Author’s Note: This post was started months and months ago, and then ended up getting left on the wayside as I got tied up in other things. Now it has become more topical in the daftest, worst possible way, I thought I’d come back and finish it…
Ages ago I did a post on real-life experiences with magic, otherwise known as That One Time the city of Carlisle accidentally cursed itself and everyone just had to dealwith it.
At the time of writing, I wasn’t really planning on turning it into a series at all, but then I stumbled upon a couple of comments on an internet thread, and did a bit more digging and low and behold I have another case study for us all to enjoy!
As writers, especially fantasy or science-fiction writers, we like to imagine that the discovery of a real-life example of magic would throw our whole world into turmoil. It would be a sensation! It would revolutionise everything!
For example, imagine some nice ordinary angler was fishing away, minding their own business, on the banks of the Loch Ness, in Scotland? And after a long day of not much happening – which I understand can happen a lot in fishing? – at last! There is a nibble on their line! And then there is an enormous tug! And another one! And finally with a great heave, up comes …
The Loch Ness Monster!
Now, after what I assume must have been a … somewhat fraught few minutes, in which the angler in question apparently develops the kind of Herculean muscles necessary to haul up something of the estimated size and weight of ol’ Nessie, well… What happens next?
I mean, after he rings his wife up and panics to her, and she asks him if he’s been drinking again, and he finally assures her, presumably through a lot of camera phone photos that he really does have Nessie on the shore with him and she panics and all that.
Actually, it turns out, what comes next is that some lovely people from the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) Department will be wanting to have a Conversation with our unlucky angler immediately. It would also mean that this heroic, lone office that actually has it’s paperwork in order would swoop in to finally make use of those forms they’ve been sitting on for a while.
Because of course the first thing on the agenda is ‘Do we have the forms correctly filled out yet?’
Real life, it seems, has no time for our sense of dramatic tension. Go figure.
However, it does mean that we must now take a moment to sit down and truly appreciate the fact that back in 2001, during a period of very heightened interest in Nessie and the catching thereof, the heroes over at SNH sat down in a serious office, in their serious grown-up suits and seriously asked the question: “Wait. What if someone actually catches the old girl?”
Yes. That happened.
In fact, this has actually happened a few times over the course of recent history, and friends, I cannot tell you how much every single one of these conversations delights me!
Way back in 1971, Cutty Sark (the whiskey manufacturer, not the boat) offered an award of one million pounds (because of course that’s the figure you’d pluck from the air as a reward) to anyone who could capture the Loch Ness Monster. But, and I can’t imagine why or how this happened, they began to get cold feet. Because I guess in the 1970’s it was starting to look like this might actually happen?
In fairness, back in the 1970’s there had been a lot, and I do mean a lot of interest, and there were a huge number of sightings coming in every year, and a (excuse the pun) boat-load of scientific expeditions trying to find any trace of Nessie they could find. Monster-hunter, the late Robert Rines, took an underwater photo (right) deemed so convincing that scientists at Harvard and the Smithsonian Institution expressed genuine and serious interest. (It was later connected to a strobe light, I think, and thus disqualified.)
So I suppose that at the time, it might have looked like there was a very good chance that the whiskey-men would have to actually stump up some serious cash any day now.
And that clearly hadn’t been the plan.
So the nice people at Cutty Sark asked Lloyds of London, the insurance people, to underwrite the contest. The insurance company actually agreed to this, but only on the condition that it would get to keep Nessie.
Yes, Lloyds of London wanted to keep Nessie.
I have… a few questions, number one being: What on Earth was Lloyds of London going to do with their very own folkloric sea-monster?!
Where would they even put it? Did they want her alive? Was an intern going to have to feed her and take her for walks, no swims? Were they going to feed under-performing managers to her?
Now, in fairness, initially Lloyds had apparently turned the Cutty Sark people down. Not, I feel I should stress here, because someone in the board room said ‘Hey, Mike? This seems a little silly, and all. Maybe we have better things to do around here?’
Nope, apparently they also considered that the risk that they would have to pay out on this thing to be “too great.”
People who were around in the 1970’s? Your world sounds like it was amazing, and I would almost like to move there…
Anyway, in true British fashion, Lloyds got called chickens for not wanting to stump up the cash on the off-chance of finding Nessie, and Lloyds said ‘What the heck? Let’s go for this crazy scheme.’ Again, the 1970’s sound like they were a whole fantasy novel on their own, and I’m mad I didn’t get to write it…
If you’re curious, the contract apparently went as follows:
“As far as this insurance is concerned, the Loch Ness Monster shall be deemed to be:
In excess of 20 feet in length.
