Thursday, 16 April 2009

The Kerions' Feast

I mentioned the Kerions in connection with a poem I had written some years ago, and Nick Palmer was unable to find the term anywhere. When he looked it up, all he could find was "Ringworm infection of the hair follicles of the scalp and beard that is usually results in a pustule-covered swelling that oozes fluid." But you wont find a trace of it in this poem!

Midnight Folk

Outside, the rain is softly falling down
Cobwebs glitter, a fine spun gown
With pearly drops. The harvest moon
Comes out but briefly, the clouds will soon
Roll back across the darkening sky
And batwings flap as fast they fly
To catch their prey - a tiny vole
A-scurrying swiftly down its hole.
And softly tread the woodland folk,
Creep out beneath the ancient oak,
Unseen, to work away the night,
Always there, but out of sight
They rustle fallen leaves in play,
As if the wind had come to stay
Only to dawn; for at first light,
They go, these little folk of night
And when the cock begins to crow,
They are asleep, so deep below.

Kerion is in fact a Breton name for "little people". In Megaliths, Myths and Men (2000) by Peter Lancaster Brown, he notes that:

In Brittany Folklore, the "little people", more familiar to Irish landscape, are often cited, for tradition relates that the 'dolmens' were the dwellings of the Kerions - a dwarf people who supposedly inhabited the country in former times. Even today in some parts of Brittany one may still here the expression 'As strong as a Kerion".

This is why, after my poem, I wrote "I love the idea which one finds in folklore of Kerions, Leprechauns, fey-folk, and strange little folk that might live in the ground, unseen, only coming through in legends that imperfectly glimpse what they might be like."

Nick commented that commented that "Google doesn't actually know very much about Breton Kerions, does it? Perhaps they've digitally cloaked themselves"

The term is obscure, admittedly, but I think that has more to do with the fact that Breton Folktales, unlike the Irish or Welsh folk tales - or even Greek, Roman and Norse legends - are not so widely known. One book which has a number of these tales is the 1932 "Breton Stories" by Lilias Erskine, and from that, for those who have not heard of Kerions before (including Nick Palmer), here is a story all about them.

The Kerions Feast

You know the Kerions surely ?

Little sturdy people, who wear white robes. . . . They live among the dolmens and the menhirs, making their homes behind these giant boulders. . . .

In the evening time they hold nocturnal gatherings, and many weird things are said to happen if the Kerions make merry in your house. . . .

One evening a farmer was sleeping peacefully in his high wooden bed, when he was awakened by laughter and singing. . . . Peeping through the curtains of the bed he saw his whole room lit up : little candles in tiny lanterns hung from every beam ; jugs of cider stood on the tables and dishes of every kind were spread out on the oak chest by the window. . . .

Cakes and meats and all his best wines were laid before the company. . . . And what a strange company it was, too ! Such tiny men in queer white robes. . . . And they danced and sang so gleefully, that the farmer lay still and watched their revel with much amusement. . . .

Near to the bed stood a small table, also laden with food; stretching out his hand the farmer seized a joint of beef and concealed it under the bedclothes.

" Time to go! " cried the leader suddenly. . . .

And all the Kerions assembled and replaced the food and wine that they had taken. . . .

" Away with the ox ! " cried the leader. . . .

Instantly all the joints of meat jumped off the plates and grew together, till a complete ox had
been formed. . . .

" Drive it back to the stable," said the leader. . . .

" Alas ! we cannot," cried the Kerions, " for one hip-joint is missing."

" We will make him one of putty," they said.

So they quickly fashioned a new joint from some putty and drove the ox back into the stable. . . . Clapping their hands and laughing merrily, they took down their lanterns and danced away into the night. . . .

The next day the farmer gave his wife the joint of beef and they made stews and soup from it for many days. . . .

A. few weeks later the farmer was driving his plough. The ox moved so slowly, that at last he cried out impatiently : " Oh ! you slow stupid thing. Your legs are so stiff they might be made of putty." As he spoke, down fell the hip-joint of putty and the poor ox could walk no more. . . . The poor animal was in such pain that the farmer was obliged to kill it.

" Alas ! stupid man that I was," sighed he.

" If only I had kept the real joint, I could have healed my ox." . . .

But he remembered too late that he and his family had eaten it in a stew the day before.

1 comment:

Nick Palmer said...

I think yon farmer had been gorging on ergot ridden bread.