Wednesday, March 31, 2010

German Fairy Tale of King Thrushbeard

King Thrushbeard

There once lived a king whose daughter was beautiful beyond measure. But the girl was so proud and arrogant that no suitor was good enough for her. She haughtily rejected one gallant after the next, but what is worse, she ridiculed them. One day the king gave an enormous feast and invited all the eligible young men from far and wide. He lined them up in rows according to their rank and circumstance. First came the kings, then the dukes, counts, earls, barons and finally all the noblemen. When the king’s daughter was led through the ranks, she found fault with each and every one. He was too fat: “What a wine barrel!” she said. The other was too tall: “Long and slack, has no back!” The third was too short: “Short and fat, has no knack!” The fourth was too pallid: “Pale as death!” The fifth was too ruddy: “Red as a beetroot!” The sixth did not stand straight enough “Green wood, dried behind the oven!”

And so the princess found something wrong with each suitor, but she especially poked fun at a goodly king with a crooked chin, who stood at the very front of the line. “Oh,” she cried and laughed. “He has a chin just like the thrush has a beak!” And from that moment on he was called Thrushbeard. But when her father, the old king, saw that his daughter only mocked and scorned her assembled admirers, he was filled with rage. He swore she would marry the first beggar who crossed the threshold.

A few days later, a street musician stopped below the window to sing and earn a few alms. When the king heard him he said “Let him come in.” The musician entered wearing his dirty, dilapidated clothing, sang for the king and his daughter, and when he had finished, asked for a small token. The king replied “Your song pleased me so well, that I will give you my daughter as wife!”

The king’s daughter was terrified, but her father spoke: “I have sworn an oath to give you to the first beggar and I shall keep my word.”

It was no use to argue, the priest was called and she had to marry the street musician on the spot. When it was done, the king said “Now it is no longer fitting that you, as a beggar’s wife, should remain any longer in my castle. You must move out with your husband.”

The beggar led her by the hand and she had to leave with him on foot. When they reached a huge forest she asked:

“Oh, to whom belongs the pretty wood?”
“It belongs to King Thrushbeard;
Had you only taken him, this would now be yours.”
“I, poor maid so delicate and tender,
Had I only taken King Thrushbeard!”

Then they came to a meadow, there she asked again:

“Oh, to whom belongs the pretty green field?”
“It belongs to King Thrushbeard:
Had you only taken him, this would now be yours.”
“I, poor maid so delicate and tender,
Had I only taken King Thrushbeard!”

Then they came to a big city, there she asked again:

“Oh, to whom belongs the pretty big city?”
“It belongs to King Thrushbeard;
Had you only taken him, this would now be yours.”
“I, poor maid so delicate and tender,
Had I only taken King Thrushbeard!”

“I don’t like it,” the street musician said, “that you are always wishing for another husband. Am I not good enough for you?” Finally they arrived at a small hut and the maiden spoke:

“Ach God! The house is so small,
To whom does this miserable tiny hut belong?”

The street musician replied: “This house is mine and yours, where we shall live together.”

She had to bend over to squeeze through the low door.

“Where are the servants?” the king’s daughter asked.

“What servants!” replied the beggar. “You must do for yourself what you want done. Make a fire immediately and put on some water so that you can cook my dinner; I am very tired.”

The king’s daughter didn’t know anything about making a fire and cooking. The beggar had to do it himself because things were going so badly. When they had eaten their meager fare, they went to bed immediately. But in the morning, he woke her very early because she had to tend the house. They lived a few days like this and finally had eaten their entire larder.

The husband spoke: “Wife, we can’t go on like this! We eat everything and earn nothing. You shall weave baskets.” He went out, cut willow branches and brought them home. She began to weave but the harsh willow cut her delicate hands until they were quite sore. “I see that this won’t work,” the husband said, “you should spin instead. Maybe you can do that better.”

She sat down and tried spinning, but the hard threads soon cut into her soft fingers, so that the blood ran down. “You see,” her husband said, “you aren’t good for any work! I made a poor bargain with you! Now I will try to start a business with pots and utensils. You shall sit at the market and sell the wares.”

Oh, she thought, if people from my father’s kingdom come to the market and see me sitting and selling goods, they will laugh at me!”