Acceptable as the Loch Ness Monster to the curators of the Natural History Museum, London.
In the event of loss hereunder, the monster shall become the property of the underwriters hereon.”
Which also means that another development in this – frankly amazing – story would have been that some unsuspecting researcher in the Natural History Museum could have one day, out of the blue, received the single greatest phone call of their life. Again, just picture the scene!
“Ah, good morning, are you the person to speak to about sea-reptiles?”
“Yes, how can I help?”
“Oh good! We need you to come and identify Nessie for us.”
“It’s Lloyds of London calling.”
“This explains absolutely nothing, but thank you.”
Nowadays, thankfully, the question of what on earth do you do with the Loch Ness Monster once you’ve gone and caught her has been nicely cleared up by those lovely people over at SNH. There is, as is the way with government, a code of practice all drawn up to offer protection to any new species found in the loch, including a monster. It stipulates that a DNA sample should be taken from any new creature, and then it should be promptly and carefully released back into the loch.
Put that thing back where it came from or so help me, indeed.
So … Sorry, Lloyds of London, no pet sea-monster for you…
In the event that you feared that the insurance companies of the world have settled down about Nessie though, I am happy to report that a touch of magic still remains for us all.
Back in 2005, when Scotland’s biggest triathlon was happening in and around Loch Ness, the swimmers were all insured, for again no less than £1 million, per swimmer, against being bitten by the Loch Ness Monster. You know… Just in case?
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Greetings all! I interrupt your week to show you this: Ivan has found himself a teacup to sleep in and it’s adorable!
Behold the Cuteness!
Sorry, I probably should have warned you. Too much sweetness can be fatal, I hear.
Anyway, I was trying to find a tea-related dragon story to share with you all and have yet to be successful, which is a shame.
But all is not lost!
Indeed I do have a drink-related tale to tell, and I hope that you will find it to be a suitable substitute?
We are returning to Ireland, a place we haven’t visited since St Patrick’s day. Back then we remembered the fearsome Lig-na-Baste, but today’s story is a little funnier, despite the dragon being even bigger!
The Ollipeist’s Very Difficult Nap
The Ollipeist was a big dragon – no, not big, the Ollipeist was a huge dragon.
The clue is in his name: in Irish Gaelic ‘Oll’ means ‘great’ and ‘Peist’ means ‘fabulous beast’. I like to imagine him being all decked out in gems and shiny things, like Smaug but there’s no evidence that this was so. It would have been pretty fabulous though.
What we do know is that it took a whole lake for the Ollipeist to sleep in. Now most dragons used to sleep in the bends of rivers and little underground pools deep in the mountains, but that would not have fitted the Ollipeist. He was far too big to have fitted in such a tight spot.
Sidenote: Dragons like to sleep in water to help support their huge forms while they are unable to keep shifting their weight. Failure to solve such a problem can lead to a dragon effectively suffocating under its own body-weight, despite the strength of its ribs. Ivan’s a little too small for this to be a problem, but the tea cup seems to give him a better night’s sleep regardless.
The Ollipeist was a gentle giant, despite his huge size, he spent his time quietly swimming in his lake and talking to people who came to visit him. The Ollipeist liked people, and people liked him. On sunny afternoons he would come out of the lake and bask in the sunshine and the braver people might come close enough to tickle his belly and see if they could make him laugh.
Sadly, Saint Patrick had undertaken to drive all the dragons out of Ireland along with their snake and serpent cousins, and it is entirely understandable that the Ollipeist was upset when he heard this. A generally peaceful and benign dragon, rather than roaring and destroying whole villages, the Ollipeist instead went to go and sulk in his lake.
Dragons are very serious and dignified.
Sadly, just as the Ollipeist was about to fall into a grumpy nap, along the road comes a piper – a local lad called O’Rourke. O’Rourke had been celebrating a friend’s birthday, drinking after playing his pipes for the dancing, and as such was utterly sloshed.
Now, there are doubtless many people who can be completely drunk and still play beautifully, but O’Rourke was not such a man. He played with much enthusiasm, but with a skill completely unworthy of his more sober talents.
