Home Manx LifeFolk Tales Ben Veg Carraghan

Ben Veg Carraghan

by Bernadette Weyde

On the Isle of Man, the little red woman of Carraghan when travelling through the hills was sometimes followed by a goose. Though she was most often seen flitting about Carraghan or seated in a sheltered nook of the mountain busy at her spinning wheel, she did not restrict herself to this location. One time she was encountered by a great-grandfather of my informant when he was cutting turf on Snaefell. She honoured him by speaking but he refused to divulge their communication to anxious enquiriers.

This elusive woman and her goose let herself be seen at Carraghan, Beary, Snaefell, the Sulby highlands and North Maughold and is associated with the Teutonic Goddess Perchta (English Bertha). In many old descriptions, Bertha had one large foot, sometimes called a goose foot or swan foot. Grimm (of the Brothers Grimm) thought the strange foot symbolized her as a higher being who could shapeshift to animal form. He noticed that Bertha with a strange foot exists in many languages including Middle German, French and Latin. “It is apparently a swan maiden’s foot, which as a mark of her higher nature she cannot lay aside…and at the same time the spinning-woman’s splayfoot that worked the treadle”.

By her other and better known attribute of a wheel (now become a spinning wheel but that was not invented until the 15th or 16th century), the Shen Ven’s wheel was originally something quite different than a spinning wheel as is suggested by the curious tradition in the North that her mode of travel was to curl herself up into it and roll down one hill and up the next.

Western accounts of her in the parish of Patrick say that when on the move she sat on the ‘spool’ or spindle of her wheel, a conception that reduces her to very tiny proportions.

She is comparable with the Norse Friggja and the German Frua and the Swedes gave the name of Friggerock (Friggja’s Spindle) to the constellation of Orion’s Belt.

Though the Ben Veg has been provided with a human origin, I think we may rather credit her with having been at first a divinity who – probably before she arrived on the Isle of Man – declined into a mountain-roving giantess and has since dwindled by degrees to her present and perhaps final invisibility.

shen ven = old woman

(source: A Manx Scrapbook (1929) by W Walter Gill and wiki; photograph is a wallpaper composite)

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