The wood so softly singing
In a language strange to hear
And the song it sings will find you
As the twilight draws you near


Three Golden Heads in the Well

This version from English Folk and Fairy Tales, by Joseph Jacobs. There is a slightly longer version in the Norton Collection. Is the king of Colchester Cunobelinus – later popularized as Old King Cole? It is interesting that the quest narrative, usually the part of a young male, is here undertaken by a female. Who are these fairies of the well? Or rather well spirits being not uncommon in faerie lore, why are there three of them? The story is referred to in some verses by George Peele in his play The Old Wive’s Tale (1595). These are discussed HERE

LONG before Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, there reigned in the eastern part of England a king who kept his court at Colchester. In the midst of all his glory, his queen died, leaving behind her an only daughter, about fifteen years of age who for her beauty and kindness was the wonder of all that knew her. But the king hearing of a lady who had likewise an only daughter, had a mind to marry her for the sake of her riches, though she was old, ugly, hook-nosed, and hump-backed. Her daughter was a yellow dowdy, full of envy and ill-nature; and, in short, was much of the same mould as her mother. But in a few weeks the king, attended by the nobility and gentry, brought his bride to the palace, where the marriage rites were performed. She had not been long in the Court before she set the king against his own beautiful daughter by false reports. The young princess having lost her father's love, grew weary of the Court, and one day, meeting with her father in the garden, she begged him, with tears in her eyes, to let her go and seek her fortune, to which the king consented, and ordered her mother-in-law to give her what she pleased. She went to the queen, who gave her a canvas bag of brown bread and hard cheese, with a bottle of beer. Though this was but a pitiful dowry for a king's daughter, she took it, with thanks, and proceeded on her journey, passing through groves, woods, and valleys, till at length she saw an old man sitting on a stone at the mouth of a cave, who said:

"Good morrow, fair maiden, whither away so fast?" "Aged father," says she, "I am going to seek my fortune."

"What have you got in your bag and bottle?"

"In my bag I have got bread and cheese, and in my bottle good small beer. Would you like to have some?"

"Yes "said he, "with all my heart."

With that the lady pulled out the provisions, and bade him eat and welcome. He did so, and gave her many thanks, and said: "There is a thick thorny hedge before you, which you cannot get through, but take this wand in your hand, strike it three times, and say, “Pray, hedge, let me come through,” and it will open immediately; then, a little further, you will find a well; sit down on the brink of it, and there will come up three golden heads, which will speak; and whatever they require, that do." Promising she would, she took her leave of him. Coming to the hedge and using the old man's words and the wand, it divided, and let her through. Coming to the well, she had no sooner sat down than a golden head came up singing:

"Wash me and comb me,
And lay me down softly.
And lay me on a bank to dry,
That I may look pretty,
When somebody passes by."

"Yes," said she, and taking it in her lap combed it with a silver comb, and then placed it upon a primrose bank. Then up came a second and a third head, saying the same as the former. So she did the same for them. Then, pulling out her provisions, she sat down to eat her dinner.

Said the heads one to another: "What shall' we weird for this damsel who has used us so kindly?"

The first said: "I weird her to be so beautiful that she shall charm the most powerful prince in the World"

The second said: "I weird her such a sweet voice as shall far exceed the nightingale."

The third said: "My gift shall be none of the least, as she is a king's daughter, I'll weird her so fortunate that she shall become queen to the greatest prince that reigns."

She then let them down into the well again, and so went on her journey. She had not travelled long before she saw a king hunting in the park with his nobles. She would have avoided him, but the king, having caught sight of her, approached, and what with her beauty and sweet voice, fell desperately in love with her, and soon induced her to marry him.

This king finding that she was the king of Colchester's daughter, ordered some chariots to be got ready, that he might pay the king, his father-in-law a visit. The chariot in which the king and queen rode was adorned with rich gems of gold. The king, her father, was at first astonished that his daughter had been so fortunate, till the young king let him know of all that had happened. Great was the joy at Court amongst all, with the exception of the queen and her daughter, who were ready to burst with envy. The rejoicings, with feasting and dancing continued many days. Then at length they returned home with the dowry her father gave her.

The hump-backed princess, perceiving that her sister had been so lucky in seeking her fortune, wanted to do the same; so she told her mother, and all preparations were made, and she was furnished with rich dresses, and with sugar, almonds, and sweet meats, in great quantities, and a large bottle of Malaga sack. With these she went the same road as her sister; and coming near the cave, the old man„ said: "Young woman, whither so fast?"

"What's that to you?" said she.

"Then," said he, "what have you in your bag and bottle?

She answered: "Good things, which you shall not be troubled with."

"Won't you give me some?" said he.

"No, not a bit, nor a drop, unless it would choke you.

The old man frowned, saying: "Evil fortune; attend ye!"

Going on, she came to the hedge, through which she espied a gap, and thought to pass through it, but the hedge closed, and the thorns ran into her flesh, so that it was with great difficulty that she got through. Being now all over blood, she searched for water to wash herself, and, looking round she saw the well. She sat down on the brink of it, and one of the heads came up saying: "Wash me, comb me, and lay me down softly," as before, but she banged it with her bottle, saying, "Take that for your washing." So the second and third heads came up, and met with no better treatment than the first, whereupon the heads consulted among themselves what evils to plague her with for such usage.

The first said "Let her be struck with leprosy in her face"

The second: "Let her voice be as harsh as corncrake's."

The third said: "Let her have for husband but a poor country cobbler."

Well, on she went till she came to a town, and it being market-day, the people looked at her, and, seeing such an ugly face, and hearing such a squeaky voice, all fled but a poor country cobbler. Now he not long before had mended the shoes of an old hermit, who, having no money, gave him a box of ointment for the cure of the leprosy, and a bottle of spirits for a harsh voice. So the cobbler, having a mind to do an act of charity, was induced to go up to her and ask her who she was.

"I am," said she, "the king of Colchester's daughter-in-law."

"Well," said the cobbler, "if I restore you to your natural complexion, and make a, sound cure both in face and voice, will you in reward take me for a husband?"

"Yes, friend," replied she, "with all my heart!"