The Ollipeist grumbled to himself even more and tried to sink under the surface of the water to block out the noise.
It wasn’t working.
He tried blowing bubbles at the piper, and making the ground shake to show that he was in no mood to be disturbed, but O’Rourke remained cheerfully oblivious.
Finally the Ollipeist had had enough. With a great wave of water, the dragon rose out of his lake, reached out with his long neck and swallowed O’Rourke in one gulp!
Swallowing him down, the Ollipeist sank back into his lake. Maybe he felt a little bit bad about eating the piper, but at least the noise had stopped.
Luckily for O’Rourke, Ollipeist was so big that he made it past the dragon’s teeth, down his throat and into his huge stomach entirely unharmed.
Not that it made much difference to him at the time, for he was still far too drunk to have realised his predicament. With the grace of the truly inebriated, he hadn’t even dropped his pipes in the excitement, and he continued to march up and down the, to him, strange squishy cave, playing away just as he had before.
The Ollipeist groaned to himself. Was there no end to his terrible day? And now the noise was coming from his own body, so there was no escaping the awful racket the piper was putting out.
Some days it’s hard to be a dragon.
He tried to see if he could sleep through the noise, in case his mass had muffled the sound or the piper would stop soon?
No such luck. If anything the music was even louder now, and the piper’s marching back and forth was giving him a tummy ache.
Finally the Ollipeist could take it no longer and with a bit of wiggling and heaving all round, he was able to spit O’Rourke out again. He gave the man a bit of a push in the direction of the party he had left, and sank back below the water again.
Maybe the water would soothe the aches in his head and his stomach? Maybe when O’Rourke has staggered far enough away the Ollipeist could get some sleep and it would all be better in the morning?
Happily, in the end the Ollipeist was never killed.
Unfortunately Saint Patrick did eventually come after him, and the Ollipeist had to run away from him, fleeing to the ocean. As he fled, his tail carved the great Shannon Valley.
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So some friends and I were having lunch at the weekend and we got talking, as you do, about horror films and such. (Everyone else does this, right?)
We were focusing on our incomprehension about the local communities in stories where there’s a long history of haunted happenings (the vicious murder that resulted in this angry ghost took place in 1647, for example) and why no one in the local communities ever seems to know what’s going on or have dealt with it.
Like, humans are a lot more astute than that and even if they don’t know what may be causing the problem, they will learn to avoid it if necessary. The Romans didn’t know what malaria was, but they knew if they built their cities near swamps then the people who lived there became really sick really quickly… so they just didn’t build their cities next to swamps. If there’s a wood next to your village that people walk into and never walk out of, you can absolutely bet that people are going to pick up on that pretty quickly, especially in a largely intransient population like rural areas. Oh sure, in modern times it’s easy to write a bunch of characters who dismiss such supernatural occurrences as superstitious nonsense, but the plain hard fact is that if there is a problem which directly affects you living right next door, you’re not going to cling to that idea for very long.
From there it just seemed natural to talk about what we thought people’s reaction today really would be to finding out that ghosts were real or stumbling across magical objects.
Would the news report on it, or ignore it as being too weird to publish in a professional newspaper? Obviously if there was something visible that showed up on camera then YouTube would be full of shaky phone-footage of it and the comments’ section would be filled with people trying to work out the trick. But what if it wasn’t? Because we all know that if there aren’t pictures, it never happened right? What would it take for the science community to show up and try to figure out if everything they assumed about the world was wrong?
This got me thinking and then I remembered that in some way I did actually know what would happen! Because I lived through a small instance of this happening and I will always remember what it felt like and how people reacted.
So, in the interests of writers everywhere who struggle with the idea of what people would do in the face of real-life magic, I want to tell you all a story from not so long ago. A story of people realising that something was amiss in their community and refusing to just leave things to continue. Because it seems that when there’s evil magic afoot, the result is that someone, somewhere, will eventually call in a solution.
This is the story of how the people of Carlisle made themselves a magic stone and then wondered if they’d cursed their whole city by accident.
It is also a true story.
The Cursed Stone of Carlisle
The year was 2001 and to celebrate the New Millennium, the local museum of Tullie House and Carlisle City Council commissioned and erected a granite sculpture; a great polished stone engraved with the words of a 16th century curse. For in that time the lands all along the border between England and Scotland were ravaged by clans of reivers who stole all they could and burned what they could not take, were blackmailers and highwaymen. They were daring people, who evaded capture by the law, and to this day many tales are told of their exploits, both good and bad.
