"Writing a book is the art of listening to oneself."-Brad Cameron

Friday, August 30, 2013

Origins of the Korrigan

In Book One of The Zeke Proper Chronicles: Odin’s Light, I introduce readers to a creature that temporarily occupies the deep dark waters of the Stick River. A meandering river located near the ocean side town of Alder Cove, the Stick is a place shrouded in darkness and mystery. Its location is considered haunted. None of the inhabitants of the town of Alder Cove go there - well, almost none of them. It is a site to be shunned and has been for centuries. Why? Because it’s where the Korrigan goes to lie in wait for its payment for years of prosperity - the sacrifice of Alder Cove.

So what exactly is the Korrigan and what are its roots?
Much of what I include in the stories of Zeke Proper are references to Norse mythology. Sort of a retelling of the stories with slightly different characters and circumstances. The Korrigan, however, finds its beginnings in Celtic mythology. Originally found in Irish literature, most of us are probably aware of references to banshees, which actually means "woman of fairy mound" or just simply as "fairy woman". Ban or bean meaning "woman".
Photo Credit: (c) Wikipedia Commons
(c) Wikipedia Commons
In Irish and Scottish Gaelic folklore traditions the banshee came to mean a female wraith or spirit, whose terrifying howls foretell the death of a particular person in a specific household. This banshee was tied to a person or family, sort of like an attendant fairy. (Note how this coincides with the Proper Family).

In my telling of Odin’s Light, I have taken the myth of the Banshee and combined her with the Breton fairy woman known as the Korrigan, a type of banshee that not only foretells a death, but also causes it. Then, I took this a step further, relating the banshee to the Washer or Washer-woman at the Ford, known in Scottish folklore as “bean nighe”.

"Bean nighe” was a Scottish Gaelic name for the Washer at the Ford. The Washer or Washerwoman can be found in almost every Celtic culture. In the Scottish Gaelic tradition, the washer is the harbinger of death.

According to the Scottish Gaelic tradition, the bean nighe was a woman who died at child birth. She was described as a woman dressed in green, but can be recognized by her webbed feet standing next to a stream or lake, washing bloodstained clothes of those who would die.

Of course there are Celtic myths that surround these creatures and they carry with them the same kind of foreboding that the Korrigan in Odin’s Light carries with it. In this retelling, I take my information from www.timelessmyths.com.

The most common female fairies in the Breton tradition are the korrigans that resided in the woods, especially at Broceliande, often near a stream, spring or fountain. She was a fairy that seeks a mortal lover.

The korrigan was probably a pagan druidess originally. She was equated with gwragedd annwn – the Welsh fairies of the lake and streams.

She tried to seduce mortal men who would drink from her water. Finding them unawares she would attempt to lure a weary traveler to sleep with her. If the man refused her advance or seduction, she would angrily curse him to a doom. This is what happened to the Seigneur of Nann.

The Seigneur was married to a woman whom he loved. One day, his wife asked for some May-blossoms from the forest. The Seigneur rode out, but during his ride, he became thirsty and drank the water from a nearby fountain. Here, the Seigneur encountered the Korrigan who demanded that he sleep with her. But the Seigneur angrily refused because he was faithful to his wife and rode away after hearing that he would die in three days. He turned and rode from the woodland as a man possessed. As he drew homeward he was overshadowed by a sense of coming ill. At the gate of his château stood his mother, anxious to greet him with good news of his bride and the child she would soon bear him. But with averted eyes he addressed her in the refrain so familiar to the folk-poetry of all lands: 

"My good mother, if you love me, make my bed. I am sick unto death. Say not a word to my bride. For within three days I shall be laid in the grave. A Korrigan has done me evil."

The priest, his mother and other people kept the secret of his fate from his wife. Three days later, the Seigneur's mother finally told her daughter-in-law the truth. The wife died of broken heart and was buried beside the Seigneur.

The tragedy that surrounds the evil summons of the Breton Korrigan is also the kind of tragedy that encompasses the lives of Zeke and the rest of his family in Odin’s Light. As you read on in the books that follow in the Zeke Proper Chronicles, you will discover that the appearance of the Korrigan is only the beginning of a very long and arduous journey for the story’s hero.

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