Dutch Tales About the Sea

This Week’s Prompt: 104. Old sea tavern now far inland from made land. Strange occurrences—sound of lapping of waves.

The Resulting Story:

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Did you know “made land” means reclaimed land from the ocean? I didn’t! I spent a slightly embarrassing amount of time trying to find places or folktales about where the sea has receded before at last finding stories that fit this prompt (somewhat). The only one I found there had to do with the Norse God Thor and while it was…interesting, and connected to drinking, I think I’ll save it for another time.

No for this week I decided to delve into the folklore and urban legends of a part of Europe I admit I knew little of before hand: The Netherlands. The Netherlands have been making land for centuries, and unsurprisingly they have many stories about floods, storms, and the sea. Some of these are fantastic, some of these are rather mundane.

For instance, the story of how the north sea became salty. Once, there was a ship over one hundred kilometers long. It was so vast that a man on horse had to relay orders up and down the ship, taking six days to deliver each command. Where this vast ship came from is unknown—certainly it is a magical marvel, lacking telephone or telegram, and yet almost a small island in scope. But as perhaps was inevitable, the ship and it’s many crew members where wrecked at sea. The salt needed for such a vast ship is almost incalculable, and so the entire North Sea became salt water instead of fresh water.

Ships of same build if not scale were in the employ of a Woman of Stavoren. She was wealthy beyond compare, as a widow running a vast shipping empire. One day, she demanded that the most valuable thing money could buy be brought to her—and in time her ships returned, full of rye. Enraged, she ordered the barley be thrown overboard. All this was seen by an old man on the quay, who told the woman that one day she’d be poor. She swore to him that she could never be poor. To prove it, she hurled a ring into the sea and said she was like to get that back as to be poor again.

The next evening, a cook served her fish. And inside, the woman found the ring. Needless to say, storms struck and sank all her vessels—and she was rendered destitute, forced to beg on the street. The rye still grows where it was thrown, according to rumor. They bare no fruit.

Witch Burning 1

But let us leave the sea behind, but not to far—and venture into taverns and cellars. One story tells that there is or at least was a wine cellar well known by older women. Here, witches flew to meet and drink and enjoy themselves. One woman, after her first trip to the cellar, decides to bring a younger friend along. However, she is too excited to recite the spell to bring them there properly. Most importantly, instead of “Afterward home again” she says “nevermore home again”—and curses the two of them to be forever lost on the road. The younger friend realizes the trouble their in—and as they can’t get home, the devil will come soon to snap their necks. In true college friend fashion, the two decide that if they must  go to hell, they will go drunk.

Later, the two are found passed out in the cellar by some workmen, with incriminating brooms. They are found guilty of witch caft and sentenced to burning—they awaken during the burning, however, and manage to escape the devil by converting on the stake. The devil, having appeared as an owl over head to seize their souls, leaves enraged.

Another tavern cellar had a more dangerous creature lurking in it then two drunk witches. Down in a inn at Utrecht, there was a basilisk. The basilisk was born of a rooster’s egg, laid by a snake. The creature was born down there, unknown to the inhabitants. It was first discovered when a man went down to get a drink—and never returned, as the venomous eyes of the basilisk killed him and ground him to dust. This first victim was dismissed, many assuming he had just gotten drunk and passed out—until a second man went missing. And a third. At last, the innkeeper was about to investigate when a monk happened to come in and stop him.

Basilisk1

Now, the discovery of a fire breathing—the story mentions this offhandedly, and so shall I—murderous chicken-snake is of course bad for business. So the innkeeper asked for anyone to help, offering a hefty reward. At last a street urchin came in, with a plank of wood as his only tool. Despite the pleas of the adults, the child descended to fight the cockatrice—and triumphed! For to the beasts surprise, the otherside of the plank was a mirror! So the beast died to it’s own gaze.

A more comedic inn story comes to us from Zuiderwoude. A solider was playing cards with his fellows, to pass the watch. Off hand, he offers to send the Jack of Clubs to fetch some jenever. The others laugh at such an impossible trick—but the solider insists. And with their agreement, he goes unconscious. He turns as pale as paper and sweats like a pig, as the jack of club vanishes. A few minutes later, to the horrified soldiers shock, a bottle of jenever appeared with a jack of clubs in its neck. The original solider drinks heartily, and they all join in.

The next day, they walk pass the main gate and learn someone assaulted the guard, nearly knocking him out and slipping past unseen. When they pass a local innkeeper, he accuses them of making a terrible ruckus last night to get nothing more than a bottle of jenever. When they deny it, he singles out the solider with the jack as having come to him in the night. The storyteller asserts said solider was a sorcerer, who never truly left the room.

