Saturday, February 9, 2019
When wise Theodosius ruled his eyesight deteriorated. He therefore issued an edict: a bell would be installed in his palace and anyone who had a matter to bring before him would ring the bell with his own hand. When the bell rang the judge who was then appointed would come immediately and issue justice.
It happened that a snake built its nest underneath this bell and within a short time had babies. When these young vipers could slither, the snake made its way with its young to a spot outside the city. While the snake was away, a toad occupied its nest; when the snake returned with its young vipers, it saw how the toad had taken over the nest. It battled with the toad, but could not remove it on its own and so the toad took possession of its nest. When the snake realized this, it wrapped its tail around the bell’s rope, pulled it efficiently and rang the bell as if saying “Come down, you judge, and give me justice, for a toad has violated every law and taken possession of my nest.”
When the judge heard the bell ringing he came down but didn’t see anyone so he went upstairs again. When the snake noticed this, it rang a second time. When the judge heard this and saw the snake ringing the bell rope, and saw how the toad had occupied its domicile, he climbed the stairs to the palace and told the king everything. The king spoke: “Go down and don’t only drive the toad from the nest, but kill it also, because the snake must assume its rightful place once more.” And so it happened.
One day after this incident, the king was lying in bed; the snake came into his chamber and carried in its mouth a precious stone. And when the king’s servants saw this, they said to their master that a snake had come in. But Theodosius spoke: “Do not prevent it from entering, because I believe it won’t harm me.” The snake crept onto his bed and approached his face. And when it stared into his eyes, it dropped the stone and then retreated from the king’s chamber. When the stone touched both of his eyes, the king’s eyesight returned. He rejoiced and had his servants search for the snake. But they could not find it. The king kept the precious stone and lived in peace until his dying day.
Saturday, January 19, 2019
The Path to Paradise (a Swiss Folk Tale)
Many years ago a poor tinsmith, who repaired pots and pans for a living, could no longer feed his family for he could not find work. Wherever he went he only found people living in greatest need and terrible suffering for the plague had infested villages and towns. Often entire families were struck down, including cattle and even the family dog. The survivors ran wildly through the streets as if insane or sat lifeless in front of their houses, stunned and brooding. The poor tinsmith had passed through all the villages on the shaded side of the Rhone River and had sold only a few small scraps. Tired and dejected, he crossed the Rhone River and thought he would now try walking on the sunny side. But the plague had wreaked havoc there also. He climbed up the mountain slag, panting and gasping for breath. From time to time he had to wipe the sweat from his brow. His only wish was to lie down and rest, rest for all time. In the village he was now passing through it was deathly still. The house doors were wide open; the evil smell of corpses wafted through the alleyways and made him shudder. No one responded to his knocking. On the threshold of the last house sat a man as old as the stone cliffs, he had a long snarled beard and green, bulging frog eyes. Sadly, the little man gazed up and said in a rattling voice: You don’t need to come here with your tin pots, you won’t sell any here, the plague has been guest in this abode. Yes, I am the sole survivor of the village and I won’t buy anything from you. I have plenty of good and bad utensils – in excess. I have become a rich man, the entire village belongs to me and me alone,” and he laughed wildly and struck his forehead with his palm. Then he glared at the tinsmith with the same sad gaze. “Should I show you the way to where you will find work?”
The tinsmith shifted the heavy bundle on his back and said: “Yes, I’d be happy to find some work, but I’m sure there is nothing anywhere and the pots will stay on my back!”
