Folklore Thursday: The Giants of Cornwall: Wrath
Giants are a race of beings common to many mythologies, legends, folk tales and literature. The one thing that unites them across all cultures is their immense size, but the characteristics which define them can be quite different depending on the culture, region, and reason for existence. The word ‘Giant’ has its origin in ancient Greece, where a race of enormous beings known as the Gigantes, the children of Gaia and Uranus were born as monstrous creatures, part human and part serpent, from the blood of their castrated father. The ancient Greek Giants fought the Olympian gods seeking vengeance for the defeat of their siblings, the Titans, who were also of immense size but, like the Olympians, had human appearance. The Giants were in their turn defeated by the Olympians with the aid of the hero Heracles (Hercules) and were imprisoned in Tartarus, and under volcanoes and mountains. When earthquakes occurred in Greece, it was said that the Giants were turning over in their sleep or raging at their captivity under the earth.
There are many theories as to how the legends of the Giants came to be. On the island of Britain, in the Celtic nations of Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Cornwall, the presence of huge rocks larger than anything that could be moved by humans across the landscape (deposited by melting glaciers) gave rise to stories of enormous beings strong enough to lift such rocks, and build cliffs, tors and coastal promontories with them. Other tales tell of invaders encountering natives of huge and monstrous proportions, such as the story of Brutus and Corineus in Cornwall. Brutus, the first king of Albion, landed in Britain to find it inhabited entirely by Giants. Only when the warrior Corineus defeated the Giant Gogmagog in single combat were the Giants defeated and thus condemned, like their Greek counterparts, to reside in caves or under hills, deep in the earth. As a reward for vanquishing Gogmagog, Brutus gave Corineus the southwestern part of Britain, which he named Corineus’ Wall, hence Cornwall.
It is the Cornish Giants we will be looking at in this blog, some of whom feature as characters in the Fata Morgana Series. Some of them Morgan has seen and/or encountered, whereas others she has only (as yet) heard about.
We will start with one of the lesser known of the Cornish Giants of Fata Morgana, who exists in actual Cornish folklore: Wrath. A little way southwest from Portreath on the north Cornish coast is a cove known as the Giant’s Zawn or Ralph’s Cupboard – Ralph being a corruption of the name Wrath. It is the remains of a collapsed sea cave where, legend has it, the Giant Wrath lived. He was an exceptionally cruel and vicious Giant, and was the terror of all Cornish fisherman, who avoided the Cupboard knowing that “nothing ever came out of it which was unfortunate enough to get into it.”
Wrath would keep watch for fishing boats that were pulled in by currents or driven in by storms. He would then wade out to sea, tie the fishing boats to his girdle, tap the fishermen on the head with his finger to knock them out, and pull them back to his cave. There he would smash the boats and sort through the fishermen – the plump ones he would keep to eat and the thin ones he would throw back into the sea to drown. If the boats were too far out to sea for him to reach, he would throw rocks at them from the cliff above his cave. Many of these rocks can be seen above the water at low tide and form a dangerous reef off Godrevy Head. It is likely that the legend of Wrath arose from the fishermen’s fear of the perils of the rocky coast in that area. After Wrath’s death, his cave collapsed, leaving the open cove which exists today, though in other tales it is the cave finally collapsing in on him that causes the Giant’s demise.
Wrath is mentioned in Giants in the Earth Book III of the Fata Morgana Series.