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Caigwyn
January 4th, 2010, 01:54 PM
Greetings, all and happy new year!

Ishtar has written a lot hearabouts on the subjects of Snakes, serpents, and related mythological beasties. Most Recently here: http://www.ishtarsgate.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=28&t=793

I thought I'd contribute the only legend I know on the subject. Sorry it's long but I hope you enjoy!

The Tale of the Lambton Worm

So, imagine you are sitting in a smoke filled round house. Its cold outside, with snow on the ground and a hard frost, but the fire in the middle of the hall has warmed the space. That and the mead flowing in your cup, and the press of people sitting round the fire –the warmth gently steaming their cloaks dry, sitting on piles of fur skins for warmth. The feasting is over and the dogs are contentedly chewing on the discarded bones and the last of the scraps.
The hunting has been good today and there was enough boar and venison to feed an army, which is a good thing because there were lots of mouths to feed, and it is getting a little raucous – the ale and the mead is beginning to talk. Over the noise of voices drunkenly singing, from the back of the hall the heavy woven door is flung open and the bard walks in, with a flurry of snow. His cloak pulled tight, staff in one hand, and his pipe in the other- glowing red in the half light. The tallow lights gutter in the sudden draught, but the gathered people simmer down – there’s a story to be told!

The bard throws back his hood, his long beard halfway down his chest – he greets the Lords, and their guests, their ladies, the hunters, the serving wenches and the youngsters who have now stopped running around and are gathering to listen.

He clears his throat, takes a swig of mead and begins the tale in a deep sonorous voice that fills the hall with sound:
“A long time ago - In the north of this land – north of the Humber but not as far as the Wall, there lived a Lord called Lambton in his Castle. It was built on a hill not far from the River Wear, and he was a good Lord. He had a lovely wife and a fine young son. Their lands were prosperous and their people happy – the soil was fertile and the crops good. The game in the woods was plentiful.

One morning Lord Lambton’s son went fishing in the nearby river Wear. He was a good fisherman and soon had a net full of trout, and he was just about ready to take his catch home to the hall for the evening meal. But under a tree on the far bank he caught sight of a swirling eddy that had not been there before. There had been rumours of a great pike in the deep pools over there and he thought he’d try his luck with one last cast. He baited his line and threw it over the river as far has he could. The float bobbed and moved downstream with the current.
Suddenly the float disappeared, the line ran through young Lambton’s hands, he swore to the Gods, and yelled with the pain! The birds stopped signing in the trees as he finally caught hold of the spindle holding the line and pulled with all his might. It must be the pike! The water thrashed and foamed and bravely, young Lambton fought the fish! To and fro the battle went but gradually the fish tired and Lambton brought it to the bank.
With one last heave, it was ashore! But this was no pike, nor like any fish Lambton had ever seen before – lf indeed a fish it was.

Like a Pike, the thing had a long bony snout over a thin lower jaw – both were lined with small sharp teeth; but that’s where the likeness to a pike ended. His eyes were huge – protruding from its head and they looked like black pools of hate as they glared back at Lambton. He shuddered – he felt as if the eyes could see his very soul! The thing’s body was a man’s arm span long and sinewy, with shining scales and a raised comb of jagged bone like a crude wood saw down the length of its back. It was more like a snake or an eel than a fish – for there were no fins or fishtail – just a long whip like tail. And the thing had a tongue that reached out between its teeth; reaching out slobbering vile stinking spit onto the ground, wrapping around Lambton’s arms as he wrestled it.
Lambton threw the thing down in disgust – and took up his staff and walloped it on the head. That calmed it down a bit, so Lambton hit it again. Thwack! Breaking the stout staff in two! Lambton left the two pieces on the riverbank and hoisted the beast into a sack, thinking “I’ll take this home to show my father – he’ll know what it is”. So off he went - his catch of trout, wriggling in the net over his shoulder, and the dead weight of the unknown thing, dragging in its sack, picking up dust, on the path.

