It was in October 2010 that I first noticed this strange fungi growing on our rather mossy lawn. I blogged about it here. Until that autumn I had never been aware of Earthtongue before. If you wish to know more about it you can visit Wikipedia. Go here.
Earthtongues really do look like weird black tongues emerging from the earth. They are well-named. It occurred to me that there might be old folktales linked to this odd fungi - legends or myths but unfortunately nothing surfaced during my research. Consequently, I have made up my own folktale.
"Grandfather, where did the name 'Earthtongue' come from?"
"Sit here upon my knee bonny lass and I will tell thee...
"It was long ago in the time of wolves. On the edge of the great forest that was later to be known as Sherwood, there dwelt a wizened old woman. In the nearby village, she was simply known as The Witch. Her eyes were bloodshot, her fingers as spindly as winter twigs and just like a polar bear - her tongue was black.
Her only companions were the birds of the forest and the badgers that lived in the clearing close to her hovel. These creatures were not afraid of her. She sang melodically to them and earned their trust for she was not really a witch after all. She was a widow entering her ninetieth year with tender memories of times long past.
And it was in that summer, because of inclement weather, voracious pests and a very harsh late frost that crops failed. No oats nor barley. No apples nor plums upon the trees. No hazelnuts in the forest. No root vegetables. No juicy brambles growing on the briars. No turnips to feed the hogs nor seed for the hens.
The people in the village were hungry for they lived from hand to mouth. In their desperation and growing alarm, they sought something or someone to blame. Two children had already starved to death.
Revenge began as a whisper - like a voice upon the wind. Then the whisper became a gabbling - like the geese by the village pond. Then one dark November night as thunder rumbled over those foreboding hills to the west, the gabbling became an angry chorus. It was The Witch! The Witch was to blame! She had cursed them all and cursed their land and now she must pay!
They gathered by the village stocks with pitchforks and burning torches. It was a mob of vengeance and as one they moved over common land to the forest's edge.
Meantime, the old woman lay sleeping on her cot, no doubt dreaming of those times long past. The village folk were almost at the brook when their approaching voices stirred her. They were chanting "Kill The Witch! Kill The Witch!" She was sore afraid.
And then they were there at her doorway. No words were spoken. They pulled the animal skins from her cot and grabbed her thin arms, dragging her roughly outside into the darkness under a stormy sky. There was nothing she could say.
They attacked like wolves and when the killing was done they tossed her aged body in the cesspit behind the hovel and threw dirt and fallen leaves upon her.
"Hide her black tongue!" yelled the blacksmith's son as amber torch flames threw the villagers' silhouettes upon mighty oak trunks.
Then they went away. Back to the village. The purging was over and The Witch was no more. She would rot in the bowels of The Earth. Forever.
The following spring as a kindly stranger walked through the forest on his way to the distant hills, he passed by the site of the old woman's hovel. It was little more than a charred shell now. Wrens and bluetits darted between the fallen rafters as a dove cooed from the new green canopy above.
Something caught the kindly stranger's eye, amidst the dead leaf litter behind the ruined cottage. It was like a small black tongue emerging from the ground. He had never seen anything like it before. He knelt to observe it more closely and said to himself, "It is like the tongue of the earth and I shall hereafter call it Earthtongue".
And as the kindly stranger stepped out of the forest into the light he thought he heard a woman behind him singing to the birds. A voice so sweet and pure that it filled his eyes with tears."
That is really and truly beautiful! I think this may be one of my favorite posts that I've read of yours. Just perfect, really.ReplyDelete
For some reason, I was just in the mood to write something like that.Delete
Fabulous Mr. Pudding! I agree with Ms. Moon, thank you.ReplyDelete
You are welcome Shelagh. I hope the story didn't frighten you!Delete
What an excellent tale! Your literary talents are great and I enjoyed that as much as if it had been written by one of the Brothers Grimm!ReplyDelete
I am often grim-faced Bonnie!Delete
Aside from having to Google "do polar bears have black tongues" and finding that, yes, they do (or dark purple), and also aside from feeling very sorry for the elderly lady and angry at the villagers, I thoroughly enjoyed this little tale.ReplyDelete
Maybe thoroughly isn't the right word after all.
But it was definitely well-written. And I learned about Earthtongue, which is new to me.
Do you live on the edge of a forest Jenny?Delete
Thank you for your supportive comment/
Was that '/' meant to be a '?' ....?Delete
It would make more sense that way :)
A slip of the finger Benny!Delete
Same as the others here, I loved this tale (and hated the villagers for their horrible deed and narrow minds).ReplyDelete
People would never behave like that these days...would they?Delete
Stories abound around here, us not being too far from Pendle hill, of witches and their persecutors.
I've never seen or heard of this fungus.
The tongues are quite small - rarely more than 1.5 inches tall. You may have walked right past examples of them on your way to Pendle Hill Women's Institute.Delete
Lovely story, though you finished on a sweet edge because the witches voice had become beautiful, surely she should have haunted the place with evil intent. I know, it is your story and you can write what you want....ReplyDelete
In these nasty times of lies and accusations I wanted the old woman to appear sweet forevermore - not vengeful Thelma. I thought about the tongues rising from the earth and wrapping themselves round naughty children's ankles, yanking them underground. But the given story is what emerged from within me.Delete
Beauty is a better style of vengeance anyway.ReplyDelete
I like your story and must wonder whether the witch was also the village midwife/ herbalist
She was the village doula!Delete
I immediately compared your old crone to Anys and Mem Gowdie, two so-called witches who met the same fate from the mob who blamed them for the plague in their village; in the novel Year of Wonders.ReplyDelete
The village of Eyam where that story is set is just a stone's throw from this keyboard Alphie.Delete
That sent shivers down my spine. Incredibly well-written, YP.ReplyDelete
I am glad that it touched you ADDY.Delete
My favourite breakfast cereal!Delete
Wow, those are weird. I've never heard of Earthtongue before. Nice story! I like that you took time to mention details like the types of birds flitting through the old woman's charred hovel. I suppose details make a story come alive. I suspect a black tongue would indicate a fairly serious medical condition though!ReplyDelete
A black tongue could indicate that you share some of your DNA ancestry with a polar bear...or indeed a giraffe. Before the internet and Netflix, bestiality was, I understand, quite common.Delete