Monday, June 6, 2022

Reading the Pied Piper of Hamelin

 Reading the Pied Piper of Hamelin



John and Paul’s Day
was celebrated throughout Europe on June 26 but was originally a pagan festival commemorating the summer solstice. On this day it was custom for huge throngs of people to gather and dance around a bonfire, play music, sing, and augur the future. According to Petrarch, it was the custom of women in Cologne to bathe in the Rhine River on the evening before St. John’s Day. The surging waters supposedly washed away all evil and misfortune from the bathers. The custom was apparently practiced throughout Germany in its largest rivers and was considered to be distinctly pagan. Processions and parades, dancing and singing, bathing in the river and jumping through or dancing around bonfires were all part of the revelry. Frowning on the unbridled passion of townspeople engaged in such activities, the early Christian Church appropriated the day. It linked the custom of river bathing to John the Baptist and symbolical purification through water. These summer celebrations coincided with the sun reaching its highest point in the sky and usually lasted several days. The dates given in the Pied Piper of Hamelin are the exact days this celebration would have been held and the saga accurately incorporates elements of this folk tradition.


In the Pied Piper of Hamelin we find the elements of playing music and processing down to a river (and immersing oneself in the water) to eradicate pestilence. The figure charged with the expulsion of rats and mice is distinctly pagan. He uses magic and music to take control of the rats first and children second. He is a wandering rogue of a most peculiar sort. His clothing and visage are described in some detail. His coat of many colors is reminiscent of that other famous wanderer in Germanic mythology, Woton (as called by Southern Germanic tribes) or Odin (as called by Northern Germanic tribes). Woton traditionally wears a blue cloak with golden flecks and broad hat. The Germanic God Woton underwent many transformations at the hands of Christian priests, who attempted to Christianize the deity. Wotan alternately became the Archangel Michael, the Holy St. Martin, the Wild Huntsman and finally the devil. In his role as Wild Huntsman, Wotan was said to lead a fearsome procession that raced through the air and lasted 12 days. Other pagan figures lead similar parades or processions including Frau Holla and True Eckhart, and Tannhäuser and Frau Venus. These duos always have the same destination: the inside of a mountain. In many folk tales and saga, entering a mountain as part of a procession is actually a metaphor
for dying (see Gratzug). In fact there were many mountains throughout Europe that were considered sacred to Woton (Othensberg, Odensberg, Godesberg, Gudenesberg and Wodenesberg to name a few).


There are sagas and legends from the Middle Ages which reflect the dismay and even anger of the deposed deities toward the rising power and prestige of Christian intruders. Tannhäuser and Frau Venus are perhaps the most well-known examples. But is it possible to interpret the tantalizing character of the Pied Piper and the disappearance of 130 children within the context of an enraged (and perhaps, dislodged) deity?


This extraordinary tale reads like an historical narrative with eye-witness accounts to bolster its veracity. I am inclined to view the story as a cautionary tale to a population wavering between the older pagan belief and the newer Christian belief systems. Participating in pagan revelry, with its gods, music, dancing and wildness, can have dire consequences. The old deities are no longer mourning their loss of status, but ready to take revenge. At the end of the tale, a ban on music is imposed and presumably the pagan revelry and festivities that accompanied it. But the surface message of the tale is also quite clear. The mendacity of town leaders contradicts the Gospel message that “a laborer is worthy of his hire.”


The mountain where the children disappeared has been renamed Calvary, or the Place of the Skull (Köppen = obsolete German word for head or skull). As Europe became Christianized, it was common to rename pagan sites to give them Christian significance. Calvary or site of the Crucifixion would be a fitting name for a place of great tragedy. After reading this tale it is easy to imagine that the story is based on a folk memory of a tragic event involving the loss of children.


Ancient Bone and Ivory Flutes


The Pied Piper is playing one of the oldest known musical instruments: the flute or pipe. Archaeologists have found numerous flutes fashioned from bone or ivory throughout Germany and Switzerland. At the Cloister in Müstair, Switzerland, archaeologists found two bone flutes which they have dated to the Carolingian period and two from the 11th/12th and 14th centuries. They are made from the tibia bone of a sheep or goat and have three finger holes. These Müstair flutes are capable of producing a five-tone or eight-tone scale respectively.


A flute that is believed to be between 30,000 – 37,000 years old was found in pieces in the Geissenkloesterle Cave in Southern Germany. It was made in the Upper Paleolithic Era, a time when Europe was occupied by the last Neanderthals and the first modern humans. This flute was carved from solid ivory and was capable of playing relatively sophisticated tunes. Based on experiments, it seems the flute followed the pentatonic scale.


