Saturday, August 30, 2008

Near Death Experiences Described in Fairy Tales: The Story of Adalbert the Compatriot

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Adalbert, the Compatriot

Adalbert, the compatriot, was getting on in years. The time came when it was believed he was dying, for he lay as lifeless as a dead man for an entire night. But when the sun rose and he was about to be buried, he came back to life. Those standing round his bed fled in terror. But the risen man went into the church and remained there a long time, praying on his knees. He saw and heard nothing and did not notice that a throng had gathered round him. Only when he was addressed directly by one of the crowd did he finally cry out “Oh you foolish and godless men. What torture awaits you in the afterlife!”

Adalbert’s words and warnings occupied the thoughts of all those around him, but most of all, Priest Mandel, Abbot Sponheim and Prior Joachim. These three clergymen went to Adalbert’s dwelling and he told them what had happened the night before.

After his death, he said, several angels guided his soul through the air. Large sparks whirled around them in every direction like snow flakes. These were innumerable devils desiring nothing else but to push him into the blazing fire encircling them. But the good angels warded off the devils. Every sin he had ever committed was known to the bad and good angels alike. But these sins appeared even more terrible to him, even if he had considered them insignificant in his earlier life. Once when he was traveling to Kreuznach he met a beggar who asked him directions. He responded but did not describe the path in enough detail. The beggar had to spend several hours wandering around lost in the forest. According to Adalbert the Compatriot, it was for this that he was punished in a way he could not even describe, even if he were given one-hundred tongues. And because of another mistake, which he had hardly considered an error before, the devils threw burning coals on him with loud laughter. He thought this punishment lasted at least four-hundred years and burned him in a most terrifying way.

In the end an angel was given him as guide and this angel led him to the place of eternal damnation. In truth he had not been dead four-hundred years but rather only a single night. But during this time innumerable souls were pushed into hell and he thought so many could hardly have died in just one-hundred years.

In the center of earth, Adalbert the Compatriot saw a horrible shaft filled entirely with souls and from this shaft flames emerged and extended into heaven. The devils swirled around and in between them. Crying, wailing and horrible cursing resounded from the depths. The angels spoke to Adalbert the Compratriot “Whoever is enclosed herein, never emerges again”.

The angel also showed Adalbert purgatory. Adalbert looked into a deep, deep valley, into which flowed a large, stinking river. Over this river stretched a thin and slippery bridge from one mountain to the next, higher than if four church towers of Kreuznach Cathedral were stacked one atop another. This bridge was only two feet wide and then fell down steeply to the center, only to rise again sharply on the other side. But the souls who sought to cross this bridge were many. Some fell at the beginning. Others fell in the middle. Still others fell at the end into the raging waters below. Horrible dragons and snakes waited below and the heads of the damned could be seen held in their jaws. Others fell next to monsters according to the degree of their sinning, either falling on their head, neck or knee. Many were able to recover quickly and make their way through the river and safely ashore.

Those who were able to reach the bank looked much more beautiful than before. They were received joyfully by angels and led to the palace of heaven.

But those who started the journey laden with gold, fell at the very beginning. Because it was impossible for them to turn around, they had to struggle terribly to get ashore. They were engulfed in the tumult of the putrid waters for years until they finally reached the river bank, completely debilitated.

Adalbert saw one very beautiful soul quickly cross the bridge with sure footing. That was Monk Theodobert, the angel said. He loved nothing on earth but the dear God himself.

Now the angel took Adalbert’s hand and led him to the realm of the saints.

The flock of heavenly beings wanted Adalbert to stay with them. But the angel who brought him over said: “He must go back to earth so that he can confess and atone for his sins and return to us much happier in several years.”

Adalbert the Compatriot was terrified and cried bitterly to no avail.

After he had told the three clergymen all this, he subjected himself to the rules of strict penance. He built himself a hut of wood and lime in the forest near Dahlen and lived there seven years in complete abhorrence of the flesh. The Abbot of Kreuznach, the Prior of Hildesheim and the Priest of Mandel founded a cloister for nuns between Rockshain and Braunweiler to memorialize him. It is now called Katharinenhof.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Representations of Heaven and the Afterlife in Fairy Tales and Saga: The Rainbow

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(Vandana's Rainbow)

