Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Grimm's Fairy Tale No. 172: The Flounder

The mouth of a fish contemplated in a fairy tale:

For a long time the fish in the sea had been unhappy because there was no order in their kingdom. Fish did not give each other any leeway; each swam right and left, whatever he felt like. Some swam in between those who wanted to swim together. Others blocked the path and the stronger fish gave the weaker ones a slap with their tails, hurling them long distances. Or even worse, the bigger fish devoured the smaller ones. “How nice it would be if we had a king, who spoke law and justice amongst us,” they all said. They agreed they would vote one fish to be their leader; they would pick whoever could swim the fastest through the waves and bring help to the weaker ones.

They positioned themselves on shore, one after another in rank and file. The pike gave a sign with his tail and they all swam away. The pike shot through the waves like an arrow and the herring, gudgeon, perch, carp and all the rest as they are called followed after. The flounder also swam along and hoped to reach the finish line.

All at once a cry was heard “The herring is out in front! The herring is out in front!”

Who is out in front?” the bad-tempered flounder screamed morosely. He was swimming far behind. “Who is out in front?

The herring, the herring!” was the reply. “

The bare naked herring?” cried the envious flounder flabbergasted, “the bare naked herring?”

Since that time the mouth of the flounder has always been crooked as punishment for those unkind words.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

The Original May Queen, Tacitus and Led Zeppelin

Grimm’s Saga No. 365: The Sacred Sea of Hertha

Seven Germanic tribes lived between river and wood. They were called the Reudigner, Aviones, Angles, Warins, Eudoses, Suarthones and Nuithones*. They all worshipped Hertha, the Mother Earth, believing she involved herself in all human endeavors. The goddess came to the people driving a wagon. Her sacred forest, which had not been desecrated, was on an island in the sea. There her wagon stood enveloped by a cloth. Only a single priest was permitted to approach her. This priest knew the time when the goddess would appear in her sacred wagon. Two cows pulled her cart while everyone else followed behind reverently. Wherever the goddess went and whomever she honored with a visit, happiness and high times followed. No war was fought, no weapon seized, and everything made of iron was locked.

Peace and prosperity ruled the land and were desired by all. This lasted until the goddess had lived long enough among mortals; then the priest returned her to her sanctuary. The goddess along with wagon and cloth were then bathed in a remote lake. But the servants who assisted in this task were subsequently swallowed by its waters.

A secret terror and uncertain solemnity surrounded these matters, because anyone who witnessed the events, died immediately.

(*Names as recorded by Grimm).

A traipse through time: the trajectory of the May Queen, from pre-historical pagan ritual to Tacitus to the Brother's Grimm to Led Zeppelin to modern Druid celebrations.
This German saga by Grimm is based on an account by Tacitus. At first glance, the joyous spring procession described here might seem like a hippie-parade. The goddess Hertha (as translated by Grimm) or Nerthus (the name given her by Tacitus) is driving in a Zeltwagen, a cart covered with cloth or tent-like fabric (imagine a proto-historical VW camper, without any of the bells and whistles). This practical wagon was pulled on wooden wheels and served both as roving domicile and temple for the spring deity. Like a travel trailer, this goddess-vehicle was parked in a safe place for the winter, on an island in a sacred grove of trees. Hertha’s followers, male and female, probably all wore their hair long. According to Tacitus, many of the youthful male members of Germanic tribes combed their long locks to the side and tied these tresses into an enormous knot. Although Tacitus says these hair-dos were principally worn by young people, he sees this as a stature-enhancing ploy not tied to notions of beauty or adornment. Such hair-raising practices were intended to shock onlookers, especially enemies. The spring procession coincided with the first sprouting tree buds and it was the responsibility of the priest-consort to determine when this happened. The ritual was not without danger because the goddess- and cart-bathers did not survive after the wagon was returned to its garage for the winter. Most likely the helpers were slaves, who were subsequently pushed into the water and drowned. Although the spring procession ushered in a period of peace and prosperity (because tribes now turned their attentions to the more important pastimes of growing food and fishing from the sea) an underlying sense of terror and horror was never far from the surface of such celebrations. Remnants of the spring festival survived into the 12th century and beyond. But the goddess was now called the Pfingstkoenigin or Pentecost Queen. Later she was celebrated as the May Queen and her priest-consort became the May King. She was placed on a throne, draped in fine white cloth and honored with song and dance. In the seventies Led Zeppelin revived the May Queen in the popular rock ballad Stairway to Heaven. With her nature-loving ways (roving around in a camper, long hair and summer filled with music, love and peace, not to mention the high times that followed her) it is perhaps no wonder she was popular in the seventies. But May Queen celebrations have continued to the present, see the link below