The sound of these flutes was shaped by human breath. After singing, playing the flute was the most immediate form of communication. Because of its special sound and shape, the flute was also used in religious and cultic ceremonies. The music of the flute or pipe was said to have magical and healing properties. The shepherd played the pipe to calm his flock and keep them together. And in the saga, the Pied Piper uses the magical tones of the flute to exercise control over both animals and humans. The ancient Greeks mistrusted flute music as being overly powerful and seductive and according to Indian tradition, when Lord Krishna played his flute, listeners forgot their individuality and were drawn irresistibly to the music.






Grimm's Saga Number 245: The Pied Piper of Hamelin



In the year 1284 a strange man was seen in the town of Hamelin. He wore a parti-colored coat and a colorful scarf and that is why he was called Bundting (one colorfully dressed). He claimed he was a rat catcher and promised to free the town of all mice and rats in return for a certain sum of money. The town folk reached agreement and assured him he would receive the designated wage. Thereupon the rat catcher pulled out a little flute from his pocket and began to play. Immediately the rats and mice crept out from every house and gathered round him. When it seemed he had collected them all, he went out from town and the entire throng of mice and rats scampered behind him. And so he led them to the Weser River. Binding up his colorful cloak, he entered the swift waters. The animals eagerly following him were swept up by the swift current and drowned. But when the townspeople saw that they were free from the pestilence, they regretted the promised reward and they denied him his wage with every manner of excuse until he became enraged and went away embittered. Early in the morning at 7 o’clock on June 26, John and Paul’s Day, (but according to others in the afternoon) he appeared again, but now in the shape of a huntsman with frightful visage and a strange red hat. He sounded his pipe in the alleyways and narrow streets. This time it was not rats and mice that came running but rather children, boys and girls aged four and up, in large numbers. Among them, was the grown daughter of the mayor. A procession of children followed him and he led them out to a mountain, where they all promptly disappeared. A child’s maid had seen it all; she carried a babe on her arm and had followed the crowd from afar, but returned to town to tell the story. The parents streamed out of the city gates and laden with grief, searched for their children. Mothers bewailed their loss. At that hour messengers were sent by land and water to all the surrounding towns to find out whether the children had been seen, but it was all for naught. In total, 130 children were lost. Some said two children had hurried behind the throng but were too late and had to return. The one was blind, the other mute, so that the blind child could not tell the location, but could only tell how they had followed the music. The mute child could point to the location, but couldn’t say anything. One boy ran out of the house only in his shirtsleeves. He returned to the house to get his jacket and thus escaped the misfortune. When he followed, he could see the other children arriving at the bottom of the mountain then he saw them vanish. The street, where the children left the town through the gate was still called the Bungelose (silent street, where no drumbeat or music is heard) in the mid-eighteenth century because no one was allowed to dance or strum a musical instrument there. When a bride was brought to the church accompanied by music, the players had to silence their instruments when they crossed the road. The hill near Hamelin, where the children disappeared, is called Poppenberg. Here at the left and right two stones have been set up in cross-shape. Some say the children were taken into a cave and came out on the other side in Siebenbuergen (Transylvania). The citizens of Hamelin had the story recorded in their city register and after that they always counted years and days according to the loss of their children. Seyfried recorded that it was the 22nd of June instead of the 26th when it happened. At the town hall the following words can be read: In the year of our Lord 1284 in Hamelin, 130 children were lost to a piper at the place called Calvary. In 1572 the Mayor had the story memorialized in a church window with the necessary caption, but the words are mostly illegible today. A coin was also made to commemorate the event. 


To read more about the Pied Piper of Hameln: http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2008/07/reading-pied-piper-of-hamelin.html 
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Wednesday, December 15, 2021

The Wild Ghosts of Christmas

Grimm’s Saga No. 270: The Tuerst, the Posterli and the Straeggele, the Wild Ghosts of Christmas




When the storm howls and rages in the woods at night, people in Lucerne say: “The Tuerst (or Thirst) is on the prowl!” In Entlebuch they know this spirit as the Posterli. He is a demon, who leads an enormous procession on the Thursday before Christmas Day, with frightful noise and loud clanging sounds. The people of Lucerne call this ghost the Straeggele, a witch, who on the Holy Wednesday Fast Night before Christmas haunts the landscape. She brings special trouble to maids who have not spun their daily portion of flax, exacting punishment in many different ways. That is why this evening is also call the Straeggele Night.


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Monday, November 15, 2021

The Little Shepherd Boy, a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm

 The Little Shepherd Boy 




A shepherd boy was known far and wide for the wise answers he gave to every question.  The king of the realm heard about this but did not believe it, so he had the boy brought to him.  “If you can provide an answer to three questions I will ask of you I will look upon you as my own son and you will come to live with me in my royal palace.”


The little boy spoke “What are the three questions?”  The king replied “The first question is how many drops of water there are in the oceans of the world?”


The shepherd boy replied “Your excellency, plug all the rivers of the world so that not a droplet more than what I have counted can flow into the ocean, then I will tell you how many drops of water there are in the sea.”


The king answered “The next question is: How many stars are in the heavens?” 


