Odds and Dead Ends: Welsh Folklore – Cyhyraeth

I’m not an expert on folklore or Celtic myths of any kind, but as a writer living in Wales, I find myself intrigued by them. In keeping with the watery theme of week 2 of this season of the podcast, I found myself stumbling upon a creature that caught my attention.

The Cyhyraeth is a ghostly spirit of ancient folklore, normally linked with the River Tywi, a river in the south west of Wales with its source in the Cambrian mountains and its mouth on the south coast overlooked by Llansteffan Castle. Glamorganshire also can be linked to the Cyhyraeth, but considering that the mouth of the Tywi isn’t too far away, I’d argue that it’s probably simply because of the location, and say the Cyhyraeth are linked to a rough area rather than a specific river. Welsh Myths and Legends suggest that it may even have been associated with as far north as Kerry in Montgomeryshire.

The spirits can be heard whenever someone is about to die. Usually, this takes the form of three ghostly moaning wails, with each one getting weaker and weaker to reflect the dying losing energy and effort.

The wails sound before someone dies overseas as well, perhaps in battle in a far off land. In Glamorganshire, it is said that the Cyhyraeth appears before a shipwreck on the shores. This will usually be accompanied by a corpse-light and the Cyhyraeth proceeding to the churchyard. I can’t find anything to say that the Cyhyraeth are siren-like in nature, luring sailors to the rocks themselves, but that they simply appear when a wreck is about to occur to mourn the loss of the sailors.

The wailing and moaning are usually described as disembodied in nature but has appeared as an old hag or beautiful woman. I’ve found in mythology that these two descriptions of female entities are normally interchangeable, and sometimes one is a disguise for the true form of the other.

The Cyhyraeth themselves are not too dissimilar to the Irish legend of the Banshee. Considering connections between the two countries going back a long way, the nations sending kings and queens to each other in folklore (specifically the second branch of the Mabinogion, which includes a war between the two over a princess and a cauldron of necromancy), I’d wager that the two started out the same and became separate creatures over time. Occult World suggests they are related to the Washers at the Ford, such as the Scottish Bean-Nighe.

Oxford Reference also mentions that the Cyhyraeth ‘may once have been a goddess of streams, which would make sense considering the connection to the Tywi. There may also be an issue with mixing legends, however, as the legend has many similarities to the Gwrach y Rhibyn, as Bertram notes in ‘Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development’. The Rhibyn is very much a combination of the Cyhyraeth and the traditional witch image of an old woman that feasts on the unwary. Astonishing Legends has a good quick article on the Rhibyn for those interested: https://www.astonishinglegends.com/astonishing-legends/2019/3/12/gwrach-y-rhibyn

In the wider world, Cyhyraeth was the name of a small death metal band from Dallas, Texas. Also, Jane Aaron notes that the spirit haunts the protagonist of Bertha Thomas’ short story, ‘The Only Girl’, originally published in 1913.

Though other variations of this creature may be more well known, it’s certainly interesting to delve into the specifics of folklore and mythologies from a country where the most well-known creature is the big red dragon (or Draig, in Welsh) on the flag. How that came to be there, however, is a story for another time.

Article by Kieran Judge

Follow him on Twitter: KJudgeMental

Bibliography

(trans), S. D., 2007. The Mabinogion. Great Britain: Oxford World’s Classics.

Aaron, J., 2010. Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Welsh Gothic Fiction. Literature Compass, 7(4), pp. 281 – 289.

Illes, J., 2019. Occult World. [Online]
Available at: http://occult-world.com/welsh-mythology/cyhyraeth/
[Accessed 20 04 2019].

Legends, W. M. a., n.a. Welsh Myths and Legends. [Online]
Available at: http://www.welsh-mythsandlegends.walesdirectory.co.uk/Death_Portents/Cyhyraeth_The_Death_Sound_Kerry.html
[Accessed 20 04 2019].

n.a, 2019. Oxford Reference. [Online]
Available at: http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095656118
[Accessed 20 04 2019].

Puckle, B. S., 2009. Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development. n.a: Library of Alexandria.

Thomas, B. & Kirsti, B., 2008. Stranger Within the Gates. UK: Dinas Powys: Honno.

