Announcing a new column for Games From Folktales. Once a month, you’ll get some Cornish material. At the end I hope it’ll assemble into something like a gazetteer you can plug into Heirs to Merlin and the Vanilla Covenant project. For those wanting to play along my source text is Popular romances of the west of England; or, The drolls, traditions, and superstitions of old Cornwall by Robert Hunt. That being said, the original has seventeen chapters, so if I handle one a month, this is going to take a while. If any of the other bloggers want to take a piece, please do. There’s no Librivox version of this book, so you will have to listen to me.
This is the first chapter, and first podcast. My hope is that as this expands I’ll be able ot layer the material together. This means that, in this case, you’ll be getting a lot of raw material with dangling hooks. There are characters who aren’t giants, mentioned here, that clearly are going to get their own episodes. Eventually these will all get boiled into a single text. I’m using older names here (like “Trecrobben Hill” but will convert them to more modern names at the end. I also hope to get a professional map done. I may kickstart that. Enough preamble…let’s get to the giants.
Once Cornwall had giants. They were the indigenous species. According to one story their first king was Albion, son of Neptune. According to another, they were descended from 33 Scythian princesses who had children with demons. Some argue they were the original Celts. This is, from a modern perspective, just silly. Some say they were the original Dumnovians, for whom Devon is named. This is similarly not true. The giants were driven to extinction by the Trojans when they arrived. Some people say they died of grief when their king was killed…
No, seriously. Trojans. The first British, under the rule of Brutus himself, were emigres from Troy: just like the Romans. They turned up, killed the giants off, and named the places after themselves. Cornwall’s named after Cornieus, Brutus’s general. The war with the giants ended with the giants’ war leader, Gogmagog, a prisoner. Cornieus wrestled him, because Cornieus liked that sort of thing, then threw him to his death off the slightly-misnamed Gogmagog’s Leap at Plymouth Hoe. Cornwall’s filled with gigantic ruins from Dartmoor across to Sicily. It’s a graveyard, but not a recent graveyard. Most of the great rocks and stones are named for the giants, and even the ones which didn’t have real connections now have links to faeries.
The Great Castles of the Giants
The giants of Cornwall had rival kingdoms at some point, presumably prior to the rule of Magog and his war with the humans. Each of the great castles is now, at best, a ruin, although at least two are said to sit above tunnels filled with treasures and monsters. Treasures and monsters? Let’s go pick the low-hanging fruit, shall we?
Here I might as well quote Hunt, who sells it entirely “On the summit of this hill, which is only surpassed in savage grandeur by Carn Brea, the giants built a castle the four entrances to which still remain in Cyclopean massiveness to attest the Herculean powers by which such mighty blocks were piled upon each other. There the giant chieftains dwelt in awful state. Along the serpentine road, passing up the hill to the principal gateway, they dragged their captives, and on the great flat rocks within the castle they sacrificed them. Almost every rock still bears some name connected with the giants…The treasures of the giants who dwelt here are said to have been buried in the days of their troubles, when they were perishing before the conquerors of their land. Their gold and jewels were hidden deep in the granite caves of this hill, and secured by spells as potent as those which Merlin placed upon his “hoarded treasures.” They are securely preserved, even to the present day, and carefully guarded from man by the Spriggans, or Trolls, of whom we have to speak in another page.”
Plot hook: Sacrificed to what?
We’ll come back to the treasures and spriggans another week, but who, or what was the god of these giants, and is there a mystery cult or infernal taint here?
Saint Michael’s Mount
A castle was built here by a married pair of giants, Coromoran and Cormelian, who carried cubes of granite from far away to build the walls. While Coromoran slept, Cormelian decided to sneak a bit of local greenstone into the building, carrying it in her enormous apron. Cormoran awoke, saw what was happening and kicked his wife, snapping her apron string so that she dropped the schist.
Back then, the giants of Mount Saint Michael and Trecrobben Hill were friendly, and had only one cobbling hammer between them. They’d just fling it to each other as they needed it. One day, a poor throw by the giant of Trecrobben struck Cormelian on the forehead. She died, and the giants buried her under the schist. A chapel has been placed there since, so it is called Chapel Rock.