Lambton trudged back towards his father’s halls; the fish died down their wriggling, but the thing in the sack became heavier and more burdensome with every step. It was only a short walk to the castle, and it had been a lovely early summer’s day on the way down to the river. But now the clouds gathered and big fat malevolent raindrops tumbled from the sky. The sack containing the putrid thing became heavier and heavier, more burdensome with every step away from the river. Soon it took all young Lambton’s strength to make any progress at all. The wind picked up, and thunder boomed and lighting flashed amongst the trees and the rain lashed down. By the time he reached the edge of the woods, Lambton was exhausted by his burden. He wondered what to do. As he paused the thing began to awaken, writhing in its sack and lashing with new found strength. What to do?! For he feared what might happen if the thing broke loose. Nearby, at the edge of the woods was an old well. Dressed in ribbons by the peasants it was normally a place for lovers to frolic, but on this dark afternoon, the maw of the well gaped open dark and deep. He had to do something as the sack was beginning to spit as the beast within increased its lashing and writhing, so with his last strength, with one mighty heave Lambton pushed the sack, the beast and the happy days of the Lambton lands into the darkness...”

The noise in the hall had been loud before the Bard arrived – singing, laughing, tales of the day’s hunt had ebbed around the smoke filled room, but now all could be heard was the cracking of the fire in the centre of the hall, wind moaning through the rushes on the roof, and the dogs squabbling over the last scraps of meat from the bones. But the people, the people were all held in the thrall of the bard as he told his tale. He takes another mighty swig from his cup and continues.

“When the beast went down the well there was an almighty clap of thunder that shook the ground and the trees and the very hills through which the Wear meandered on its way to the coast. The beast howled – and then was gone! No splash did it make as it tumbled into the depths. And as if nothing happened, the clouds parted, the sun shone, the raindrops on the leaves in the woods glistening rainbow bright. Sweat from rain, effort and fright soon dried on young Lambton’s back and he picked up the net of fish and was soon back at the hall where the catch was taken straight to the cooks who were about to start preparing the evening’s feast. But of the beast, that pike that was not, not a word did young Lambton say.

That year the crops failed in the fields – the rain that had fallen on young Lambton was the last rain for three months – until the harvest was due and the parched wheat was then washed away by the heaviest late summer rain ever seen. The Goats and Cattle wasted as there was no grass to eat and then became sick as the Summer rain gave way to howling gales and early frosts that did for the apples and blackberry brambles that usually groaned with fruit into the Autumn. The frost was relentless and freezing fog worked its way everywhere, covering the land with ghostly white hoar frost, smoke from the wet wood on the fires, and filling the halls with cold penetrating shivering smog.

There were no more fish in the river and soon the people were thin, cold and hungry. Lord Lambton, being a good man opened his stores and the last of the previous year’s wheat was distributed and made into bread – but even that did not leaven properly, and was hard and dry, not good to eat.

The Lord called upon his stewards, warriors and hunters but no one had any ideas on what caused the weather to turn so, or what to do other than to ration the remaining food through the solstice until the spring came again. So that is what they did. The Animals that died had putrid flesh that could not be eaten, so the people lived on hard bread and very little else. Through the winter the snow came early and stayed, the frost was so hard that the shafts of axes the men used to cut wood froze to their hands.

And when the spring came! What spring? There was none; it was as if the autumn had returned. So it continued. The ground was too wet when the wheat was sown – the crops failed again, the summer fret from the sea reached far inland, wreathing the fields and trees with mist and cold; damp reaching into the land from the river that had once brought fertility. The meadows where once summer grazing had been, turned to barren, swampy marshes, the animals sinking to their shoulders in stinking mud.

Lord Lambton made sacrifices to the gods that equinox, slaughtering his last few Cows – they were barren and not in milk, and he consulted the druids. News of his troubles had already spread far and wide. On their Tor at Ynys Witrin, Morgan or Nimue, or not even the mighty Merddyn could fathom the counter spell – for they all knew that these were no ordinary natural events, they knew the house of Lambton was under a curse!"