 

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Logbook of Terror: Suicide Forrest

Suicide Forest by Russell Holbrook

A fictional representation of a real Cursed Location – Aokigahara Forest

I’m in a forest, all alone. I came here to die, because it was time. I’d heard it on the wind, the soft whisper of my destiny. I saw my path carved out in rivulets of blood that flowed in meandering streams over the bark of the towering trees; The trees that blocked out the cursed sun with their looming, wooden arms.

This is my new, eternal home. I spread out my favorite blanket in a tiny clearing. I swallow twenty-three morphine pills. I wait. I quickly consume seven shots of whiskey. I smoke a cigarette. I wait. The pills and the alcohol stir within. My body weighs me down. When I turn toward a sudden sound of snapping twigs, the motion makes me feel like I am underwater. I nearly tip over. I light another cigarette and drop it in my lap on the third drag. I watch the cherry burn a hole in my favorite green cargo pants. When I feel the lit tobacco burning the flesh of my thigh, I stop staring at the cigarette, pick it back up, and take another drag. The sharp burning sensation in my thigh congeals into a dull throb. I hear a bird above me. I smile.

Life seems so perfect and serene right now. I ask myself why I would want to leave something so nice. I don’t get an answer. I ask again. Still, no answer, no reason, just a knowing that I need to take my own life. I yawn. Now is the time, before I lose all consciousness and control of my motor functions. I pull the small, black pocket knife from my satchel. It is the same knife my father used to slit his wrists, and the same tool used by his father before him. The blade is caked with rust and dried blood.

“No matter what, it can never, ever be washed,” my father had said when he passed the knife down to me. The crust made the knife difficult to open but, after a momentary struggle, the blade was extended. I am staring into the blade’s filthy surface, seeing no reflection, no light, only dark and hopeless, bleak serenity. The wooden handle is black. It is worn smooth from being jostled around in the pockets of three generations of Tessier men, three generations of killers. I think about the knife, about all that it has seen, and about all that it has done: all the flesh it has carved, all the screams and agony it has evoked, all the wonderful horror it has created. I think of the anguish of my victims’ families, and that of my father’s victims, and those of his father before him as well. In my mind I hear their tortured cries. I giggle with nostalgic glee. I sway and nearly topple over. Then I plunge the blade into the center of my left arm. With inebriated determination, I move the knife through my skin and meat, from the crook of my elbow to my wrist. I stare at my arm, watching the blood bubble and ebb and flow from my skin. And then, unexpectedly, I no longer wish to die. I still have so much to do, so much beauty to create. I wish I could take it back, fold the knife back up, put it back in my pocket, and go home. Live a few minutes in reverse to change the course of destiny. I wish and I wish and I wish. Then:

Suddenly I stop: I know it’s too late. My father taught me that we all have expiration dates, both personally and professionally, and that we need to know when to bow out. I remember that this is my time. I lay back and listen to the soft sounds of the forest. I let go.

I’m dead in a forest, all alone. I don’t know how long I’ve been here. I watched beasts take apart my carcass. Birds pecked out my eyes. It felt magnificent to be melding back into nature, becoming one with all life, becoming food, giving comfort and nourishment to creatures in the wild. As I once used my body to take life, now I use it to give life. And I am in the forest and the forest is in me, and forever and ever and ever we shall be.

Editor’s Blog: What if Death Looms?

A tall man rests on a chaise longue, facing the camera. On his knees, which are held together, he holds a slim, richly bound book. He wears knee breeches which feature prominently in the photograph's foreground.

“He did not wear his scarlet coat,

For blood and wine are red,

And blood and wine were on his hands

When they found him with the dead,

The poor dead woman whom he loved,

And murdered in her bed.” – Oscar Wilde

Because it’s Irish Horror Month, I’ve been scouring websites and books to find just the right poems and stories to share. In this quest I ran headlong into a decidedly frightful trepidation offered up by the late Oscar Wilde. “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” his 190 verse poem on the cruelties of prison life in the Victorian age, raises several alarming themes, but the one which scares me the most concerns a prisoner condemned to die.

For many humans there is no more frightening thought than the realization that we might die, but for the prisoner sentenced to a looming appointment with the gallows the terror must be stifling.

Wilde loved paradox, and he portrayed this well in this poem in a chilling portrait of a fellow prisoner on his way to the gallows for killing his wife. He expresses confusion at the manner in which the condemned man comports himself as the day grows near. Paradoxically he conveys a certain admiration of the man’s handling of certain doom.

