The old chronicles recount that back in the tenth century there lived in a certain village a feudal knight of immense fortune, the owner of an ancient castle, once the patrimony of an illustrious family that glorified their fatherland with their heroic deeds. Somehow, that castle, the living memorial of so many traditions, ended up in the hands of a stranger.
The people of the neighboring towns rarely saw the new Croesus who inhabited the castle; and even in the very village where the venerable towers of his majestic dwelling rose up above the humble huts, no one knew the man’s origin, or his family, or even his name. He appeared only rarely, and even then he never exchanged a single word with anyone. So old that he was bent nearly double by the weight of his years, always austere and somber, his countenance seemed unpleasant at first sight; and this, together with his somewhat strange and mysterious habits, made everyone view him with a respect that degenerated into exaggerated fear.
But the strangest thing of all was that, outside of its singular owner and a few servants, no one else was known to live in the castle; and yet, from time to time, but always at the midnight hour, the interior of the vast dwelling would suddenly come alight, and from it would emerge confused shouts and voices of merriment: the noise of glasses and bottles crashing against each other, at times a sweet and gentle melody like that of an improvised concert, lilting sighs, the laughter and voices of women in joyous orgy. A cacophony, in short, that shattered the tranquility and disturbed the sleep of the peaceful inhabitants of the village, who could not figure out how to explain such a ruckus.
The Nocturnal Laundresses or Washerwomen of the Night (Les Laveuses de Nuit ou Lavandières)
by George Sand
During the full moon, we see, on the path to the Font de Fonts (Fountain of Fountains), strange washerwomen; the spectres of sinful mothers who are condemned to wash, until Judgment Day, the swaddling clothes and corpses of their victims.
— Maurice Sand
This is, in our opinion, the most sinister of the visions of fear. It is also the most widespread, as I believe it is found in every region.
Around stagnant pools and limpid springs, in the moors and on the edges of shaded founts; in the sunken paths below the old willows or on the sun-scorched plains, during the night one hears the hurried beating and the furious splashing of these fantastical washerwomen. In certain provinces it’s believed that they evoke rain and attract storms by making the water of the springs and swamps fly up to the clouds with their agile laundry paddles. But here there is a confusion. The evocation of storms is the monopoly of witches known as “cloud herders.” The authentic washerwomen are the souls of infanticidal mothers. They beat and wring incessantly an object that resembles wet laundry, but which, seen up close, is nothing other than a child’s corpse. Each one has her own child, or children, if they have committed the crime multiple times. You must avoid observing them or bothering them; because, though you may be six feet tall and muscular, they would seize you, pummel you into the water and wring you about as if you were no more and no less than a pair of stockings.
My retelling of the Punjabi Folktale Mirza Sahiban, previously posted to the Non Stop Bhangra blog.
During the time of the Emperor Akbar the Great, in the land between the rivers of Ravi and Chenab (now part of Pakistan), there were two villages, Khewa and Danabad. Mahni Khan was the chief of Khewa, and also of his clan, the Sayyal. Sahiban was his daughter. Fateh Bibi, Mahni’s “milk sister” (they were both nursed by Bibi’s mother as babies, because Mahni’s mother had died; and so they were considered siblings), lived in Danabad, where she had married into the Kharral clan. Fateh Bibi’s son was Mirza.
My retelling of Sohni Mahiwal, originally posted at the Dholrhythms blog.
Once upon a time, on the banks of the river Chenab, near the city of Gujrat, lived a potter named Tulla. Tulla’a pottery was famous, and in demand all through Punjab, and even in lands beyond. Tulla had a daughter who was so lovely that he and his wife named her Sohni (“Beautiful”).
Since Sohni grew up in her father’s shop, she learned how to decorate the pitchers and pots that came off his wheel with beautiful designs: flowers and elaborate patterns. And so the family flourished.
This happened to a girl my mom knew when she was my age. Well, my mom didn’t actually know her, but my mom’s best friend’s second cousin went to school with this girl. It was back in the eighties, when they were all in high school. Continue reading →