Tales from the Northern Forests
Includes the short Halloween tale
'The Wedding of Sir Gawain'
In the old days a new day would not start in the middle of the night,
at 00.00am, as we are used to, but at sunset. So when our ancestors celebrated Halloween, as they did, the new day November 1st or 'All Saints Day' had already begun.
Hallow means saintly or holy and the word Halloween is a shortening of All Hallows' Evenings.
And now you know, why Halloween is celebrated the night of October 31st and not on the night of November 1st.
On the night of October 31st Americans will tell scary stories about ghosts and mummies. The Irish and Scottish will tell tales or their ancestors. (In fact it were the Irish and Scottish immigrants who brought Halloween to America.)
And Christians will wait till morning and then they go to the graveyards where they will remember their dead. Although I have heard of some who will go during the night...
After Halloween, the country people of Dartmoor (UK) declare that blackberries and sloes are no longer fit to eat because the fairies piss
In Ireland the last blackberries of the season are stamped on by the pooka.
Just like the people of Dartmoor Irish people won't eat blackberries after Halloween.
The wedding of Sir GawainA short Arthurian tale for Halloween
Retold by Brigitte Franssen; illustrated by Jef Franssen
At the door stood the most loathly lady that ever...
It was the middle of October. Gawain was riding back to his castle. A blue sky stretched out above him; not a cloud in sight. The air felt mild - warm even - as if summer was saying her final goodbyes. Gawain enjoyed the mild warmth and the sun on his face. Like the blue, cloudless sky above him not a single worry was troubling his mind when, suddenly, his horse stopped dead in its tracks. Gawain saw a dark hooded figure gliding towards him, with in his hand a scythe: the Reaper.
"Who are you?" asked the Reaper, "am I to take you with me?"
"I am Sir Gawain, Knight of the round Table," answered Gawain, "There are still many quests waiting for me and many good deeds for me to do."
"So Gawain, if you are indeed a knight and worthy of more days on this earth and in these forests then tell me this: "What is it that women desire most?" Gawain looked a bit baffled at the Reaper. And the Reaper continued:
"Make sure the next time we meet you have an answer or you will lose not only your life but also your knighthood."
And with those words the Reaper glided past Gawain but didn't touch him.
Gawain could feel a chill in the air as he continued his journey home. He was worried. He and the Reaper would meet again on the next last day of summer which probably gave him about a year to find the answer. Still, he thought it wise to ride out first thing tomorrow and start his search.
love, a husband,
a handsome husband, a faithful husband, no husband,
a baby, an heir, no more babies,
gold, silver, pearls and diamonds,
a warm bed, a comfortable chair, a castle,
a new dress, two new dresses and furs,
a servant, lots of servants, loyal servants.
These were just a few of the answers Gawain found. But he knew none of them was right. Almost two weeks had passed. He had just returned from another day searching for the answer and it was already getting dark. He was happy to be home. Nobody liked to be out and about on the night of Halloween. The fire was lit and he just wanted to sit down when there was heavy knock on the door.
At the door stood the most loathly lady that ever the eye of man rested upon. Her face was red like a tomato. Long yellow teeth showed between wide, weak and pale lips. Her nose was big and wide and covered with warts. Her head was set upon a short, thick neck from which the shoulders drooped down as if gravity was too much for them.
"All hail," she shrieked in a shrill, cracked voice.
"Lady, said Sir Gawain, "I greet thee, what can I do for you? What do you want?"
"Ah, Sir Gawain," she cried, "Wouldn't you like to know that! Wouldn't you like to know what women desire most and save your life and your knighthood? The true answer I can tell you and tell you I will on our wedding night."
"I can not marry you!" exclaimed Gawain. The loathly lady squinted at Gawain with her red-rimmed eyes. In a low sleazy voice she whispered, "You will not only lose your life on this earth and in these forests but also you knighthood, my lord."
So that night on Halloween Sir Gawain married the loathly lady and took her to their wedding chamber.
The next morning Gawain woke up early in the marital bed. For a moment he wondered if it had all just been dream. Then he turned and looked at the other side of the bed. There only inches away from him lay the most beautiful lady that ever his eyes had rested upon.
"Lady", he said "wake up." "What are you doing here? Who are you?"
In a soft voice that sounded like music she replied, "I am your bride and I am what women or any soul for that matter desires most. But I am equally cursed by many souls and by many dark forces. That is why you could not see my true shape and form till you married and got to know me. But still their curses are not lifted entirely. Either by day or by night can I be fair, you must choose.
Gawain fell back into the pillows, a little bewildered and amazed.
"Bethink you now!" she continued in her melodic voice, "If I am foul by day what you must endure during the day. Bethink you also what you must endure when I am foul by night. Choose now, which it shall be."
Gawain pushed himself back up to face his new bride. "Lady, he said, "in this matter the word rests not with me. You alone must choose what you want most."
"You are a true knight, my lord" the beautiful lady said, "you just gave me what any woman, or any soul - for the soul is female - desires most. By this you have undone every curse forever. In the fair form in which you see me now I shall be yours by both day and night."
It wasn't until the following day, the 2nd of November, that Sir Gawain and his new beautiful bride rode out. Gawain saw how the oppressed longed for her and how the oppressors despised and cursed her. But their curses blew away in the soft wind.
Above them the sky was blue. Not a cloud was in sight. The air felt mild, warm even. Gawain was enjoying the mild warmth, the sun on his face and the presence of his beautiful bride when, suddenly, his horse stopped dead in its tracks.
A dark hooded figure came gliding towards him. It was as if he glided instead of walked and in his hand he carried a scythe. "We meet again Sir Gawain, said the Reaper, "am I to take you with me?" "I hope not," answered Gawain, "I have found the answer and taken her as my bride".
"You certainly have Sir Gawain," answered the Reaper. "You give what any soul desires most: the freedom to choose and decide for herself and do what she wants to do. Because of that you have gained the right to your own choices and decisions. So I ask you again:
"There are still many quests waiting for me and many good deeds for me to do, don't take me yet. But the day will come when old and weary I will look forward to seeing you."
"Your wish is my command," said the Reaper, "until that day then." And he glided past Sir Gawain but didn't touch him. Gawain heaved a sigh of relief. He looked at his lovely bride and felt like the happiest man on earth. For he got what he desired most: Freedom of Choice.
~ The End ~
The Tales of the Northern Forests continue: