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Sunday, December 11, 2016

For Christmas: The Singing Fir Tree


In Switzerland, a story is told about a man named Hans Kreutz, who lived with his wife on Thun Lake in Ralligen. In the year 1555, a thick black fog descended on the village and it would not dissipate. The alarmed villagers retreated to their homes, closed doors and sealed the windows tightly. But a light blue vapor crept under the window sill and the wife breathed in this vapor and in the evening she lay in bed motionless. Hans looked into her eyes and saw no reflection there and in the morning she was dead. Many villagers died that year and the survivors buried their loved ones in the church yard at the outskirts of town, where the mountain and forest swept down abruptly into the valley. While the bells in the church tower were ringing, Hans buried his wife and returned home. For days he did not leave his house. He neither ate nor slept but could not forget the vacant stare of his beloved wife and the sound of the church bells as he lowered her into the grave.

One evening when Hans sat by the fire, he heard the church bells ring out the Ave and they rang and rang and he lost track of the time. He raised his head, for he thought he heard wonderful and sweet singing up high in the Hohlbach Forest near the tree line. But when the church bells stopped ringing, he heard it no more. The next day he sat with longing and waited for the evening church bells to ring out the Ave. At first he heard only the faintest sound of distant singing, but then the melody grew stronger until there could be no mistake. A woman’s voice sang a mysterious and beautiful song, the words of which he could not quite decipher.

But Hans spread word among the townspeople. At night the entire village listened while the church bells rang and soon everyone heard the wonderful singing daily. The singing was soothing and the villagers listened at the edge of the village until the snow began to fall and then they returned to their homes. All but Hans, who wanted to know where the singing came from. The next night when the church bells were ringing, the villagers assembled in the church yard. Hans lit a torch and climbed the mountainside, following the mysterious melody. He did this every evening until one night he finally found a giant fir tree, and its voice was sweet and clear. He shyly gazed upon the tree and in amazement listened to its gentle song.

But Hans could find no rest. The singing fir tree occupied his waking and sleeping hours and he wanted to be in the presence of its song always. In secret he climbed up the mountain during the day and spent long hours near the tree. Some time passed and Hans was called away to visit his family in the next valley.

While he was away, a wood carver from among the villagers, who had seen the beautiful fir tree, decided he needed it to make a wood carving. Because the tree was so magnificent, tall and straight, with perfectly formed branches and trunk, he had it felled and brought down to the valley. From the wood, he selected an enormous block of the trunk that had no scars or branches. From this piece of wood he began to carve an image of the Virgin Mary. He worked day and night on this carving and saw nothing more beautiful than the image of the Virgin growing out of the wood. And after some time, the villagers came to his workshop and marveled at the beauty of the image, its heavenly countenance and mild authority.

When Hans returned to the village after some months, he climbed the mountain and went directly to where the singing fir tree had stood. In its place was only a stump and Hans was gripped by such melancholy, that a loud moan issued from his lips. It was like the howling of a wounded wolf or the shriek of an eagle flying overhead. The loud cries filled the valley, echoing off the cliffs and rocks. When the villagers heard the loud cries from above, they gathered below near the church. And soon in the distance they heard the beautiful, long-missed song. They turned and saw the woodcarver, carrying his statue and saw that it was singing. He placed the statue in the church, where it stands today. And some say, they have heard it singing when a loved one dies. The place where the tree once stood is now called Marienstein. There is a smaller rock nearby, where Hans once gazed upon the fir tree. It is said that in his grief, Hans turned to stone and the place is now called the Kreutzantisch.
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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Winter is Coming


A rather gruesome tale for gruesome weather.


How to Influence the Weather with Hailstones and Winter Gales
Grimm's Saga No. 251: Making Weather and Hail


In Berlin two women with supernatural powers were caught in the year 1553 because they knew the art of ice-making. Through their powers these wives were able to ruin the fruits of trees and had snatched the small child of a neighbor woman, gruesomely dismembering the body and cooking it in small pieces. But it happened that through God's grace, the mother searching for her babe came upon the lost child with its little limbs jutting out of the cooking pot. Now both wives were caught and interrogated under torture during which they admitted that if their cooking had not been halted, a frigid frost with ice and storm would have descended on all and ruined the fruit.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Hänsel and Gretel

Grimm’s Fairy Tale No. 15: Hänsel and Gretel


A poor woodcutter lived with his wife and two children at the edge of a deep forest. The boy was named Hänsel and the girl Gretel. The man had nothing to eat or drink. Because a terrible famine ravaged the land, he could no longer find his daily bread. As he lay in bed that night thinking, he tossed and turned.