Cormoran was, according to 18th century folklore, killed by a farmer’s son named Jack, during the reign of King Arthur. He lured the giant into a pit, then lodged a pick in his head. For this he was awarded the giant’s land and treasure. Ever after he was known as Jack the Giant-Killer. Jack really needs his own episode, because he’s loaded down with magic items, fights sorcerers, and beheads Lucifer.
Other folklore says that when the final giant of the Mount became very old, he would wade across to the mainland to steal a cow whenever he felt hungry. The Lord of Pengerswick, who was an enchanter and will get his own episode, became annoyed at this reivery. He petrified the still-conscious giant, left him for a cold night, and then horsewhipped him soundly. The giant waded through the sea, back to his home, the salt stinging his wounds, and has not been seen since.
It is said that the a family from Guval became rich from this. Tom, the Giant of Lelant , took one of the women of this family to sell the giant eggs and butter, which he paid for with treasures from vaults beneath the Mount.
Plot hook: So, that’s corpus vis, then?
Can you mine despite the Dominion Aura on the chapel?
Time to quote Hunt again “The giant to whom all the rest of his race were indebted for this stronghold was in every way a remarkable mortal. He was stronger than any other giant, and he was a mighty necromancer. He sat on the promontory of Treryn, and by the power of his will he compelled the castle to rise out of the sea. It is only kept in its present position by virtue of a magic key. This the giant placed in a holed rock, known as the Giant’s Lock, and whenever this key, a large round stone, can be taken out of the lock, the promontory of Treryn and its castle will disappear beneath the waters. There are not many people who obtain even a sight of this wonderful key. You must pass at low tide along a granite ledge, scarcely wide enough for a goat to stand on. If you happen to make a false step, you must be dashed to pieces on the rocks below. Well, having got over safely, you come to a pointed rock with a hole in it ; this is the castle lock. Put your hand deep into the hole, and you will find at the bottom a large egg-shaped stone, which is easily moved in any direction. You will feel certain that you can take it out, but try! Try as you may, you will find it will not pass through the hole ; yet no one can doubt but that it once went in…no one has ever yet succeeded in removing the key of the giant’s castle from the hole in which the necromancer is said to have placed it when he was dying.”
A slightly different version has the necromancer transform his wife into the Lady Logan Rock as he dies, stabbed and drowned by her lover. A logan rock is a huge stone that can be rocked like a cradle, with just the strength of a hand. There are some huge ones in Cornwall. They might be Rego vis related. What happens if you rock them at the same time?
Plot hook: Portable castle?
Is Treryn just a regio, with an entry pinned open, or is it, in some sense, portable? If you knew the rituals, could you use the key to make the castle appear anywhere you needed it by constructing a new lock? Are there keys to similar places? Are people or things in them? Whole communities?
Aside from the three great castles, there were a lot of giants who lived either alone or in little castles with their immediate families. I’ve listed them here by the geographical feature they are associated with, except Tom of Lelant, who has so much material I’ve moved him to the end of the section. In addition to these there are many other village giants, some of whom are buried in hallowed ground. Giant graves are everywhere in Cornwall, and are even more prevalent in the Scilly Islands.
Land’s End: Bellerian and Trebregan
The ancient name of this headland was Bellerian, named after the giant who built the first castle here. His Latinish sounding name may suit Hermetic magi better than the modern English. A village near Land’s End, Tebregan, is named for a giant buried there. Oddly, for someone so clearly dead, he is used as a bogey to gain the obedience of children. He was so large he could pull sailors off ships. He ate children every day, preferably after frying them on a certain flat rock, near a cave which was said to be his lair. Tell children in Mythic Europoe a bogeyman will come for them, and you create a story a faerie will fill, so presumably something is in his cave.