But it didn’t help. She had to bend if she didn’t want to die of hunger. The first time, things went well. People liked to buy goods from the woman because she was pretty and so they paid what she asked. Many even gave her money and left the pots behind. Now husband and wife could live from their earnings as long as it lasted. The husband bought more new utensils. The wife sat down at a corner of the market and set up her wares and began to sell. Suddenly a drunk Hussar raced through the market and rode directly into her pottery. Everything was smashed into a thousand bits. She began to cry and was so terrified, she did not know what to do. “Ach, what shall happen to me!” she cried, “What will my husband say?”

She ran home and told him of the misfortune. “Who is so dumb as to sit in the corner of the market selling wares?” the husband said. “Stop crying, I see that you are not good for any ordinary work. I have gone to our king’s castle and asked if they need a kitchen maid. They promised me they would take you and you will get a free dinner there.”

Now the king’s daughter had to become a kitchen maid, had to help the cook and do the most undesirable work. She filled her pockets with a pot-full of food and brought home what was left over. That is how they fed themselves.

Now it happened that the eldest of the king’s daughters was to marry. The poor wife went to the ballroom door and wanted to catch a glimpse of all the finery. When all the lights were lit, people entered the room, each one more beautiful than the last. Everything was illuminated in splendor and grandeur. It was with heavy heart that she remembered her fate. She cursed the pride and arrogance that had brought her so low and had pushed her into such poverty. From the exquisite dishes that were carried in and out, a pleasant aroma drifted over to her and a servant threw her a few crumbs. She was just about to take them home when all at once the king’s son entered. He was dressed in satin and silk and had a gold chain around his neck. And when he saw the beautiful woman standing by the door, he took her by the hand and wanted to dance with her. But she declined and recoiled because she saw it was King Thrushbeard. He had been her suitor before but she had rejected him with disdain. Her protestations did not help; he pulled her into the ballroom. The belt on which her bags were strung fell open so that the soup ran out and the crumbs floated all around. When the people saw it, they broke out in laughter and mocked her. She was so ashamed, she would rather have been lying a thousand fathoms below the ground. Jumping toward the door, she attempted fleeing. But standing at the stairs was a man who caught her and brought her back. And when she looked into his face, she saw it was King Thrushbeard. He spoke to her gently: “Fear not, I am one and the same as the musician. I lived with you in the miserable little hut. For you I have disguised myself, and the Hussar, who rode through your pottery, that was also me. This all happened to bend your proud heart and punish you for your arrogance, and the scorn you heaped upon me.”

The princess cried bitterly and said: “I have done great injustice and am not worth being your wife.”

But he replied “Console yourself, the hard days are over. Now we shall celebrate our wedding.”

The chambermaids arrived and dressed the maid in the finest of clothes. Her father and the entire court arrived and wished her much happiness in her marriage to King Thrushbeard. Now the real joy began. I wish you and I had been there.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Fairy Tale of Knight Goldbeard

A Swiss Fairy Tale: know them by the color of the their beards.Knight Goldbeard

Once a black horse appeared in the Visper Valley. On its back rode a proud knight, who did indeed look noble, but no one knew him. His saddle was sewn with bright strips of gold and the bridle of his horse was cut from the finest red leather. On his head he wore a silver helmet with an eagle’s plume, but his face was adorned with a beard that seemed to be spun from the finest golden threads. All the young maidens fell in love with this knight for he knew how to flatter them with his fine speech. They thought he had to be rich and he must be a prince because every day he took gifts from his pocket. First he gave presents to this one, then to that one, and then to everyone.

He lived in the largest house in the village. This house belonged to a family with one grown son and three beautiful daughters. The two older daughters were hated by all the villagers because they were haughty. But the youngest was loved by all and held in high esteem because of her gentleness and modesty. The youngest daughter loved music and often played her dulcimer so sweetly and fine that the birds themselves fell silent and the river through the valley rushed forward very softly when she sang. The knight often joked with the three sisters and teased them. First he took the older one aside and then the second sister. To each he said she was the chosen one of his heart’s desire. He whispered into the ear of each maid that she was the dearest of all. But she should not reveal this to the others. And so, each believed he loved her alone and guarded the secret.

Now the knight’s room was above the room of the youngest daughter. Each morning when the knight arose from bed, the youngest daughter heard three types of singing. The girl had never heard anything so beautiful; the sound was more wonderful than the string playing of the dulcimer. From the bottom of her heart she longed to learn this singing. For a long time she didn’t dare speak to the knight about it. But finally, when he declared that she was his dearest and would be his bride and stole a kiss, she asked him to teach her how to sing with three voices. He stroked her cheek and replied “Tomorrow in the afternoon we shall go out walking together, my little bride, high up in the woods. There I will teach you how to sing, so that you will fall silent when you hear your own song!” The girl rejoiced and could hardly wait until the next day.