With this the cobbler applied the remedies, and they made her well in a few weeks; after which they were married, and so set forward for the Court at Colchester. When the queen found that her daughter had married nothing but a poor cobbler, she hanged herself in wrath. The death of the queen so pleased the king, who was glad to get rid of her so soon, that he gave the cobbler a hundred pounds, to quit the Court with his lady, and take to a remote part of the kingdom, where he lived many years mending shoes, his wife spinning the thread for him.



Here is another gem from the pages of the Pagan Movement Ethos Group. This one is from the latter part of the 1970's and is well worth making the effort to read.


                         TRAVELLER'S REST by Janian Richardson
   Old Lilah Heron awoke with a start, as though something light as a leaf blown from the woods had brushed her cheek.  She had fallen asleep while carving chrysanthemums with long, curling petals from the sticks she had gathered that morning.  Now the wood in her little stove had fallen apart into a mass of grey ash, without warmth or light, and the long shadows of early evening filled her caravan.  She would have to move quickly to gather more wood before it grew dark.
   She wrapped her brown woollen shawl around her thin shoulders and pushed her feet into ancient, awkward-looking boots.  Though old, she was straight and tall yet, and her grey hair still carried streaks of raven black.  Taking her basket and hazel stick, Lilah climbed down the three little steps outside her front door and made her way towards the woods behind the caravan.  Solitude held no terrors for Lilah: she had been alone for fifteen years since Nathaniel had died, and the high-speed way of life that most of the travelling folk had adoped, whirling around in caravans harsh with chrome and drawn by cars instead of the proud horses of yesterday, was not for her.  She much preferred to stay here, on the border of the great forest, in the little wooden caravan Nathaniel had built with his own hands.
   In the soft grey light the woods looked magnificant, reaching high into the air and blazing like a great fire with the reds and golds of October's end.  As she picked her way across the pitted surface of the field, Lilah smiled to herself.  She was remembering Octobers long past, when all her relations would be gathered on country farms.  Hopping was ended, and most of the fruit safely in, and it would soon be time to forage for potatoes in the rich damp Earth.  The hedges, then as now, were entwined with travellers' joy, its fragrance like woodsmoke and smoky, too, its delicate grey fronds.  And there were spindleberries, clear and pink, and rose hips for jam, and a thousand gossamer webs strung with jewels in the sunrise.  Then stars at night, and a snap of frost, and the comfort of a fire shared with her loved ones under the glittering sky.
   Lilah felt a lump of pain rise in her breast.  Those Autumn evenings had never been the same since Jasper-John, her dearest brother only two years older than herself, had drowned in the weir at Nettlestead.  Cold that evening had been, and raw, flayed by grey thongs of mist . . She would not think of that now.  But as Lilah skirted the forest, ever watchful for dry wood, and as she stooped to gather sticks, or paused to admire a slender tree shimmering with golden leaves, she felt as though she had company, and could imagine Jasper-John, with his black curly hair and eyes alight with mischief, running beside her.  Once, the sensation was so strong that she swung round - and started a large hare, who cocked his ears at her and lolloped off into the shelter of a thorn bush.
   Now Lilah was within the great woods, treading bracken and pine needles, and fallen leaves like a store of treasure all about her.  The light was very dim, and Lilah's eyes were not as keen as in years gone by, so now and again she would seize a swatch of dead fern or an old puffball, powdering between her fingers, in mistake for the wood she sought.  However, on she foraged until her rush basket was heavy with wood and she was quite out of breath.  Panting, Lilah leaned against a tree.  High it loomed into the darkening sky, seeming almost to penetrate it; around its trunk coiled a thick rope of ivy.  How strong it felt to Lilah, almost comforting, and her old eyes became moist.  Nathaniel had reminded her, many a time, of a tree, sturdy and sheltering in times of trouble.  Now he, too, was gone: a fall from a ladder had damaged his back and his strength had never returned.  In the thickening darkness, with her arms tight around the trunk of the tree, it was easy to envisage him striding through the woods towards her, brown as a hazel nut and love gleaming in his dark eyes.  Lilah spent several minutes in bittersweet dreaming, until she suddenly realised how cold it had grown.  She opened her eyes.  It was completely dark: a thin mist was threading between the trees, which showed as strange black clusters against the night.  Some had lost all their leaves, and pointed stark horns and bony fingers towards a sky unbroken my moon or stars.  Lilah, who had spent a lifetime among the woods, now felt afraid.  She had ventured far deeper into the forest than she had meant to, and it was many years since she had been alone in the woods by night.  She breathed deeply, and gradually became calmer.  Swathes of the love of the forest returned to her. She would not be able to retrace her steps by sight, so perhaps, if she could hear the stream that ran through the forest, she could follow that?  And sure enough, as she let her mind relax and wander along the woodland paths, Lilah heard a very faint trickling away to her left.  Step by step, her hazel stick seeking the pathway, and clutching her basket of wood, she came to the stream.  She was trembling now: her age was heavy upon her and the cold ate into her bones.  Each step seemed to last for an hour.  As she picked her way along the bank of the stream, twigs and thorn tore spitefully at her limbs and her feet sank deep into oozing mud, which slithered icily into the tops of her boots.  The mist had thickened to a dense pall and not even the tree-shapes were visible.  Owls cried like frightened children, and once, when Lilah walked full into a prickly bush and was blindly struggling to disengage herself, she heard a thick grunting and crackling, as of a large animal pushing through undergrowth, close behind her.  In a surge of panic she stumbled forward and fell headlong into the mud.  She had not released her stick, and it aided her in rising, but her basket of wood was lost and a jagged pain tore at her chest.
   A few more steps, weaker now, and at last Lilah could see an opening in the wood's dark curtains.  Now she stood outside, shivering with pain and cold, and a strange slapping sound carried across the field.  Lilah knew it well: it was the sound of someone washing in the stream, slapping the clothes against the stones as she had done so often herself, and her mother before her, and her grandmother before either of them.  Who on Earth would be washing at the darkest hour of a cold October night?  Then the Moon showed pale and wan through a tear in the clouds, and Lilah saw that she was beside the little brook that crossed the fields about a mile from her caravan.  And there, by the side of the stream, crouched a figure, and in the moonlight her hair flowed down her back like a midnight waterfall, and it was Rebecca, Lilah's own daughter who had been taken from her at the age of fourteen, burning with a fever on the coldest night of the year.
   "Rebecca!  Oh, my own!"  Forgetting the pain in her chest, Lilah stumbled across the field, tripping and tearing her ankles in the long grass whose edges were as sharp as knives.  At the edge of the stream she fell on her knees, weeping, her frail arms flung wide in welcome.  The figure raised her head from her task with a terrible laugh, and it was not Rebecca at all, and it was not long black hair that hung down her back, but garments as shapeless and murky as Fear itself.  She raised her eyes to meet Lilah's, and they were black pits like the spaces between the stars in a face no more than bone, a face of bottomless sorrow and desolation that had been ancient when Lilah was yet a child.  Her bony fingers loosed the white, clammy thing that she was washing, and she seized the old gipsy woman to her shrunken breast in an embrace of iron.  Lilah felt the pain bubble up from her chest, filling her throat with its red, salty taste, and she fell down, deep down into the chasm of the other's gaze.
   How long Lilah had lain there beside the stream she could not tell, but it was upon the Moon that she opened her eyes, riding high in a sea of tattered clouds.  She felt warm, and the pain in her chest had gone.  A deep peace was upon her then, and she lay quietly until the sound of hoof-beats, coming from the wood, aroused her.  She sat up, and saw a magnificent stallion, pale and shining as the Moon herself, and a great star of midnight black on his forehead.  And Nathaniel was leading him by the reins, tall and brown and supple as the larch, and on his back sat Jasper-John and Rebecca, with room for one more besides.  "Come, my Lilah," said Nathaniel, "to the green and secret places, and learn the mysteries of Mother Earth.  And we will dance in the circles of the Sun, and in the Moon's silver avenues, until the time comes for us to begin travelling once more."  So Lilah got to her feet, as easily as if she had been a young maid, and behold, she was as naked and lithe, with long black hair free-flowing.  She joined her loved ones upon the back of the great horse who shone like the stars, and together they galloped into the windy night, and what remained on the bank of the stream held no more meaning for Lilah than a heap of dry sticks and withered leaves.