But one that stuck out to me for our purposes is the Herring in the Bucket story. It is a short and simple and rather mundane story.

The story goes, a farmer was drawing water from a well. When he brought the bucket up, he saw there was a herring in it—a fish swimming in his drinking water. It occurs to him that the fish must have swam into the well—and if it swam into the wall, the ocean must be seeping beneath the earth. A single good storm would sink the entire area, washing it all beneath the sea. And with this in mind, he became miserable and angry, until at last the storm came—and when the waters receded he was found dead.

Herrings

This sort of story has a few other variants—the maintaining of a dyke is a communal activity that the rich and arrogant often neglect and are ruined for ignoring. But what to me works here, in this small simple story is the horror that it displays. The growing realization that the buried sea is ready to rise up again and swallow it all. I pondered for a moment, why the farmer didn’t leave—but how could he? He is a part of this land as well. In our story, the old sea tavern is perhaps safe—it is where the coast once was, after all. But the made land is unstable—the symbolism of unstable lives, of long buried tensions coming to surface is apparent. Especially considering in vino veritas. There is a lot here, with simple and growing signs of impending doom.

Whether we take it to be the utterly mundane terror of a rising tide—something that is topical these days—or if it has some supernatural to it (we have many many many examples of the sorts of strange things that lurk in the sea), the story has I think a firm and clear footing. What stories have you heard, about seas, taverns, and tavern basements?

Bilbiography:

Meder, Theo. The Flying Dutchman and Other Folktales from the Netherlands. Libraries Unlimited, 2008.

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The Sacred Fish

This Week’s Prompt: 60. Fisherman casts his net into the sea by moonlight—what he finds.

The Prior Research:Dredged Up From The Depths

The fisherman of the western cliff face, far from the city of Kahal, lived entirely at the mercy and providence of the primeval mother sea. On it’s black waves, as the moon glimmered down, a passing stranger would find one of the small ships sailing along the cliffs and coves, dragging the net behind. Old Ichabod kept his ship out late that night, searching for fertile waters. His ship was slow, his nets were poor. His wife Sarah had held their home, by carving the other fish and making clothes to sell. So tonight, he sailed past his normal waters, off towards the shores marked by crumbling pillars.

During the day he would not be so daring. For reasons long forgot, the village did not fish in the bay where old spiraling coral rose as long lost gate posts. But such protected paradises become rich for desperate plunder. The waves were strong at the coral edge, and most canny fisherman avoided the bay for those dangers alone. Ichabod, however, moved between them with ease. He dragged his nets along that shallow floor, looking to bring fish that had never seen such a boat. And shortly after, his nets grew heavy.

DeepFish2.png

Pulling them over, he found them thick with a pulsing white mass of fish. They were strange, squirming, wretched things. Their skin was smooth to the glance but sharp to the touch. They had no eyes, and no teeth in their mewling mouths. Their fatty, fleshy bodys struggled feebly against the air. But their bodies, as life left them, smelled like honey and their blood was like olive oil. Despite having never seen such things,Ichabod reasoned that such a haul was worth returning with, and the fish worth at least a taste.

Icahbod slipped back home in silence, returning home to a confused wife. He took one of the fish inside and carved it, and cooked it in the pan. A bit of fat flickered off it’s goldening meat and onto his thumb. He took a quick taste, and found the substance tasted sweet and succulent. The finished fish was filling, the best the couple had ever consumed.

They were less delighted and more deeply confused when the next day, Sarah found herself sick in the morning. The two went to a wise woman, who confirmed their suspicion. Sarah was pregenant. The two were both delighted and confused. They hadn’t lain with each other in some time. Ichabod grew wrothful, suspicious that some more fortunate fisherman had visited his wife. But her pleading convinced him she had been faithful. Strange as it seemed, the two concluded the fish were to blame.

The bounty of fish, cooked to delight, brought them some fame in the day as well. And, full of daring, Ichabod made the trip again and again, growing rich off the sweet tasting blind fish. It’s effects became known, as many women was with child in a few weeks, and the village hungered for more of the strange fish.

DeepSeaFish.png

Other sailors began to wonder where Ichabod got his fish, unseen elsewhere in the ocean. A few tried to follow him at night, but Ichabod was wise to them and refused to sail to his hiding spot until he was sure he was alone. The fish he ate restored him every day, as if he’d never slept.

But one of the farmers, a younger boy Obed, snuck aboard Ichabod’s ship one night, hiding in the cabin as the fisherman left the shore. And by moonlight, through the door, he saw Ichabod breach that taboo bay. He was so startled he let out a squeal, revealing himself to the old fisher man’s wide pupiled eyes. Icahbod had the boy over the edge in moments, dangling by his shirt.

