Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Reading the Pied Piper of Hamelin

Bone Flutes, Müstair, Switzerland

John and Paul’s Day was celebrated throughout Europe on June 26 but was originally a pagan festival commemorating the summer solstice. On this day it was custom for huge throngs of people to gather and dance around a bonfire, play music, sing, and augur the future. According to Petrarch, it was the custom of women in Cologne to bathe in the Rhine River on the evening before St. John’s Day. The surging waters supposedly washed away all evil and misfortune from the bathers. The custom was apparently practiced throughout Germany in its largest rivers and was considered to be distinctly pagan. Processions and parades, dancing and singing, bathing in the river and jumping through or dancing around bonfires were all part of the revelry. Frowning on the unbridled passion of townspeople engaged in such activities, the early Christian Church appropriated the day. It linked the custom of river bathing to John the Baptist and symbolical purification through water. These summer celebrations coincided with the sun reaching its highest point in the sky and usually lasted several days. The dates given in the Pied Piper of Hamelin are the exact days this celebration would have been held and the saga accurately incorporates elements of this folk tradition.

In the Pied Piper of Hamelin we find the elements of playing music and processing down to a river (and immersing oneself in the water) to eradicate pestilence. The figure charged with the expulsion of rats and mice is distinctly pagan. He uses magic and music to take control of the rats first and children second. He is a wandering rogue of a most peculiar sort. His clothing and visage are described in some detail. His coat of many colors is reminiscent of that other famous wanderer in Germanic mythology, Woton (as called by Southern Germanic tribes) or Odin (as called by Northern Germanic tribes). Woton traditionally wears a blue cloak with golden flecks and broad hat. The Germanic God Woton underwent many transformations at the hands of Christian priests, who attempted to Christianize the deity. Wotan alternately became the Archangel Michael, the Holy St. Martin, the Wild Huntsman and finally the devil. In his role as Wild Huntsman, Wotan was said to lead a fearsome procession that raced through the air and lasted 12 days. Other pagan figures lead similar parades or processions including Frau Holla and True Eckhart, and Tannhäuser and Frau Venus. These duos always have the same destination: the inside of a mountain. In many folk tales and saga, entering a mountain as part of a procession is actually a metaphor for dying (see Gratzug). In fact there were many mountains throughout Europe that were considered sacred to Woton (Othensberg, Odensberg, Godesberg, Gudenesberg and Wodenesberg to name a few).

There are sagas and legends from the Middle Ages which reflect the dismay and even anger of the deposed deities toward the rising power and prestige of Christian intruders. Tannhäuser and Frau Venus are perhaps the most well-known examples. But is it possible to interpret the tantalizing character of the Pied Piper and the disappearance of 130 children within the context of an enraged (and perhaps, dislodged) deity?

This extraordinary tale reads like an historical narrative with eye-witness accounts to bolster its veracity. I am inclined to view the story as a cautionary tale to a population wavering between the older pagan belief and the newer Christian belief systems. Participating in pagan revelry, with its gods, music, dancing and wildness, can have dire consequences. The old deities are no longer mourning their loss of status, but ready to take revenge. At the end of the tale, a ban on music is imposed and presumably the pagan revelry and festivities that accompanied it. But the surface message of the tale is also quite clear. The mendacity of town leaders contradicts the Gospel message that “a laborer is worthy of his hire.”

The mountain where the children disappeared has been renamed Calvary, or the Place of the Skull (Köppen = obsolete German word for head or skull). As Europe became Christianized, it was common to rename pagan sites to give them Christian significance. Calvary or site of the Crucifixion would be a fitting name for a place of great tragedy. After reading this tale it is easy to imagine that the story is based on a folk memory of a tragic event involving the loss of children.

Ancient Bone and Ivory Flutes

The Pied Piper is playing one of the oldest known musical instruments: the flute or pipe. Archaeologists have found numerous flutes fashioned from bone or ivory throughout Germany and Switzerland. At the Cloister in Müstair, Switzerland, archaeologists found two bone flutes which they have dated to the Carolingian period and two from the 11th/12th and 14th centuries. They are made from the tibia bone of a sheep or goat and have three finger holes. These Müstair flutes are capable of producing a five-tone or eight-tone scale respectively.

