, Islay, about 1810.
From "The Smith's Son," told by B. MacAskill, an old wife in Berneray, to Hector Maclean.
In "Straparola" the foundling with horse and sword meets (a) lion, (b) eagle, (c) ant, (d) fox, when he divides a carcase, (e) who grant him the power to take their shapes.
35. (1) A castle, (2) a castle, (3) a gentleman, (4) the capital of France, (5) a king's house, (6) a king's house, (7) a king's house, (8) the king of the Greeks.
In "Straparola," he goes to a palace where he is a poor man. Here the Italian story branches to the second brother's adventures.
In Swedish the lad goes to be cook's mate at the king's house and hides his three swords under a stone. In other versions he takes other service. Sometimes he is herd.
36. This varies exceedingly, but the place chosen seems to fit the sequel, and the sequel here is herding.
Since this story was translated I have found that the state myth of Japan is like the Gaelic dragon myth. A man came to a house where all were weeping, and learned that the last daughter of the house was to be given to a dragon with seven or eight heads who came to the sea-shore yearly to claim a victim. He went with her, enticed the dragon to drink "sake" (vice wine) from pots set out on the shore, and then he slew the monster. From the end of his tail he took out a sword, which is supposed to be the Mikado's state sword. He married the maiden, and with her got a jewel or talisman which is preserved with the regalia. A third thing of price so preserved is a mirror. See "My Circular Notes"(Macmillan, 1876).
37. (1) A swine herd, (2) a herd, (3) a herd, (4) a farmer, (5) a herd, (6) a cook, (7) a king's herd, (8) a herd.
In Swedish also the service varies much; this Gaelic version about winning the castles is not in the Swedish collection. One brother wins a castle, but not in this way. He wins it by befriending ants, bees, and ducks.
[paragraph continues] In Norse, Shortshanks serves in the kitchen. In the "Mahabharata," a famous Indian epic, five brothers disguise themselves and take service (1 ) as dice-player, (2) as cook, (3) as herd, (4) as groom, (5) as music and dancing master in the women's apartments. Their joint wife serves the queen. They leave their arms on a tree and at need sally forth and perform great feats of valour.
In another part of the same story Bhima, the strong brother, then disguised as a mendicant, saves a Brahman's child from a monster who exacted tribute of food and a human being daily. Bhima acts cook and glutton, and this brother is like him in many ways.
In 1876 I was shown from Kungva a great white snow patch high up on the Dhaoladhan range, which was said to be the tomb of the dragon slain by Bhima. The hero promised him honourable burial if he fought well and kept his word, and gave him a white coffin when he had vanquished the dragon. That tract of country is pervaded by myths of the "Mahabharata."
38. A park, a glen, a forest.The best version here is the "Gray Lad" as told by John Smith in South Uistso that is followed.
39-44. In Gaelic this new character is elsewhere called "The Five-Headed Giant," a big giant, a "Fuath" or fiend, a big man, a forest lion. He is variously described, but in character is the punisher of trespassers and the cattle-lifters' enemy. It is not easy to select the original of this character amongst the crowds of enemies slain by mythical heroes, but here are some of the most conspicuous. (1) In the "Vedas," the oldest of Eastern Sanskrit compositions, Ahi, Vritra, and the Panis stole the cows of the gods. Indra slew the monster Ahi, and rescued the cows. (2) In the oldest of Sanskrit epics, the "Mahabharata," Raja Suserman carried off the cows of Raja Vivata from Sahadeva, a hero disguised as a herd. Bhima, another hero disguised as a cook, defeated the enemy and rescued the cows. (3) In the "Ramayana," another famous Sanskrit epic, Ravana, king of demons, married to the wife of a great serpent, dwelt in Ceylon in Lanka, a city with seven walls made of iron, stone, brass, white-metal, copper, silver, gold; and full of jewels, dresses, magical treasures, and weapons. Ravana had ten heads, twenty arms, copper-coloured eyes, and a body like polished onyx. He carried off Sita, the wife of Rama, and Rama, aided by birds, bears, and monkeys, who were avatars or incarnations of the gods, slew him. On the whole, this looks very like an elaborate Eastern version of the tale which is preserved in the West in this form. (4) In Norse the trolls who confronted Shortshanks had many heads. (5) In Swedish it was the same.
[paragraph continues] (6) In Russian the same. (7) In classical mythology Jupiter overcame Typho, a giant with a hundred serpents heads. (7) Hercules slew the Lernean hydra. (8) There are many similar characters in ancient and modern mythology, but on the whole Ravana in the "Ramayana" is most like these Highland giants. The tale probably came West, and this many-headed giant probably grew where the idea of Sesha Naga began to grow amongst blacks. According to Hindu mythology, he is a king of snakes, and rules in a real underground; he supports the world upon his thousand heads; he owns riches, and the water of life, and a jewel that restores the dead to life. He probably represents the serpent worship of the Aborigines whom the Aryans overcame in India. (9) Gormundgandr, the great sea snake of the "Edda" who encircles the world, is another Western form of the same myth. (10) Many-headed Naga Rajus and men with hoods made by the hooded heads of the mythical snakes which wait upon them are figured abundantly in Fergusson's book upon Tree and Serpent Worship. They are sculptured at many places in Ceylon (v. my "Circular Notes"). (11) A version of this part of the Highland story is current on the east coast of Africa.
In "Sultan Darai" (Swahili Tales told at Zanzibar, Bell and Duldy, 1870) a ruined man buys a gazelle with a coin which he finds in a dust-heap. The gazelle plays Puss in Boots. He finds a jewel, takes it to a sultan as a gift from his master, asks the sultan's daughter for him, fetches him to the place, bathes him, beats him, strips him, and leaves him. He goes to the sultan, gets clothes for his master, and marries him to the princess. Then he goes to find a fit dwelling for Sultan Darai. He found a deserted town, a palace, and an old woman who is the equivalent of the servant in this story. From her he learned that this is the town and house of a great snake with seven heads, who is rich in jewels like Ravana and the Highland giants. When he comes every second day, at noon, he comes in a storm of wind and dust, as the dragon of the West comes in wind and spray. He eats and comes to a well in his house to drink at noon. He has a sword like a flash of lightning, that hangs on a peg. The gazelle took it. The snake smelt him. The old woman said that she has scented herself. The snake puts his seven heads one after the other; the gazelle smote them off in a fearful turmoil, and fainted. He found rooms full of food and full of provisions and slaves and goods, and he said to the old woman, "Do you keep these goods till I ask my master, he is the owner of these goods."
Zanzibar is frequented by Indian sailors, and by Arabs, and by traders from Central Africa. It is manifest that this is the same story, and that it is impossible now to say whence the dragon myth of the West came, or who
was the type of the giant with many heads. Probability is in favour of a non-Aryan origin and serpent worship by aboriginals.
(12) The state myth of Japan includes the many-headed monster, the sword, and jewel of this African tale.
N.B.Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiv are represented with serpent hoods on old temples near the sources of the Ganges.
46. In the "Mahabharata," Sahadeva, one of the Pandavas, became herd to Raja Vivata, and the cows yielded three or four times as much milk as they had ever done before (210, History of India).
39-67. This part is taken chiefly from "The Gray Lad," as told by John Smith, labourer, in South Uist, to Hector Maclean, and written by him. (2) Some incidents and variations are taken from the version which was twice told to J. F. C. with a year's interval by Donald MacPhie, a very old man in South Uist. (3) Some incidents are taken from the version told by John Mackenzie, fisherman, near Inveraray, written by Hector Urquhart, gamekeeper at Ardkinglas. (4) Some fragments are from the versions told to J. F. C. Some of the incidents in this part are, in the Swedish collection, attributed not to land-people, but to sea-dragons. Of these, one asks "if this mannikin will kill him as he killed his brothers." It is in the last degree improbable that this can have been taken directly from the "Ramayana" or from any book. It is therefore exceedingly remarkable to find so much in common in East and West.
68-75. As yet I have been unable to find the Eastern equivalent of this fourth character, the hideous wife of one many-headed monster, and the mother of two. Ravana had a mother, but she did not come out to fight. It is curious if the Western story preserves more characters than the Eastern epics.
[Since this was written I have been to India, and now think that Kali, the wife of Shiva, may be the original or another form of the original of the terrible hag of the Gaelic tales.]
75. Glas in this translation, but anything that shines may be the meaning, say polished armour.
77-175. According to different versions, the next enemy to be overcome is in Gaelic (1) The five-headed giant, (2) a beast [Smith's son], (3) a beast [The Gray Lad], (4) the eldest son of the King of Sorcha
[paragraph continues] [The Fisher], (5) a dragon [The Mermaid], (6) a dragon [MacPhie], (7) three giants [Irish fiddler].
In all cases he is a sea-creature, and in all he is superhuman. In one Swedish version three princesses have to be rescued from three sea-dragons with three, six, twelve heads, who came for them because the king had promised his daughter to a sea-troll in a storm. This indicates human sacrifices to sea-gods. In other Swedish versions the dragon has fifty heads. In one only he lives on a rock inland, and there he spits fire. In Norse three trolls with five, ten, fifteen heads came in ships for the princess. These are the equivalents of the "Sons of the King of Sorcha" in Gaelic. In Sanskrit this part is played in the "Mahabharata" by the Asura Raja Vaka, to whom the people of Ekuchakra were forced daily to send a man and a great quantity of provisions to be devoured under a banyan tree. A Brahman had to supply the victim Bhima, the strong brother of the (5) Pandavas, who lived with the Brahman as mendicants, fought the monster with clubs and trees and fists, and tore him asunder by main force. Then he secretly disappeared, with his mother and his four brothers (v. p. 112 of Wheeler's History of India). Wheeler says that this fiction is a striking reflex of the Hindu mind. It is Western as well as Eastern. This, of course, is the story of St George and the Dragon which has got into Christian legends all over Europe; see "Dragons and Dragon-slayers" in Good Words for April and May 1870. Indra slays Ahi; Vritra, Asuras, blackmen, serpents, Dasyus, Panis, and other mythical foes in "Vedas." Bhima overcomes Vaka, and the Kauravas and many other foes in the "Mahabharata." Rama overcomes Ravana; Nala overcomes Kali the great serpent; Jupiter beats Typho; Ulysses kills Polyphemus; Arthur and Fionn slay boars and robbers and mythical foes. According to theorists, all three mean that light fights dark, summer winter, good evil, life death; or fair people dark serpent-worshippers. It is impossible as yet to decide what is the origin of the dragon myth, but the Gaelic version of it is here given and it is very full of incident. Of course this is the same myth as that of Perseus and Andromeda, which also is a water myth with a flying horse in it. The oldest known form of the slaying of a monster by a hero appears to be a water myth, for after the slaying of Ahi by Indra the rains came down and the rivers flowed. There was a dog-fight in that ancient myth, and a herd's dog which tracked the stolen cows.
In the Russian equivalent of this story, the hero slays serpents with three, six, and twelve heads. There is darkness in the land because of the serpents; after the battle there is light. Three brothers, of whom the youngest is the hero, then go out and conquer the snakes, children, and widow They
transform themselves into cushions in a meadow, apples on trees, and a fountain. The elder brother went to rest on the cushions to eat the apples and to drink of the well. The youngest smites them with his iron club, and they turn to blood. This explains one bit of the Gaelic legend in which three personages overcome by the hero are three sons of the King of Sorcha or Light, who is manifestly a mythological personage. The dragon represented in Japanese pictures of this story which I have seen in Japan comes in a cloud of driving rain, and has fiery eyes. Manifestly he is meant for a storm fiend. I suppose that the myth may be traced to a personification of a sacred river with many "mouths" and many "heads." The Chinese dragon pictured on walls in Canton, and embroidered on dresses, is a water dragon like all the rest.
78. Sometimes he drives the cows to the strand and is still the herd; sometimes he breakfasts with the old herd. He always eats, like Bhima the strong hungry brother in the "Mahabharata."
79. The character of Boaster is played in the "Mahabharata" by Raja Vivata, who claims victories won by Bhima as cook, and by Arjuna as music and dancing master. The part is played by various characters in the West. In Swedish it is a tailor; in Norse a red ritter. In other versions of the story it is a great general; this is from the "Five-Headed Giant" from Berneray.
80. In Swedish there was a great turmoil of waves. In Norse the wind whistles after the ship. This Gaelic description is fuller than any other, probably because of familiarity with Atlantic weather and marine landscape. In Japan a storm is depicted, and is described: when the dragon was slain the storm ended.
82. The mark varies in foreign storiessometimes a ring is fastened to the hair. In Gaelic the mark is the "lugmark" of the shepherd and herdsman almost invariably where this incident occurs, and it is common to many stories.
90. In Swedish each of three sea dragons with a superfluity of heads was attended by a dog "as big as a calf," "as big as an ox," "as big as any beast." Previous to the great battle there is a dog-fight, and the lad's dog is swallowed in the last. In another Gaelic story this incident also appears, and the swallowed dog likewise appears through the hound who is slain. There is no sea-dog in any Gaelic version yet foundMay 1870.
97. In Swedish and in Norse the hero goes back to his service and says nothing. He gives gold rings and pearls and other spoil to the cook or kitchenmaid, his chief; and the boaster gets the credit. In Swedish the king thinks of a similar proverb: "Oft sits the scarlet heart under the Vadmal cloak," i.e., a noble heart under hodden gray. In the "Mahabharata" the Pandavas slink off and return to their disguises and disappear.
131. From a version told by Dewar and MacNair. In Swedish the princess aids by putting rags on the necks of the monster, for the heads when they touch water gain life and hop on again. This incident is in Gaelic also, and occurs at the end of this story.
139. Sometimes he is forgotten. In Swedish he is found in the kitchen by three princesses, is sent for, and won't go. In Norse the princess desires him to pour out wine; he does at the feast, and is there revealed in glorious dresses given him by the princess. In Gaelic he wins his own braveries and three castles to boot. A dress of honour is part of the story always.
140. From the Fisher.
141. In other tales this part is played by a great eagle. The whistle and the yellow-faced servant, a flying horse, and all the rest of this indicates a genius and an Eastern origin. In Swedish and in German the hero sends his creaturesfox, wolf, bear, and so onto fetch food, drink, and other tokens from the palace.
142. This ought to be the wishing cloth, but it is not in any version of the story yet got except as above. I have not found it in any foreign version either.
143. From the Fisher and the Gray Lad.
162. A magnificent vehicle with as many horses harnessed to it as to the chariots of day and night in the Edda or the chariot of the sun. The original chariot may have been built in the Aryan land chariots are repeatedly mentioned in the "Vedas" as vehicles used by men on earth and gods above. These west country chariots are surely Aryan chariots.
170. In Swedish three princesses twist three threads with his hair. In Norse a princess throws three magnificent garments over the hero, which he
wears under his own rough dress. All Gaelic versions agree in some mark, and nearly all in making it a mark on the head which the lady combs or otherwise arranges on the shore. The Swedish story of the "Three Swords" ends here. The Norse story of "Shortshanks" goes on with adventures to find a wife for a second brother. Other Swedish stories carry the tale further, and correspond with the Gaelic versions in a very remarkable manner.
176. Some reciters omit this part altogether. But it is part of the story and in other versions it is made a good deal of. It is neither in Norse nor in Swedish.
The story of Jonah and the Whale may have suggested this, but if so it was suggested to Italians long ago. In "Straparola" the hero of the tale goes to the Atlantic ocean; a mermaid (sirena) begins to sing, he sleeps, and she swallows him. In like manner the mermaids sang that they might eat men, in the story of Ulysses. The oldest form of the similar myth is referred to in a note on No. 4. But that Varuna was a male divinity. This might be Varuna come to claim his promised victim.
187. This is chiefly from the telling of an old man in North Uist and of an old wife in Berneray. In "Straparola" the wife follows the husband to the Atlantic, in a ship, with her child, which was some years old. She gave the baby apples to play with on the deck; and for these apples the mermaid shows first the head, then the body to the waist, then the man to the knees, out of her mouth. He becomes an eagle, flies to the ship, and they all sail home. As the wife is taken, this tradition is more complete than it is in the old Italian or in any other version known to me. In the French version (Cabinet des Fees, tome 5, p. 49, 1785) the apples are turned into balls of gold and jewels. One is set with flat diamonds on all sides, the other is a large round emerald, the third is a ruby, and all three give out harmonies the most exquisite, which attracted the mermaid.
If I were not afflicted by honesty of purpose, it seems to me that the music, the object of price, and the dresses which were to ransom the husband might be combined and made to accord exactly with the rest of this story, by making the lady play upon the three whistles which the lad took from the giants, and which carried with them castles of copper, silver, and gold; with all the people and property stowed therein. That would be a good ransom and appropriate, but no Highland narrator has thus put the story together for me, and no book story that I know has either. I stick to truth in telling lies, and tell the tale as it is told in Gaelic.
188-206. not in Swedish, nor in Norse, nor in French, nor in Italian this mysterious egg nearly related to the egg of the Universe in Hindu, Greek, and Finnish myth.
207. The story now goes off to a second brother. In Swedish the second hero has adventures which are in German, but which I have not found in any Gaelic story. In Norse some of the adventures here given to a second brother are told of a widow's son separately. In Italian some of these adventures occur.
This second way is taken from versions in which a leash of creatures and adventures which they indicate, lead to fortune by courage, courting, and concealment, just as these creatures and many adventures led to fortune by courage and brute force, by swiftness and by cunning on the first road. The change made by me is simply to combine and to attribute adventures to a different brother in one case, to a different person in the other. The creatures met on this road are(1) Lion, Falcon, Rat, in "The Second Son of the King of Ireland," got from Dewar and MacNair in Cowal, June 1860 (MS. No. 175); (2) Lion, Dove, Rat, in the "The Three Ways," got from MacLean and Margaret Mackenzie in Berneray, Harris, about same time (MS. No. 120). In this case the dove is the most appropriate bird, except where he has to carry warlike paraphernalia.
208. This natural history is all right. The rat meant is the little old Scotch rat now nearly banished by the so-called Hanoverian rat, but still to be found in the islands occasionally. He is a little short-tailed black creature, and I believe that he hibernates like a marmot.
210, 211. Bhima took service as cook, and Draupadi took service in the women's apartments, where her husband could not visit her.
228. This is the way the tale is told by a Highland shoemaker nowadays.
In "Straparola" an Italian princess gave Fortunio, who flew to her room as an eagle and hid in her slipper as an ant, arms and armour to go to a tournament where he overcame a Moor and a Turk. In Norway a princess gave the widow's son, who was the gardener's lad and her gallant, nothing, but he had a horse and harness. All these people tell this part of the story much in the same way, but each age and class and individual dresses the actors differently, and the Highlander gives the gallant an embroidered waistcoat to go to the fair.
240. In the "Mahabharata" a great man falls in love with the wife of the Pandavas; she gives him rendezvous, and Bhima meets him and slays him in the music and dancing room.
254. It does not appear how a pigeon carried armour, but that is not the fault of the translator.
275. According to Dewar, he was a second son of a king of Erin. The Irish king first married the daughter of the King of Scotland, and then after her death the daughter of the King of France. The stepmother tried to poison the boys, and they fled to seek their fortune. One went through these adventures and thus married his French cousin; the other went to serve with a farmer, and had no adventures in particular but married the farmer's daughter and reigned over Ireland after his father's death. The youngest brother went home, found his father sick, pretended to be a doctor, fetched his brother, consoled his father, and made him well. After that the stepmother was sent back to France, the stepson returned also to his bride, and all was made correct, accurate, and historical. The Berneray version is very short, but so far it agrees almost exactly with the Cowal version here condensed. It ends here with the wedding. This clearly is the story of one of three poor brothers who have Norse relations in "Shortshanks" and the "Widow's Son," and many other foreign relations of ancient lineage of whom the eldest are the five Pandavas in the "Mahabharata." (See History of India, by Talboys Wheeler, 1867.) The five Pandavas and their joint wife disguised themselves and served Raja Vivata for a year. They hid their arms in a tree on which they hung a dead body. Bhima the strong man and great eater became cook. From time to time he sallies forth, performed some feat and returned to the kitchen. At last with the brothers, of whom one was a herd and another a stableman, the cook rescued the king and defeated an army which had carried off the cows and the king. A fourth brother, Arunja, as a eunuch in female attire, taught singing and dancing in the palace till it was time to act. Then he became charioteer for the king's son, went to the tree, took his arms and conquered another army which had captured more cows. The Raja claimed the victories for himself and for his son, and played at dice with the fifth brother, and insulted him. Then the five heroes revealed themselves and were greatly honoured. There can be no question about the identity of this very ancient Hindu legend with this part of this Gaelic story, and with the "Widow's Son" (Norse Tales, 364, etc.). There can be no question of borrowing from books in this case. Very few educated people know the name of the Indian epic.
The third set of adventures are in a tale of 89 manuscript Gaelic pages written by John Dewar, labourer, about the end of 1860. The tale was told to him by MacNair, shoemaker, at Clachaig in Cowal, near Dunoon, and he learned it about 1830 from MacArthur, a Cowal herring-fisher, who was an old "man of war's man." He was taken in the war and was in a French prison for a long time. I have sifted out parallel incidents such as the meeting with three enchanted creatures, the defence of the castle, the transformations and the conquest of a being whose life is in a mythical egg, from the old sailor's geographical sea-yarns so as to shorten and condense a very long precise and somewhat prosy story. (The MS. is bound in vol. viii.) A ship sails from Dublin to the East Indies: she goes to the Cape of Good Hope, and there, somewhere just beyond the limit of knowledge, the ship was lost. One sailor was saved, he found a path, went to a town, and found that he was in the Green Island where no ships called. He took service with the king's fisher, whose son had gone to school, though he was nearly twenty. The wife grumbled, for there was little fish to be had. One day they saw a ship (which is the mermaid transformed by the old sailor, of course). The whole sea-business of shortening sail and anchoring is described, the fisher goes on board, the sailor offers himself as a hand. The captain, in the mermaid's part, asks the fisher what family he has, and how he lives, and then the whole story is told over again to the captain, who says: "If you will bring me to-morrow here the first creature that meets you on shore, I will bring you plenty of fish." The sailor thought that his one-eared dog would be sure to meet him, so here is the dog (cf. the first part of the story). Then comes a long description of hand-line fishing, made mythical, and they loaded their boat with fish while the ship made sail, partly in technical sailor's language, partly in regular west country story-telling rhythm.
The fisher's son was the first creature met. The fisher had three daughters (who are characters in a Swedish version, but strangers here), and with the sailor they went to town, and sold the fisher's share of the fish. The fisher was sorrowful and his wife asked the cause, so he tells the whole story for the third time to his wife. The wife's counsel is to send the son to sea, so he was sent, but she laid it as crosses and spells on him to come back in a year and a day. The whole boat-sailing and ship-anchoring is repeated, and the new hand goes on board as the old sailor most probably did when he was young. They would not have the sailor, but they cast gold dust through the ports till the boat was nearly swamped, and they took the fisher's son and sailed away. The fisher got back and set the king's goldsmith to make coins, and then he was richer than the king. He gave his boat to the sailor, who fished for himself. The son sailed he knew not
whither. One day they neared land, and he was sent on shore for water. He saw beautiful rare fruits, and he wandered from tree to tree plucking them; so here comes in the tree and forest myth which also belongs to this story. When he came back, boat, barrel, and ship had disappeared. Then he went up through the forest.
This is the first part of the myth. I have given this abstract to show how a story alters to suit the daily life and the experience of the narrator and his audience, and how easy it is to know incidents after learning the nature of oral mythology at the fountain-head amongst the people.
277. Bha an latha falbh s bha an oidhche tighinn. Such phrases are vernacular Gaelic, and are used without any thought of mythology. This, according to theory, is an ancient myth founded upon metaphorical Sanskrit phrases, used of speaking of day and night, sun and dawn. It may be, but in fact such phrases do not lead to personifications by those who now use them. In the next few pages are several more phrases literally translated to show the metaphorical nature of vernacular Gaelic used by peasantry without any double meaning at all. The peasant tells his story, another class of mind might easily join language and story, but the story itself comes first.
284. According to theory, here is a personification of light in her castle during the night. As the Gaelic for sun is feminine, here she is; but nobody in the West so understands the story. In Russian a similar passage is called the "Sun's Sister." I do but tell my tale and wait for more light, for I cannot yet see my way to any theory which will account for my facts. In the "Edda" a female sun has a daughter who succeeds her mother after the twilight of the gods. In Japanese myth the sun is a lady who also is a snake divinity.
286. To me it seems that a moral lesson was intended by somebody. The first brother went headlong to his ends like a wolf, the second went swiftly and secretly like a bird, this one goes cautiously but courageously on. He does not go in till he has gone all round, he does not eat ravenously like a savage, but he waits patiently and politely as men do in the West; he eats frugally and he goes fearlessly on with his adventures. He is the youngest, and the youngest saves the others at the end of the story. The proverb "Slow and sure wins the race "expresses the spirit of this class of story.
292. If he slept in the chamber of the dawn, of course not. But there is much to explain before any theory can be accepted. Here are six doors and
a wall, which makes seven. In the story of Conall the castle had seven defences. The city of Ekbatana in "Herodotus" had seven walls; the city in the "Ramayana" had seven walls. The world, according to Hindu myth, consists of seven rings of land with seas between and a wall of mountains outside, beyond which is darkness. It would be the exploit of a divinity to pass seven such barriers and get to the mountain in the centre where the gods abide.
302. Any one who knows popular tales will here recognise Beauty and the Beast, Cupid and Psyche, Green Serpent, and a host of Western tales which are all allied to the Sanskirt story of Urvaçi. Theorists explain these by the ancient use of poor metaphorical language resulting in personification. Here is metaphorical language used by a labouring man without any double meaning whatsoever. When he says the night came he does not personify night. He speaks Gaelic and cannot avoid metaphor, but nevertheless he tells his mythical story which is all over the world in various forms and seems to be a lesson.
309. Here is a blank in the first part of the story. The first or second son, or both, ought to have gone home to enrich the old fisher after the mermaid's death, and the victory over the Turks.
316. The Gandharvas, who wanted Urvashi to return to them, caused her to look upon her husband by sending a flash of lightning after he had been enticed to rise from his couch. Here the case is reversed. The man sees the woman.
322. So far the story is that of Cupid and Psyche with the male character played by the actress. The recovery of the lost lady differs from any version known to me in any language.
328. Ants commonly live in skulls which bleach on the shore in the West Highlands. In fact, eagles do prefer to tear entrails.
