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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