The boy quickly offered to help Ichabod catch even more of the fish, saying that with two ships, they’d both make four times the profit, helping each other carry more of the load back. And Ichabod considered, and agreed, for substantially more of the profit than a mere half. Given his precarious position, the boy agreed.

So the fish poured in greater numbers, their mewling and whining stifled by the flames and ever hungry populace. Eventually, Ichabod hit upon a better idea. He and the boy went and rebuilt the old tower near the bay and built a crude gate. Coming to town, he explained that he would allow any to fish from his hidden bay for a fee.

OldIchabod1.png

At first there were threats of violence, but by then Ichabod had grown large from his diet. His skin was growing gold, and his hands had become webbed. Small growths had appeared within his mouth, barely visible but he felt them when he ate. It made eating much hard, but the small growths massaged the soft flesh of the fish well, refining there flavor and picking bones clean, saving him the bother of cleaning the fish. Some even said he at them live. In the last three months, he’d grown a foot in height. The boy, in his fishing and abundance of the fish he had, was up to his shoulder and had small teeth running on the top of his mouth. The two of them had nothing to fear of violence. So the village relented.

It became common to spend nights in the bay, catching fish and eating them on the shore, before retiring home in the morning, to tend to wives and trade with sea born merchants, who found the changes startling. Men and women and children no longer ate grains, but devorued fruit and raw flesh. Their skin was paleand scaled, their arms lengthy. Ichabod allowed traders to ply their wares, but prohibited them enter his bay, erecting barricades around his tower and piling stones to hurl at vessels. He and his wife rarely left their tower, sending the fishing boys to do his biding from the shore.

But even this was tiresome. In time, the village moved into the bay entirely. They caught the fish with their hands, no longer bothering with nets. They had boats, but swimming in it’s inky deep was a common pastime. And, at last, the children were born.

They were pale mewling things, with eye lids too heavy to open, and skin that was soft to look at but sharp to the touch. Their hands had small claws, and their mouths had loathsome tendrils, perfect for catching fish and the deeper things of that by gone bay, the things that had lurked so long ago in sacred waters long forgotten. And so the people of the western shore were known as far as distant Kahal.


That ends this weeks tale. I had a busy week, so didn’t have the chance to review and rework this as much as normal. I like the general premise, and I think some horror of what you consume could be played with. A longer time scope would also serve the story: gradual mutation after eating unknown substances is ripe for material.

Next week: a pilgrimage to a demon throne!

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Dredged Up From The Depths

This Week’s Prompt: 60. Fisherman casts his net into the sea by moonlight—what he finds.
The Resulting Story: The Sacred Fish

We’ll need a bigger boat for what can be dragged up with this corpse. Ignoring the moonlight for a moment, fisherman have a habit of finding strange things, from the medeterrain to Japan, and everywhere in between. If we put on our symbolic lenses, the reason might be apparent. The sea is a chaos and potent place. It is where anything can happen. And so, sometimes, everything happens.

A common fisherman catch is, unsurprisingly, fish. However, strange and rare fish are easy to find. A tale from Albania tells of a golden fish, which when caught and prepared, made a woman and a horse pregnant. Both children had a star on their brow, and go on to be fantastic heroes, marrying a shape-shifting gender bending moor and a djinn woman, blinding armies with their star-marked brows, and eventually confronting the treacherous king. In Japan, a species of mermaid if caught and eaten provides immortality but misfortune. Probably because of it’s all too human looking face. In Ireland, the Salmon of Wisdom provides…well, wisdom if eaten properly.

JapaneseMermaid

A German tale, recorded by the Brother’s Grimm includes a fish that grants wishes for it’s freedom in much the same way a genie might. An older version has the Yugoslavia version, where the fish gets caught so many times it accepts its fate and instructs him to cut it into six pieces, giving two to his wife and two to his horse and burying two in the ground after granting him a castle and gold. The result is two golden boys, two golden foals, and two golden lilies. A Greek version changes it to trees. The one brother goes out to make his fortune, the other stays at home. The adventuring brother pretends to be a robber and woos a maiden, and gets married. Then, he goes to hunt a stag and asked a witch for direction. The witch claimed to know where the stag was, but turned the man to stone. The other golden child came to rescue him and had his dog eat the witch up.

TalkingFish.png

Fish also have a knack for swallowing important things. Solomon once lost his ring to a fish, and with it control over his kingdom, which was destroyed bit by bit as he was helpless to watch. Another fish swallowed a wish granting treasure(the nature of the item is not specified in my translation of the Tibtean tales). While not swallowing it, a fish does guard the sword of Wild Edric who we covered last week.

