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Monday, January 25, 2010

Divining the Future in Fairy Tales: Crystal Ball Gazing


The future casts long shadows on these fairy tale characters.

Grimm’s Saga No. 119: Crystal Ball Gazing

A noble and beautiful maiden and a distinguished young man bore an intense love for each other; but because of the girl’s step-parents, they did not receive permission to marry. This caused them both to live in extreme sadness. It happened that an old woman, who had access to the house, came to the maiden and comforted her. She said, the one she loved would certainly become her own. The maiden, who heard these words gladly, asked how the woman could know this. “Oh, my young mistress,” the old woman said “I have received grace from God and know future things before they happen. That is why the chance that this could remain hidden from me is slight. To take away any doubt you may have, I will show you clearly in my crystal ball so that you shall praise my art. But we must choose a time when your parents are not at home; They should not witness this wonder!”

The maiden waited until her parents were visiting a neighboring estate and then she went to the teacher of her brother, Johann Ruest, who later became the famous poet. She told him of her intentions and begged him to accompany her and be present when she gazed into the crystal. The teacher tried to dissuade her from such an impertinent and sinful act, which could be the cause of great misfortune. But it was all for naught, she held fast to her plan. Finally the teacher let himself be persuaded by her incessant pleading and accompanied her. When they entered the chamber, the old woman was busy removing her utensils from a small basket. She was not happy that this man, Ruest, accompanied the maid and said, she could see in his eyes that he did not hold much of her art. Then she spread out on the table a blue silk cloth, on which were embroidered strange pictures of dragons, snakes and other animals. On this cloth she placed a green glass bowl and in this vessel she placed a gold-colored silk cloth. Finally she placed in this cloth a rather large crystal ball, but she covered it again with a white cloth.

The woman began making strange gesticulations, murmuring to herself and when this was over, she took the ball into her hand with great reverence, called the maid and her escort to the window and told them to gaze inside.

At first they saw nothing, but soon the bride was visible in the crystal, dressed in priceless finery; her costume was so magnificent, it was as if it were her wedding day. As beautiful as she appeared, she still looked troubled and sad. In fact her entire countenance had such a deathly pale hue, that one could not look at her without feeling pity. The maiden gazed at her own image with horror. Her terror became even greater when she saw her dear swain appear. He had a horrible and dreadful look on his face, and he was usually such a friendly man. This caused the girl to shake in fear. Her love was dressed as one returning from a trip, wearing boots and spurs, with a gray overcoat and golden buttons. Out of the folds of this garment he took two new and shining pistols, with one in each hand he pointed one at his own heart and the other he placed on the maiden’s temple. The onlookers were frozen in terror. Finally, trembling they stumbled out of the chamber and attempted to regain their composure.

Even the old woman, who had not been expecting the situation to end this way, was not feeling well. She rushed out and did not show herself for quite some time thereafter. But the frightful experience could not extinguish the maiden’s love for her swain, even though her stepparents held fast to their decision to deny their consent to her marriage. Finally with threats and force, the girl became engaged to a distinguished court official in the neighborhood. It was then that the maiden really began to suffer heartache. She spent her time sobbing and weeping and her true love was torn by wrenching despair.

In the meantime, the wedding date was set and because several members of the royal family were to be present, every detail of the wedding was to be much more splendid than any other wedding. When the day arrived, the maiden was to be picked up in pomp and ceremony by a splendid procession. The duchess sent her own carriage drawn by six steeds and several court servants and riders in accompaniment. Added to this pageantry were distinguished relatives and friends of the bride. The first lover had found this out in advance and because of his desperation, he decided not to relinquish his love to his rival. For this purpose, he had purchased a pair of good pistols and planned to kill his bride with one and himself with the other. There was a house about ten to twelve paces in front of the gate, which the bride had to pass. He decided this would be the place to perform the dreadful deed. When the entire parade of carriages and riders passed by, accompanied by a huge throng of people, he shot one pistol into the bride’s carriage. But he fired a bit prematurely and the bride was not touched by the bullet. The noble woman sitting next to her, however, had her headgear shot off. Because this woman fell unconscious and everyone hastened to help her, the culprit had time to flee through the back door of the house. Leaping across a rather wide body of water, he was able to make his escape. As soon as the terrified woman revived, the procession started anew and the wedding was celebrated in great ceremony. But the bride suffered from a sad heart, amplified by her memory of gazing into the crystal ball and this weighted down on her spirits. Her marriage was also unhappy, because her husband was a harsh and mean man. He gruesomely mistreated his sweet and virtuous wife, who nevertheless bore him a dear child.


To read more about divining the future:
http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2010/03/reading-grimms-fairy-tale-crystal-ball.html

And more fairy tales:

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Icelandic Voice in Fairy Tales and Saga


The importance of seeing the future.