But you can well imagine that such people were not looked kindly upon by the Church, who often lost precious bibles, chalices and plate to those thieving hordes. And in the year 1525 the Archbishop of Glasgow, a man by the name of Gavin Dunbar, finally lost his patience. He placed a curse upon the Border Reivers, and commanded that it be read aloud in every parish of the borderlands, so that all would hear and know that the curse had been cast.
Pretty spooky stuff.
Then along come artists Gordon Young and Andy Altman, who turn this terrible curse into a beautiful piece of artwork. It gets installed, with much ceremony in the under-ground entrance to Tully House, and then…
I feel that BBC Cumbria’s article at the time best summarised what came over the next five years:
“Livestock herds around the city on the border with Scotland were wiped out by foot-and-mouth disease, there has been a devastating flood, factories have closed, a boy was murdered in a local bakery and Carlisle United soccer team dropped a league.” [Full article]
Reporter Tanya Gold, from the Guardian, said it was like a “Universal horror film… or a Hammer lesbian-vampire tale” (which incidentally is remarkably specific, Tanya…). Either way, there was a definite sense that something was horribly wrong in the City of Carlisle since the Curse Stone was erected.
Small wonder, for many of the people living in the city of Carlisle are descended from strong reiver families; the Armstrongs, the Gordons, the Elliots and Bells, the Grahams, the Littles and the Ridleys. In the light of this fact, you kind definitely see the logic of these concerns. If the curse was placed on reivers and their families, then a whole city full of their descendants is one hell of a Risk Assessment fail!
Leslie Irving, a local man and editor of a Christian publication Bound Together gives a chilling idea of what the city was facing: “There is absolutely no doubt,” he said, “that when Dunbar laid the curse he did it in absolute sincerity. He wanted harm to come to the Reivers. The stone was created to attract tourists but what has it attracted? A baby held by his mother had his throat slashed in the town centre a few years ago. The man who created the project died. The man who opposed the project died. The only high-ranking Christian to speak out – the Bishop of Lancaster – died. The Archbishop of Glasgow died.”
Finally, it seems, enough was enough. In 2005, the amazingly-named local councillor Jim Tootle demanded that the 14-ton stone be removed and destroyed. As Councillor Tootle (never not calling him that) declared; “[s]ince the millennium project, there have been several disasters reaching biblical proportions. Many groups and individuals warned the council that the placing of a non-Christian artefact, based on an old curse on local families, would bring ill luck to the city.” [Full Article]
Local religious leaders were equally sure that something needed to be done. The Rev Kevin Davies, the vicar of Scotby and Cotehill with Cumwhinton, was adamant that the stone be destroyed;
“Clearly, the council holds matters spiritual in such trivial regard that it can cheerfully commission the equivalent of a loaded gun and regard it as a tourist attraction,” he wrote in his parish magazine. “Its spiritual violence will act like a cancer underneath the fabric of society. I don’t think anyone in their right mind could argue that this is what Cumbria needs just now.” [Full Article]
Now, Carlisle City Council were not thrilled by the idea, not least because removing the stone would, as the leader of the City Council, Mike Mitchelson explained, have “cost several thousands of pounds,” at a time when the city was already repairing the damage from the flooding.
Gordon Young’s response to the suggestion that his work had brought doom upon his home city was rather more passionate: “If I thought my sculpture would have affected one Carlisle United result, I would have smashed it myself years ago.”
For a while, it seemed that things were at a stalemate. There really were no good answers – do you spend time and money removing and destroying a piece of public art you spent a good deal of grant money erecting in the first place not four years before or do you take the chance that magic is real and you are in its evil presence? The people of Carlisle are a practical lot; if there’s a problem in front of you then don’t sit around pretending it’s not there. You get on with things and fix it. But how?
Thankfully all was not lost! For a compromise was proposed; the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev Graham Dow, rode in to the rescue, and broke the deadlock. A Man of God had placed this curse upon his people, and a Man of God could just come in and fix it!
“I understand that it is a piece of history and it is reasonable for it to be known about, but words have power and in as much as the curse wishes evil on people it should be revoked,” the Bishop said. “If it has to stay I would prefer a blessing to offset it. We can’t treat it as just a joke. People have differing views about spiritual power and its capacity to do evil, but I am sure that it is a real force.”