To see a 2008 Druid's Beletane Celebration of the Blessing of the May Queen and King in Glastonbury, England hit the link and type in Druids' Beltane Celebration 2008 in the search box:

If you have the Sitzfleisch and can sit through the whole song, you can see wonderful hair and rather slow-moving pictures of Led Zeppelin performing Stairway to Heaven:

Or visit
and type in Stairway to Heaven

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Friday, May 14, 2010

An Ancient Tribe of Swiss Gnomes called the Gotwergeni

Life on the land can be quite hectic in springtime.
(Click on picture to enlarge.)

For people living close to the land, spring is a busy time and there are never enough helping hands to accomplish all the chores. In this saga lucky farmers in Switzerland are helped by a strange tribe of gnomes until scorn drives the creatures away. Another testimony to the hubris of mortals and a reminder to all gardeners to treat gnomes kindly.

In ancient times the Gotwergeni or gnomes were also at home in the Saas Valley region of Switzerland. In caves and cliffs they made their secret dwellings, where they practiced their peaceful arts and pursued their strange existence. This shy folk eschewed the light of day.

To good people they were known as helpers when there was hard work or distress or danger. They tended the cattle at night, watched over a sick animal in the stall, did their work in the fields of corn or hay when everyone else was sleeping and made sure misfortune did not visit the sleeper. But they were quiet and timid around the houses of godless men.

On starry nights they held their merry meetings on lonely boulders or in a quiet clearing in the larch forest.

But ungratefulness and malice took over the hearts of men and the Gotwergeni departed from the Saas Valley and settled in the crags and cliffs of Zeneggen. And when the people of the Zenegg savagely drove them off, the gnome folk left the region for ever.

Today there is a Gotwergeni grave at Mellig above the Hannig Alps which still reminds us of this lively little folk.

Behind Zermeiggern, the last continuously settled area of the Sass Valley, on the path to the Mattmark Lake, a rock slide ravaged the area in ancient times. A giant sea of boulders remains, today called the ABC-Gufer (gravel pile), and reminds the hiker of this avalanche. There is a Gotwergeni hole in the gravel, which once served the gnomes as dwelling.

Copyright Translation

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fairy Tale of Horse and Fox

Grimm’s Fairy Tale No. 132 Fox and Horse

A farmer had a trusted horse, but it had become so old it could no longer work. His master, not wanting to feed him anymore, said “I don’t need you now, but I still want to be good to you. Show me that you are strong enough to bring me a lion. Then I will keep you. But now go and leave my stall,” and he chased the horse far into the field. 

The horse was sad and went into the forest to find protection from the weather. He met the fox, who asked “Why are you hanging your head so and walking around alone?” “Oh,” the horse replied, “Stinginess and trust cannot live together in one house: my master forgot the service I performed faithfully for so many years and because I can no longer toil in the fields, he doesn’t want to feed me and has chased me away.” “Without giving you any consolation?” the fox asked. “The consolation was poor. He said, if I were strong enough to bring him a lion, he would keep me, but he knows that I can’t do that.” 

The fox replied “I will help you. Lie down and don’t move. Act as if you were dead.” The horse did what the fox asked. But the fox went to the lion, whose cave was nearby, “Out there lies a dead horse. Come out with me and you shall have a fine meal!” 