Of all the fairy tale genres presented on this website, the Icelandic form is most interested in human relationships. The first paragraphs are often filled with a roll call of character names and a meticulous description of personal associations. Protagonists in these tales are identified by their position within a web of relationships, which in turn is anchored in a specific locale. This sometimes threatens to overload the story for modern readers. but we can only assume ancient audiences were enthralled. German sagas are also concerned with the precise naming of persons, places and times but this naming never suggests a world where the social framework itself is of ultimate importance. Of interest here is also that descent and relationship are often defined through the female line (see the Finnwife's Prophecy: "because you are the daughter's son of Jarls Ingimund."), yet society does not strictly follow a matriarchal structure. This is a land where powerful chieftains determine the fate of underlings and violence seems to lie just beyond the next snow drift.


It is perhaps not surprising in this world that women, who can travel freely and possess their own property, also occupy the important role of seer. But what exactly is the nature of this role? In the tale Groa's Magic the hero is visited in his dreams by a "woman who accompanied his ancestors." She endeavors to change his course of action, but when her arguments flounder, she places her hands on his eyes, perhaps alluding to the woman's own far-sightedness and prescience, which she is attempting to transfer to the hero. In other Icelandic tales women gifted with prophetic foresight often place their hands on the person to facilitate a vision. In Thorstein's case, the seer helps him make decisions crucial for his survival. This type of action is referred to as taking a turn in one's life and underscores an abrupt departure from the past. And although the tale attributes the seer's powers to magic, the goal is quite practical: aligning oneself with the power of destiny and fate to secure money, love, power and prestige.

In the second tale, the Finnwife's Prophecy, the Finns themselves are presented as a race imbued with special powers of prophecy. Their abilities include both on-the-spot prognostication (as in the case of the Finnwife) and bilocation (as in the case of the three Finns dispatched to find Ingimund's lot). In this tale, traveling to Iceland is synonymous with having a prophetic vision, even though the seers remain locked up in a house. Their out-of-body traveling poses enormous danger to them but they are richly rewarded for their efforts. The tale stresses that knowledge of the future is neither good nor bad. However, not heeding its warnings can be disastrous. The protagonists in these stories all initially resist their fate, and the stories spell out the trouble caused by willful disobedience. In the case of Groa's Magic the unlucky ones end up under a heap of rock, snow and mud. It might seem strange that the story is called Groa's Magic, after all, Groa is the one lying under the avalanche in the end. But I would suggest Groa offers a model of the ultimate acceptance of fate: one's own demise. The description of Groa confidently stepping into the last rays of sunshine, equipped with all her riches tied up in a cloth, signals she is ready for safe passage to the afterlife. The sunset on the horizon was considered to be the portal into the next life by many pagan cultures and this might be an allusion to an actual funerary ritual.

Why the Finns were associated with the supranormal powers of prophecy is anyone's guess. German Sagas frequently refer to seers as white women (weisse Frauen), which is often translated as women in white because of the awkwardness and also uncertainty of meaning. This might also be a reference to the stereotypical pale complexion and white-blond hair of many Finns.

The three Icelandic tales provided on this website explore the notion that each person has an individual fate which he must embrace to be successful in life. The characters in these stories use the assets at their disposal to accomplish self-realization: first and foremost strong relationships and the magic of seers. These stories have a sense of weighty pragmatism, where the secrets of redemption are locked in ice and snow.

Please read & enjoy, don't plagiarize or pilfer! 
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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Where is the Sooth in Soothsaying? The Finns as Skilled Fairy Tale Prognosticators




Part II: Finn-magic. Ingimund commences the trip to Iceland.


King Harold had retired, the mightiest of all kings in the Northern Kingdoms. He remembered what his friends had foretold and now held a great festival to bestow high honor. He invited Ingimund and when that man arrived, the king received him graciously and said "Your diligence and position among men, I hear, is considerable. But you are lacking one thing, you do not have a wife. I have selected a woman to be your spouse. I remembered her, when you put your own life in danger for mine. The daughter of Jaris Thorir the Silent. Her name is Vigdis, she is a very beautiful wife and very rich. I will be your advocate to her." Ingimund thanked the king and said he very much wished the union. The king held the festival with great splendor and ceremony and the guests traveled home.


Ingimund prepared himself for the wedding and when everything was ready, King Harold appeared and many other great men. Ingimund married Vigdis per the agreement. The wedding feast was celebrated with great honor; the king did his part with gifts and other honors.


Ingimund spoke to the king: Now I am quite satisfied in my station. It is a great honor to stand in your favor. But I intend to do what the Finnwife prophesied about the turn in my life. I wish it weren't true that I will sever the attachment to the inheritance from my father.


