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Monday, March 31, 2008

The Buxtehude Hedgehog


April Fool’s Day

On this day, tricks are played on the April fool: a credulous person who suffers some hoax or conspiracy, often to make him look ridiculous. The deception frequently involves sending the fool on a fruitless journey or bogus errand, with many back-and-forths. This Fairy Tale of the Brother’s Grimm is a cautionary tale for the proud and arrogant, who might view themselves as refined and distinguished. It is precisely this sort of person who is especially susceptible to becoming an April fool.


The Buxtehude Hedgehog

This story is really a lie, but there is some truth in it, for my grandfather who told the story to me, always said the following when he told it: “True it must be, my son, or you wouldn’t be able to tell it.” The story happened this way. It was a Sunday morning in autumn, just when the buckwheat was blooming, the sun had risen on the horizon and the wind blew softly through the stubble. The larks sang as they soared high in the air and the bees hummed busily round the buckwheat. People wore their Sunday best to church and all creatures were cheerful, the hedgehog too. He stood in front of his door with his arms crossed and looked out into the morning sunshine. He warbled a little song and sang as beautifully as any hedgehog can sing on a Sunday morning. While he stood there and trilled like a little bird, he suddenly had the idea that while his wife was washing and dressing the children, he would go out and take a little walk in the field to see how the turnips were doing. The turnips grew quite close to his house and it was his habit and that of his family to eat them. That is why he considered them to be his own.

No sooner thought than done. He closed the front door behind him and took the path to the field. He had not gone very far and was just about to go round the blackthorn bush, which marked the edge of the field, when he saw the hare. The hare was walking on ahead engaged in similar pursuits, namely looking after his cabbage. When the hedgehog saw the hare, he wished him good morning in a cordial way. But the hare, who in his own right was a distinguished gentleman and furthermore, was terribly conceited, did not respond to the hedgehog’s greeting. Instead with a scornful countenance he replied icily: “How is it that you are already running about so early in the morning?”
“I’m going for a walk,” the hedgehog replied.
“A walk?” laughed the hare. “You should use your little legs for better things.”
This remark annoyed the hedgehog very much, who was a very good-natured fellow. He could tolerate anything except disparaging remarks about his legs, because they were naturally crooked.
“You imagine that you could do more with your legs?” he said.
“I do indeed,” the hare replied.
“Well, we will have to try it then,” the hedgehog said. “I bet that if we run a race, I will run faster than you.”
“You – with your crooked little legs?” the hare said. “That’s rich! But if you have such a keen desire let’s have a go at it – what shall we wager?”
“One gold coin and one bottle of brandy,” the hedgehog said.
“Accepted,” replied the hare. “Go ahead and we can start the race right now.”
“No, there is no need for such haste,” the hedgehog replied. “I haven’t had anything to eat. I want to go home first and have some breakfast. I’ll be back in an hour.”

With that, he left and the hare was satisfied. But on the way home he thought to himself: “The hare is counting on his long legs to win the day, but I will show him. He is indeed a refined gentleman but a stupid rabbit, and for that he will pay.” When he arrived home he said to his wife: “Wifey, dear, get dressed quickly, you must go with me to the field.”
“What is it?” his wife asked.
“I have made a bet with the hare for one gold coin and one bottle of brandy that I will win a race with him. And you will be there.”
“O my God, husband,” the wife began to cry, “Have you lost your mind? How can you race the hare?”
“Woman, silence your blabbermouth,” the hedgehog said, “that is my concern. Don’t interfere with a man’s business! Go now, get dressed and come along!”
What else could the wife of the hedgehog do? She had to comply but she did not like it. When they were walking together the hedgehog said to his wife: “Now listen very carefully to what I say. I will run the race up there in the long field. The hare will run in one furrow and I in the other. We will start up there. You have nothing else to do but to wait down here in the furrow. And when the hare comes running in his furrow, call out to him as he approaches and say: “I’m already here!”

And so they arrived in the field. The hedgehog indicated the spot to his wife and went up the hill. When he arrived at the top, the hare was already there. “Can we begin?” he asked.
“Of course,” the hedgehog replied.
“Then let’s go.”

Each positioned himself in his furrow. The hare counted: “On your mark, get set, go!” and off he ran down the hill like the rushing gale wind. But the hedgehog ran only three steps, then he crouched down in the furrow and sat there calmly. And when the hare arrived down below at the finish line at full speed, the hedgehog wife called out to him “I’m already here!”