There was a gasp around the hall and the men shifted uneasily on their skin rugs – thoughts of their drinking and carousing pushed far back and they offered up mumbled prayers to their respective gods. The Bard Continued.
“It was a curse all right – and it lasted for another five summers. They grew just enough to survive and the Lords with bordering land offered up spare provisions, which they left at the boundary – as an offering to the gods – none wanted to venture into the blighted land, lest they return with the same fate.

Then just when Lord Lambton thought things could get no worse – they did. And woe is me – how worse could they be! In the early summer of the fifth year in the dead of night, there rose up a terrible noise from the woods between Lambton’s hall and the river. A howling haunted roar, not man nor earthly beast could ever have made. The ground shook and trembled and clouds gathered over the scene. The thing that made the awful noise rose from the old well, and slithered it’s way down to the river, leaving behind the slime trail of a gigantic slug, a sticky goo mess all the way down to the river bank, that trapped small animals that stumbled upon it, in its fatal embrace. The beast thrashed its way up the river to the mill. It demolished the miller’s house with one swoosh of its mighty tail and devoured the miller and his family in two bites of its mighty jaws.

No man alive saw what happened but in the morning the evidence was there for all to see. The next night the same thing happened – a howling wailing shriek from the river and this time the old fort at the village of Hett stood in the beast’s path. Warned of its approach by the dreadful nose the men folk defended the old walls of the hilltop as best they could but to no avail. What assailed them was a mighty serpent-worm. With no wings or legs it slithered up the hill towards them, leaving behind its stinking silvery trail. It breathed no fire, but its rancid breath caused grown men to choke. Their spears bounced off the silvery scales which were as hard as any armour, and with one flick of its razor tail a whole household of men were scythed to the ground, missing arms and legs. Into the houses it went, eating all in its path. For an hour it had its way amongst those poor people, and only those who fled survived to tell the tale.

The story they told filled the heart of Lord Lambton with dread – what would happen to his lands? There was no earthly counter to such a mythical beast as the serpent-worm that had destroyed Hett so completely; the priests and druids danced and cursed and mixed their potions, but they all knew they did not have the power to stop such immense magic.

The next night the fate of Hett befell the little hamlet of Pel on the moor overlooking the north bank of the river. Once again defence was useless. Once again the serpent- worm gorged on villagers, and the only survivors were those that fled. Once again the silvery, stinking trail led back to the river but in the morning the serpent-worm was there for all to see - it had slithered through the river and had wrapped itself round Penshaw Hill. Once, twice, three times round the hill the serpent-worm wrapped itself – getting longer as it went and gouging great hunks of rock and earth out of the hillside that tumbled down into the bushes at the foot of the hill, carrying with the strings of the slime from the serpent-worm’s body. And there it stayed, glistening in the half light and on into the dusk.

Only one person knew the cause of the curse, one person knew the whole sad story. The person who five years ago had disturbed the order of things and quite accidentally invoked the wrath of the Gods. Young Lambton – the one time fisherman. He lay awake that night wondering again what to do. He resolved that he had to do something – he had to take on the monster once more, and either kill it. Or die trying."

The older men in the hall shook their heads. They knew that the young man had no chance – it was not a fair fight. They looked at each other with knowing glances. This was either going to be a short story, or one with a twist!

“Early the following morning, before anyone else in the hall stirred, Young Lambton rose to finish the thing he had started – one way or the other. He put on his war gear, picked up his shield, spear and sword and crept out of the hall. Down the path he strode towards the hill at Penshaw where the serpent-worm still slumbered wrapped around the hill, keeping it in his awful grip. Just as he trudged into the woods an old lady came into view – stooped and hunched, shuffling up the path in the opposite direction. She did not move to one side as Lambton approached.