The king replied: "I can't do anything to stop you and there might be something to it. Frey will allow his lot to be taken there, where he shall establish his chair of honor." Ingimund said, "I want to call three Finns who will disclose to me the fruitfulness of the district and the nature of the land where I am to dwell. I want to send them to Iceland."


The king said, he would grant permission "But I suspect you shall travel there and I am not sure whether you shall obtain my permission or steal away, as is now often customary."


"That I shall never do," Ingimund spoke "that I would travel under your banishment." Then the King departed from him. Ingimund went home to his property.


He sent for the Finns; three came out of the north. Ingimund said, he wanted to strike a deal with them "I shall give you butter and tin, but you shall travel on an errand for me to Iceland, search for my lot and report on the nature of the country." They replied "A dangerous mission for the messengers, but because you have requested it, we shall try. Now you should lock us alone in a house and do not allow anyone to call us by name." And so it happened as the Finns described.


After three nights Ingimund went to the three Finns, who jumped up and all breathed uneasily. One spoke "Hard work for messengers and enormous trials did we have. But we bring such signs to ensure you will recognize the country when you arrive; all shall be according to our description. It was difficult for us to find the lot and the magic words of the Finnwife have great meaning; we have put ourselves in the utmost danger. We came to the country where three Fjords intersect out of the Northeast and large seas lay beyond. Then we came to a deep valley and in the valley below the mountain there were several copses. There we found the usual little valley and in the small forest we found the lot. When we wanted to snatch it up, the brush shot up all around us and (impeded us) and the lot always slipped through our fingers. When we reached after it, a veil always covered it and we could not seize it. You shall have to go there yourself." He said he would ride immediately and thought it would be useless to resist. He richly rewarded the Finns and they departed. But he continued to live on his property, was rich and an honorable man.


Soon thereafter he visited the king and reported to him what had happened and what he had decided. The king said this was not unexpected. He said, it was difficult to act against magic words. Ingimund agreed it was true "I have tried everything." The king replied "Regardless of the country you reside in, you shall be respected." Once again, he gave honor to the king. Ingimund called a feast and invited his friends and chieftains. They celebrated in great splendor. He demanded silence at this feast and spoke "I have decided to make an enormous turn in my life. I am considering going to Iceland, more in consideration of fate and the overwhelming power of magic words than because of any desire on my part. Those who want to go with me, are free to do so. Those who wish to stay, may do this also. What all our friends decide is the same to me."


There were loud outcries in response to his speech and the people said the departure of such a man would be a loss. "And still, there are fewer things stronger than fate." Many decided to travel with Ingimund, who were well-respected farmers and men. Those who decided to go, did not have their own house or farm.



* It is common belief that calling a person by name interrupts the magic.

* Apparently the three southern branches of the Wespenbotten: Widder Fjord, Mittel Fjord and Welpen Fjord.

Translation Copyright FairyTaleChannel.com

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Past, Present and Future in Fairy Tales and the Reluctant Fairy Tale Hero


Themes:
The Finnwife as prognosticator and the Finns themselves as powerful seers.
Destiny versus fortune. Things that can versus things that must happen.
The nature of fate and aligning yourself with the forces of your destiny.
And lastly: In winter, it seems, fairy tale characters stay put if they reside in a northern climate.



