Strange Tales, Myths and Legends
Trojan Horse Drawing
The Legends of Troy
So many stories and legends have grown up about the Trojan War that nobody really knows what happened other than the Trojan War actually did happen in the 13th and 12th centuries B.C. One of the most popular stories tells how the Greeks who lived on the Greek mainland fought against the city of Troy which was then in Asia Minor, now Turkey.
According to the legend the war started when Paris, the son of the king of Troy fell in love with Helen, the wife of Menelaus, the king of the Greek city of Sparta. Helen returned with Paris to Troy and stayed there. Menelaus was determined to reclaim his wife so he asked all the Greek kings if they would help him make war against Troy. For about ten years the Greek armies besieged Troy but eventually defeated the Trojans by smuggling in a force of soldiers into the city hidden in a great wooden horse. The Greeks had told the Trojans that the horse was a peace-offering to end the war.
Ghostly Happenings in Devon - The Hairy Hands
The B3212 road from Princetown to Two Bridges in Devon is a lonely road at the best of times. It passes through remote moorland and desolate landscapes as it makes its way across Dartmoor. It was on this road back in 1921 that a motorcyclist died in an unexplained accident driving down the hill towards the little bridge that crosses the River Dart. He was killed instantly as his motorbike suddenly swerved and crashed.
After this incident, some drivers using this B3212 across the moor have reported seeing a large pair of hairy hands appear on the steering wheel of their car as they approach the bridge. It is said that the hairy hands will sometimes try and prevent accidents from happening by taking control of the car. Another belief is that the hands are demonic as they have previously clawed at the windows of parked cars on the road.
Ghostly Sightings at Warren Lodge in Thetford
The old Warren Lodge near Thetford in Norfolk is believed to be haunted, and many people claim to have seen similar apparitions and ghostly sightings. The most common reports tell of a white ghostly rabbit who sometimes has red glowing eyes, and who occasionally appears in the doorway entrance and hops around. Another frequently reported sight is that of a faceless man dressed in blue and cream clothing who peers out from one of the ground floor window openings. It is thought that this man was a previous occupant of Warren Lodge or someone who lived nearby.
Warren Lodge dates from the 14th century and for a long time was used by rabbit 'warreners' who lived in the upper rooms and used the ground floor rooms to store culled rabbits. There used to be hundreds of rabbit warrens in the area surrounding the lodge and it was a profitable business many years ago.
Local tales through the ages advise against looking for the ghostly white rabbit as catching sight of it is a very bad omen indeed - it's a warning of death if you lay eyes on it!
Return of Persephone
Persephone - Queen of the Underworld
In Greek mythology, Persephone was the beautiful daughter of Zeus and Demeter, and queen of the underworld. The Greek myth tells of her abduction by the god of the underworld, Hades, as he was infatuated with her. This abduction, often referred to as the rape of Persephone, infuriated her mother Demeter so much that she caused all crops and vegetables on the earth to wither and die off. With the people of the world starving, Zeus tried to intervene and bring Persephone back into the living world.
In efforts to keep a hold on Persephone, Hades tricked her into eating some pomegranate seeds. This now meant that Persephone was to spend four months of each year with Hades in the underworld and the rest of the time with her mother and the gods above. The four month period became known as the winter season as Demeter would make the soils barren every year because of her grief. Persephone's return to earth after the 'winter' period heralded the start of spring and the growing season.
Minsden Chapel Ruins
Haunted Minsden Chapel in Hertfordshire
Minsden Chapel, near the Hertfordshire hamlet of Chapelfoot, is an isolated ruined chapel believed to be haunted. The chapel, which is surrounded by a small wood, was named after St. Nicholas, protector of children and the poor. It was built in the 14th century and once hosted church services and marriages for the local people. The Minsden Chapel site is considered by some to be very atmospheric with many visitors reporting strange feelings as they walk round the ruins.
Stories of paranormal activity began in the early 20th century following the publication of a photograph of a 'monk' standing under one of the chapel arches. This photograph, taken by Thomas William Latchmore, was subsequently admitted to be fake but other reports such as a ghostly monk climbing now non-existent stairs, a little girl wandering the chapel and grounds, and sights of a glowing cross suddenly appearing on various walls have been confirmed by many. Other visitors have briefly heard distant music and the sounds of ringing church-like bells - the Minsden Chapel bells were stolen in 1725.
Access to the Minsden Chapel site is along a marked footpath (from the B651) across a large field which can be quite muddy at times. The path skirts the wooded copse and nearer the ruins is a crossing style. There is a small carpark just a short distance away.
Mandrake Diagram of 1583
The Plant that Screams when pulled up
In folklore, many legends and tales have been told about the mandrake. The best known is probably that the plant screams when pulled up. Another superstition adds that those who do pull a mandrake out of the ground will be condemned to hell while all others who heard the mandrake's 'scream' will be killed shortly afterwards. Such stories may have evolved because the forked root is shaped like a human (see image below). In the past, people who wanted to remove a mandrake plant from the ground would have tied the roots to an animal then used the animal to pull up the plant.
Roman Ghosts in York
York is known as Britain's most haunted city and not without good reason. One of the most well-known ghost stories is about Roman soldiers and the Treasurer's house.