Two Trees

Timbertoes was a mighty old oak and Silvertoes was a graceful young birch. He grew on the edge of the forest and she grew near a lake. One day Wind said to Timbertoes “I gave you a wild night last night, old friend, I hope you stood up to it”.
“I think I lost a small top bough, but it was damaged anyway and that’s the first to go for years”.
Silvertoes butted in: “I only lost a few leaves, my branches are light enough to dance when you blow. I’m not old and heavy.”
Wind replied “Do you know you’re growing across the path?”
“What path?” But Silvertoes checked herself (you need to be careful how you talk to Wind). “We-ell, it doesn’t go anywhere”.
“Doesn’t it?” said Wind. “If I were you I’d grow the other way”.
“But then I couldn’t see myself in the lake”.
Wind sighed and went away.

One day a swineherd came with his pigs and kicked Silvertoes, complaining that she was blocking the path. His pigs grazed under Timbertoes and were thankful for the acorns. As the swineherd  left he kicked Silvertoes again and grunted that, although she was a pretty tree, he didn’t like witches brooms.

On another occasion a stag butted silvertoes and said the same about not liking witches brooms. She complained to Timbertoes that other animals had done the same thing. But he told her “You are still just young enough to grow away from the path”. But she wouldn’t listen.
“I wouldn’t be able to see myself in the water” she said, “and if anyone else says anything about witches brooms, I’ll tell them about that ugly bush hidden in your branches”.
“They all know it’s there”, he replied “it’s been growing for 500 years”.
But Silvertoes was not listening and just admired herself in the water.

On another day a tiny wren settled on one of Silvertoes’ branches and whispered to her “Don’t you think you should move off the path a bit?”
“It doesn’t go anywhere” she insisted.

After a time a band of men came along the path and stopped right where Silvertoes was blocking the way. They made camp. Then, with a sharp axe, Silvertoes was cut down . Timbertoes shivered, but he knew why they had come. They built themselves a fire and settled down for the night. The next day they climbed Timbertoes and used a golden sickle to cut some of the bush with the white berries on it that he guarded in his branches. But they were reverent to him and departed with a blessing. When they had gone he sighed. Silvertoes was nothing but a pile of ash.

Collected in the Welsh borders by Ruth Tongue in 1909. It was said to have been passed down within the same family at least since c.1770. It does not contain any standard folk-take motifs so may be a specific local story rather than a local version of a generalized type as is usual


The Trapped Moon

LONG ago, in my grandmother's time, the Carland was all in bogs, great pools of black water, and creeping trickles of green water, and squishy mools which squirted when you stepped on them. Well, granny used to say how long before her time the Moon herself was once dead and buried in the marshes, and as she used to tell me, I'll tell you all about it.

The Moon up yonder shone and shone, just as she does now, and when she shone she lighted up the bog-pools, so that one could walk about almost as safe as in the day. But when she didn't shine, out came the Things that dwelt in the darkness and went about seeking to do evil and harm; Bogies and Crawling Horrors, all came out when the Moon didn't shine. Well, the Moon heard of this, and being kind and good - as she surely is, shining for us in the night instead of taking her natural rest - she was main troubled. 'I'll see for myself, I will,' said she, 'maybe it's not so bad as folks make out.' Sure enough, at the month's end down she stept, wrapped up in a black cloak, and a black hood over her shining hair. Straight she went to the bog edge and looked about her. Water here and water there; waving tussocks and trembling mools, and great black snags all twisted and bent. Before her all was dark - dark but for the glimmer of the stars in the pools, and the light that came from her own white feet, stealing out of her black cloak.

The Moon drew her cloak faster about and trembled, but she wouldn't go back without seeing all there was to be seen; so on she went, stepping as light as the wind in summer from tuft to tuft between the greedy gurgling water-holes. Just as she came near a big black pool her foot slipped and she was nigh tumbling in. She grabbed with both hands at a snag near by to steady herself with, but as she touched it, it twined itself round her wrists, like a pair of handcuffs, and gript her so that she couldn't move. She pulled and twisted and fought, but it was no good. She was fast, and must stay fast.

