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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Queen Berta the Palm Sunday Fairy


An Apparition in the Forest



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 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. (I am sure there are still people who know what this is out there!) 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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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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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Grimm's Saga No. 362: Food from God


Guardian Angel Protects against the Last Fierce Onslaught of Winter

Not far from Zwickau in Vogtland parents once sent their young boy into a deep forest to drive home the oxen, which had wandered off. But when the boy did not return and night fell, the parents became fearful. A heavy snow was falling and the entire mountain would soon be covered with deep snow. The boy could not have returned from the forest if he had desired it. But when he did not return the following day, the parents were not so much worried about the oxen as they were about the boy. They could not go out and look for him because of the deep snow. On the third day, after the snowfall had diminished, they went out to find the boy. They finally found him sitting on a sunny hill, where no snow had fallen. When the boy saw his parents, he laughed. When they asked him why he had not come home, he answered that he decided to wait until evening and was unaware that an entire day had lapsed. No harm had befallen the child and he appeared happy and healthy. When they asked him if he had eaten anything he replied that a man had come to him and offered him fresh cheese and bread. Without doubt this child had been fed and sustained by an angel sent by God.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Swiss Fairy Tale: The Gnome Wife Tirli-Wirli

In these fairy tales, some words must never be spoken.

In Switzerland a farmhand married Tirli-wirli, the daughter of a gnome. One day she asked him to promise never to call her by name and he agreed. In June he went out to work in the fields and when he came home late that evening, his wife said she had had a difficult time that day. She expected frost that night and had therefore cut and secured the young, green corn. The man became enraged and yelled: “You silly Tirli-Wirli!” He had barely spoken the words when she walked out the door and vanished. That night a heavy frost did indeed fall, ruining the plants of all the neighbors.

Now the man had three children, whom he had to leave at home when he went out to work. Every morning their mother returned and washed and combed the children’s hair so that the father, when he returned found the rooms clean and the children properly cared for. He asked who was doing this because he locked the door and hid the key every day. The children cried that it was their mother who did everything. The father sorely missed his wife and he would have begged her to return if she had shown herself. He told the children they should ask their mother how she managed to enter a locked house.

When the children asked their mother, she replied she knew where the key was hidden. The unfortunate father now asked a friend to lay in watch and when his wife entered the house, he was to close the door and call him. This happened and the father rushed home and begged his wife for forgiveness. Now they have lived several years happily together.


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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Grimm's Fairy Tale: The Six Swans

In this fairy tale, silence reflects true virtue.

A King once went out hunting in the forest. He was soon so intent on the chase that none of his companions could keep up with him. When evening came, he stopped and looked around and soon realized that he had lost his way. He searched for the way back, but could not find it. After some time he saw an old woman approaching him with a wobbly head. She was really a witch. “Dear woman,” the king said to her “Could you not show me the way out of this forest?”

“O yes, my king,” she replied. “that I can do, but there is one condition and if you do not fulfill it you will never leave the forest and shall die of hunger.”

“What is the condition?” the king asked. “

“I have a daughter,” the old woman said, “She is beautiful, you will not find her equal in all the world and most deserving to become your wife. If you make her your queen, I shall show you the way out of the forest.”

The king in his terror agreed and the old woman led him to her cottage where her daughter sat by the fire. She received the king as if she had been waiting for him and he saw that she was quite pretty. But still, there was something he did not like about her and he could not lay eyes on her without feeling a secret pang of terror. After he lifted the maid up onto his horse, the old woman showed him the way and the king was able to find the royal palace where the wedding was soon celebrated.

Now the king had been married once before and had seven children with his previous wife -- six boys and a girl. He loved them more than anything in the whole world. Because he now feared the step-mother would not treat them well and perhaps do them harm, he brought them to a lonely castle in the middle of the forest. It was so concealed and the path was so difficult to find, that even he could not find it without the help of a wise woman. She gave him a ball of yarn that had the strange quality: when he threw it in front of him, it unwound itself and showed the way. The king went to his dear children so often that the queen soon noticed his absence. She was curious and wanted to know what he did outside alone in the woods. She gave his servants a lot of money until they finally gave away his secret. They told her about the ball of yarn, which alone could show the way. Now she could find no rest until she could determine where the king kept the ball of yarn. Then she made small white-silk shirts and because she had learned the art of witchery from her mother, she sewed a magic charm into the garments. When the king rode out to hunt, she took the little shirts and went into the forest and the ball of yarn showed her the way. When the children saw someone approaching from the distance, they thought it was their dear father and raced forth to meet him full of joy. But she threw a shirt over each one of them and as the garment touched their bodies, they were transformed into swans and flew away over the forest. The queen went home pleased with her work and believed she was now done with her step children. But the little girl had not run out with her brothers and the witch did not know about her. The next day the when the king came to visit his children, he found no one except the girl. “Where are your brothers?” the King asked. “Oh dear father,” she replied, “They are gone and have left me here alone.” She told him what she had seen from the small window and how her brothers had flown away as swans over the forest. She showed him the feathers they had dropped in the courtyard and which the girl had collected. The king was sad but he didn’t know the queen was behind the evil deed. And because he feared the girl would also vanish, he decided to take her with him. But the girl was frightened of the step mother and asked the king if she could stay one more night in the forest castle.

The poor girl thought to herself: “I shall stay here no longer for I want to go and find my brothers.” And when evening came, she fled into the forest. She spent the entire night and next day walking until she could no longer continue. In utter exhaustion, she saw a hut used by hunters, entered it and found six small beds. But she was afraid to lie down in one. Instead she crawled underneath a bed and lay on the hard floor, determined to spend the night there. When the sun went down she heard a noise and saw six swans come flying through the window. They sat down on the floor and blew and cackled at each other. They preened each other’s feathers with their bills and their swan skin fell away like a shirt. Then they looked at the girl and she saw her brothers, rejoiced and crawled out from under the bed. The brothers were also overjoyed to see their sister. But their joy was of short duration. “You cannot stay here,” they said to her, “This is a hostel for robbers. When they come home and find you they will murder you.”

“Can’t you protect me?” the sister asked.

“No,” they replied. “For we can only remove our swan shirt for a quarter hour every evening and take on our human form. But after this we are turned back into swans.”

The little sister cried and said: “Can nothing save you?”

“Oh, no,” they replied, “the conditions would be too harsh for you. You cannot speak or laugh for six years and must sew six shirts for us made from star flowers. If you utter a single word, all your work will be for naught.” And when the brothers had said this, the quarter-hour was over and they flew out of the window as swans.

The girl made the firm decision to save her brothers, even if it cost her own life. She left the hunting hut and went to the middle of the woods. She sat in a tree and spent the night there. The next morning she went out, gathered star flowers and began to sew. She could not talk to anyone and she had no desire to laugh. She sat there and only looked at her work. When she had spent a long time doing this, it happened that the king of the land was hunting in the forest and his hunters came to the tree where the girl sat. They called to her and said “Who are you?” But she gave no answer. “Come down to us,” they said, “We won’t do you any harm.” She shook her head. When they continued questioning her she threw down her golden necklace and thought they would be satisfied. But they would not stop. Then she threw down her belt and when that didn’t help, she threw down her garters, and gave one piece after another until she had nothing left but her shirt. The huntsmen would not be put off, they climbed the tree, and brought the girl down. They led her before the king. The king asked “Who are you?” What were you doing in the tree?” But she did not answer. He asked her in every language he knew, but she remained silent like a fish. Because she was so beautiful, the king’s heart was moved by a great love for her. He wrapped her in his cloak, took her on his horse and brought her to his castle. He had rich clothes made for her and she radiated beauty like a bright sunlit day. But no words came out of her mouth. Se sat at his side at his table and her modest demeanor and demure countenance pleased the king so much that he said “This is the one I desire to marry and no other in all the world.” So after several days he married her.

But the king had an evil mother who was not pleased with the marriage and spoke poorly of the young queen. “Who knows where the girl came from,” she said, “She can’t even speak, she is not worthy of a king.” A year later when the queen bore her first child, the old woman took it away and smeared the queen’s mouth in blood as she lay sleeping. She went to the king and accused her of being a child eater. But the king would not believe it and would not let anyone harm her. She was steadfast and continued sewing the little shirts and paid no attention to anything else. Soon she bore a beautiful boy, the false step-mother committed the same deception but the king would not believe her words. He said “She is too pious and good, she could never do a thing like that. If she could speak she could defend herself and her innocence would be known.” But the third time the old woman stole the newborn and accused the queen, no word was spoken in her defense. The king could do nothing else but deliver his wife to the court, which condemned her to death by fire.

When the day of the execution came, it happened that it was also the last day of the six years she could not speak or laugh. She had finally saved her dear brothers from the power of the magic spell. The six shirts were finished, only a bit was missing on the left arm of the last shirt. When she approached the pyre, she placed the shirts on her arm and when she stood above and the fire was to be lit, she looked up and six swans came flying through the air. She saw their pending redemption and her heart beat in joy. The swans flew down to her so that she could throw a shirt over each one. As they were touched by the shirt, their swan skins fell off and the brothers stood before her. They were fresh and handsome; only the youngest one was missing his left arm and instead, he bore a swan wing on his back. They rejoiced and embraced each other. The queen went to the king who was quite dismayed and began to speak. She said “Dearest husband, now I may speak and reveal to you that I am innocent and wrongly accused,” and she told him of the deception of the old woman who had taken away her three children and hidden them. They were found to the great relief of the king and the evil step mother was bound on the pyre instead and burned to ashes. But the king and the queen with her six brothers lived many years in happiness and peace.

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Grimm's Saga No. 541: The Swan Ship on the Rhine


The Mythology of the Swan Knight: Don't Ask, Don't Tell

In the year 711 the Duchess of Kleve, the only daughter of Beatrix and her father having died, ruled over Kleve and many lands. One day the lady sat in her fortress at Nimwegen. It was a beautiful and clear day. She looked down upon the Rhine and saw a magnificent thing. A white swan swam down the river and round its neck there was a golden chain. A little ship was fastened to the chain and the swan pulled it. A beautiful man sat in the vessel. He had a golden sword in his hand, a hunting horn round his neck and a priceless ring on his finger. This young man landed the ship and disembarked. He exchanged many kind words with the lady and said that he wanted to protect her land and drive away its enemies. The young knight behaved so courteously that she soon grew to love him and took him as husband. But he said to her: “Never ask me about my lineage or origin; for when you inquire about these things, then you shall be rid of me and shall become a single woman once more. You shall never see me again.” He said his name was Helias and he was of large stature, like a giant. They had several children together. After some time Helias lay next to his wife in bed and the Duchess carelessly spoke out loud: “My lord, do you not want to tell your children where you come from?” Upon hearing those words he left his wife immediately. Jumping into the swan ship he sailed away and was never seen again. His wife was overcome with grief and soon died of remorse in the same year. But he left his children three things: the sword, the horn and the ring. His descendants have survived to this day and in the castle at Kleve you can still see a high tower. On its pinnacle there is a swan that turns in the wind. It is called the swan tower and commemorates the events of long ago.


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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Life in the Castle: The Arrival of the Swan Knight


Grimm’s Saga No. 545: Gerhard the Good, Swan Knight

King Charlemagne once stood at his castle window and looked down upon the Rhine River. There he saw a swan swimming on the water. It bore a silk cord round its neck and pulled a slender and magnificent boat. There sat a well-armed knight, round whose neck hung a scroll. When the knight came ashore the swan swam away pulling the ship and was never again seen. Nibelung, one of the king’s men, went out to meet the stranger, gave him his hand and led him to the king. Charlemagne asked him his name, but the knight could not speak. Instead he pointed to the scroll hanging round his neck. The scroll announced the arrival of Gerhard the Good Swan Knight, who had come to serve both land and lady. Nibelung took his weapons and secured them, but Charlemagne gave him a splendid cloak and together they sat down at the king’s table. But when Rolland saw the new stranger he inquired about the fortitude of the man. Charlemagne replied: :”God has sent me this man.” And Rolland replied “He seems to have the courage of a hero.” The king ordered that the strange knight be well-attended. And so it was, Gerhard was a wise man, served the king well and found favor with all who met him. He quickly learned to speak the language. The king treated him very well and soon the knight married Adalis, Charlemagne’s sister (in Danish: Elisa). Afterward the couple went to serve the Count in the Kingdom of Ardenne.


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