(Incidentally, does anyone else think that, in times of crisis, it is encouraging to know that the Church has apparently carefully hung onto all the old protocols for ‘We May Have An Evil Curse, Where’s The Undo Code?’)
With the backing of many denominations of Christian churches, Bishop Dow wrote to the Archbishop of Glasgow and requested that he come down to Carlisle to perform an exorcism on the stone. And indeed an exorcism was eventually performed, after which things did seem to settle down, and the stone has been allowed to stay.
But what was that curse which Gavin Dunbar placed upon the Border Reivers?
The brave and bold among you may read it here, but take heed, for who knows what dangers may await you…
The Bishop’s Curse
“I curse their head and all the hairs of their head; I curse their face, their brain (innermost thoughts), their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their forehead, their shoulders, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their womb, their arms, their leggs, their hands, their feet, and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the soles of their feet, before and behind, within and without.
“I curse them going and I curse them riding; I curse them standing and I curse them sitting; I curse them eating and I curse them drinking; I curse them rising, and I curse them lying; I curse them at home, I curse them away from home; I curse them within the house, I curse them outside of the house; I curse their wives, their children, and their servants who participate in their deeds. I (bring ill wishes upon) their crops, their cattle, their wool, their sheep, their horses, their swine, their geese, their hens, and all their livestock. I (bring ill wishes upon) their halls, their chambers, their kitchens, their stanchions, their barns, their cowsheds, their barnyards, their cabbage patches, their plows, their harrows, and the goods and houses that are necessary for their sustenance and welfare.
“May all the malevolent wishes and curses ever known, since the beginning of the world, to this hour, light on them. May the malediction of God, that fell upon Lucifer and all his fellows, that cast them from the high Heaven to the deep hell, light upon them.
“May the fire and the sword that stopped Adam from the gates of Paradise, stop them from the glory of Heaven, until they forebear, and make amends.
“May the evil that fell upon cursed Cain, when he slew his brother Abel, needlessly, fall on them for the needless slaughter that they commit daily.
“May the malediction that fell upon all the world, man and beast, and all that ever took life, when all were drowned by the flood of Noah, except Noah and his ark, fall upon them and drown them, man and beast, and make this realm free of them, for their wicked sins.
“May the thunder and lightning which rained down upon Sodom and Gomorra and all the lands surrounding them, and burned them for their vile sins, rain down upon them and burn them for their open sins. May the evil and confusion that fell on the Gigantis for their opression and pride in building the Tower of Babylon, confound them and all their works, for their open callous disregard and opression.
“May all the plagues that fell upon Pharoah and his people of Egypt, their lands, crops and cattle, fall upon them, their equipment, their places, their lands, their crops and livestock.
“May the waters of the Tweed and other waters which they use, drown them, as the Red Sea drowned King Pharoah and the people of Egypt, preserving God’s people of Israel.
“May the earth open, split and cleave, and swallow them straight to hell, as it swallowed cursed Dathan and Abiron, who disobeyed Moses and the command of God.
“May the wild fire that reduced Thore and his followers to two-hundred-fifty in number, and others from 14,000 to 7,000 at anys, usurping against Moses and Aaron, servants of God, suddenly burn and consume them daily, for opposing the commands of God and Holy Church.
“May the malediction that suddenly fell upon fair Absolom, riding through the wood against his father, King David, when the branches of a tree knocked him from his horse and hanged him by the hair, fall upon these untrue Scotsmen and hang them the same way, that all the world may see.
“May the malediction that fell upon Nebuchadnezzar’s lieutenant, Olifernus, making war and savagery upon true christian men; the malediction that fell upon Judas, Pilate, Herod, and the Jews that crucified Our Lord; and all the plagues and troubles that fell on the city of Jerusalem therefore, and upon Simon Magus for his treachery, bloody Nero, Ditius Magcensius, Olibrius, Julianus Apostita and the rest of the cruel tyrants who slew and murdered Christ’s holy servants, fall upon them for their cruel tyranny and murder of Christian people.
“And may all the vengeance that ever was taken since the world began, for open sins, and all the plagues and pestilence that ever fell on man or beast, fall on them for their openly evil ways, senseless slaughter and shedding of innocent blood.
“I sever and part them from the church of God, and deliver them immediately to the devil of hell, as the Apostle Paul delivered Corinth. I bar the entrance of all places they come to, for divine service and ministration of the sacraments of holy church, except the sacrament of infant baptism, only; and I forbid all churchmen to hear their confession or to absolve them of their sins, until they are first humbled / subjugated by this curse.