The lion went out and when they stood next to the horse the fox said “It’s not as nice here as you are usually accustomed to. You know what? I will tie your tail to the horse, so you can pull it in your cave and eat it in peace.” The lion liked this piece of advice. He positioned himself so that the fox could tie the horse to him. He stood very still. But the fox tied the lion’s feet together with the horse’s tail, and turned and pulled it tight so that it could not be broken by any amount of strength. When he had finished, he tapped the horse on the shoulder and said “Horse, pull.” 

The horse jumped up and pulled the lion away. The lion began to bellow so loud that the birds flew out of the trees, but the horse pulled him over the field to his master’s door. When the master saw everything, he saw the error of his ways and said to the horse “From now on you shall stay with me and have a good life and he gave him plenty of food to eat until he died.

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Garden-States and Merry Mornings

"Through the hedge and down the furrow,
Till he gets into his burrow." (Nicholas Breton)

This is the time gardeners take a closer look at the state of things. We relish the dewy morning and the glorious task of turning up the soil. We plow furrows in neat rows and plan where the cabbage and turnips will go. This is the season of lush green grass and clouds of lilacs in bloom. It’s only fitting to read a fairy tale in which the primary action takes place in the garden, down in the furrow to be exact!

The Buxtehude Hedgehog (Grimm’s Fairy Tale No. 187)

(Or: The Hare and the Hedgehog)

This story is really a lie, but there is some truth in it, for my grandfather who told the story to me, always said the following when he told it: “True it must be, my son, or you wouldn’t be able to tell it.” The story happened this way. It was a Sunday morning in autumn, just when the buckwheat was blooming, the sun had risen on the horizon and the wind blew softly through the stubble. The larks sang as they soared high in the air and the bees hummed busily round the buckwheat. People wore their Sunday best to church and all creatures were cheerful, the hedgehog too. He stood in front of his door with his arms crossed and looked out into the morning sunshine. He warbled a little song and sang as beautifully as any hedgehog can sing on a Sunday morning. While he stood there and trilled like a little bird, he suddenly had the idea that while his wife was washing and dressing the children, he would go out and take a little walk in the field to see how the turnips were doing. The turnips grew quite close to his house and it was his habit and that of his family to eat them. That is why he considered them to be his own.

No sooner thought than done. He closed the front door behind him and took the path to the field. He had not gone very far and was just about to go round the blackthorn bush, which marked the edge of the field, when he saw the hare. The hare was walking on ahead engaged in similar pursuits, namely looking after his cabbage. When the hedgehog saw the hare, he wished him good morning in a cordial way. But the hare, who in his own right was a distinguished gentleman and furthermore, was terribly conceited, did not respond to the hedgehog’s greeting. Instead with a scornful countenance he replied icily: “How is that you are already running about so early in the morning?”
“I’m going for a walk,” the hedgehog replied.
“A walk?” laughed the hare. “You should use your little legs for better things.”
This remark annoyed the hedgehog very much, who was a very good-natured fellow. He could tolerate anything except disparaging remarks about his legs, because they were naturally crooked.
“You imagine that you could do more with your legs?” he said.
“I do indeed,” the hare replied.
“Well, we will have to try it then,” the hedgehog said. “I bet that if we run a race, I will run faster than you.”
“You – with your crooked little legs?” the hare said. “That’s rich! But if you have such a keen desire let’s have a go at it – what shall we wager?”
“One gold coin and one bottle of brandy,” the hedgehog said.
“Accepted,” replied the hare. “Go ahead and we can start the race right now.”
“No, there is no need for such haste,” the hedgehog replied. “I haven’t had anything to eat. I want to go home first and have some breakfast. I’ll be back in an hour.”