Presently as she stood trembling in the dark, wondering if help would come, she heard something calling in the distance, calling, calling, and then dying away with a sob, till the marshes were full of this pitiful crying sound; then she heard steps floundering along, squishing in the mud and slipping on the tufts, and through the darkness she saw a white face with great feared eyes. 'Twas a man strayed in the bogs. Mazed with fear, he struggled on towards the flickering light that looked like help and safety. And when the poor Moon saw that he was coming nigher and nigher to the deep hole, further and further from the path, she was so mad and so sorry that she struggled and fought and pulled harder than ever. And though she couldn't get loose, she twisted and turned, till her black hood fell back off her shining hair, and the beautiful light that came from it drove away the darkness.

Oh, but the man cried with joy to see the light again. And at once all evil things fled back into the dark corners, for they cannot abide the light. So he could see where he was, and where the path was, and how he could get out of the marsh. And he was in such haste to get away from the Quicks, and Bogles, and Things that dwelt there, that he scarce looked at the brave light that came from the beautiful shining hair, streaming out over the black cloak and falling to the water at his feet. And the Moon herself was so taken up with saving him, and with rejoicing that he was back on the right path, that she clean forgot that she needed help herself, and that she was held fast by the Black Snag.

So off he went; spent and gasping, and stumbling and sobbing with joy, flying for his life out of the terrible bogs. Then it came over the Moon she would like to go with him. So she pulled and fought as if she were mad, till she fell on her knees, spent with tugging, at the foot of the snag. And as she lay there, gasping for breath, the black hood fell forward over her head. So out went the blessed light and back came the darkness, with all its Evil Things, with a screech and a howl. They came crowding round her, mocking and snatching and beating; shrieking with rage and spite, and swearing and snarling, for they knew her for their old enemy, that drove them back into the corners, and kept them from working their wicked wills. 'Drat thee!' yelled the witch-bodies, 'thou'st spoiled our spells this year agone!'
'And us thou sent'st to brood in the corners!' howled the Bogles.
And all the Things joined in with a great 'Ho, ho!' till the very tussocks shook and the water gurgled. And they began again.
'We'll poison her - poison her!' shrieked the witches. And 'Ho-ho!' howled the Things again.'We'll smother her - smother her!' whispered the Crawling Horrors, and twined themselves round her knees. And 'Ho, ho!' mocked the rest of them.

And again they all shouted with spite and ill will. And the poor Moon crouched down, and wished she was dead and done with.
And they fought and squabbled what they should do with her, till a pale grey light began to come in the sky; and it drew nigh the dawning. And when they saw that, they were feared lest they shouldn't have time to work their will; and they caught hold of her, with horrid bony fingers, and laid her deep in the water at the foot of the snag. And the Bogles fetched a strange big stone and rolled it on top of her, to keep her from rising. And they told two of the Will-o-the-wykes to take turns in watching on the black snag, to see that she lay safe and still, and couldn't get out to spoil their sport.
And there lay the poor Moon, dead and buried in the bog, till someone would set her loose, and who'd know where to look for her?

Well, the days passed, and 'twas the time for the new moon's coming, and the folk put pennies in their pockets and straws in their caps so as to be ready for her, and looked about, for the Moon was a good friend to the marsh folk, and they were glad when the dark time was gone, and the paths were safe again, and the Evil Things were driven back by the blessed Light into the darkness and the water-holes.
But days and days passed, and the new Moon never came, and the nights were aye dark, and the Evil Things were worse than ever. And still the days went on, and the new Moon never came. Naturally the poor folk were strangely feared and mazed, and a lot of them went to the Wise Woman who dwelt in the old mill, and asked if so be she could find out where the Moon was gone.

'Well,' said she, after looking in the brewpot, and in the mirror, and in the Book, 'it be main queer, but I can't rightly tell ye what's happened to her. If ye hear of aught, come and tell me.' So they went their ways; and as days went by, and never a Moon came, naturally they talked - my word! I reckon they did talk! Their tongues wagged at home, and at the inn, and in the garth. But so came one day, as they sat on the great settle in the inn, a man from the far end of the bog lands was smoking and listening, when all at once he sat up and slapped his knee. 'My faicks!' says he, 'I'd clean forgot, but I reckon I kens where the Moon be!' and he told them of how he was lost in the bogs, and how, when he was nigh dead with fright, the light shone out, and he found the path and got home safe. So off they all went to the Wise Woman, and told her about it, and she looked long in the pot and the Book again, and then she nodded her head.
'It's dark still, childer, dark!' says she, 'and I can't rightly see, but do as I tell ye, and ye'll find out for yourselves. Go all of ye, just afore the night gathers, put a stone in your mouth, and take a hazel-twig in your hands, and say never a word till you're safe home again. Then walk on and fear not, far into the midst of the marsh, till ye find a coffin, a candle, and a cross. Then ye'll not be far from your Moon; look, and happen ye'll find her.'

So came the next night in the darklings, out they went all together, every man with a stone in his mouth, and a hazel-twig in his hand, and feeling, thou may'st reckon, feared and creepy. And they stumbled and stottered along the paths into the midst of the bogs; they saw naught, though they heard sighings and flutterings in their ears, and felt cold wet fingers touching them; but all at once, looking around for the coffin, the candle, and the cross, while they came nigh to the pool beside the great snag, where the Moon lay buried. And all at once they stopped, quaking and mazed and skeery, for there was the great stone, half in, half out of the water, for all the world like a strange big coffin; and at the head was the black snag, stretching out its two arms in a dark gruesome cross, and on it a tiddy light flickered, like a dying candle.

Then they went nigher, and took hold of the big stone, and shoved it up, and afterwards they said that for one tiddy minute they saw a strange and beautiful face looking up at them glad-like out of the black water; but the Light came so quick and so white and shining, that they stept back mazed with it, and the very next minute, when they could see again, there was the full Moon in the sky, bright and beautiful and kind as ever, shining and smiling down at them, and making the bogs and the paths as clear as day, and stealing into the very corners, as though she'd have driven the darkness and the Bogles clean away if she could.

From Folktales of the Lincolnshire Cars


The Well at the World’s End

This story from the collection of Joseph Jacobs English Fairy Tales. (1890) from a source given as Leyden's edition of The Complaynt of Scotland, contains the interesting variant on the theme of the frog becoming a handsome prince in that his head has to be cut off for this to happen. There are other tales where the head (of an animal or a person) has to be cut off and put into a well in order for some transformation to take place (see discussion HERE).