The appearance of the rainbow in the sky has been explained by many different myths. In the Edda, the curved arc is a celestial bridge, over which the gods tread. That is why it is called Asbrû or more commonly Bifröst (or Bilrost, Old-high German: piparasta). Translated this means the trembling, shaking path. Röst expresses a certain length of time or distance, comparable to our hour or mile. It is the best of all bridges, made from three sturdy hues. But one day it will collapse when the world ends and Muspell's sons travel over it. The tail of this bridge extends into Himinbiörg, Heimdallr’s residence (or Himmelsberg = mountain of heaven). It is the link between the realm of the gods and Midgardr (realm of humans). Heimdallr has been appointed guardian of the bridge and consequently, is heaven's guard. He protects the bridge from Hrimthursen and mountain-giants so that they cannot enter heaven via this bridge (Hrimthursen = giant, demonic beings with large ears, capable of causing both physical and mental illness). In this function as celestial road, the rainbow brings to mind the wagon, chariot and path the gods use to travel across the sky. The bridge is purported to make a rattling sound when the horses and wagons of dead men cross it. Christianity spread the belief expressed in the Old Testament that the heavenly arch or rainbow is a sign of the covenant God made with mankind after the great flood. But here folkloric and Christian traditions mingle. Folkloric tradition also adds the motif of a golden key or treasure marking the spot where the rainbow touches the earth. Gold coins or Pfennig pieces fall from the rainbow and are found on earth. These golden coins are called regenbogenschüsselein or patellae Iridis; it was thought the sun dispersed them by means of the rainbow. In Bavaria the rainbow is called heaven’s ring or sun ring and the golden coins are called heaven’s ring bowls or cups. Romans saw the rising arc of the rainbow as something that actually sucked water out of the earth: “bibit arcus pluet hodie”. Superstition dictated that one must never point to the rainbow (or for that matter, the stars in the sky). Building or making something on top of a rainbow signifies a vain, fruitless undertaking. A Finnish song tells of a maiden sitting on the rainbow and weaving a golden robe. The pagans told the same story about the piparasta. Serbian folk tradition says that everything masculine passing under the rainbow becomes feminine and everything feminine becomes masculine. The Welsh tradition sees the rainbow as a chair for the goddess Ceridwen. The Lithuanian tradition refers to the rainbow as Laumes josta or the belt of Lauma (Laima = goddess of fortune), dangaus josta (heaven’s belt) and kilpinnis dangaus (heaven’s arc). Folk belief in the Polish region of Lithuania describes the rainbow both as messenger and advisor after the flood. In some regions of Lothringen it is called the courier of Saint Lienard or couronne of Saint Bernard. According to Estonian folk tradition, the rainbow represents the sickle of the thunder god.

The Greeks mention a demi-goddess, Iris, who is dispatched as messenger from heaven over the rainbow. Indian tradition recognizes the goddess Indra in the colorful arc of heaven. And according to the belief of Germanic tribes, after death the souls of the just are accompanied by their guardian angels over the rainbow and into heaven.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Representations of Heaven and the Afterlife in Fairy Tales and Saga

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Mass on the Hungerli Alp (full text below) is an extraordinary folk tale examining ideas of heaven and hell and the best way to lead a godly life. The characters include a rather dour priest and a family of simple cowherders living in a remote alpine setting. The priest becomes impatient with the family’s seemingly heathen lifestyle and what he discovers up on the Hungerli Alp is not at all what the reader is expecting: a direct experience of heaven and hell. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what this fairy tale is extolling: the virtues of a lifestyle more closely in tune with nature? Or perhaps the post-Reformation view of a Christianity stressing the importance of an individual’s relationship to God without an intermediary? However one reads the text, the meticulous detail provided for the mass is noteworthy, perhaps echoing a long-forgotten pagan ritual.
The story takes place on August 15th, the day traditionally associated with the bodily ascension of the Virgin Mary into heaven. With her direct heavenly connection the Virgin became the patron saint of pilots and plane crews or those who spend a great deal of time floating above or through the clouds.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fairy Tale for August 15: Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Translation: Copyright
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Please do not plagiarize, copy or pilfer. Thanks!)

The Mass on the Hungerli Alp

For quite a long time a priest in the valley below the Hungerli Alp had noticed that a family of cowherders never came to mass. Their hut lay deep within the valley and the family would have had to walk many hours to reach the church. But in the Wallis region of Switzerland, this was not unusual. In fernyear the cowherders were accustomed to walking even longer distances and never came late to mass. The priest would have been satisfied if the family on the Hungerli Alp appeared only once or twice a year, but he could not understand why they never came. He waited until the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (August 15) and celebrated early morning mass instead of high mass. When once again the family did not appear, he reached for his walking stick and climbed the mountain to find the family and settle the matter once and for all. The question needled him and he wanted to find the reason of their absence.

When he reached the family’s brown wooden hut, he found only the children at home. He asked them where their parents were. They replied: “At mass,” and pointed up the steep mountain to a grove. The priest looked round in surprise and asked “What, a mass here?” he cried out in some confusion. “There is neither church nor chapel up here!” The children stared blankly at the priest. Regarding him from head to toe, they did not know how to reply. The oldest jumped up, fetched a bowl of milk; brought bread and cheese and offered the priest the traditional meal. The priest sat down on the grass and refreshed himself with the simple meal, waiting for the parents. After some time they both appeared, dressed in their Sunday’s best. The man wore a freshly washed shirt; the wife had a new headscarf. They greeted the priest heartily and said how happy they were that he was honoring them with a visit. “Yes,” the priest replied as his face tightened with concern, “and why do you never come to church and why do you live a heathen life style up here?”

