Three Goddesses, One Line

It was a grim and rainy Spring evening in the backwoods of northern France, where I had been hitchhiking from town to town in the efforts to gather legends, folk tales, inscriptions, antiquated books, photographs, and other historical research related to King Arthur. I toted a soggy photocopied hiking map of the heavily forested area, but was without a compass, and the dimness of the day and the heavy and incessant downpours of that pitch-dark night had conspired to leave me wandering without a clue as to my direction. I had some recollection that there was a tiny cluster of houses and a gîte d'étape --a stopover place for hikers-- nearby, but I had given up my hopes of finding it and was looking for an overhang or a dense conifer that might afford some degree of protection from the bitter-cold rain. Then, the faintest glimmer of light caught my eye from between the trees.

In the gloom, I could barely discern that I was stumbling into a little group of ancient cottages huddled around a small muddy road. To the left, there were a few tiny houses, all but the last completely dark inside, and to the right there appeared to be a barn and a stable alongside a squat two-story building. I glanced at my watch. It was nearly midnight. Not wanting to disturb anybody unduly, I sloshed my way slowly to the house with the light inside, angling my approach so I could see into a side window. There appeared to be a kitchen with a wooden slab table, an older, frocked woman sitting at it with her hands wrapped around a mug. I knocked on the door and waited. No answer. I knocked a little harder, wondering if the woman's hearing might be a little worse for her many years. Eventually the top half of her door swung open and she looked out at me and turned pale.

Oh, the horror on her face! "Ar Ankou!" she shrieked.

She continued to scream and cry and babble and I stood there in shock, unable to understand what she was saying or what I should do. A slightly younger man in pajamas soon came to the door, wrapping his arms around her quaking shoulders, muttering something in her ear that calmed her somewhat, and then sent her inside, tears still streaming down her face. "You're hiking, are you not?" he asked in French, his face more haggard than upset. I simply nodded, still dumbfounded as to what was happening. "Wait," he demanded, and closed the door again.

I stood under the eve, watching the rain pour down from the eve into a large and well-worn barrel, which in turn overflowed into a small stream, stretching off into the darkness.

A few minutes later, he came out in a faded orange rain slick, flashlight in hand, and dashed across to the wide building, motioning me to follow him. I did so, and arrived in time to see him take out a large iron key and twist open the lock. We ducked inside and I found myself in a long dark room with huge oak ceiling beams so low that I was forced to stoop.

He shone the light around. "Over there is the fireplace, and you'll find a pump for water to the right. There are places to sleep upstairs. There is no heat, so you can sleep by the fireplace if you have no sleeping bag. There is no electricity either, but perhaps you can find a candle. Here are matches. You can pay us in the morning." That said, he moved towards the door.

"Ar Ankou," I shouted after him. "What does that mean?"

"Death, coming to collect the spirits of the departed," he said. "My mother feared it was her time." Then he left, and I was engulfed in total darkness.

It was no mean feat, but eventually I managed to start a fire which helped to drive the chill and the dampness from my bones. Some water pumped into a kettle suspended from hook in the mantle served to wash away three days of sweat and grime, and another pot was hung to heat up a can of cassoulet. As I sat on a bench alongside the rustic wooden table, spooning beans into my mouth, I couldn't help but notice that the atmosphere was suitably medieval, with barely an item present that hinted at the 16th century or later.

I soon emptied out my backpack and hung it and my wet clothes over a chair near the fire to dry. There was no comfortable place to lie down, so I stogged some heavy logs into the fireplace and found a candle stub in a cupboard to find my way upstairs.

I took it and the rest of my belongings, including my mummy sack, camera, books and journal, up a ladder and finally settled down in a little cold cot in a side room. Normally I read myself to sleep at night, but the previous three days of walking through the woods and through the many tiny towns and churches of the area had taken their toll on my energy. As my shivering body slowly heated up inside the mummy sack, I watched the rhythm of my breath curling up into the air, and felt the slackening of the muscles in each of my limbs as sleep took each one in turn.

While I listened to the pounding rain being lashed against the windowpanes and felt my consciousness ebb away, the last vestiges of candlelight drew my attention to some writing on the wall just over my head. "Trois déesses étaient ici cette nuit." Three goddesses were here this night. With a final flicker, the candle died, and I dreamed.

In my journal for that night, I have only that one line preserved. It's enough.

Syndicate content

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.


Doug, that's pretty wild stuff. I've never thought of you as the angel of death, but maybe the moodiness of the evening helped the overall effect:)

Steve Sharam

Death wears a Patagonia anorak... apparently. :D

Ankou is not the angel of death he is the personification. :) If we only read the text we have a great story filled with mood and atmosphere. However, like archaeologists of the mind (possibly ones with bull whips, revolvers and hats worn at jaunty angles) we must be prepared to dig deep into the mythos of Doug’s psyche. Before the advent of ‘the religions of the book’. Many cultures revolved around the natural cycles of birth, death and food. The impetus for Christianity to break these cycles can be found in Deuteronomy 30:18-20: "I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live".

However old cultures do not die at first they are suppressed and then the universal archetypes are assimilated into the new religion. The old woman realising she is near the end of her first journey tries in vain to avoid death – in this case Ankou – by staying awake. Other tricks include sleeping in a chair; ignoring things which go bump at midnight such as carts and Canadian hikers; or - and this is my favourite – posting an analytical reply at the weekend when everyone else is too busy to read or argue with me. :D

Looking deeper at the reaction of the old woman we see Wish-fulfilment and synchronicity play there part too. The old woman expects death to appear in the form of a living-dead Celtic male and Doug obliges. If he had been more familiar with the Old French dialects he would have realised she was trying to scare him away not in French, but more likely Breton and by standing speechless in the gloom he helps to fuel her worse fear…

Finally our hero reach his goal, only for youthful spirit to blind him to it. It is only when, probably through exhaustion, Doug’s body enters the twilight time - the psychic space between sleep and wakefulness; life and death he spots it: "Trois déesses étaient ici cette nuit" And so once again the wheel of fate turns full circle....

Raising Ankou

Yes, it was Breton, and this little incident (one among many in that neck of the woods) actually did give me cause to start learning the language once I got back to Paris. It was tough going, as my Germanic/Romantic linguistic skills quickly crumbled in the face of Celtic languages, but I eventually did manage to tackle a real conversation some four months later. (Well, as good a conversation that might be formed around the rainy weather, basic geography, and the fact that I liked puppy-dogs.)

As for the Joseph Campbellesque entry into my psyché, let me say that --like the many scholars who read the Indo-European creation myths into Garfield comics-- I think you may be giving me too much credit. ;-)

all my best,

Let's Split The Difference

O.k. guys, let's split the difference: Garfield is a very spiritual comic and Doug bears a striking resemblance to the angel of death:P

Steve Sharam

Must try harder...

...The words written in heavy ink upon my school report after another round of youthful insouciance.

I see the teaser written within Doug's post and I must act. Now away to my shelves; For upon this very night I fear I must dig up the musty tomb of Graves, lest I too end up Mcglockinate... :D


I'd say that old woman nearly Mcglockinated right there:S

Steve Sharam

Nice Piece

Nice piece of writing here, Doug. Of course, your posting this type of item in DIYPlanner is much of the reason why A Million Monkeys is going unattended. Well, where ever I find your stuff, I'm still glad to find it. Keep it up!