The next morning she ran back and forth through the village, telling all that she would soon learn how to sing like the knight. He had promised it to her and a knight would surely keep his word. Knight Goldbeard had told the other two sisters the same thing. That morning bright and early he took the oldest daughter with him into the woods. She hung on his arm, looked around arrogantly and was filled with pride and joy. But soon he told her to kneel down, then he tied a a cord around the beautiful girl’s neck and hung her on a tree. He went back into the village and found the second daughter, who had been longing for him and waiting. She did not know what terrible fate awaited her. With pretty words he lured her into the woods, then tied the rope around her neck and hung her next to her sister on the tree.

After lunch, he took the third and youngest daughter out walking. She laughed and jumped like a mountain goat, was filled with joy and imagined how wonderful it would be when she could sing like the knight with three voices. He took her like the other two on his arm and told her beautiful stories. In the middle of the wood, he suddenly changed his voice and had her kneel down. She became terrified, folded her hands and gazed up to heaven. There she saw her two sisters hanging dead on the tree. She let out such a penetrating scream, rung her hands and begged him for mercy. But the knight said:

Now you too must die,
Two now hang on the pole I spy,
but the third shall be you!

When she saw that her pleading did not move the beast, she asked him to let her scream three times before he killed her. He replied with a hellish grin “Sing as you will my little turtledove. It won’t help you!”

They were in the thick forest where the larch trees grow close together and the view of the village was completely obstructed by the dense foliage. She let out the first of her screams

“Father come quickly come fast,
Or I shall breathe out my last!”

Everything remained silent. The knight stood next to her with rope in hand and small birds sang their evening song on the branch overhead. She sighed deeply and let out the second scream:

“Oh mother, come quickly come fast,
Or I shall breathe out my last!”

The wind rushed through the trunks of the trees and softly in the distance a hunting horn could be heard. She looked in to the stone-hard face of her murderer, who indicated she should hurry up and let out the third cry:

“Oh brother, come quickly come fast,
Or I shall breathe out my last!”

Her knees shook and full of terror she gazed on the man, who held the noose in front of her.

Suddenly something crashed through the brush; it was her brother. He had come from the hunt and had heard her screams. When he saw his sister kneeing before the villain, deathly pale and trembling like the needles of a fir tree, he called out:

“Your reward I shall now give,
Let my sister live!”

He slung back his rifle and shot the maiden-murderer through the head. Then he took the shaking girl by the hand and led her home saying:

“Here you can prosper and live,
But nevermore your trust to a knight give!”

The next day the two murdered sisters were buried.

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From the original German Text

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fairy Tale of Knight Bluebeard

Fairy Tale of Knight Bluebeard
(Translated from the German Text of Ludwig Bechtstein)

There once lived a powerful knight who had such enormous amounts of money and vast properties, that all his subjects led marvelous and lovely lives in his castle. Because he had a blue beard, everyone called him Bluebeard, but his true name has been lost in time. This knight had been married more than once. Some folks whispered behind their hands that all of his wives had died in quick succession, one after another. But no one could ever find out what the actual illness or cause had been. Now Knight Bluebeard went out courting again because there was a noble woman in his neighborhood. She had two beautiful daughters and several chivalrous sons and these siblings loved each other dearly. When Knight Bluebeard wanted to marry one of these daughters, neither one really had any desire. They were afraid of his blue beard and didn’t want to live apart. But the knight invited the mother, the daughters and the brothers to his large and very beautiful castle and provided them with pleasant pastimes and amusements, like hunting, feasting, dancing, playing and other happy festivities. Finally the youngest sister plucked up her courage and decided to become Knight Bluebeard’s wife. Soon thereafter a very splendid wedding ceremony was held.

After some time, Knight Bluebeard said to his young wife: “I must go away and give you charge of the entire castle, house and court, and everything belonging to it. Here are the keys to all the rooms and chambers. You can enter these rooms at any time. But this small golden key locks the farthest and smallest room at the end of the large hallway filled with rooms. Into this chamber, my dear, I prohibit you from going, as dear as my love is for you and as dear as your life is. If you open this chamber door, the most horrible punishment would await your curiosity. I would have to separate your head from body with my own hands!”

After hearing this speech the woman didn’t want to take the golden key. But she had to take it to keep it safely. And so she took leave from her husband with the promise that she wouldn’t think of opening the chamber door or entering the room.

