Stanton Moor Ladies – Jenny Bridge

This is a hybrid of two legends – that of the Stanton Moor Ladies who danced on
the Sabbath and that of the nine ladies who danced on the ninth day of Christmas in the
Christmas song , The Twelve Days of Christmas. They were believed to represent the nine
gifts of the Holy Ghost.

The Nine Ladies.
I knew I shouldn’t have been there and in the years to come, when I lay sleepless and
tortured by nightmares, I wished more than anything that I had not been. If only I had
heeded my mother who had always cautioned me against wandering up on the moor. If
only I had been more like my timid brothers and sisters who had listened with awe to my
mother’s cautionary tales about the strange happenings in this wild and lonely place.
But no, I was fearless and inquisitive and loved nothing better than to roam the
windswept empty land enjoying the freedom and the solitude. It seemed that there was
nothing and no one in the world except for the land, the sky and me. This place was my
playground and my education. Here I ran and skipped and jumped, hiding from imaginary
playmates and talking to the creatures who shared their homes with me. Here I learnt of
the seasons, the weather, the plants and, on those glorious summer nights when I
managed to escape my mother’s watchful eye, the brilliant enormity of the night sky. I had
no notion of what caused the myriad twinkling lights and they fascinated me. Nowhere else
in my life had I experienced a glittering display of this sort.
It was a Sunday, that awful day on the moor, making my transgression even more
serious, for I knew quite well that to seek pleasure on the Sabbath was to earn eternal
damnation. How often had I listened to the preacher warning me of the evils of pleasure
and idleness? How often had I been exhorted to spend the holy day in prayer and
consideration of my evil ways? But, as I have said, I was fearless in those days. What
would I care about damnation – eternal or otherwise?
It started with a strange haunting sound. I was sitting perched on my favourite rock
looking down onto the wide empty landscape below me. It was a warm afternoon but there
was almost always a lively breeze up here and at first I thought it was the wind whistling.
But this sound was something much sweeter than anything I had heard before. Music
was a rare thing in my life but I knew that was what it was, though it was a very different
kind of music from the clumsy efforts of the few village players I had heard. My ears were
shocked by the newness of the sound. It entered my head bringing with it vivid pictures of
things I didn’t understand. It entered my heart making it leap for joy and lurch with
sadness. It entered my limbs making them dance and frolic.
When the sound ended I felt dazed and dizzy and had to steady myself fearing that I
might fall from my rocky place. It was then that I saw the figures and realised they were
coming up the steep path towards me. Quickly I bent and curled myself behind a rock so
that I could see but not be seen.
At the front of the little procession was a tall man dressed in green. As I watched he
lifted a thin silver pipe to his lips and the sounds began again. This time I was better
prepared and was able, for a while, to resist the power of the music.
Besides, this time it was my eyes that were shocked. For behind the man followed nine
amazing figures. Each was tall, pale faced with long red gold hair. But what held my eye
was their dress. Each was swathed in gossamer thin material of a kind I had never seen.
Beneath the white folds the soft curves of the female human body were clearly visible. I
had never seen a woman’s naked body – nor indeed a man’s. Was this what my mother’s
ugly clothing was hiding? More unsettling still, was this what I would become? Startled I
poked and prodded at my thin flat childish form, trying in vain to discover a curve or a hint
of softness under my rough garments.
But now the music took control again and I was following the ladies as they danced with
utmost grace behind the piper. At the top of the hill the piper stopped in a wide clearing
and the ladies swirled round him in rhythmic circles, weaving in and out , stretching
arms, bending waists, pointing toes, swaying and pirouetting, I lost all sense of time and
place and, to this day, have no idea how long the dancing lasted.
Finally the ladies were still and the piper silent. I was suddenly aware of my own
visibility but before I could feel any real embarrassment or fear the ladies began to
approach me in a single line, one behind the other.
The first lady touched me lightly on the arm and said,
“I bring you the gift of joy.”
Immediately my heart was so full of unimaginable joy that I thought I might burst.
The next lady said,
” I bring you the gift of peace.”
And now, far from bursting, though the joy was not diminished, I felt a calm and a
peacefulness I had never known before.
And so it went on. Each lady stepped forward in turn and gave me another gift – love,
gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, patience, goodness, and self control.
My heart and my soul were full. I was floating, sailing, drowning, swimming in a sea of
virtue. I knew that from this day forward my life would be perfect. I could do no wrong,
experience no pain.
That most intense moment of pleasure was the last I was ever to have.
Seconds later the sky was black and the air was filled with the most hideous sounds of
screaming, roaring and bellowing. Thunder deafened my ears and lightening blinded me.
Birds screeched and animals wailed. The wind whipped across the moor tearing trees from
the soil and hurling them into the air before they crashed to the ground all round me. Rage
filled the earth. The heavens were in torment. The Sabbath, the holy day, had been
defiled and retribution must be sought.
I could see the piper and the nine ladies standing paralysed with fear, not knowing how
or where to move. But I knew the moor and its hiding places and was small enough to use
them. I rolled myself into a ball and curled up under a large rock shaking uncontrollably ,
waiting for the tumult to end, if it ever would.
It did, of course, and eventually I felt strong enough to crawl out of my hiding place. At
first in the dim light I thought the piper and the ladies were unharmed, still standing as I
had last seen them. But, as my eyes became accustomed to the gloom, I could see that
they had all been turned to stone.
The guilt I felt was immense. I too had failed to keep the Sabbath. I had danced as
much as they. I had marvelled at the beauty of their bodies and had drunk the delights of
their music. I had accepted all their gifts. I could not claim innocence. My mother had
warned me often enough that my wild ways would lead to no good.
And yet it was those beautiful creatures who were turned to stone forever to stand as
witness to their wrongdoings. And I who was whole.
Or that is what I thought. But not for long.
As time passed I realised that part of me had also turned to stone. The gifts that I had
so wondrously been given were gone. I could feel no joy, no love no peace. Gentleness,
kindness, goodness, patience, faithfulness and self control – all were beyond me. My heart
was stone. How I wish that I had shared the fate of the nine ladies and the piper.
Now I am old and soon my life will be over. It has been a life full of hatred, evil and
wrongdoing. I am tormented by dreams, reliving every night the wrath of a god I scorned
and who will soon cast me into the flames of eternal damnation.

 

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