Sighing he said to his wife “What shall become of us? We cannot provide for our poor children because we don’t have anything for ourselves!”

“Listen husband,” the wife replied, “Tomorrow in the very early hours we shall take both children into the woods where the trees are the thickest. We shall light a fire and give them each a piece of bread. Then we shall go to work and leave them alone. They will not be able to find their way home and we shall be rid of them.”


“No wife,” the husband replied. “I won’t do it. How could I bring myself to abandon my own children in the forest? The wild animals would soon come and rip them to shreds.”

“Oh, you fool,” she replied, “Then all four of us must die of hunger; you should start now and mill the boards for our coffins.”

She did not leave him in peace until he consented. But the two children could not fall asleep because of their hunger and had heard everything that their step-mother had said to their father.

Gretel cried bitter tears and said to Hänsel, “Now we’re in trouble!”

“Be still, Gretel. Do not be afraid. I will do something to help us.”

And when the old folks had fallen asleep, he got up, put on his jacket, opened the lower part of the cottage door and slipped through it. The moon shone brightly and the white stones lying in front of the cottage glimmered like pennies. Hänsel knelt down and filled his jacket pockets with has many as he could cram inside. Then he returned home and said to Gretel, “Be comforted, dear sister, and sleep peacefully. God will not abandon us.” And he lay down again in bed.

When day was breaking but before the sun had risen, the woman came and woke both children. “Get up you lazy children. We shall go into the forest and cut wood.” Then she gave them each a piece of bread and said “You have something for your noon day meal, but don’t eat it before then, for you won’t be getting anything more.”

Gretel took the bread and placed it under her apron because Hänsel had the stones in his pocket. Then they all made their way into the forest. When they had walked a short distance, Hänsel stopped and looked back at the cottage again and again.

The father spoke “Hänsel, why are you looking back and staying behind. Pay attention and don’t forget to move your legs.”



“Oh father. I am looking for my white kitten, which is sitting on the roof and wants to say good bye to me.”
The woman spoke “Fool, that is not your kitten. It is the morning sun shining on the chimney.” But Hänsel was not looking for his kitten. Instead, he was dropping one of the smooth pebbles from his pocket onto the path.


When they had arrived in the middle of the forest, the father spoke. “Gather wood, children. I want to make a fire so that you are not cold.” Hänsel and Gretel gathered brushwood and made a small stack.

The fire was ignited and as the flame burned high, the woman said “Now lie down near the fire and rest. We shall go into the forest and cut wood. When we are finished, we shall return for you.”

Hänsel and Gretel sat down by the fire and when noon came, they each ate their little piece of bread. And because they heard the sound of an axe chopping wood, they believed their father was near. But it wasn’t the wood axe it was a branch, which their father had bound to a dead tree. And the wind blew it back and forth and it made a beating sound. Because they had sat still so long, their eyes fell shut in fatigue and they were soon fast asleep. When they finally awoke it was darkest night.

Gretel began to cry and said “How shall we now find our way out of the wood?”.

But Hänsel consoled her: “Wait a bit until the moon has risen. Then we shall find the way.” And when the moon rose, he took his little sister by the hand and followed the trail of pebbles. They lay there glistening like newly minted coins and showed the way. The children walked the entire night and as daylight was breaking, they arrived once more at their father’s house. 



They knocked on the door and when the woman opened and saw that it was Hänsel and Gretel, she spoke “You evil children, why did you sleep so long in the forest? We thought you didn’t want to return ever again.” But their father rejoiced when he saw his children, because leaving them all alone had broken his heart.

It was not long after when there was despair in every corner of the house. The children heard how the mother spoke to the father at night in bed “Everything has been eaten. We only have half a loaf of bread. After that, the song is over. The children must go; we shall bring them deeper into the woods so that they cannot find their way out again. Otherwise, nothing can save us.”

The man was sorely troubled and he thought ““It is better to share your last morsel with your children. But the woman would not listen to what he said and scolded him and accused him. And so it was: whoever agrees once, must agree again. Because the woodcutter had given in the first time, he had to give in a second time also.

But the children were awake and had heard their parents’ conversation. Hänsel got up and wanted to gather pebbles again, but when he went to the door, he found the woman had locked it and he could not get out. But he comforted his little sister and said “Do not cry, Gretel, and go to sleep. Sleep peacefully, dear God will help us.”

Early the next morning the woman came and got the children out of bed. They both received their little crust of bread, but it was even smaller than before. On the path, Hänsel broke it into crumbs in his pocket. He often stood still and threw the crumbs on the ground. “Why are you always stopping, Hänsel, and looking around? Go your way,” the father said.