The hare was astonished not a little, but believed that the hedgehog stood before him. For it is well-known that Mrs. Hedgehog looks exactly like her husband. “Something is quite strange here,” he cried out. “Let’s race again, in the opposite direction!”
And once again the hare took off like the storm wind and his long rabbit ears were pressed down to his skull. The wife of the hedgehog remained sitting calmly in her place, and when the hare arrived Mr. Hedgehog called out to the hare “I’m already here!”
The hare was beside himself with rage and cried “Once more, the other way!”
“All right,” the hedgehog replied. “As often as you wish.” So the hare ran seventy-three times, and the hedgehog always kept up. Each time, when the hare arrived at the top of the field or arrived at the finish line at the bottom, the hedgehog or his wife called out “I’m already here!”.

But the seventy-fourth time, the hare did not arrive at the finish line. He fell to the ground in the middle of the field, blood came out of his nose and he lay dead. The hedgehog took the gold coin and bottle of brandy that were his prize and called to his wife at the end of the furrow. Cheerfully they returned home. And if they have not died, they are still living today. And so it happened that on the Buxtehude Heath the hedgehog ran the hare to death and since that time no other hare has dared to run a race with the Buxtehude hedgehog.

The moral of the story is, first, no one (regardless of how distinguished he might be) should make fun of a small man, even if the small man is only a hedgehog. And second, it’s a very good idea to marry a woman of your own stature, one that looks exactly like you. Whoever is a hedgehog must make sure that his wife is also a hedgehog.



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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

On this day March 27, 1686:




Fading March flowers and the last gasps of winter.


Grimm's Saga 266: For whom the bell tolls.

In a famous free town of the Holy Roman Empire the so-called “Market Bell” rang three times on its own on March 27, 1686. A prominent gentleman of the town council, who was distinguished and bore the title Marktherr, died immediately.

The solemn tones of a bell began to sound six or seven weeks before the death of a gentleman of a prominent German house, and at two different times. Because the gentleman was still young and healthy, but his wife lay sick in bed, he forbade the servants from saying anything to her out of concern she would become fearful and being seized by melancholy, would become even sicker and perhaps die. But the warning was actually for him; he soon went to the grave but his wife recovered to full health. Seven weeks later, when she was cleaning her dear spouse’s garments and coats and was brushing them out, the Tennen Bell began to swing by itself and sounded out the familiar ring. Eight days later the oldest son became ill and died in a few days. When the widow married again and had several children with her second husband, they died and were buried a few weeks after birth; they faded just like the March flowers. The bell had been pulled three times in a row, although the room in which it hung was locked and no one could reach the cord.
Some believe this ringing is done by evil spirits (often, the ill and dying do not hear the tolling bell, it is only heard by others). But others believe the bells are rung by benevolent angels. Still others say guardian angels ring the bell and remind people to prepare for their coming end.

Fairy Tale Factum

The wife in this saga is following a folk tradition that apparently was prevalent in the Ansbach region of Germany. According to custom, the clothing of a deceased person must be promptly washed and cleaned. If this does not happen, the departed will not find eternal rest.

More fairy tale factum can be found:

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2008/03/saga-275-shrieker.html

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2008/03/saga-123-woman-in-white.html

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2008/02/fairy-tale-factum_22.html

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Vernal Equinox and Easter

Wild Flowers at Anza Borrego Desert State Park, Southern California, Spring 2008


Fairy Tale Factum

Easter is the most important Christian feast day and it is traditionally celebrated at the end of March or the beginning of April. The precise date is determined annually and it falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox (approximately March 21).
There are diverging views about the origin of the word Easter. By some accounts, Easter can be traced back to the old Germanic Goddess Ostara, whose symbols were the rabbit and egg. According to another explanation, Easter is derived from an Indo-Germanic word áus, which means shining, brilliant or luminous. Apparently the deity Ostara (Old High German) or Eastre (Old English) represented the radiant morning and the rising sun and the concept may have been applied to the Christian theme of resurrection. According to ancient Germanic tradition, Easter is the time the woman in white appears on cliffs and crags announcing the return of spring. Symbols include the Easter Lily or any of the white spring flowering plants and of course, the Easter bunny and Easter egg.