A Fairy Tale from Iceland : The Finnwife’s Prophecy

After the battle at Bocksford, Ingimund in splendid finery hastened home to his father, Thorstein, who received him with open arms. He said Ingimund’s path had been full of great fortune, but this was not astonishing, “because you are the daughter’s son of Jarls Ingimund, the luckiest of all men.”
Ingimund stayed the winter and it was that winter Ingjald also visited Thorstein and they celebrated a happy reunion. Ingjald said Ingimund had become all that his ancestors had promised. “But I will hold a festival for you, my foster son, with all the splendor at my command.” Ingimund consented. Ingjald accompanied him and invited many men. Then each rode out and the festival was proclaimed.
Ingjald and his clan practiced magic, according to the custom of the time, that people inquired about their fortune. A Finnish woman, well-versed in magic, came to the festival. Ingimund and Grim appeared at the banquet with a large following. A tall chair was prepared for the Finnwife and it was adorned and decorated for the ceremony. The men approached, one-by-one, rising up from their seats and asking a question about their fate. The woman prophesied for each man, as it was, but each prophecy was quite different from the next and all were satisfied.
The foster brothers sat in their places and did not get up to pose a question. They also did not heed the Finnwife’s prognostications. The seer spoke “Why are those young men not inquiring about their fortune? It seems they are the most magnificent of all persons assembled here.” Ingimund replied “I don’t want to know my fate in advance and I do not believe my destiny rests under the root of your tongue.”
She replied “But nonetheless I will tell you: you shall cultivate the land called Iceland ; it is mostly a wild place now. You shall raise yourself up and become a highly honored man. You shall become old and gray. Your descendents will also be many excellent men in that country.”
Ingimund replied: “That is well said, because I am certain in my decision never to move to that place. Surely I would not be a good merchant if I sold the many beautiful goods of my family and moved to that desolate spot.”
The Finnwife said: “It will happen as I have said. And take this as sign: the lot in your bag has vanished, that lot which King Harold gave you as present. It is lying in the forest where you shall live. The word Frey has been emblazoned in silver on the lot. When you take up your farm, my words shall be fulfilled.”
Ingimund replied: “If it weren’t going against my foster father, you would receive your reward broken over your skull. But because I am not a violent man and don’t want an argument, let us keep it at this.” She said there was no need to become angry.
Ingimund said she had come to bring him misfortune; she replied that it was his fate and would remain so, regardless of how he felt, good or bad about it. She continued “Grim’s fortune will also lead him there, also the fate of his brother, Gromund, and they will both become rich farmers.”
The next morning Ingimund searched for his lot and could not find it. This seemed to him a bad sign. Ingjald asked him to be of good cheer and not let it bother him or dispel his joy. He said: Many splendid men are sailing to Iceland . “I only had good intentions when I invited the Finnwife here..” Ingimund said he could not thank him for it, “But our friendship shall not be severed.” Then Ingimund traveled home to his father and stayed there the winter.
When spring came, he asked his foster brother, what they thought about their travels. Grim said, he thought it was no use struggling against one’s fate. “In summer I will go to Iceland , we two brothers. Many are going there even though they are rich here. Much good has been told me about the country, that the cattle finds nourishment even in winter; there are many fish in the sea and enormous forests. The land is free from the violent acts of kings and evil doers.”
Ingiumund replied “I shall not go there, we must then separate.” Grim said that may well be the case “But it shall not come as a surprise to me, if we meet again in Iceland .” It is difficult to escape one’s fate.” Ingimund said his departure caused him much pain.
Grim sailed out in summer. Both brothers arrived in Borg Fjord and sailed up to the Angelroot Strand. Grim said he would take this land for settlement. He took into possession so much land, that many farms today are still standing on the same ground. Gromund said he would go up to the highlands because he would like the area near the mountains. Grim said it would be a good thing because they would have both benefits from the rich mountain land and abundance from the sea. Gromund settled on Querachenhalde and was considered by all in the land to be a splendid man. Juugi the Black is his descendent. Grim’s line was also blessed and many famous men descended from him, even though they are not named here.

To read more about fairy tale prognostication:

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2010/03/reading-grimms-fairy-tale-crystal-ball.html

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Fairy Tale from Iceland: Groa's Magic



Seers in the New Year:
Good Luck, Bad Luck or Out of Luck
A Fairy Tale from Iceland: Groa’s Magic

It is said that many summers ago a ship sailed up the Widder Fjord in Iceland. On board were two sisters, Thorey and Groa. After disembarking from the ship, the two went to Tempel and stayed the winter there with Thorstein. In the spring, the two sisters approached Thorstein and asked him to assign them dwellings. With Thorstein’s approval, Thorey purchased land and settled on it. But Thorstein gave a house to Groa, which was close to where he lived. This caused Thorstein’s wife, Thurid, to accuse her husband that he had set his sights on Groa because she had enchanted him with her magic.

Soon thereafter Groa purchased malt and prepared a feast. Then she invited all the sons of Ingimund to the meal, because it was well known that the sisters were comely. She also invited Mar from the Farm of Mars and many other men from the district.

Three nights before Thorstein was to ride out from home, a woman came to him in his dreams. It was the same woman who accompanied his ancestors. She came and begged him not to ride out. But he told her, he had promised. She replied “That seems unintelligent to me and it can only bring you misfortune.” And so, she came three nights in a row and issued her reproaches. She warned it would not be good for him and laid her hands on his eyes.

It was the custom of the people living in Seetal, that when Thorstein rode out, everyone who wanted to ride with him, came to Tempel that day. They all arrived, Jokul and Thorir, Mar and the other men, who wanted to ride out. Thorstein told them to return home because he was sick. And so they all returned.

On that day, when the sun had set, a shepherd saw Groa come out of her house. She walked into the rays of the sun and circled her farm and said “It is hard to resist the fortune of Ingimund’s sons!” She looked up to the mountains and swung a sack or cloth, which held much gold, all her property, and it was knotted into the fabric. She said “Come, what must come.” She then went inside and closed the door behind her. An avalanche of rock and mud immediately slid down upon her farm, killing all who lived there. And when this became known, the brothers chased away Thorey, her sister, from the district. Since then, the place has an eerie feel to it and no one has wanted to live where Groa’s farm once stood.


More tales about divining the future:

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2010/03/reading-grimms-fairy-tale-crystal-ball.html

More fairy tales:
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