Posts Tagged ‘Normandy fairies’

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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The Magical Forest is a place steeped in legends; a land of enchantment, of magical fountains and mysterious lakes, standing stones and dolmens, fairies, giants, sorcerors and druids. This is the home of Viviane, the enchantress, the Lady of the Lake, the realm of Merlin and Morgan le Fey…

The little village I live nearest to, was known as an outpost of paganism, long after the rest of France was converted to Christianity. The situation was so dire, that a priory was built in the C13th, by the Knights Hospitaller, on the site of an old pagan shrine and healing spring, in an attempt to save the ‘credulous’ and ‘primitive’ people. I now live in the remnants of that priory.

Overlooking my house to the North, stands a huge and mysterious granite rock, known to be the domain of a Fairy Queen named Quasnon (or Couesnon). Hidden in her chamber, and guarded by black, hairy dwarves, lie inestimable treasures.
Many locals, over the centuries, have encountered these dwarves near the rocks on the night of the full moon, and although unpredictable and mischievous, they can be helpful, some carrying messages across great distances, ‘faster than the wind’ (this in the days before telephones…), some plaiting horses manes, others sweeping your house by night, or preparing cream for your breakfast.

Even better, if, for example, a ploughman happened to need a team of oxen to work his fields the next day, he would go to the foot of the rock at dusk and ask for « two oxen capable of doing four days work in a day, for tomorrow ». The next day at dawn, a team of black oxen would be waiting already yoked. He must, however, give them names or they would be wild and unruly!
At the end of the day, they would return to the rock. But the ploughman must remember to put 5 coins in the little bowl hanging from the yoke…

As for the fairies…Couesnon their Queen helps those who have lost something. Utter the words, « Ah, si j’avais celui des fées de la Roche ! » (Oh, if only I had that which the fairies of the Rock have!) and the wish would be granted!


One day, a peasant named Lormière, on his way to work bringing in the harvest, met upon the road a sorceror who was known to have dealings with the devil and to work enchantments and other ‘marvels’. He mocked Lormière for working so hard for nothing, when under the Rock lay a treasure so valuable that he would never have to work again if he were to find it. All he had to do was wait for nightfall, and not be afraid of anything that he might see.

Lormière didn’t believe him, and forgot all about this strange meeting. A year later, however, in the same spot, he once again encountered this sorceror. This time, he was convinced.
That night, at the right time, he set to work, digging beneath the rock. He dug so hard and so well, that eventually, he succeeded in finding the treasure of silver. Overcome with joy, suddenly he saw a three footed hare sitting upon the rock that was balanced above the treasure and was afraid… Since then, no one has ever seen the treasure.
Poor Lormière! Believing that the fairies would bring their silver out every Christmas at midnight, to ‘air’ it, he decided to seize it for himself. But this time, he found it guarded by two fierce dogs. Baring their teeth, they tried to devour him. He ran for his life!


In another tale of Couesnon and her court, a fairy came calling on a woman, living nearby and spent the long winter nights with her, keeping her company whilst her husband was away. She would come in each evening, through the chimney, settle into the corner and watch her. The woman grew increasingly tired of her fairy visitor, and together with her husband concocted a plan to get rid of her.
One evening, the husband dressed in the clothes of his wife and took her place at the fireside, pretending to spin. And so it was… That night,the fairy came down the chimney as usual. She looked at the spinning wheel, turning as usual, but producing no thread…In a low voice, she whispered: « The Beautiful one of the evenings, turned and fed her spinning wheel and on the spindle appeared a thread, but this one turns and feeds the spinning wheel, but on the spindle nothing appears. »

The pretend spinner leapt to his feet and demanded the name of the fairy. « I am called Me-Myself » she replied.
In the same moment, the master of the house threw fire on the fairy. She fled up the chimney crying out « I’m burning! I’m burning! »

Since that time, no one has ever seen fairies again here.

Or have they…? Coming up: Part 2. ‘The return of the Fairies’



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