“I forbid all christian men or women to have any company with them, eating, drinking, speaking, praying, lying, going, standing, or in any other deed-doing, under the pain of deadly sin.
“I discharge all bonds, acts, contracts, oaths, made to them by any persons, out of loyalty, kindness, or personal duty, so long as they sustain this cursing, by which no man will be bound to them, and this will be binding on all men.
“I take from them, and cast down all the good deeds that ever they did, or shall do, until they rise from this cursing.
“I declare them excluded from all matins, masses, evening prayers, funerals or other prayers, on book or bead (rosary); of all pigrimages and alms deeds done, or to be done in holy church or be christian people, while this curse is in effect.
“And, finally, I condemn them perpetually to the deep pit of hell, there to remain with Lucifer and all his fellows, and their bodies to the gallows of Burrow moor, first to be hanged, then ripped and torn by dogs, swine, and other wild beasts, abominable to all the world. And their candle (light of their life) goes from your sight, as may their souls go from the face of God, and their good reputation from the world, until they forebear their open sins, aforesaid, and rise from this terrible cursing and make satisfaction and penance.”
Hi everyone! You’ve seen a lot of Ivan’s escapades recently, but we could hardly let the Feast of Saint George go by without celebrating it, could we?
Now, you’re all on a solemn oath not to tell Ivan about why we celebrate Saint George just yet, OK? I’m trusting you on this! He’s got hold of the idea that Saint George is the dragon and this is hilarious and adorable! His excitement at the idea of a whole day dedicated to dragons is very sweet to behold.
Ivan’s only a young dragon after all. Saint Patrick was bad enough and all he did was throw all the serpents out of Ireland!
That said, enjoy Ivan hoarding up all the red-and-white books he can find and sit back for a good old English dragon story to celebrate the day!
The Legend of the Lambton Worm
There are some myths which we tell our children, and they are epic and full of great lessons and would make for a really good Hollywood blockbuster (if they haven’t already.)
And then there are the ones which I refuse to believe only I hear and think ‘this absolutely made the front page of the medieval local newspapers.’
The legend of the Lambton Worm is one such story, and incidentally is another contender for that animated children’s TV series I want the BBC to start making pronto! Everything about it is kind of amazing and cool, but is simultaneously one man’s utter idiocy made manifest.
Our story begins with one John Lambton, a young lad who decided to skip going to church one Sunday in favour of going fishing. As he snuck off to the river, he was hailed by an elderly lady, the local wise woman. She frowned sternly at John, telling him solemnly that “nothing good can come of fishing on the Sabbath.” John only laughed at her, and continued on his way.
There is an old saying in fishing circles that “there’s a fine line between fishing and standing on the shore like an idiot,” and apparently John Lambton combined both perfectly. He caught absolutely nothing the whole time church was in session, but once the church service was ended he finally got a bite. To his disappointment, John had not caught himself a good-sized fish however, but a teeny tiny worm of some kind. He didn’t know what it was and thought to take it home with him to ask his father.
It was only as he had walked halfway back to his home that he realised the flaw in his brilliant plan; his father would surely want to know where John had found this creature, and John would have to explain his choice to go fishing instead of going to church. Recognising that his father would take something of a dim view of this mischief, John resolved the problem by simply chucking the worm into a nearby well.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, John Lambton grows up and goes off to fight in the Crusades for seven long years and in his absence all matter of evil was wrought on those he left behind.
Because the teeny tiny worm that John threw into the well began to grow. And grow. And grow and grow and grow. The well became poisoned in the end and the Worm began to venture outside of it to feast on the sheep and cattle in the surrounding fields. And still it grew!
Soon the local farmers and villages began to notice that they had far fewer animals than they ought, and to their horror they found the great Worm, having totally out-grown the well by now, had coiled itself around Penshaw Hill to sleep through the daytime. Having eaten so many sheep and cows, the Worm began to raid the villages too, taking and eating small children. And yet it was so big by now that there was nothing anyone could do to stop it or keep it out!
