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1) Ursilla from Stronsay, in Orkney

The tale: A strong-willed girl, Ursilla wouldnt marry any of the local well-born men. When she inherited her
fathers estate, she married the man shed always fancied a lowborn barn-man. He turned out be rather
unsatisfactory as a husband, and there were no children on the horizon. A sad Ursilla went down to the seashore
and let seven tears fall at spring-tide. This summoned a large male selkie, one of the seal-folk, who offered to
become her lover, for at the spring tide he could take human form. After that, Ursilla indeed had a good number
of children, each born with strange webbing between their fingers and toes. The midwives would cut off the
webbing in order to keep Ursillas secret.

2) Witch and Hare

AN old witch, in days of yore, lived in this neighbourhood; and whenever she wanted money she would assume
the shape of a hare, and would send out her grandson to tell a certain huntsman who lived hard by that he had
seen a hare sitting at such a particular spot, for which he always received the reward of sixpence. After this
deception had many times been practised, the dogs turned out, the hare pursued, often seen but never caught, a
sportsman of the party began to suspect, in the language of the tradition, "that the devil was in the dance," and
there would be no end to it. The matter was discussed, a justice consulted, and a clergyman to boot; and it was
thought that, however clever the devil might be, law and church combined would be more than a match for him.
It was therefore agreed that, as the boy was singularly regular in the hour at which he came to announce the
sight of the hare, all should be in readiness for a start the instant such information was given: and a neighbour of
the witch, nothing friendly to her, promised to let the parties know directly the old woman and her grandson left
the cottage and went off together; the one to be hunted, and the other to set on the hunt. The news came, the
hounds were unkennelled, and huntsmen and sportsmen set off with surprising speed. The witch, now a hare,
and her little colleague in iniquity, did not expect so very speedy a turn out; so that the game was pursued at a
desperate rate, and the boy, forgetting himself in a moment of alarm, was heard to exclaim: "Run, Granny, run;
run for your life!" At last the pursuers lost the hare, and she once more got safe into the cottage by a little hole
in the door; not large enough to admit a hound in chase. The huntsman and all the squires with their train lent a
hand to break open the door, yet could not do it till the parson and the justice came up; but as law and church
were certainly designed to break through iniquity, even so did they now succeed in bursting the magic bonds
that opposed them. Upstairs they all went. There they found the old hag bleeding, and covered with wounds,
and still out of breath. She denied she was a hare, and railed at the whole party. "Call up the hounds," said the
huntsman, "and let us see what they take her to be; maybe we may yet have another hunt."
On hearing this the old woman cried quarter. The boy dropped on his knees, and begged hard for mercy, which
was granted on condition of its being received together with a good whipping; and the huntsman, having long
practised amongst the hounds, now tried his hand on other game. Thus the old woman escaped a worse fate for
the time present; but on being afterwards put on her trial for bewitching a young woman and making her spit
pins, the tale just told was given as evidence against her, before a particularly learned judge, and a remarkably
sagacious jury, and the old woman finished her days, like a martyr, at the stake

3) Black Shuck of East Anglia

The tale: There are many tales of this creature: a huge, rough-coated black hound with fiery red eyes and
slavering jaws. One eyewitness tells how, in 1960, he was cycling along a lonely road between Tolleshunt
DArcy and Maldon in Essex on a sultry summer night when he heard a panting sound behind him. Looking
back he saw two red lights like taillights, except that they were coming closer and closer. He pedalled as fast
as he could, but the panting grew louder and soon he could feel the beasts hot breath at his heels. The cyclist
got off his bike and waited for his fate. But the Shuck, having caught up with him, turned sharply left through
the bikes front wheel and vanished! The shaken cyclist stopped at the nearest pub and told his tale. Only a
fool would ride that road after dark, said the oldest drinker, and the others nodded in agreement.