ONCE upon a time, and a very good time it was, though it wasn't in my time, nor in your time, nor anyone else's time, there was a girl whose mother had died, and her father married again. And her stepmother hated her because she was more beautiful than herself, and she was very cruel to her. She used to make her do all the servant's work, and never let her have any peace. At last, one day, the stepmother thought to get rid of her altogether; so she handed her a sieve and said to her: 'Go, fill it at the Well of the World's End and bring it home to me full, or woe betide you.' For she thought she would never be able to find the Well of the World' s End, and, if she did, how could she bring home a sieve full of water?

Well, the girl started off, and asked everyone she met to tell her where was the Well of the World's End. But nobody knew, and she didn't know what to do, when a queer little old woman, all bent double, told her where it was, and how she could get to it. So she did what the old woman told her, and at last arrived at the Well of the World's End. But when she dipped the sieve in the cold, cold water, it all ran out again. She tried and tried again, but every time it was the same; and at last she sat down and cried as if her heart would break.

Suddenly she heard a croaking voice, and she looked up and saw a great frog with goggle eyes looking at her and speaking to her.

'What's the matter, dearie?' it said.

'Oh, dear, oh dear,' she said, 'my stepmother has sent me all this long way to fill this sieve with water from the Well of the World's End, and I can't fill it no how at all.'

'Well,' said the frog, 'if you promise me to do whatever I bid you for a whole night long, I'll tell you how to fill it.'

So the girl agreed, and the frog said:

'Stop it with moss and daub it with clay,
And then it will carry the water away';

then it gave a hop, skip, and jump, and went flop into the Well of the World's End.

So the girl looked about for some moss, and lined the bottom of the sieve with it, and over that she put some clay, and then she dipped it once again into the Well of the World's End; and this time, the water didn't run out, and she turned to go away.

Just then the frog popped up its head out of the Well of the World's End, and said: 'Remember your promise.'

'All right,' said the girl; for thought she, 'What harm can a frog do me?'

So she went back to her stepmother, and brought the sieve full of water from the Well of the World's End. The stepmother was angry as angry, but she said nothing at all.

That very evening they heard something tap-tapping at the door low down, and a voice cried out:

'Open the door, my hinny, my heart,
Open the door, my own darling;
Mind you the words that you and I spoke,
Down in the meadow, at the World's End Well.'

'Whatever can that be?' cried out the stepmother, and the girl had to tell her about it, and what she had promised the frog.

'Girls must keep their promises,' said the stepmother. 'Go and open the door this instant.' For she was glad the girl would have to obey a nasty frog.

So the girl went and opened the door, and there was the frog from the Well of the World's End. And it hopped, and it hopped, and it jumped, till it reached the girl, and then it said:

'Lift me to your knee, my hinny, my heart;
Lift me to your knee, my own darling;
Remember the words you and I spake,
Down in the meadow, by the World's End Well.'

But the girl didn't like to, till her stepmother said: 'Lift it up this instant, you hussy! Girls must keep their promises!'

So at last she lifted the frog up on to her lap, and it lay there for a time, till at last it said:

'Give me some supper, my hinny, my heart,
Give me some supper, my darling;
Remember the words you and I spake,
In the meadow, by the Well of the World's End.'

Well, she didn't mind doing that, so she got it a bowl of milk and bread, and fed it well. And when the frog had finished, it said:

'Go with me to bed, my hinny, my heart,
Go with me to bed, my own darling;
Mind you the words you spake to me,
Down by the cold well, so weary.'

But that the girl wouldn't do, till her stepmother said: 'Do what you promised, girl; girls must keep their promises. Do what you're bid, or out you go, you and your froggie.'

So the girl took the frog with her to bed, and kept it as far away from her as she could. Well, just as the day was beginning to break what should the frog say but:

'Chop off my head, my hinny, my heart,
Chop off my head, my own darling;
Remember the promise you made to me,
Down by the cold well, so weary.'

At first the girl wouldn't, for she thought of what the frog had done for her at the Well of the World's End. But when the frog said the words over again she went and took an axe and chopped off its head, and lo! and behold, there stood before her a handsome young prince, who told her that he had been enchanted by a wicked magician, and he could never be unspelled till some girl would do his bidding for a whole night, and chop off his head at the end of it.

The stepmother was surprised indeed when she found the young prince instead of the nasty frog, and she wasn't best pleased, you may be sure, when the prince told her that he was going to marry her stepdaughter because she had unspelled him. But married they were, and went away to live in the castle of the king, his father, and all the stepmother had to console her was that it was all through her that her stepdaughter was married to a prince.



Autumn bides her weary time till trees like setting suns have had
their evening splendour out and even misty mornings bring the joy
of rattling rusts and roses bristling in the breezes, sere like
the skins of bark beneath them.

Bright their hue in the sun's rich light
In gold & yellow & dun they're dight
But they keen in the wind's chill breath.

In a brief storm in a black night
One falls and is wan in the paling light
And the dun darkens to death.
Cold was the mire underfoot
And wet were the feet that trod
Thin was the cry she heard in the storm
And broken in the sod - her god.

Sorrows untold for her weary lord
Pierced her through with pain
And she gave him her gown of
Gold & brown and one of black she made.

