Fairy Tale Factum:
Hooting Ursula is a wonderful illustration of elements commonly encountered in German folk tales. At first glance, the narrative offers a confusing combination of Christian images and pagan beliefs. Despite a complex story line and a rather dark sub-text, the tale remains witty and fun.
What we modern readers take from the story is probably quite different from what the earliest audience would have understood. If we accept the premise that such tales, based on an oral tradition, reflect values and attitudes of a time long past, we come a step closer toward deciphering the original meaning.
In 12th century Europe pagan sentiments still persisted: demons and other malevolent spirits took nightly flights through the woods. In some traditions, these apparitions were said to be the wild huntsman led by a hooting owl; in others, an entire army of ghosts and spirits assembled and rampaged through the forest. Frouwa was the Norse goddess of war, love and magic. She had numerous powers including the ability to change into a hawk or owl and the cat was her sacred animal. As patroness of witches, it was likely Frouwa who initiated the annual assembly on Walpurgisnacht, the night of April 30 to May 1st. On this night witches flew from all directions on broomsticks to dance, drive away the last remnants of snow and herald the beginning of spring.
This story starts with the ancient pagan notion of witches and devils taking flight through the air but gives it a Christian explanation: Hooting Ursula was originally a nun gone bad. In fact it was the church that exorcised and banished such spirits and in the end it is the Christian God that is shown to have power over life, demons and creation.
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