Use our images
Download images for
personal or educational
use for £2.99/US$5 each
All of these articles and images are available for licensing: click on an image to see further details and licensing options; contact us about licensing textual content.
Posted in Customs, Historical articles, Legend, Myth on Friday, 25 October 2013
This edited article about Irish myths and legends originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 439 published on 13 June 1970.
An ancient leprechaun
If you catch a leprechaun in Ireland, do not let him go, for he may lead you to his buried treasure.
This, at any rate, is what the Irish people used to believe about the tiny elves whom they called luchorpan, whose name means “little body”.
For, if you take your gaze away from the leprechaun, even for a few seconds, he will vanish and you will never see him again or find his treasure.
They had various tricks to make a captor look away. “Your bees are swarming and you will lose them,” they might cry. Or, they may call warningly, “Your cows are trampling through your oats and ruining the crop.”
It was very hard not to be taken in by tricks like this. But once, according to an old story, a man refused to be tricked and made the leprechaun lead him to a very bush in a field under which gold was hidden.
As it happened, the man had no spade to dig. But he took off one red garter and tied it to the bush so that he would recognize the spot again, and let the leprechaun go free.
This was his mistake. When he came back with his spade after only three minutes, he found that there was a red garter on every bush in the field.
Not only were they cunning, but the leprechauns were strong for their size. In the 15th century, one of their kings named Iubdan boasted that his strongest subject could cut down a thistle at a single stroke.
For such small people, this was great strength indeed.
These jolly elves have held a firm place in Irish folklore for centuries, and many stories are told about their adventures and their crocks of buried treasure.
Posted in Historical articles, Legend, Myth, Religion, War on Friday, 25 October 2013
This edited article about Celtic myths and legends originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 439 published on 13 June 1970.
Irish warrior-chieftains to whom Morrigan would appear as an old hag muttering dreadful prophecies
When the Irish heroes were fighting their battles long, long ago in the Celtic kingdoms of Ireland, a strange creature was often seen by the warriors.
This, according to the old legends, was the Morrigan, a goddess of war, who appeared in many forms.
Sometimes, before a battle, she was seen by the warriors in the shape of an old woman, cackling ominous warnings to those who would be killed.
To ignore her or to laugh at her prophesies was fatal, for she could make sure that any man or side she chose would be the loser.
When the fighting was at its fiercest, the Morrigan was often seen hovering over the armies in the guise of a huge crow, urging on the fighters.
One warrior, however, was favoured more than the others by the Morrigan. He was Cu Chulainn, the most wonderful of the Celtic heroes, who did only good. Normally, he was a well-built young man with long dark hair. But in a battle frenzy, he was transformed.
Sparks of fire flashed from the tip of each hair, which stood on end. Fire spurted from his mouth and a jet of black blood rose mast high from the top of his head.
Cu Chulainn’s anger could not be quenched when he was in this state until he had been plunged into three vats of cold water.
It is not to be wondered that such a startling hero should have captivated the war-loving Morrigan. She appeared as a young girl and tried to make Cu Chulainn fall in love with her.
But his thoughts were only of battles and victories and he tried to discourage her. The Morrigan refused to be put off. After one of Cu Chulainn’s most wonderful victories, she went to him again and told him of her love.
Weary from the battle and exhausted by the quenching of his fires of fury, he was in no mood for her.
“Go away,” he cried, “and leave me in peace.”
The Morrigan went away but vowed a terrible vengeance on Cu Chulainn. She began to persecute him. Once she turned herself into a cow and knocked him to the ground while he was fighting a battle.
Her next ruse was to become a water serpent. As Cu Chulainn, in the course of a battle, was crossing a stream, the serpent coiled around his legs and tried to drown him.
By struggling powerfully, Cu Chulainn freed himself, and was then entangled in a thick clump of water-weed, another of the Morrigan’s disguises. He was dragged down into the water, but fought his way free. As far as we know, the Morrigan never succeeded in either killing him or winning his love.
Posted in Animals, Historical articles, Myth, Prehistory on Friday, 25 October 2013
This edited article about animals originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 439 published on 13 June 1970.
Brontotherium Plapyceras and Palaelagus.
A party of American Indians of the Sioux tribe, while on a hunting trip on the prairies of Dakota and Nebraska, wandered into a ravine and there found huge bones. These they believed to be the remains of a “thunder horse”. According to Indian legend the thunder horse appeared in storms bursting from the sky lit by lightning, hunting the buffalo, chasing it and trampling it to death with its massive hooves.