When the knight had departed, the young wife received a visit from her sister and brothers, who liked to go hunting. Now they enjoyed the many pleasant things in each of the many castle chambers. Finally, the sisters arrived at the small room.

The wife did not want to open the door even though she was needled by enormous curiosity. But her sisters laughed at her concern and thought that Knight Bluebeard was keeping the most desirable and valuable treasures locked within because of his own stubbornness. And so with some trepidation, the wife put the key in the lock and the door flung open with a deep thump. In the poorly lit room could be seen – how horrible and shocking – the bloody heads of all the previous wives of Knight Bluebeard. Like the current wife, they had all suffered from their insatiable curiosity, which they could not overcome. The evil man had cut off their heads with his own hands. Shook to the core, the wife and sister now retreated. But in her horror the wife dropped the key and when she stooped over to pick it up, she saw drops of blood on it that she could not remove. It was also impossible to open the door again because the castle was enchanted. Soon the sound of horns announced the arrival of the knight before the castle gate.

The wife breathed a sigh of relief and thought it was her brothers who were returning from the hunt. But it was Knight Bluebeard himself, who had nothing better to do than ask his wife what she had done. When his wife approached him pale, trembling and troubled, he asked for the key. She said she would fetch it and he followed on her heels. When he saw the red droplets on the key, his expression was transformed into a rage and he screamed “Wife, you must now die by my own hand! I had left all power to you! Everything was yours! Your life was rich and beautiful! Your love to me was so miniscule, you bad maid, that you could not grant my one little request, you could not follow my earnest command. Prepare to die! It’s over for you!”

Filled with mortal terror, the wife ran to her sister and asked her to quickly run up to the tower and look out for her brothers. As soon she saw them, she should give a sign of dire distress, while she threw herself on the floor and pleaded for her life. And in between she called out “Sister! Don’t you see anyone?” --- “No one,” came the hopeless reply. – “Wife! Come down here!” Knight Bluebeard screamed. “Your time is up!”

“Sister, don’t you see anyone?” the maid cried. “A cloud of dust – but that is sheep!” the sister replied. “Wife! Come down here!” Knight Bluebeard screamed.

“Have mercy! I will come at once! Sister! Don’t you see anyone?”
“Two knights are coming mounted on steeds, they see my sign, they are riding like the wind!”

“Wife! Now I will come for you myself!” Knight Bluebeard thundered and he ran up the steps. But his wife gathered her courage, threw shut the door and held it fast. She and her sister cried out with all their might for help. Their brothers hastened like lightening, stormed up the stairs and were just arriving as Knight Bluebeard broke open the doors and entered the room with raised sword. After a brief fight, Knight Bluebeard lay dead on the floor. The wife was redeemed but could not overcome the pangs of her curiosity for a long time.

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Translation Copyright

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Grimm's Fairy Tale No. 175: The Moon

Nebra Sky Disk

The days are getting longer as we approach spring! Soon we will be setting our clocks forward so I encourage you to read the following fairy tale about the moon, the cosmos, and time itself (and follow the link below to read about a 3,600-year-old bronze age clock that told man it was spring).
Grimm’s Fairy Tale No. 175: The Moon

In ancient times there was a land where night was always dark. It was as if the heavens were covered by a black cloth that hung over it because there was no rising moon  and no star to blink through the vault of darkness. When the world was created, evening light had sufficed.

From this land four young men went out traveling. They reached another realm, where the sun vanished behind the mountains at night and where a bright ball stood on an oak tree pouring soft light far and wide. In this light you could still see everything and distinguish objects even if the light wasn’t as bright as the sun. The wanderers stood still and asked a farmer, who was driving by in his wagon what kind of light it was. “That is the moon,” he answered. “Our mayor bought it for three talers and fastened it to the oak tree. Every day he pours oil into it, keeps it clean, and makes sure it always burns brightly. For this work, he receives one taler from us every week.”

When the farmer had driven away, one of the four said “We could use a lamp like that. At home we have an oak tree that is just as big. We could hang the light there. How happy we would be if at night we didn’t have to grope around in the darkness!”

“Do you know what!” the second fellow said, “Let’s get a wagon and a horse and take the moon away with us. They can buy another one here.”