With that, he left and the hare was satisfied. But on the way home he thought to himself: “The hare is counting that his long legs will win the day, but I will show him. He is indeed a refined gentleman but a stupid rabbit, and for that he will pay.” When he arrived home he said to his wife: “Wifey, dear, get dressed quickly, you must go with me to the field.”
“What is it?” his wife asked.
“I have made a bet with the hare for one gold coin and one bottle of brandy that I will win a race with him. And you will be there.”
“O my God, husband,” the wife began to cry, “Have you lost your mind? How can you race the hare?”
“Woman, silence your blabbermouth,” the hedgehog said, “that is my concern. Don’t interfere with a man’s business! Go now, get dressed and come along!”
What else could the wife of the hedgehog do? She had to comply but she did not like it. When they were walking together the hedgehog said to his wife: “Now listen very carefully to what I say. I will run the race up there in the long field. The hare will run in one furrow and I in the other. We will start up there. You have nothing else to do but to wait down here in the furrow. And when the hare comes running in his furrow, call out to him as he approaches and say: “I’m already here!”

And so they arrived in the field. The hedgehog indicated the spot to his wife and went up the hill. When he arrived at the top, the hare was already there. “Can we begin?” he asked.
“Of course,” the hedgehog replied.
“Then let’s go.”

Each positioned himself in his furrow. The hare counted: “On your mark, get set, go!” and off he ran down the hill like the rushing gale wind. But the hedgehog ran only three steps, then he crouched down in the furrow and sat there calmly. And when the hare arrived down below at the finish line at full speed, the hedgehog wife called out to him “I’m already here!”

The hare was astonished not a little, but believed that the hedgehog stood before him. For it is well-known that Mrs. Hedgehog looks exactly like her husband. “Something is quite strange here,” he cried out. “Let’s race again, in the opposite direction!”
And once again the hare took off like the storm wind and his long rabbit ears were pressed down to his skull. The wife of the hedgehog remained sitting calmly in her place, and when the hare arrived Mr. Hedgehog called out to the hare “I’m already here!”
The hare was beside himself with rage and cried “Once more, the other way!”
“All right,” the hedgehog replied. “As often as you wish.” So the hare ran seventy-three times, and the hedgehog always kept up. Each time, when the hare arrived at the top of the field or arrived at the finish line at the bottom, the hedgehog or his wife called out “I’m already here!”.

But the seventy-fourth time, the hare did not arrive at the finish line. He fell to the ground in the middle of the field, blood came out of his nose and he lay dead. The hedgehog took the gold coin and bottle of brandy that were his prize and called to his wife at the end of the furrow. Cheerfully they returned home. And if they have not died, they are still living today. And so it happened that on the Buxtehude Heath the hedgehog ran the hare to death and since that time no other hare has dared to run a race with the Buxtehude hedgehog.

The moral of the story is, first, no one (regardless of how distinguished he might be) should make fun of a small man, even if the small man is only a hedgehog. And second, it’s a very good idea to marry a woman of your own stature, one that looks exactly like you. Whoever is a hedgehog must make sure that his wife is also a hedgehog.

More gardening fairy tales:


Monday, May 3, 2010

From Gore to the Garden, French Fairy Tale of the Three Golden Apples

Fairy Tale for Spring Gardeners: The protagonist in this fairy tale shows that the best way to a splendid garden is to sit back and mumble magic spells. (This hasn't worked in my garden, so you might have to try some good ol’ elbow grease in yours.)

This fairy tale is rather long (I suggest printing it out, perhaps, instead of reading it online). I include it here because it forms a nice link between the grizzlier themes found in the preceding fairy tales (Knights Bluebeard, Goldbeard, and Redbeard ) and happier, livelier notions of chutzpah winning the day. It not only features supernatural hair, but talking animals and a lazy gardener, who of course is destined for great things. The story enumerates everything a gardener needs to be successful, including a wide-brimmed straw hat. The only essential ingredients missing from the narrative are thunder, lightening and rain (sounds which should be soothing to all gardeners according to fairy tale wisdom!) It also features tattooing, the only account I am aware of in a fairy tale! To read more about the somewhat gory mythology of fairy tale gardening, hit the link: Goldbeard Variations

The Three Golden Apples

After nine years of marriage, a poor couple had no less than nine children. They were full of despair because they did not know how they would feed them all. In their desperation they decided to get rid of the oldest son. He was already nine years old and could perhaps make his way in the world. They sent him away although he cried and cried. Soon the boy was lost in a foreign and inhospitable land. But look: there came a magnificent carriage, drawn by a white steed. Inside sat a lady clothed entirely in white (she was, of course, the devil incarnate).