St Agnes’ Ball (now Saint Agnes Beacon) : The Giant Bolster
Time for some Hunt “Bolster must have been of enormous size : since it is stated that he could stand with one foot on St Agnes’ Beacon and the other on Carn Brea; these hills being distant, as the bird flies, six miles, his immensity will be clear to all. In proof of this, there still exists, in the valley running upwards from Chapel Forth, a stone in which may yet be seen the impression of the giant’s fingers…the giant Bolster became deeply in love with St Agnes, who is reputed to have been singularly beautiful, and a pattern woman of virtue. The giant allowed the lady no repose. He followed her incessantly, proclaiming his love, and filling the air with the tempests of his sighs and groans. St Agnes lectured Bolster in vain on the impropriety of his conduct, he being already a married man. This availed not ; her prayers…were also in vain. The persecuted lady, finding there was no release for her, while this monster existed, resolved to be rid of him at any cost, and eventually succeeded by the following stratagem : Agnes appeared at length to be persuaded of the intensity of the giant’s love, but she told him she required yet one small proof more. There exists at Chapel Forth a hole in the cliff at the termination of the valley. If Bolster would fill this hole with his blood the lady would no longer look coldly on him. This huge bestrider-of-the-hills thought that it was an easy thing which was required of him, and felt that he could fill many such holes and be none the weaker for the loss of blood. Consequently, stretching his great arm across the hole, he plunged a knife into a vein, and a torrent of gore issued forth. Roaring and seething the blood fell to the bottom, and the giant expected in a few minutes to see the test of his devotion made evident, in the filling of the hole. It required much more blood than Bolster had supposed still it must in a short time be filled, so he bled on. Hour after hour the blood flowed from the vein, yet the hole was not filled. Eventually the giant fainted from exhaustion. The strength of life within his mighty frame enabled him to rally, yet he had no power to lift himself from the ground, and he was unable to stanch the wound which he had made. Thus it was, that after many throes, the giant Bolster died! The cunning saint, in proposing this task to Bolster, was well aware that the hole opened at the bottom into the sea, and that as rapidly as the blood flowed into the hole it ran from it…The hole at Chapel Forth still retains the evidences of the truth of this tradition, in the red stain which marks the track down which flowed the giant’s blood.” This sounds like a well of Corpus vis.
Goran: an unnamed giant
Hunt again “The giant, who lived on the promontory, was the terror of the neighbourhood, and great were the rejoicings in Goran when his death was accomplished through a stratagem by a neighbouring doctor.
The giant fell ill through eating some food, children or otherwise, to satisfy his voracity, which had disturbed his stomach. His roars and groans were heard for miles, and great was the terror throughout the neighbourhood. A messenger, however, soon arrived at the residence of the doctor of the parish, and he bravely resolved to obey the summons of the giant, and visit him.” From this point the story becomes similar to St Agnes: the physician bleeds him until he’s unconscious and rolls him off a cliff.
Portreath : Ralph (or Wrath)
There’s a sea channel here called Ralph’s Cupboard. There was a giant here, long ago, who lived in a cave, from which he ventured out to catch fishing boats, and tie them to his belt, before walking home and eating the sailors. After his death, the roof of the cave fell in, leaving the current cutting. There’s a second story that says Ralph was just a smuggler, who spread the story of the giant ot keep people away.
Holiburn of Cairn Galva
Hunt again : “Holiburn of the Cairn according to tradition, was a very amiable and somewhat sociable gentleman ; but, like his brethren, he loved to dwell amongst the rocks of Cairn Galva. He made his home in this remote region, and relied for his support on the gifts of sheep and oxen from the farmers around he, in return, protecting them from the predatory incursions of the less conscientious giants of Trecrobben.”
The Giant of Morva
Hunt: “This great man, on the first day of August, would walk up to Bosprenis Croft, and there perform some magical rites, which were either never known, or they have been forgotten. On this day, for ,when thus engaged the giant was harmless, thousands of people would congregate to get a glimpse of the monster ; and as he passed them, all being seated on the stone hedges, every one drank ” to the health of Mr Giant.” At length the giant died, but the gathering on the 1st of August has never been given up, or rather, the day shifts, and is made to agree with Morva Feast, which is held on the first Sunday in August.”
Giant of Nancledry
Hunt : “Rather more than thirty years since, some mouldering ” clob ” (mud) walls, indicating the existence at one time of a large dwelling, were pointed to as the former residence of a terrible giant. He appears to have led a solitary life, and to have lived principally on little children, whom he is said to have swallowed whole. His strength was indicated by several huge masses of granite which were scattered around the Bottoms, and in the neighbouring fields. These were carried by him in his pockets, to defend himself from the giants of Trecrobben, with whom he appears to have been on unfriendly terms. This giant is noteworthy as the only one recorded who lived in a house”. He also presumably was the inventor of pockets…
Mazarion (Tom of Lelant)
Tom of Lelant was a giant, although small for that race, perhaps only twice the size of a man. He was a lazy fellow initially, but got a job delivering beer from a brewer in Mazarion. A giant, Blunderbuss, built hedges (which, here .means unmortared stone fences) across the road. Tom confronted him, and when the giant pulled up a tree to use as a club, Tom pulled the axle off his cart, and used a wheel as a buckler, and slew the giant. Tom thought this a fair thing, because the giant had a reputation for eating his wives. During the combat, Blunderbuss demonstrated a disgusting power: the blood that fountained from his wounds was so excessive that it baulked Tom. After pulling the axle out of the giant, he demanded that, in fairness, the larger giant put his hand over the hole until the battle is over.