“I am looking for my little dove, which is sitting on the roof and wants to say goodbye,” Hänsel said.

“You fool,” the mother said. “That isn’t a dove, that is the morning sun shining on the chimney.” But Hänsel crumbled all of his bread and threw the crumbs on the path.


The woman led them even deeper into the woods to a place she had never seen in her entire life. Once again an enormous fire was made and the mother said “Stay here children and when you are tired, you may sleep a bit. We will go into the forest and chop wood. In the evening, when we are finished, we shall return and fetch you.”

When it was noon, Gretel shared her bread with Hänsel, who had scattered his pieces over the path. Then they fell asleep and evening came, but no one returned for the poor children. They awoke in the darkest night and Hänsel consoled his sister and said “Wait Gretel until the moon rises. Then we will see the bread crumbs, which I scattered. They will show us the way home.”


When the moon had risen, they started out but they could not find any crumbs. The many thousands of birds, who fly in forest and field, had pecked them all away.

Hänsel said to Gretel “We will find the way.” But they did not find it. They walked an entire night and day from morning until evening, but they never came out of the forest. They were exceedingly hungry because they only found a few berries lying on the ground. And because they were so tired, they lay down under a tree and went to sleep.

It was now the third morning since they had left their father’s house. They started to walk again but only found themselves deeper and deeper in the wood. If help did not arrive soon, they would soon fade away.



When it was noon, they saw a beautiful, snow-white bird sitting on a branch. It sang so beautifully that they stopped and listened. When it was done, it beat its wings and flew away. They followed until they reached a little house and the bird landed on its roof. When the children came very close, they saw that the cottage was built of bread and covered with cake. But the windows were made of bright sugar.


“Let’s dig in,” Hänsel said, “and have a blessed meal. I will eat a piece of the roof, Gretel you can eat from the window, it’s sweet.” Hänsel reached up and broke off a bit of the roof to try how it tasted. Gretel stood in front of the window and nibbled at the panes. A fine voice called from inside the cottage

“Crunch, crunch, crouse!
Who’s nibbling on my little house?”


The children replied

“It’s the wind,
The wind so wild,
The heavenly child,”



And they continued eating with abandon. Hänsel, who thought the roof tasted very good, tore off a large piece and Gretel pulled out a large, round window pane, sat down and enjoyed the food. At once the door fell open and there stood a woman as old as the hills. She supported herself on a crutch and walked out slowly. Hänsel and Gretel were so afraid that they let their morsels drop from their hands. But the old woman shook her head and said “Dear children, who brought you here? Come inside and stay with me. You shall not be harmed.” She took both by the hand and led them inside her little house. There, a splendid table was prepared with ample food, milk and pancakes with sugar-sweets, apples and nuts. Afterward they were led to two pretty little beds made up in white. Hänsel and Gretel lay down and thought they were in heaven.



The old woman was so cordial but in fact she was a witch who lay in wait for children. She had only built the house of gingerbread to lure children in. When one fell under her power, she killed it, cooked and ate it. And this was her feast day. Witches have red eyes and cannot see far, but they have a keen sense of smell. Like animals, they notice when people approach. When Hänsel and Gretel came close, she laughed scornfully “Now I have you and you shall not escape again.” Early in the morning before the children awoke, she was already up and when she saw them resting so peacefully, with full red cheeks, she murmured to herself “They shall be tasty morsels.” She grabbed Hänsel in her boney hand and put him in a stall and locked him in with a barred door. Cry as he may, it didn’t help him. Then she went to Gretel and shook her awake and called “Get up, you lazy bones! Fetch water and cook a good meal for your brother. He is sitting outside in the stall and will fatten up. When he is plump enough, I shall eat him.” Gretel began to cry bitterly but it was all for naught. She had to do what the evil witch commanded.


Now the best food was prepared for Hänsel, but Gretel got nothing but empty crab shells. Every morning the old woman crept to the little cage and called “Hänsel, stick out your finger so that I can feel whether you shall soon be fat.” But Hänsel extended a little bone and the old woman, who had weak eyes, could not see and thought it was Hänsel’s finger. She was amazed that he was not gaining weight. When four weeks had passed and Hänsel remained lean, impatience overcame the witch and she would not wait any longer. “Now, Gretel,” she called to the maiden, “Be quick and carry water. Hänsel may be fat or lean, but tomorrow I shall slaughter and cook him.”

Ach, how the poor little sister wept and wailed when she carried the water. The tears flowed from her eyes and fell down her cheeks. “Dear God, do help us,” she cried “If only the wild animals had devoured us in the woods, then at least we would have died together.”