“I’m a good climber,” the third one said. “I will go and bring it down!” The fourth brought the wagon and horse and the third climbed the tree, drilled a hole in the moon, pulled a rope through and lowered it to the ground. When the glimmering sphere lay safely in the wagon, they placed a cloth over it so that no one would notice the theft. They brought it safely to their country and put it high up in an oak tree. Old and young alike rejoiced when the new lamp spread its light over all the fields and illuminated the rooms and chambers. The gnomes came out of their rock caves and the brownies in their red jackets danced their lovely roundelay in the meadows.

The four fellows filled the moon with oil, tended the wick and each week received one taler in exchange. But they became old men and when one took ill and foresaw his death, he arranged that the quarter of the moon that was his own would be buried along with him in his grave. When he died, the mayor climbed up the tree and using a hedge shear, cut a quarter off and placed it in his coffin. The light of the moon diminished, but not noticeably. When the second fellow died, the second quarter was placed in his grave and the light diminished again. It became even weaker with the death of the third fellow, who also took his portion. When the fourth man was laid in his grave, the old darkness returned. If people went out of their homes without lanterns, they bumped their heads against each other.

But when the portions of the moon were reunited in the underworld, the dead became restless where once darkness had ruled. They awoke from their sleep. They were amazed that they could see again: the light of the moon was enough, because their eyes had grown so weak they could not bear the light of the sun. They got up, became happy and resumed their old way of life. One group went out dancing and playing, others went out to taverns, where they demanded wine, got drunk, went wild and argued with each other. Finally, they raised their clubs and beat each other. The noise became louder and meaner and finally reached heaven itself.

Saint Peter, who guarded heaven’s gate, believed that the underworld had fallen into rebellion. He called out to the heavenly host to come together and fight back the evil one, who wanted to storm the domain of the blessed. But when they never arrived, he mounted his horse and rode through heaven’s gate down into the underworld. There he calmed the dead and told them to return to their graves. And he took the moon with him, where he hung it in heaven.

To read more about the Sky Disk of Nebra, a 3,600-year-old Bronze Age clock that told man it was spring and the oldest visual representation of the cosmos known to date, hit the link:

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Translation Copyright

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Grimm's Fairy Tale No. 37: The Remarkable Travels of Young Thumbling

Grimm’s Fairy Tale No. 37: The Remarkable Travels of Young Thumbling

There once was a farmer who sat by his hearth in the evening stoking the fire while his wife sat and spun. He said “It is so sad that we don’t have any children! It is so quiet in our house and in the other houses it is so loud and happy!”

“Yes,” his wife replied and sighed, “If we only had a wee child, even if he were as small as a thumb, I would be satisfied. We would love him anyway!”

Now it happened that the wife became ill and after seven months bore a child. All of the child’s limbs were properly shaped but it was not any bigger than a thumb. The couple said it was as they had wished and now the dear child was theirs. They named him Thumbling after his shape. They did not let the child lack for food but still he did not grow. Instead he remained as small as he had been in his first hour of life. But the child was quick-witted and there was a spark of understanding in his eyes. Soon he proved to be a very clever and nimble creature and was successful at everything he undertook.

One day the farmer was getting ready to go out into the forest to cut wood. He murmured to himself “Now I wish there was someone who could bring the wagon after me.”

“O father!” the Thumbling cried, “I”ll bring you the wagon, rest assured it will be there in the forest at the designated time.”

The farmer laughed and said “How will you do that? You are much too small to lead the horse by the rein.”

“That doesn’t matter, father. If only mother will harness up the horse, I will sit in the horse’s ear and call to him which way he should go.”

“Well,” the father replied, “we’ll try this once.”

When the hour came the mother harnessed the horse, placed Thumbling in the horse’s ear and then Thumbling called out which way the horse should walk. “Jueh and joh! Hott and har!” Everything went quite well as if an expert were driving the wagon. The horse followed the correct path into the forest. Now it happened that when he went around a corner and called out “Har, har!”, two strange men observed him. “My, my,” the one said, “what is this? A wagon is moving and a driver is calling to the horse, but I can’t seen anyone!”

“Something is foul,” the other one said. “Let’s follow the wagon and see where it stops.” But the wagon continued driving into the forest and stopped at the right place where the wood was being chopped. When Thumbling saw his father, he called “See father, I have come with the wagon, now get me down.” The father held the horse with his left hand and with his right hand picked up his son from the horse’s ear. Thumbling was so happy as he sat on blade of straw. When the two strange men saw Thumbling, they did not know what to say in their amazement. The one took the other to the side and whispered “Listen, the little lad could be our fortune if we let people see him in the big city for a lot of money; let’s sell him.” They went to the farmer and said “Sell us the little man, he will have it good with us.”

