Friday, July 30, 2010

The Oath Against Tyranny

Grimm’s Saga No. 517: The Confederacy in Ruetli

(Part of the Wilhelm Tell Saga from Switzerland)

A man from Schwyz called
Stoeffacher lived near Steinen, the fortress. Here he built a very fine house. One day Grissler rode by, the magistrate of the Kingdom of Handen in Uri and Schwyz. He called out to Stoeffacher and asked him whose fine little house it was. The man replied: “It is your grace and my land in fee.” The man did not dare say it was his own. Grissler said nothing and rode home.Now Stoeffacher was a smart and intelligent man. He also had a pious and wise wife. And so he took the matter to heart and believed the magistrate would soon take all of their earthly possessions. His wife, seeing how her husband despaired, asked him to tell her everything. She said “Go and tell your friends, they will give you wise council.” So quickly three men were called together, one from Uri, one from Schwyz and one from Unterwaldner (the one whose father had been made blind). In secret these three men swore the first oath marking the beginning of the eternal Swiss confederacy. This oath elevated the rule of law and justice, suppressed unfairness and punished evil deeds. That is why God blessed the men with good fortune. But if they wanted to carry out attacks, they would assemble at Mittenstein, at the end as it is called in Bettlin, where they met to confer in Ruetli.

Translation Copyright

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Mid-Summer Revelry of Fairy Folk

Grimm’s Saga No. 31

The Wee Folk’s Wedding Feast

Wee folk lived in Eilenburg Castle in Saxony. Once these fairy folk wanted to celebrate a wedding feast and so it happened that they crept through every key hole and window crack of the great house. They jumped down onto the smooth wooden floor like little peas being poured onto a threshing mat. But the old duke, who was sleeping in the room in his high four-poster bed, awoke. He was exceedingly amazed when he gazed upon the wee folk assembling in his chamber. One of them approached, wearing a costume like a herald. Using fitting words, he invited the duke to participate in the feast.

“But one thing we ask,” he added. “Only you may attend the celebration, none of your household may gaze upon the party, and may not in stealth take even one peek.”

The old duke responded courteously: “Because my sleep has already been disturbed, I will stay with you.” A delicate little wife was brought before him, small lamp carriers positioned themselves on either side and the sweet sounds of music started up. The duke had trouble keeping up with the little wife while dancing. The fairy sprang and jumped so sprightly and finally whirled around so swiftly, that he could hardly catch his breath. But in the middle of this cheerful dance suddenly everything fell quiet. The music stopped and the entire lot scurried through door cracks, mouse holes and every other escape hatch. But bride and groom, heralds and dancers all looked up at an opening high up in the ceiling of the room. There they discovered the face of the old duchess, peering down on the merry scene. With that they all bowed before the duke and the herald, who had invited him, stepped forward once more and thanked him for his kind hospitality.

“But because our joy and our wedding have been interrupted by another human’s eyes gazing upon us, from now on your descendants shall not count more than seven Eilenburgs at one time.”

And then they all scurried out one after another from that place. Soon it was quiet and the old duke found himself alone in his dark room. The enchantment has lasted to the present day and always when there are six living knights of Eilenburg, one dies before the seventh is born.


Friday, July 16, 2010

The Wild Fairies of Wunderberg Mountain

The Wild Fairies of Wunderberg Mountain, Grimm's Saga No. 50

Folks and farmers of Groedicher reported in 1753 that wild fairies of Wunderberg Mountain came down from the hills and visited young children, maids and lads alike. At first these wild fairies or Woods Wives of Wunderberg as they were called, offered the children pieces of bread when they grazed their cattle in the clearing near Glanegg.

Time and again the wild fairies visited this clearing in the meadow during the grain harvest. They came down from the hills early in the morning and in the evening when other people went home after work, these wives went out and entered Wunderberg without taking their evening meal.

Once it happened that a small chap sat on his horse next to Wunderberg Mountain and his horse was harnessed to the wagon his father was using for threshing the field. Once again the Wild Wives came down from the hill and wanted to carry the boy away using force. 

But the father, who knew the secrets and habits of these mountain fairies, rushed toward the women without fear and took the child from them with the words: “What audacity! What cheek! To visit my field so many times and now you even want to take away my little boy! What do you intend to do with him?” 