The shepherd boy replied “Give me a sheet of white paper, and then with your quill splash so many dark spots that you can barely see how many there are and can’t count them because your eyes become cloudy looking upon them.” Then he said “As many stars are in heaven as on this paper, count them!” But no one was able to.


The king said “The third question is how many seconds are in eternity?”


The shepherd boy replied “The Demant Mountain lies in Western Pomerania.  It is an hour high, an hour wide and an hour deep.  Every hundred years a little bird comes and sharpens its beak there and when the mountain has been worn away the first second of eternity will have passed.”


The king replied “You have answered the three questions like a wiseman; from here on you shall live in my royal palace and I will view you as my own son.”



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Wednesday, August 18, 2021

The Butterfly, a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen


 The Butterfly

A fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen 


A butterfly longed to find a bride; so of course it sought a pretty one amongst the flowers. It inspected an entire meadow full but found that each bloom sat quietly and respectably on its stalk (exactly as is fitting for a young maiden when she is not yet engaged). The only problem was that there were so many flowers and the huge selection threatened to become overwhelming.


The butterfly did not like exerting all this effort. That is why he flew to visit the daisies. The French call this flower “Margerite” because they know that the Margerite can prophesy the future. And this the flower gladly does, if a lover pulls out each petal one by one, while asking a question about his or her intended true love: “Does she love me from the bottom of her heart? – Love so deep, it causes pain? – Does he love me truly? – A little? -- Not at all? –“ These and many other questions the flower will gladly answer.


The butterfly came to the Margerite to ask his question. But he did not pull off the petals. Instead he pressed a kiss onto each little bud. He did this because he reasoned, he would get much farther by showing good will. “Margerite, best of all blooms!” he said to the flower. “You are the smartest woman among all the flowers. You can foretell the future. Please, please tell me, shall I win her or another? Which one shall be my bride? When I know the answer, I will fly straight away to her and ask for her hand in marriage.”


But the Margerite Daisy did not respond. She was angry that he had called her a “woman”, when in fact she was a young maiden. There is a difference! He asked a second and third time. When the flower remained silent and would not utter a single word, he decided not to linger any longer and flew away to find his own bride. It was the last days of spring. All around the snowdrops and crocuses bloomed. “They are all very nice indeed,” the butterfly thought. But they are all small fish! Then he flew to the anemones. They were a little too bitter. The violets a bit too effusive. The tulips were too proud. The narcissus too domestic. The lime blossoms were too small and had too many relatives. The apple blossoms, they were as beautiful as roses, but here today, gone tomorrow, depending on how the wind was blowing. The pea blossoms pleased him the most. They were red and white, delicate and fine. They were like good domestic help: pleasant to look at and great in the kitchen. He was just about to ask one to be his bride when he spied a dried-out pod standing nearby, from its tip hung an old blossom. “Who is that?” he asked. “It is my sister,” the pea flower replied. “Aha! Later she will look exactly the same!” he exclaimed and fled because her appearance startled him.

Spring passed and summer also ended. Now it was autumn, but the butterfly was still indecisive. Now the flowers all appeared in their finest gowns – but it was all for naught! They were all lacking the fresh, balmy scent of youth. A fragrant aroma is what the heart longs for when it is no longer young. The butterfly now flew to the mum and aster, but there were few to be found. So finally he settled on some crinkly mint. “The mint has no blossom, but its entire being is bud! It is fragrant from top to bottom and emits a flower’s perfume in every blade. I will take the mint as bride!” said the butterfly. And so, he asked the mint for her hand in marriage. But the crinkly mint stood there stiffly and listened silently. Finally it said “We can be friends, but not more than that! I am old and you are old. We can live and help each other, even amuse each other. But marry? Never!” 


And so the butterfly did not marry. He had waited too long, and one should never do that! And so the butterfly remained a confirmed bachelor. 


Soon it was late autumn with rain and dark weather. The wind blew cold over the backs of the old willow trees and the branches groaned. It wasn’t the type of weather to fly about in one’s summer outfit! But the butterfly wasn’t flying outside anymore. He had managed to fly into a house, where the logs in the oven burned so brightly and it was as warm as a summer’s day. He considered whether or not he could live in such a cozy little room. “Merely living is not enough!” He finally said. “Sunshine, freedom and a small flower are what I require!” And he flew against the windowpane. The children all came running, admired him, then stuck him through with a needle and placed him in their box of treasures. Nothing else could be done for the fellow now. 


“Here I sit, pricked through by this needle instead of sitting on a flower!” the butterfly sighed. “This truly is not very pleasant! It must be what it’s like to be married, you are stuck to one spot!” And so he tried to console himself.


“That’s cold comfort, indeed,” said the houseplant on the windowsill. “But,” the butterfly thought to himself “One can’t really trust a houseplant. They spend far too much time among people!” 