The giant likes what a sporting fellow Tom is as seen in this quote, when he is dying “I have no near relations. There is heaps of gold, silver, copper, and tin down in the vaults of the castle, guarded by two dogs. Mind there names are Catchem and Tearem. Only call them by these names and they’11 let thee pass. The land from this to the sea is all mine. There is more head of oxen, cows, sheep, goats, and deer, than thee canst count. Take them all, only bury me decent.”
Tom claims the castle, and no-one knows the dread giant is dead, save a little human woman named Jane, the giant’s most recent wife. She flirts with Tom, and he thinks she’s quite a catch, so they pretend the giant has survived, and live comfortably on his treasure for a few years. They had many children, who are the ancestors of a line of people with a touch of giant blood in modern Cornwall.
After a few years, a tinker named Jack came to challenge the giant for hedging the road, and Tom, pretending to be the giant’s son, fought the man at singlestick. He lost badly, but the tinker taught him the finer points of fencing and they had dinner together. They became friends over time, and the tinker told his origin, which was that he came from a far land (although not across the sea) where there were many giants that mined for tin. Wise men came from further away with tools for the giants, and they taught the tinker his trade. He’d been travelling south and, believing that the larger a giant the more gentle he is, he heard of Blunderbuss and decided to seek him out.
The tinker taught Tom how to till a garden, the first in Cornwall. He also taught the arts of malting and brewing to Jane. The tinker was also the first man in Cornwall to skin a beast as a single piece of hide, and taught the arts of leatherwork made possible by these large pieces. Seriously, this Tinker is just a Cornish Wayland Smith…he does a heap of stuff.
When they are throwing quoits, Tom breaks the surface of the grass on the green banks about the castle, finding off dark stuff beneath. The tinker tells him they are made of tin, and that Tom is now a rich man. Tom says he has all he desires, and doesn’t know how to dress tin, but the tinker offers to do it for him, in exchange for a share of the money. When they had dressed the tin, they took it to Mazarion, where the tinsmelter, who was also the mayor and the brewer, gave them a very fair price. He was such an outstanding man that he’s still used as a byword for honesty today, The tin was so good a deal for all around that he breaks open a barrel of beer and declares a fair (a courant, in the local terms) which is so loud it attracts the Lord of Pengerswick, who needs his own episode, because he’s clearly a magus.
The brewer of Mazarion was also the tinsmelter and the mayor and an ally of the Lord of Pengerswick. He introduces Tom, who then invited Pengerswick to his castle. Pengerswick teleports them all to Tom’s house, and won’t tell Tom how it was done, but it’s clear Jack knows. Pengerswick tries to fool Tom into telling him where the tin is, but Jack is onto him and politely deflects the conversation. Eventually the Lord gets sick of this and casts a spell to make everyone fall asleep. This does not work on Jack, because he’s basically awesomeness on a stick, and instead he sits there “whistling like an old troll” which feels lovely and modern. Time to quote Hunt again “At last Pengerswick became enraged, and he drew from his breast a dagger and slyly struck at Jack. The dagger, which was of the finest Eastern steel, was bent like a piece of soft iron against Jack’s black hide. (which is his clothes, by the way)
” Art thou the devil ?” exclaimed Pengerswick.
” As he ‘s a friend of yours,” says Jack,”you should know his countenance.”
” Devil or no devil,” roared Pengerswick, “you cannot resist this,” and he held before Jack a curiously-shaped piece of polished steel. Jack only smiled, and quietly unfastening his cow’s hide, he opened it. The cross, like a star of fire, was reflected in a mirror under Jack’s coat, and it fell from Pengerswick’s grasp. Jack seized it, and turning it full upon the enchanter, the proud lord sank trembling to the ground, piteously imploring Jack to spare his life and let him go free. Jack bade the prostrate lord rise from the ground. He kicked him out of the castle, and…thus he saved Tom and his family from the power of this great enchanter.”