The abandoned boy bravely stopped the coach and asked the lady to take him with her. She listened politely, let him climb into the carriage and drove back with him to her house. The boy received everything he desired there. He had his fill of food and drink. The mistress of the house gave him the keys to every room, which he now could visit as he wished. There was only one door, which he was forbidden to open. It was strictly prohibited to enter this room.

In the beginning, everything went well. But gradually curiosity needled the boy and he was soon possessed with a burning desire to enter the forbidden room and find out the secret that lay hidden there. For some time fear held him back, but the temptation of knowing what was forbidden became stronger each day. So he entered the forbidden room. But oh terror! The door slammed shut behind him and he was locked inside.

In this strange room he looked around and saw the dead bodies of people hanging in every corner. He was only a few moments in this chamber when the lady in white entered. She had already searched for him and entered the room in rage. She threatened the curious boy with the same fate that had befallen the others, whose earthly shells now hung in the room.
The child fell to its knees and begged for forgiveness. After hesitating for quite a while, the lady was moved to forgive him. But he had to promise again that he would never enter this room. For if he did, it would be over for him.

Some time passed. But the memory of the forbidden room would not leave the youth, who in the meantime had grown into a young man. One day he believed he had found a solution. He would enter and keep the door open by taking a splinter of wood and slipping it between the door and frame. In this way he would be able to leave the room. No sooner said than done. But in that moment, when he let go of the door, the splinter broke under the weight of it slamming shut and once again he was locked in. The curious youth now believed all to be lost. As he measured the interior of the room, he saw a light in the corner. He approached the luminescence and crept inside. Suddenly he found himself in a stall, in which a horse, mule and donkey stood. All three were wonderful animals. The youth ran his hand over each animal and said in amazement “What a beautiful horse, what a beautiful mule, what a beautiful donkey!”

The first of the animals entreated him not to repeat these words. Then the beast lowered his voice and whispered “What you see here are not the usual animals, but rather unfortunate men, who have been cursed and transformed into animals. You are in the house of the devil, but we can help you escape because we have certain tools at our disposal. Take three hairs from my mane and never release them from your hand. Always when you say “By the hairs of my horse Bayard” all of your wishes will be fulfilled and you will have unlimited power. Also put on this wide-brimmed straw hat and never take it off. Your hair must always be completely covered.” (His hair, which had been black before, was now golden). “And you must take with you three things: a splinter of wood, a pail and a brush.”

Equipped with these tools, he hastened away because the woman in white was certainly already after him

It was true. The runaway glimpsed the white lady behind him getting closer. He seized the tools that had been given him. He threw the wood splinter to the ground and called: “By the hairs of my horse Bayard I wish that a giant mountain would grow between me and the devil!”

In that moment his wish became reality and allowed him to gain time ahead of his pursuer. But after some time she was again hot on his heels. He now threw down the pail and called “By the hairs of my horse Bayard, I wish that an enormous ocean lay between me and the devil!” Immediately an ocean was there and he gained more time.

A third time the hellish lady in white approached, ready to grab the runaway. The youth threw down the brush and called “By the hairs of my horse Bayard I wish that an impenetrable forest would grow between me and the devil!”

This, too, happened. The devil fell far behind the runaway. But now he had nothing more to throw down. Luckily he had reached sacred ground, where the devil has no power.

After he roamed around some time, the youth presented himself to the king, who granted his request to become a gardener. But the king commanded him: “In three days time my oldest daughter shall marry. I would like my garden to be designed according to my plans for this celebration!”

The new gardener promised to do everything that was requested, but instead of going to work immediately, he went out strolling the entire first and second day. The king was astonished at such idle inactivity. On the second day he called the youth and said “Do you not know that my garden must be finished at the set hour? I don’t think you can waste any more time!”

“Fear not,” the gardener replied. “Everything will be completed according to your instructions at the appointed hour.” And to the amazement of the king, the sly gardener returned to his lazy ways.

