Tag Archives: folklore

the ugly princess

img_1816

Many moons and suns ago when the Nymphs of the West

Tended and guarded the Garden of the Hesperides,

In the city of Alcantara, there lived a king, the most

Loving father of all who loved his only child in spades,

So utterly ugly in every possible variety of imaginations

That her presence made the beholders into muted stones.

They called her Ugly Altamira, but the king called her Love,

Showering her with Bounty of Beauty, Treats of Tenderness,

Telling her how beautiful she was as a magic spell of love.

 

Whereas the princess in her father’s glamour spell drove men away –

Prince Alanbam, the hundred knights in armors, and the barber –

All fleeing with horrors of taking her hand and kissing her lips.

Then the king told the princess to marry the Church in a veil

To which she retorted, “I will not marry the Church but find

A husband in the land beyond the sea where the day never dawns

And the night is eternal, so beauty is seen common in darkness.”

 

Therewith, the princess amounted her beautiful white horse

For departure to the land of equality when the elegant figure

Suddenly appeared at the gate of the castle whose visage was

Beaming with beatific beauty with a voice sonorous and melodious.

Felisberto, the blind fiddler, exclaimed in the bliss of love mysterious:

“Princess, you need not look anywhere else but to behold one

To whom night and day, ugliness and beauty are all but one.

Since all your suitors are too bashful to marry you so beautiful,

Allow me to be of your service as a husband who makes you happy,

For beauty is as beauty does, so is the pleasure of love in all fancy.

 

Thereupon, the princess dismounted her beautiful white horse

walked to the handsome fiddler and touched the beautiful face

of the man with tenderness and love full of passion and felicity

by which the man became ecstatic with the sensuous touch

of the delicate beauty of the princess and kissed her tenderly.

 

Thereafter, the princess and the fiddler married and lived happily

In a castle from the window from which they could see the Hesperides

Water the garden of divine golden apples and dance around the tree always.

 

P.S. The subject matter of this poem comes from a Spanish folktale of ‘The Ugly Princess” who was so homely that everyone except her loving father couldn’t stand the sight of her presence as though she had been a violation against the natural law. The father’s indoctrination of confidence as a positive reinforcement into his daughter is worth noting as a proto-clinical behavioral therapy in relieving the patient’s depressive obsession with her unattractive physical trait. In fact, the king’s therapy was so successful that the daughter’s identification with prime beauty that was deemed too high for the underserved was remarkable and seemed simply magical.

From movies to novels to the profiles of the authors and of the administrators of social media platforms, the social spencersim of the beautiful champions the law of attraction, whether or not you will vehemently disagree with that usual enforcement of the mantra of self-confidence equipped with a feminist armor and a diversity-rule shield. For beauty gives confidence to a woman in a social setting, and that’s the truth. No wonder folklore treats beautiful women as a rewarding virtue that handsome men are worth fighting for. 

Although the ending of the Ugly Princess is unrefutably sweet and happy, I cannot help but relate it to the ending of  ‘Plain Girl’, by Arthur Miller – review in which the not so attractive but intelligent protagonist Janice Sasson ultimately finds the consummate love of eros and psyche in the figure of the handsome blind musician. Does the happiness that Janice so cherished have to be in the form of blindness? Can’t a woman deprived of glamour and the matching social adroitness meet and fall in love with a handsome man full of warmth, tenderness, and understanding?  Does it have to be a blind man to whom nothing is different, hence an absence of beauty is acceptable?  Does love agree at best only at night?

‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’, by Washington Irving – essay

51phPvWhOmL._SX381_BO1,204,203,200_

Shakespeare once said that ghosts were amiable, harmless in want of company to console their haunting loneliness, lost in the crossroads between this world and that world. But that is not the case of the headless ghosts – the angriest and most terrifying of all other specter ilks, evoking the most primitive sense of fear to the eyes of beholders by the sheer eeriness of the appearance.  Because they despaired and died in oft violent ways, the headless ghosts are putatively the most furious and vengeful with the domes of their souls forever lost. No wonder there are legends of headless knight riders prevalently existent in the universal world.

Meet the famed headless nightrider of the Sleepy Hollow in New York. Originally hailed from a province of old Germany, he used to be a soldier fighting on the British side during the Revolutionary War who was decapacitated by an American cannonball. His battle buddies buried him without the missing shattered head. The residents of Sleepy Hollow believed that the soul of the unfortunate young German soldier risen from his grave by his supernatural ire burning with vengeance against the earthlings that killed him was restlessly riding his phantom horse at night furiously brandishing a Jack-o’-Lantern in a semblance of face made out of a displaced pumpkin as his a makeshift head, glowing in a flame of fury as to light his nightly way.

