Showing posts with label Swan Mythology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Swan Mythology. Show all posts

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fairy Tale Detectives Solve Another Murder Mystery

The Puzzling Mystery of the Swan Slayers

Fairy Tale Detectives Heidi and Tom go bird-watching. Lucky for them, they live in an area with lots of birds and little detective work.

"Look at the cranes flying overhead!" remarks Heidi.

"Look at that heron sitting on a log!" replies Tom.

"Look at that family of swans!" Heidi and Tom enthuse.

The next day:
"Heavens to Betsy, Heidi! We have to get to the bottom of this!"

"Goodness gracious, Tom, could the killer be the driver of that yellow Hummer with the swan carcass on its hood?"

"No, that swan carcass is much too old. I would guess that SUV has been driving around for years like that!" Tom replies.

"What about that woman in the red truck? Isn't that hood ornament plastered with swan feathers and blood?" Heidi asks.

"No, I think those feathers and blood are actually from that whooping crane we saw last week. You know, the only whooping crane ever seen in this neck of the woods in the last 50 years."

There's nothing else that can be done except for the two detectives to drive aimlessly around the countryside with their binoculars and spotting scope, hoping the culprit will somehow reveal him- or herself.

Finally after a week:
"Goodness gracious, Tom. This sign says the swan-slayer has turned himself in and got the $5000.00 reward!"
"Our work on this fairy tale mystery is done, Heidi. And we can continue to believe that people, in the end, will do the right thing!"

To read the full story click here: Swan Slaying
To view photos click here: Swan Song


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Swan Song

The community grieved the loss of its swans.
Read more

To read the full story of the Swan Slaying click on link.
To read Fairy Tale Detectives Solve the Mystery of the Swan Slayer click on link.


Friday, August 27, 2010

Plumed Pogrom or Fairy Tale Ethos?

Plumed Pogrom or Fairy Tale Ethos

In August 2009 my husband and I visited one of the prettiest little patches of land (should I say water) near our farmhouse. Some see only a dismal pond, paved over by intersecting roads. But we see a marsh filled with waterfowl, waders and exotic birds. We like this swampy spot because it attracts a variety of wildlife, mainly cranes, herons, different duck species and egrets. On that particular August evening we felt ambitious and not only remembered to take our binoculars but also a spotting scope. The scope turned out to be entirely unneeded because the primary attraction that evening, a family of trumpeter swans (father, mother and two fledglings), was resting at the side of the road. But since we had dragged the scope along, we set it up cattycorner to the birds. The two elder birds soon lifted their heads and began a melancholic song. We watched for some moments in silence, completely engrossed. Lost in the moment, we didn't even notice when a huge yellow Hummer SUV pulled up alongside us. It rolled down the window and yelled out “Get a life!” The tires then screeched and we heard laughter as the vehicle sped off. We packed up the spotting scope and chuckled; we must have looked ridiculous using a telescope-like contraption when we could have driven the car right up to the birds.

But that’s not the end of the story. Several days later when we returned to this favorite spot, instead of finding the swan family, we found swan effigies, that is, numerous stuffed animals in swan shape, hand-drawn signs, pictures and photos at the spot the swans had once frequented. The posters reported that two swans had been killed, even suggesting the birds had been viciously murdered. A $5,000 reward was offered to find the swans’ slayer. It was believed the cygnets had first been lured into the road and then shot by someone. The next morning the adult male was found alive, however because of broken wings and severe injuries this third swan also had to be euthanized.

Township residents went into mourning for their swans and the authorities promised a prompt investigation that would surely lead to prosecution of the culprit(s). But amidst the outcry, some criticism could also be heard. One of the more interesting comments posted on the website was this by a contributor named Jordan:

Raise your fist in anger, but I'm going to say it: They're just swans. They're animals. Yes, it is sad that they won't be there anymore. And if the swans were maliciously killed by people, which seems to be the general, albeit unproven, consensus, then it was a disgusting act. But when I saw that a group had already managed to raise $5,000 for information on the "slaying of the swans," I couldn't really believe it.”

Jordan put it all in perspective: the local food bank was experiencing a critical shortage of food. As more and more people lost their jobs, they were relying on this support and local agencies had reported an increase in demand and ever-diminishing resources to meet the need. Now that was truly something you could get angry about. But the passionate and spontaneous response to an attack on birds was startling.