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Sunday, January 24, 2021

How the Cuckoo Came to Call, a Fairy Tale from Latvia

 


How the Cuckoo Came to Call

There once was a mother who raised a flea in her bathroom. The flea became so large that she was able to make an entire pair of shoes from its skin for her daughter. Soon thereafter the mother was invited to a wedding with her daughter. At the wedding feast the mother promised to give her daughter’s hand in marriage to the first person who could guess the kind of hide the shoes were made from. One after another tried to guess, but in vain. Suddenly a newt poked his head through a crack in the floorboard and cried “The shoes are made from the skin of a flea!” And so, nothing could be done, the mother had to give her daughter to the newt in marriage.


The newt led his wife to his castle by the sea. They lived there for a long time. One day, the wife became restless and desired to see her parents again. But the newt would not allow it, she must first find her way and walk in iron shoes, then he would allow it. Well and good, after seven years she had mastered walking in iron shoes and they were ripped to shreds. The wife took her three children by the hand to visit her parents. The newt led all four to the seashore. He said: “When you return, step very closely to the edge of the sea and call out: “Newt, if you live, let a maelstrom of milk rise up; if you are dead, let a maelstrom of blood rise up. When I hear your words, I will come to meet you.”


And so they said their good-byes. After the newt’s wife had spent some time with her parents, she became homesick for her newt. Her parents did not want her to go. But the newt’s wife praised her life with the newt; life in the castle by the sea was good for her and her children; it was now time to go home. The parents wanted to follow her and find out how she met the newt by the big water and how they could find the castle, but she would not tell them. So, if she would not say, they would have to worm it out of the small, dumb children.


They asked the oldest: he said nothing. They asked the middle child: she also said nothing. They asked the youngest, he said it. As soon as the father found out the secret, he went to the seashore and called out: “Newt, if you live, let a maelstrom of milk rise up; if you are dead, let a maelstrom of blood rise up!” The newt whirled up an eddy of milk and emerged on shore. But the father took aim and shot him dead. The next morning when the wife went to the seashore with her children and called out: “Newt, if you live, let a maelstrom of milk rise up; if you are dead, let a maelstrom of blood rise up!” The newt whirled up an eddy of blood. The mother was terrified and asked the children, which of them had divulged the father’s secret. The youngest acknowledged his misdeed. The mother spoke her judgment on each one. “You my eldest son, shall become an oak tree, so that everyone admires you. You, my middle daughter, shall become a fresh linden tree, so that the maidens adorn themselves with your branches. You, my youngest chatterbox shall become a stumbling block, which shall break the axle of even the largest cart. I myself will become a cuckoo and will call for my newt for ever and always.” And so it was.




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Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Winter Solstice and the Grand Conjunction

The Singing Fir Tree


In Switzerland, a story is told about a man named Hans Kreutz, who lived with his wife on Thun Lake in Ralligen. In the year 1555, a thick black fog descended on the village and it would not dissipate. The alarmed villagers retreated to their homes, closed doors and sealed the windows tightly. But a light blue vapor crept under the window sill and the wife breathed in this vapor and in the evening she lay in bed motionless. Hans looked into her eyes and saw no reflection there and in the morning she was dead. Many villagers died that year and the survivors buried their loved ones in the church yard at the outskirts of town, where the mountain and forest swept down abruptly into the valley. While the bells in the church tower were ringing, Hans buried his wife and returned home. For days he did not leave his house. He neither ate nor slept but could not forget the vacant stare of his beloved wife and the sound of the church bells as he lowered her into the grave.

One evening when Hans sat by the fire, he heard the church bells ring out the Ave and they rang and rang and he lost track of the time. He raised his head, for he thought he heard wonderful and sweet singing up high in the Hohlbach Forest near the tree line. But when the church bells stopped ringing, he heard it no more. The next day he sat with longing and waited for the evening church bells to ring out the Ave. At first he heard only the faintest sound of distant singing, but then the melody grew stronger until there could be no mistake. A woman’s voice sang a mysterious and beautiful song, the words of which he could not quite decipher.


But Hans spread word among the townspeople. At night the entire village listened while the church bells rang and soon everyone heard the wonderful singing daily. The singing was soothing and the villagers listened at the edge of the village until the snow began to fall and then they returned to their homes. All but Hans, who wanted to know where the singing came from. The next night when the church bells were ringing, the villagers assembled in the church yard. Hans lit a torch and climbed the mountainside, following the mysterious melody. He did this every evening until one night he finally found a giant fir tree, and its voice was sweet and clear. He shyly gazed upon the tree and in amazement listened to its gentle song.


But Hans could find no rest. The singing fir tree occupied his waking and sleeping hours and he wanted to be in the presence of its song always. In secret he climbed up the mountain during the day and spent long hours near the tree. Some time passed and Hans was called away to visit his family in the next valley.


