The Mythology of Ancient Magus’ Bride: Part 1

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Ancient Magus’ Bride has wound up being one of my favorite mangas and animes so far. If you haven’t read my review of the manga, you really should, if only to get my general overview of the series before I start diving into things here. I’ve always had an interest in mythology and religion, and this anime has revitalized that interest by giving me a lot of areas to dig in to and research. Below are just a few of the origins behind the main and side characters of this anime. This will have to be a multi-part series as there is just way too much to cover. As I’m writing this right now, it’s turned out to be about four pages worth of information. For this first segment, I’ve decided to stay within the anime and its content thus far, but for later segments, I will be delving more into the manga. I’ve included some links to my sources within the text and after each segment, but if I’ve missed a better source or some piece of information, feel free to let me know in the comments. As a general note, most of this will just be a general overview, as I don’t have the space to get into every bit of a certain legend. I hope these bits will inspire you to do research of your own as well.

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Sleigh Beggy vs Slay Vega

There has been a lot of contention over the translation and meaning behind the name Chise is referred to by many people in the series. Some people have noted that the OVA translated this word as slay vega as did many unofficial translations. However, both the current series and the official translation of the manga use the term sleigh beggy. I must admit that at first I was in the camp of believing the original slay vega translation was the correct one considering how hard it can be to translate some Japanese phrases especially since the Japanese pronunciation of the “ve” sound can come out as a “be” in many instances. However, after more research, I’ve come to believe my original opinion was wrong.

Our first lead is an interview with the mangaka herself on Crunchyroll. When she is asked: “You’ve mentioned a [sic] you were inspired by celtic mythology in which Sleigh Beggys are a type of fae. Does this mean Chise isn’t human?” She then responds: “I think it’s out in the States, but you could say she’s kind of like a mutant. She’s human, but not really. There are quite a few of them in the Magus Bride world, though they haven’t been discovered. Chise can see all kinds of things, but most people can’t, even though they are capable. Even if, say, they’re attacked by something, it just looks like they died from a freak accident or from illness.” I think in this way she confirms that the translation is sleigh beggy and that it may be related to Celtic mythology. She also lets us in on her thinking in connecting Chise to a potential type of fae, which I think is fairly interesting and helps this all make more sense for me.

So what exactly is a Sleigh Beggy then? Well there’s not much information on them that I could dig up. From what I did find though, the term refers to a type of fae that lives on the Isle of Man. Translated as the “little folk” from Manx lore,  the term was primarily used as a sort of nickname for the fae of the area as using their true names may bring misfortune. One entry in A Witch’s Guide to Faerie Folk notes that they were considered the original inhabitants of the Isle of Man who live in underground burghs. They are known to be small and stocky with a very bad temper. They also walk around on crows feet and seem to love the cold. So while the legend of the Sleigh Beggy may not fit with the character of Chise all that much, if we look at it as just another word for a fae creature — much like Elias telling Chise to call the faeries “neighbors” — and factor in the mangaka’s explanation, I think this begins to make sense.

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Robin and Thorns

There was actually a Reddit discussion that turned me onto an interesting piece of folklore that I hadn’t considered. In both the manga and anime, Chise is commonly referred to as Robin by the Fae. Now, if we delve into a bit of British folklore, we’ll come across this piece of legend surrounding the well-known bird the robin redbreast or just the robin. Apparently, the robin is considered to be a very special bird in British mythology as the origin of its redbreast is commonly connected to the time of Christ’s crucifixion. There are a multitude of variances to this story, but one in particular caught my attention: “in another version [it is] attempting to pluck out the nails or the thorns from the crown.” This makes me think of one of Elias’ other names, the Thorn Mage, which in-turn makes me think of Chise as a robin trying to pluck the thorns from Elias’ body.

Also, when we look at the relationship between Chise and the Fae we see statements made by Elias and other characters leading us to believe that Chise is too important to harm. She’s a rare type of person, both with her bright red hair and her magical abilities. This ban imposed by the fae on committing any type of harm against Chise connects to the second half of the mythology behind the robin: the fact that that its connection to Christ makes it bad luck to harm them in any way. The more I think out this, the more I feel this piece of mythology works given all of the symbolism and references present in the

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Pilum Muralis

This one was a little harder for me to wrap my head around. The word pilum muralis refers to an old Roman spear used to bolster defenses around army camps and could also be used in battle to pierce through an enemy’s shield. There are quite a few references to this fact including weapon encyclopedias. The only theory I have is that this name is more of a metaphor to reference Elias’ relationship to Chise. He is, in a way, her protector. However, I think I might leave this on to you guys to discuss in the comments below!

