In The Celtic Twilight, William Butler Yeats very aptly writes: "Everything exists, everything is true and the earth is only a little dust under our feet". Like the brothers Grimm, the Irish poet dwelt on beliefs in the occult and folk tales of his country, eager to bring them back to the collective imagination. Have you not forgotten them yourself, from the time you would wander around vacant lots and approach abandoned huts, searching for a clue, or a hint of a life so incredible you wanted to believe it more than anything? As we revisit a few myths sustained by fanciful advocates or spectral illusions, come uncover the haunting and elusive secrets of Europe.
For the love of Nessie
A few hours away from Edinburgh, an eccentric creature reigns over the depths of Loch Ness. Surrounded by the Highlands, the freshwater lake extends into foggy darkness, only disrupted by bubbles and ripples. The monster's presence was first reported in the 6th century. Legend has since lived on: what if the odd bumps glimpsed at, photographed, and filmed on the surface of the water did belong to a gigantic beast? Anonymous testimonies continue to add to the list of sightings of the sea serpent. The media eagerly relay the story and scientific expeditions abound. Sonars have recorded odd echoes, and the physiognomy of the animal is more detailed: Nessie apparently has two or three bumps on its back, a mobile tail, long neck and reptilian head with large eyes. Scientists dismiss the hypothesis that such a plesiosaurus could have survived in frozen water and lived off of the few fish that prowl the lake. Could the foggy surroundings of Inverness be at the root of the wacky chimeras of the world?
Discover Edinburgh: www.airfrance.fr/travel-guide/edinburgh
The White Lady down the road
Sometimes referred to as a witch or night laundress, a ghost in castles or a mere hitchhiker, the White Lady terrifies strollers and superstitious drivers. Dressed in a long, immaculate dress, she wanders around the roads of France, in memory of a young woman killed in a car accident. On the Lessay Lande, on the outskirts of Balleroy, on the way from Limoges to Chapareillan, by the Compiegne forest, or at the bus stop near the Caen University Hospital, she prowls – on the lookout for a man who will give her a ride. The study of the testimonies found that most of the deaths had taken place around the bends and intersections in those locations. Since then, the White Lady has been invited herself in travellers' cars to warn them against imminent danger before disappearing mysteriously. Not convinced? Perhaps you will be frightened to meet the other lady who, according to another urban legend, haunts the castles of Lusignan in the Vienne, Trecesson in Morbihan, Pouance in Maine-et-Loire, Puymartin in Dordogne, Landreville in the Ardennes, or La Bourdaisiere in the Hauts-de-Seine. See you under the full moon.
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The Golem's human imperfection
In the middle of the 16th century, the Czech government threatened Jews with deportation, with the exception of a few families who paid for the right to stay. At that time, Juda Lœw ben Bezalel, a brilliant native scholar, stood as the guardian of the Jewish community in Prague. Aware of the growing animosity towards his community, he decided to create an immense statue of clay and mud in the basement of the Old New Synagogue. The creature would serve to protect the inhabitants of the Jewish ghetto. The rabbi uttered a few words in Hebrew and the creature displayed its colossal structure: the Golem was born. Built to defend a suffering people, the monster accomplished its noble task until dawn. However, the Golem was a human creation: an artificial and unfinished being, devoid of sense and reason. Whether it is an allegory of man's pride or the symbol for the struggle for freedom of the Jewish people, the Maharal had to stop him: "You are dust, and to dust you shall return". In the old part of town, curious visitors gather outside the building where the remains of the Golem are kept in the attic. A lure? Hard to say, as no one is allowed to enter the sacred place.
Discover Prague: www.airfrance.fr/travel-guide/prague
A mischievous Leprechaun
There are many Gaelic traditions that tell the story of a little red-bearded creature that zealously watches over a cauldron of gold coins hidden at the foot of a rainbow. All dressed in green, with a cobbler's apron, he smokes a pipe in the bushes and gullies of Ireland, and promises fortune to greedy men. Like the banker of the small world, he has two leather purses, for shilling and gold, which he uses for bribes. Tucked away in his underground dwelling, he makes dancing shoes for fairies and greedily counts what he's owed over and over. Misfit and grumpy, the Leprechaun is said to come from the union of a spirit and a human being, although he is rejected by both worlds. Beware of his apparent friendliness, the little man is probably more cunning than you. If you catch him, do not look away for he may disappear in a heartbeat. In return for his freedom, he will promise wealth – but nothing is less certain. Will you be guided by your childlike soul? From Dublin, set out and search for the mischievous goblin and find, thanks to his sly and silly hints, his gold filled-cauldron.
Discover Dublin : www.airfrance.fr/travel-guide/dublin
For all the Dutchman's Gold
For the past three hundred years, the Flying Dutchman has been haunting the oceans of the globe. Legend was born in the 17th century, as a ship was heading home to the port of Amsterdam with a cargo of gold on board. In its most famous version, the story depicts Captain Van der Decken caught in a fit of dementia forcing his crew to surrender to a tornado, all the while singing blasphemous tunes at the top of his lungs. As the captain refused to head back to dock, his sailors mutinied and attempted to bring him back to his senses. Alas, it was too late. The navigator has since been doomed and left to forever wander on a raging sea at the mercy of tides and drifts. All those who cross his path shall perish. He and his seamen have nothing but bile to drink and feed on incandescent iron. To this day, sailors are afraid to meet him and some testimonials deserve some attention. Fantastic tales, terrifying mirages, or natural phenomena? This myth, one of the last Nordic sagas, was the inspiration for Richard Wagner's romantic opera The Flying Dutchman, while Gore Verbinski recently revisited the terrible curse in the second opus of Pirates of the Caribbean. Ready to set sail?
Discover Amsterdam : www.airfrance.fr/travel-guide/amsterdam