While he was away, a wood carver from among the villagers, who had seen the beautiful fir tree, decided he needed it to make a wood carving. Because the tree was so magnificent, tall and straight, with perfectly formed branches and trunk, he had it felled and brought down to the valley. From the wood, he selected an enormous block of the trunk that had no scars or branches. From this piece of wood he began to carve an image of the Virgin Mary. He worked day and night on this carving and saw nothing more beautiful than the image of the Virgin growing out of the wood. And after some time, the villagers came to his workshop and marveled at the beauty of the image, its heavenly countenance and mild authority.


When Hans returned to the village after some months, he climbed the mountain and went directly to where the singing fir tree had stood. In its place was only a stump and Hans was gripped by such melancholy, that a loud moan issued from his lips. It was like the howling of a wounded wolf or the shriek of an eagle flying overhead. The loud cries filled the valley, echoing off the cliffs and rocks. When the villagers heard the loud cries from above, they gathered below near the church. And soon in the distance they heard the beautiful, long-missed song. They turned and saw the woodcarver, carrying his statue and saw that it was singing. He placed the statue in the church, where it stands today. And some say, they have heard it singing when a loved one dies. The place where the tree once stood is now called Marienstein. There is a smaller rock nearby, where Hans once gazed upon the fir tree. It is said that in his grief, Hans turned to stone and the place is now called the Kreutzantisch.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Monday, August 10, 2020

Fairy Tales of Strange Steeds

Strange Steeds in Switzerland

Fairy Tale of Zawudschawu, the Night Horse

Many monsters were said to inhabit the mountains and valleys in times of old. In Sitten, a town in the Wallis region of Switzerland, a three-legged steed was often seen prancing through the streets in the bright moon light. And in the soft swamplands surrounding the city, the wild horse Zawudschawu could often be seen grazing at night. His coat was an iridescent milk-white but his wild mane and long tail were as white as the driven snow. If a brittle old hag wandered out of the village and lost her way in the moor, it might happen that the horse approached at a proud trot. Lowering itself carefully, it would invite the old person to sit on its back. Barely situated there, the horse would hasten home. 

But the horse was not always so gracious and trustworthy. Sometimes it played mean tricks. One evening a man, who had quenched his thirst a bit too much that evening, was wandering home from the tavern. He was tired and also his legs were unsteady. Fatigued, he sat down on a large stone near the bridge and thought to himself “If only an old nag would come trotting by to take me home.”

He had hardly formed the thought when he heard the approach of a horse; turning he saw the pale-white steed. It bowed and lowered itself gently and even nodded its head in an inviting way. The man did not hesitate nor did he wonder who the owner might be of such a magnificent steed. Rather clumsily he mounted the horse but once sitting on the horse’s back, the steed got up carefully and moved away. Thus encouraged, the man promised it good feed and sugar bread as reward for taking him home.

Soon the man saw his village and the roof of his house illuminated by the full moon. He smiled remembering his soft feather bed and urged the horse on with a gentle kick in its side. The horse responded by jumping jerkily, almost catapulting the rider into the air. He gripped its mane terrified as the horse began a wild gallop. The white mane whipped back by the wind nearly blinded the man. He implored the horse to return to the rightful path but instead it crashed through the swamp and continued on to the river.

Now the rider was seized by a veritable premonition of death. He screamed and tried to turn the wild horse around by pulling violently on its mane. But the horse pulled away and he could hardly stay mounted. They quickly reached the treacherous banks of the river where its rolling waves menaced. But in the last second the horse turned as quick as lightening. Its rider flew into the whirling waters and was carried downstream. The horse neighed as if laughing, turned around and ran back in the direction of the moor.

The rider was only able to save himself with the utmost exertion. As he returned home soaked to the bone, he knew he had encountered the wild steed Zawudschawu. The cold bath in the river had a sobering effect on the man and he never again visited the tavern.


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Friday, July 31, 2020

Flower of the Day: the Brittle Sandwort


Growing at over 5,000 feet elevation, the diminutive Brittle Sandwort is an alpine gem in the Pacific Northwest. Home to fairies and elves, look carefully to uncover its secrets. 

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Saturday, July 18, 2020

Fish Fairy Tales and the Sea! the Sea!


And in this fairy tale, the mouth of a fish is contemplated:

For a long time the fish in the sea had been unhappy because there was no order in their kingdom. Fish did not give each other any leeway; each swam right and left, whatever he felt like. Some swam in between those who wanted to swim together. Others blocked the path and the stronger fish gave the weaker ones a slap with their tails, hurling them long distances. Or even worse, the bigger fish devoured the smaller ones. “How nice it would be if we had a king, who spoke law and justice amongst us,” they all said. They agreed they would vote one fish to be their leader; they would pick whoever could swim the fastest through the waves and bring help to the weaker ones.

They positioned themselves on shore, one after another in rank and file. The pike gave a sign with his tail and they all swam away. The pike shot through the waves like an arrow and the herring, gudgeon, perch, carp and all the rest as they are called followed after. The flounder also swam along and hoped to reach the finish line.