Then the land was dark
As she cast it wide
And the bare hillside
Was chill and stark
As winter's grip
The spells unrhymed
That summer made;
Hoar frosts pinched
The sleeping seed
And the forest path led
On and on through barren dells
And misty slopes fell sheer away
And the dark road had
no ending



The figure variously known as Kyhirraeth, Cyhoeraeth or Cyhyraeth is a banshee-like figure in the Welsh tradition. Here are two accounts of this spirit from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries:

That is a doleful disagreeable sound heard before the deaths of many, and most apt to be heard before foul weather: the voice resembles the groaning of sick persons who are to die; heard at first at a distance, then comes nearer, and at last near at hand; so that it is a three-fold warning of death – the king of terrors. It begins strong and louder than a sick man can make, the second cry is lower, but not less doleful, rather more so; the third yet lower and soft, like the groaning of a sick man, almost spent and dying; so that the person well remembering the voice, and coming to the sick man’s bed who is to die, shall hear his groans exactly alike, which is amazing evidence of the spirit’s foreknowledge. Sometimes when it cries very loud it bears a resemblance of one crying who is troubled with a stitch. If it meets any hindrance in the way it seems to groan louder.
told by Joshua Coslet to Edmund Jones (1702-1793)

There was a peculiar species of ghosts, denominated as Cyhoeraeth, and deemed the most horrible of supernatural beings. The following is a description of it. A being with dishevelled hair, long, black teeth, long lank withered arms; its shriek is described as having such an effect as literally to freeze the blood in the veins of those who heard it, and was never uttered except when the ghost came to a cross road, or went by some water, which (if female) she splashed with her hands making at the same time the most doleful sounds, and exclaiming ‘O! O! fy ngwr, fy ngwr’ (my husband, my husband) or (if male) ‘fy ngwraig, fy ngwraig’ (my wife, my wife) or ‘fy mhlentyn, fy mhlentyn, fy mhlentyn bach’ (my child, my child, my little child’.
Cambrian Superstitions W, Chetwynd-Hayes (1831)


Goblin Combe

There was a parcel of children picking primroses and one of them wandered off down into Goblin Combe. She were only a tot and didn’t know better. So she was lost and she cried till the tears ran down like rain and she threw herself down on the ground and her bunch of primroses struck a rock. All at once the rock opens and out comes the fairies to tend to her tears. Then they gave her a golden ball and led her safe home, on account of that she was carrying primroses.

It was the wonder of the village that she was brought home safe but the conjuror he got the notion that he could be going after a golden ball or two. So off he went with a bunch of primroses to Goblin Combe and he got to the rock not without a fright or two on the way and dashed the flowers against it. Well it wasn’t the right day, nor the right number of primroses, and he wasn’t no dear little soul either – so they took him!

Primroses, culver-keys and forget-me-nots, are all magic spring worts, but you have to have the right number in the bunch.

Collected by Ruth Tongue who heard the account from two old ladies who related it in chorus : Clevedon, Somerset 1945.



A fisherman was out with his drag-net on the lake at the dark of the night. As the moon rose, he moved his boat into the shadows. His net grew heavy, and he had trouble to pull it in. When the full moon shone out he saw that he had caught an Asrai. It was a wonderfully beautiful, gentle creature to look at. He had heard old people say these fairies only came up from their cool, deep homes below the water once in a hundred years, to look at the moon, and to grow. As this one seemed about the size of a twelve year maid, the man could not guess how very old it must be.

He spoke to it, for it did not make him afraid, and it seemed to beg him to let it go, but its speech only sounded to him like the ripples among the lake-side sedges. The fisherman had half a mind to set it free, but he wanted to show it to his children, and then he began to think how the rich folk in the castle might like to show it in their fish-ponds, and would pay him well. So he hardened his heart, and began the long row homewards.

The Asrai got one arm out of the net, and pointed again and again to the waning moon, and then laid a hand on his arm - "like cool foam, the touch was," he said later. But it seemed that his human warmth hurt it, for it shrank away from him, and huddled down in the bottom of the boat, covering itself with its long green hair. He was afraid the light of day might be too strong for it, and covered it with wet rushes. The lake was long, and the sun had risen by the time he got to his own creek.

He drew the boat ashore, and lifted the rushes away from where the Asrai had lain. His net was empty, and a damp patch was all there was left of it. But the arm that it touched was icy cold all the rest of his life, and nothing would warm it.

Ruth L. Tongue in Forgotten Folk-Tales


The Shadows

"We are the Shadows" repeated the Shadow solemnly.
"We do not often appear to men."
"Ah" said the King.
"We do not belong to the sunshine at all. We go through it unseen, and only by passing chill, do men recognise an unknown presence."
"Ah" said the King again.
"It is only in the twilight of the fire, or when one man or woman is alone with a single candle, or when any number of people are all feeling the same thing at once, making them one, that we show ourselves, and the truth of things."
"Can that be true that loves the night?" said the King
"The darkness is the nurse of light." answered the Shadow
"Can that be true which mocks at forms?" said the King
"Truth rides abroad in shapeless storms." answered the Shadow.

George Macdonald 'The Shadows' from The Fantastic Imagination


Benevolent and Malevolent Trees

Stories about benevolent and malevolent trees are widespread in British folklore.
Here's one from Derbyshire:

A man has to make a journey late at night along a stretch of road which crosses a river at a place where the torrent is particularly fast and rocky. He is afraid because this stretch of road is haunted by a malevolent ash tree known as 'Crooker' who causes people to drown in the torrent. So although the way is dark, it is important to get to the bridge before moonrise when Crooker become active. But more important still is to gain the protection of a benevolent tree. This the traveller does and the beech tree appears to him in the form of three separate women dressed in green and each of them gives him a posy of flowers "for Crooker". He is also given a beech nut for a talisman.

Once on the road he moves through the darkness as fast as he can go but sees the Moon rising before he has reached the bridge. As he gets close the shadow of a crooked branch begins to move towards him threateningly, so he offers one of the posies of flowers which is taken a thrown into the river. Further on the crooked shadow looms up before him so he offers the second posy and this too is cast into the river. Almost on the bridge the enormous shadow with branches like clasping arms bars the way. He offers the final posy and it is cast into the river. Can he now pass onto the bridge? He takes the beech nut and thinks of the rustling leaves of the beech tree. The shadow withdraws and he steps onto the bridge, passing safely across it.


These stories of animated trees with a variety of dispositions towards humans might be compared to the dryads of Greek mythology, though these are often represented as spirits inhabiting the tree which takes human form. Here, the tree itself may appear in human guise to humans but remains a tree. It is said that the greeks had a tendency to personify such spirits while the Romans were more likely to think of them as 'presences' of indeterminate form. But the British folklore record does very much indicate the attribution of both animation and particular intentions to the trees themselves.