Many years after, the white man came to America and also discovered these bones and was successful in locating and putting together a complete skeleton, which he knew to be the remains of a creature that roamed the prairies millions of years ago. Unlike the Indians, the scientists had a knowledge of the past. They called this creature “Brontotherium”. This name was in fact taken from the Red Indians’ legend of the thunder horses and means “beast of thunder.” It came from the family of extinct animals known as titanotheres, distant relatives of our rhinoceroses, tapirs and horses.
The original titanotheres were apparently quite small and hornless but the later ones were as large as elephants.
The name “titanotheres” comes from two words “titan” meaning “giant” and “ther” meaning “wild beast”. As you can guess, such animals were certainly wild by any standards.
Brontotherium belonged to the same genus as the titanotheres but was another member of the genus. The family name of these animals was Brontotheriidea.
You can see that it was a big, rather clumsy animal, not unlike the rhinoceros that you can see in the zoo. But, believe it or not, it was bigger, measuring 8 ft. at the shoulder. Most of them lived on what we now know as the prairies of North America, but experts believe that they also existed in East Asia and possibly in Europe. Compared with their large armoured bodies, their skulls were small and decorated with two horns. These horns were larger in the male than in the female. Through discovering their teeth, we now know that they were vegetarian, feeding on the lush, juicy plant life that abounded at this time.
Brontotherium lived millions of years ago and wandered the prairies contented and safe until, with apparent suddenness, it disappeared. Why, nobody seems to know. Could it have been poisoned by the sulphurous gases emitted by the many volcanoes dotting the landscape? We shall probably never know.
Posted in Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, Legend, Myth on Wednesday, 23 October 2013
This edited article about Persian legends originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 437 published on 30 May 1970.
One of Rustem's celebrated achievements was the slaying of the White Demon in the mountains of Tabaristan in ancient Persia
The mythical history of Persia tells us of a noble governor of Hindustan named Sam, who became the father of a son. The face of this son was handsome, but his hair was white like that of an old man.
Sam was ashamed of the baby’s strange appearance and left him to die on a distant mountain. A vulture, named Simurgh, heard the cries of the child and carried him in its claws to its nest on the summit of Mount Elburz.
In time, the child grew and became a tall, powerful man whose arms and chest rippled with muscles and whose waist was slim.
Meanwhile, Sam was stricken with remorse and was warned in a dream to search for his son. When he reached the distant mountain and discovered Simurgh’s rock, the vulture agreed to give up his adopted son and placed him at Sam’s feet. At once, Sam blessed his son and named him Zal.
To the Persians, Zal was a hero full of wisdom and valour. One of the stories they told about him concerned his love for the beautiful Rudabeh.
Zal fell in love with her even before he had met her, such were the tales he had heard of her loveliness.
Her admirers likened her to the most beautiful things they knew. Flowers which delighted the eye, rich jewels which fascinated with their beauty and fine wine which pleased the senses were as nothing beside the wonderful Rudabeh.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Customs, Historical articles, Legend, Myth, Nature, Superstition on Wednesday, 23 October 2013
This edited article about Balkan myths and legends originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 436 published on 23 May 1970.
To escape from a Leshy's spell, a victim had to take his clothes off and put them on again the wrong way round, making sure that his left shoe was on his right foot
The legends, tales, songs and proverbs of the ancient Slavonic people, who lived in the Balkans and Central and Eastern Europe, are peopled by mysterious beings with strange, magical properties.
Immense areas covered with forests, marshes, lakes and rivers were occupied by the Slavs. They fished, hunted and reared cattle in open spaces amid vast forests, where they grew corn. Isolated in small groups of families, they were helpless before the forces of nature, and so they invented strange creatures to provide an explanation for the happenings they could not understand.
They filled the clouds, the earth, forests, rivers, fields, stables and houses with mysterious gods which controlled the storms, the flooding of rivers, the growth of good or bad crops and the wonder of day and night.
Their explanations rid them of the fears of ordinary, natural happenings and gave rise, in their stories, to the existence of some wonderful creatures.
One of these was Leshy, the spirit of the forest, whose name comes from the Slavonic word les, meaning forest.
Leshy is supposed to have had a human shape but, because its blood was blue, its cheeks had a bluish tinge. It had green eyes which often popped out of their sockets, tufted eyebrows and a beard that was long, green and straggling.
According to some stories, it wore a red sash, put its left shoe on its right foot and buttoned its cloak the wrong way round.