All at once a cry was heard “The herring is out in front! The herring is out in front!”

Who is out in front?” the bad-tempered flounder screamed morosely. He was swimming far behind. “Who is out in front?

The herring, the herring!” was the reply. “

The bare naked herring?” cried the envious flounder flabbergasted, “the bare naked herring?”

Since that time the mouth of the flounder has always been crooked as punishment for those unkind words. 


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Friday, July 10, 2020

Summer Fairy Tale: The King of All Carrots

Grimm’s Fairy Tale No. 146 The Carrot King

Once there lived two brothers, both serving as soldiers. One brother was rich, the other poor. The poor one, seeking to alleviate his dire need, took off his soldier’s uniform and became a farmer. Now he spent his time digging, hoeing and hacking his little acre and sowed a row of carrots. The seed sprouted and a carrot soon grew that was so large and strong and noticeably thicker than the others. In fact, it would not stop growing. One could even say it was the Crown Prince or Ruler of all Carrots because never again has there been such a carrot (nor, I suspect, shall there ever be another one like it). Finally it was so big that it filled up an entire wagon and two oxen were required to pull it. The farmer did not know what to do with the thing, and he wondered whether the carrot was his fortune or misfortune. Finally he thought to himself “If you sell it, what great reward will you fetch? And the smaller carrots are just as good for eating. It is best that you present it to the king and honor him with the gift.”

So he loaded the carrot on his wagon, hitched up two oxen and drove to court to present the carrot to the king. “What kind of strange thing have you brought?” the king asked. “I have seen many odd things in my day, but never such a monster. From what type of seed could this have grown? Or perhaps, the vegetable has only grown this way for you because you are a child of fortune.”

“Oh no,” the farmer replied. “I am no fortune’s child. I am a poor soldier who could no longer feed himself. So I hung my soldier’s uniform on a nail and now tend the soil. I have a brother who is rich, whom you certainly know. But I have nothing and have been forgotten by the world.”

The king felt compassion for him and said “You shall overcome your poverty and will receive presents from me so that you shall be the equal of your rich brother.”

The king gave him enormous amounts of gold, farmland, fields and cattle and made him stone-rich, so that the riches of his brother did not compare. When his brother heard what had been accomplished with a single carrot, he was overcome with jealously and plotted how he, too, could secure such fortune for himself. But he wanted to do it in a much smarter way so he took gold and horses and brought them to the king. He thought the king would give him much greater riches in return, because his brother had received so much for a single carrot. The king received the brother’s gift and said, he did not know what to give him in return that could be rarer or better than the large carrot. So the rich brother had to accept his brother’s carrot as present from the king. He put it in his wagon and drove home. At home he did not know on whom he could take out his rage and anger until finally an evil thought came to him. He decided to kill his brother and so he hired murderers, who were instructed to lay in waiting. He now went to his brother and said “Dear brother, I know a secret treasure. Let us go out together, unearth it and share it.”

The brother let himself be convinced and innocently went along. But when they were walking, the murderers fell upon him, tied him up and wanted to hang him on a tree. They were just about to carry out the evil deed when the sound of song and the beating of hooves could be heard in the distance. Such a terror seized them, that in their haste they pushed their prisoner into a sack, hung it on a tree and took flight. But the prisoner worked nimbly with his fingers until there was a hole in the sack, through which he could stick his head. But who should be the next one to come down the path but a wandering student, a young fellow who rode through the forest singing loudly. When the one hanging in the sack noticed that someone was passing below he called out “Greetings to you in this fine hour.”

The student looked all around and did not know from where the voice came. Finally he said “Who is calling me?” From the treetop the prisoner now called “Raise your eyes. I am sitting up here in the sack of wisdom. In only a short amount of time I have learned many things, among them that all learning is as elusive as the wind. Soon I will have mastered everything, will come down and be wiser than all humankind. I understand the stars and can read the signs of the heavens, can decipher the blowing of the winds, the sand in the sea, know all manner of healing sickness, recognize the powers of herbs, birds and stones. If you sat here in my place, you too would soon understand the wonder that flows out of my sack of wisdom.”

When the student heard all this he was amazed and said “Blessed be the hour when I found you. Couldn’t I too sit a while in the sack?” From above the prisoner replied as if he did not relish the idea. “I will let you sit here for a very short time in return for a reward and good words. But you must wait another hour; I still have to learn a bit more.”

When the student had waited a bit, he began to be restless. The time seemed too long and he begged immediate entry to the sack; his thirst for wisdom was far too great to wait any longer. The prisoner in the sack pretended he had finally given in and said “So that I can emerge from this cocoon of wisdom, you must lower the sack by that rope tied to the tree. Then you can crawl inside.”