The Apple Tree Man

There is a place where it was once the custom for the youngest rather than the oldest son to inherit the family wealth. In one family where this happened the youngest son had a particular dislike for the oldest son, so when he came to share out the inheritance all the oldest got was “an old dunk [donkey] and an ox that had gone to natomy [like a skeleton]” together with an old ruined cottage with three apple trees that had belonged to their grandpa. For this he had to pay rent. He didn’t grumble but cut all the grass along the lane to feed the donkey and the ox and he rubbed the ox with herbs to revive him. The he put the two animals into the orchard of three apple trees, and the trees flourished too.

Just before the rent was due on Midwinter Day his brother came to him and made him an offer to reduce the rent by sixpence if he could come and listen to the animals on Midwinter Night. He had heard that animals could talk to each other at this time and he hoped they might reveal the whereabouts of some treasure that had been buried in the area.

On Midwinter Day the older brother gave the animals some extra feed and hung up some holly in the barn. Then he took the last of his cider, mulled it by the embers and took it to give to the trees. When he had done this, the Apple Tree Man spoke to him, telling him to look under the exposed roots of one of the trees. There he found a box full of gold. “Tis yours”, the Apple Tree man said. “Put it away safe and tell no-one”.

When the older brother came out at midnight sure enough he heard the donkey and the ox speaking. The donkey said : “You know this gurt, greedy fool that’s listening to us – he wants to know where the treasure is”.

And the ox replied: “But he won’t never get it, cos someone else has took it already”.


Adapted from a dialect version in Katherine Briggs A Dictionary of British Folk Tales.

The obvious interest here is the Apple Tree Man, but I wonder if the reference to the inheritance by the youngest rather than the oldest son is something that just happens to have got mixed up with this tale, or whether it has some other significance?


The Forbidden Wood

'The Naiad' John Waterhouse

"I entered a forbidden wood, and the Nymphae and half-goat god bolted from my sight. If any knife has robbed a grove of a shady bough to give ailing sheep a basket of leaves: forgive my offence. Do not fault me for sheltering my flock from the hail in a rustic shrine, nor harm me for disturbing the pools. Pardon, Nymphae, trampling hooves for muddying your stream. Goddess, placate for us the Springs and Fountain Spirits [Naiades], placate the gods dispersed through every grove. Keep from our sight the Dryades and Diana’s bath and Faunus lying in the fields at noon.” - Ovid, Fasti 4.751



George MacDonald's Phantastes, first published in 1858, is a classic text that influenced C. S Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and others in the succeeding 20th century.

Here's another brief quotation from this novel :
As through the hard rock go the branching silver veins; as into the solid land run the creeks and gulfs from the unresting sea; as the lights and influences of the upper worlds sink silently through the earth's atmosphere; so doth Faerie invade the world of men, and sometimes startle the common eye with an association as of cause and effect, when between the two no connecting links can be traced.


The Protecting Beech Tree

In George MacDonald's 'faerie romance' Phantastes, the protaganist is being attacked in a forest by an ash tree with evil intent. He is saved by a beech tree who not only protects him but expresses feelings of fondness towards him. She appears to him as a woman, but when he asks her "Why do you call yourself a beech tree?" She replies, "Because I am one". She puts her arms around him and kisses him "with the sweetest kiss of winds and odours". The whole scene has the sacred aura of a communion about it. To maintain her protection she says he must be bound with some of her hair:

"I cannot tell you more. But now I must tie some of my hair about you, and then the Ash will not touch you. Here, cut some off. You men have strange cutting things about you."

She shook her long hair loose over me, never moving her arms.

"I cannot cut your beautiful hair. It would be a shame."

"Not cut my hair! It will have grown long enough before any is wanted again in this wild forest. Perhaps it may never be of any use again - not till I am a woman." And she sighed.

As gently as I could, I cut with a knife a long tress of flowing, dark hair, she hanging her beautiful head over me. When I had finished, she shuddered and breathed deep, as one does when an acute pain, steadfastly endured without sign of suffering, is at length relaxed. She then took the hair and tied it round me, singing a strange, sweet song, which I could not understand, but which left in me a feeling like this -

"I saw thee ne'er before;

I see thee never more;

But love, and help, and pain, beautiful one,

Have made thee mine, till all my years are done."

I cannot put more of it into words. She closed her arms about me again, and went on singing. The rain in the leaves, and a light wind that had arisen, kept her song company. I was wrapt in a trance of still delight. It told me the secret of the woods, and the flowers, and the birds. At one time I felt as if I was wandering in childhood through sunny spring forests, over carpets of primroses, anemones, and little white starry things - I had almost said creatures, and finding new wonderful flowers at every turn. At another, I lay half dreaming in the hot summer noon, with a book of old tales beside me, beneath a great beech; or, in autumn, grew sad because I trod on the leaves that had sheltered me, and received their last blessing in the sweet odours of decay; or, in a winter evening, frozen still, looked up, as I went home to a warm fireside, through the netted boughs and twigs to the cold, snowy moon, with her opal zone around her. At last I had fallen asleep; for I know nothing more that passed till I found myself lying under a superb beech-tree, in the clear light of the morning, just before sunrise. Around me was a girdle of fresh beech-leaves. Alas! I brought nothing with me out of Fairy Land, but memories -memories. The great boughs of the beech hung drooping around me. At my head rose its smooth stem, with its great sweeps of curving surface that swelled like undeveloped limbs. The leaves and branches above kept on the song which had sung me asleep; only now, to my mind, it sounded like a farewell and a speedwell. I sat a long time, unwilling to go; but my unfinished story urged me on. I must act and wander. With the sun well risen, I rose, and put my arms as far as they would reach around the beech-tree, and kissed it, and said good-bye. A trembling went through the leaves; a few of the last drops of the night's rain fell from off them at my feet; and as I walked slowly away, I seemed to hear in a whisper once more the words: "I may love him, I may love him; for he is a man, and I am only a beech-tree."




There are examples of rivers actively participating in the resistance to invasion of a particular land. For instance in the Irish epic The Táin ,Ulster is being attacked by invaders from Connacht. We are told that

... the river Cronn rose up against them to the height of the treetops and they had to pass the night by the edge of the water. In the morning Medb ordered some of her followers across it. The famous warrior Ualu tried it. To cross the river he shouldered a big flagstone so that the water wouldn't force him backward. But the river overwhelmed him, stone and all, and he drowned.

[Cúchulainn continued to harass the army from across the river]

So they went along the river Cronn until they reached its source. They were crossing between the spring and the mountain summit when Medb called them back ....

