This month: fairy tales from ancient Egypt!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Fairy Tale to Remember when the First Snow Flies: Grimm's Fairy Tale No. 53, Snow White





Grimm's Fairy Tale No. 53: Snow White


Once in the middle of winter when the snow flakes fell like feathers from heaven, a queen sat sewing at her ebony-framed window. As she sat there doing her needlework she looked up at the gently falling flakes and pricked her finger with the needle. Three drops of her blood fell onto the snow. The red hue on the white snow looked so beautiful that she thought to herself “If only I had a child as white as the snow, as red as blood and as black as the wood in this frame!” Soon thereafter she had a little girl, who was as white as the snow, as red as blood and as black-haired as ebony. That is why she called her Snow White. And when the child was born the queen died.

A year later the king took another wife. She was a beautiful woman but proud and arrogant and could not bear the thought that someone might exceed her in beauty. She had an enchanted mirror and when she stood before it and gazed into it she said

“Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who’s the fairest in all the land?”

And the mirror replied

“Mistress Queen, you are the fairest in the land!”

She was at peace because she knew the mirror told the truth.

But as the little Snow White grew, she became more and more beautiful. When she was seven years old, she was as fair as a clear day and even more beautiful than the queen herself. When the queen once again asked her mirror:

“Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who’s the fairest in all the land?”

It replied:

“Mistress Queen, you are the fairest here,
But Snow white is a thousand times fairer than you!”

The queen was very much taken aback and became yellow and green with envy. From that hour whenever she saw Snow White, her heart turned round in her body because she hated the girl so much. Her envy and arrogance grew higher and higher like weeds in her heart until she no longer had any peace day or night. She called a huntsman and said “Bring the child out into the forest. I don’t want to lay my eyes on it any more. You should kill it and bring me the lungs and liver as sign.”

The hunter obeyed and brought the girl out into the woods. When he pulled out his hunting knife and wanted to bore through Snow White’s innocent heart, the girl began to cry and said “Oh dear Hunter, let me live; I will run into the wild forest and never come home again.”

Because the girl was so beautiful, the hunter had pity on the girl and said “So run away, you poor child.” But he thought to himself “The wild animals will soon eat you.” But to the hunter, it felt as if a stone had been lifted from his heart because he did not need to kill the girl. And just then a young boar crossed his path. He stabbed it, took its lungs and liver and brought these as signs to the queen. The cook had to prepare them in salt and the evil woman ate them and thought she had eaten Snow White’s lungs and liver.

Now the poor child was all alone in the great forest and she was so frightened that she looked at all the leaves on the trees and did not know how to help herself. She began to run over the sharp stones and through the thorns and the wild animals jumped past her but did her no harm. She ran as long as her feet could move until evening, when she saw a small hut and went inside to rest. Everything in the hut was small, but delicate and clean. A little table with white table cloth stood in the room. It had seven little plates and each little plate had a little spoon, also seven little knives and forks and seven little cups. Seven little beds stood next to each other on the wall and were covered with bright-white sheets. Because Snow White was so hungry and thirsty, she ate a little portion of vegetables and bread and drank a drop of wine from each little cup. She didn’t want to take everything away from one person. After this, because she was so tired, she lay down in a bed which hardly fit her. The one was too long, the other too short, but finally the seventh bed was just right. And there she remained lying, commended herself to God and fell asleep.

When it was quite dark, the gentlemen of the little house returned home. They were the seven dwarves, who mined and dug ore in the mountains. They lit their seven little lights and when it was bright in the hut, they saw that someone was inside because everything was not standing in order as they had left it. The first one spoke: “Who has sat on my little chair?” The second one said “Who ate from my little plate?” The third one said: Who ate from my bread?” The fourth “Who has eaten from my vegetables?” The fifth said “Who used my fork?” The sixth said “Who has cut with my knife?” The seventh said “Who has drunk from my little cup?”

Then the first one looked around and saw a small indentation in his bed. He said “Who has been sleeping in my bed?” The others came running and called “Someone has also slept in mine.” But the seventh dwarf, when he looked at his bed, saw Snow White lying there asleep. He ran to the others and they all came crying out in amazement. Each of the seven fetched his little torch and they all illuminated Snow White. “Oh, my God, my God!” they called, “How beautiful the child is!” and were so happy that they did not awake it but let it sleep in the little bed. The seventh dwarf took turns sleeping next to his fellows for one hour each. Then night was over.

When morning came, Snow White awoke and when she saw the seven dwarves she was afraid. But they were friendly and asked her “What is your name?” “My name is Snow White” she replied. “How did you get to our house?” the dwarves asked. She told them how her step-mother had wanted to kill her, but the hunter spared her life. Then she ran the entire day until she finally found their little hut. The dwarves spoke: “If you will manage our household, cook for us, make the beds, wash, sew and knit and if you will keep everything in order and clean for us, then you can stay with us and you will never lack a thing.”

