Saturday, May 30, 2009

Fairy Tale of the Wild Huntsman and His Fire-Breathing Horse

SAGEN; Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

Source: Folk Tales from Pommern and Ruegen, Ulrich Jahn, Berlin 1889, No. 3

In Ruegen folk say that the Wild Hunstman is the devil. Every evening he rides out between eleven and twelve o’clock on his fire-breathing horse and charges through the countryside. You can hear his wild cry in the air high above: Tschue ha! Tschue ha!. When people hear this sound they hasten to reach a place of safety.

If the front or back door of a house is open, he rides his horse through the door and steals every human being he can catch inside. He carries them off to his kingdom. He prefers snatching small children. If the house door is locked, he will circle the building with loud cries and commotion. One evening a worker named Moeller living in Coldevitz left both doors of his house open. The Wild Huntsman rode through but did not find anyone inside. Moeller saw quite plainly how on the left and right side of the wild steed there hung a living boy. The devil had kidnapped these children from God knows where.

Oral tradition from Coldevitz

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fairy Tale of the Evil Knight Eppela Gaila and His Horse

Grimm’s Saga No. 130: Eppela Gaila

Not long ago, Nuremberg street urchins still sang this old rhyme:

“Eppela Gaila from Dramout
Always rides on the fourteenth out.”

“The Nuremberg fiend rides out,
Eppela Gaila from Dramout.”

In times of old Eppelin von Gailing lived in Bayreuth near Drameyesel (a very small village parish after Muggendorf). He was a bold knight, who wantonly plundered and pillaged. He was especially inclined to do harm to the Nuremberg townfolk, whom he sought out for special distress and sorrow. But he also understood magic and had a colt that could ride and trot, canter and gallop until it’s hooves leapt from the earth and soared to high rock and crag, or down to river and meadow. And the hoof of his colt never trod on a single blade of grass.

His main estate was near Cliff Gailenreuth, but scattered throughout the region he had other castles and in a flash he could fly like the wind from one fortress to another. Often flying from one side of the mountain to the opposite or even reaching Saint Lorenz in Muggendorf. Nothing could stop his terror in Nuremberg, neither high stone wall nor deep moat. He committed many crimes and seemed unconquerable. But finally, the Nuremberg townsfolk captured him, brought him to the New Market and hanged him on the gallows with his accomplices. The Nuremberg Castle still displays weapons and the wall still shows a hoof print from his horse, which sank into the soft clay when he jumped onto it.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fairy Tale of Prince and Horse Chapter 6: the prince, having been abandoned by bride and horse, must undertake 3 trials as foretold by the ant king

The Ant King

Fairy Tale of Prince and Horse, Chapter 6, in which the prince, having been abandoned by bride and horse, must now undertake three trials as foretold by a chorus of chirping ants.

The prince was alone. He had lost his faithful companion the horse. He had cursed the bride he loved so dearly. Gazing dejectedly at his feet he noticed the dry dust on his boots. It was indeed a barren place he found himself in: parched earth, cracked ground and only ants as companions. “Perchance the ants will show some compassion,” he thought sadly. “But even they are so busy, I would not bother them.”

The Ant King heard the prince’s speech and rising up on his hind legs, shook the dust from his body and addressed the prince:
“Three trials you must pass, witch, werewolf, giant.
To win a wife you will surpass, witch, werewolf, giant.
When in need call the steed; witch, werewolf, giant.”

The Ant King’s underlings now rose up behind him and raising their legs they chirped:
“Three trials you must pass, witch, werewolf, giant.
To win a wife you will surpass witch, werewolf, giant.
When in need call the steed, witch, werewolf giant.”

The place buzzed with their song, growing louder and louder until it seemed the earth itself was humming with electricity.

While all this happened, the sleeping king, the kidnapper of the prince’s bride, awoke rather grumpily from his nine day slumber. “I knew it,” he snarled. The escapees have outwitted me this time, but I shall send my army after them. Witch, werewolf and giant shall come to my defense and seize my rightful bride! I shall not be out-foxed this time!”
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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Swiss Fairy Tale of Zawudschawu, the Night Horse

Strange Steeds in Switzerland

Fairy Tale of Zawudschawu, the Night Horse

Many monsters were said to inhabit the mountains and valleys in times of old. In Sitten, a town in the Wallis region of Switzerland, a three-legged steed was often seen prancing through the streets in the bright moon light. And in the soft swamplands surrounding the city, the wild horse Zawudschawu could often be seen grazing at night. His coat was an iridescent milk-white but his wild mane and long tail were as white as the driven snow. If a brittle old hag wandered out of the village and lost her way in the moor, it might happen that the horse approached at a proud trot. Lowering itself carefully, it would invite the old person to sit on its back. Barely situated there, the horse would hasten home. But the horse was not always so gracious and trustworthy. Sometimes it played mean tricks. One evening a man, who had quenched his thirst a bit too much that evening, was wandering home from the tavern. He was tired and also his legs were unsteady. Fatigued, he sat down on a large stone near the bridge and thought to himself “If only an old nag would come trotting by to take me home.”

He had hardly formed the thought when he heard the approach of a horse; turning he saw the pale-white steed. It bowed and lowered itself gently and even nodded its head in an inviting way. The man did not hesitate nor did he wonder who the owner might be of such a magnificent steed. Rather clumsily he mounted the horse but once sitting on the horse’s back, the steed got up carefully and moved away. Thus encouraged, the man promised it good feed and sugar bread as reward for taking him home.

Soon the man saw his village and the roof of his house illuminated by the full moon. He smiled remembering his soft feather bed and urged the horse on with a gentle kick in its side. The horse responded by jumping jerkily, almost catapulting the rider into the air. He gripped its mane terrified as the horse began a wild gallop. The white mane whipped back by the wind nearly blinded the man. He implored the horse to return to the rightful path but instead it crashed through the swamp and continued on to the river.

Now the rider was seized by a veritable premonition of death. He screamed and tried to turn the wild horse around by pulling violently on its mane. But the horse pulled away and he could hardly stay mounted. They quickly reached the treacherous banks of the river where its rolling waves menaced. But in the last second the horse turned as quick as lightening. Its rider flew into the whirling waters and was carried downstream. The horse neighed as if laughing, turned around and ran back in the direction of the moor.

The rider was only able to save himself with the utmost exertion. As he returned home soaked to the bone, he knew he had encountered the wild steed Zawudschawu. The cold bath in the river had a sobering effect on the man and he never again visited the tavern.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Fairy Tale of Prince and Horse, Chapter 5: In which the prince is chastised by his horse, which has assumed the form of horse-man.

Boticelli, Pallas and the Centaur

(See link at right, Fairy Tale of Prince and Horse, for prior chapters.)

Horrible fate, pitiable predicament!
The prince was overcome with anguish and lamented his sad condition to the horse: “My rash actions, though done in love, have not benefitted my bride. Whatever shall I do? Must I really sacrifice my life in this way? I curse the day I ever laid eyes on her!”

The horse halted and taking on the form of horse-man sang in somber voice:

What is it you love?
Fair face – radiant divine,
Blossom-lips – heaven sublime?
Sparkling eyes, mad desire,
Are these the boons you require?

How do you love?
With longing adoration, long-suffering pain?
With hope and aspiration to acquire gain?
As sharp as an arrow, tip full gleam,
As soft as a feather, love-fond dream?

Why do you love?
To quench your thirst, to entertain?
To amuse yourself, circumvent pain?
A strong elixir makes one cheery,
Darkness banished from the weary.

Lout-not, love-full, unbridled colt.
Lout-not, love-full, loveful filly.
Let spalt-maid canter, spalt-youth trot,
Let love spane – spang, spang!

Now a finely shaped horse stood once more before the prince. Without saying a word, the hag jumped to its back and horse and rider soon vanished in the distance.

