John D. Batten
Melissa’s taking Thalia Halloweening has become a tradition. Thalia’s mother does not mind not participating. The materialistic, food-related aspects of holidays are not to her liking. In her view, the spiritual value of the “holy days” is being sublimated by corporal concerns. I say any excuse for eating food is valid.
I build up the fire in the hearth as I hear them coming down the hallway. They enter my study, Melissa donning her witches hat and cape in keeping with the spirit of Halloween, and Thalia decked out as a Christmas Tree in her purposeful attempt at confusing the seasons.
Thalia plunks down in front of the hearth, her lower branches forming a ring around her, emptying her loot bag on the floor and sifting through her booty. I can see what a haul she made: Lion Bars, Aero Bars, Drumstick Squashies, Tunnock’s Snowballs, Maltesers, Mighty Fine Honeycomb Bars, Walker’s Assorted Toffees, Refreshers, Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles, and Fry’s Turkish Delights.
Melissa returns from my bookshelves with a copy of Joseph Jacob’s More English Fairy Tales and settles herself into my companion comfy chair.
“The Buried Moon,” she pronounces. Thalia looks up from munching on a Drumstick Squashy.
In Carrland, along the Ancholme River, were black pools and bogs. When the Moon did not shine, out came Things, Bogles, and Crawling Horrors. The Moon, when she learned what happened while she rested, wanted to see for herself.
At month’s end, covered in a black cloak, she entered the bog.
Thalia reaches for a Turkish Delight.
Traveling through the treacherous bog, the Moon slipped, nearly falling into a black pool, and grasped at a black snag to save herself. Vines wrapped themselves around her wrists.
At that same moment, some poor man came following a will-o’-the-wisp toward his death. As the Moon struggled, her black hood fell from her head, emitting light. The man could then see where the true path lay, and with a cry of joy, headed for it, saving himself.
Thalia picked up a Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles while staring at Melissa.
Continuing her struggle, the exhausted Moon collapsed, allowing the hood to again cover her head. The Things, Bogles, and Crawling Horrors approached and abused her, arguing how to kill her until dawn broke. They placed a large coffin-shaped stone upon her to push her down into the bog, leaving a will-o’-the-wisp to guard.
Anticipating a new moon, the people put pennies in their pockets and a straw in their cap. But when the new moon did not appear, they went to the wise woman who lived in the old mill. She looked in her brewpot, mirror, and book, but had no answer. She advised them to listen and tell her what they heard.
Thalia engaged a Mighty Fine Honeycomb Bar without breaking eye contact.
The whereabouts of the Moon became the talk of all the homes, farmyards, and pubs. In one of the pubs, the man who had been lost in the bog saw the light, one might say, and told of his experience.
This the people related to the Wise Woman. She told them to put a stone in their mouths, take a hazel twig in their hands, and say not a word as they walked into the marsh looking for a coffin, a cross, and a candle.
Full of trepidation, this they did, and found the coffin-shaped stone, the black snag roughly in the shape of a cross, and the will-o’-the-wisp as the candle. Reciting the Lord’s Prayer silently to themselves—forwards and backwards—they pushed aside the stone, and the Moon sprung back into the sky, lighting their way home.
Thalia’s eyes filled with delight as she wrapped her fingers around a Tunnock’s Snowball.
Fairy Tale of the Month: October 2019 The Buried Moon – Part Two
17th Century chart of the moon
“Where does that story come from?” I ask after has Thalia sated her sweet-tooth and wandered off to bed.
“Joseph Jacob’s More English Fairy Tales,” she smiles with deviltry while taking a sip of wine.
“I know that. Who did he get it from?”
“That’s an interesting little history. The tale, also called Dead Moon, comes from Lincolnshire, collected by Marie Clothilde Balfour—related to Robert Lewis Stevenson, by the way—when she lived there in the late 1880’s. She collected a number of tales and submitted them to Folk-Lore, the journal of the Foklore Society.
“There were a couple of problems. First, she wrote the stories out attempting to mimic the Lincolnshire dialect. That made for hard reading. Second, when her fellow folklorists did figure out the stories, they doubted the tales’ authenticity given their unusual construction. “
“True,” I say taking a sip of wine. “This story at least doesn’t have the usual feel of a fairy tale.”
“Mrs. Balfour called them Legends of Lincolnshire; actually, legends of the Carrs, basically the bogs and fenlands of the area, but they are not really legends either.”
“I am guessing,” I nod, “Joseph Jacobs respected her work.”
“Yes, but he did apologize to her for taking them out of the dialect and turning them into plain English. There are a number of her works in More English Fairy Tales. Let’s see, My Own Self, Yallery Brown, The Hedley Kow, Tattercoats, Coat O’ Clay, A Pottle O’ Brains, I know there are others.”
“You’ve done your research,” I comment with another sip of wine.
“Yes, I have. This story raised my suspicions about its authenticity as it did for others.
“Mrs. Balfour states she collected the tale from a nine-year-old crippled girl named Fanny, who heard it from her grandmother. Mrs. Balfour comments she couldn’t help feeling her informant engaged her youthful girl’s imagination to help flesh out the details.
“Also, Mrs. Balfour described her recording process as taking notes, then writing the tale down in full the next day or soon after.”
“Hmmm,” I tap my fingers together, “plenty of time for interference, even subconsciously, to enter the story, turning it more toward literary forms.”
“She was an author in her own right.” Melissa agrees, finishing her glass. “I am not going to doubt her, at least not her honesty and good intent. If, when her hand came to the pen, she could not help but bend the words she heard to her liking and understanding, I will forgive her.”
I refill Melissa’s glass and top off my own. “For argument’s sake, let us say The Buried Moon is authentic. Is it some vestige of a moon worship mythology?”
Melissa takes off her witches’ hat, not realizing she still wore it. “We cannot dismiss the notion, but where is there a parallel tale of humans freeing the moon? I believe I have come across moon goddesses being abducted by other gods, but this is different. Here there is a symbiotic relationship between the moon and the people of the fenland. It smacks of legend or mythology, but comes out of nowhere with no parentage, hence, the professional folklorists’ suspicions.”
Fairy Tale of the Month: October 2019 The Buried Moon – Part Three
I add another log to the fire.
“Then there is the wise woman who lives in the old mill, who advises the people to seek the moon with a stone in their mouths, a hazel twig in their hands, and to speak not a word. How do we take that apart?”
“Well,” Melissa considers, staring at her wine, “the wise woman is a common enough trope, but residing in ‘the old mill’ is more specific than usual.
“The stone in the mouth may be an aid in not speaking while they search. A large stone in the mouths of buried corpses is a protection against vampires rising from the grave, but I think in this case we are talking about pebbles.
“The hazel twig is well known for its mystic attributes. Magical wands are often made of hazel wood, but here I think they may act as dowsing rods.”
“Dowsing rods? Why would they be looking for water?”
“Oh, the dowsing rod can be used to locate other things, buried treasure, and maybe buried moons.”
“And the injunction against speaking?”
“Again, I don’t know. Saying the Lord’s Prayer forwards and backwards I found interesting as well.”
I raise my glass. “And let’s not forget the people putting pennies in their pockets and straw in their caps.”
“That I can explain,” Melissa exclaims. “It’s a bit of magic tied to the moon’s waxing, getting bigger. The idea is that the pennies in your pocket will increase along with the moon, as well as the straw—your harvest.”
“I like that. And the wise woman’s brew pot, mirror, and book?” I ask.
Melissa deflates a little. “These items pop-up in fairy tales, but I’ve never heard them put together like this before. It does indicate the wise woman deals in magical arts. White magic I will assume.
“To make matters a little worse, in Joseph Jacobs’ rewriting of the tale, he left out the wise woman also telling the people to put salt, straw, and a button on their door-sill to keep the Horrors from crossing over the threshold.”
I shake my head. “This tale is full of peasant superstitions.”
“One more thing,” Melissa says, finishing the bottle off into our glasses. “In my deep-dive into this story, I discovered Maureen James’s paper on the Carrs’ legends. The work is pretty exhaustive of the whole scene in which Mrs. Balfour operated.
“One of the factors that James covered is the extensive use of opium by the Lincolnshire inhabitants. The Fens and Carrs were unhealthy places, given to ague, poverty, and rheumatism. Opium provided some cure and comfort. Mothers used opium to quiet their babies. Man would put a little into their beer. Opium, especially in the form of laudanum, was fairly cheap and available at the chemist’s shop, not to mention the poppies being grown in their gardens to make poppyhead tea.
“If they were seeing Things, Bogles, and Crawling Horrors on dark nights in the bogs, I am not surprised.”
I contemplate that thought as our fire dies down.