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Magonia #6: Leland Sings Magonia June 12, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern , trackback

magica lands

Elizabeth Pennell writes in her memoirs of Charles Leland, the nineteenth-century folklorist and alleged bullshitter:

He got well over the gout in the spring and summer of 1891, as he travelled by easy stages several weeks at Via Reggio, Geneva, Homburg to London for his last visit there. He went on with his Heine [the German poet] wherever he stopped; he wrote a long poem in blank verse, Magonia, never published; he began the editing of the Life of Beckwourth for Mr. Unwin’s Adventure Series. And, all the while, letters were flying between him and Miss Owen and myself.

Beach is not so sure that this poem was unpublished, certainly bits of it slid into print here and there and, whatever Leland’s relationship with historical truth he wasn’t a bad rhymer. For God’s sake though skip the next passage if you are not a lover of Browning.

All over doth this outer earth

An inner earth enfold,

And sounds may reach us of its mirth,

Over its pales of gold;

There spirits live, unwedded all

From the shapes and lives they wore,

Though oft their printless footsteps fall

By the hearths they loved before.

We mark them not, nor hear the sound

They make in threading all around,

Their bidding sweet and voiceless prayer

Float without echo through the air;

Yet often in unworldly places.

Soft Sorrow’s silent vales.

We mark them with uncovered faces

Outside their golden pales;

Yet dim as they must ever be.

Like ships far off and out at sea.

With the sun upon their sails.

Beach would rather go to Leland’s Magonia than Coleridge’s Xanadu.

These portions of a longer now lost poem appear in Leland’s discussion of Magonia in his Etruscan Remains: a VERY curious book.

And this [discussion of hail and magic] recalls one of the strangest and most daintily beautiful conceptions of the olden time — that there is afar in Cloudland a mysterious city called Magonia, where the hail is manufactured, and whence it is carried in ships which look to us like ‘clouds sailing along in golden sunset green.’ The monks who bedevilled, belittled, and dirtied everything, added to this fancy that these ships were loaded and manned by witches and devils in order to destroy crops, and that for return cargo they were freighted with the fruit thus injured or destroyed. On which subject the tenth-century Archbishop Agobard of Lyons delivered himself… The same bishop relates that he himself once saved the lives of four human beings, three men and a woman, whom the populace wished to stone to death because they believed that they were people from Magonia, who had fallen from a cloud-vessel, having been ‘shipwrecked’ during a thunder-storm.

Leland then goes on to echo Beach’s early writing on this subject (if only Agobard had told us more), then suggests that these four were gypsies, an eccentric notion because gypsies had not arrived in Europe by this date (though see…): Leland, btw, studied gypsies some years beforehand so his theory reflects an interest. Leland, next, comments on some hail legends including the fact that: in 1240 a hailstone fell with the face of Christ, a cross and letters Jesus Nazarenus (how big!?); in 1395 ‘wonderful hailstones on which were human faces’ came down; and in 1650 hailstones like Turks’ heads fell. Didn’t old Charles Fort write on a giant hailstone?

Leland notes drily that the 1240 account shows that ‘the inhabitants of Magonia were good Christians’. Then pontificates:

What appears from several authorities is that what seem to us to be ‘fleeting clouds — sailors of the air,’ are in reality mysterious barks, or very often spirits, hastening across the sky, the ships and sailors of ‘cloud-land gorgeous land’ bent on errands far away.

Leland connects this with stories of battles in the sky: though it is not clear to this author why. Then, Leland, talks of a personal experience. This is almost always a bad sign in his writing, as here history comes crashing down and fantasy rears its glittery head. The folk reality he describes corresponds a little too well to Magonia for Beach’s tastes.

I was conversing one day with a woman who came into the house [in Florence] just as a storm was raging without. And she said: ‘I was going to the postoffice, and as I went some one said to me, ‘Truly thou art a witch, for the hailstones leap up from beneath thy feet.’ Then we all laughed, and I asked if witches made hail; and this was the answer, which I wrote down, word for word, in Italian: ‘People say that when the weather becomes bad (quando il tempo si guasta), and thunder and lightning begin, that it is a storm caused by wind, and that the dark clouds are water, and the wind bears along those clouds which shed water. But really it is a very different thing. For up in the sky there are cities made by the witches and wizards who were once driven out of paradise or who left this world, and they have made for themselves another world in heaven. But even in heaven they keep those evil feelings (tengono sempre i suoi rancori) which they ever had, and so they choose the worst weather, so that they may do much mischief to men. And then they enter a vessel (barca) and load it with hail; and all the clouds which we see are not clouds of air, but boats. Then their leader takes a hailstone and throws it at a witch, and so they all pelt one another and sing;

Tiro queste granate.