“Spare me your blather,” the old woman said “None of it will help you now.”

Early in the morning Gretel had to go out and fill the pot with water and hang it over the fire. “First we shall bake,” the old woman said. “I have already heated the oven and kneaded the dough!” She pushed poor Gretel out to the oven, from which the flames of fire could already be seen lapping the edges. “Creep inside,” the witch said and see whether the oven is hot enough so that we can push the bread inside.” When Gretel was inside, she would shut the oven door and Gretel would roast inside and then she would also eat her. But Gretel noticed what she had in mind and said “I don’t know how I could do that. How will I get inside?”

“Dumb goose,” the old woman said. “The opening is large enough. Don’t you see, I could slip in myself,” and she crawled forward and put her head in the oven. Gretel gave her a shove so that she fell in and closed the iron door and lowered the latch. Hu! She began to scream horribly. But Gretel ran away and the godless witch burned to death miserably.

Now Gretel ran to Hänsel and opened up the little door of his stall and cried “Hänsel we are saved, the old witch is dead!” Hänsel jumped out like a bird free of its cage when the door is opened. How happy they were, hugged each other, jumped around and kissed! And because they no longer needed to fear, they went to the house of the witch and in every corner they found boxes with pearls and beautiful gems.

“These are much better than pebbles,” Hänsel said, and filled his pockets with as many as he could.

Gretel said “I also want to bring something home,” and filled her apron full.

“But now, let us leave,” Hänsel said, “so that we get out of the witch’s forest.” They had only walked a few hours when they reached an enormous body of water. We can’t pass over and there is also no bridge.”

“And no ship sails here,” Gretel answered, “but a white duck is swimming and if I ask, she might help us cross.” They called,

Little duck, little duck,
Hänsel and Gretel stand
Where no plank or bridge land.
So take us on your little white back.”


The duck came and Hänsel sat on its back and then asked his sister to sit beside him. “No,” Gretel replied “It will be too heavy for the duck. He shall bring us over one after another.” And the good animal did just that. When they were happily on the other side and had walked a time, the forest began to seem more familiar to them. Finally they spied from afar the house of their father. They began to run, pushed through the door and rushed inside. There they fell around their father’s neck. The man hadn’t had a happy hour since he left his children in the forest. But his wife had died. Gretel shook out her apron pockets and pearls and bright gems bounced around the room. Then Hänsel threw one handful after another out of his pocket. Their sorrow and misfortune had ended. Now they lived together in pure joy.



My story is over and there runs a mouse. Whoever can catch it, can make a big, big fur cap.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Foreseeing the Coming Calamity: the Ghost Ship





Grimm's Saga 281: The Phantom Ship

People who live on the Baltic Sea believe they can often foresee a shipwreck or stranding because the ship appears as a phantom several days or weeks before it sinks, at the very spot of its future demise. In the dark of night all parts of the ship, hull, rigging, mast and sail appear enveloped in fire. This they call wafeln. Men who will drown wafle as do houses that will burn and cities that will fall . On Sundays you can often hear the bells of sunken cities ringing, as they lie beneath the waves.


Fairytale Factum:
Wafeln probably comes from the Anglo-Saxon word wafian or the Old Norse vafra. It means to move unsteadily or flicker. Wafeln describes a swaying motion similar to undulating waves; the object seen is often enveloped in an eery light. According to folk tradition, Wafeln portends coming calamity to those who can perceive it. Wafflewaver and waft probably derive from this word. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Fairy Tale from Latvia: The Old Witch, The Devil and The Bear

A Fairy Tale from Latvia: The Old Hag is Coming:


Once a harp player met the devil on one of his sojourns. The devil asked him: “Where are you going?” –
“I myself do not know,” was the reply. “They chased me away because my fingers became stiff!”
And so they walked together. They walked and walked until they met a bear. The bear asked: “Where are you two going?” 
“We don’t know ourselves,” was the reply. We were chased away!”
“Dear brothers! Let us walk a while together. We all have the same fate. The other bears have also chased me away!”
They walked and walked and then they decided to build a house. So good, they built a house and drank a beer and then an entire barrel of beer. Suddenly they noticed that the beer in the barrel was receding. Now what? They decided to guard the barrel. The bear took over the first watch and crouched next to the barrel. Yes, it was only a matter of minutes before he saw an old woman approaching with a broad hatchet in her hand.
Now the bear broke off a tree and flung it at the old woman. But unfortunately only branches hit her: the old woman shook herself a bit and then raised the hatchet and struck the bear in its back. She hit him so miserably that the poor animal could only return home with the greatest effort. The next evening the devil stood watch. Again the old woman took aim. The devil threw stones into the woman’s face rather haphazardly. But the old woman aimed her hatchet at the devil, and he, too, only escaped under enormous effort.
Now the harp player went out in the middle of the night to guard the barrel. He sat down next to the barrel and played his harp. The old woman came and slithered up close to the player and listened intently with both ears, but the harp player continued playing. Finally the old woman was so pleased with the music that the hatchet fell from her hand. The harp player quickly seized the hatchet, took aim at the old woman and quickly chopped into the woman’s back. Then he buried her under the threshold of a house and lay down to sleep. When he awoke in the morning, he saw the blood of the old woman running into the house, and a young maid sat before it. The maiden spoke: “Why are you approaching? Don’t you know that an enormous robber lives here? But if you can raise this ball and this sword, you will be able to overcome the robbers.”
The harp player pulled and pulled, but could not lift up the ball or sword. “Don’t worry!” the maid said. “Here in the corner is a potion to give you strength. Take a sip!” The harp player drank and now he could lift the ball like a marble and the sword in his hands wasn’t much heavier than a shingle wood chip. He immediately lifted up the ball and flung it against the house door: the door now collapsed. Then he took the sword, killed the robber and led the maid back to the devil and bear, who was looking out the window and called out: “Friend, the old woman is coming, the old woman is coming!”  Both the devil and bear thought to themselves: “That terrible old woman, now she is coming to kill us both!” And they fled immediately. But the harp player lived alone in the house with his young bride.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

For Earth Day: a Fairy Tale of the Moon, Earth and Cosmos

The Moon, the Earth, the Cosmos 




In ancient times there was a land where night was always black and the heavens were draped like a black shroud. The moon never rose and the star, in perpetual gloom, never twinkled. When the world was created, endless evening shadow had sufficed. Out of this land once journeyed four fellows. And on their wanderings they came to another kingdom where the sun had vanished behind the hills and where a shining orb hung from an oak tree and spread a soft glow far and wide. Here it was possible to see and distinguish everything, even if the light wasn’t as bright as the sun.

The wanderers stopped and asked a farmer driving by in his wagon what kind of illumination lit up the sky. “It is the moon,” he answered. “Our mayor bought it for three Talers and hung it on the oak tree. Every day he must pour in oil and keep it clean so that it always burns brightly. In exchange we pay him one taler every week.”

When the farmer had driven away one of the fellows said “We could use this lamp. At home we have an oak tree that is just as big and we could hang it from there.  What joy there will be when we don’t have to stumble around in the darkness!” The second fellow said “You know what? Let’s fetch a horse and wagon and take the moon away. They can buy another one here.”  The third fellow said “I am a good climber. I can bring it down.”  The fourth brought his horse and wagon and the third fellow climbed the tree, drilled a hole in the moon, slipped a string through the hole and lowered it to the ground. When the shining ball lay in the wagon, they covered it with a cloth so that no one would discover their theft.  Happily they brought it to their country where they hung it on the bough of a giant oak. Old and young alike rejoiced at the illumination that the new lamp spread over all the fields, rooms and chambers. The gnomes came out of their caves and the elves in their red jackets danced a roundelay on the meadow. 

The four chaps took care of the moon with oil, cleaned the wick and in exchange received one taler weekly. But when they became old men, one fell ill and knew his end was near.  He ordered that the quarter of the moon that belonged to him should be laid with him in his grave. When he died, the mayor climbed the tree and with the hedge clippers cut down a quarter of the moon and laid it in the coffin. The light of the moon was now diminished, but not by much. When the second fellow died, his quarter was placed in his grave and the light decreased. It became even weaker after the death of the third fellow, who likewise took away his portion. When the fourth man was carried to his grave, the black night returned. When people went out at night without a lantern, they stumbled into each other and bumped their heads.

When the four parts of the moon were reunited in the underworld where darkness had always reigned, the dead became uneasy and awoke from their sleep. They were amazed at what they could see. Their eyes had become so weak that they could not bear the light of the sun. They got up, rejoiced and began their old lives all over again. Some went out dancing, others went to the pubs, where they drank wine, got drunk, raged and bickered, and finally lifted their bludgeons and beat each other. The pandemonium became more and more bitter and finally rose to the heavens. 

St. Peter, who guarded heaven’s gate, believed the underworld was in revolt and called out to the heavenly host.  “Depose the evil one,” he cried for “he and his disciples shall enter the place of the blessed.” But they never arrived so he mounted his steed and rode out beyond heaven’s gate to the underworld.  There he calmed the dead, commanded them back into their graves and took the moon away, which he then hung up in the heavens.