Not only did the Leshy throw no shadows, but it could also change its shape. If it were walking in the forest, its head would reach the top of the tallest tree. But when it was strolling on the edge of the forest among low bushes and grass, it became a dwarf, tiny enough to hide under a leaf.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Ancient History, Historical articles, History, Legend, Mystery, Myth, Religion on Tuesday, 22 October 2013
This edited article about the legend of Avalon originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 435 published on 16 May 1970.
Norman soldiers killed rebellious monks in their church at Glastonbury on an order from Abbot Turstin
Throughout the ages many travellers have come to the Isle of Avalon in Somerset. We know about some of these people. Others are legendary. Others again are part-truth, part-legend, part-mystery.
The Isle of Avalon consists of the old town of Glastonbury and the small hills round about it. Long ago these hills were completely surrounded by marshland, except for one tongue of land leading to the uplands. In those days, there was a strong bank and ditch that cut this “hill-island” off from the mainland about it. This is still known as Ponter’s Ball.
This barrier was made long ago, in the Iron Age, before the Romans came to Britain. Even in those days, it is now learned, this was an Iron Age sanctuary, an island of holiness and healing. The high hill, called Glastonbury Tor, is very impressive, and on the side of it is a spring whose waters hold healing mineral qualities.
Literally, the Isle of Avalon means the “Island of Apples.” The apple tree was sacred to the Iron Age Celts, and their high priests, the Druids, planted many of them.
While we do not know much of their strange ceremonies, we learn from Roman writers that the Druids were great lovers of trees, and that the oak and the hazel, as well as the apple tree, held special significance for them. Their altars were always set among trees. Modern excavation has uncovered an Iron Age settlement at Glastonbury, so it seems very likely that Tor Hill was once a pagan Celtic sanctuary.
But is it true that Saint Joseph of Arimathaea – who gave the tomb for the repose of Christ’s body – came to this Island of Apples? He is said to have paused upon Weary-All Hill and thrust his staff into the ground. The staff put down roots and grew into a thorn-tree. Descendants of this thorn-tree still grow in Glastonbury, and flower not only in spring, but at Christmas time as well.
This is the world-famous Glastonbury Holy Thorn which was honoured for many years until a fanatic with a chopper cut it down. The Thorn stayed alive long enough for grafts and cuttings to be taken, so that the Holy Thorn still survives. Flowers from it are always sent to the reigning monarch.
Every Christmas morning, our Queen finds flowers from Glastonbury on her breakfast table.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Ancient History, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, Legend, Literature, Myth on Tuesday, 22 October 2013
This edited article about monsters originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 435 published on 16 May 1970.
Imagine an enormous giant as big as a mountain with a single eye, under a bushy eyebrow, glittering menacingly. Monsters like this appeared in Greek mythology and were called Cyclopes.
They are supposed to have lived on Mount Etna with Hephaestus, the god of volcanoes. But the fire which Hephaestus represents was not destructive but beneficial. It enabled men to work metal.
Hephaestus, therefore, was a divine blacksmith who made fine things and taught men the mechanical arts.
His companions were the mighty Cyclopes, who made the bellows of his furnace roar. Others, raising one by one their heavy hammers, struck, great blows at the molten bronze and iron they drew from the furnace.
The best known among them was Polyphemus, who lived with his friends in isolated caverns, killing and eating any strangers who came near his home.
When Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, was returning from a voyage to Troy, a famous city of legendary Greek history, he and his friends were captured by Polyphemus.
Odysseus did not remain a prisoner for long. He conceived a cunning plan. First, he made the one-eyed monster drunk and then blinded him by plunging a sharpened, burning stake into his single eye. Then the Greek heroes escaped by tying themselves under the bellies of rams. Hidden in this fashion, they got away from the cavern in which Polyphemus had imprisoned them.
Before this happened, Polyphemus had tried to win the love of Nereid Galatea, a goddess of the sea. Each day he sent her a present of a bear or an elephant.
But Galatea was in love with a shepherd named Acis, the son of a sea-maiden. One day, these two lovers were talking in a hollow grotto, when Polyphemus surprised them.
* * *
In a fearful rage, Polyphemus raised an enormous boulder and crushed Acis beneath it. But Acis did not die, for the gods came to his aid and turned him into a river.
Polyphemus was a companion of Hephaestus, the son of Zeus, king of the gods, and Hera. When Hera saw that Hephaestus was lame, stumbled when he walked and had a dislocated hip, she threw him from the heights of Olympus into the sea where he was adopted by two water nymphs.
