The Swans of Bruges and The Werewolf Who Went on a Tour of Redemption.
Hello everyone, let me start this letter by saying thank you to all new subscribers and also to everyone who has read my last letter. It means the world to me that so many of you are interested in receiving a little bit of Flemish folklore via email. Without further ado let’s delve into this enchanting but somewhat horrifying world.
This Month’s Historical Tale: The Swans of Bruges
Besides the medieval facades, the cobbled alleys and the charming bridges, the city of Bruges is also well-known for the elegant swans that majestically swim in the narrow canals, and several folktales tell the story how these swans came to Bruges.
The first tale is my favourite and the lesser-known narrative of the two. According to this story a father imprisoned his daughter in the cellar of a house located alongside the Spiegelrei in the 13th century. The reason he wanted to put her under lock and key was because she refused to marry the man she had been commanded to exchange vows with. Just when she thought she was never going to see the light of day again, two swans glided by her window. They returned the next day, and the next, and the day after that to keep her company during those lonely, dark hours. It’s unclear why and how she was released, but when she was finally free she decided to leave the city but not before gifting Bruges a huge fortune. There was only one condition: they had to promise that they would take care of the swans and all their descendants.
The second story is more widely known in Bruges and tells the gruesome tale of Pieter Lanchals. Lanchals was a trusted confident of The Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. The emperor and his adviser weren’t popular in the Duchies of Flanders and Brabant mainly because of the heavy taxes they imposed and the only major city that remained faithful to his regency during these tumultuous years was Antwerp. During the second revolt in 1488 Maximilian was captured in Bruges while Lanchals went into hiding in the Carmerstraat. When his hiding place was discovered the emperor was forced to watch the torture of his friend, which went on for a couple of days, and eventually his beheading. Once that was done, his head was put on a spike and displayed at the Gentpoort.
Unfortunately for the Flemish the revolts failed, and that’s where we move on to the folklore part of the story where the details become hazy. The emperor demanded that Lanchals honour would be restored and ordered that Bruges must take care of the swans that dwell in the city’s lakes and canals until the city falls. Interestingly, Lanchals is the old Flemish word for ‘langhalzen’ which translates as long necks.
The story of the swans of Bruges doesn’t end during these bygone centuries. In 2014 there was a lot of fuss in the city about an exotic black swan who to everyone’s astonishment could all of a sudden be seen swimming in the canals together with the countless of other swans that call Bruges their home. The city council wanted to remove the swan, but this was a decision the local population didn’t like at all and almost resulted in another revolt. Protest Facebook pages were created, the swan was bapitsed Burilda and quickly became a tourist attraction. Bruges’s only black swan vanished just as mysteriously as it had arrived. Some say the bird went away on its own accord, while others claim the owner of the animal came forward, and yet others think the city council was involved in its disappearance.
This Month’s Folktale: The Werewolf Who Went on a Tour of Redemption
According to a Flemish folktale a man no longer wished to be a werewolf. Howling at the moon and terrorising villages were no longer any fun. In fact, it had become boring. To cease to be transformed into a werewolf against his will the man had to revisit all the villages he had brutally attacked. The book the devil had gifted him when he first became a hairy beast had to be attached to a long stick.
Poor wolf though! During the entire journey thousands of devils who shouted at him and stomped on his feet followed him. And poor villagers! The man who had filled them with terror was back. It isn’t hard to imagine their relief and puzzled astonishment when they realised the wolf wasn’t there to destroy their village.
When the reluctant werewolf arrived in the last village the devil himself appeared in a fiery carriage. Furiously, he snatched the book from the stick and vanished. The werewolf was a werewolf no more. A decision I would have regretted because roaming the woods at night as a wolf (not scaring villagers) sounds quite magical to me, but to each their own.
As some of you might have guessed the news section includes more werewolves!
A Little Bit of News
Earlier this month an article about werewolves in the folklore and history of Flanders was published on the blog of SuperstitionSat. There are some more tales about wolves who reluctantly howl at the moon, those who seek revenge when mocked and a section on the tragedy of the Werewolf Witch Trial. The article can be read here.
I’m also pleased to say that we’re making a lot of progress with Salt & Mirrors & Cats. A literary project co-founded with the amazingly talented SuperstitionSat that will bring even more superstitions into your home.
Expect news very, very soon! Meanwhile you can follow the project on both Twitter and Instagram.
Thank you so much for reading this letter! Wishing you all happy holidays and a joyous New Year!
Thank you for the latest tales. Merry Christmas & all the best for the new year 🙋🏻♂️
Hello again my friend! Thank you for sharing this!