‘Bonnie Lad,’ she said as they faced each other in the path, ‘where’re ye gannen at this early hoor?’ She looked young Lambton directly in the eye. ‘And dressed in yer war gear, an’ all.’
‘Ah’m ganned te slay the serpent-worm hinney’ said Lambton in a clear voice.
‘Oh aye, man’ said the old lady, ‘an d’yer think that’s ganna work?’
‘Wey aah divent knaa, but I’m the cause of this ruction, an aah’ll be the end of it, or aah’ll die tryin’ said the young warrior. Looking the old lady directly in the eye he went on ‘an if ye’ll stand by, aahl be gannen on’.
She stood her ground. ‘Ye’ll be slaughtered, unless ye get help, bonny lad. An’ I knaa ye wor theor at the start. Ah knaa. And aah knaa hoo te help ye.’

Now young Lambton was never going to be a sage, or a prophet, or a great warrior, but he knew there was something about this old lady that wet beyond her physical stature. He was curious how she knew so much, but he knew he needed all the help he could get.

‘How d’ye think ye can help me, hinney? D’ye hev a stout staff in ye cloak?
‘Why no’ she said ‘ ahh’ve something a bit stronger than that, bonny lad. Aahl’ll tell ye how te kill it, and give ye the power to dey it an’ all. ‘De ye want help lad, and d’ye agree to pay the price?’
It was not so much an offer of help than an instruction – Lambton mumbled ‘Aye hinney...’ and before he could utter another word...

She pulled herself up straight, seeming to grow on the spot – Lambton was not short, but she towered over him fully seven feet high. And she glowed in her rags and her eyes were bright and sharp. Her old face transformed into a pale and savagely beautiful visage, the wrinkles gone. The rags went the same way and she now wore a purple and black cloak fastened with a silver torc at her slender neck, which Lambton now had to lift his face to see.
As she spoke all other sound and light faded to silence and blackness – Lambton was transfixed by the terrible beauty in front of him. Pale white features, pitch black hair, eyes shining bright, green, red, blue, purple, yellow, red in continuing succession.

The first words she said, Lambton could not understand – spoken in a tongue he’d never heard. Then she instructed:
‘Draw ye Sword and Dagger, lad’
He did so gladly. She lifted her arms until they surrounded him and the greenery in the darkness either side of the path appeared to whirl and spin. More words in the strange tongue and she touched the blades. As she did so they glowed bright – they’d been burnished by the squires before but this was something ethereal, the light flowed down the blade to the hilt and the pommels of the weapons, the martingale of the sword pulling tight around Lambton’s wrist. The blades seemed alive.
‘Show us yer spear, lad’

Lambton replaced the dagger in its scabbard and pulled his broad spear from its sling on his back, where his heavy shield emblazoned with its ram’s head, was also carried.
He held the spear out gladly, in his left hand –the sword still gripped in his right. She took it and again spoke in the strange tongue, the weapon’s broad head multiplied as he watched. First two, then four then eight heads. The new points detached themselves from the staff of hickory and floated to the leather breast shoulder and forearm plates of Lambton’s armour. They merged with the stout leather and again glowed bright like the sword and the dagger. Lambton felt charged with energy – the world whirled around the vision woman and he – nothing else existed. Faster and faster the darkness swirled around them – until there was a blinding flash! The earth shook – and there, once again before Lambton, stood the old woman.
He rubbed his eyes in disbelief.

The sword was once again in its scabbard, dagger too. Spear and shield slung over his broad shoulders, and his armour – was, well, his armour again.

‘An noo bonny lad – the price!” cackled the woman.
‘ The price?’
‘Aye Lad – the price. We have a bargain! Ye Agreed!’
He looked confused.

‘Ye noo hev a sword to smite a serpent-worm, and armour that will prevent ye from crush but ye owe me!
Ye have the power the win the fight – but the price is this: ye must kill the first living thing ye see after the fight. Ye must kill it whatever it is! If ye divvent, the price gans up! If ye divvent kill the first living thing ye see, ye family will be cursed forever! Ney man in ye family will ever die in his bed again! Fer generations of Lambtons, the first born men will all die before their time! That’s the price, bonny lad. That’s the price. D’ye gan reet!
‘Aye hinney, Aye...’