“Yes,” Snow White responded “from the depths of my heart, I will do this gladly.” And she stayed with them. She kept the house orderly: in the morning they went to the mountain and looked for ore and gold, in the evening they came home again and then their dinner had to be ready. During the day when the girl was alone, the good dwarves warned her to be on her guard “Protect yourself against the step-mother. She will soon know that you are here; never let anyone inside.”

But the queen, after she believed she had eaten Snow White’s lungs and liver, thought only that she was now the first and foremost beauty, so she stepped before her mirror and said

“Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who’s the fairest in all the land?”

The mirror replied

“Mistress Queen you are the fairest here,
But Snow White beyond the hills,
With the Seven Dwarves,
Is a thousand times more beautiful than you.”

She was taken aback because she knew that the mirror never spoke an untruth and realized the hunter had lied to her. Snow White still lived. Then she knew she would have to kill the child. As long as she was not the fairest in all the land, she did not have any peace. Finally she conceived a plan. Painting her face she disguised herself as an old shopkeeper and was completely unrecognizable. In this form she walked over the seven hills to the seven dwarves and knocked on the door and cried “Beautiful goods, oh how fine, fine!” Snow White looked out of the window and called “Good day, dear wife. What do you have to sell?”

“Good wares, beautiful wares,” she replied “laces of every color,” and held up a lace woven from the finest silk. “I can surely let this honorable woman inside,” Snow White thought. So she opened the door to buy the pretty laces.

“Child,” the old woman said, “How you look! Come, let me lace you up properly.”

Snow White was not afraid as she stood before her. She let her tighten the new laces: but the old woman laced so quickly and tightly that Snow White could not breathe and fell over as if dead. “Now you were the fairest,” she said and hurried out.

Soon it was dinnertime and the seven dwarves returned home. They were terrified when they saw their dear Snow White lying on the floor. She did not breathe or move and it was as if she were dead. They cut the laces in two and she began breathing again and gradually she came back to life. When the dwarves heard what had happened, they spoke “The old wife was no one other than the godless queen: protect yourself and don’t let another person in, when we are not with you.”

But the evil woman returned home and went to her mirror and said:

“Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest in all the land?”

And it answered just like before:

“Mistress Queen, you are the fairest here,
But Snow White over the hills
With the seven dwarves,
Is a thousand times more beautiful than you.”

When she heard this, her blood rushed to her heart. She was taken aback because she saw that Snow White lived again. “But now,” she said, “I will do something that will bring your ruin,” and using the witchery in which she was skilled, she made a poison comb. Then she disguised herself and took the shape of an old woman. She went over the seven hills to the seven dwarves, knocked on the door and cried “Good wares, fine, fine!”

Snow White looked out and spoke “Go on your way, I’m not allowed to let anyone in.” “Certainly you can look,” the old woman said pulling the poison comb out and holding it in the air. This pleased the child so much, that she let herself be fooled and opened the door. When they agreed on the sale, the old woman said “Now I will comb your hair properly.” Poor Snow White did not think anything was amiss and let the old woman comb. But she had hardly placed the comb in her hair, when the poison began to act and the girl fell over unconscious. “You, paragon of beauty,” the evil woman said, “Now it’s over for you,” and she departed. But luckily it was soon evening when the seven dwarves returned home. When they saw Snow White lying on the ground as if dead, they immediately suspected the step-mother. They looked for and found the poison comb and hardly had they removed it when Snow White revived. She told them what had happened. They warned her once again to be watchful and not to open the door for anyone.

The queen stood once more before her mirror and said,

“Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest in all the land?”

It replied as before:

“Mistress Queen you are the fairest here,
But Snow White over the hills
With the seven dwarves,
Is a thousand times fairer than you.”

When they heard the mirror, she shook and quivered in rage. “Snow White shall die,” she called “and if it costs me my own life!” With that she went to a lonely, hidden chamber, where no one ever came, and made a very poisonous apple. On the outside the apple looked luscious, white with red cheeks, and anyone who saw it desired to eat a little piece. But if they did, they would die. When the apple was finished, she painted her face and disguised herself as a farmer’s wife and in this manner she went over the seven hills to the seven dwarves. When she knocked on the door, Snow White stuck her head out of the window and said: “I mustn’t let in anyone, the seven dwarves have forbidden it.” “That’s fine by me,” the farmer’s wife replied. “I want to get rid of my apples. Here, take this one, I will give it to you as a present.” “No,” Snow White answered. “I must not take anything.” “Are you afraid of poison?” the old woman asked, “Do you see, I will cut the apple in two pieces. The red part you can eat, the white part, I shall eat.” But the apple was made so well that the red part alone was poisonous. Snow White longed for the pretty apple and when she saw that the farmer’s wife ate from it, she could resist no more. She extended her hand and took the poisonous half. She had hardly taken a bite in her mouth, when she fell over dead to the ground. The queen gazed upon her with an evil smile and laughed and said “White as snow, red as blood, black as ebony! This time the dwarves shall not awake you again!” And she returned home to the mirror and asked

“Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest in all the land?”

It finally replied

“Mistress Queen, you are the fairest in all the land,”

Her envious heart could now be at peace as much as it is possible for an envious heart to be at peace.

The little dwarves, when they came home, found Snow White lying on the floor and no more breath came out of her mouth and she was dead. They lifted her up, tried to find the poison, unlaced her, combed her hair, washed her with water and wine, but nothing helped. The dear child was dead and remained dead. They placed her on a bier and each of the seven took their place around it and cried for the child. They cried three days long. They wanted to bury the child, but she looked so fresh and lively like a living person. She still had pretty red cheeks. They said: “We can’t lower her into the black earth,” so they had a clear glass coffin made in order to see her from all sides. Placing her inside, they wrote her name in golden letters and that she was a king’s daughter. Then they placed the coffin out on the hill and one of them always held watch. The animals also came and cried for Snow White. First an owl, then a raven and finally a dove.

Snow White lay in the coffin a very long time and her body did not decay. Instead, it looked like she was sleeping because she was still as white as snow, as red as blood and had black hair like ebony. It happened once that a king’s son entered the forest and came to the dwarves’ house to spend the night. On the hill he saw the coffin and the beautiful Snow White inside. He read what was written with the golden letters. He said to the dwarves “Give me the coffin. I will give you what you want for it.” But the dwarves replied “We will not relinquish her for all the gold in the world.” He answered “You must give me the girl, for I cannot live without looking at Snow White. I want to honor and revere her, my dearest one.” When he spoke these words, the good dwarves felt pity for him and gave him the coffin. The king’s son had it carried by his servants on their shoulders. It happened that one stumbled on a shrub and the jarring loosened the poisonous apple from the throat of Snow White. It did not take long for the girl to open her eyes, raise the cover of the coffin in the air and sit up. She was alive again. “Oh God, where am I?” she cried. The king’s son said full of joy “You are with me,” and told her what had happened. He said “I hold you dearer than anything in the world; come with me to my father’s castle. You will be my wife.” Snow White was so gentle and went with him. Their wedding was celebrated with great pomp and splendor.

But Snow White’s godless stepmother was also invited to the celebration. When she put on her beautiful dress, she stepped before the mirror and said

“Mirror, mirror on the wall
Who is the fairest in all the land?

The mirror replied

“Mistress Queen, you are the fairest here,
But the young queen is a thousand times fairer than you.”

The evil woman pronounced a curse and became so terrified, that she did not know what to do. First, she didn’t want to come to the wedding; but she had no peace and had to go and see the young queen. And when she entered the hall, she recognized Snow White and stood there in terror and fear and could not move. But iron slippers had been placed in the coal fire and were carried in with tongs and set down before her. She had to put on the red hot shoes and dance until she fell to the ground dead.





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November Hauntings: the Feast Day of Lemuria November 9


Doppelgänger and Our Own Internal Demons

An illusive spirit appears in Grimms' Saga No. 260 Ghost as Married Woman (full text below). 
The ghoulish apparition in this story can be likened to a doppelgänger or fetch, a true replicate of a living person whose appearance announces illness, danger or death. According to folk tradition nothing was quite so unnerving as seeing your own doppelganger for then your own death was imminent.  Grimms' saga goes to great lengths to present the apparition as an exact physical copy of the lady of the house. But another interesting interpretation equates the doppelgänger with an outward manifestation the sub-conscious, here the malice an older woman feels toward her younger female relative. 

The saga suggests there are all sorts of things that may haunt people, including living disgruntled relations. An extension of this theme is that past deeds or even thoughts or memories are the ghosts that haunt us today. This idea is prominent in numerous works of literature and is also a key element in the play Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen. Likewise in the Grimms' Tale Snow White (see link or posting above) the evil queen is driven to action by thoughts that haunt her, ultimately harming herself and others.

Since ancient times distinctions have been drawn between the various manifestations of ghosts. The Romans distinguished between peaceful or essentially happy spirits (manes) and the tortured kind, who appear as terrors in the night (lemure or larvae).
The lemure were the restless spirits of the dead who wandered the earth. Their feast day was Lemuria celebrated on November 9 and May 13. At midnight on these days the master of the house had to placate these spirits with an offering (typically black beans).

Ghosts also purportedly appeared in processions racing through the landscape, only to disappear inside a mountain (see Gratzug). To be caught up in such a procession meant certain death but there were also other ghosts that could cause real problems. These were the Irrlicht or Irwisch (in German) and are often described as a fiery man or blue shimmering light. English folk names for these luminous clouds of light include Jack in a lantern or Will with a wisp. These wisps of blue are often seen in November and December during the advent season, an especially active season for experiencing ghosts in all of the their variety.

To read the more about doppelganger, hit the Wiki-link below. This link also provides interesting accounts of alleged doppelganger sightings, including one of Abraham Lincoln:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doppelg%C3%A4nger