4) The Dragon of Knucker Hole, Lyminster in Sussex

The tale: There was a huge dragon living in a pool near Lyminster, eating peoples cows and maidens, if he
could get them. Brave Jim Puttock knew how to deal with the dragon; he made an enormous suet pudding and
took it by horse and cart to the pond. What you got there? asks the dragon. Pudden, says Jim. And the
dragon swallows up the pudding horse and cart and all and demands more. Jim brings another enormous
pudding, and this is enough to give the dragon the collywobbles, and he feels very poorly. Jim pretends to lean
in to offer the dragon some medicine, but actually hits the stricken dragons head with an axe and kills him.
There are quite a few greedy dragon stories through history; in a Yorkshire version the sticky ginger treat,
parkin, is the dragons undoing. The Yorkshire tale was in fact collected from a stable-hand in Somerset, so the
story contains a good deal of Somerset dialect.

5) The dandy devil dogs of Devon

The tale: Dando was a parson, but he cared more about hunting than his parishioners souls. One Sunday he
was out hunting with his friends when they ran out of drink in their hip flasks. The estate upon which they were
hunting was called Earth, and so Dando joked, Go to hell for it if you cant find any on Earth!
At that moment a dark stranger appeared and offered Dando a swig from his flask and very tasty it was. Do
the gods drink this excellent stuff?, Dando asked. Devils do, said the stranger. He then began to help himself
to some of Dandos game and made to ride off with it. Ill go to hell if I have to, but Ill get them back!
shouted the drunken priest, and he ran at the stranger. The fiend scooped him up onto his big black horse and
galloped away; fiery sparks leapt up from the horses heels and all the hounds followed him. Dando was never
seen on Earth again, but his dogs are often heard and seen. And if youre down in Devon, and surrounded by a
pack of black dogs with red eyes, howling unspeakably, your best hope is to pray.

6) The fairies of Wales the Tylwyth Teg

The tale: Welsh fairies, like their counterparts elsewhere in Britain, often feature in stories in which they steal
people away. Supposedly having difficulty in reproducing themselves, fairies often steal human children and
leave ugly changelings in their place; they frequently summon human midwives to help with the birth. One such
tale centres on a skilled Welsh midwife who had a servant named Eilian, whose mind was never on her work.
Away with the fairies, some folk would say, and indeed, one day she vanished. Shortly after Eilians
disappearance, a late-night knock at the door summoned the midwife to assist a woman in labour. She helped
the mother deliver the child in a richly furnished room with carpets, tapestries, and handsomely carved
furniture. The mother asked her to rub some ointment on the newborns eyes, and so the midwife tried a little of
it on her own eyes. Immediately she saw that the splendid room was only a cave with straw on the floor and
moss on the walls, and that the mother lying on the bare bedframe was the missing Eilian. Eilian begged her to
say nothing and to go; there was no helping her, and so the midwife accepted her reward a bag of fairy gold
and made her way home.

7) The vampires of Burton-on-Trent

The tale: According to a late Anglo-Saxon chronicle, two peasants who had recently died were seen wandering
down the villages main street with their coffins on their backs. They would hammer on the doors of the living,
calling on them by name, and those whose names were called soon sickened and some of them died. The
villagers opened up the graves of the two revenants to see what was going on, and found the corpses there
strangely undecayed, and the cloths over their faces stained with fresh blood. The folk knew just what to do:
they cut off the corpses heads and laid them between their legs, and cut out their hearts and burned them. Two
black birds were seen flying up from the fire; after that there was no more walking again, and those who had
fallen ill sick recovered.
8) The mermaid of Galloway, Scotland

The tale: We are today familiar with tales of mermaids singing at sea, combing their golden hair and trying to
attract sailors to be their lovers down below the waves. But fresh water has its mermaids too. In one such
folklore tale, the mermaid of Galloway lived in a beautiful burn, or watercourse, and every evening she would
perch on a seat-shaped rock and give medical advice to the people who gathered to ask for her help. But a
highly religious woman thought that this was the devils work, and, clutching her bible for protection, pushed
the mermaids seat into the pond.