But before he could say another word, the woman disappeared into the forest –without a trace!
Lambton stood in the path, dumfounded. This was something he did not understand – but the terms seemed clear. He now felt in his heart as if he had the power to kill the serpent-worm, but he also knew there was a terrible price to be paid.

He walked back up the path to the hall – he needed to talk to his father.
He found his father still asleep in the great hall. Shaking him, the old man was confused – but Lambton said to him, ‘Aah’m ganned te war with the serpent-worm, but ye need te listen father! His father nodded slowly, he’d never seen his son looking so animated or alive. Normally he’d been a bit of a lazy waster! Always fishing when he should have been doing his duties about the hall, or the lands around. But his son had a look in his eyes that betrayed a power within that was new and commanded attention – even from a father to his young whelp of a son!
‘Aah’m gannen te kill the serpent worm, and when I’m done, aah’m gannen te blow me hunitn’ horn three times. Three long blasts. And when I dey that, ye’r te send a hound te meet me, doon the path. D’ye understand father? D’ye understand?’

‘Aye lad, a hound, doon the path’.

Lambton and his father looked each other in the eyes. Young Lambton nodded, stood and turned, and once again made his way down the path towards the scarred hill at Penshaw. Where the serpent-worm was just waking.

The serpent-worm had sharp eyes and he spied the lone warrior walking down the path towards the wood and the river from whence he’d come. Slowly he began to unwrap his hideous coils from the hill, leaving behind great gouges in the earth and rock. Slowly he slithered down towards the river, leaving behind his putrid smelling trail of fetid slime.
The serpent worm and the warrior met on opposite banks of the placid river Wear. The river that sprang in the high moors to the west, flowed through the great loop and gorge at Dun Holm, and on to the cold grey sea to the east.
They looked at each other across the broad reach of the slowly flowing river. The serpent-worm’s scales shining in the early morning sun. The same sun that glinted off the spear head and Ram shield of young Lambton. This had started in the river and that is where it would end!”

The men in the hall shifted again on their skin rugs – spoiling for the fight – they’d had their twist and had listened as enchanted as children at the winter solstice, as the Bard had told his tale of magic. And now there was fighting to be done. The silence in the hall was complete.

“Lambton moved first – striding into the shallows. The serpent-worm moved the next instant, disappearing under the wavelets at his bank, first his long snout, the great protruding eyes and eventually, by the time they met in mid stream, half the beast’s long body, its whip tail still on the bank.

All Lambton could see was the surge of the wave as the serpent-worm sped towards him under the surface of the water. He stood in the stream, water up to his waist and as the surge drew near took his spear and lanced it towards the beast! As he drew the shaft back, the head once again glowed white as it had done before, with the woman on the pathway. It glowed bright and as it touched the water it hissed with magical heat. And it struck home! Right between the serpent-worm’s eyes as its monstrous snout approached him, jaws wide open, waiting to take the man whole. The deadly jaws snapped shut with a spout of water as the beast thrashed in its agony, missing Lambton by no more than the width of a man’s hand. But it was not done. With the spent lance still embedded deeply in its head the serpent –worm thrashed the water into foam, writhing around Lambton as he stood. The Worm had been thrice times round Penshaw Hill – Lambton was puny in comparison. Round and round it went, encircling the warrior with five, ten then twelve loops – until, with another mighty thrashing of water the coils tightened around Lambton’s body.