They turned to the aged Lord Lambton for help. He was far too old to fight the creature, but he was a wise man who had seen much of the world. Lord Lambton finally succeeded in minimising the danger by drugging the Worm daily with the milk of nine cows, enough to fill up a huge stone trough. The Worm was so full after such a rich drink that it was no longer inclined to hunt and eat livestock or children anymore. But things could not go on like this forever…
Thankfully it was at this point that young John Lambton, older and perhaps just a little bit wiser returned home from the Crusades. He was, as you may expect, surprised at the devastation he returned to. The people around Lambton were too tired and plagued by misfortune to greet him with much enthusiasm.
His father, Lord Lambton, explained to John what had befallen the place in his absence, and John, realising the connection between the little worm he had discarded on the estate many years before and the monster which terrorised them now, was sufficiently repentant to declare that he would kill the Lambton Worm.
In a turn of events which at the very least illustrates John Lambton having acquired something in the way of good sense in his travels, John did not go crashing down to Penshaw Hill to slay the beast (or, more likely, be eaten by it!) No, instead John went very humbly and politely to speak with the wise woman whose wisdom he had spurned once before.
She was not pleased to see him, and told him in no uncertain terms of the pain he had brought to people he was beholden to. She did not mince her words in the slightest as she expounded her opinion on his foolish actions and lack of forethought in taking a creature from its proper home and depositing it without thought in a land it was not suited to. Away from the sea, to which it was doubtless swimming from its spawning grounds, the Worm had been forced to turn to other sources of food, and now it must be killed for this.
John’s guilt and embarrassment at her words may be imagined.
Having thoroughly scolded John for his youthful mistakes, the wise woman sat him down at last and told him what to do. He must have fixed to his armour, she said, as many blades and razors as he could she said, for the creature seemed to kill its prey by crushing them to death between its massive coils. The blades would protect against this.
John stood up to leave, much relieved to have both good advice and a ready escape from the wise woman’s words. To his dismay she curtly told him to sit himself back down, for she had not yet finished. As punishment for his thoughtless actions which had harmed farmers, bereaved families and would now lead to the death of a creature entirely out of its natural place in the world, when once John Lambton had killed the Worm, he must then kill the first thing to meet him on his return home. If he failed, she warned, then a full nine generations of his family would not die in their beds…
John tried to protest, but the wise woman would hear none of it and at last John was obliged to take his leave and explain to his father what must be done to free the land of the Lambton Worm… and why the price was being exacted.
The two men hatched a plan between them in the hopes of minimising the damage. Once John had slain the beast, he would blow three blasts on his hunting horn. His father, Lord Lambton, would then release John’s beloved hunting hound which would run to greet him and though John would be deeply grieved to lose his old friend, his father declared that it would be the least to be paid for all that had occurred.
Off John Lambton went in his bladed armour, off to seek and kill the Lambton Worm. His found it at last, down by the river where the whole nightmare had begun. The Worm tried to coil itself around John, but it only succeeded in cutting itself to shreds on his armour and John’s sword finished the job. As the Lambton Worm lay dying, John gave the agreed upon three blasts with his horn.
But Justice is not evaded so easily, now is it?
For John’s father, Lord Lambton had spent a very long and worried day wondering what the fate of his son should be, especially so soon after returning from war. Yes, he was angry with the lad’s poor decisions, but a father’s love cannot be shaken by youthful misdeeds, and he was at his wits’ ends as the sun began to sink in the sky. Finally he heard the three blows from his son’s hunting horn and in his relief and excitement he entirely forgot to release the hunting hound, and ran to greet his son instead!
Oh the despair John Lambton felt as his father embraced him on his return! He tried to avert the disaster by running to kill his hound as soon as possible, but it was too late, and he certainly could not bring himself to slay his father!
And so the Lambton Curse was cast, and the Lambton worm was avenged.
Ah, but perhaps you do not believe in curses, hmm? Well, records are not so easy to come by, I’ll grant you, but this much is certainly known. For Robert Lambton, he drowned in the river at Newrig, and Sir William Lambton was killed in the first battle of the English Civil War at Marston Moor. And William Lambton, his son, died in battle at Wakefield in that same war, so he did.
It is commonly agreed upon that the last Lambton to die from the Curse was Henry Lambton, who died in his carriage while crossing the Lambton Bridge on 26 June 1761. And even those who lived did not escape entirely sane – Henry’s brother, General Lambton, kept a horse whip by his bedside the whole of his life in the hopes of warding off an untimely demise. Perhaps it worked after all, for the General did indeed manage to die in his bed, of old age…
As always, the lesson is clearly to listen when wise ladies tell you to stop doing something foolish and to leave strange mythical creatures where you found them instead of bringing them home!