The fairies replied: “We will take better care of him and he will have it better with us! We will dote on the little fellow, nothing bad will befall him if he comes with us!” But the father would not let go of the child, and gripped him tightly in his hands. The wild women cried bitter tears but finally departed.

Once the wild women came out of the Wunderberg near the Grinding Mill or the Ball Mill, which was called Place of the Ball because it was close to the summit. They snatched a boy, who was grazing cattle in the meadow. This boy, whom everyone knew, was first seen again by woodcutters more than a year later. But now he was wearing a green shift and sat on a tree trunk. The next day his parents went out to find him, but it was all for naught. The child was never seen again.

It often happened that a wild fairy came out of the Wunderberg walking toward the village of Anif. This village lay one-half-hour away from Berg. Once there, the wild wife dug holes and storage caches in the mountain. She had extraordinarily long and beautiful hair, which almost touched her heels. A farmer from the village often saw this woman walking back and forth. He fell in love with her immediately, mainly because of her beautiful hair. He could not help himself from going to her, gazed upon her longingly with pleasure and finally, in his simple-mindedness, entered her little cave-hole without being shy at all. No one said anything or even mentioned how unseemly it was. 

But the second night the wild fairy asked the farmer if he didn’t have a wife of his own. The farmer lied about his wife and said no. But his true wife was wondering where her husband spent the nights and slept. She therefore followed him and found him sleeping in the meadow beside the wild fairy. “May God save your beautiful hair!” the woman said to the wild fairy. “What are you doing here with each other?” 

After saying these words the farmer’s wife left them, but the farmer was terrified. The wild fairy wife accused the man of unfaithfulness and said “If your wife had expressed hatred or anger toward me, you would now be unhappy and no longer able to depart from this spot. But because your wife wasn’t so angry, go home to her and love her and do not try again to come here. For it is written: “Each shall live faithfully with his wedded wife! Alas the power of these words has diminished over time along with the fortune of married couples! Now take this shoe full of gold, go home and never turn around again.” 

More tales about wild faeries:

And about gnomes:


Monday, July 12, 2010

The King of all Carrots

(Illustration Tomi Ungerer, Das Grosse Liederbuch, Diogenes Verlag)

Grimm’s Fairy Tale No. 146 The Carrot King

Once there lived two brothers, both serving as soldiers. One brother was rich, the other poor. The poor one, seeking to alleviate his dire need, took off his soldier’s uniform and became a farmer. Now he spent his time digging, hoeing and hacking his little acre and sowed a row of carrots. The seed sprouted and a carrot soon grew that was so large and strong and noticeably thicker than the others. In fact, it would not stop growing. One could even say it was the Crown Prince or Ruler of all Carrots because never again has there been such a carrot (nor, I suspect, shall there ever be another one like it). Finally it was so big that it filled up an entire wagon and two oxen were required to pull it. The farmer did not know what to do with the thing, and he wondered whether the carrot was his fortune or misfortune. Finally he thought to himself “If you sell it, what great reward will you fetch? And the smaller carrots are just as good for eating. It is best that you present it to the king and honor him with the gift.”

So he loaded the carrot on his wagon, hitched up two oxen and drove to court to present the carrot to the king. “What kind of strange thing have you brought?” the king asked. “I have seen many odd things in my day, but never such a monster. From what type of seed could this have grown? Or perhaps, the vegetable has only grown this way for you because you are a child of fortune.”

“Oh no,” the farmer replied. “I am no fortune’s child. I am a poor soldier who could no longer feed himself. So I hung my soldier’s uniform on a nail and now tend the soil. I have a brother who is rich, whom you certainly know. But I have nothing and have been forgotten by the world.”

The king felt compassion for him and said “You shall overcome your poverty and will receive presents from me so that you shall be the equal of your rich brother.”

The king gave him enormous amounts of gold, farmland, fields and cattle and made him stone-rich, so that the riches of his brother did not compare. When his brother heard what had been accomplished with a single carrot, he was overcome with jealously and plotted how he, too, could secure such fortune for himself. But he wanted to do it in a much smarter way so he took gold and horses and brought them to the king. He thought the king would give him much greater riches in return, because his brother had received so much for a single carrot. The king received the brother’s gift and said, he did not know what to give him in return that could be rarer or better than the large carrot. So the rich brother had to accept his brother’s carrot as present from the king. He put it in his wagon and drove home. At home he did not know on whom he could take out his rage and anger until finally an evil thought came to him. He decided to kill his brother and so he hired murderers, who were instructed to lay in waiting. He now went to his brother and said “Dear brother, I know a secret treasure. Let us go out together, unearth it and share it.”