A flute that is believed to be between 30,000 – 37,000 years old was found in pieces in the Geissenkloesterle Cave in Southern Germany. It was made in the Upper Paleolithic Era, a time when Europe was occupied by the last Neanderthals and the first modern humans. This flute was carved from solid ivory and was capable of playing relatively sophisticated tunes. Based on experiments, it seems the flute followed the pentatonic scale.

The sound of these flutes was shaped by human breath. After singing, playing the flute was the most immediate form of communication. Because of its special sound and shape, the flute was also used in religious and cultic ceremonies. The music of the flute or pipe was said to have magical and healing properties. The shepherd played the pipe to calm his flock and keep them together. And in the saga, the Pied Piper uses the magical tones of the flute to exercise control over both animals and humans. The ancient Greeks mistrusted flute music as being overly powerful and seductive and according to Indian tradition, when Lord Krishna played his flute, listeners forgot their individuality and were drawn irresistibly to the music.

Further Reading: If Stones Could Speak, Searching for the Meaning of Stonehenge, National Geographic: New interpretation of ancient ceremonial processions along routes and rivers.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Grimm's Saga No. 245: The Children of Hameln or the Pied Piper of Hamelin

The place called Calvary.

In the year 1284 a strange man was seen in the town of Hamelin. He wore a parti-colored coat and a colorful scarf and that is why he was called Bundting (one colorfully dressed). He claimed he was a rat catcher and promised to free the town of all mice and rats in return for a certain sum of money. The town folk reached agreement and assured him he would receive the designated wage. Thereupon the rat catcher pulled out a little flute from his pocket and began to play. Immediately the rats and mice crept out from every house and gathered round him. When it seemed he had collected them all, he went out from town and the entire throng of mice and rats scampered behind him. And so he led them to the Weser River. Binding up his colorful cloak, he entered the swift waters. The animals eagerly following him were swept up by the swift current and drowned.

But when the townspeople saw that they were free from the pestilence, they regretted the promised reward and they denied him his wage with every manner of excuse until he became enraged and went away embittered. Early in the morning at 7 o’clock on June 26, John and Paul’s Day, (but according to others in the afternoon) he appeared again, but now in the shape of a huntsman with frightful visage and a strange red hat. He sounded his pipe in the alleyways and narrow streets. This time it was not rats and mice that came running but rather children, boys and girls aged four and up, in large numbers. Among them, was the grown daughter of the mayor. A procession of children followed him and he led them out to a mountain, where they all promptly disappeared. A child’s maid had seen it all; she carried a babe on her arm and had followed the crowd from afar, but returned to town to tell the story. The parents streamed out of the city gates and laden with grief, searched for their children. Mothers bewailed their loss. At that hour messengers were sent by land and water to all the surrounding towns to find out whether the children had been seen, but it was all for naught. In total, 130 children were lost. Some said two children had hurried behind the throng but were too late and had to return. The one was blind, the other mute, so that the blind child could not tell the location, but could only tell how they had followed the music. The mute child could point to the location, but couldn’t say anything. One boy ran out of the house only in his shirtsleeves. He returned to the house to get his jacket and thus escaped the misfortune. When he followed, he could see the other children arriving at the bottom of the mountain then he saw them vanish.

The street, where the children left the town through the gate was still called the Bungelose (silent street, where no drumbeat or music is heard) in the mid-eighteenth century because no one was allowed to dance or strum a musical instrument there. When a bride was brought to the church accompanied by music, the players had to silence their instruments when they crossed the road. The hill near Hamelin, where the children disappeared, is called Poppenberg. Here at the left and right two stones have been set up in cross-shape. Some say the children were taken into a cave and came out on the other side in Siebenbuergen (Transylvania).

The citizens of Hamelin had the story recorded in their city register and after that they always counted years and days according to the loss of their children. Seyfried recorded that it was the 22nd of June instead of the 26th when it happened. At the town hall the following words can be read:

In the year of our Lord 1284 in Hamelin, 130 children were lost to a piper at the place called Calvary.