The indelible image of the restive headless horseman is terrifically and vividly resurrected by the literary alchemy of the great American writer Washington Irving in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in which the unlikely protagonist of a meek, naive, willowy school teacher of New England by the name of Ichabod Crane stumbles into his frightful encounter with the Horseman on his fateful night during his doomed journey home. Woe betided the unfortunate benevolent schoolteacher believed to be spirited away with the headless horseman to the legion of wandering spirits in between the world of the living and that of the dead till the eternity.

Apart from the spectral elements of the story, Irving’s characters in the story convey the displaced post-colonial sentiments of unease for the present and uncertainty for the future in the chaotic aftermath of the war that was supposed to beget promptly promising bright outcomes to the post-colonials. The nervous semi-detachment from the old world’s cultural and political authority and the unsettled practical value of the war due to all kinds of border chicanery in the still socially volatile post-war valence of setting intersperse the story in the fumbling figure of naïve Ichabod haunted by the furious ghost of a fallen soldier from the war. The legend of Sleepy Hollow is Irving’s superb storytelling of the birth of a new culture begotten from its old motherland at its infant stage of building a national character afresh with its own cultural capital, such as folklore endemic to the new land of hope that Irving so cherished.

The good teacher Ichabod Crane

Flees from the Headless Horseman

With all his gentle might in vain

For the ghost rider outruns the man.

Now the riders roam in the shadow

Looking for recruits in Sleepy Hollow.

P.S. This short essay on Washington Irving’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is my contribution to a weekly Twitter event whose theme for this week is ‘The Headless Horsemen”, which seems to prevalently existent throughout the cultures of our global village. What uncanny synchronicity is to come upon this subject matter since I am currently reading Irving’s eponymous book that also contains many other stories from his wonderful ‘Sketch Book’.  

The legend of the Catskill Mountains

480E3F4F-A245-44AE-8BD9-A2EE798EFE8C

courtesy of google

Where the earth meets the sky on the mountain, 

An old squaw spirit opens and closes the doors

Of Day and Night every day at the proper hours

And works the wonders of nature in the divine design.

 

The vault of heaven, the dome of Sky God’s palace

She frescoes with celestial ephemerals every night

With new moons hung and old moons cut into stars

Sprinkled across the nightly firmament golden bright.

 

The garden of the earth, the parterre of Earth Goddess

She waters with rains spun out of soft summer clouds

Woven by early morning’s gossamer cobwebs and dews

Flake after flake, like those of fluffy white cotton balls.

 

The old squaw spirit, the wonderful divine artist

Adorns the heaven’s frescoes every night with cheer;

The old squaw spirit, the wondrous fairy gardener

Cherishes nature’s garden every day with delight. 

 

P.S. This poem is based upon my reading of Washington Irving’s ‘Rip Van Winkle’ in which the fictional historian character named Mr. Knickerbocker recounts the native American legend of an old squaw spirit living on the Catskill Mountains in New York. I envision her as a fantastic fairy version of Michelangelo frescoing the vault of the celestial Sistine Chapel and as a fabulous gardener tending the earthly garden with tenderness and quiet assiduity. What a fascinating vision of a magical magnitude it is!

‘Fairies: A Dangerous History’, by Richard Sugg – review

Fairies: A Dangerous HistoryFairies: A Dangerous History by Richard Sugg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are classes of spiritual beings according to the races of the supernatural world that humans have arbitrarily defined with ostentatious pedanticism. For we treat the otherworldly guests of honors, such as archangels, angels, principalities, vampires, werewolves, trolls, big-foots, and even extraterrestrial aliens with awe-inspiring reverence, whereas fairies are regarded as sort of the underclass, juvenile guests reluctantly invited to a terrific festival of supernatural beliefs. Such spectral discrimination, argues author Richard Sugg in his Fairies: A Dangerous History, results from the fact that unlike demons, angels, and other ethereal beings of educated Christianity, fairies are in want of respectful scholarship codifying their existence and nature, cultural influence on arts and literature, and spiritual elements of faith/belief traditions in lettered authority.

The book is a meta treatise on why the author himself believes in the existence of the belittled mystical beings deserving of their recognized appellation in the echelon of the spiritual realm with an impressively wide scope of dazzling knowledge ranging from religion to literature and deeply sympathetic understanding of the cultural heritage of the belief tradition wonderfully kept alive in Celtic local oral tradition to this day. Sugg takes us to the remotest area in Shetland to listen to a nonagenarian man whose vivid memories about fairy sights he saw and heard are amusing, to places surrounded by fairy fences on the Isles of Britain where the local folk will tell you where you can see the Good Folk and what to do when you see them, and to the fantastic feasts of fairies as seen and described by William Shakespeare and Edmund Spencer as the rulers of the Vegetable Kingdom in their Elysium of poetic fancy, which is also based on the popular hearsay that became a local folk religion alongside the established Christianity. Sugg keeps us hooked on pages after pages filled with his magic spells of words in an expanse of determination and willingness to let us see what he sees and believes in fairies with their own dangerous history; dangerous because the truth about them is theologically reasonable, spiritually potent, culturally dominant, and physically palpable.

In sum, this book is one fascinating account of fairies that serves the author’s purpose of educating and entertaining readers, both initiated and uninitiated, captivated by the glamour spells of the erudition of the author who uses words as sprinkles falling from his literary magic wands to allure readers to a riveting trance of the Fairy Realm as if the author himself were a chief courtier of Titania and Oberon in an ambition to restore its elusive kingdom to respectful glory of the Separate Race. The result is an enchantingly potent narrative of the mystical sprites told by a spellbound narrator who seems to easily traverse time and space with diaphanous gossamer wings. So much so that I wonder if this book is written by the help of a supernatural being, with the image of Dr. Faust springing from the reservoir of thoughts, in a quid pro quo return for the effectual propitiation of the supernatural knowledge. Nonetheless, this book is something of the authorial account of the Fairy Folk.

View all my reviews

Officially Haunted, Really

2ddcc1fd40814bbf40437d087f498150

Prologue: I wrote this post in March of this year upon reading an article about historic haunted places in the UK from a subscribed issue of ‘BBC History Revealed’. I wanted to contribute my knowledge about the Whaley Museum in Southern California in a letter to the editor. The new July issue arrived on my Kindle Fire this morning, and I saw my letter featuring therein. It was edited in the context, but only for the perfect perspicacity. The letter is, in fact, one of the fifth letters that have been so far published in the magazine. 

Sometimes they either don’t know they are dead or wouldn’t accept it because of strong attachments to their once earthly abodes. You may think it’s a puerile imagining to believe in ghosts, but there are indeed more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy. As someone keen on supernatural phenomena happening in the background of our ordinary landscape of daily life, it gave me a fillip when I came upon an article from my subscribed history magazine the other day about the historical capital punishments going horribly awry as though to use the grisly scenes of capital punishment as a reminder of societal retribution for an eye-for- an eye. It also reminded me of a story of the condemned whose ordeal of execution was so unbearably painful that he is still roaming around at his execution site as though with eternal lingering attachment to his earthly life.

Here in Southern California, the story of James Robinson (aka Yankee Jim) who was executed for attempted grand larceny in San Diego in 1852, is something of haunted folklore that attracts tourists and ghost hunters alike. He was hanged on a gallows off the back of a wagon, but being a tall man with long legs, he resisted being killed by keeping his feet in the wagon but was at last pulled off. His body then swung like a pendulum until he strangled to death. And it was this very site of hanging that one Thomas Whaley, who happened to witness the execution himself, built his dream house where he and his family soon began to hear the unexpected phantom footsteps as if being made by the boots of a large man, walking noise, and the windows mysteriously unlatched and opened up. Lilian Whaley, the Whaleys’ youngest daughter living in the house until 1953 was certain that it was the ghost of Yankee Jim haunting their house. Now the Whaley House is the Whaley Museum, a California Historical Landmark located in Old Town, San Diego, California.

However, ‘Yankee Jim’ still lives there because although unseen, his presence is felt and heard by visitors and staff at the museum. Never malicious or naughty, the ghost of the hanged man is said to rather shyly manifest himself by footsteps, markings on the wall, or opening and closing of windows. So much so that the Whaley Museum, along with the Winchester Mystery House, is certified by the US Department of Commerce that it is genuinely haunted. So if you live in Southern California, it’s worth visiting the Museum and Jim. I think I may pay a visit. The address is 2476 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110.