The little man made a sign that the man should follow him. He placed a thick hazel branch between the pots and tin pans, shifted the bundle with the stick and plodded behind the little man, who slowly climbed the mountain. Every ten steps the man stopped, coughed but finally led him to an open field, which was easy to climb at the far end. But the front end of the field was a jagged drop-off, filled with fir trees. The sun had just sunk behind the mountain and it would soon be dark. The little man pointed to a narrow path, which led from the base of the cliff, on which they stood, in a straight direction but always upward, over the broad Rhone Valley to the peak of the Eliserhorn, which projected through the dark mass of the cliff with its snow-covered peak. On the peak of the Eliserhorn there burned a light, not larger than a star in heaven. The little man cried: Take this path and always, always follow the light! A deep, dark night will break and evil spirits will seemingly build broad bridges for you; you must not lose sight of the light, otherwise you will sink into endless night. The ocean lies below the bridge. It will remain calm as a green mountain lake, then it will become red and then roaring and finally will become sulfur-yellow and putrid. The raging waves will beat over your path and threaten to devour you.”
The tinsmith thanked the old man as the distant, remote light started to awaken new hope within him. He grasped his bundle of pots tightly and with the little light firmly in his gaze, he began his climb up the narrow aerial path. His stride was slow and deliberate, his steps long so that the tin ware on his back rattled with each step. He looked at the green shimmering surface of the water, which extended before him like an endless sea. But soon the sea glimmered a purple-red; the waves began to curl over and became larger and larger. Soon, they began to rock back and forth and he became dizzy. He began to stagger and stumble but found his equilibrium again and again with his hazel branch. When he looked into the water’s depths for only a heartbeat, he thought he would crash into the waves, but he immediately gazed up into the radiating light and stepped weakly in that direction. He paid no attention to the beautiful, wide and brightly illuminated bridge, which enticingly rose from the water and formed a bridge to the narrow and bumpy path he was on. The closer the little light appeared on the peak of the Eliserhorn, the brighter it burned. The path was now enveloped in the depths of darkness and below him the waters raged like an ocean storm. The yellow shimmering waves rolled with unceasing force against the ramp he walked on. Now the water breached the path and threatened to tear him away. The spray, hitting the granite cliff edges, splashed up striking his face and enveloping him in a veil of foam, drenching his clothes. The putrid water took his breath away. But now he was close to the light and with his last strength, he pushed himself through the foaming surf and the waves, which rose up to his left and right were as high as towers.
The sea suddenly subsided below him. A great calm descended all around. He was at his destination and stood on a large, level place. Before him stood a mighty church built of snow-white marble. In its beautiful, richly decorated façade he counted twelve doors. The tip of the tower seemed to extend into the heavens and shone like a star, in white blinding light. It all seemed so solemn, so beautiful and holy that he had to fold his hands in prayer. Over the entrance gate could be read: Church of Eternal Joy. On both sides of the gate guards stood in white shirts with golden collars, on which were written S Z (sit Zion). The one held a pick on his shoulder, the other a shovel.
The tinsmith wanted to put down his heavy bundle to enter the church properly, as is fitting; but the guards motioned to him he should take everything with him. So he stepped through the gate with the rattling bundle and entered a richly illuminated hall filled with people. It looked like the inside of any church at home, but only here it was much larger, majestic and solemn. The hall at the front and back was crossed by a passage. On the right side of the front passage he noticed a funeral pyre. He set down his tin ware as quietly as possible, kneeled completely exhausted and covered in sweat on a riser and listened to the beautiful heavenly music, which came to him from the choir. The sound was like the rushing of the organ, and other times was like the rushing of a forest stream, which fell from the heights and then rushed peacefully through a green meadow. The souls in the passage were enveloped in white robes, turned their backs to the gate and held both hands before their faces. But the souls in the passage before the choir, under which he was also standing, supported their arms on the prayer stool and did not pay any attention to him.
The tinsmith hardly dared breathe, he was gripped by such solemn feelings. As far as the eye could see, all were rigid, unmoving figures. Only in the choir before him was there bright laughter as if the angels themselves were rejoicing. It must be wonderful there; he had to reach that spot.
He stood up, but two white-clad youth approached him, softly taking his arm, they said he must not enter the choir so dirty. He should wait a bit. He sank back onto the prayer bench, but when the youth vanished, he tried going forward again. Something pulled him there with irresistible force. Two men appeared in red robes and said to him “Follow us, you are not yet clean, we will wash you and cleanse you, then when you may join the throng that sing and praise in the choir!”