Most people seemed to believe the swans were intentionally killed. Later the Michigan Department of Natural Resources reported they hadn't died from gunshot wounds but rather from blunt trauma, consistent with having been hit by a car or truck. Regardless of how they received their injuries, the act was premeditated in the mind of the public. The outpouring of grief for the birds was swift. A makeshift shrine appeared on both sides of the road. People brought stuffed swan animals, posted pictures, wrote little prayers, and erected crosses. I guess I had always thought few people actually paid any attention to the birds. But as it turned out, I was only one of many swan-admirers. Many local residents had been following the swan family saga: they watched as the adults first built their nest in the marsh, they looked on as the parents patiently sat on their eggs, and when the eggs finally hatched they saw the nestlings’ heads peeking out from matted straw. Soon carloads of people were stopping to watch the swan family and some even photographed them on their way to work. The swans had become an important part of people's every-day routine, an important element of their landscape.

But what does all this have to do with fairy tales? Folk tradition often likens the swan to an immaculate or faultless person. In folklore the creature is often described as one without blemish, and is often associated with bards or poets. (How sinful then to kill such a creature!) According to myth, the swan portends its own death when it sings its famous swan song. German mythology is filled with swan lore, ascribing magical properties to them (see Swan Mythology on this website). When carefully read, many of the fairy tales presented on this website seem to offer a distinct "fairy tale attitude" toward the natural world and toward animals in particular. A good example of these "fairy tale values" is provided by the stories The Little Ringed Snake and The Fairy Tale of Horse and Fox. Here an inherent respect for animals is evident. This appreciation of nature, some would even say fervent love of the landscape and all it contains, is matter-of-fact in fairy tales. Often there is an invisible inter-connectedness between people, place and thing, which is the whole point of the story. These unseen links are often interpreted as mere dramatic devices, a bit of curious magic or silly enchantment, but actually reflect a much deeper fairy tale ethos (perhaps one might even call it "moral imagination").

Here is one example of what I mean:
In popular German folklore, the snake often represents a house spirit or ancestral ghost. Jakob Grimm has suggested these spirits were probably linked to popular notions about ancestors or even ancestor worship. House-snake-as-ancestral ghost would have been understood by the original audience of the tale (just like today most Americans would readily know what is meant the words cellphone or McMansion). Similar to a Tomte, this spirit lived alongside the family, frequently enjoying a separate parallel existence but not perceived by all family members.
(In the tale of the Little Ringed Snake, the creature appears as companion to a lonely child but the mother is unaware of its existence). Folk belief emphasized that such beings were actually the heart of the household. Should this creature be harmed, the family, its security and livelihood would also be threatened. In the world of the fairy tale, a thoughtless act of violence toward a helpless being is tantamount to bringing about one's own sudden (and usually dramatic) demise.

So a year later what is the status of the swan controversy? No swan-killers were ever identified. The little shrine at the side of the road has vanished. And I wrote out a check to the local breakfast program for the homeless.

To view pictures of the swan memorials click on link Swan Song
To read Fairy Tale Detectives Solve the Mystery of the Swan Slayer click on link.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Grimm's Fairy Tale: The Six Swans

In this fairy tale, silence reflects true virtue.

A King once went out hunting in the forest. He was soon so intent on the chase that none of his companions could keep up with him. When evening came, he stopped and looked around and soon realized that he had lost his way. He searched for the way back, but could not find it. After some time he saw an old woman approaching him with a wobbly head. She was really a witch. “Dear woman,” the king said to her “Could you not show me the way out of this forest?”

“O yes, my king,” she replied. “that I can do, but there is one condition and if you do not fulfill it you will never leave the forest and shall die of hunger.”

“What is the condition?” the king asked. “

“I have a daughter,” the old woman said, “She is beautiful, you will not find her equal in all the world and most deserving to become your wife. If you make her your queen, I shall show you the way out of the forest.”

The king in his terror agreed and the old woman led him to her cottage where her daughter sat by the fire. She received the king as if she had been waiting for him and he saw that she was quite pretty. But still, there was something he did not like about her and he could not lay eyes on her without feeling a secret pang of terror. After he lifted the maid up onto his horse, the old woman showed him the way and the king was able to find the royal palace where the wedding was soon celebrated.