“So with curious eyes and sick surmise

We watched him day by day,

And wondered if each one of us

Would end the self-same way,

For none can tell to what red Hell

His sightless soul may stray…

…I only knew what hunted thought

Quickened his step, and why

He looked upon the garish day

With such a wistful eye;

The man had killed the thing he loved

And so he had to die…

…He did not wring his hands, as do

Those witless men who dare

To try to rear the changeling Hope

In the cave of black Despair:

He only looked upon the sun,

And drank the morning air…”

Is the man facing his fear? Is he insane? Or is he operating out of pure shock? Take a look at the entire poem and decide for yourself.

Kate NOX

From the Vault: Morbid Meals, Irish Wake Cake

One of the traditions of attending an Irish wake is to take something to feed and comfort the family during their grief. Even if the family doesn’t practice “sitting up with the dead“, a potluck gathering often is held to remember the deceased. One such dish is an Irish Wake Cake.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

EXAMINATION
This recipe is adapted from another one of my odd cookbooks, DEATH WARMED OVER, by Lisa Rogak. It is an interesting collection of recipes and customs surrounding feasts for funerals and for the dead themselves from 75 different cultures and religions. As a taphophile, I am fascinated by the many various practices of mourning the dead. Sharing food is just one way to ease the burden of those survive the loss of loved ones. Another interesting fact, pointed out in this book, is that most people eat a lot more food at funerals than they do at weddings.
So rather than talk about catering, instead, we return to a simple wake and the idea of bringing a dish over to visit, reminisce, and share a life and a meal together. This “Irish Wake Cake” is a fine variation of an Irish cream cheese pound cake. It is is simple, rich, and delicious.
ANALYSIS
Serves: 10
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
3 oz cream cheese
1 3/4 cups cake flour, sifted (roughly 6 oz by weight)
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1 cup dried currants or raisins
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp lemon juice

Apparatus
Electric mixer with mixing bowl
9 inch loaf pan
Small bowl
Cooling rack
Procedure
  1. Preheat your oven to 325 F degrees.
  2. In the mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla together.
  3. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add the cream cheese, mixing until thoroughly combined.
  4. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, mixing until thoroughly combined.
  5. Gradually add buttermilk and mix until you have a smooth batter with no lumps, then fold in the currants.
  6. Pour the batter into a greased 9-inch loaf pan.
  7. Place the pan on the center rack in your oven and bake for about 1 hour 20-25 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean for a test.
  8. Remove to a cooling rack and let the cake cool down for 15 minutes.
  9. In a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice, then drizzle that icing over the cake while it is still warm. Let the cake cool down however before serving it.
  10. Slice the cake and serve with a dollop of clotted cream or whipped cream.
DISSECTION
There is a lot of dairy and fat, but substitutions will probably not work as well. You may be able to use margarine instead of butter and soy milk instead of buttermilk. There’s even vegan “cream cheese”. The ratios for everything might need a little tweak here and there if you go that route.
If you can’t find cake flour, you could use all-purpose flour. The difference is that cake flour is milled to be finer and it also has less gluten, which means your cake will be light and fluffy, instead of dense like bread. If you are going the gluten-free route, use a 2:1 mix of flour to starch (like 4 oz superfine rice flour and 2 oz tapioca starch).
I did have trouble finding currants but I didn’t want to use raisins. Instead, I found these incredible blueberry-infused dried cranberries. Those were very tasty and worked well with the tangy, lemony glaze.
I discovered that other recipes for Irish pound cake use Irish cream liqueur instead of the buttermilk, also instead of the lemon juice for the icing. Depending on who you are baking the cake for, that might be a welcome change to the recipe.
POST-MORTEM
This recipe came together so fast, I didn’t really have time to take photos of the steps. That’s how easy it is to make this cake. The hardest part was waiting for it to bake.
I served it with a little homemade whipped cream. Clotted cream would have been better, but that stuff takes forever to make.
This cake is so good, trust me, you will be finding reasons to bake it. People die all the time, after all. Good food is a beautiful way to honor the dead and celebrate life.