The student lowered the sack, opened it and freed the man inside. Then he called out eagerly “Now pull me up into the tree quickly!” He wanted to walk into the sack standing upright. “Stop!” cried out the other. “That won’t do at all!” He grabbed him by the head and pushed him in backwards, tied the opening around his head and pulled the disciple of wisdom up into the tree, where he swayed back and forth in the air. “How do you fare up there my dear fellow? See, don’t you already feel wisdom dawning with experience? Now sit quietly until you become much smarter than you already are.” 

And so he mounted the student’s horse, rode away and after an hour sent out someone to let the fellow out of the tree. 

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Anatomy of a Fairy Tale

The fairy tale .... what is it?
Maerchen or Fairy Tale: a working definition 

A fairy tale is a fictitious story, originally conveyed orally to a group or community, bound together by language, custom or geography. Often fairy tales describe universal human experiences, core beliefs or values of the community. The problems of every day life are often explored: living within a family structure, finding a mate, securing status or riches, establishing oneself in life, seasons and cycles of the year. Main characteristics include fabulous or fantastic elements (for example, talking animals), a storyline that is played out independently from any specific time or place, an anti-hero or anti-heroine winning out against all odds (i.e., the youngest, smallest, dumbest, poorest succeeds over the oldest, tallest, smartest or richest). Fairy tale justice means the last shall be first and the first shall be last. As an oral tradition, the fairy tale often uses a narrative template with three-fold repetition. Only in the third segment is the adversary overcome, victory assured, success achieved.  The setting of fairy tales is often the forest. The forest is dark and forbidding but also imbued with magic.
Fairy tales often contain explicit violence, sex or macabre events, nonetheless their appeal is timeless. 

The Brothers Grimm write in their Preface to the First Volume of fairy tales that “Fairy tales, sagas and history stand together and present us with the fresh and lively spirit of pre-historical times. …The fairy tale is more poetic, the saga is more historical in nature.” 

The saga is anchored in a specific time, often a particular year, geographic region or city/town/place. Persons are mentioned by name, often a historical figure or king is mentioned. The saga frequently explains strange phenomena, unusual features in the landscape, the origin of an ethnic group or names that were once of local significance. Sagas are the memory of an historical event. History is explained by a community remembering its past and offering explanations for local custom and tradition. The saga is a means of connecting current circumstances to precise past reference points. Some of these reference points may be authentic, others are probably completely invented. 

The saga commemorates a distant folk memory or tradition. It has not been altered or corrupted by current events or commentaries. 

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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Grimm's Fairy Tale No. 176: A Lifetime


“Ach, God,” the ass replied, “that is a long time. Just think of my laborious existence!

We complete our mini-series on life and immortality in fairy tales with the following humerous story, straight from the donkey's mouth so-to-speak, 
Grimm’s Fairy Tale No. 176: A Lifetime. 

Translation: Copyright FairyTaleChannel.com
(Please read, enjoy, link to or pass this story on to friends. Please do not plagiarize, copy or pilfer. Thanks!)


When God created the world, he decided it would be fitting to set the life span of every creature. He called the ass, who asked “God, how long shall I live?”
“Thirty years,” God replied, “how does that suit you?”
“Ach, God,” the ass replied, “that is a long time. Just think of my laborious existence: I carry heavy burdens from dawn to dusk, drag sacks of corn to the mill so that others have bread to eat, for encouragement and refreshment I get nothing but kicks and beatings! Release me from a portion of this long time.”
God had pity and gave him eighteen years. Comforted, the ass departed and the dog appeared.
“How long do you want to live?” God asked him. “The ass thought thirty years would be too long, but surely you will be satisfied with that.”
The dog replied, “God, is that really your will? Just think how I must run. It’s unbearable for my feet! When I have lost my voice and can no longer bark and my teeth and can no longer bite, what else is left for me but to run from one corner to the next and growl?”
God agreed and gave him twelve years. Then the monkey approached. “Surely you want to live thirty years?” God said to him, “You don’t need to work like the ass and the dog but instead, are always happy-go-lucky.”
“Ach, God,” the monkey replied, “it would seem that way, but in fact it’s not. When it’s raining millet I never have a spoon! I’m supposed to always perform happy tricks and make faces so that other people laugh. But when people give me an apple and I bite into it, it is always sour. How often does sadness really hide behind humor! I could never endure thirty years.” So God in his mercy decided to give him ten years.
Finally man appeared. He was happy, healthy and hearty. He asked God to set his lifetime. “You shall live thirty years.” God said, “Is that enough?”
“What a short time!” the man cried, “When I have finally completed building my house and a fire is burning happily on the hearth, when I have planted trees that are finally blooming and bearing fruit and when I can finally be happy about life, then I shall die! O God, extend my lifetime.” “I will add the eighteen years deducted from the ass’s life,” God said. “That is not enough,” replied the man. “You shall also have the twelve years of the dog.” “Still not enough.” “Well and good, I will give you the ten years of the monkey, but more you shall not get.” Man left but he was still not satisfied..
And so, man lives seventy years. The first thirty are his human years, they pass quickly. He is happy and content. He enjoys his work and is pleased with his existence. Eighteen years of the ass follow, he must bear the many burdens that load him down. He must carry the corn that nourishes others and endure beatings and kicks that are the only reward for his faithful service. Twelve years of the dog follow. He must lie in a corner, growl and has no teeth to chew. And when this time is over, the ten years of the monkey make up the final years of his existence. Man is dimwitted, crazy, does every manner of foolish thing and becomes the laughing stock of his children. 



Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Fairy Tale for the Approach of Spring and the Last Shrieks of Winter

Grimm's Saga 275. The Shrieker




March 12th
On this day in 1753:Johann Peter Kriechbaum, mayor of the Upper Kainsbach Zent, told the following on March 12, 1753: “In the district called Spreng a ghost or spirit resided, who made all kinds of shrieking noises, like the sounds of deer, fox, donkey, swine or other animals, even every type of bird. For this reason, the people called him the shrieker. He has led many astray and no one dares linger in this meadow, especially herders.” This is what the mayor recently encountered when he was walking at night in his meadow in Spreng. He had used up all the water for watering his herd when a pig squealed in the little woods on the Langenbrombach side. It screeched as if a knife were stuck in its throat. The ghost has been seen as far as the Holler Forest, where they used to burn charcoal seventeen years ago. The coal burners complained bitterly at the time that many had been frightened by this ghost because he appeared in the form of a donkey. The deceased Johann Peter Weber said the same thing. He had loaded coal there at night to take it to the Michelstadt Hammer. Heinrich Germann, the old mayor of the Zent stated that when he was once tending his oxen in the Spreng field, it was as if a fox ran at him, but when he beat him away with the whip, the fox immediately vanished.

Fairy Tale Factum:The Cent was an administrative and judicial unit created in the Middle Ages. It roughly covered 100 families. The spelling was subsequently changed to Zent and was said to cover an area including ten villages (some accounts say 20). The Zent was governed by a count (Zentgraf, usually a farmer) or presiding judge (Zentschoeffen), often the village mayor or sheriff. These districts were marked off with border stones (Grenzsteine or Zentsteine), some of which have survived to the present day.

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Saturday, January 4, 2020

The Impenetrable Elfmound





My home is the impenetrable elfmound where sump meets hillock.  Once I pledged my heart to a prince but I was kidnapped by a king; my swain freed me from the king’s cruel advances only to abandon me soon after. Were it not for my horse or help from the fairy folk I would have been lost. But by and by I came to this place of moss and mold. I have put on the wings of the fairies as armor and here I shall live for all time forth. For in the muck every army sinks, every villain is swallowed, and love is unknown. 


Excerpt from Fairy Tale of Prince and Horse 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve Dinner Parties: a Fairy Tale from the Brothers Grimm


Nr. 116 Der Liebhaber zum Essen eingeladenThe lover invited to dinner and Christmas Eve augury


There once lived a woman who earned her living as a tax collector. Secretly this woman had fallen in love with her bookkeeper. She wanted to win his heart through magic and so she had a fresh loaf of bread baked on Holy Christmas Eve. She then stuck two knives into the loaf, cross-wise while murmuring quite a few words of incantation. 


The bookkeeper came to her from his sleep, completely unclothed, sat down at the table and looked at her severely. She stood up and ran away but the bookkeeper pulled both knives out of the bead and hurled them after her and almost wounded her. 



Afterward, he returned home; her aunt, who was present in the chamber, was so violently frightened that she lay in bed for several weeks unable to move. The following day the bookkeeper was heard to inquire of the household servants: he would like to know the woman who had scared him so in the past night. He was so tired that he could hardly speak, he should have escaped easily but could not defend himself; he tried, but pray as he would, he was instead driven out into the night.

The same old woman, who told this tale, added: On Christmas Eve in Coburg several young noble women kept something back from their dinner meal and got up at midnight and sat down at the table. Soon, their dearest came, each one brought a knife and wanted to sit down beside their girl. The noble women were frightened and fled; but one took the knife and threw it back. She turned around and looked at him and picked up the knife. Another time, instead of the invited swains, the physical incarnation of death came into the room and placed an hour glass next to one of the girls, who then died during the year.


In Silesia three ladies of the court sat down at a covered table on Christmas Eve and waited for their future true loves. For each a place had been set at the table. They had appeared in response to an invitation, but only two came and they sat down next to two ladies. The third did not appear. But the one who was left out became sad and impatient and finally got up after waiting in vain. When she went to the window and looked out, she viewed a coffin across the way, a young woman was lying within, who looked just like her. The young lady became ill immediately and died soon thereafter. According to oral tradition, the death chest comes into the room, the girl approaches it, the boards of the chest open up and the maid falls dead inside.



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