Now the king had been married once before and had seven children with his previous wife -- six boys and a girl. He loved them more than anything in the whole world. Because he now feared the step-mother would not treat them well and perhaps do them harm, he brought them to a lonely castle in the middle of the forest. It was so concealed and the path was so difficult to find, that even he could not find it without the help of a wise woman. She gave him a ball of yarn that had the strange quality: when he threw it in front of him, it unwound itself and showed the way. The king went to his dear children so often that the queen soon noticed his absence. She was curious and wanted to know what he did outside alone in the woods. She gave his servants a lot of money until they finally gave away his secret. They told her about the ball of yarn, which alone could show the way. Now she could find no rest until she could determine where the king kept the ball of yarn. Then she made small white-silk shirts and because she had learned the art of witchery from her mother, she sewed a magic charm into the garments. When the king rode out to hunt, she took the little shirts and went into the forest and the ball of yarn showed her the way. When the children saw someone approaching from the distance, they thought it was their dear father and raced forth to meet him full of joy. But she threw a shirt over each one of them and as the garment touched their bodies, they were transformed into swans and flew away over the forest. The queen went home pleased with her work and believed she was now done with her step children. But the little girl had not run out with her brothers and the witch did not know about her. The next day the when the king came to visit his children, he found no one except the girl. “Where are your brothers?” the King asked. “Oh dear father,” she replied, “They are gone and have left me here alone.” She told him what she had seen from the small window and how her brothers had flown away as swans over the forest. She showed him the feathers they had dropped in the courtyard and which the girl had collected. The king was sad but he didn’t know the queen was behind the evil deed. And because he feared the girl would also vanish, he decided to take her with him. But the girl was frightened of the step mother and asked the king if she could stay one more night in the forest castle.

The poor girl thought to herself: “I shall stay here no longer for I want to go and find my brothers.” And when evening came, she fled into the forest. She spent the entire night and next day walking until she could no longer continue. In utter exhaustion, she saw a hut used by hunters, entered it and found six small beds. But she was afraid to lie down in one. Instead she crawled underneath a bed and lay on the hard floor, determined to spend the night there. When the sun went down she heard a noise and saw six swans come flying through the window. They sat down on the floor and blew and cackled at each other. They preened each other’s feathers with their bills and their swan skin fell away like a shirt. Then they looked at the girl and she saw her brothers, rejoiced and crawled out from under the bed. The brothers were also overjoyed to see their sister. But their joy was of short duration. “You cannot stay here,” they said to her, “This is a hostel for robbers. When they come home and find you they will murder you.”

“Can’t you protect me?” the sister asked.

“No,” they replied. “For we can only remove our swan shirt for a quarter hour every evening and take on our human form. But after this we are turned back into swans.”

The little sister cried and said: “Can nothing save you?”

“Oh, no,” they replied, “the conditions would be too harsh for you. You cannot speak or laugh for six years and must sew six shirts for us made from star flowers. If you utter a single word, all your work will be for naught.” And when the brothers had said this, the quarter-hour was over and they flew out of the window as swans.

The girl made the firm decision to save her brothers, even if it cost her own life. She left the hunting hut and went to the middle of the woods. She sat in a tree and spent the night there. The next morning she went out, gathered star flowers and began to sew. She could not talk to anyone and she had no desire to laugh. She sat there and only looked at her work. When she had spent a long time doing this, it happened that the king of the land was hunting in the forest and his hunters came to the tree where the girl sat. They called to her and said “Who are you?” But she gave no answer. “Come down to us,” they said, “We won’t do you any harm.” She shook her head. When they continued questioning her she threw down her golden necklace and thought they would be satisfied. But they would not stop. Then she threw down her belt and when that didn’t help, she threw down her garters, and gave one piece after another until she had nothing left but her shirt. The huntsmen would not be put off, they climbed the tree, and brought the girl down. They led her before the king. The king asked “Who are you?” What were you doing in the tree?” But she did not answer. He asked her in every language he knew, but she remained silent like a fish. Because she was so beautiful, the king’s heart was moved by a great love for her. He wrapped her in his cloak, took her on his horse and brought her to his castle. He had rich clothes made for her and she radiated beauty like a bright sunlit day. But no words came out of her mouth. Se sat at his side at his table and her modest demeanor and demure countenance pleased the king so much that he said “This is the one I desire to marry and no other in all the world.” So after several days he married her.

