Weaving the Midlands Myths

The story of Teon is woven around two myths involving the seventh century King Wulfhere of Mercia. The main one concerns the murder of two little boys, Ruffin and Wulfhad. The legend says that these were the sons of Wulfhere who brought them up as pagans. They liked to hunt and one day they were pursuing a white hart when one of the boys had his hand steadied by Saint Chad. Chad taught them the ways of Christianity during secret daily visits, unbeknown to their father, Wulfhere.

Meanwhile, Wulfhere’s military leader, Werbode, had asked to marry Werburgh, Wulfhere’s daughter, but she had turned him down. As an act of revenge, Werbode followed Ruffin and Wulfhad and reported back to their father. He also claimed that the boys were planning to overthrow him.

Wulfhere, famous for his temper, immediately killed both boys. Ermenilda buried the children and covered their bodies with stones, giving the name ‘Stone’ to the town in Staffordshire where they were buried. The king regretted his actions and became Christian. He also killed Werbode for his trouble-making.

There is no evidence that Wulfhere had two sons of this name, let alone him murdering them. The idea of him being pagan is also not supported by evidence, especially considering how many Christian monasteries he patronised. If he had been a pagan, Bede would have relished the story of him killing his boys and documented it in his book The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. There are several explanations of this legend and I made up this one for Teon.

The second myth has only appeared once, on the back of a cigarette card in the Churchman Legends of Britain series, produced in the early twentieth century in the USA. The card reads that Wulfhere took Redwald the Bold captive during the invasion of the Isle of Wight. Edith of Stenbury begged Wulfhere to save his life, which he did. This act gave him the title of Wulfhere the Kind Hearted. The sheer lack of any other record of this makes it probably untrue, but it is a pleasant tale nonetheless.

  Teon is available in digital and print formats from Amazon. *From 16-18 March the ebook is reduced to £0.99 (Amazon UK)

© 2017 A.J. Sefton. All rights reserved.

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How I Love Pumpkins! A Brief History

Abbey Road, Mr Spock, castles, the headless horseman, gargoyles, cats, owls, teeth and not forgetting my blog. All of these are things I have seen carved into pumpkins this year. Brilliant, every one of them.

I love pumpkins. The roundness, the orangeness, the chunkiness. Unfortunately, as I live in Britain, there are not too many pumpkin meals commonly eaten here with the exception of pumpkin seeds (admittedly a snack rather than a meal). I do envy the Americans with their pumpkin pie even though I have no idea what it tastes like. I just love the idea of it. I suppose I should try to make one myself but I never can muster the courage to do it.

Pumpkins are not naturally English creatures being native to North America. The earliest evidence of them is from seeds found in Mexico dating back to about 7,000 BC. In days gone by the English (Anglo-Saxons and Celts) have used turnips, hollowed out to make the lanterns to guide the spirits of the dead back to their beds (graves) and to ward off evil spirits. Turnips are not very big and in time people changed to using swedes, which are much bigger. Then along came the pumpkin when the connection was made between Briatin and America. It’s easy to see why pumpkins took over from swedes.

Folklore abounds with the pumpkin. In Cinderella the luxurious coach turns into a pumpkin after midnight. Then, from Ireland, the story of Stingy Jack. He was some good-for-nothing who tricked the devil one too many times before he died. After being rejected by both the heaven and the devil, poor Jack had nowhere to go. So he spent his time roaming around with little more than a hollowed out turnip with coal from hell to light his way. After that story got around, Jack O’ Lanterns were carved and left on doorsteps, to ward off Old Jack and any other evil spirits. An alternative tale was from East Anglia from the seventeenth century called Will-o’-the-wisp, which translates as ‘Will of the torch’.

The history aspect is that carved out vegetables have been used as lanterns for a very, very long time. They were particularly important around this time of year as it was known as Samhain: the end of the harvest and the beginning of the new dark half of the year.

There is a knock on the door. I will take my scary faced pumpkin lantern to light my way. And frighten the little blighters half to death…

(c) A.J. Sefton http://www.ajsefton.com