Hope you enjoyed the retelling, and see you next time!
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I know Saturday isn’t usually a posting day, but Ivan was really keen to celebrate St Patrick’s Day with you all! In honour of the occasion, I’ve allowed him to hoard my green folio books to get into the spirit. Especially since dragons do not wear clothes, and I’d hate for him to be caught without something green!
Truth be told, dragons often have mixed feelings about Saint Patrick, given how he drove their cousins and ancestors out of Ireland back in the day. To this day, Ireland has no serpents, either snakes or their relatives the dragons.
Nevertheless, Ivan is always fascinated by tales of his ancestors, regardless of how those stories tend to end, and so in honour of the day and of the dragons, I wanted to share with you all the story of Lig-na-Paiste, the Last Dragon of Ireland.
In Medieval Irish, Paiste translates to mean ‘pest’ or ‘beast’ but you can be well-assured that Lig-na-Paiste was far more than that! No, Lig-na-Paiste was a Go Hard or Go Home dragon; huge in size, some say eleven feet long with the horns of a ram and long fangs. His scales were the size of dinner plates, and he was seemingly so extra that he both breathed fire and produced a potent venom.
Lig-na-Paiste was ancient, a survivor from the times when the greatest and most terrible dragons were common-place all around the world. He was a cunning old beast, and when Saint Patrick was touring around Ireland and banishing the serpents forever, Lig-na-Paiste hid himself away, curled up in a small pool near the source of the Owenreach River in the Banagher Forest, so that Saint Patrick could not find him.
Years passed and Saint Patrick grew old and finally died, and Lig-na-Paiste thought that it was safe to come out again and cause trouble. He was hungry from hiding away for so long and he quickly gobbled up many of the local herds of cattle. The people were terrified, but they soon heard tale of another holy man, Saint Murrough. Perhaps this man could help save them from the Lig-na-Paiste?
Saint Murrough was a wise man as well as a holy one, and made careful preparations before tackling such powerful creature. He fasted for nine days and nine nights, and he took with him three wooden rods. Then he travelled to Lough Foyle, where Lig-na-Paiste had been sighted.
When Lig-na-Paiste caught sight of Saint Murrough, he laughed to himself, for he was so old that he remembered a time when dragons were appeased by sacrifice so that they might not need to go raiding livestock themselves. He called out and ask Saint Murrough if he had come as a sacrifice, and Saint Murrough did not answer, but only continued to walk quietly forwards.
Finally the two met face to face, and Saint Murrough asked if first, before Lig-na-Paiste began to eat him, the holy man might place the three wooden rods upon Lig-na-Paiste’s huge back?
The dragon did not wish to seem unfeeling, and assuming that this was some new religious practice he was unfamiliar with, said that he did not think that it would cause him any great inconvenience to allow the request. The saint came forward and placed the rods on the dragon’s back, but no sooner had the third rod but put into place, they sprang o life and wrapped themselves around the dragon’s body, trapping his arms and legs so that the beast could no longer move at all!
Then Saint Murrough began to pray fervently, as he had never prayed before in all of his holy life. He asked God that the wooden rods should become as hard and as strong as iron, stronger even, and that Lig-na-Paiste should never be able to escape them.
The dragon raged, and declared that he had been tricked by the man, but the saint would not free him. For Lig-na-Paiste was as cruel and deceptive a creature as had ever been seen, and so he could not be trusted to keep his word about better behaviour in future.
The Lig-na-Paiste continued to struggle, but Saint Murrough said that though the dragon’s strength be great indeed, the strength of the Lord was greater yet.
Finally Saint Murrough banished Lig-na-Paiste down into the waters of Lough Foyle, where he remains to this day. Some say that they can still see the waves on the surface of Lough Foyle moving in strange ways, with unusual tides and currents, and they know that this is caused by Lig-na-Paiste moving around and struggling against his magic bonds.
But he will never be free, not until Judgement Days comes to the world, and by that time, I suppose that it will not matter much that he is freed…
Sadly no books directly from Ireland, but fun all the same!
Thank you to Sophie, who told me the story of Lig-na-Paiste when I asked for a good Irish story and dragons! I hope I retold it well enough!
If you’d like to see more pictures of Ivan the Wyvern as he gets used to his new home, check out the rest of the series here.
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