Next day they travelled to the river Colptha. Recklessly they tried a crossing, but it too rose against them and bore off a hundred of their charioteers towards the sea. ...

After this they went across Glen Gatlaig, but the river Gatlaig rose up against them also.

(quotations from Thomas Kinsella's translation)


The Coming of the Gael

And when they were hindered from land there by enchantments, they went sailing along the coast until they were at last able to make a landing at Inver Sceine .....

And there they were met by a queen of the Tuatha de Danaan, and a train of beautiful women attending on her, and her Druids and wise men following her. Amergin, one of the sons of Miled, spoke to her then, and asked her name, and she said it was Banba, wife of Mac Cuill, Son of the Hazel.

The went on then till they came to Slieve Eibhline, and there another queen of the Tuatha de Danaan met them, and her women and her Druids after her , and they asked her name, and she said it was Fodhla, wife of Mac Cecht, Son of the Plough.

They went on then till they came to the hill of Uisnech, and there they saw another woman coming towards them. And there was a wonder on them while they were looking at her, for in one moment she would be a wide-eyed most beautiful queen, and in another she would be a sharp-beaked, grey-white crow. She came on the where Eremon, one of the sons of Miled, was, and sat down before him, and he asked her who was she, and she said: "I am Eriu, wife of Mac Greine, Son of the Sun."

And the names of those queens were often given to Ireland in the after time.


But as to the Tuatha de Danaan, after they were beaten, they would not go under the sway of the sons of Miled, but they went away by themselves. And because Mananaan mac Lir understood all enchantments, they left it to him to find places for them where they would be safe from their enemies. So he chose out the most beautiful of the hills and valleys of Ireland for them to settle in; and he put hidden walls about them, that no man could see through, but they themselves could see through them and pass through them.

And he made of Feast of Age for them, and what they drank was the ale of Goibniu the Smith, that kept whoever tasted it from age and from sickness and from death. And for food at the feast he gave them his own swine, that though they were killed and eaten one day, would be alive and fit for eating again the next day, and that would go on in that way for ever.


Would you Venture into this Place?


Here's a classic tale of faery from the Archive:

THE INN : Tony Kelly

Sometimes I could find my way and more often I couldn't, and I've a mind the magic was in it. I was a road like, if it were half as long as it was, then sure it wouldn't have been long enough at all, but then I didn't make it myself, or if I did the memory of it runs on longer legs than mine. And besides, if it were not as long, then you'll know without me telling you that it wouldn't have got from where it was coming to where it was going at all. So it was as long as it was entirely, and it's as long as it is, and I'll not be picking a fight with you if you'll say it'll be as long as it'll be. So now you'll be knowing about this road and I'll not be needing to tell you more about it except that it was Summer and the briars were in the hedges and the wild roses were all blooming in among the briars, which was very natural, for where else in the all the world would the wild roses be blooming on a Summer's day but in among the briars? And it's thirsty I was, like the thirst that gets up at you when you're on the road that's as long as it is and the wild roses are blooming in among the briars and the Summer's laughing his head off up there in the haze where the road's boiling in the heat. And it's into the gateway I turned, with the roses growing over the arch and the bees all a buzzing in the air and ... By the Hallowed Horns! And the Mazy Dance! Isn't it the same gate that I never can find when I've a mind to find it? So I go up to the door and there's the Barman and "A Merry Midsummer to you" he says, and I sit myself down at the table by the open window where the wild roses are looking in, and there are two other men sitting at the table, and another besides, and you'll be after saying that that's three men, and I'll be after saying it's right you are. But if I wasn't right, you'd be no more right than I was, so we wouldn't be starting an argument about that. But I was thinking, like you might be thinking yourself if you were there in my shoes and I had another pair with me at the time, that the other one might have been a wizard for all he was a man if he were a man at all, and if he was not a man, then it wasn't for all he was a man that he was a wizard. He was one of those story tellers, with rhymes and rhythms, and his eyes were twinkling, and there were the scents of the roses, and in the rise and the fall of his dark brown voice the tales wove all in and about themselves like woodbine round the rafters and there was the chirrup of the grasshopper coming in at the window and the grasses sighed of Summer but made never a sound till he stopped awhile for the green and the brown. Like the woodbine his words were winding, heady as the wood scents, thick as the briars, and the Barman said, "You'll be staying the night?" and the Moon said I would. Faith! He had talked the day away! So the three of us went to bed in the long room, and if you'll be asking why it wasn't the four of us, I'll be saying I might be asking you for all the answer I can give to that, but it was dreams all the night of the summer woods and the wild roses and the scents that merge and fade and grow and gather and swell and drift where the pollen goes, where the spore cloud flows, where the birdsong goes when you can't hear it anymore and where the wind comes from. And I got up in a hurry in the morning and had a hearty breakfast quicker than a man ought to eat a good breakfast and I made off along the road. And didn't I find it was the wrong man that had got up and it wasn't myself at all? So I turned round and went back to the inn, and this time I made sure I got out of the right bed.

Well, as I've told you before, when I'm looking for the place I never can find it, but I found it another time when I wasn't looking for it. Yule it was, and a raw wind coming down the road and the snow was just starting to come down and bits of it sticking in the hedges, and I'm thinking I must have opened my mouth when the wind went by and swallowed him because he seems to be rolling about in my belly, and there's wet snow above my eyebrows and running down behind my ears and into my collar and ... Sweet Mabh! ... There I was at the gate again! Now I've heard tell that if you go into the inn in Midwinter, it'll not be the wizard you'll see but the old witch. But I go into the inn and the Barman says "A Merry Yule to you" and I sit myself down at the table and there's a candle lit on it, and sure as I'm telling you this now, there's an old woman sitting there by the candle and the two men sitting there at the table alongside her. But I've heard more than I've a mind for of her dark tales and her story craft, and it's said, and I'll not say I doubt it, that if you hear the tales that she'll tell, it'll not be a wizard's trick she'll put on you. Never a thing! By the Black Night and the Ivy's Green! If she catch you with her runes, you'll never remember that it was another man you were before you set foot in the inn, and you'll never remember she told you a tale at all. So I didn't let her tell me a thing at all, at all.