In 1572 the Mayor had the story memorialized in a church window with the necessary caption, but the words are mostly illegible today. A coin was also made to commemorate the event.

To read more about the Pied Piper of Hameln:

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Reading The Fairy Tale Friend

Bear Goddess, Bernese Historical Museum
Deae Artioni

The Lithuanian folktale The Fairy Tale Friend (see full text below) features a most unusual alliance between bear and wolf. In Northern European mythology the wolf is often an object of fear and hatred, personifying the qualities of stealth, evil and cunning. Its fierceness as a predator and wily disposition led to eradication campaigns and near extinction in Europe.

The bear, on the other hand, enjoyed higher status. The bear goddess Artio first appears as an object of veneration in the Rhineland-Palatine area of Germany and her name Artio can be traced back to pre-historic times and the Celtic language. (Latin: Ursus and Gallic: Arto). A symbol of strength and virtue, the bear was considered sacred in Eastern Europe and its appearance portended good fortune.

But wolves and bears never appear together in the real world and this would be quite an unnatural phenomena. The theme of an unusual alliance is perhaps at the heart of this fairy tale, told from the Lithuanian perspective. Russia and Lithuania have a complicated historical past and like the bear and wolf, a natural affinity between the two is difficult to imagine. In this tale, the Lithuanian takes the shape of the more noble bear and the Russian is the wily wolf. Striking out together into the bright summer sunlight, it is the union of their strengths and virtues that allows them to wander unencumbered the entire summer long, fulfilling a dream that perhaps many of us have and few will ever experience.
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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Fairy Tale Friend: For those who would ramble, wander and rove the entire summer long and run free as long as they live.

The Fairy Tale Friend

A long time ago an old man lived with his old wife and the old man loved to hear fairy tales. One day a Russian came to the old man and beseeched him for a night’s lodging. The old man consented, but in return the Russian would have to tell fairy tales the entire night long.

The Russian agreed. The old man ate his evening meal with the Russian. Then the two men lay down sideways on the old wooden plank. The old wife sat nearby on the hearth bench and spun by the light of a pine torch. Soon the Russian began his tales.

For a long time the Russian spoke of his life, where he had been and what had happened. And so, he told stories well into the morning until the cock crowed. Then he was silent for a while and asked the old man:

“Pater, do you know who is lying next to you on this plank bench?” –
“Who then?” the old man asked. “Naturally, you are a Russian.” –
“No, I am not a Russian but a wolf.”

The old man threw a hasty glance at the Russian and saw it was true. He was a wolf. The old man was terrified, but the wolf said to him: “Do not be afraid! Look at me! In truth you are a bear!”

The old man hastily took a look at himself. He had become a bear. “Can you hear me, Pater?” the wolf said. “We cannot stay here on the wooden bench. It is better that we run free as long as we live.”

They ran from there and met the horse of the old man. The wolf saw the horse and said: “We shall devour him!” --- “What! Don’t you see that it is my horse?” the old man said.
“What do I care if it your horse. Hunger knows no law.” They devoured the horse and ran ahead and met an old woman. It was the wife of the old man. The wolf spoke again: “We shall also devour the old woman!”
“Why do you want to eat her? Don’t you see that it is my wife?” the bear said.
“What do I care about your wife?” the wolf replied. And so, they devoured the old woman.

They rambled and wandered and roved, the bear and the wolf, the entire summer long. Then winter came and the wolf spoke: “We want to crawl into a cave! You creep deeper inside; I will lay closer to the opening! If hunters see us, they will shoot me dead first. Then watch and listen! As soon as they shoot me dead and want to take my fur, flee from the cave, jump over me and you will be a man again!”

The wolf and bear rested in the cave. Then the hunters came, shot the wolf dead and wanted to rob him of his fur. And now as the bear attempted to run out of the cave and wanted to jump over the wolf, the old man fell from the plank bench screaming “Ouw, ouw, ouw! Someone has struck me in the behind.”

The old woman was startled and jumped up from the hearth bench. “What is wrong, father? What is the matter with you? Why have you fallen down? You weren’t drinking.” -- “Why?” the old man asked. Don’t you know what I look like?” And the old man began his story. “The Russian and I were wild animals; he was a wolf and I a bear. We roamed around all summer. We ate our horse and we ate you.”