Time for some Hunt:
“Tom’s daughter became of marriageable years, and Jack wished to have her for a wife. Tom, however, would not consent to this, unless he got rid of a troublesome old giant who lived on one of the hills in Morva, which was the only bit of ground between Hayle and St Just which Tom did not possess. The people of Morva were kept in great fear by this giant, who made them bring him the best of everything. He was a very savage old creature, and took exceeding delight in destroying every one’s happiness. Some of Tom’s cousins lived in Morva, and young Tom fell in love with one of his Morva cousins seven times removed, and by Jack’s persuasion, they were allowed by Tom and Jane to marry. It was proclaimed by Jack all round the country that great games would come off on the day of the wedding. He had even the impudence to stick a bill on the giant’s door, stating the prizes which would be given to the best games. The happy day arrived, and, as the custom then was, the marriage was to take place at sundown. A host of people from all parts were assembled, and under the influence of Jack and Tom, the games were kept up in great spirit. Jack and Tom, by and by, amused themselves by pitching quoits at the giant’s house on the top of the hill. The old giant came out and roared like thunder. All the young men were about to fly, but Jack called them a lot of scurvy cowards, and stayed their flight. Jack made faces at the giant, and challenged him to come down and fight him. The old monster thought he could eat Jack, and presently began to run down the hill, when, lo ! he disappeared. When the people saw that the giant was gone, they took courage, and ran up the hill after Jack, who called on them to follow him. There was a vast hole in the earth, and there, at the bottom of it, lay the giant, crushed by his own weight, groaning like a volcano and shaking like an earthquake. Jack knew there was an adit level driven into the hill, and he had quietly, and at night, worked away the roof at one particular part, until he left only a mere shell of rock above, so it was, that, as the giant passed over this spot, the ground gave way. Heavy rocks were thrown down the hole on the giant, and there his bones are said to lie to this day.
Jack was married at once to young Jane, her brother Tom to the Morva girl, and great were the rejoicings. All this took place on a Sunday, and was the origin of Morva Feast and Morva Fair.
Quoits, wrestling and slinging, the skills in Cornish games, are combat skills for covenfolk in Ars Magica.
A note on Herbam vis sources, from when Jack teaches gardening “(Tom) had hitherto contented himself with gathering wild herbs, such as nettles, wild beet, mallows, elecampane, various kinds of lentils, and chick or cat-peas. Jack now planted a garden
for his friends, the first in Cornwall, and they grew all kinds of good vegetables. The tinkeard also taught Jane to make malt and to brew beer ; hitherto they had been content with barley-wort, which was often sour. Jack would take the children and collect bitter herbs to make the beer keep, such as the alehoof (ground ivy), mugwort, bannell (the broom), agrimony, centuary, woodsage, bettony, and pellitory.
One idiot with a pen…
Giants may be extinct, but in the Thirteenth Century a new story starts to circulate. It’s about an Anglo-Norman knight called Guy of Warwick. He hunts dragons and fights a Danish giant called Colibrand. The Norman ruling class have a separate set of stories, different to those of the Cornish. Faeries flock to stories. Can one convincing bard bring the giants back, to the amusement of the distant Norman court, and the horror of the locals?
“Jack wandered around the castle, and was struck by seeing a window which he had not before observed. Jack was resolved to discover the room to which this window belonged, so he very carefully noticed its position, and then threw his hammer in through it, that he might be certain of the spot when he found the tool inside of the castle. The next day, after dinner, when Tom was having his snooze, Jack took Jane with him, and they commenced a search for the hammer near the spot where Jack supposed the window should be, but they saw no signs of one in in any part of the walls. They discovered, however, a strangely fashioned, worm-eaten oak hanging-press. They carefully examined this, but found nothing. At last Jack, striking the back of it with his fist, was convinced, from the sound, that the wall behind it was hollow. He and Jane went steadily to work, and with some exertion they moved the press aside, and disclosed a stone door. They opened this, and there was Jack’s hammer lying amidst a pile of bones, evidently the relics of some of old Blunderbuss’s wives, whom he had imprisoned in the wall, and who had perished there. Jane was in a great fright, and blessed her good
fortune that she had escaped a similar end. Jack, however, soon consoled her by showing her the splendid dresses which were here, and the gold chains, rings, and bracelets, with diamonds and other jewels, which were scattered around. ”