The next evening when the mermaid appeared, she was distressed by the loss of her seat, and cried out, You
may look to your toom (empty) cradle/And Ill look to my stane. And meikle [a lot] well think, and meikle
well look/But words well neer hae nane! The next morning the religious womans baby was found dead in
its cradle. In retaliation the local folk filled in the Dalbeattie Burn with stones and dirt, and the mermaid was
never seen again.

9) The Kelpie and the nine children from the Highlands

The tale: A group of children was roaming around one Sunday near Lochaber in the Scottish Highlands when
they saw a very large and friendly horse. There was room enough for all of them on its back, so they climbed
up. When the horse took off at a gallop the frightened children tried to jump off, but they were all stuck fast.
Only one, who happened to have a bible in his pocket, survived to tell the tale, and only because he was smart
enough to cut off one of his fingers, glued to the horses mane, with his pocket-knife. This boy supposedly saw
the horse dive into a loch with his shrieking cargo.

None of the children were ever seen again, but the next day searchers found some pieces of liver and guts
floating on the surface of the pond. It transpires in the tale that the horse had been a water-horse or a kelpie: a
creature that likes to fool humans into thinking it is an ordinary horse or an ordinary man (often with tell-tale
sand and weed in his hair) who will drag you underwater to your doom.

Celtic Myths

C Chulainn: the Hound of Culann

C Chulainn was an Irish hero, son of a mortal and a god. He was a mighty warrior, champion of the Ulstermen
in their war with the people of Connaught, who were led by their formidable queen Medbh (Maeve).
While he was still an infant, the Druid Cathbad prophesied that he would lead a short but glorious life. When he
was five years old, C Chulainn routed the Ulster king Conchobars 50-strong youth brigade. While still a
young boy, he demanded arms from the king, and shattered 15 sets of weapons before accepting those
belonging to Conchobar himself. The young hero got his name, the Hound of Culann, when he accidentally
killed the guard-dog of Culann the blacksmith.

Ashamed of his deed, he pledged to redeem himself by acting in the dogs place. He grew up very fast, and
quickly became Ulsters war-leader. Like many ancient mythical heroes, he regularly communed with spirits,
and he had a particular affinity with the Morrigan, a war-goddess who frequently appeared to him in the guise
of a crow. A particular feature of C Chulainn was his habit of going into warp-spasm, or a berserk state, when
roused. When like this, he was literally out of his mind, and his body did strange and monstrous things: one eye
bulged out while the other sank into his cheek and his body rotated in his skin, while the hero-light shone
fiercely around his head. Betrayed by his enemies, he met his death on the battlefield but when mortally
wounded, he had himself bound to a stake so that he would die standing upright, facing his foes. In the end, the
Morrigan betrayed him, perching on his shoulder to show his enemies that he was dead.

Blodeuwedd: the false flower-woman of Welsh myth

Blodeuwedd appears in the Fourth Branch of the Welsh Mabinogion. She was not mortal, but was conjured
from wild flowers (the oak, meadowsweet and broom) by two magicians, Math and Gwydion, for their kinsman
Lleu Llaw Gyffes (the Bright one of the Skilful Hand).

Because he was illegitimate, Lleus mother Arianrhod cursed him at birth, denying him a name, weapons or a
wife unless she herself gave them to him. The boys uncle Gwydion [although it is elswehere suggested that
Gwydion is actually also Lleu Llaw Gyffes father] tricked his sister into endowing the child with both a name
and weapons, but getting him a wife proved trickier, so he and Math got round the problem by creating
Blodeuwedd.

But because she was not a mortal woman and was thus without morals (the Christian influence is perhaps
showing here!), Lleus flower-wife betrayed him with another man, Gronw, and the lovers plotted his death.
Lleu himself was clearly a hero or even a god, for he could only be killed in a peculiar, impossible way; he had
to be neither inside nor outside a house, naked or clothed or on water or land, and only a spear made during the
hours that smithing was not permitted could kill him.