“Your Holiness, we are just coming from mass,” the cowherder replied, “and what I have up here I don’t need to look for below in the valley; it’s a long way and what is more, the path is difficult!”

The priest shook his head in response to these strange people and said not a word. The wife prepared a meal and when they sat down at the table it seemed to the priest that the plates were small and only half full. But it was also quite strange and inexplicable to him that he started to eat with enormous appetite, but like the rest, his plate never emptied and everyone left the table completely satisfied.

After dinner, the cowherder took the priest by the hand and said “So, Reverend, if you have time, I will now take you to mass.” The priest agreed and thought it would be a peculiar mass up there in the mountain wilderness. They walked through a bright green meadow and through a black fir forest, over which hung a snowy mountain peak. Finally they reached a small forest clearing, encircled by the most beautiful larch trees where the birds sang sweetly. Above the field the blue vault of heaven soared. In the middle of the grove was a large, flat stone with a recess that was hand-deep and filled with water.

“Look, do you see the hole in the middle of the stone?” the cowherder asked. “That is filled with holy water or consecrated water, as you like to say.” Around the stone bloomed many wild flowers: narcissus, rose-red cloves and many other colorful flowers. “So now, stand on your left foot and look at me over your right shoulder!” The priest followed his instructions.

“What do you see?”

“Heaven!” the priest called out enraptured and his eyes opened wide and drank in the brilliance of heaven in the greatest bliss.

“Now turn! – Turn yourself around!”

The priest did not respond, he was so taken aback with the heavenly image. Finally he stepped back and dropped his hands.

“So now, stand on your right foot and look over your left shoulder!” the cowherd continued.

The priest once more did was he was told.

“What do you see?”

“I see hell itself!” the priest called and his eyes grew large and the horrors of hell were reflected in his face.

The priest let his hands drop, folded them and his demeanor was quiet and subdued. Before he left the meadow, he dipped his fingertips in the heavenly water and made the sign of the cross, as if he were leaving church. Then he returned with the cowherd to the dark forest but on the return path he did not speak. The cowherd explained as they began their descent: “Every day I go to the clearing in the wood. An angel prepares the sacred mass and from him I receive Holy Communion!” The priest was perplexed that the lowly cowherd could see and understand things, which normally only a saint had the capacity to see. They continued on in silence.

When they reached the hut, the priest said farewell to the wife and children. He bowed respectfully and offered his hand in a friendly manner. The cowherd accompanied him a small distance through the valley. When they parted the priest said: “Yes, you are good Christians up there on the Hungerli Alp. I saw that today. Continue with your mass, you don’t need me!” And he shook the farmer’s hand and lost in thought, continued down the mountain.

Soon thereafter the priest left his office and traveled to Turtmanntal, where he lived as a hermit for eleven years.

Once, the people heard bells ringing in the middle of the night and knew something strange must have happened. In the morning, several men entered the Turtmanntal Valley where they found the priest dead in his hermitage.

To read a fairy tale about Saint Boniface/Saint Wilfried, click on the link:

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Love and Marriage Celebrated in the Fairy Tale Newt and Cuckoo

Newt, if you live, let a maelstrom of milk rise up!

The Newt and Cuckoo is a Latvian fairytale about love and marriage (see below for full text). In its compact and entertaining style, the story manages to touch upon the common obstacles to a successful marriage: the tricky business of choosing a spouse, the marital contract, expectations partners have after marriage, the dangers of child bearing and difficult familial relationships, especially with in-laws. Below the surface of the jovial text, however, dangers lurk.

Times are hard when the hide of a flea becomes the material for shoe leather. But in the indomitable spirit of this tale, virtue springs from hardship. The winner who guesses the source of these unusual shoes happens to be a newt. According to the internal rules of the narrative, the newt must now become the lucky groom against all the objections of the protagonist’s parents. The newt, like the snake and frog in other fairy tales, symbolizes male fertility and the act of love. He is, in a word, a phallus. Also like snake and toad, the newt is traditionally an object of loathing and revulsion. Feelings of abhorrence toward the newt-as-phallus must be overcome by the young bride to assure a successful marriage and offspring is perhaps the most visible sign of this success. The fairy tale succinctly describes this difficult period of a young woman’s early marriage as learning to walk in iron shoes and says it lasts the “biblical” seven years. In the end the shoes are ripped to shreds and the wife has been blessed with three children. The wife has now achieved higher social status for she is able to make choices independently, such as when she shall visit her parents.
Perhaps the most powerful image in the narrative is the newt rising up in a maelstrom of blood or milk: a strong metaphor for the dangers of pregnancy and childbirth. These nine months culminate in either blood and death or milk and a healthy baby. The surging of milk and blood may also suggest the act of love itself, to the uninitiated something alluring yet feared.
The poignant conclusion of the tale leaves us with the image of a wife transformed by love for her husband. His death is forever memorialized in the cuckoo’s call.
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