Ma non tiro le granate,

Le tiro perche si devono

Convertire tutte in grandine

E voglio sperare

Che tutta la campagna

A male voglia andare

E cosi tutti di fame

In terra dovranno andare!’

This spell was sung also in Romagnola, and it means:

‘I throw these grains of hail,

But not merely these grains,

I throw them that they may convert

All (the rain) to hail;

And I wish, I hope,

That all the country

May suffer from it.

And all the people therein

May go their graves from hunger!’

Of this Hail-land in heaven I received another history, which is different in a few details, but which, I think, is not less interesting: ‘People when they see clouds in air say it is air (vapour) and a sign of rain, but there is more in them than they suppose. For there is in the sky another world made by wizards and witches who, when they died, were not admitted to heaven, and so they made a world for themselves, which has a sea (lake) in it. And when the weather is dark, and clouds fly before the storm, those clouds are boats full of hail, and in them are wizards and witches, who throw the hail at one another, and so it falls to earth and does great harm. When this happens one should invoke the spirit of thunder (Tituno or Tignia). ‘The light, small clouds which pass along in sunlight in fine weather are small boats in which are girls and children whom the witches have taken and keep as prisoners. But sometimes when it is pleasant they send them out sailing in the air.’

I have, indeed, a third account in MS. devoted to these captives, but after six readings I have been obliged to give it up as unintelligible. It is only additional testimony. There is something to the effect that the witches have mirrors with which they flash out signals to the boats to return, or with which they make lightning.

Leland finishes by giving us a story that is (at least for this blogger) erotically charged. At least, he is quoting someone else here.

Witches on earth sometimes pay visits to this Magonia, or Cloud City land, but they run a risk of being caught or killed in the storms of their own raising. Thus Friedrich Panzer tells us in his Bavarian Tales, that during the first half of the last century there was such a tremendous tempest, with hail, in Forchheim in Upper Franconia, that the people feared lest the whole town should be destroyed. Then the Franciscan brothers met in their cloister garden, when, just as the first blessing was pronounced, lo! a beautiful woman, stark-naked, was thrown headlong from a passing thunderstorm on the grass in their midst; and the holy brothers, greatly amazed at this, doubtless to them, utterly novel sight, drew near, when they recognised in her who had indeed dropped in on them so suddenly, the wife of the town miller, a woman long suspected of witchcraft. Whereupon one of the monks threw a garment over her, and she was brought into the cloister — ‘By means of which,’ says the account (somewhat obscurely), ‘they averted from her the death by fire.’ Which means, I suppose, that she made so favourable an impression on the Franciscans that they protected their proie inattendue… from being roasted.

Leland gets all lyrical as we draw to the end, alleging what he has so far only hinted at, that he has demonstrated through modern Tuscan tales (which most scholars suspect that he  invented) that Magonia was a real pagan, presumably Europe-wide belief.

So from old days these hardened stories live as if trenched in ice, like mammoths in Siberia, to the world unknown till some discoverer reveals them, and then there is marvelling here and there that such things could have been so long frozen up. So into time old time returns again, and the ancient medals, thus disinterred, are all the more beautiful for their rust. And it went deeply to my heart that after I had read the story of Magonia, and thought it was a tale utterly dead on earth and embalmed in a chronicle, to find a sorceress in whose faith it lives. It was as if an Egyptian mummy, revived, had suddenly spoken to me, and told me a tale of Thebes…

Any more on Leland and Magonia: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

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21 June 2013: Wojciech writes: As a follower of your blog I was intrigued by your post of 12 June about Charles Leland’s writings on Magonia. I have read Leland’s writings before but  never correlated them with the “płaneniki” of Slavic mythology, a subject with which I am also familiar. This is a description of the płnetniki taken from the Wikipedia article:    and translated from the original Polish. “Płanetnik (other names:  chmurnik, obłocznik) - a character in Slavic beliefs, demonic or semi-demonic, embodying the essence of atmospheric phenomena. It was believed that the płanetniks directed clouds to send down storms and hail. The name “płanetnik” comes from the Latin word for a planet and is relatively recent, in contrast to the likely original forms of ”chmurnik” and “obłocznik”. The Southern Slavs identified płanetniks with snakes. The souls of those who died suddenly and suicides (mostly hanged and drowned) became płanetniks. They were imagined as tall old men in broad hats or as small creatures. Depending on the circumstances, płanetniks could be friendly or hostile. Platnetiks’ goodwill could be gained by throwing flour into the wind or onto a fire. Friendly płanetnikscame down to earth and warned people before storms and protected them against drought. The word płanetniks was also used to describe certain chosen men, endowed with the power to control the weather. Just before a storm, they were drawn into the sky (or therainbow) and engaged in air combat with dragons.” Clearly, the same beings are being described in both texts. PS. The letter”ł” is pronouned kie “w” in English. Thanks, Wojciech!