By huge cunning (together with a certain dimness on Lleus part), Blodeuwedd persuaded her husband to act out
the only circumstances in which he was vulnerable: by making a bath for Lleu on a riverbank and erecting an
arched roof above it, then thatching it so that it let in no water. She brought a billy goat and stood next to the
bath, and then Lleu placed one foot on the back of the goat and the other on the edge of the bath. Whoever
struck Lleu while he was in that position would be able to kill him.

Then, Gronw smote him with his spear. As he was struck, Lleu uttered a ghastly shriek, turned into an eagle and
flew into an oak-tree. There Gwydion found him and restored him, but Blodeuwedd he cursed, turning her into
an owl, and condemning her to hunt alone at night, shunned by all other birds, for eternity.

Shape-shifting Lovers: Oenghus and Caer

Oenghus mac Oc was an Irish god of youth. He was the son of two deities: the Daghdha and Boann, goddess of
the river Boyne. But Boann was married already when she became pregnant with Oenghus, and so they
enchanted the sun so that it neither rose nor set for nine months, until the baby was born. Thus Oenghus was
conceived and born on the same day, and the illicit lovers managed to conceal their union from Boanns
husband Nechtan.

Given the circumstances surrounding his birth, it is not surprising that Oenghus became the patron god of star-
crossed lovers. Indeed, he had his own love story: one night, he had a dream in which he saw a wonderfully
beautiful girl and fell in love with her. When he woke, his passion was undimmed and he set out to discover
who she was and how to find her.

Eventually Oenghus tracked her down to a lake where the girl lived with a bevy of other young women. Her
name was Caer Ibormeith (Yew-Berry). But Caer and her companions were under an enchantment. Every
alternate year, at the Festival of Samhain on 1 November (the Celtic New Year), the girls were transformed into
swans. Oenghus asked Caers father for her hand in marriage, but he refused.

Realising that the only way to win her was to wait until she was in swan-form, he went to the lake at Samhain
and called her. When she came, he turned himself into a swan and both birds flew away, circling the lake three
times and singing a spell as they flew, so that everyone below fell asleep and they could not be pursued. The
lovers took up residence at Oenghus palace at Brugh na Binne and, it is to be hoped, lived happily ever after.

Rhiannon the Horse-Maiden

The First Branch of the Mabinogion tells the story of Pwyll, lord of Dyfed in south-west Wales. Near his court
at Llys Arberth (modern Narberth), there was a gorsedd, a magical mound. Anyone who sat on the mound was
assured either of a catastrophic shock or a wondrous event.
One day, Pwyll was sitting on the gorsedd when he saw a beautiful woman riding, clad in shimmering white
upon a dazzling white horse. He commanded his swiftest horsemen to ride after her and stop her but, however
fast they galloped, she outpaced them, even though her own mount appeared to be ambling. So Pwyll leapt on
his own steed and pursued her, to no avail.

In desperation he called out to her and immediately she reined in her horse and sat waiting for him. When he
caught up with her, she told him she had only been waiting for him to address her before she stopped. The
horsewomans name was Rhiannon (Great Queen). The pair fell in love and married, but at first their union
appeared cursed, for no child was born to them.

After three years Rhiannon produced a son, but even then the couples troubles were not over: on the night of
May-eve, just before the spring festival of Beltane, the baby was stolen. Rhiannons watch-women had fallen
asleep at their post. When they woke, fearing blame, they framed the slumbering Rhiannon, killing a puppy and
smearing her hands and face with its blood, so that the mother appeared to have killed and eaten her own
son.

Pwyll neither banished not executed Rhiannon, but imposed a strange punishment: she had to crouch by the gate
of the palace and carry every visitor up to the door on her back, like a beast of burden.

But there was a happy ending: the baby was found and returned to his parents. Rhiannon named him Pryderi,
which means care. Rhiannons recurrent association with horses probably betrays her origins as a pagan horse-
goddess.