For them, he forged a thousand wonderful objects, but all the time he was preparing a cunning revenge on his mother, Hera. With great skill and artistry, he made a golden throne, which Hera was delighted to receive one day.
She sat on it with delight, but when she tried to rise, invisible bands gripped her firmly. Many gods tried to free her. However, only Hephaestus was able to remove the bands. But he would not leave the depths of the ocean to do so until he was given the loveliest of goddesses for his bride. From then on, there was peace between Hera and her son.
Posted in Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, Legend, Myth, Religion on Tuesday, 22 October 2013
This edited article about Japanese myths and legends originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 434 published on 9 May 1970.
Wistaria at Nagaoka in Old Japan
An old man and an old woman were crying beside a girl, in ancient Japan. Suddenly, they saw a finely dressed young man standing beside them.
“Why are you crying?” asked the young man.
Brushing his tears aside, the old man explained. “I had eight daughters,” he said. “Every year, a snake with eight heads has come from the Kashi district and eaten one of my daughters. Seven have already been eaten, and now the snake is coming to devour the last. What am I to do? I am too frail to slay the snake myself!”
The young man drew himself up proudly. “I am Susanoo, the god of the sea,” he announced, “lately come from heaven. I will save your daughter.”
Susanoo asked the old parents to give him the girl, and they gladly agreed. Tales of ancient Japanese mythology tell us that Susanoo changed the girl into a comb which he stuck into his hair.
Then he got some rice wine and poured it into eight bowls which he placed on the ground. As soon as the terrifying snake appeared, it smelt the scent of the wine and each head made for one of the bowls. When the monster was sleepily drunk, Susanoo drew his sword and killed it.
Freed from this scourge, the old parents were overjoyed and watched in wonder as Susanoo took the comb from his hair and returned their daughter to human form.
He asked her to become his wife and built her a wonderful palace at Suga. They had a son who was born the god O-Kuni-Nushi, the god of medicine connected with sorcery.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Ancient History, Historical articles, History, Legend, Myth, Religion on Friday, 18 October 2013
This edited article about pagan gods originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 433 published on 2 May 1970.
Odin, chief of the Norse gods
One of the fiercest gods of ancient times was Odin, with a shining breastplate and golden helmet. To the 2nd century Germanic people he was the god of night storms who rode through the skies on his magical horse, Sleipnir, whose eight hooves could gallop over land or water or glide through the air.
They imagined him leaping through the lightning-streaked sky, grasping his spear, Gungnir, which had been made by dwarfs. In battle, the warriors sought Odin’s help, and the Angles and Saxons called upon him to be on their side before they invaded Britain in the 5th century.
Odin’s horse was the swiftest of all stallions. The story is told that one day Odin was riding in the land of the Giants, when one of the inhabitants, named Hrungnir, admired Odin and his horse and claimed, “I myself have a stallion which is even stronger and swifter than yours.”
Odin challenged the giant to prove this and the two raced across a vast plain.
However sharply Hrungnir prodded his horse with his spurs, he could not catch up with Odin. Each time he reached the crest of a hill, he saw Odin flying on Sleipnir ahead of him towards the next crest.
Hrungnir was not the only person to have reason to wonder at the magical qualities of Odin’s horse. Another man to be amazed by these was one named Hadding, who was being chased by merciless enemies. Odin picked up Hadding and wrapped him up in a large cloak and lay him on the saddle before him. While the horse was galloping home with him, the young man curiously glanced out through a hole in the cloak.
He was shocked by what he saw. They were travelling over the sea and Sleipnir’s hooves were pounding the ocean as though he were on a road paved with stones.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Ancient History, Architecture, Historical articles, History, Legend, Magic, Mystery, Myth on Wednesday, 16 October 2013
This edited article about Delphi originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 429 published on 4 April 1970.
Delphi was a small town of ancient Greece, situated on the southern slopes of Mount Parnassus. It was particularly famous as the main centre of the worship of Apollo and its greatest glory was the Temple of Apollo where priestesses, known as the Pythia, received advice from the god. Tradition has it that the priestesses sat over a chasm in the middle of the temple and vapours from an underground stream, inspired them to answer the questions put to them.
Until 1891, the village of Castri stood on the site of Delphi, but it was then bought by the French government and excavations were started the following year.
Delphi was rich in statues and monuments. There was also a large theatre and a stadium where the Pythian games were held every four years.