Chapter 6:

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Scent of Spring: Dragon Takes Wing, Grimm's Saga No. 216, a Saga from Switzerland in which a Man Escapes from Entanglement with Two Ancient Worms

Alpine folk in Switzerland have preserved many sagas about dragons and worms, which in ancient times dwelled in mountain caverns and often descended upon the valleys, leaving total destruction and sorrow behind. Even now, when an impetuous forest stream breaks its banks, crashing down the mountain and pulling along trees and rock with it, the local folk cite this melancholy proverb: “The dragon has taken wing.” The following story is one of the oddest:

A barrel binder from Lucerne went out into the forest to fetch Dauben wood for his barrels and lost his way until he found himself in a barren, lonely place. Night came and he suddenly fell into a deep pit, but it was muddy, like a well. On both sides of the bottom, gangways led off from the side into enormous caves. When he approached to examine them more carefully, to his horror, two frightful dragons blocked his way. The man prayed fervently while the dragons wound themselves round his body several times, but they did not harm him. One day passed thus, then several. He had to endure the dragon’s tight embrace from November 6 until April 10. He was only able to nourish himself with the salty dewdrops that formed like beads of perspiration on the stone walls

When the dragons smelled the scent of spring, they knew the winter season was over and decided to take flight. The first dragon did this with a loud roar. When the other prepared to do the same, the unlucky barrel maker took hold of the dragon’s tail, gripped hard and was pulled out of the well. Once above, he released his grip and fell free. He then returned to town. To commemorate his experience, he had a picture of his ordeal embroidered on a priest’s frock. It can still be seen in the Holy Leodagars Church near Lucerne. According to church records, this happened in the year 1420.

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Horse Prophesy

The Fairy Tale of Prince and Horse, Chapter 4
(See link at right Fairy Tale of Prince and Horse for prior chapters.)
The young prince soon asked for the hand of the beautiful princess and she was willing to take him as husband.

But the neighboring king would not hear of it. He wanted to have such a beautiful wife for his own. How could he win her? Finally he thought up the following trick: He would send to his rival news that he should return home for his father was on his deathbed. Naturally it was a lie, but who would know? When the prince heard of his father's misfortune, he saddled his trusted steed and rode as fast as he could in the direction of home. He was hardly gone when the neighboring king appeared and robbed the prince of his bride.

On his way home, the prince stopped in a peaceful grove of oak trees. He alighted from his horse to take water from a bubbling spring. With a heavy heart he gazed at his own reflection in the pool of water and thought back to the counsel the Head had given him. “Beseech the horse three times when you are in distress,” it had said. The prince then remembered the magic horse spell:

Huzza, huzza, hinny-whinny.
Fly like a hawk, shake like thunder.
Eyes like the sun,
Hooves swift-footed,
Your lightning-gait,
Your mane gold-plait.

Huzza, huzza, hinny-whinny,
Fly like a hawk, shake like thunder.
Legs are leaping.
Ears are keeping.
Your truth be told.
Your signs unfold.

Huzza, huzza, hinny-whinny.
Fly like a hawk, shake like thunder.
All-seeing – tell.
All telling – see.
Horse-laugh prophesy!
Horse-neigh prophesy!

The horse turned to the prince and spoke solemnly: “Do not ride any further but halt and listen! It is not true that your father is lying on his deathbed. Your rival lied to you and while you rode, he robbed you of your bride. Return quickly for tomorrow is the wedding feast. Here, beside this stream you shall find three potions. If you drink from the first, you will fall into the deepest sleep for nine days and nine nights. If you drink from the second, you will become so old and brittle, that no one will recognize you. But if you douse yourself with the third potion, you will become as young, strong and vigorous as before.”