Tighter and tighter the beast’s coils squeezed. It lifted its head and its horrific serpent tongue wrapped itself around Lambton’s neck, slime and serpent spittle flowing and floating as scum on the foaming water.
The beast was choking and squeezing the life out of Lambton and he gasped for breath. He drew his dagger, glowing white from the sheath at his waist and slashed at the serpent-worm’s tongue about his neck. Again and again he hacked and the luminous glowing blade did its work, cutting great lumps from the beast’s mouth and as its black blood flowed into the river, slowly the pressure eased and Lambton could breathe again. But still the great serpent-worm’s body held him in a vice like grip. Tighter and tighter drew the coils, and the jagged bony spine of the beast, like a rust woodsman’s saw threatened to cut Lambton in two!

But as the serpent worm squeezed harder, magical spear heads began to appear on his leather armour – and the harder the grip of the serpent worm, the deeper the spear heads went – slicing through the scales and causing torrents of black blood to flow into the river. Enraged the beast thrashed around and just in time Lambton caught sight of the whip tail flashing towards his head. Instantly he drew is sword and parried the whip-tail, and sliced it off with his next blow. Then he twisted in what was left of the serpent-worm’s coils, just as its mighty jaws snapped shut where he’d been a moment before. Lambton looked into the terrible protruding eyes that he’s first seen all those years before. And he drove his magical sword through the left eye, deep into the beast’s head.

It writhed in agony thrashing the water of the Wear into a foaming frothing mass. But the enchanted sword held fast and the beast gradually weakened its grip on life and, as he drew the magical blade from its hole, the beast slid off the blade, and drifted down the river to the east, and a watery grave in the sea.

Lambton staggered from the water exhausted but exalted – he’d freed his father’s lands from the serpent-worm and the blight – the sun came out strongly for the first time in years and the it seemed that the grass has already turned a brighter shade of green than it had before the fight."

The men in the hall grinned at each other at the account of the successful outcome of the fight – they loved it when the gods helped a warrior to win – particularly when fighting dark magical beasts – it made for a fairer fight!

“Lambton took up his hunting horn and made three almighty blasts that echoed around the valley. Hearing the blasts ringing clearly from the valley, Lord Lambton was overjoyed! His son was alive! The serpent-worm must be gone. Already the darkness that had afflicted his lands seemed to be lifting, as the sun’s rays shone between the grey clouds that were now clearing before his eyes. He called to his steward to prepare a great feast in celebration – and he began to run down the path to meet his son. On he ran, plunging into the woods down to the river, round turn in the path – and there was his fine young son, smiling and grinning as he walked slowly up the path, swishing his unsheathed sword from side to side, glad to be alive! But as soon as he saw his father, the smile disappeared from young Lambton’s face. The colour drained from his cheeks, his face turned ashen pale. Aghast – he looked at his father.
“Father – where’s the dog?” He cried. “Where’s the hunting dog so that I can pay the price and finally lift the curse from our family?”

Now it was Lord Lambton’s turn to stop in horror. He’d forgotten about his son’s instruction. The damned dog was still tied to its kennel.

They stood silently for a moment – both understanding the consequences of the situation.
To lift the curse finally, Young Lambton had to kill the first living thing he encountered after the fight. The first living thing he saw was his father. He was damned if he killed his father, and damned if he didn’t. He now had no chance of walking across the bridge to the Otherworld, to take his place with the great warriors gone before – damned to spend his eternity wandering as a lost soul. He could not kill his Father. They both knew. They held each other’s arms, and tears streamed down their faces. Slowly they walked back to the hall, and called off the feast.

The following Year, Lord Lambton was out hunting on his favourite horse, when the beast put a foot in a rabbit hole. The sound of the horse’s leg breaking cracked through the woods. Lord Lambton was pitched forward into a great old oak. He died instantly as his neck was broken.

Young Lambton inherited his father’s lands and married a lovely young woman, from his neighbour Lord Lumley’s family. They had a fine boy baby. But when the lad was only 10 summers old, his father, the serpent slayer, was killed in a skirmish with bandits in the woods. Shot in the neck by a stray arrow.

And so it went on – every first born son of the Lambton family met with a tragic end. Some died in battle, some in hunting accidents and some through storm. But always the First born Lambton died prematurely in violent circumstances.