The brother let himself be convinced and innocently went along. But when they were walking, the murderers fell upon him, tied him up and wanted to hang him on a tree. They were just about to carry out the evil deed when the sound of song and the beating of hooves could be heard in the distance. Such a terror seized them, that in their haste they pushed their prisoner into a sack, hung it on a tree and took flight. But the prisoner worked nimbly with his fingers until there was a hole in the sack, through which he could stick his head. But who should be the next one to come down the path but a wandering student, a young fellow who rode through the forest singing loudly. When the one hanging in the sack noticed that someone was passing below he called out “Greetings to you in this fine hour.”

The student looked all around and did not know from where the voice came. Finally he said “Who is calling me?” From the treetop the prisoner now called “Raise your eyes. I am sitting up here in the sack of wisdom. In only a short amount of time I have learned many things, among them that all learning is as elusive as the wind. Soon I will have mastered everything, will come down and be wiser than all humankind. I understand the stars and can read the signs of the heavens, can decipher the blowing of the winds, the sand in the sea, know all manner of healing sickness, recognize the powers of herbs, birds and stones. If you sat here in my place, you too would soon understand the wonder that flows out of my sack of wisdom.”

When the student heard all this he was amazed and said “Blessed be the hour when I found you. Couldn’t I too sit a while in the sack?” From above the prisoner replied as if he did not relish the idea. “I will let you sit here for a very short time in return for a reward and good words. But you must wait another hour; I still have to learn a bit more.”

When the student had waited a bit, he began to be restless. The time seemed too long and he begged immediate entry to the sack; his thirst for wisdom was far too great to wait any longer. The prisoner in the sack pretended he had finally given in and said “So that I can emerge from this cocoon of wisdom, you must lower the sack by that rope tied to the tree. Then you can crawl inside.”

The student lowered the sack, opened it and freed the man inside. Then he called out eagerly “Now pull me up into the tree quickly!” He wanted to walk into the sack standing upright. “Stop!” cried out the other. “That won’t do at all!” He grabbed him by the head and pushed him in backwards, tied the opening around his head and pulled the disciple of wisdom up into the tree, where he swayed back and forth in the air. “How do you fare up there my dear fellow? See, don’t you already feel wisdom dawning with experience? Now sit quietly until you become much smarter than you already are.”

And so he mounted the student’s horse, rode away and after an hour sent out someone to let the fellow out of the tree.

More gardening fairy tales:

Click on the link to read more fairy tales:


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ringo Starr, Teutonic Knights and Peace in Time

Grimm’s Saga No. 535: Andreas von Sangerwitz, Grand Master of Christburg

600 years ago (plus one week) a famous Teutonic knight broke with tradition and wished for love and peace in his time: his pleas went unheard and the consequences were dire (see fairy tale below). Today on July 7th 2010, we find ourselves wishing for the same thing as Ringo Starr celebrates his 70th birthday with a concert at Radio City Music Hall. Today Ringo instructs us to break with tradition and wish for peace and love in our time. (Click here to read about about Ringo's Birthday with a Little Help from his Friends.) But back to the world of the fairy tale.

The saga below recalls a bloody and violent historical event, which ended poorly for the knights involved. After the battle described in the story, the power and influence of the Teutonic Knights were greatly curtailed (perhaps ultimately bringing a bit more peace and love to the region). The self-igniting beard and other weird hair themes of this story should be read within the overall context of supernatural hair, which you can read about by clicking on the link.

And finally, to find out more about Teutonic Knights, hit the Wiki-link.