“No,” his father replied “He is my heart’s desire, my little darling! He’s not for sale for all the money in the world!”

But Thumbling, when he heard of the deal, climbed up the folds of his father’s coat, sat on his shoulder and whispered in his ear “Father give me to them, I will come back.” So the father gave him to the two men for a pretty penny.

“Where do you want to sit?” they asked him.

“Oh I will sit on the rim of your hat. Then I can walk back and forth and see something of the world and still I won’t fall down.:

They did what he asked and when Thumbling had said adieu to his father, they went on their way. They walked until it became dark. Thumbling spoke “Take me down, I have a need.”

“Stay up there,” the man replied, on whose head he sat. “What you do up there doesn’t matter to me. Even the birds leave their droppings on me now and then.”

“No,” Thumbling replied, “I know what is right and proper. Put me down quickly.”

The man took off his hat and placed Thumbling on a farmer’s field near the path. Thumbling jumped away and crept in between the clods of earth, then suddenly disappeared inside a mouse hole. “Good night gentlemen, you can go home without me,” he called out and laughed at them. They ran around the field, poking the ground with their sticks. But it was all for naught: Thumbling crept deeper and deeper into his mouse hole. Because it was getting dark, they went home angrily without their prize.

When Thumbling noticed that they were gone, he crawled out of his underground passage. “It is dangerous to walk on the farmer’s field in the dark.” he said. “How easy it would be to break your neck and legs!” But luckily he found an empty snail shell. “Praise God,” he said, “I can spend the night in safety here!” and he sat down inside. It was not long after, just when he wanted to go to sleep, that he heard two men walking by. The one man said to the other “How shall we go about robbing the rich parish priest of his money and silver?”

“I can tell you,” Thumbling interjected. “Who was that?” the one thief asked frightened. “I heard someone speaking!” They stopped and listened and Thumbling continued “Take me with you, I want to help you.”

“Who are you?”

“Look down at the ground and take note where the voice is coming from,” he replied.

The thieves finally found him and lifted him up. “You little shrimp! How could you possibly help us?”

“Look,” he replied, “I will creep between the iron bars of the priest’s chamber, then reach out and give you whatever you want.”

“Great,” they said, “We’ll see what you can do.”

But when they arrived at the priest’s home, Thumbling crawled into the parlor and screamed with all his might “Do you want everything that’s here?”

The thieves became frightened and said “Speak softly, so that no one wakes up!”

But Thumbling pretended he didn’t understand and screamed again “What do you want? Do you want everything that’s here?”

The cook sleeping in her bedchamber sat up in bed and listened. But the thieves had run in terror down the path. After collecting their wits and gathering their courage, they thought to themselves “The little rascal wants to tease us.” They came back and whispered “Now be serious and reach us something through the bars!”

Thumbling screamed out again, with all his might “I will give you everything, just reach inside with your hands!

The maid heard this quite clearly, jumped out of bed and stumbled to the door. The thieves ran away as if wild hunters were following them. But the maid, when she didn’t find anything amiss, made a light. While she was thus engaged, Thumbling snuck out into the barn. The maid carefully searched every corner; but finding nothing, she went back to bed. She thought she had dreamt it all, even with her eyes wide open.

Thumbling climbed into a blade of straw and was ready to make a comfortable spot for the night. He wanted to rest until daybreak and then return to his parents. But that was not to be! There is much grief and misery in the world! The maid got out of bed just as day was dawning. She went out to feed the cattle and her first stop was the barn, where she seized an arm full of hay. She happened to grasp precisely the piece that Thumbling was sleeping in. But he was so fast asleep, he didn’t notice anything until he was in the mouth of a cow, who had gathered him up along with the hay.

“Ach, God!” he cried out. “How did I get in this grinding mill?” But he soon figured out where he was. He had to be careful not to get caught and crushed between the cow’s teeth. Finally he slid down into the cow’s stomach. “They forgot to put in windows here,” he sputtered, “ No sun shines here and no light shines either.” In fact he was quite uncomfortable in these new quarters and the worst was that more and more hay landed on his head. It was becoming tighter and tighter around him. He finally called out in fear, as loud as he could “Don’t bring me any more food! Don’t bring me any more food!” The maid, who was milking the cow, heard the speech without seeing anyone. She noticed it was the same voice she had heard during the night. She was so frightened, she slipped off her stool and spilled the milk. She ran in haste to her master and cried “Ach God! Ach priest! The cow has spoken!”

“You’re crazy,” the priest replied and he went out to the barn himself to inspect the situation. He had hardly placed his foot in the door when Thumbling cried out again “Don’t bring me any more food! Don’t bring me any more food!”

The priest himself was extremely frightened. He thought an evil spirit had entered the cow and ordered it killed. When it was slaughtered the stomach, where Thumbling lay, was thrown on the manure heap. It was all Thumbling could do to break through the stomach’s walls. Finally he was able to stick out his head, but then another mishap occurred. A hungry wolf ran in and swallowed the stomach in one gulp. Thumbling did not lose courage. “Perhaps,” he thought to himself “the wolf will listen to reason.” He called to him out of his belly “Dear Wolf, I know a wonderful meal for you.”

“Where can I get it?” the wolf replied.

“In the house down the lane. Just creep through the back way and you will find cake, bacon and sausage, as much as your heart desires!” He described the precise way to his father’s house. The wolf did not have to hear this twice. At night he found the lane and ate a swath through the pantry. When he was finally satisfied, he wanted to leave, but he had become so fat, he could not take the same way out. Thumbling had already thought of this and now began to make a mighty noise in the belly of the wolf. “Be quiet!” the wolf said, “you will wake up the people!”

“Oh, what!” the little man replied, “You have eaten your fill, I want to have some fun too!” He began to scream again at the top of his voice. Finally his father and mother woke up, they ran into the room and looked through the crack into the pantry. When they saw the wolf lying there, they ran out. The man fetched his axe, the woman the scythe. “Stay back!” the man said when they entered the room. “If I hit him with the axe and he still isn’t dead, you must slice into him and cut his body.”

Thumbling heard the voice of his father and cried out “Dear father, I’m here. I’m inside the body of the wolf!”

The father cried out in joy “Thank God! Our dear child has found his way home again!” He had his wife put away her scythe so that Thumbling would not be harmed. He then hit the wolf so hard on the head, so that it fell down dead. The two then found knife and scissors and cut open the wolf’s belly. They pulled out the little man and the father said “Oh, how we worried about you!”

“Yes, father, I have traveled much in the world, but thank God I can breathe fresh air once more!”

“Where have you all been?”

“Oh father, I was in a mouse hole, a cow belly and the body of a wolf. But now I am back here with you!”

“And we will never sell you again for all the riches in the world,” the parents promised. They hugged and kissed their dear little Thumbling. They gave him food and drink and had new clothes made for him because his own clothes had become ruined on the trip.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Reading Grimm's Fairy Tale The Crystal Ball

Thinking About the Future: a Riddle Inside a Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma

Thinking About the Future in Fairy Tales: an Egg Yolk, Wrapped in an Eggshell, Locked in a Fire Bird, Concealed in a Wild Ox

(This blog entry discusses Grimm’s Fairy Tale The Crystal Ball. To read the fairy tale before reading the article, hit the link at right Crystal Ball Gazing).

In the very first sentence of Grimm’s fairy tale The Crystal Ball, we are introduced to a powerful sorceress, whose three sons are filled with deep brotherly love for each other. One can only expect trouble in such a family hierarchy and true to fairy tale form, the looming crisis is described succinctly. In many folk traditions wizards are persons of enormous importance. Others can only gaze upon them in a mixture of fear and wonder. This is the situation we find at the start of the tale and whether by intention or not, the sorceress’s three rather defenseless sons now find themselves up against powerful magic.

In pagan cultures sorcerers were doctors, conjurers, magicians, soothsayers, high priests and consultants in all things regarding war and peace. They were perhaps the most important individual in the community and were “obeyed more than the chief.” * The sorceress in this story seems to be engaged in a type of activity associated with shamans and referred to as blood-brotherhood. Here an alliance with a wild animal is sought in order to bring back to the magician the creature’s specific powers. This might even be alluded to in the brotherly love reference in the narrative. It was believed that the wizard could assume the form (or have others assume the form of) of an animal, and thus could enter the beast’s realm. The purpose was often to retrieve a sick or dying person, fetch the person’s soul or acquire mantic or divine knowledge. In this tale, the two older brothers are turned into eagle and whale, but the hero is left on land in the realm of the living. Thus, the story is laid out as a three-fold quest, with the seekers exploring land, air and water. The goal of the hero’s quest is the Castle of the Golden Sun.