Back in 1953 a plumber was working in the house installing new heating pipes in the cellar when he suddenly heard a sound rather like a hunting or marching horn. Although he thought it was strange to hear this in the cellar he thought no more of it. However, the sound of the horn continued and each time seemed to be getting nearer. The next thing that happened was unbelieveable - a large cart horse followed by several Roman soldiers in traditional army clothes and carrying swords and spears came marching straight out of the cellar wall looking like they were on their knees. As they got towards the middle of the cellar floor they passed a recently excavated area which made it clear that they were marching on the old Roman road which is buried about 400mm below the surface. The plumber rushed out of the cellar and back to the safety of the ground floor of the house and spoke with the house's curator who was not surprised at all as he ghostly troop has been seen many times before.
The Treasurer's house and cellar are now managed by the National Trust and are open to the public at advertised times.
Lament for Icarus
Greek Legend of Daedalus and Icarus
An old Greek legend tells of a great King called Minos who lived on the Mediterranean island of Crete. He ordered Daedalus, who was an experienced architect, to design a palace for him in the form of a maze. When this was finished there were so many winding corridors and turnings opening into one another that the palace was called the Labyrinth.
Daedalus and Minos soon quarrelled so Minos imprisoned both Daedalus and his son Icarus inside the palace. Daedalus was a clever craftsman so to escape he made wings of wax and feathers which he fastened on to his and Icarus' shoulders. Daedalus told his son Icarus not to fly too near the sea in case the damp clogged his feathers, nor too high in case the heat of the sun should melt the wax. He then flew off towards Sicily where he arrived safely.
However, Icarus, excited by the joy of flying disobeyed his father and soared upwards. The wax melted, his wings fell off and he plunged into the sea. The part of the Agean Sea where Icarus drowned was called the Icarian sea after him.
The Flying Dutchman
The Flying Dutchman
Superstitious sailors believe that on stormy nights a phantom ship called 'The Flying Dutchman' may be seen beating its way against the wind near the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of South Africa. They believe it is a bad omen to see this ship.
One of the legends about 'The Flying Dutchman' says that the captain, Vanderdecken, swore he would sail round the Cape if it took until Judgement Day. For this vain boast he was doomed to sail for ever near the Cape without ever rounding it. Another legend says that the captain is condemned to sail for ever in a ship without helm or steersman, playing at dice for his soul with the devil.
The Legendary Pandora
The Legend of Pandora's Box
Pandora's Box is a Greek story about the beginning of the world when there were only men on Earth. The Greek gods Zeus and Prometheus fell out with each other. Zeus did not want men to have fire on earth so he hid it away, but Prometheus found it and brought it back again. This angered Zeus so he sent the first woman down to Earth called Pandora who would cause trouble between men. Zeus's present to Pandora was a special box which she was forbidden to open.
Later, Pandora became the wife of Prometheus' brother Epimetheus and at first all went well, until she grew very curious about what was inside the box. She then opened it. At once, a swarm of little winged monsters flew out. They were disease, envy, anger, revenge and all the other curses that brought the happiest times of the world to an abrupt end and made man miserable and very unhappy. Pandora started crying because of what she had done and quickly tried to close the box, but it was too late - the flying winged monsters had escaped into the world. Only hope was left!
Everything turned to gold
King Midas and his Desire for Gold
According to a Greek story, a king named Midas once helped the Greek god of wine Bacchus, and in return Bacchus offered to give him whatever he most wanted. Midas asked that everything he touched should be turned to gold and was overjoyed when his request was granted.
However, the gift soon proved to be a curse. When he picked up a piece of bread to eat, it became gold. He lifted his glass to drink and the wine turned to molten gold as soon as it touched his lips. Finally he prayed to Bacchus for deliverance and the god told him to bathe in the River Pactolus in Asia Minor. Midas did so and lost his touch but the river sands have ever after been golden.
Another story of Midas is that he judged a musical competition between the gods Pan and Apollo. He gave the prize to Pan, whereupon Apollo was so angry that he changed the king’s ears into those of a donkey. Midas hid his ass's ears under a turban so the secret was known to none but his barber. Finally the barber, unable to keep the story to himself any longer, dug a hole in the ground and whispered into it what he had seen. Immediately a clump of reeds sprang up in the hole and whenever they stir in the breeze they can be heard whispering; 'Midas has ass's ears. Midas has ass's ears...
Apples - Temptation!
Ghostly Sightings in Penzance, Cornwall
Mrs Baines was a widow living in Chapel Street, Penzance and was proud of her orchard and abundant supply of apples. Unfortunately, the local children continued to scrump (take without permission) the lovely apples. She asked her servant to keep watch during the night but Mrs Baines was convinced he was sleeping through most watches. When she crept out of her house one night she couldn't find him so she shook a tree so it would look like the apples were being stolen when he was not there. The servant was asleep in the bushes, woke up with a start and immediately fired a shot from his blunderbuss (shotgun) in Mrs Baines's direction. Mrs Baines was killed outright.
Now, a ghostly form of an old lady in a lace bonnet and night clothes is seen walking through the orchard. Her house remained empty for many years and a local vicar was asked to exorcise her spirit. This was not entirely successful and the old lady's ghost is still seen in several places near where the orchard was.