Saturday, May 25, 2013

Crystal Ball Gazing

Grimm’s Saga No. 119: Crystal Ball Gazing


A noble and beautiful maiden and a distinguished young man bore an intense love for each other; but because of the girl’s step-parents, they did not receive permission to marry. This caused them both to live in extreme sadness. It happened that an old woman, who had access to the house, came to the maiden and comforted her. She said, the one she loved would certainly become her own. The maiden, who heard these words gladly, asked how the woman could know this. “Oh, my young mistress,” the old woman said “I have received grace from God and know future things before they happen. That is why the chance that this could remain hidden from me is slight. To take away any doubt you may have, I will show you clearly in my crystal ball so that you shall praise my art. But we must choose a time when your parents are not at home; They should not witness this wonder!”

The maiden waited until her parents were visiting a neighboring estate and then she went to the teacher of her brother, Johann Ruest, who later became the famous poet. She told him of her intentions and begged him to accompany her and be present when she gazed into the crystal. The teacher tried to dissuade her from such an impertinent and sinful act, which could be the cause of great misfortune. But it was all for naught, she held fast to her plan. Finally the teacher let himself be persuaded by her incessant pleading and accompanied her. When they entered the chamber, the old woman was busy removing her utensils from a small basket. She was not happy that this man, Ruest, accompanied the maid and said, she could see in his eyes that he did not hold much of her art. Then she spread out on the table a blue silk cloth, on which were embroidered strange pictures of dragons, snakes and other animals. On this cloth she placed a green glass bowl and in this vessel she placed a gold-colored silk cloth. Finally she placed in this cloth a rather large crystal ball, but she covered it again with a white cloth.

The woman began making strange gesticulations, murmuring to herself and when this was over, she took the ball into her hand with great reverence, called the maid and her escort to the window and told them to gaze inside.

At first they saw nothing, but soon the bride was visible in the crystal, dressed in priceless finery; her costume was so magnificent, it was as if it were her wedding day. As beautiful as she appeared, she still looked troubled and sad. In fact her entire countenance had such a deathly pale hue, that one could not look at her without feeling pity. The maiden gazed at her own image with horror. Her terror became even greater when she saw her dear swain appear. He had a horrible and dreadful look on his face, and he was usually such a friendly man. This caused the girl to shake in fear. Her love was dressed as one returning from a trip, wearing boots and spurs, with a gray overcoat and golden buttons. Out of the folds of this garment he took two new and shining pistols, with one in each hand he pointed one at his own heart and the other he placed on the maiden’s temple. The onlookers were frozen in terror. Finally, trembling they stumbled out of the chamber and attempted to regain their composure.

Even the old woman, who had not been expecting the situation to end this way, was not feeling well. She rushed out and did not show herself for quite some time thereafter. But the frightful experience could not extinguish the maiden’s love for her swain, even though her stepparents held fast to their decision to deny their consent to her marriage. Finally with threats and force, the girl became engaged to a distinguished court official in the neighborhood. It was then that the maiden really began to suffer heartache. She spent her time sobbing and weeping and her true love was torn by wrenching despair.

In the meantime, the wedding date was set and because several members of the royal family were to be present, every detail of the wedding was to be much more splendid than any other wedding. When the day arrived, the maiden was to be picked up in pomp and ceremony by a splendid procession. The duchess sent her own carriage drawn by six steeds and several court servants and riders in accompaniment. Added to this pageantry were distinguished relatives and friends of the bride. The first lover had found this out in advance and because of his desperation, he decided not to relinquish his love to his rival. For this purpose, he had purchased a pair of good pistols and planned to kill his bride with one and himself with the other. There was a house about ten to twelve paces in front of the gate, which the bride had to pass. He decided this would be the place to perform the dreadful deed. When the entire parade of carriages and riders passed by, accompanied by a huge throng of people, he shot one pistol into the bride’s carriage. But he fired a bit prematurely and the bride was not touched by the bullet. The noble woman sitting next to her, however, had her headgear shot off. Because this woman fell unconscious and everyone hastened to help her, the culprit had time to flee through the back door of the house. Leaping across a rather wide body of water, he was able to make his escape. As soon as the terrified woman revived, the procession started anew and the wedding was celebrated in great ceremony. But the bride suffered from a sad heart, amplified by her memory of gazing into the crystal ball and this weighed down on her spirits. Her marriage was also unhappy, because her husband was a harsh and mean man. He gruesomely mistreated his sweet and virtuous wife, who nevertheless bore him a dear child.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Serious Fairy Tale Business of Finding a Mate

The Serious Business of Finding a Mate
(The historical background of necromancy employed to find a mate.)

(The lover revealed on St. Andrew’s Eve)

Although May is the most popular month for lovers, according to German folk custom the serious business of finding a mate traditionally began much earlier in the gloomy month of November.  This was not because Germans were naturally inclined to approach love in a somber way and therefore chose the darkest time of year for romance. Rather a popular belief persisted into relatively modern times that the dead, if so disposed, could actively intervene in the affairs of humans during the winter season. Winter itself was likened to a kind of death and it was believed that the barrier between the living and dead was especially permeable at the time starting with All Soul’s Day (Nov. 30) and lasting until the early days of January and beyond. During this period a supplicant could call on Saint Andrew, the Patron Saint of Lovers, on the eve of his feast day (November 29).  Seekers of love would perform certain rituals, make offerings to the saint and conjure through an entire evening. In return, the saint was supposed to send some vision or sign of the seeker’s future life partner. In some cases a flesh and blood lover might even appear.  The British Isles had their own saint for inducing these visions of love; it was St. Agnes the Patron Saint of Girls. The importance of this plucky saint seems to rest on her insistence to remain chaste before marriage. But Keats in his poem The Eve of St. Agnes emphasizes a mysterious sort of eroticism that probably comes much closer to the underlying folk belief.

Such customs had even Martin Luther scratching his head.  He reports in his Tischreden (No. 6186)  that maids, having stripped themselves naked, fell onto to the ground and prayed fervently to Saint Andrew:

God, oh my God, oh you dear St. Andrew. Give me a pious man, show me now the man I am to wed.

Luther dryly reports that no suitor came and one girl almost froze to death while waiting.

The Scottish prayer to Saint Agnes follows the same line:

Agnes sweet, and Agnes fair. Hither, hither, now repair;

Bonny Agnes, let me see,

The lad who is to marry me.

The sentiments in both prayers are similar enough to suggest some connection between the Agnes/Andrew characters, who at one time might have been a single pagan deity, subsequently renamed by Christian priests who were tired of dealing with frost-bitten teenage girls. In this new role as saint, the heathen deity’s function was now re-ascribed, blurring the overtly sensuous aspects of the custom while accommodating cultural and regional peculiarities. It’s a pity the identity of this mysterious divinity has long since been forgotten.

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