The old woman gripped her sides and laughed out loud: “Ha, ha, ha,” she said. “You two lay on the wooden bench for almost an hour and snored with all your might while I sat and spun.”

The old man injured himself not a little and since that time he no longer listens to tall tales until the cock crows.
Translation: Copyright
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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Grimm's Saga No. 17, The Toy of the Giant Maiden

A tale to honor of all those who labor in field or garden.
In ancient times, the knights residing in Elsass at Nideck Castle near the waterfall were giants. Once a young giantess went down into the valley to see how things were down there. She went almost as far as Haslach and stopped at a farmer’s field before the woods. The farmer was just plowing up the dark earth. Full of wonder, the young giantess came to a stop and gazed at the plow, horse and man. Everything was new and amazed her. “Ah,” she said and approached them “I’ll take them home with me.” She knelt down in the field and spread out her apron. Sweeping her hand over the field she gathered them all up inside the cloth. Now she ran happily home, jumping up the sheer rocky cliffs where the mountain is so steep that a man must labor to climb up the precipice. The maiden took only one step and was on top.

Her father was just sitting down at the table when she reached home. “My dear child,” he said, “What are you bringing me that you laugh so and your eyes sparkle with joy?” She opened up her apron and let him look inside. “What do you have wiggling there?”
“Oh, father, I have a most wonderful plaything! I have never had such a splendid toy.” She took each one out and set it on the table: the plow, the farmer and the horse. She ran round the room, laughed and clapped her hands for joy when she saw how the little creatures wiggled and moved back and forth. But her father said: “Child, that is no plaything. Now you’ve done a fine deed! Go back down into the valley and return them immediately.” The young giantess cried, but it did not help. “The farmer is no plaything,” the knight said sternly. “I will not stand for it or let you grumble. Put everything back at once and take it to the place where you found it. If the farmer did not plant his field, we giants sitting up here in our rocky nest would have nothing to live on.”

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Friday, June 6, 2008

Grimm's Fairy Tale No. 50: Sleeping Beauty (Or: Little Thorn Rose)

Edward Burne Jones, Sleeping Beauty

A very long time ago there lived a king and queen. Each day they said to each other “If only we had a child!” But they never had one. 

Now it happened that the queen was bathing and a frog crept out of the water and onto the shore and said to her “Your wish shall be fulfilled, before a year passes you shall have a daughter.” 

What the frog foretold did indeed happen and the queen bore a little girl. She was so beautiful that the king was beside himself with joy and called for a celebration. He not only invited relatives and friends, but also the Wise Women, so that they might be well disposed toward the child. There were thirteen Wise Women in his kingdom, but because he only had twelve golden plates for them to eat from, one had to stay home. 

The party was celebrated in splendor and when it was over, each Wise Women presented the child with a wonderful gift: one bestowed virtue, the next beauty, the third riches, and so on and so forth, with everything that could be wished for upon the earth. When eleven wise women had bestowed their blessingw, the thirteenth suddenly appeared. She wanted to take revenge because she had not been invited to the party. Without greeting or even looking at anyone, she called in a loud voice “The king’s daughter shall prick her finger in her fifteenth year and fall over dead!” And without uttering another word, she turned around and left the hall. All were aghast. But the twelfth wise woman still had one wish left. Because she could not undo the evil spell, she could only lessen the harm and thus said “The king’s daughter shall not die, but only fall into a deep sleep lasting one hundred years.”

The king, who wanted to save his dear child from this misfortune, sent out a command throughout the kingdom that all spindles should be burned. But all the blessings of the Wise Women were fulfilled for the child. She was so beautiful, demure, friendly and attentive that anyone who saw her had to love her. It happened that on the very day she turned fifteen, the king and queen were not at home and the girl remained all alone in the castle. She wandered through all the rooms and chambers and finally came to the old tower. She climbed the tight spiral staircase and reached a small door. In the lock was a rusty key and when she turned it, the door sprang open. In a small chamber sat an old woman with a spindle and spun her flax skillfully. “Good day, old grandmother,” the king’s daughter said. “What are you doing here?” “I am spinning,” the old woman replied and nodded her head. “What kind of thing is this that spins around so cheerfully?” the girl asked and picked up the spindle and also wanted to spin. She had barely touched the spindle, when the magic spell was fulfilled and she pricked her finger.