329. The inferior personage who loses the superior in this widespread myth always needs some locomotive aid to arrive at the other place. Psyche has much to endure before she gets to Cupid in heaven. The Norse lassie who married the white bear got help from three old women who lent her three mythical horses, and then she flew upon the backs of four winged winds to the castle that was east of the sun and west of the moon. The Scotch
lassies who married the black and red bulls of Norway got mystic fruits and gifts from three old wives, and iron shoes from a smith with which to cross a glass mountain. In No. 8 of the Swedish collection the lady is an "airmaid," and therefore is allied to a character Ilmaten in the "Kalevala." She comes in the shape of a dove to earth, and is caught. The youngest brother of a leash loses his bride and recovers her by getting boots, a cloak, and a sword from three brace of giants, and help from three old wives who ruled over beasts, and fish, and birds. It was "bird Fenix" who carried him to the castle that was east of the sun and north of the earth at last. In German, and in versions quoted from eight different languages in the Swedish collections, the myth, however, transformed has this common principle. The lost personage went skywards and had to be followed with wings. The question to be solved first is which form of the myth is nearest to the oldest shape of it. In Gaelic all this machinery exists, but in this tale it is all condensed into simple transformations, the gifts of beasts and birds and insects. Surely this is the simplest form and is most like an ancient religion. If the hero is one, the less help he needs the greater he is. These three brothers do not need to borrow horses, for horses were born with them. They do not need swords, for they grew with them. They do not need the locomotive boots or the cloak, or the help of the old women who rule over beasts, or of the winds, because birds give them shapes and wings and swiftness; lions and wolves, courage and power. These three Atlantic fisher's sons are men with something of the sea in their nature, and with the nature of wild creatures added. They are superhuman in the story, and they surely were savage demigods once upon a time. In the oldest known form of the myth, the woman was an airmaid who came from the sky to marry a mortal. When Urvashi went away the mortal followed till he got leave to be one of the heavenly people called Gandharvas. This clearly is the story of Pururavas, but the puzzle is how it got to the West in this form. Die Herabkunft des Feuers, by A. Kuhn (Berlin, 1859, p. 31) contains the swan maiden story of Urvaçi. Part of the story is current in the Isle of Skye, and is in Grimm's "Three Eyes"; part of it is in New Zealand, Celebes, and Japan.
340. According to other versions of this incident, the lady ought to have wheedled this knowledge out of the giant at the instigation of her mortal lover (v. Young King of Easaidh Ruadh in Gaelic, the giant that had no heart in his body (Norse), and many German versions of this story). One modern theory would make the lady the dawn, or Ushas of the "Vedas"; the giant, winter or night or darkness; the egg, the sun; and the fisher's son,
[paragraph continues] Indra or some other Vedic personification. Indra slew his foes by throwing one wheel of the sun's chariot at them in one battle. But Indra himself is exceedingly like a deified ancestor in the "Vedas." The myth seems rather to turn upon the mundane egg out of which everything was hatched; and some pantheistic notion of a common life for all things. If the aborigines held some such creed the conqueror may represent the creed of those who invaded them.
352. The reference to the sun may be taken as evidence in favour of those who count this an Aryan solar myth. The conversation of the lions tells for the water-myth theory, which I think most probable.
356. There is something of the story of David (Sam. i. 17, 33) and of Samson about this version which may have come into traditions out of the Bible. The other versions have no resemblance to holy writ.
400. J. F. C. here has a note on Swedish story and fire in a forest, and concludes that the story is not the property of any nationality, but is universal, human.
404. The incident of two people so like that they could not be distinguished by the wife of one occurs in the "Rigveda Sanhita" (v. Wilson's trans., vol. iii., 147-8). Indra was like a terrible lion when wielding his weapons, in which he resembles these fisher's sons in the Hebrides. The hymn says, "With a mind resolved on killing the Dasyu thou tamest to his dwelling, and Kutsa was eager for thy friendship. Now have you two alighted at Indra's dwelling, and being entirely similar in form the truthful woman has been perplexed to discriminate between you."
After a great battle in which Indra threw the wheel of the chariot of the sun and slew 50,000 black Rakshasas and other enemies, Indra took Kutsa home in his chariot to his palace where Sachi, Indra's wife, could not tell which of them was her husband.
In the story of Nala, given by T. Wheeler in his History of India, the lady who is to choose a husband sees five Nalas, for four gods have fallen in love with her and have taken the shape of her lover Nala. At her earnest prayers they leave her to her human lover, and endow him with mystical gifts.