They led him by the arm through the throng, which silently made room for him. Proceeding through the door of a passage, he climbed the steps of a high tower and opened the door to a lovely room. On the table lay a scourge and tightly twisted cords. On the wall stood washing utensils and fastened to the wall sparkling faucets could be seen. The men removed his clothes, filled the barrels with water: first tepid and then boiling water. They scourged him with the whip so that his skin fell off, then they splashed him with ice-cold water and immediately his body was covered with young, fresh skin. The horrible pain turned into a wonderful, heavenly feeling of comfort. After this, they dressed him in a soft muslin shirt and said he could now pass through the door. This led him down the steps and through the passageway to singing saints, who asked him to kneel on a large, cushioned riser. He should now ask the Heavenly Father for a beautiful cap of eternal life and imagine something of indescribable beauty, then wish for it. He knelt in the choir and fervently prayed the Our Father so that he soon forgot to wish. He was hardly done, when the youth were once more at his side and waved him to follow so that he could make room for others. They stepped out to the temple and arriving before its doors, wandered almost a half hour on a beautiful and wide street. High trees with large leaves marked the path. The trees were of such splendor, he had never laid eyes on such marvels. Between the branches he saw a garden of inestimable size, from which the most wonderful sweet smells of flowers emanated. He drank in the fragrance and could not get enough of it. Before him stood vineyards, which hang ripe with fruit.
“Eat your fill,” the guide said to him. He picked a grape but each time he raised the fruit to his lips, he felt already satisfied. When he had tried every assortment, one of the youth presented him with the key to his house, which hung on a green band. He would now be the occupant of this house.
He could not really say what it looked like, for the splendor glimmered before his eyes and completely enveloped him. He only saw how enormous carnation stalks from the darkest red to the brightest snow-white hung over the wall. When he asked whether he could open all doors with this single key, the youth replied, this one key opened every door. Then he asked whether he could not fetch his family and his relatives and friends, because it was so beautiful here and he felt so happy. The youth replied: “They will come but not all. Do you see over there in front of the large gate to the cathedral? There stands the bishop with his tall miter cap and long staff. He has been standing there for a long time and must wait even longer, for he won’t be let inside!”
He nodded his head and thanked them once more. Then the youth vanished.
Thursday, January 17, 2019
Arminius purportedly defended the freedom of German tribes and defeated the Romans at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD. In gratitude they erected an Irmensauele, or pole of Arminius.
A tradition of erecting and worshipping a pole is alluded to in numerous legends and saga and has a wide geographic distribution. The opening paragraph of Grimm’s Saga No. 518 is a reference to this tradition:
“Now it happened that the Kaiser’s bailiff named Grissler rode out to Uri. And when he had lived there some time he erected a pole under the linden tree and everyone had to pass by it. On this pole he placed a hat and ordered a farmhand to sit there and keep watch. He ordered the following public proclamation: Whoever passes must bow to the hat as if the master himself stood there.”
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Grimm’s Saga No. 518: Wilhelm Tell
Now it happened that the Kaiser’s bailiff named Grissler rode out to Uri. And when he had lived there some time he erected a pole under the linden tree and everyone had to pass by it. On this pole he placed a hat and ordered a farmhand to sit there and keep watch. He ordered the following public proclamation: Whoever passes must bow to the hat as if the master himself stood there. And if a person did not see the hat and did not bow, he would be punished and have to pay a hefty fine.
Now a pious man resided in the land; his name was Wilhelm Tell. He stood before the hat but would not bow. The servant who guarded the hat now accused Tell before the bailiff. The bailiff had Tell brought before him and asked why he did not bow before the tree and hat, as was commanded. Wilhelm Tell answered: “Dear sir, it is something like this; I do not believe that Your Grace is held in high regard. If I were a funny fellow, I would not be called Tell.”
