Monday, December 13, 2010

A Medieval Christmas Carol: King Charles the Fat Encounters His Christmas Ghost

Grimm’s Saga No. 467: King Charles Sees his Ancestors in Hell and in Paradise

On Christmas Eve King Charles (The Fat) lay in bed early in the morning wanting to rest after the long mass. He was almost asleep when he heard a terrifying voice that spoke to him: “Charles, your spirit shall now leave your body, you shall see God’s judgment and then you will return again!” Immediately his ghost left his body and he found himself in the presence of a spirit that was completely white. It held an illuminated thread that shone as brightly as a falling star and said: “Hold onto the end of this string, bind it firmly around the thumb of your right hand. I will lead you to the place of infernal agony.” After these words the spirit stepped in front of him, unwound the thread from a glowing ball and led him through deep valleys filled with smoking pools and fountains. In these fountains boiled sulfur, pitch, lead and wax. There he recognized the bishops and priests from the time of his father and ancestors. Charles fearfully asked them why they were to suffer such torments. They replied, “Because we spread war and discord among the nobility instead of admonishing peace.”

While they were still talking, black demons flew toward him riding glowing hooks and they all tried to seize the string the king was holding. But they could not do it because of the king’s quick thinking and they all had to fall back. Now coming from behind, the devils  wanted to pull Charles with their long hooks and induce him to fall. But the spirit guiding him wrapped the thread around his shoulders and held him back tightly.

They then climbed a high mountain, at the foot of which smoldering rivers and seas lay. Here he found the souls of his father’s people, his ancestors and brothers submerged by the boiling water up to their scalps, others stood up to their chins, still others were submerged up to their navels. They lurched toward him crying “Charles, Charles. Because we committed murder, war and robbery we must remain in these tortures!” And behind them others screamed. He turned around and saw on the banks of the river iron ovens full of dragons and snakes, and he recognized the faces of many men known from among the nobility. One of the dragons flew toward him and wanted to ensnare him. But his guide bound a loop of the thread around him a third time, restraining him by the shoulders.

Finally they reached an enormous valley, which was light on one side. But the other side was completely immersed in darkness. Several kings, all of them his ancestors, lay there in  darkness in horrible agony. Peering through the light emanating from the thread, Charles recognized his own father in the boiling water, King Ludwig, who now pitiably admonished him and showed two equal-sized vats to the left. They had been prepared for him if he did not do penance for his sins. He was terrified but his guide brought him safely to the illuminated side of the valley. Here Charles saw his Uncle Lothar sitting on a large gem. Other kings sat round him, crowned and in bliss; They warned him and announced that his kingdom would not last much longer, but his realm would go to Ludwig, Lothar’s daughter’s son. When Charles saw this child, Ludwig, standing there, Lothar his ancestor said  “Here is Ludwig, the innocent child. Now you must give him the power of your realm via the string you hold in your hand.” Charles unwound the string from his thumb and gave the child his kingdom. In that moment the thread unfurled, shimmering like a ray of sunlight, in the child’s hand.

After this the spirit of Charles returned to his body; he was completely exhausted and fatigued.

Copyright Translation
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