And that is the curse of the Lambton family that continues to this day! This is not the only sign of those dark days of the Serpent worm. They say that the ridges running around the side of Penshaw Hill, still to be seen, are the remains of the marks gouged out by the serpent-worm disturbed and despatched by young Lambton, those many years ago”.


And just in case anyone thinks I made this up, I did not! I might have taken a few liberties with the timings (I placed it in my own time, about 700 AD), but attached is a picture of Penshaw hill as it is today:

http://gallery.photo.net/photo/6705643-lg.jpg

The monument is a much later addition, (Victorian I think) but the the ridges you can see clearly following the contours amongst the trees and bushes are definitely the marks left by a giant serpent-worm.

And there's even a song, best heard in the Geordie vernacular, like so:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsO7SeCvgMw

So it must be true. Just be careful next time you go fishing!

Caigwyn

Ishtar
January 4th, 2010, 04:12 PM
Thank you, Cai!

A wonderful tale for a dark, winter's evening around a crackling log fire!

I'm always so busy concentrating on foreign dragon or serpent slaying gods that I didn't realise that we had our own British one!! Was this originally a Celtic story do you think? I think King Arthur PenDRAGON's knights were always off slaying dragons, but they were usually land-based. I was wondering, though, if there was anything about the serpent/dragon in the Mabinogion.

The truly ancient serpents that get slain in myths are always water serpents or monsters (like Indra and Vrittra, Krishna and Kaliya, Thor and the Midgard Serpent, Zeus and the Typhon, Marduk and Tiammat etc) and so the image of Young Lambton up to his waist in water must come from an older strand than the King Arthur stories, whose serpents were usually on dry land.

http://www.1st-art-gallery.com/thumbnail/196071/1/Krishna-Squeezed-By-The-Kaliya-Serpent,-From-Voyage-Aux-Indes-Et-A-La-Chine-By-Pierre-Sonnerat,-Engraved-By-Poisson,-Published-1782.jpg

There is also much patricide in the ancient myths, which can seem shocking to those untrained in reading mythology. But it is only shocking if one regards myths as cautionary or morality tales. They are not. The plotlines represent allegories which have deeper meanings, and as with all serpent myths, the purpose of the plot is to create renewal, rebirth and regeneration, in that the old gives way to the new, like the snake sloughing off its old skin.

Because Lambton was too attached to the old (his father) he was unable to kill him (slough him off) and therefore, ever after that, ensuing generations of Lambtons were sickly and died early, all because young Lambton had been unable to perform the rite that would regenerate the Lambtons into perpetuity.

http://www.thekrishnastore.com/catalog/MPRP135b.jpg

By the way, Cai, do you think Penshaw Hill is an earthwork serpent mound?

Caigwyn
January 4th, 2010, 11:38 PM
Hello Ishtar

I'm glad you enjoyed the story. And thank you for casting your eye over the draft - much appreciated by us who know punctuation (on a good day) but whose fingers get in the way. Bah!

I don't know that there are many other waterbourne serpents in the British tradition. Mainly they are known as worms or wyrms, and the one Lambton killed is the classic example. In my time (that of Lord Arthur, may the gods protect him) the main legends are of Dragon based beasts - sometimes Firebreathing, sometimes, not, sometimes protecting hoards of gold, sometimes able to fly.

A much later bard called Tolkien will name his dragon Smaug in a story called the Hobbit. Smaug is a name taken from the German smugen meaning to squeeze though a hole - Smaug clearly was worm like!

And the poets say the word Wyrm or worm is derived from the Scandinavian word "orm" - which means snake - so all these mythical beasts are related - interbreeding perhaps to create yet more terror! Many current and past British place names feature "orm" or "worm" - showing that in days gone by, such creatures were common, throughout the land.

I know the Sais from over the water have other monsters, such as Grendel and his mother, and Beowulf himself slays a Dragon in their tale.