Now Tell was a good marksman, his equal could not be found in all the land. He also had handsome children whom he loved. The bailiff had the children brought before him and when they arrived he asked Tell, which child was the dearest of all. “I love them all the same,” Tell replied. Grissler replied “Wilhelm, you are a good shot. One cannot find your equal in all the land. You shall now prove it to me. You shall take your children and shoot an apple from one of their heads.”
The goodly Tell recoiled. He begged for mercy for what was asked was not natural. He would do anything else asked. But the bailiff forced him with his servants and placed the apple on the child’s head himself. Now Tell saw that he could not avert the issue. He took the arrow and placed one in his quiver. With the other hand he took another arrow, loaded it in the crossbow and asked God to protect his child. He aimed and shot and the arrow happily struck the apple on the child’s head. Geissler said it was a master shot. “But one thing you shall tell me: What does it mean that you hold another arrow behind in your quiver?”
“It is the habit of marksmen.” But the bailiff would not cease needling him and wanted to hear an explanation. Finally Tell admitted that he feared for his life if he told the truth. When the bailiff promised to preserve his life, Tell spoke: “I did it because of this: if I had missed the apple and shot my child, I wouldn’t have missed hitting you with the next arrow. When the bailiff heard this he said: “Your life has been promised you; but I want to put an end to all this so that sun and moon cease shining for you!” He had him seized and bound and placed in a boat so that he could be conveyed back to Schwyz. As they were traveling on the sea and came near Axen, they met a strong wind. The ship swayed back and forth and they all thought they would meet a miserable end. None of them knew how to steer the vehicle through the waves. One of the servants spoke to the bailiff: “Unbind Tell. He is a strong and powerful man and understands what to do in such weather. We want to escape this calamity.” The bailiff spoke and called to Tell: “If you help us and do your best so that we can escape, I will have you unbound.”
Tell replied: “Yes gracious sir. I will do it gladly. Trust me.” Tell was then unbound and stood at the helm of the ship in good faith. And so he waited for his advantage, espying his crossbow lying on the floor. They now approached a large rock which since has been called Tell’s Plate and is stilled called that today. It dawned on him that he might now escape and cried out to them all to row hard until they arrived at the base of the rock, because when they passed it they would be through the worst of the waves. So while they rowed close to the rock he forcefully turned the ship as he was a strong man. He reached for his crossbow and jumped onto the rock, pushing the boat back where it rocked back and forth on the water.
Quickly retreating into the shadows of Schwyz (through the dark mountains), he finally arrived in the empty streets of Kuessnacht. There he waited for the bailiff and his men. When the bailiff arrived with his men, Tell stood behind a brushy shrub and heard the noise of the attackers coming his way. He spanned his crossbow and shot an arrow into that man, who fell down dead. Tell ran away quickly over the mountains to Uri, found his comrades and told them all that had happened.
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Translation Copyright FairyTaleChannel.com
Thursday, January 3, 2019
268. Mistress Berta or the Woman in WhiteA woman in white appears in castles of many royal families, especially at Neuhaus in Bohemia, Berlin, Darmstadt and Karlsruhe, wherever the blood of an ancient family has mingled with her own race through marriage. She is gentle, harming no one and when encountered, she bows her head and says nothing. Her visit portends the imminent death of a loved one but may also foretell a happy event: as long as she is not wearing black gloves. She carries a ring of keys and wears a bonnet with white veil. Some folk say her name was Perchta von Rosenberg and she lived in Neuhaus in Bohemia. She was married to Johann von Lichtenstein, a mean, mulish man. After her husband’s death she lived as a widow in Neuhaus and began to build a castle to the great distress of her subjects, who had to work like slaves. While they were working, she called to them and urged them to work diligently: “When the castle is finished I shall give you and yours a sweet porridge,” for this is how old folk spoke when they invited someone as guest to dinner. In the autumn after the building was complete, she not only kept her word, but also established the custom that throughout the ages the Rosenbergs would always give their people such a meal. And this tradition continued. If there was a lapse, she would appear with a stern countenance. It was said that sometimes at night she would visit the nursery of a princely house, while the nursemaid slept. She rocked the children in their cradle or carefully carried them to and fro. Once an unknowing maid woke up alarmed and asked “What are you doing with that child?” and scolded her severely. Mistress Berta replied “I am not a stranger in this house like you are, I belong to this house. This child has sprung from my own blood, from my children’s children. But because you have not shown the honor due me, I will never more return here.”