On the morning of the third day the gardener still did not lift a finger. The king became annoyed, turned green and blue with rage and threatened to dismiss the carefree servant. But when the gardener once again solemnly promised that everything would be ready by the pre-arranged hour, the king calmed down and allowed the gardener to act according to how he saw fit. Finally there were only ten minutes left before the appointed time. The youth now turned to his magic charms and said “By the hairs of my horse Bayard, I wish that the king’s garden would look like he desires it to look!”

Immediately before the eyes of the amazed onlookers, the garden underwent a complete and quick transformation. The king no longer talked about dismissal. The oldest king’s daughter married the prince. Some time later the second daughter also married a man of noble birth. Now the old king searched for husband for his youngest daughter, a suitor who was just as well-bred. But the young maid bridled against her father’s wishes. In the meantime, she had fallen head-over-heels in love with the gardener. One strand of golden hair had fallen out from beneath the hat, which the gardener always wore. This single lock of hair ignited the passion of the princess.

When the king heard the news, he was very surprised. But he had to bend to the will of the obstinate young maid, who refused any other man but the gardener. The gardener became his son-in-law, but he seemed so simple and ungainly, as the other two grooms had been polished and proud. To each the king gave an apple and declared that the one who preserved his apple best and to the greatest benefit of all would be the king’s successor.

Some time thereafter the king was drawn into a war. He was already quite old, but sent the young princes out into the field. The first two mounted fine steeds. The gardener selected the weakest old mare in the stable, despite all the advice given him. They warned him that this animal was doomed to plodding along and in an emergency, he would not be able to escape an enemy pursuit. Still the gardener insisted on his choice and rode off without haste behind his two brothers-in-law, who soon vanished on the horizon ahead. The youth arrived some time later at the place of war. When the enemy was visible, he only said “By the three hairs of my horse Bayard, I wish defeat to the enemy!”

It happened as he wished it. Both princes returned home in haste to report the victory to the king, which they took complete credit for. The king believed them. How could he assume that the blockhead of a gardener, who couldn’t even sit properly on his horse, would even be capable of performing a famous deed?

Soon thereafter the king became ill. The doctor said the king would only recover if he ate the flesh of the largest and most hideous of all snakes. The three sons-in-law went out in pursuit. The first two, sat high and proud on their steeds. The third sat on the same old mare, which had carried him into battle. After many hours of searching in vain and a thousand detours, the two princes wanted to return. But they soon saw the catch the gardener had made. He spoke his magic words: “By the three hairs of my horse Bayard, the largest of all snakes should lie dead at my feet.” In that moment, his wish was fulfilled.

Both princes wanted nothing else but to appear before the king themselves as snake-slayer. The gardener had nothing against this, if they would give him their gold apples. They agreed to the trade. The gardener returned to the castle with empty arms and was greeted with disdain.

The king soon became ill again. This time he desired the flesh of the largest eagle. Once again the three sons-in-law went out together in pursuit. The same thing happened as the first two times. The gardener killed the bird and the two princes brought back the quarry. But in return for the prize, they had to allow three pin pricks to be imprinted in triangular shape on their bottoms, and this did indeed hurt.

Finally the day came when the king would decide who was the most virtuous of his sons-in-law and assume the crown. He called them and their wives to his palace so that they would bring their apples. The first two brought artificial apples, because they had lost the real ones. But the sly gardener placed three apples before the king, who immediately recognized the fruits by a special mark he had scratched into them in secret. The king wanted to know how these things had happened. The gardener explained everything quite precisely down to the last hair. The ruler now knew who had overcome the enemy in battle, who had killed the giant snake and who had killed the enormous eagle. The gardener supplied all the proofs while the princes stood there gaping. He even showed the king the three pin pricks decorating the bottoms of the princes as reward for the eagle.

Because he was now convinced of his virtue and courage, the king declared the gardener his successor. He now had to remove his straw hat and showed everyone his wonderful golden hair. The king was no longer amazed about the choice his youngest daughter had made.

Further reading:

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