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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Grimm's Fairy Tale No. 109: The Shroud

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A mother once had a seven year-old son, who was so dear and beautiful that no one could gaze upon the child without loving it. She cherished this child more than anything on earth. Now it happened, that the boy was overtaken by a sudden illness and dear God took the child to be His own. The mother was inconsolable and cried night and day. But after the child had been buried, it appeared at night in the very places it had sat and played while living. When the mother cried, the child cried and when morning came, it vanished. The mother did not want to stop crying and so one night the child appeared in the white shroud; the one it wore when it was laid in its coffin. Wearing a little wreath on its head, it sat at the foot of the bed and said “Oh Mother, do stop crying, otherwise I shall not be able to fall asleep in my coffin, for my shroud cannot dry from all your tears falling on it.” The mother became frightened when she heard these words and did not cry any more. The next evening the child appeared again, carried a little candle in its hand and spoke “See, my little shirt will soon be dry and I will have peace in my grave.” The mother commended her sorrows to dear God and bore her misfortune quietly and patiently. The child came no more but slept in its little bed under the earth.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Glimpses of the Afterlife in Fairy Tales and Saga: Britain, Land of Departed Souls

Translation: Copyright FairyTaleChannel.org
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The Crossing to Remagen

Like the ancient Greeks who believed that Charon rowed the souls of the dead in a narrow boat over the Cocytus River to the underworld, many heathen tribes in Germany believed that the realm of the living and dead was separated by a body of water. The departed made a journey across this body of water to their final destination. Britannia was said to be this land of the dead and Frisian yeomen purportedly helped dead souls make this final crossing. Living among the Frisian nobility who made their home on the North Sea were farmers and fishermen, who had always been free from paying any tax for they performed a service that was valued more than money. These yeoman were entrusted with ferrying the dead to Britannia. The job always passed from one household to the next. At midnight the farmer or fisherman would hear a knocking on his door and then a muffled voice call out. He got up, went to the beach and there he saw what looked like an empty shallop. Boarding the heavy boat, he gripped the oar and immediately began the crossing. The oarsman would notice that the shallop seemed to be completely loaded down and barely remained one finger’s breadth above the water. But not a single passenger was ever seen. The crossing lasted only one hour but normally if they had been traveling in their own vessel it would have taken an entire night and a day. Once on shore in Britannia, the ghostly crowd disembarked and the shallop became so light that only the very bottom touched the water. The Frisians never saw anyone in the boat during the trip and when they arrived they never saw anyone disembark. But once on shore in the land of the dead they heard a voice call out the names and the tribes to which the dead belonged as they departed.

The nighttime crossing of gnomes over the Rhine River (described below) is reminiscent of the crossing of dead souls to Britannia. This tale may incorporate elements of the earlier pagan tradition:
The story was told in the beginning of the nineteenth century, that an oarsman living in Erpel on the Rhine River heard a knock at his door one night. Opening the door, an invisible presence asked for immediate passage across the river. As he climbed into the boat he noticed it sinking deeper and deeper into the water although he did not see anyone else boarding. When the vessel was only one finger’s breadth above the water’s surface, the ferryman was ordered to shove off. Upon landing on the bank of the Rhine River at Remagen, the boat immediately began to rise in the water and the oarsman could hear heavy footfalls as the boat emptied. His passengers were the gnomes who had lived in Glenberg near Linz from time immemorial. But they had been offended and that is why they were abandoning their ancestral home. They moved across the Rhine River, where -- nobody knows.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Near Death Experiences in Fairy Tales: The Path to Paradise

Translation: Copyright FairyTaleChannel.com
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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 shadow 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 stick. 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. 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 reach, everything was 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. For something pulled him there with irresistible force. Two med 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. The led him down the steps and through the passageway to the singing saints, asked him to kneel on a large, cushioned riser and ask the Heavenly Father for a beautiful cap of eternal life. He should imagine something of indescribable beautiful and 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 to him to follow so that he could make room for another. 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 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.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Glimpses of the Afterlife in Fairy Tales and Saga: Gratzug

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

A well-worn path through the mountains.

(Der Gratzug: A procession of the dead over mountain and through valley. According to Swiss folk tradition, whoever encounters such a “Volch”, will be visited by a dangerous illness. Also referred to as “Totevolch”.)
There are paths, roads and corridors through the mountains, on which the souls of the dead travel in long ghostly processions. These deathly processions are called Gratzug, also folk walk or symphony. Whoever falls into such a buzzing or whirring train of ghosts or is taken by surprise by such a procession, often falls victim to a dangerous illness and suffers from it for weeks or months. People believe they can recognize these well-worn corridors and paths in the landscape. One ghost path purportedly winds through the Tschingel Valley and has ninety-nine different segments.

The ghosts appear wearing the clothing they wore when they were carried to the grave, or in the robe which was presented to their death guardian or given to the poor of the community in their memory. A deceased person, who is not well-dressed when he is interred or is only partially dressed or who did not receive a God’s garment (as these gifts are called), also appears in the Gratzug as poorly dressed or lacking dress, without a coat or hat or may even walk barefoot.

In the Visper Valley region of Switzerland, a man who was once sleeping alone at home heard someone call out his name three times around eleven o’clock at night. The voice whispered softly that he should get up and go to the field where he had just cut down larch trees. He should remove them immediately so that the Gratzug would not be hindered but would find a clear path. He believed he recognized the voice to be that of his deceased father. He responded immediately and said he would go as quickly as possible and remove the obstruction. He got dressed, climbed the path in large strides and began work immediately. When he had removed the last tree from the path he heard the same voice say urgently: “Quickly, quickly, move to the right side of the path!”

With all his strength he pulled the last round piece of wood out of the way and sat down exhausted on the trunk. Promptly a faint buzzing sound could be heard, which soon swelled into a loud roar. As the sound approached it sounded like an entire army praying the rosary. Drumbeat and whistles like a slow death march could also be heard and in midst of the throng; the cacophony of music echoed off the cliff walls. Then he heard crying and laughing voices, a whirring sound and whispers. At first only a warm breeze blew round him but then suddenly a blast of wind blew through the wood, causing his hair to stand on end. Try as he may he could distinguish nothing other than black shadows passing by quickly. But when the clock in the church tower struck twelve he saw figures walking along the path in twos and fours, as many as the width of the path would allow. Some were well-dressed but others walked barefoot. Still others were weighted down by a haphazard assortment of garments, some even wore two coats. One woman balanced a heavy ball of butter on her head instead of a hat. One of the deceased was missing the belt of his white garment. The robe fluttered in the wind and he had to hold it together with his hands.

When the ghost train passed, the clock in the valley below struck three and then the prayer bell sounded. The ghost procession had lasted three long hours as measured by the tower bell.


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