But heroes are prone to be side-tracked and it is interesting that the first creatures the youngest brother encounters are two giants. In Deutsche Mythologie Jakob Grimm says that folk tradition viewed giants as the oldest creatures living on earth; they belonged to a stone age and represented the old nature-gods. They are unintelligent and their dim-wittedness is often juxtaposed with the keen intelligence of mortals. The giants confer on the protagonist his wishing cap, an indispensible aid to get wherever he needs to go. In other words it is the seeker’s encounter with the past that successfully catapults him forward into the future.

Instead of finding a lovely princess, the hero finds a shriveled and wrinkled hag. The fairy tale knows that human perception cannot grasp some truths directly. By gazing into a looking glass, the hero catches a glimpse of the most beautiful woman in the world. Perhaps we could say he has recognized the essence of her being, the divine self or the divine spark within. His first words of response are “How can you be redeemed? I will not avoid any danger.” But we know that his own redemption is also on the line.

It is only toward the end of the story we actually come to the crystal ball. In this tale it is not the typical spherical crystal used to foretell the future. Surprisingly it appears as a meager egg yolk, locked within an eggshell, embedded in a fire bird, concealed in a wild ox. (In other words a riddle inside a mystery wrapped in an enigma.) Our future has the promise and mystery of life itself but it is locked deep within our being and awaits transformation. This future is our own unfolding potentiality, but we must free ourselves from the powers that control us. It is perhaps fitting in this forward-looking tale that the couple is united by a pledge to their common future (but not by a wedding).

After overcoming obstacles aided by his spiritual helpers eagle and whale, the youth is crowned King of the Castle of the Golden Sun. This is reminiscent of other tales, most strikingly the Sun Prince (see link at right) and might be referencing the afterlife. Gold is the color associated with the gods and their dwellings and the realm of the gods would be an appropriate destination for a proper hero when he leaves this life.

Modern day rituals for thinking about the future seem meager compared to the world of the fairy tale. Perhaps we associate the act with worry or even fear of our own mortality. But we are still obsessed with the future, even if this longing is frequently only expressed in making New Year’s resolutions about weight loss. Imagining the future has always been a part of what it is to be human.

To read more about the fire bird or phoenix symbolism hit the following wiki-link:
(Sorry, the link doesn't work very well. Once you get to the Wikipedia site, keep clicking on the options for Phoenix_(mythology) and you eventually you'll get there).

* Writing about the nature of wizards/sorcerers in pagan cultures. Sir James Frazier says in The Golden Bough that “In all tribes … doctors are conjurers – are magicians – are sooth-sayers, and I had like to have said high-priests, inasmuch as they superintend and conduct all their religious ceremonies; they are looked upon by all as oracles of the nation. In all councils of war and peace, they have a seat with the chiefs, are regularly consulted before any public step is taken and the greatest deference and respect is paid to their opinions... the shaman was, and still is, perhaps the most important individual ... In the absence of any definite system of government, the word of a shaman has great weight: as a class they are regarded with much awe, and as a rule are obeyed much more than the chief.”” (Page 101 Sir James Frazier, The Golden Bough).

To read more about the high priests and prognosticators in fairy tales:

Or about a crystal ball:

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Monday, March 1, 2010

A Flibbertigibbet Named Squire Ludwig

Grimm’s Saga No. 285: The Doomed Surveyors

In times of old flibbertigibbets* were believed to flitter along the banks of streams, and in  fields they would move in-and-out of the stone boundary markers. It was said they had been surveyors, who had been deceitful when they measured the boundary markers. That is why they are damned for all time and after their lives must guard the boundaries forever.

(*Flibbertigibbets = phosphorescent lights that often appear at night in marshy places).

A Flibbertigibbet Named Squire Ludwig
Grimm’s Saga No. 286: Moved Boundary Stones
In a field near Eger a ghost can often be seen in the shape of a man. People call him Squire Ludwig. In times of old, someone by the same name had deceptively moved the boundary and border stones in the field. Soon after his death, this man began to wander about and frightened many who encountered him. In ancient times a girl from the city even saw him. She wandered out beyond the city gate and soon ended up in the notorious area. At the place where the boundary stones had allegedly been moved, a man approached her. He was said to have looked just like the evil squire. The flibbertigibbet approached, brushed past the maiden and touched her on her chest with his fist, then vanished. Horrified the girl returned home and said “I’ve had my full share!” They found the spot on her chest where the flibbertigibbet brushed against her and it had become black. She lay down in bed and three days later was dead.

To read more about Flibbertigibbets or strange fairy lights, click on the link:

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