Gargoyles and Guardians
I dreamt of dragons last night, and upon awakening this morning hellhounds and leprechauns, vampires and witches, were my first thoughts. Automatically my mind travelled to Europe, it's many superstitions and protectors against evil, and to how they provided me with a feeling of safety as I explored it's countries.
They are everywhere, secretly watching over travellers, wanderers, locals and gypsies alike.
To this day, legends and myths are passed down, instilling a healthy superstition in its inhabitants surviving the ages. Stories told around hearth fires in the harshest winters to entertain the children that have believed in them since medieval times, are still felt as an undercurrent to the atmosphere. Or perhaps it was just my inner child that it resonated with as I passed through the towns and cites, countryside and wild places making those legends a little more believable.
Strolling the streets yielded glorious surprises as watchers, protectors and guardians were quietly everywhere. Even built into the very buildings themselves throughout towns and town squares.
Hidden horned faces on fountains, gargoyles guarding rooftops and funny little watchers built into street corners all to ward off evil spirits, witches, hexes and curses that may be floating around. Oh what a wonderful world of superstition I found both delightful and fascinating.
Doorways heavy with thick ropes of braided garlic, fat and plump from the summer harvest decorated doors, upside down horse shoes were nailed above others and the brilliant blue of evil eye talismans and trinkets hung inside shops always catching my eye and impossible to miss.
The signs are everywhere. It made me wonder how travellers and tourists don't see these things or if maybe they just didn't want to. Maybe they, like a lot of locals just didn't talk about it, but I believe these legends persist for a reason.
Old ladies in windows keep an eye out and if you linger too long to take photos they eye you suspiciously so more than once I smiled sweetly playing the role of tourist and moved on quickly less they burn me at the stake under suspicion of being a witch.
These are the ladies that throw salt over their left shoulder and spit on the ground three times when they hear the name of anything devilish. Or anything they deem to be devilish. These are the ladies with the thick braids of garlic hanging outside like this one I found on a mountainside in Slovenia.
You may laugh, but when one of these ladies is watching you, unsettling is the word that comes to mind. So, I leave them to their old ways, superstitions and beliefs while I saunter off with goosebumps under their watchful gaze.
Sometimes though, they have a sense of humour about it all, like this sign I found in the charming walled Castle of Monteriggioni near Siena, in the Tuscan countryside. Now, this made me laugh and being a black cat owner, I found a little bit adorable.
But old ladies are not the only ones. If you pay attention, gargoyles and guardians are on rooftops everywhere. Protecting the buildings inhabitants and churches full of the faithful coming to worship. Sometimes they are dog-like, like this one above a churches main front entrance in Sopron, Hungary.
Other times, they are majestically lion-like found on the steeples and spires of grand old churches like this one I fell in love with in Stafford, England.
See him there, crouching, watching, protecting all who enter from any evil entity seen or unseen. Blending in well they are always present, day and night, watching over the churches congregation, protecting the faithful and adding a touch of the dramatic to daily life.
I admit, I loved finding them. My eyes scanning every building, every rooftop and doorway. They are there, in the background, silent sentinels scaring away the things that go bump in the night.
These beliefs are the undercurrent of daily life all throughout towns and cities, from the poorest of poor country farmers through to elegant luxury houses of the rich. The only difference is one has a rusty old horse shoe nailed upside down above his door, while the rich have their guardians carved into the brick and wood of their doorways.
Sometimes, twice, just for good measure like this one found strolling the streets of Bratislava, Slovakia. It's horned figures decorating the doorway and door itself just for good measure.
Shop owners employ them to protect their livelihoods, where you'll find them crouching on ledges over doorways. Protecting patrons with tongue sticking out, I found this little cheeky one above a bookshop.
The one on the other side just looked like a grumpy old man huddled up and miserable.
I will confess, I loved his downturned mouth and found him the perfect accomplice to his guardian friend on the other end. Like a sulky little brother stuck there, not taking his job seriously and not frightening anyone at all.
What wonderful watchers for a bookshop! To me they added a tinge of romance to it all and if it hadn't been shut I could have seen myself whiling away hours in there, enticed in by the feeling of safety my little weathered friends outside provided.
So my darling little travel baggers, remember when you are wandering the streets of Europe to keep an eye out and say thank you to the gargoyles and guardians. I find their presence soothing and although superstition abounds, they ease my heart and add to the romance of discovering new places. They are there, after all, just for us, to watch over us and protect us.