Fairy Tale Factum:
According to Jakob Grimm, Perchta (Berchta or Berta) is mentioned in Old High German in the 10th century as a white-clad Germanic goddess. She is known in the upper regions of Germany from Alsace to Austria and is associated with ancient hunting cultures and with spinning and weaving. She thus shares many similarities with Frau Holle (see Christmas Tales). In Christian traditions she is often associated with St. Lucia and her festival day is January 6. Her name means the Shining One. Wise folk in fairy tales do not provoke the wrath of Mistress Berta and make sure they eat the traditional meal of porridge on her feast day.
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Wednesday, December 12, 2018
Fairy Tale of the HinzelmannThe old castle Hudemuehle is on the Lueneburg Heath not far from the Aller River. You can still see the remnants of its stone walls embedded in the soft earth. A long time ago a mysterious house spirit haunted the castle. The spirit called himself Hinzelmann and he appeared in the year 1584 at the lord’s Christmas feast. It was said that the spirit revealed himself to the gathered revelers with banging, screeching and clanging sounds.
Hille Bingels' Wedding Party
Hille Bingels' Wedding Party
The lord was soon annoyed, his guests frightened and all left the party early. Soon Hinzelmann appeared frequently to the castle inhabitants until he no longer frightened anyone. Many castle dwellers heard his voice or discovered the fruits of his labour: freshly baked bread, a cleanly swept room, chopped wood and fire on the hearth. By day he could be seen walking casually through the corridors. At night his snoring could be heard in the attic bedroom and the maid could discern a small indentation in the pillow where he slept.
It was only a matter of time before he started to engage in conversation with the servants and soon with the lord himself. He was happy to perform a variety of kitchen tasks, and loved to help the servants prepare feasts. While he worked he usually sang or laughed loudly. Whenever there was a celebration, he would appear dressed in colorful garb wearing a mask. Often he would perform tricks, recite poetry and play the harp. But most annoying: he loved to reveal the secrets people thought lay deeply hidden within their hearts. He would often blurt out some indiscretion and then laugh uncontrollably.
Once at the Andreas Night Feast he announced to the celebrants that the lord of the castle thought his wife was a bit too thin and dour. He added that the lord himself had had a difficult time recently mounting his horse after a visit to the tavern. After this announcement, all guests turned to look at the lord, who did not laugh. But the spirit continued, giving his master no time to reply. He announced that he would soon wed his lovely bride Hille Bingels. He planned to celebrate his marriage at the upcoming Christmas Pageant and asked all to attend. The lord of the castle, now quivering with rage blurted out “You with your bulbous nose! No one would marry you! The bells on your boots are much too loud and annoying. If only you would go away!” With that the entire assembly fell silent. Some thought a single tear slid down Hinzelmann’s cheek before he vanished.
There was much hustle and bustle around the castle as the Christmas feast approached. Rooms had to be opened and beds made for the coming guests. Food had to be prepared. The musicians had to practice their music, the singers their song. In short, life at the castle hummed like a beehive. During this time the corridors were monitored, the bedrooms checked, the kitchen watched to see if Hinzelmann would return. But he did not frequent the kitchen as was his habit nor did he appear in the corridors whistling merrily. It seemed to all that he had abandoned the castle. It was rumoured that he had taken offense and the cook said ’twas a pity, for he had been a good worker.