The prince turned his horse immediately and hurried to free his bride. He reached the gate of the neighboring king’s realm. Everything glittered like the richest jewelry. Guests had arrived; the wedding had begun. The prince drank from the second potion and became an old, old beggar. The beggar entered the castle and once in the wedding hall he begged for alms. Everyone gave him something; only the bride gave him nothing. She sat dejected in the corner. At last the beggar spoke: “I shall honor the bride with a wedding gift and you will give me refreshments in return. I can teach the young lady how to acquire virtue that attracts good fortune.” When the bride heard this, she reached forward to give the beggar his portion. The beggar took the alms with both hands and said: “Let us step aside so that I can tell you what a young bride must know.” Both stepped to the side. The beggar only then revealed what had happened and why he had purposely taken the form of a beggar. And finally, he gave his bride the potions and said: “Try to give your kidnapper some of this first potion. While he sleeps nine days, we will be long gone over the mountain.”

The bride took the sleeping potion, but noticed that the second potion looked so sweet and glittered in its golden vessel. She secretly took it, too. She slipped the first potion into a golden goblet, went to her kidnapper and spoke: “Before the wedding we should drink from this cup to celebrate our engagement!” He was satisfied. But when he drank, he fell into a nine-day sleep.

The young bride hastened away, but as she turned, she noticed the bright color of the second potion and how the vessel glittered that held this wonderful refreshment. Surely, a small portion from this second vessel could do no harm. No sooner thought than done and instead of a beautiful princess, a wretched beggar woman stood before the eager prince. The prince had already doused himself with the third potion and had thus resumed his comely form. No time was left to lose. The prince escaped with the old hag on his wonderful horse and they galloped away into the night.

When they had ridden a distance, the prince took the vessel of the third potion to douse his bride and return her beauty. But alas, when he opened it, he realized that in his haste, he had used the entire potion on himself. Now his bride was as old and brittle as a broomstick and there was no potion to restore her youth.

Chapter 5

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Magical Power of Bird's Nests Revealed in Fairy Tale and Saga

Grimm's Saga No. 86: Bird's Nest

This saga celebrates the mystery and beauty of spring and is well worth reading this time of year.

In some areas people still believe that there are certain bird's nests (also called Zwissel or Zeissel nests) which make all persons carrying the nest invisible. To find the nest, you must by chance see it in a mirror or in the reflection of a pool of water. The saga is most likely a reference to Bifolium, a two-leaf plant genus commonly referred to as Bird's Nest in almost every European language. There seems to be something magical or mandrakelike about it. This belief is elaborated in an account from the 17th century, most certainly originating from folk tradition: 

While I was talking, I saw the reflection of the tree in the water. But there was something lying on the branch, which I could not see in the tree itself and for this reason, I pointed it out to my wife. When she found it and the branch on which it lay, she climbed up the tree and brought down the object we had seen in the reflection of the water. I watched her and saw her the moment she disappeared. She vanished the moment she picked up the nest whose shadow (image) we had viewed in the water’s reflection. I still saw my wife in the reflection of the water: how she climbed down from the tree and held the small bird's nest in her hands which she had removed from the knick in the branch. I asked her what kind of bird’s nest she carried. In reply she asked me if I could see her. I said “I can’t see you in the tree but I can see your shape in the water’s reflection.” --- “It’s best,” she replied, “if I come all the way down now. Then you shall see what I have.” It seemed strange to me to hear my wife talking in this manner, because I couldn’t see her and it was even stranger that I should see her shadow move in the sun but could not see her. And because it was easier for her to approach me in the shade (when she didn’t have a shadow because she was outside of the sunlight in the shade) I couldn’t see anything more of her, except I heard the faint sounds she made with her footfalls and her clothing, as if a ghost were passing me by. She sat down next to me and placed the nest in my hand. As soon as I held it, I saw her again, but she in turn no longer saw me. We repeated this several times and each time we found that whoever held the nest in their hand, that person was completely invisible. She finally wrapped the little nest in a handkerchief, so that the stone or herb or root, which was giving the nest these powers, could not fall out and be lost. And after she placed the bundle beside her, we saw each other again, just as before she climbed the tree. We could not see the handkerchief with the nest, but could feel it at the spot where she had laid it. 

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