Ainu stories, recorded granted over a century ago, include the notion of fish that contain magical properties and must be proprieties after they are caught. They share this notion with the Netsilik of Northern America. Further, fish caught may belong to a creature recorded as Konoto-ran-guru, and must be returned. A creature lurking in the middle of the sea, given to him is power over all sea devils and ill currents. He prefers his subjects, the malformed fish of the sea, be returned to him.

More malicous creatures arise from the sea of course. In the Maori story of Tawaki, a race of amphibous creatures kidnap and enslave the heroes mother, spending most of their time in the sea, and sleeping on land. When dawn comes, they must return to the sea or they will die. Tawaki slays them by decieving them about the time, with help from his captive mother.

And then there are the objects that are dredged up from the sea! In another story relating to King Solomon, a bottle containing a djinn is tossed into the sea and fished up later. The poor fisherman who dragged that up died of fright when the djinn emerged. This occurred in the City of Brass story mentioned last week as well, where it was a rather regular occurrence (funnily enough, those djinn thought Solomon still lived).

Realeasing the Djinn.png

Maui, that great Polynesian super man, washed onto the shore after his mother tossed him out. He, a fisherman in his own time, brought forth the arch-typical island from the sea on a fishing trip after his wives bothered him about his lack of fishing. He warned his brothers not to eat anything on the island, and not to disturb the island. Had his brothers not disturbed it, all islands would be perfect. But they did, and the island shook irritably, generating mountain ridges. It was a titantic and terrifying effort, ruined by a bit of carelessness.

Comparable, at least in part, to the fishing trip of Thor, where the thunder god nearly lifted up his own doom, the Jomundur serpent. The fishing expedition was one of frightful experiences for the giant involved, to say the least, who then tried to kill Thor and of course failed.

ThorFishin.png

Then there are the things from the sea that come of their own accord. The sea has an odd tendency towards spirituality! First there are the sages of Mesoptamian myth, who rise from the fresh water of Abzu, bringing law and culture with them to human kind. These fish-like sages further saved humanity from the flood, before being banished back to Abzu by Marduk. Japan features the prophetic Amabie who can see when bloody war is coming.

Then there are those strange monks and bishops in Europe. The Sea Bishop was reported in Poland in the 16th century, and was held captive by it’s king for many days. After a time, however, a visiting Bishop came across the creature, and it managed to communicate it’s want for freedom. The bishops released it and, before going below, it made the sign of the cross. Another was captured in Germany, but died fasting for three days and three nights.

SeaBishop.png

The washing up of strange creatures, such as whales and giant squid, sometimes unearth terrible things in the real world. The sea, chaotic thing that it is, spits forth monstrous things every now and then onto the shore. And sometimes with horrific consequences (such as when a number of people learned not to dynamite a whale carcass, video here).

Of course, this mythology is reinforced by the reality that happens with shocking frequency. Fisherman pull up strange and bizarre catches, which make their way into museums or conspiracy theories. From ancient remains to modern technology, the sea holds many wonders strange and bizzare hostages. Again from Japan, there is a strange craft with a woman and a small box, which fishermen found in the early 19th century. They deduced that the woman was an exile from a foreign land, and as her health was failing, they returned her to her reconstructed craft and set her to sea again.

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A fascinating horror story, of things washing a shore from the depths of the seas, can be found in the story The Thing that Drifted Ashore, a short horror comic that I found here. It has some interesting notions that are often found with the sea: dreams, the dead, tragedy, and horror. I won’t spoil it here, but Junji Ito is an artist and writer that you should make a point to check out.

Our own story will no doubt begin with the discovery of the strange and sequestered item from the sea. The item or fish will have some mystifying effect, transforming the community that finds it in some subversive or disturbing way. And then it will be discovered, and perhaps suffer Innsmouth’s fate. Or alternatively, we will end with some ultimate horrific and tragic act.

Batchelor, John. Ainujin Oyobi Sono Setsuwa. KyōBunkan, 1901.
Chopel, Norbu. Folktales of Tibet. Ltwa, 2006.
Elsie, Robert William. A Dictionary of Albanian Religion, Mythology and Folk Culture. New York University Press, 2001.

Grey, George. Polynesian Mythology, and Ancient Traditional History of the Maori. Whitcombe & Tombs, 1974.

Megas, Georgios A. Folktales of Greece. P, 1970.

Sikes, Wirt. British Goblins: Welsh Folk-Lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions. James R Osgood and Company, 1881.

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.