As Christmas day approached, the servants ran to and fro, the mistress of the house oversaw the decorating of the great hall and the lord sampled and selected the wines and stout. The day before the feast, the lord announced an even larger guest list than originally anticipated. This sent the cook and the servants scurrying. It was not surprising that everyone had forgotten poor Hinzelmann.
At last it was Christmas. The pageant began cheerfully and peacefully enough. The entire hall was decked with fragrant greenery, the tables were all set, the hall was filled with merry-makers and singers. The most delicious food was served to the guests and wine flowed. As the hour approached midnight, the lord’s entertainers now brought forth their musical instruments. But soon a faint tinkling of bells could be heard above the cheerful melody. At first it seemed as if bells were ringing far away but then the sound grew into violent metallic clanging. When the noise erupted into a loud roar, Hinzelmann burst into the center of the hall. He wore bright clothing, a cap with bells and a mask covered his eyes. “I shall perform a magic trick for your enjoyment!” he cried. With that he conjured up a little pony, which danced and pranced in a circle. “Me, my, mo, Up you now go!” he cried. He held up a rope, which now extended to the ceiling and up the rope the pony did go until it finally disappeared.
“Now I shall introduce my lovely bride, Hille Bingels, applause please!” With that a diminutive form was seen illuminated next to him. She appeared as a dainty speck of light, likewise wore a mask and a costume of many colors.
There was wild applause as Hille, too, made her ascent and vanished into the ceiling along with the pony.
Gasps of amazement could be heard from all present as Hinzelman swirled around and around. “Look, my dear friends,” he cried out “His bulbous nose!” and he gripped his sides in laughter and pointed to the lord at the head table.
The laughter faded into gasps as each person in the audience first gazed upon the lord and then touched his own nose. Each guest’s noses had grown into a round, potato-sized appendage but the lord of the castle, his nose was the size of a ripe pumpkin.
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Monday, November 12, 2018
A Visit from St. Nicholas
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
Monday, November 5, 2018
Clever Gretel's Thanksgiving Feast, a Tale for Cooks and Culinary Goddesses
It is best to act with confidence, no matter how little right you have to it.
Translation: Copyright FairyTaleChannel.com
(Please read, enjoy, link to or pass this story on to friends. Please do not plagiarize, copy or pilfer. Thanks!)
There was once a cook named Gretel and she wore shoes with red heels. Whenever she went out, she swayed back and forth before the mirror, was exceedingly gay and thought to herself “You are indeed a very pretty maid.” And when she came home she was so merry, that she took a gulp of wine. And because the wine made her hungry, she tried some of the best victuals she had cooked that day. She ate until she was satisfied and always said “The cook must know how the food tastes!”
It happened that the gentleman of the house came to her and said “Gretel, this evening a guest shall visit. Prepare two splendid chickens.” “That I shall do, sir,” Gretel replied. She slaughtered the chickens, boiled them, plucked them and skewered them. And toward evening she placed them over the fire so they could roast. The chickens began to brown and would soon be done, but the guest had not yet arrived. Gretel called to the master, “If the guest does not come, I must take the chickens off the fire. But what a shame if they are not eaten immediately when they are in full juice and so succulent.” The master spoke “I shall run out and fetch the guest myself.” As soon as the master had turned his back, Gretel put aside the spit with the chickens and thought to herself “Standing so close to the fire all day makes one sweaty and thirsty. Who knows, when they will get here! While I wait, I’ll go down to the cellar and take a little nip.” She ran down the stairs, picked up a jug and took a gulp. “Good wine should be enjoyed,” she said and continued “it’s not good to stop in mid-gulp.” And so, she took another full swallow. Then she went and placed the chickens over the fire again, brushed them with butter and happily turned the spit. The roasted meat smelled so delicious that Gretel thought to herself “No one shall notice if a small bit is missing. I must of course try it!” She poked and pulled off a bit with her finger and said “Ah, what delicious chickens indeed. It’s a crying shame if they aren’t eaten immediately! She ran to the window to see if the master was returning with the guest, but saw no one. Turning back to the chickens, she gazed upon the plump birds. “Better that I should eat this little wing before it burns.” And so she cut off the wing and ate it. It tasted good and when she was done she thought, “The other wing must now come off, otherwise the master shall notice that the first one is missing.” When the two wings had been eaten she returned to the window and looked for the master. He was no where to be seen. “Who knows,” she thought, they might not even come and have probably already turned back.” She thought to herself “Gretel, be happy, you’ve started eating the one chicken, go get a fresh drink and eat up the rest. When it’s all gone you shall have your peace. Why should God’s gifts be wasted? And so she ran down into the cellar, took an honorable gulp and then ate the chicken in complete contentment. When the chicken was gone and the master still was not home, Gretel gazed on the other bird and said “Where the first chicken has gone the second must follow! The two belong together. What’s right for the one is only fitting for the other. And if I should take another sip of that wine, it surely won’t hurt me.” And so, she took another hearty gulp and the second chicken joined the first.
