Wednesday, February 27, 2013

They say the owl was a baker's daughter.

Ophelia: Well, God dild you! They say the owl was a baker's daughter. Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be. God be at your table! (Hamlet, Act 4 Scene V)

The Owl as Bakers Daughter

Once a fairy entered a baker's shop. She was dressed in rags as a poor woman, her clothing tattered, and she begged for a morsel of bread dough. The baker's daughter gave her a tiny morsel and the old woman asked that she be allowed to place it in the oven.

But when  she removed the bread the maid saw that the dough had risen and become the largest loaf in the oven. The woman therefore reconsidered and did not want to give it to the old woman. Finally she gave her another piece of dough, half as large as the first and placed it in the oven for the second baking. But this loaf rose even more than the first, and so the old woman was not allowed to have it. Now she asked for a very small portion of the dough. The girl gave her only a small morsel, hardly larger than a thumbnail and she placed it in the oven for the third backing. When it cam out of the oven it was larger than the other two loaves before. The foolish, greedy maid became fearful and with large round eyes gazed upon the old woman, who had thrown off her robe and stood tall and beaming.

The girl stammered "How, who, who...".

"Whoo- whooo" will be the only thing you ever utter again," the fairy said. "The world has borne your selfishness and greed long enough." And she raised her wand and touched the maid who now was transformed into an owl, flying out into the night with a "whoo-whooo".

Dear Lord, we know what we are but we do not know what we might become. 

And in this English folk song, the owl appears as king's daughter, not baker's daughter:

Once I was a monarch's daughter
And sat on a lady's knee:
But am now a nightly rover,
Banished to the ivy tree.

Crying hoo hoo, hoo hoo, hoo hoo,
Hoo ! Hoo! Hoo! My feet are cold!
Pity me, for here you see me,
Persecuted, poor and old.

I once was a king's daughter
And sat on my father's knee,
But now I'm a poor hoolet,

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Time of Hooting Owls: Fairy Tale of Hooting Ursula

Grimm's Saga No. 298: The Hooting Owl

At midnight in storm and rain the Hackelnberg Huntsman races through the Thuringia Wood and Harz Mountains. His wagon, horse and hounds make a crackling and creaking noise as he breaks through the brush of his favorite haunt: the Hackel Forest. A night owl flies ahead of him and folk call it Hooting Ursula. Wanderers who happen to meet this terrible pair fall down flat on their stomachs and let the wild huntsman pass by. Soon they hear the barking of hounds and the call: Uh-hu!

Many years ago in a remote cloister in Thuringia there lived a nun named Ursula. During her lifetime she always disturbed the choir with her shriek-like singing. For that reason they called her Hooting Ursula. But things only got worse after her death. Each night starting at eleven o’clock she stuck her head through a hole in the church tower and hooted wretchedly. Every morning at four she came uncalled and sang with the sisters. They could endure it for only a few days; on the third morning one nun said softly and full of terror to the nun singing next to her “That is most certainly Ursula!” Suddenly everyone fell silent, their hair stood on end and the nuns ran screaming from the church crying: “Hooting Ursula, Hooting Ursula!” No punishment would induce the nuns to enter the church again until a famous exorcist was called from a Capuchin monastery on the Danube. He banished Hooting Ursula in the form of an owl to the Dummburg region of the Harz Mountains. It was there that Ursula met the Huntsman Hackelnberg. She became charmed by his Hu-hu and he in turn was charmed with her Uh-u! And now they both go out together, flying through the air on the wild hunt. 

Our own Hooting Ursula is nesting in an owl box we attached to the remnants of a once stately pine tree, here are some pictures :

More about owl mythology and an owl fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm:

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Charcoal Burners Fairy Tale

Grimm's Saga No. 527

The Origin of the Zaehringer People

The Saga reveals that in days of old the Dukes of Zaehringen had been charcoal burners. They lived in the mountains where they erected their dwellings and in the forests they built their castles. These buildings still stand today and it is here they burned charcoal. Now it happened that whilst the charcoal burners were burning their charcoal, they seized an area of ground and established a pile of charcoal with the intent of burning it all down to the very last bit. But as one of the men was removing the charcoal he discovered in the ground a heavy, molten object, and as he examined it he saw it was heavy silver. So in the future he always burned charcoal at the very same spot, covered it with the same ground and earth but always found silver as before. He soon noticed it was the mountain itself that produced the silver, but kept this secret. Each day he burned charcoal there and finally accumulated a large treasure of silver.

Now it happened that a King had been driven from his own kingdom and fled with his wife, children and servants into the mountains of Breisgau to a place called Kaiserstuhl. There he and his clan suffered the greatest poverty. He issued a proclamation that whoever would offer help to regain his kingdom would become a duke and would marry a daughter of the king. When the charcoal burner heard this, he went before the king heavily laden with silver and desired to become his son and marry the king’s daughter, also to acquire the land and region – now where Zaehringen, the castle and the city of Freiburg can be found. In return he would give the king such treasure of silver that he would be able to recover his entire kingdom.

When the king heard this he agreed. He took the enormous load of silver and gave the charcoal burner his daughter in marriage, and he now looked upon him as his own son; also he gave him as much of the land as he desired. The son began his enterprise and allowed the ore to be melted. In return he received a large property and built the town of Zaehringen including the castle. The Roman King therefore made him Duke of Zaehringen. The Duke then went on to build Freiburg and even more towns and castles. And now that he had become powerful, his property, power and honor had grown and so  he became proud and wicked. One day he called to his own cook and ordered that he roast a young child for dinner because he longed to discover the taste of human flesh. The cook followed his master’s orders and will and when the child had been roasted and presented to the king at the table and the king saw what he had done, he was seized with terror and fright and he felt only remorse and sorrow at the sin he had committed. To atone for this sin he had two monasteries built in the Black Forest; the first St. Ruprecht, the second St. Peter. He did this so that God would be merciful and forgive him for his terrible deed.

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