But there are earlier references to Dragons in the Tales the Bards tell. Some say the White horse at Uffington, made by the old people, is the horse of George who the Christians will later canonise - who it is said, slayed a dragon on nearby Dragon Hill. Some say the reason there is no vegetation on top of that hill is that the Dragon's blood poisoned the soil and that the white horse is not a horse at all, but the remains of the shadow of the slain Dragon itself.

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/upload/img_400/se_uffington_horse_01.jpg

I can't see that myself, but successive generations may well have changed the shapes over time, as they cleaned the Chalk.

The Bards from from Dyfed tell tales of good king Llud - for whom Londinnium, the Roman town on the Thames was named. During his time there were three curses on the land:
* An invasion by sinister folk known as the Coranieid, who came from far away in Arabia and could hear every word ever spoken, carried by the wind
* An awful shriek heard every May eve - which drove people mad, and from where it came, no one could tell
* The disappearance of food from the royal stores, with no thieves ever being caught.

Now, the Shriek was said to be the sound of a British Dragon fighting a foreign one. The Druids advised Llud to find the exact centre of Britain, and there dig a pit. Into the pit he should place a vat of mead and cover it with a silken cloth. When they next grew tired of fighting the dragons would turn into piglets and fall into the vat of mead. They would drink themselves into a stupor and Llud could wrap them in a cloth and bury them in a safe place.

The men from across the northern sea, the Norse, also have tales to tell - their God Thor was continually fighting a world dragon, who was so long he wrapped himself around the world - able to catch hold of his own tale in his mouth.

The main purpose of dragons was to guard the hoard of a king's gold. Gold that had been accumulated and guarded for an age (note - not forever) by a dragon - who would find his way into the hoard buried with the king in his mound, on the king's journey to the Otherworld. And woe betide anyone who tries to steal anything from under the dragon's nose. Even if the dragon was asleep, and the thief makes a getaway,the dragon will wake eventually and, knowing his stash intimately, will instantly know that a piece is missing. And then the dragon will wreak his vengeance on the local populace. Which is how Beowulf gets involved with his

Killing Dragons was also seen as being work for enchantment. In the tale of the Hobbit for example, the dragon is slain by an archer. But no ordinary archer, and no ordinary arrow. The archer was a man called Bard, who had three gifts:
* Prophecy, through which he was able to predict the dragon's coming, and warn the local people.
* An unfailing arrow - which was an heirloom, having been passed from father to son. The father's realm had previously been destroyed by the dragon
* An inherent understanding of flight - his knowledge of birds gave him understanding of the weak points in the dragon's armour.

Beowulf himself had magical powers - gained over time - and he forged an Iron Shield with which to protect himself from his fire breather. But even he needed help. Whilst Beowulf himself despatched the Dragon with a dagger stab, he was losing the fight at one point. Eleven of his twelve bravest warriors had fled - only young Wiglaf stood by his master, and dealt the beast a near mortal blow with his sword - striking at the beast's soft underbelly.

The sloughing of skin also resonates in the British tradition. As you say, this represents the circle of life - the past which in old times is always present, the present and the future - which can not arrive until the closure of the present. Sloughing of skin represents renewal by the closure of the past and present.

I hope this casts a bit more light on British Worms, Wyrms, Dragons, other beasts of the wyrd and their slayers.

Caigwyn

For the Scholars there is more in the following books:
The Real Middle Earth = Brian Bates
Mythology of the British Isles = Geoffrey Ashe.

mamashakyhand
January 5th, 2010, 02:39 PM
Great story, Caigwyn!

Whilst reading this I remembered seeing a film, quite a few years back, by Ken Russell, 'The Lair of the White Worm' It was done in his usual frantic style, but it came to mind as I read this...looked it up and saw it was based loosely on a Bram Stoker story, drawing on the myth of the Lambton Worm!!

Here's the link:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lair_o ... Worm_(film (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lair_of_the_White_Worm_(film))


Cass :)) x