And as it often happens with the best of dinners, the master of the house finally returned home and called out “Hurry, Gretel, our guest shall arrive promptly.” “Yes, sir, I’ll get things ready,” Gretel replied. The gentleman looked to see whether the table was laid, took out the big knife to cut the chickens and sharpened it in the hallway. When the guest arrived, he knocked politely on the door. Gretel ran and looked to see who it was. Seeing the guest she laid a finger on her mouth and said “Quiet, quiet!, go quickly while you can. If my master catches you, you shall be sad indeed. He did invite you to supper but he intends to cut off both your ears. Listen to how he is sharpening the knives.” The guest listened to the sharpening sound coming from the hallway and retreated down the stairs as fast as he could. Gretel was not a lazy maid. She ran screaming to her master and called out “That’s quite the guest you invited!” “Why is that, Gretel? What do you mean?”
“He took both chickens from the platter, which I was just about to place on the table, and ran off with them!” “That’s a fine way to act!” the master cried. And he felt badly about losing two delicious chickens. “If he had at least left me with one, I would have something to eat.” He called after the man imploring him to stay. But the guest pretended he didn’t hear. The master ran after him with the knife still in his hand and cried “Only one, only one!” He meant the guest should leave only one of the chickens and not take both. But the guest understood he was to relinquish only one of his ears and so he ran as if a fire were raging behind him. And so, he arrived safely home with both of his ears.
Bechlboschen or Christmas Bush, Feast Days, the Color Red and Christmas Goddesses
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In Salzburg Land, the Bechlboschen is a Christmas bush. The special significance of this bush or why it was tied to Christmas is unclear but it is probably based on a long forgotten pagan belief. A Christmas bush is also traditional in Bavaria in a region near Guenzburg. It was said the bush marked the spot frequented by the dirneweibl (female child) dressed in a bright red cloak, who carried pretty red apples in a basket. She always offered these as gifts to the unsuspecting passerby (probably in the winter season around Christmas time?). Should the person accept her gift, it turned into pure gold. But if the person did not follow her, the dirneweibl retreated into the forest, crying pitifully. The color red for her cloak is significant and marks her as one of the many forgotten pagan goddesses of German mythology. One of the most famous fairytale figures of all is dressed in similar garb and likewise retreats into the forest: Little Red Riding Hood.
In the tale of Clever Gretel (full text above), the protagonist wears shoes with red heels, a similar marker. But Gretel is not the typical Christmas Goddess of times past. Red shoes mark a strong-willed, socially deviant person in fairy tales, who could signal trouble. Still, her cooking is sublime.
It is easy to imagine that Gretel would have liked to cook even bigger birds than mere chickens, given her lusty appetite. I can imagine her cooking a turkey or goose-sized bird to satisfy her cravings. As we move into the dark days of of the year, food and friendship help us persist toward the light we know will return. So eat and be merry and share a hearty meal with those you love.