Stormy Nights and Ladies in White

The church clock struck midnight. Outside the rain fell in torrents beating a tattoo on the porch roof. Wind moaned through a gap in the shutters. In my office the chandelier lights flickered and the computer gave an apologetic “huff” and died only to mysteriously self-resuscitate a few seconds later.

I was researching more ghosts, myths and legends for another set of spooky stories and had arrived at the legends of the Dames Blanches – White Ladies. They’re everywhere in France but especially in Normandy and the Pyrenees. There are two around me haunting Chateaux Puivert and Puylaurens. At Puylaurens, the great-niece of Phillipe le Bel, restlessly walks the battlements. At Puivert (click for the full story) their Dame Blanche appears on rainy nights at one of the tower windows and just over the border in Andorra there is one who defended the principality from a huge wolf which was really an angry bishop in disguise. Goodness knows how many more there are lurking in the shadows.

What’s with it with these ladies; flitting around in the most inclement of weather wearing little more than some flimsy draperies?

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Jesuit Martin Antonio Delrio writing in the sixteenth century reassures me. He writes that these ladies are generally benevolent towards we mere humans, they are merely feés appearing in the woods and on the plains. They appear to be kind to animals too as he asserts that often the ladies appeared, carrying a lighted candle, in stables. There, they would let a few drops of wax fall on the incumbents’ manes and tails and then proceed to tenderly and carefully comb and plait them.

Another writer, Thomas Keightley makes me nervous though. In his book “The Fairy Mythology” he recounts tales of the malevolent nature of the Dames Blanches where they lurk at cross-roads, narrow bridges and ravines and insist on forfeits. If you want to pass by you may have to dance with them, get on your knees to them or assist them in some way. Woe betide you if you refuse. You may end up in a patch of nettles and brambles. These unkind phantoms are said to be found mainly in the north of France, particularly Normandy. Did I tell you I’m going to Normandy at the end of April?  Me with my cronky knee. Just my luck.

 

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PS Did I also tell you that my collection of spooky stories – “Spook Me Out” will be available from Amazon at the end of March?

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The Lady of the Lake

Here’s a salutary tale for those so smitten by their lady-loves that they commit very silly acts!

In the village of Puivert, a few kilometres from where I live, is a castle perched high on the mountainside overlooking a small man-made lake. IMG_3504

But in times past there was a huge lake confined by stone barrages. However, a certain Aragonaise princess, let’s call her Dame Blanche because she had a thing about always wearing white, visited the castle, fell in love with the surroundings and above all with the lake that stretched out below the castle towers. So enamoured of the place did she become, that she prolonged her visit until she became a permanent resident in the castle. This was much to the liking of the seigneur of the castle, one Jean de Bruyère, who had taken a fancy to Dame Blanche; whether his missus was entirely thrilled was another matter. So, Dame Blanche mooched around the lake every day, communing with nature, talking to the birds and generally not doing very much at all.

As happens to all of us age began to creep up on her and she had increasing difficulty in getting around the lake to do her communing thing. However, she found a rock, strangely enough shaped just like an armchair where she could perch her derrière and while away the hours in contemplation of the lapping waters, the tranquillity and the way the sunsets seemed to set the lake afire, surrounded of course by her entourage always ready to fetch and carry.

Then, one day a rainstorm swelled the lake waters and the wind whipped the ripples into waves which spilled over the banks, submerging the Dame’s stone seat. This catastrophe filled the lady with sadness; she slipped into a green and yellow melancholy and withdrew within the castle walls. However, one of her pages, no doubt a bit lacking in nous, suggested to her that if a hole was made in the lake’s retaining wall the water level would fall and she would be able to recover her seat which, as an added bonus would always be dry.

The Dame put this idea to the besotted master of the castle who could not naysay her and he promptly set his minions to work on creating a hole. Unfortunately, no-one gave any thought to the effects of the pressure of water behind the wall escaping through this small breach. The inevitable happened and the whole wall collapsed unleashing a torrent of water down the valley, flooding the village of Mirepoix some 30 kilometres away causing loss of life and untold damage.

Mirepoix Market Place
It is said that the lady herself was carried away by the flood water and today, she haunts the castle. When it rains in Puivert she may be seen staring out of a window in one of the towers, no doubt contemplating the damage she caused.
And the moral of the tale…well you decide.

(Photos courtesy of June Berridge Photography)