But the king had an evil mother who was not pleased with the marriage and spoke poorly of the young queen. “Who knows where the girl came from,” she said, “She can’t even speak, she is not worthy of a king.” A year later when the queen bore her first child, the old woman took it away and smeared the queen’s mouth in blood as she lay sleeping. She went to the king and accused her of being a child eater. But the king would not believe it and would not let anyone harm her. She was steadfast and continued sewing the little shirts and paid no attention to anything else. Soon she bore a beautiful boy, the false step-mother committed the same deception but the king would not believe her words. He said “She is too pious and good, she could never do a thing like that. If she could speak she could defend herself and her innocence would be known.” But the third time the old woman stole the newborn and accused the queen, no word was spoken in her defense. The king could do nothing else but deliver his wife to the court, which condemned her to death by fire.

When the day of the execution came, it happened that it was also the last day of the six years she could not speak or laugh. She had finally saved her dear brothers from the power of the magic spell. The six shirts were finished, only a bit was missing on the left arm of the last shirt. When she approached the pyre, she placed the shirts on her arm and when she stood above and the fire was to be lit, she looked up and six swans came flying through the air. She saw their pending redemption and her heart beat in joy. The swans flew down to her so that she could throw a shirt over each one. As they were touched by the shirt, their swan skins fell off and the brothers stood before her. They were fresh and handsome; only the youngest one was missing his left arm and instead, he bore a swan wing on his back. They rejoiced and embraced each other. The queen went to the king who was quite dismayed and began to speak. She said “Dearest husband, now I may speak and reveal to you that I am innocent and wrongly accused,” and she told him of the deception of the old woman who had taken away her three children and hidden them. They were found to the great relief of the king and the evil step mother was bound on the pyre instead and burned to ashes. But the king and the queen with her six brothers lived many years in happiness and peace.

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Grimm's Saga No. 541: The Swan Ship on the Rhine

The Mythology of the Swan Knight: Don't Ask, Don't Tell

In the year 711 the Duchess of Kleve, the only daughter of Beatrix and her father having died, ruled over Kleve and many lands. One day the lady sat in her fortress at Nimwegen. It was a beautiful and clear day. She looked down upon the Rhine and saw a magnificent thing. A white swan swam down the river and round its neck there was a golden chain. A little ship was fastened to the chain and the swan pulled it. A beautiful man sat in the vessel. He had a golden sword in his hand, a hunting horn round his neck and a priceless ring on his finger. This young man landed the ship and disembarked. He exchanged many kind words with the lady and said that he wanted to protect her land and drive away its enemies. The young knight behaved so courteously that she soon grew to love him and took him as husband. But he said to her: “Never ask me about my lineage or origin; for when you inquire about these things, then you shall be rid of me and shall become a single woman once more. You shall never see me again.” He said his name was Helias and he was of large stature, like a giant. They had several children together. After some time Helias lay next to his wife in bed and the Duchess carelessly spoke out loud: “My lord, do you not want to tell your children where you come from?” Upon hearing those words he left his wife immediately. Jumping into the swan ship he sailed away and was never seen again. His wife was overcome with grief and soon died of remorse in the same year. But he left his children three things: the sword, the horn and the ring. His descendants have survived to this day and in the castle at Kleve you can still see a high tower. On its pinnacle there is a swan that turns in the wind. It is called the swan tower and commemorates the events of long ago.

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Life in the Castle: The Arrival of the Swan Knight

Grimm’s Saga No. 545: Gerhard the Good, Swan Knight

King Charlemagne once stood at his castle window and looked down upon the Rhine River. There he saw a swan swimming on the water. It bore a silk cord round its neck and pulled a slender and magnificent boat. There sat a well-armed knight, round whose neck hung a scroll. When the knight came ashore the swan swam away pulling the ship and was never again seen. Nibelung, one of the king’s men, went out to meet the stranger, gave him his hand and led him to the king. Charlemagne asked him his name, but the knight could not speak. Instead he pointed to the scroll hanging round his neck. The scroll announced the arrival of Gerhard the Good Swan Knight, who had come to serve both land and lady. Nibelung took his weapons and secured them, but Charlemagne gave him a splendid cloak and together they sat down at the king’s table. But when Rolland saw the new stranger he inquired about the fortitude of the man. Charlemagne replied: :”God has sent me this man.” And Rolland replied “He seems to have the courage of a hero.” The king ordered that the strange knight be well-attended. And so it was, Gerhard was a wise man, served the king well and found favor with all who met him. He quickly learned to speak the language. The king treated him very well and soon the knight married Adalis, Charlemagne’s sister (in Danish: Elisa). Afterward the couple went to serve the Count in the Kingdom of Ardenne.

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