Book Review: Death Wears a Top Hat by Steph Minns

Death Wears a Top Hat by Steph Minns

4/5 stars

It was the cover that initially hooked me and I must admit to expecting a gothic type tale of murder and the supernatural set in more distant times, perhaps some sort of time-slip scenario having read the blurb. However, the initial chapters firmly set the story in the modern day so I was slightly confused at first. Once I got over this misconception and had passed the initial chapters which were very much scene-setting and introducing the characters, the story developed a natural flow which easily carried me along with it. The intermingling of the demonic top-hatted creature with modern life was drawn naturally and not forced. Crime and the supernatural mix easily and believably. The grisly murders committed in these pages are by a character possessed by a demonic entity, ‘the man in the top hat’. As the bodies pile up, DS Sue McKentee meets up with transgender psychic Alison Graves, whose initial information concerning one of the murders is initially dismissed with usual ‘nutcase’ tag. However, as the case evolves and McKentee herself encounters the top-hatted creature, she and Alison work together unofficially to capture the killer and bring him to justice. The story, however, is not just one of murder, it is also how two people reassess and rebuild their own lives. McKentee, divorced and refusing to let anyone close to her, gradually softens and becomes more open whilst Graves is almost at the end of the long journey in the transgender process to become the woman she wants to be. It is a story of acceptance of self and of others. I think these two would actually make a very good pairing for further supernatural jaunts together.

Morbid Meals – Irish Wake Cake

One of the traditions of attending an Irish wake is to take something to feed and comfort the family during their grief. Even if the family doesn’t practice “sitting up with the dead“, a potluck gathering often is held to remember the deceased. One such dish is an Irish Wake Cake.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 
EXAMINATION
This recipe is adapted from another one of my odd cookbooks, DEATH WARMED OVER, by Lisa Rogak. It is an interesting collection of recipes and customs surrounding feasts for funerals and for the dead themselves from 75 different cultures and religions. As a taphophile, I am fascinated by the many various practices of mourning the dead. Sharing food is just one way to ease the burden of those survive the loss of loved ones. Another interesting fact, pointed out in this book, is that most people eat a lot more food at funerals than they do at weddings.
 
So rather than talk about catering, instead, we return to a simple wake and the idea of bringing a dish over to visit, reminisce, and share a life and a meal together. This “Irish Wake Cake” is a fine variation of an Irish cream cheese pound cake. It is is simple, rich, and delicious.
 
ANALYSIS
Serves: 10
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
3 oz cream cheese
1 3/4 cups cake flour, sifted (roughly 6 oz by weight)
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1 cup dried currants or raisins
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp lemon juice

Apparatus
Electric mixer with mixing bowl
9 inch loaf pan
Small bowl
Cooling rack
 
Procedure
  1. Preheat your oven to 325 F degrees.
  2. In the mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla together.
  3. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add the cream cheese, mixing until thoroughly combined.
  4. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, mixing until thoroughly combined.
  5. Gradually add buttermilk and mix until you have a smooth batter with no lumps, then fold in the currants.
  6. Pour the batter into a greased 9-inch loaf pan.
  7. Place the pan on the center rack in your oven and bake for about 1 hour 20-25 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean for a test.
  8. Remove to a cooling rack and let the cake cool down for 15 minutes.
  9. In a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice, then drizzle that icing over the cake while it is still warm. Let the cake cool down however before serving it.
  10. Slice the cake and serve with a dollop of clotted cream or whipped cream.
 
DISSECTION
There is a lot of dairy and fat, but substitutions will probably not work as well. You may be able to use margarine instead of butter and soy milk instead of buttermilk. There’s even vegan “cream cheese”. The ratios for everything might need a little tweak here and there if you go that route.
 
If you can’t find cake flour, you could use all-purpose flour. The difference is that cake flour is milled to be finer and it also has less gluten, which means your cake will be light and fluffy, instead of dense like bread. If you are going the gluten-free route, use a 2:1 mix of flour to starch (like 4 oz superfine rice flour and 2 oz tapioca starch).
 
I did have trouble finding currants but I didn’t want to use raisins. Instead, I found these incredible blueberry-infused dried cranberries. Those were very tasty and worked well with the tangy, lemony glaze.
 
I discovered that other recipes for Irish pound cake use Irish cream liqueur instead of the buttermilk, also instead of the lemon juice for the icing. Depending on who you are baking the cake for, that might be a welcome change to the recipe.
 
POST-MORTEM
This recipe came together so fast, I didn’t really have time to take photos of the steps. That’s how easy it is to make this cake. The hardest part was waiting for it to bake.
 
I served it with a little homemade whipped cream. Clotted cream would have been better, but that stuff takes forever to make.
 
This cake is so good, trust me, you will be finding reasons to bake it. People die all the time, after all. Good food is a beautiful way to honor the dead and celebrate life.