Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fairy Tale of the Kitten

(Illustration, Tomi Ungerer)

Fairy Tale of the Little KittenA Tale from the German by Ludwig Bechstein

Once a poor wife went into the forest to fetch wood. As she was returning with her burden, she saw a sickly little cat lying behind the fence and it was meowing woefully. The poor woman took pity and carried the little animal home in her apron. But on the way she encountered her own two children. When they saw what their mother was carrying, they asked: “Mother, what are you carrying?“ And both wanted to hold the kitten. But the woman had sympathy for the little creature and would not give it to her children thinking they might bother or tease it, or torment it in some other way. Instead she went home and placed it on a soft cloth and gave it milk to drink. When the kitten had lapped up the milk and had returned to health, it suddenly vanished. After some time the poor woman returned to the forest and with a bundle of wood on her back, she came to the spot where she had found the sick kitten . Now there stood a beautiful woman. She waved to the poor wife and threw five knitting needles into her apron.  The woman didn’t know what to think and expressed her gratitude for the strange gift. In the evening she placed the five knitting needles on the table. But the next morning when the woman was leaving home, a pair of new, freshly knitted stockings lay on the table. The poor wife was filled with wonder and the next evening she placed the knitting needles on the table once again. In the morning new stockings lay on the table. Now she noticed that the reward for her compassion was the gift of these hard-working needles. She allowed them to knit every night until she and her children had enough. Then she sold the stockings and had plenty for all the days of her life.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Loki and Thor Travel to Gerroedsgard

Thor Travels to Gerrödsgard

Loki, the sly one, often brought his comrades into unpleasant predicaments.

Once he stole Frouwa’s feather dress out of boredom and flew through the world as brilliantly-plumed falcon. From the air he saw thick clouds of smoke rising out of an enormous tree. Filled with curiosity he flew closer and saw that the tree was part of the stronghold of the giant Geirröd. “Perhaps I shall find a tasty meal here,” Loki thought and alighted on the windowsill so he could catch a glimpse inside. When the giant discovered the beautiful falcon, he immediately commanded the capture of the rare bird. Before he knew what was happening, Loki was captured by the giant king.

The giant king looked deep into the eyes of the bird and knew immediately that this was no ordinary falcon but a higher being. Because Loki did not say a word about his origins, the giant king locked him in a cage and let him starve. It took three months before Loki admitted where he came from. The king was very happy that he finally had a surety over the gods of Asen and decided not to let this opportunity slip by. When Loki asked to be released, the king replied that he could return to Asgard if he promised to bring Thor back to Gerrödsgard without his hammer or any other weapons.

Loki promised everything so desperate was he to regain his freedom. He was also so crafty that he was able to lure the good-natured Thor back to Gerrödsgard without his weapons. On the way Thor met the giantess Grid, who saw through Gerröd’s intentions and gave Thor three weapons: a belt that bestowed strength on the wearer, a pair of iron gloves and a staff.

Both Thor and Loki soon detected how treacherous Gerröd’s plans were. First they came to the wide and turbulent Wimur River and had to wade through the rushing floods. Thor fastened his strength-giving belt, took the staff of the giantess against the waves and stepped confidently into the stream. When they had both reached the middle of the stream, the water surged up dangerously around them. The god thundered into the crashing waves: “Do not surge, Wimur. I am wading to the giant’s house! If you surge, my godly strength shall surge to the heavens!”

Thor saw how Gerröd’s daughter Gialp stood on the river bank and caused the turbulence of the river. Quickly he seized a granite block from the river bed and drove away the malicious maiden. He grasped the branches of a rowan (bird-berry) tree standing on shore and pulled himself onto land. The old adage reminds us of this feat: “The rowan tree is Thor’s salvation.”

After wandering a short time, Thor and Loki now entered the fortress of the giants. Fatigued, Thor sank onto the only chair in the great hall. He had hardly taken his seat when he noticed that he was being lifted higher and higher. Finally he was only a small distance from the ceiling and would soon be crushed. He didn’t wait long. Pushing against the ceiling he pressed the chair down to the floor again. A loud crashing sound and loud screams revealed that something was caught under the chair. He looked down and found both of the giant’s daughters lying lifelessly underneath with broken necks.

Thor was now summoned by a servant of Gerröd himself. When he entered the hall he saw flames rising up the walls and chambers. Before he could look around, a burning iron wedge came flying at him, catapulted by Gerröd’s own hand. Any other would have been destroyed. Thor caught the burning iron in his iron-gloved hand and threw it back with such force, that the wedge not only bore through the pillar, which the giant quickly fled behind, but also hit the giant in the middle of his heart, continuing on with such force that it penetrated the wall behind the giant and became embedded in the earth beyond.
The giant lay dead on the ground. Thor propped up the giant who now became petrified into stone. The giant stood for centuries in this position and Germanic tribes believed  the site was a testament to the violent power of the thunder god.

According to Uhland, Gerröd the giant represents the unbearable heat of high summer that burns like fire. The giant’s two daughters are the flooding of mountain streams after the heavy storms of midsummer. The harmful manifestations of weather are not caused by Thor, but by evil giants. That is why the thunder god fights and neutralizes them.