This month: fairy tales from ancient Egypt!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Now only the forbidden door was left unopened and the child felt such a huge desire to know what was hidden behind it. The girl spoke to the angels: “I won’t open the door completely and I don’t want to go inside, but I do want to open it so that we can see just a little bit through the crack.”

The Virgin Mary and Her Child

There was once a woodcutter, who lived with his wife outside of a deep forest. He had only one child, a little girl three years old. They were so poor, they had neither crust nor crumb nor did they know what they would feed the child. One morning, the wordcutter went into the forest burdened with worry. As he chopped his wood, at once a beautiful and tall woman stood before him. She had a crown of twinkling stars on her head and spoke to him: “I am the Virgin Mary, the mother of the Baby Jesus: you are poor and needy. Bring me your child. I will take it with me, be its mother and care for it.”
The woodcutter obeyed, fetched his child and gave it to the Virgin Mary, who took it with her to heaven. There the child prospered, ate sugar-cake and drank sweet milk. Its clothes were made of gold and angels were the child’s playmates. When the girl turned fourteen, the Virgin Mary called her and spoke “Dear child, I have a long journey ahead of me. Take the keys to the thirteen doors of the Kingdom of Heaven: you may open up twelve of them and view the splendor within. But the thirtheenth door, to which this small key belongs, is prohibited: take care, that you do not open it, otherwise you will become unhappy.” The girl promised to be obedient, and when the Virgin Mary had departed, she began to view the rooms of the kingdom of heaven: each day she opened one door, until she had gone around to all twelve. Behind each door sat an apostle, who was enveloped by an enormous brilliance and the child delighted in the splendor and magnificence. The angels, who always accompanied the girl, rejoiced with the child. Now only the forbidden door was left unopened and the child felt such a huge desire to know what was hidden behind it. The girl spoke to the angels: “I won’t open the door completely and I don’t want to go inside, but I do want to open it so that we can see just a little bit through the crack.” “Oh no,” said the angels. “That would be a sin: the Virgin Mary forbids it and it could easily result in your unhappiness.” The child was silent but the desire in its heart would not diminish. The desire gnawed and pecked and would not leave the child in peace. When the angels had all left, the child thought “now I am entirely alone and can look inside. No one will even know that I did it.” The girl took out the key and felt it’s cold metal in the palm of her hand, she then placed it in the latch. And when she had inserted it, the lock turned over. The door sprang open and inside the child saw the Trinity seated in fire and brilliance. The girl stood still for a while and considered everything with astonishment, then held out her finger a bit and touched the brilliant glow. Her entire finger became golden. The child immediately was gripped by fear, slammed the door shut and ran away. The terror would not subside and try as she may, her heart raced and raced and would not be calm: the gold stayed on her finger and would not wash off, no matter how much she washed or rubbed.

It was not long before the Virgin Mary returned from her journey. She called the girl and asked her for the keys to heaven. When she held up the key ring the Virgin Mary looked into her eyes and said “Did you open the 13th door too?” “No,” the girl responded. She placed her hand on the child’s heart and felt how it raced and raced and noticed that she had gone beyond her command and had indeed opened the door. She asked again “Are you sure you didn’t do it?” “No,” the girl said a second time. Then the Virgin Mary looked at her finger, which had become golden from touching the heavenly fire. She saw that the girl had sinned and asked a third time: “Did you do it?” “No,” the girl replied a third time. The Virgin Mary spoke “you have not obeyed me, and what’s more you have lied. You are not worthy to live in heaven.”

The girl sank into a deep sleep and when she awoke, she was lying below on earth, in the middle of a wilderness. She wanted to call out, but she could not bring forth any sound. She jumped up and wanted to run away, but wherever she turned, she was held back by a thick rose bush and the girl could not break through. There was an old hollow tree in the wilderness, where the girl was enclosed. The tree had to become her domicile. She crept inside when night fell and slept there. And when it stormed and rained she found protection inside: but this was a wretched existence and when she thought how beautiful it had been in heaven and remembered how the angels had played with her, the child cried bitter tears. Roots and wild berries were her only sustenance. The girl searched for these as far as she could go. In the fall, she collected fallen nuts and leaves and carried them to her cave. The nuts were her food in winter and when snow and ice came, she crept like some poor animal into the leaves so that she would not freeze. It was not long before she tore her clothes; one piece after another fell from her body. As soon as the sun shone warmly, the girl went out and sat in front of the tree and her long hair covered her on all sides like a coat. She sat there one year after another and felt the pain and misery of the world.

Once, when the trees stood in their green foliage again, the king of the land went out hunting in the forest and pursued a stag. Because the animal had fled into the bush, which enveloped the woods, he dismounted his horse, tore away the undergrowth and with his sword hacked out a path. When he had finally gotten through, he saw a beautiful maid sitting under the tree. She sat there and was covered from head to foot by her golden hair. He stood still and gazed upon her full of wonder. Finally he spoke and said “Who are you? Why are you sitting here in the wilderness?” The maid only nodded a bit with her head. The king picked her up in his arms, carried her to his horse and rode home. When he arrived at the royal castle, he had the finest clothes made for her and gave her everything in excess. And although she could not speak, she was still beautiful and charming so that she won his heart. It was not long before he married her.

About a year went by and the queen bore a son. In the night when she lay alone in her bed, the Virgin Mary appeared and spoke “Will you not say the truth and admit that you opened the forbidden door. If so, I will open your mouth and return to you the gift of speech: but if you persist in your sin and stubbornly continue to lie, I will take your new-born with me.” The queen was embarrassed to answer, she remained stubborn and said “No, I have not opened the forbidden door,” and the Virgin Mary took the newborn child from her arms and vanished. The next morning when the child could not be found, a murmur went through the castle. The queen was a child eater and had killed her own child. She heard it all but could not say anything in her defense. The king would not believe it because he loved her so.

After a year the queen bore another son. Once again at night the Virgin Mary appeared to her and said “Will you admit that you opened the forbidden door, I will return to you your child and release your tongue. If you stubbornly insist in your sin and lie, I will also take this newborn with me.” The queen spoke again “No, I have not opened the door.” And the Virgin took the child from her arms and returned to heaven. The next morning when it was discovered that this child had also vanished, the people were quite bold and said the queen had eaten it. They demanded the king’s council be called and that she should be executed. The king loved her so dearly that he would not believe and ordered the councils not to speak about it upon bodily pain to death.

The next year the queen bore a beautiful little girl. For the third time the Virgin Mary appeared and said “Follow me.” She took her by the hand and led her to heaven and showed her the two oldest children, who laughed and played with the terrestrial orb. When the queen rejoiced, the Virgin Mary spoke “Has your heart not yet softened? When you admit that you have opened the forbidden door, I will return both of your sons to you.” But the queen responded a third time “No, I have not opened the forbidden door.” The Virgin let her sink back to earth and took her third child too.

In the morning when it was heard, all the people cried out loudly “the Queen is a child eater, she must be condemned.” The King could no longer rebuke his council. A court was called to pass judgment over her and because she could not answer and defend herself, she was carried away and tied to a pole and the fire began to burn around. The hard ice of pride melted and her heart was moved by remorse and she thought “If I could only admit before my death that I opened the door.” Then her voice returned and she cried out “Yes, Maria, I did it!” And as soon as this was said the heavens began to rain and put out the flames and a light broke over her. The Virgin Mary came down from heaven with both little sons at her side and the newborn daughter in her arm. She spoke friendly to her: “Whoever is sorry for his sins and confesses them is forgiven” and gave her the three children, released her tongue and granted her happiness for her entire life.