Sampson and the Dreadful Serpent of Golant
Sampson and the Serpent of Golant
A young man is crouching on his haunches lighting a fire. He has kindling twigs with bracken and is creating friction, blowing on the smoke until it bursts into flame.
‘Fish tonight’ he smiles, laying stones on the fire.
The glow flickers and daylight settles to night as the fish cooks.
‘Aren’t you afraid?’ A voice murmurs from the growing shadows, soft, intimidating, malicious.
‘No!’ he replies, ‘Look up.’ It’s as though he’s speaking to an audience, yet he is solitary tonight, alone.
The stars are bright above the trees, the whole canopy of the night sky is twinkling.
‘Do you not think that the One, who made all of those, can not care for one tiny man? I think He can manage to do that’. He speaks aloud to no-one who can be seen.
He tends his fish.
‘The fire keeps the wolves at bay, and I have my staff if need be’.
He pulls his cloak around him and lays on his back gazing up at the stars. He begins to sing.
My heart is filled with wonder at Your majesty
The beauty of the firmament
Spread out above me
My heart soars in response to your call
And I come to be with you
Without missing a beat, he calls
He sits up and using a knife pulls the fish to himself, still humming whilst he eats the tender flesh.
‘Mm it’s good. Thank you, my little friend, for giving me your life to sustain my life.’
He throws the fish head into the undergrowth.
‘There, my companions, someone can feast on that.’
He lays down, pulls his cloak around him tight, the hood covering his head snugly and sleeps. The fire still burns, the embers glowing through the night.
A fox darts in for the fish head, under cover of darkness.
When he wakes, the man laughs joyously. He picks up loose shale and throws it exuberantly into the air for the sheer joy of being alive.
‘What adventures await today Oh God of my heart?’
He gathers his few belongings and begins the day’s trek.
The woodland path is quite clear today and his way is easy. He whistles happily, watching birds in the trees going about their business. His pace is steady, loping, and loose, the gait of a man well used to walking long distances. It is neither fast, nor slow but even. He uses his staff to aid his walking and to clear undergrowth to make the way easier.
He is walking through leafy woodland. Stunted oaks line the hillside with a rich undercover of heather, bracken, holly, and bilberries. Squirrels scamper on tree limbs overhead, chickering crossly at him.
‘Hello, my little ones,’ he calls, nodding, ‘I mean you no harm. Go on your way.’
Following the path, it leads to a high ledge above a river. Pausing to take in the view, his eyes scan back and forth across his surroundings. Spying a cave in the rock face, he cautiously explores. ‘Better not be a bear’s cave’ he mumbles to himself. Instead, he comes suddenly face to face with a family who seem to be living there.
‘I come in peace,’ he calls to the wide-eyed family, huddled in fear close together. He opens his arms wide, his hands extended.
‘I come as a friend.’
The man of the family shuffles to shield the others behind him. They are wretched and filthy with matted hair and tattered rags.
‘What do you want?’ the man gruffly demands.
‘I want nothing my friend. I come to give, not take. See, here, I have a rabbit for you and some herbs to flavour it with’. He holds out the rabbit. The man grabs it hungrily.
‘May I sit?’ He gestures to a rock.
The man grunts and Sampson sits himself down, pulling a small piece of wood from his shoulder bag. He starts whittling the wood, humming softly.
The others listen, cautiously.
‘I’ve come a long, long way,’ Sampson continues, ‘from across sea, through tangled woods, over hills to be here with you today. Why? Because I have something so good to tell you.’
‘Your tongue is different, stranger,’ the man queries.
‘Because I travel from a land way beyond.’ Samson points to the horizon
Disarmed by Sampson’s gentleness the family slowly begin to relax. The woman takes the rabbit and starts to prepare it.
The children creep closer to see what Samson is making.
‘Why give us the rabbit?’ the man asks, ‘You need food to survive. Why give it to us, to strangers?’
‘Because your need seems greater than mine. You’re hungry, aren’t you?’
The man nods.
‘Besides, I have a God who will sustain me. Feed your family. Get strength.’
The children are at his feet and Samson can see the boy has an infected eye. It’s so bad the crust has virtually closed it, so he can’t see out of it. It looks very painful.
Sampson continues, ‘My God cares about me, my food, my well being but He also cares about you too. I see your child is in pain. Let me pray to my God for Him to heal your son.’
‘No!’ the man shouts, looking around fearfully. ‘Surely we would displease the mother of this earth. We have already been to the rocks, to perform the ritual for him but the gods have not been pleased to give us an answer. He must suffer.’
‘What kind of God enjoys a child’s suffering?’ Sampson replies, ‘Come, let me help. Let me pray for him. I promise you no harm, only good will come to you. My God will protect you from your angry gods.’
Sampson’s kind face, gentle words and compassion for the boy’s pain pulls on the parents’ hearts. The man slowly nods. ‘Go ahead.’
Sampson calls the boy to him and gently places his hand over the child’s encrusted eye.
‘Oh, Father in heaven
The One who created this child
In the name of your precious Son, Jesus
I speak to this eye
The child murmurs in surprise as a glowing heat comes from Sampson’s hand but he doesn’t resist.
‘It’s all warm,’ he says. The rest of the family look on warily but intrigued.
After a few moments Sampson removes his hands.
‘There we are.’ he says.
They gasp sucking gulps of air in uncontrollably. The boy is standing there with his eye totally well. No sign of the encrusted infection remains. The eye is clear and open.
‘Can you see son?’ the father asks.
‘Mm’ the child replies nodding, tears beginning to pour down his face.
The mother hugs her child, sobbing with him. The father stares at the child, then at Sampson, then at the child, not knowing what to make of what’s just happened.
However, the little sister walks up to Sampson and tugs on his habit, pointing into her mouth.
‘My tooth hurts bad,’ she opens her mouth and points at a rotten tooth.
Sampson prays again, gently, firmly, in the name of his God, Jesus.
When he finishes, the little girl looks up at him smiling broadly. She puts a finger in her mouth and pulls it out laughing. ‘I’ve got a new tooth; I can feel it.’ Her family crowd round to see. Sure, enough a beautiful perfect tooth has replaced the rotten one.
‘How did you do that?’ the man asks with incredulity.
The wife now shuffles forward, hunched over.
‘It’s my back, ever since the last child. Such pain.’
Oh, my dear’, Sampson takes her hand in compassion, ‘Let’s see you pain free, shall we?’
He prays, hand gently placed on her back at the point of pain.
‘Ooh, it’s getting really hot,’ the woman says, ‘and I can feel something popping.’
Sampson removes his hand. ‘Straighten up my dear.’ She cautiously tries and finds herself upright. She turns, bends, twists, and jumps.
‘There’s no pain,’ she says, looking directly at her man, ‘No pain at all.’ She turns to Sampson, ‘Thank you stranger. How can I thank you enough?'
The man turns to Sampson, ‘So you came with this good news about your God?’
Sampson nods. ‘Indeed, I did.’
‘You better tell us, then hadn’t you? Who is this God who heals an eye, gives a brand-new tooth and straightens a back all in the blink of an eye?’
Sampson settles back on his stone, still whittling the wood. The woman puts the rabbit and herbs over a fire to cook.
‘Well, it’s a simple story really,’ Sampson starts, ‘but one which will change your life forever.’
After sharing well into the darkness, Sampson beds down for the night with the cave dwelling family. Inside the dark cave, the only light which filters in is from the dying embers of the fire outside.
‘Will it come again tonight Da?’ the little girl asks, nervously.
‘Hush chick, no need to fear.’ Her dad reassures her.
‘But I’m still frightened.’ The little girl mumbles.
A rustle comes to their ears.
‘It’s just the foxes chick,’ Da reassures his family, ‘Scavenging for left-overs.’ The rustling continues. A sudden shrill shriek from the fox, followed by a frantic scrabbling has the family on their feet in an instant.
‘Grab your staff, man of God. You’re going to need it!’ The air in the cave drops to an icy chill and the hairs prickle the back of Samson’s neck.
‘To the back, now!’ orders the man to his family. They scuttle deeper into the cave’s depths.
‘With me,’ the man barks to Sampson, ‘Watch yourself. It’s sly’.
‘What are we facing?’ Sampson whispers following the man.
‘Serpent. Nothing I’ve ever seen before.’ The man’s voice catches in his throat.
‘He’s frightened,’ thinks Sampson.
‘It’s kill or be killed,’ the man continues.
‘Let me go first,’ Sampson says, ‘you’ve a family who needs you.’
‘No man! You don’t know what you face.’
‘Let me,’ Sampson repeats with a strong yet gentle assurance. ‘There may be other ways to deal with it.’
They move silently towards the cave entrance, eyes adjusting to the gloaming light.
‘Oh God of my heart, protect us this night. Deliver us from the hand of the evil one.’ Samson prays as they inch forward.
‘There!’ the man whispers pointing. In the darkness a shape is etched, blacker than the surrounds, black as black against the dark night. Coiled to strike, head erect, red tongue just visible, flicking agitatedly, tasting the air. The body, thicker than a man’s waist, ripples within the coils.
Sampson creeps forward. ‘Stay!’ he commands the man, thrusting him behind his back. ‘I mean it! Stay. Watch and see how my God will deliver this serpent into our hands today.’
Sampson creeps forward muttering in an unintelligible tongue, his staff held out before him. Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, pandemonium breaks out. The serpent shoots forward to strike. Sampson leaps to his feet yelling in full voice, ‘Stop, in the name of Jesus!’ Instantly, the serpent freezes to the spot in mid strike, unable to move or flee. Sampson takes the cord from his waist and ties it around the serpent’s neck.
‘With me!’ he orders it. Unfreezing on the command, the serpent slinks behind Sampeon, guided by the rope. It doesn’t attempt to strike or entrap him in its coils, even though it is so many times larger.
The man watches the extraordinary sight, holding his breath without even realising it.
‘What kind of man is this, that even the beasts of darkness obey him?’
Sampson leads the serpent down to the wide river, treading carefully in the darkness. ‘You may enter the water but are never, ever to return to harass people on land. If you do, you will die. These are the conditions.’
He looks the serpent directly in the eye. It lowers it head to be released from the yoke and in one flash of movement darts into the murky river.
Sampson wipes his hands together, cleaning off residue. ‘A good piece of work, eh Lord?’ he chuckles softly, ‘Thank you for the back up. Let’s see where the ripples from this one lead.’ He climbs back up the steep bank humming softly.
‘All gone.’ he calls as he stumbles into the cave, the man behind him.
The family crowd around demanding to know what happened. Sampson just smiles and lets the man recount their adventure.
‘Time to sleep.’ he yawns, mussing the little girl’s hair, ‘No bad dreams tonight little one. It’s gone.’
They curl up, side by side and drift off to sleep, the only sound the trickle and tinkle of the rivulet falling away outside the cave. Come morning, the family are full of the night’s adventure.
‘Tell us again!’ the children demand.
‘You must come with me.’ the man says, ‘You must tell all the riverbank folk. That serpent has been a menace for many moons. It’s stolen food and even some little ones.’ He adds softly, ‘I must introduce you.’
So, Sampson follows the man to a gathering place in a woodland clearing, next to a spring. His wife and children go from people to people calling, ‘Come meet the stranger, the holy one of God. He healed us and he’s defeated the serpent. His God is real.’
They come in their ones and twos, together as families and Sampson shares again about the serpent, about his Jesus and then prays with all those who have ailments. Each one is miraculously healed. Afterwards many believe, so he takes them to the river baptising them there. A great celebration of deliverance takes place afterwards with much joy and laughter.
‘Stay here holy man,’ they beg. ‘Stay among us. Help us know more, for you are so welcome. Teach us, we want to know more.’
So, Sampson stays, upon the hilltop overlooking the river and woods. They help him make a clearing, set up a small enclosure by a spring and there he prays as he watches the tide each day ebb and flow. People flock to his consecrated holy well, listening to his wisdom and the teachings he shares. He sees all healed who come to him and is greatly loved by many who become friends and by strangers who travel having heard of the holy man on the hill.
One day, Sampson sits pondering how God has led him to this beautiful spot, perched on the hilltop looking down on the wide and flowing tidal river. He can hear laughter and shouting in the distance, coming from the men stationed at King Mark’s castle, up inland above him but mainly the sounds accompanying his day are the trills of hedgerow birds and the raucous cry of seagulls wheeling overhead.
Quietly contemplating in prayer, gazing down on the light sparkling the water, he is suddenly interrupted by high pitched shrieks and the loud crashing of undergrowth. Jumping to his feet, he dashes to the edge of his enclosure, just as a man pants up the hill, gasping.
‘Sampson! Sampson! Help us! Save us!’ the cries grow, and people’s heads start emerging from the undergrowth, all heading towards his enclosure. It seems that all the riverbank people are heading up the hill to him. He looks beyond them but sees nothing.
‘The serpent’ one of them gasps, ‘It’s back!’
‘Quick!’ Sampson cries, ‘Inside, come inside! All of you hurry’. He rushes out to help them, picking up children and swiftly placing them inside the enclosure defences, returning to help more people.
Once certain they are all inside his enclosure, he closes the gate. ‘Stay behind me, whatever you do,’ he instructs. They crouch, huddled together shivering.
Sampson steps forward. One of the women grabs his habit. ‘You can’t go Sampson. It will kill you. It’s really angry and mad today.’ He gently removes her hand and looks her in the eye. ‘All shall be well,’ he reassures her calmly.
Taking his staff, he stands waiting, at the enclosure entrance. All eyes are fixed on him when a snapping of branches is heard coming nearer. A breath of smoke rises in plumes above the bracken. A hiss twisting into a snarl fills the air.
‘It’s coming,’ the petrified people whisper, eyes wide, shivering with fear. The crowd instinctively close around the children, huddling them in the middle. Women stand firm, shuddering. Men move to the front, weapons in their hands.
Sampson stands, resolute, unflinching, waiting poised, the muscles on his neck flexing with the strain.
It all happens in a sudden rush of movement. A tree crashes down causing the people to shriek in alarm. The serpent’s head rises up out of the undergrowth, up and up and up on its long, long neck. Looming right over Sampson and the enclosure, it towers high and thrashes back and forth. The coils of its body slither into view. In the daylight, the full size and ferocity of its intent are clearly visible. The people watch in horror, as though time has slowed right down. The forked tongue flicks the air, a beady, ice-cold eye fixes on Sampson. It’s clear who the serpent wants this time! The huge head leans in ready to strike Sampson a death blow. The men are rooted to the spot, petrified by fear. Sampson alone remains unflinching, apart from a tightening of his grip on his staff and a silent movement of his lips. Is he praying? In the unseen realm, heaven’s warrior angels, gleaming in armour and throbbing power, are urgently released to assist.
‘What’s he doing?’ someone asks.
At that very moment, the serpent puts its head back to strike. Just inches from his face Sampson lifts his staff high and shouts with full force. ‘You have been warned serpent of the deep. Yet you dare to defy the living God!’ The angels rush forward into battle. A bolt of blue electricity shoots from Sampson’s staff shocking the serpent rigid, except for its flicking eyes which darken in menace; a dangerous, cornered foe. Once again Sampson removes the cord from his waist and ties it over the unmoving serpent’s head. At that moment, a sudden loud crackling sound splits across the sky. Tremors hit the serpent’s body, shock after shock after shock. Sampson stands there, staff erect, hand on the rope until it’s over and what’s left of the serpent’s carcass lies burned at his feet.
He staggers. People rush to catch him.
‘Deal with it,’ he manages to gesture at the remains. He collapses on the grass panting from spiritual exertion, all strength having left him, his head hanging in exhaustion. Someone gives him water.
‘Is he ok?’ they gather around him anxiously, but Sampson just falls forward seemingly in a deep sleep. The people cover him protectively.
‘He’s so brave.’
‘How can we thank him enough?’
Unseen to the people, two angels swiftly move to Sampson’s prostrate form, tending to him gently. They pour heavenly oil from golden viols, all over his body; refreshment and strength course through him with divine life. Others involved in the recent battle remain on guard duty by the enclosure entrance, swords still at the ready. The men begin the gruesome job of disposing of the serpent’s remains.
‘I’ll stay and watch him,’ one of the women offers, whilst the others cautiously begin to make their way back down the hill, to their caves and huts. The sound of murmuring and whispering can be heard as they relive what they’ve just experienced. None seem brave enough to talk above a quiet mutter and they still flinch as twigs crack in the undergrowth, or a bird whirrs up disturbed. Yet, each of them knows, it’s over! Their nerves will catch up soon and settle. They’ve seen such an encounter of power today. No-one doubts now that Sampson’s God is real, and they are left with much to ponder and decide.