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Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Fairy Grotto and the Palm Sunday Fairy

The Fairy Grotto
Excerpt from The Age of Gold by Lucas Cranach
National Gallery, Oslo

In fernyear there lived many bewitched and enchanted women, who meant well by folk and even offered help in times of need or disaster. In particular, the goodly Queen Berta is well- known for the many beneficial things she did for the earth. She especially liked to hover round the Sourze Tower in Waadt Land. Every winter she was said to appear there in a white, radiant gown. Swinging a winnower filled to the brim, she broadcast seed over every mountain and valley. At Christmas she appeared as huntress with magic wand in hand, and processed through the village accompanied by many spirits. She circled the houses and dwellings to find where industry, diligence and order ruled.
But the good wife Berta was not the only beneficent woman. In the steep rocky cliffs of the Jura Mountains near Vallorbes there is an enormous cave. In olden times many kindly and beautiful fairies lived there, but no one was allowed to intrude into their underground dwelling without punishment. This did not mean you could not see them. One fairy always showed herself from a distance every Palm Sunday. She led a white lamb on a string when a fertile year lay ahead, but in times of misfortune or famine a pitch-black goat followed her. Another fairy bathed at the midnight hour in the blue pools of the Orbe Spring. Two powerful wolves always circled the pool to keep people away.
When it snowed in winter and became cold, the fairies came into the village and entered the empty smithies as soon as the workers had left. They warmed themselves by the fire and a rooster crowing loudly announced the return of the forge workers. Then the fairies vanished from the work place. The appearance of fairies was well-known throughout the entire land. Every herder boy knew that there were tall and beautiful women in white gowns that flowed down to the ground, which carefully concealed their feet. The fairies also sang beautifully. But their abundant and rich hair was the finest attribute of all, for their golden tresses fell round their shoulders and enveloped them like a golden mantle.

Fairy Tale Factum
The German expression in teueren Zeiten (Teuerung) is used in this Swiss saga and appears in other saga of the Brothers Grimm. Its antiquated meaning refers to a time of disaster, famine or need. The modern translation is inflation or a rise in prices. At first glance this modern usage seems to have little to do with the older meaning. Teuerung is a term from economics and describes the cost of living index or the price of commodities. Its ancient meaning often meant death from starvation and its causes included failed crops, mismanagement of agricultural resources or unsustainable economic or farming practices.


Queen Berta is spreading the seed for planting using a Futterschwinge. I would guess that 75 years ago, people were still familiar with this exact implement. Since the word is not included in any of the dictionaries at my disposal, I must derive its meaning from its parts, on the one hand, and a pictorial encyclopedia of early American farm tools on the other. Futter = dried food for cattle such as hay or grain and schwinge = something swung back and forth or a shallow, oval basket. The Museum of Early American Tools by Eric Sloane describes a winnower or winnowing scoop as a tool used to throw flailed grain into the air to separate the lighter particles of chaff. The process of winnowing beats or diffuses something through the air. I suspect the tool was something similar for dispersing seed during the spring planting, perhaps by swinging a shallow basket back and forth.
Fernyear is a now obsolete term which means in olden times or past years. Fern means remote or distant in German.



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http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2008/04/reading-and-understanding-folk-tales.html

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2008/01/more-than-fashion-faux-pas-white-dress.html

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

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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http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2008/04/reading-and-understanding-folk-tales.html


http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2008/02/fairy-tale-factum_22.html

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2008/01/more-than-fashion-faux-pas-white-dress.html

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Grimm's Saga 123. Woman in White

Marc Chagall, Madonna of the Village




A woman in white appears in woods and meadows. From time to time she even enters horse stalls carrying a burning wax candle. She combs and brushes the horses and droplets of wax fall on their manes. It is said that when she goes out, she can see clearly, but when she is in her own dwelling she is blind.



Fairy Tale Factum
The woman in this saga is described as a “schlossweisse Frau”, which can mean she is white like a castle or white like a hailstone. Another possibility is snow-white (schlohweiss). Radiantly white women are common in German mythology and are frequently depicted wearing a long white dress and having very pale-white skin. The color white was of central importance in ancient ceremony. It represented divinity and was associated with kings. Apparently the purpose of such weisse Frauen was to serve the gods and to prophesy to mankind. This contrasts with the Christian and Jewish traditions, where the role is primarily left to prophets and angels. In the traditions of ancient Germanic tribes, prophecies foretold by women have higher sacredness and significance. According to Jacob Grimm, Germanic tribes esteemed men for their acts, but women were honored for their wisdom.

The horse was considered to be the most noble, intelligent and trustworthy of all animals. The Germanic hero frequently conversed with his horse, the horse empathized with his master’s troubles and celebrated his victories. Horses were used in sacred rituals and their manes were carefully tended and adorned. Apparently gold and silver bands were often woven into their hair. The hair of sacred horses was said to have magical properties and was often preserved as an object of veneration.


Bronze Horse, c. 750-800 BC. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC


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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Dark, Starry Night with Singing Fir Tree


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Saturday, March 1, 2008

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.

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