On July 15 in the year 1410 near Tannenberg a great battle was fought in Prussia between the Teutonic Knights and Vladislav, King of Poland. It ended in utter defeat for the order of Teutonic Knights. Even Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen was killed in battle. The Polish King Vladislav had the Grand Master’s corpse sent to the Brothers of Osterode and they buried him in Marienburg. But the Grand Master’s chin and beard were cut off and sent to Krakau, where they are still shown today (that is, in the time of Caspar Schuetzen). But at the war council when the Grand Master consulted his advisors, the Grand Master of Christburg, Andreas Sangerwitz a German nobleman by birth, called out for peace even though almost everyone was in favor of war and the enemy was already advancing in the country. This vexed von Sangerwitz to no end for everyone thought he held back out of fear or timidity. But he, having no less heart and even more good humor and intelligence, said: “I have advised Your Grace to strike up peace, because I think and understand it to be the best option in these trying times. But because God has determined otherwise and it is also Your Grace’s pleasure, I must follow you into the future battle, come what may. I will stand by you like a man and give life and limb for you as faithfully as I advised you to seek peace.” As an honorable knight, Andreas Sangerwitz also did what he said. Like the Grand Master, he fell in battle at Walstatt after fighting bravely against the enemy. When Grand Master von Sangerwitz was riding out to battle in full armament, he met the Master of the Choir who ridiculed him and asked him scornfully whom he had left behind in charge of his castle during his absence. Enraged he replied: “I leave it to you and the devils who have advised this war!

Afterward, when the battle was over and the Grand Master was dead, devilry and ghostly specters began to shake and rule that place, so that no human being could remain or dwell within the castle. As soon as the brothers of the order sat down to eat, all bowls and goblets were instantly full of blood. (But when the surviving knights ate outside of the castle, nothing of the sort happened.) When the servants wanted to enter the stable, they found themselves in the cellar instead and drank so much wine that they could not remember their actions. When the cook and his helpers entered the kitchen, they found horses standing there. The room had become a stall. If the master of the cellar wanted to do his work, instead of finding wine and beer barrels in the cellar he found pots, bellows and water troughs. The same nonsense occurred in all matters and in all places. Things were even stranger and much worse for the new Grand Master who came from Frauenberg. Once he was hung up by his beard in the castle fountain. Another time he was thrown onto the top-most roof of the castle. It was only with enormous difficulty and great peril to his person that he was brought down safely from the roof. A third time his beard self-ignited and began to burn, so that his face was severely injured. He also could not extinguish the flames with water and only when he ran out of the doomed castle did the fire go out. That is why no more Grand Masters wanted to live there. It was abandoned by all successors and called the devil’s dwelling according to the deceased Grand Master’s prophecy.

Two years after the battle a man from Christburg returned home. He had been on pilgrimage to Rome during the war. When he heard of the ghostly presence in the castle, he went there at noon one day. He wanted to experience the truth himself or perhaps he had brought a relic with him, which he thought to use against the ghosts. He met the Grand Master’s brother on the bridge, who had also laid down his life in the battle. He quickly recognized the man, because he had stood as godfather for one of his children. His name was Otto von Sangerwitz and because he thought it was a living man that he met, he approached and said: “Dear Godfather, how happy am I to see you so healthy and fresh; someone tried to convince me you had been killed. I am happy that things are better than I thought. And how are things in this castle, of which so many strange things are said?
The devil’s ghost replied: “Come along and you shall see how house is kept here. The smithy followed him up the spiral stair; when they reached the first floor, they found it jammed full people playing cards and throwing dice; everyone was laughing, cursing both the wounded and martyrs alike. In the next room throngs of people sat crowded around a table. Only gluttony and drinking could be seen in that room. From there they went into the great hall where they found many men, women, maidens and gallants. But only the music of strumming, singing and dancing could be heard and only wanton behavior and disgraceful acts seen. Now they entered the chapel. A priest stood before the altar as if he wanted to say mass, but the members of the choir sat on their chairs sleeping. Afterward when they left the castle, they immediately heard such mournful howling, crying and screaming, that the smithy became scared and thought the place couldn’t be more wretched than hell itself.His godfather spoke to him: “Go and tell the new Grand Master what you have seen and heard.” With these words he vanished, but the smithy was so terrified that a shudder went through his body, chilling him down to his toes. Still intending to follow the command, he returned to the new Grand Master and told him everything as it had happened. The Grand Master was enraged, said these were only imagined things that would bring shame upon his honorable order. And so, he had the smithy thrown into a pool of water and drowned.


External links for further reading:
To read more about the Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen:

To understand the meaning and usage of the term Grand Master: