Folklore and fantasy themes aimed at creative writers: to start writing stories and challenge your brain with exciting ideas, dip into this kit-bag. Learn how fantasy worlds draw on real world history, mythology, and folklore. And there’s weekly news from the world of fantasy fiction too, plus fabulous creatures, studies on folk tales, nature fables and lots more mythical, magical fun.
This week I visit visit Chateau Brametourte in Lautrec; to see the haunted tower that inspired the story of the trapped maiden, Rapunzel. Inside the 11th century castle I look at apotropaic marks a.k.a. witch marks, and I consider cryptids. I also discuss the work of Michael Swanwick. My wildflower of the week is the Sunflower.
Locus in Quo – Rapunzel’s tower
I’m back from the Chateau de Brametourte, in Lautrec having spent six days celebrating my daughter’s nuptials… The setting was this 11th century castle in Lautrec, Midi-Pyrenees, France sited between the World Heritage sites of Toulouse, Albi and Carcassonne. The castle is home to tales of Cathars, Knights Templar, Wars of Religion and is believed to be the inspiration for the “Maiden in The Tower” folk traditions.
The “The Maiden in The Tower” legend probably began life here at Chateau de Brametourte, Lautrec, France
although story the has striking similarities to a Persian tale included in the epic poem Shahnameh
Also, the early Christian Saint Barbara was supposedly kept locked in a tower by her father in order to preserve her from the outside world.
In Lautrec, France Local villagers say that the name Brametourte comes from a tale that’s nearly a thousand years old. The Viscount of Toulouse came to visit his Baron and noticed the beauty of the Viscount’s young daughter. He told the Baron that she might be a future wife for him and requested that she be preserved in purity for him. She was locked in the tower for him to return, though he never did.
Local villages saw her calling and crying from the window of the tower and named her ‘Brame’ [crying] ‘Tourte’ [coming from the Occitane for ‘tourterelle’ or ‘turtle dove’]. It’s said she frequently reappears in the chamber, despite several exorcisms.
An alternate ending suggests a passing knight heard the dove-call cries from the chateau tower and went to rescue the lady…
Apotropaic marks aka WITCH MARKS are ritualistic protection symbols that have often been scraped into rock to ward off evil or misfortune. They are commonly found in houses and churches, in doors and on window frames.
Such marks have been found at Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, and also at the Tower of London
For example, the markings, at Creswell Crags on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border, include hundreds of letters, symbols and patterns carved in limestone walls put there to protect against witches and curses. The Creswell cave is the largest assemblage of protective marks in the UK.
It’s thought most apotropaic marks date between 16th century to the early 19th century.
Also, at Château de Brametourte, an apotropaic mark known as a “daisy wheel” or HEXAFOIL (6 leaf) guards the main door to the living space.
In grain barns, daisy wheel markings often protected door openings
According to Historic England the daisy wheel mark should not be confused with the (far older) pentangle lines that are thought to trap evil spirits into an endless line – these were first used as early as 3000BC
Fantasy Writers Definitions: cryptids
cryptids are animals that are presumed to exist on the basis of anecdotal or folklorist evidence that might be considered insufficient by mainstream science. The best examples are YETI and LOCH NESS MONSTER, who have reportedly been seen countless times by scores of witnesses but remain, “unproven”
Ancient bestiaries or compendiums of beasts often included dragons, unicorns, basilisk, and griffins featured alongside genuine zoological specimens and were often created by men of science… for example Leonardo da Vinci created a bestiary.
Another state of affairs that causes a “grey area” to exist as to the origins of such beasts is that nature is itself remarkable and almost fantastical itself, so “nothing can be ruled out.” For example, the bunyip is a mythical creature said to lurk swamps, billabongs in Australia as is said to be ferocious black animal that swims and also walks on land, and is armed with with tusks. Yet southern elephant seals and leopard seals have been known to move up the Murray and Darling (Rivers) and although this is extremely rare and quite extraordinary … sightings by aborigines can’t be ruled out and probably go some way to explain the beast. Both cassowary birds and the duck-billed platypus were thought to be mythical until proven “real” by baffled naturalists.
Sea monster krakens are common in Scandinavian folklore and although were mentioned in studious bestiaries were thought to be entirely mythical until modern era scientists began to study deep-sea gigantism which have produced several examples of “krakens” inclduding giant sea-spiders, giant jellyfish, giant stingrays and the colossal squid … a huge cephalopod, that’s been found washed ashore in places such as Norway.
Swanwick has released the third installment of his “Industrialized Faërie” novels: The Iron Dragon’s Mother
His first: The Iron Dragon’s Daughter t combines fantasy and science fiction story telling to bring the tale of Jane, a changeling girl who slaves at a dragon factory in the world of Faerie, to build part-magical, part-cybernetic monsters that are used as jet fighters. Swanwick admits to having written it as a homage to J.R.R. Tolkien and to subvert fantasy tropes.
The new book is said to be lighter in tone to the previous, and yet still gritty and wry
Wildflower of the week THE SUNFLOWER
Sunflower seeds were brought to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century
Traditionally, Native American groups planted sunflowers on the north edges of their gardens as a “fourth sister” to the crops of corn, beans, and squash. It’s thought the flowers have been “domesticated” for a least 5000 years.
Indigenous American peoples such as the Aztecs, Otomi and the Incas used the sunflower as a symbol of their solar deity
During the 18th century, the use of sunflower oil became very popular with members of the Russian Orthodox Church, because sunflower oil was one of the few oils allowed during the Lentern fasting
Among the Pueblo Zuni people of Southwestern United States the fresh or dried root is chewed by a medicine man before he sucks the venom from a snakebite and applies a poultice
A common misconception is that flowering sunflower heads track the Sun. In Tarn last weekend I observed that all sunflower heads drooped to the earth, but typically the sun flowers point eastwards. Nevertheless, the Spiritualist Church use the plant as their symbol
The same whorls and spirals seen in horns, teeth, claws are found in the florets and head of the traditional sunflower
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