Archive for September, 2012

Inside the cave of La Fée Gisèle (and face in the rock…)

My closest neighbour, Couesnon, is a fairy, and, as far as such things are possible or sensible, I count her a friend. She watches over my home from her rocky domain to the North.
Through the forest to the West, however, are fairies less well known to me, Gisèle and Mélusine.

The beautiful Gisèle, ‘fairy of the heather’, can be seen on warm autumn nights, sitting atop her rocky abode, combing her hair by the light of the full moon. She is known as a protector of travellers, just so long as you approach her with due respect and correct fairy ‘etiquette’ (more about this in another blog.)

But venturing into the forest on such nights, hoping to catch sight of her, is a perilous thing to do… After midnight, just one step off the path and you will meet the ‘Big Nanny Goat’ walking on her hindlegs. A few…very few, who have met her, survived by running for their life. But others have been lost in the forest and fallen to their doom in bottomless chasms!
Also unwise, is a visit to her home during a storm, since the Wild Hunt rampages through the forest under her leadership, on stormy nights.
Different legends accord different names to the Wild Hunt in this part of the forest. « La Chasse Hellequin » is one…
Hellequin is a stock character in French passion plays, a black-faced emissary of the devil who roams the countryside with a group of demons, chasing the souls of evil people to hell. (He is possibly the predecessor of Harlequin, with his traditional red and black mask).
Hellequin is also the leader of ‘la Mesnée d’Hellequin ‘ (the household of Hellequin), and in this case, the name is thought to be related to the Old English Herla, a character often identified with Woden.

Other names here are ‘La Chasse Artus’ and ‘La Chasse Herpine’. Artus is King Arthur, and across much of Brittany, he is said to lead the hunt.
Herpine…? Not a name I’ve heard before, or can find referred to anywhere else, but it has a distinctly serpentine sound to it… or dragon-esque perhaps…
If you’re foolish enough to be out on such a night, a few shots into the air might help keep the hunt away, but if you do meet them, never, ever try to shoo them away with the fateful words « pars en la chasse! »…Beaten to a pulp is the best you could hope for if you did! If you’re polite and very lucky, you might escape with the gift of copious amounts of rat corpse morsels!!! Hmmmm…. In some parts of the world, the Wild Hunt rewards those who help it with gold…

Another side of Gisèle is shown in the following tale.
Once upon a time, long ago, not far from the cave of Gisèle, was a hovel, inhabited by a poor peasant with a kind heart. One winter’s night there was a knock at his door. Standing outside was a hungry, miserable fairy. She asked permission to come in and heat up some soup.
The peasant invited her in and gave her the only tureen. Delicious soup! The most delicious that the poor peasant and his family had ever tasted, but despite their hunger, they shared it generously with the fairy.
As thanks for their hospitality, she cast a spell upon the tureen, instructing the family always to use it to make soup at night. She couldn’t give them palaces and gold, but what she could do was give the tureen the power to wake everyone in the house very early, and for all animals and people to always achieve the equivalent of 4 days work in just 3 days.
Over time, the hovel became a farm, the farm became a manor, the manor became a château and all prospered. The master of the château planted beech trees in the forest, in gratitude.
But then in 1793, bad days came. The revolutionaries knocked at the door when the lord was off fighting for his King. A loyal servant refused entry and was killed, and the soldiers stormed into the château destroying everything…including the tureen.
The ‘Big Nanny Goat’ mentioned earlier, now haunts the forest beneath those same ancient beech trees…

Another fairy…or rather a mermaid, lives in a sacred spring (known for its healing powers since Roman times), just below the cave of Gisèle. Her name is Mélusine de Poitou, a spirit of fresh water, who has a fish tail and wings.
Long ago, Raymond de Poitou came across her in the forest and proposed marriage. She agreed on condition that he must never enter her chamber on a Saturday. He broke the promise and saw her in the form of part-woman part-serpent. She forgave him, but later during a disagreement, he called her a serpent in front of his court. She instantly turned into a Dragon, gave him two magic rings and then flew off never to return…

Coming soon…The fairies return!

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