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Church Grim

This piece of mythology revolves around the character of Ruth and is, I believe, one of the easier legends to talk about in this list as the mangaka has already done a fairly good job explaining its background. Ruth is what you would call a church grim, kirk grim, or kirkegrim depending on your area of the UK or Scandinavia. Church Grims are the protectors of churches and graveyards, and are tasked with making sure no treasure seekers or grave robbers disturb the people buried on the grounds. In ancient times, when religion was still on the malleable border between paganism and Christianity, an animal would usually be sacrificed whenever a new church would be built. These animals could be goats, sheep, or even dogs. They would sometimes be buried alive under the foundation or beside the churchyard wall, ensuring their spirits would wander the grounds for all eternity. As a note, these should not be confused with the legends surrounding Black Dogs, as they are fairly different creatures with different purposes. Church Grims are usually benevolent beings while the appearance of Black Dogs are usually followed by death and bad luck.

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Oberon and Titania

Pulled directly from the world of classical literature, Oberon and Titania are the best known names associated with fae royalty. You’ll probably remember these names from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, the history behind those names goes back even further. Oberon is first used in a 13th ce. French heroic song entitled Les Prouesses et faitz du noble Huon de Bordeaux where he appears as an elf of dwarvish height gifted with great beauty. He encounters Houn de Bordeaux while he is passing through the forest he is currently living as a hermit in and aids him on his quest. In this legend, he is also gifted with a magic cup that is forever overflowing and is even said to be the son of Morgan le Fey and Julius Caesar. This legend was picked up later by Shakespeare in the 15th ce. for his play.

As for his appearance, it seems as though the mangaka is combining legends of either the horned god of some pagan religions or incorporating some features of Puck, the trickster spirit in A Midsummers Night’s Dream. Puck, in turn, is based off of an even older legend of a spirit or demon from Irish and Scandinavian folklore. This spirit was often referred to as Robin Goodfellow and would perform tasks for you or deal out mischief depending on his mood. We can also see the influence of the Roman legends of fauns or the more general pagan legends surrounding the Horned God. We see the mischievous nature of these creatures reflected in the actions of Oberon himself as he generally just does whatever he feels like and continues to annoy Titania.

The name Titania has a somewhat shorter history. It is again best known for the name of the queen of the faeries in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, but Shakespeare is known to have pulled that name from Ovid’s Metamorphoses where it was used as another name for the daughters of the Titans. Because of this association, Titania has become the go-to name for faerie queens in other literature as well. However, if we looker further back into Irish folklore, we see her referred to as some other names: Mab, Maeve, or Morgan. The name Maeve, or Medbh, comes from ancient Irish Pagan legends about the Tuatha de Dannan or the original inhabitants of the island. It is said that they were driven underground by Spanish invaders and now dwell in a parallel dimension only accessed through mounds and caves. It’s a long and fascinating history, and I don’t have the space to expand more here, but I can point you to more sources if you’re interested.

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Will-o-Wisp

There are legends surrounding Will-o-Wisps — or those mysterious lights you see in forests, swamps, and graveyards — in almost every culture around the world. They are known by many different names, and besides this one, the one most recognizable may be Jack-o-Lanterns. They are also thought to be many different things, from the spirits of unbaptized children to magic lights that mark treasure troves to faeries that love to lead travelers astray. It’s this last legend that I think pertains the most to the figure that appears in Ancient Magus’ Bride. In Welsh folklore in particular, the light is attributed to a lantern held by a faerie called a puca. It’s described as a small, goblin-like creature who likes to lead travelers off the beaten path at night, often stranding them in the woods alone.

In the anime, we see the Will-o-Wisp presented as a small black goblin, wearing a long robe, and hopping along on his lantern pole. With his magic, he transports Elias and Chise to another part of the forest. As he leaves, we see him leading other blue orbs into the forest. It almost feels like the mangaka combined legends of wandering spirits and this legend of the puca to create a faerie that also leads spirits to the afterlife, perhaps those spirits he leads astray.

Part 2 >>>>


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14 thoughts on “The Mythology of Ancient Magus’ Bride: Part 1

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  3. My thoughts on the Pilum Muralis:
    The Lance of Longinus pierced Christ on the cross. Christ was a man born with no physical father. Merlin was also born with no father, and part of his roots was Ambrosius Aurelius, a Roman-British war leader. Note also that the name Elias is a cognate of the Hebrew Eliyahu, which is derived from ‘ēlīyāhū (Jehovah is God).The name seems to be drawing on and combining all of these sources.

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  4. Regarding Pilum muralis – it wasnt technically a spear and each roman legionnary carried two of these. When Roman force was preparing a fortified camp in hostile territory (mostly when invading ie. “knock knock… -Whose there? -Civilisation motherfu*ker!”) the legionnaries would tie three of pilum muralis with each other creating something like big thorn’ish caltrop, they would place these in a line on the top of the enbankment around the camp. Tied pilums had spikes always pointed at the foe, were impossible to knock over and hard to break as it was made from hard and durable wood. As a result such fortifications were much harder to attack than say: palisade – as Celtic warriors found out when Rome conquered them in Britain.
    Perhaps this name for Ellias indicates that he helped/was used by some bad guys to protect/aid their wrongdoings? Just a thought -> im still at 5th episode 🙂

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  9. I took plum murialis much more literally, as it translates to “wall spike” what grows on walls and is spiked? Thorns. So I thought it might just be another way to say thorn. Just my 2 cents

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