In the moment she felt the sting, she fell onto a bed beside her and was soon in a deep sleep. A deep slumber spread throughout the entire castle: the king and queen, who had just come home and entered the hall, fell asleep and the entire court with them. The horses fell asleep in their stall, the dogs in the courtyard, the doves on the roof and the flies on the wall. Even the fire in the oven flickered, became quiet and died down and the roast stopped roasting. The cook, who was pulling the hair of the kitchen servant, let it go and fell asleep. And the wind quieted and not a single leaf moved in the trees in front of the castle.

A thorn hedge began to grow around the castle, which was higher each year and finally encircled the entire castle. It grew over the castle walls and soon, nothing more could be seen, not even the banners on the roof. The story circulated throughout all the land that a beautiful Thorn-Rose slumbered inside, because that is what the king’s daughter was called. From time to time the sons of kings came and tried to penetrate the hedge and enter the castle. But it was not possible. It was as if the thorns had hands, which were clenched firmly together. The youths got stuck in the thick branches, could not free themselves and died a mournful death. After many years another king’s son arrived in the land and heard an old man tell of the thorn hedge. A castle supposedly stood behind it, in which a beautiful king’s daughter, named Little Thorn Rose, was already sleeping one hundred years, and with her slept the king and the queen and the entire court. The man also knew from his grandfather that many princes had already come and tried to penetrate the thorn hedge, but they all became entwined in the bramble and died a miserable death. The youth spoke “I am not afraid. I will go out and try to see the beautiful Little Thorn Rose.” The old man tried to dissuade him, but he did not listen to his words.
One hundred years had just passed and the day had arrived when Little Thorn Rose was to awake. When the king’s son approached the thorn hedge, it was full of beautiful flowers. The branches opened for him and the thorns parted and let him through unharmed. Behind him, the hedge closed again. In the courtyard he saw the horses and hunting hounds lying asleep and on the roof sat the doves with their heads tucked below their wings. When he entered the house, the flies on the wall still slept, the cook still held his hand in the air as if he wanted to strike the servant and the maid sat before the black hen that was to be plucked. He entered the hall and saw the entire court lying asleep and the king and queen lay on their thrones asleep. He walked further and everything was quiet, you could hear a person breathing. Finally he came to the tower and opened the door to the small chamber where Little Thorn Rose slept. She lay there and was so beautiful that he could not turn away his eyes and bent over and gave her a kiss. When he touched her mouth with a kiss, little Thorn Rose opened her eyes, awoke and blinked joyfully at the prince. They walked down the winding staircase and the king and queen and the entire court awakened. They all looked at each other in amazement wide-eyed. The horses in the courtyard stood up from their sleep and shook themselves; the hunting hounds jumped and wagged their tails; the doves on the roof pulled their heads from under their wings, looked around and flew out to the field; the flies on the wall began to hum; the fire in the kitchen rose up, flickered and cooked the food; the roast began to get crispy; the cook boxed the youth’s ears so that he cried out and the maid plucked the chicken. The marriage of the king’s son and Little Thorn Rose was celebrated in splendor and they lived happily ever after.

To read more about the Wise Women in this fairy tale, hit the Norns link at the right.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Norns

In the Fairy Tale One-Eye, Two-Eyes and Three-Eyes, the mysterious Wise Woman is probably a Norn (for complete text of fairy tale, see below). Norns are frequent characters in ancient Germanic mythology (Norn: Old Norse, "the whisperer" or "die Raunende"). They often provide help with childbirth and are associated with the Valkyries and Wise Women because of their overlapping functions. Originally there were many Norns but later tradition settled on the number three. They represented the three stages of time: What was, What is and What will be. Sleeping Beauty is the most well-known fairy tale featuring 13 Norns*.
(*The fairy tale refers to these 13 as wise women, but they are clearly Norns in that they appear at the birth of the child and award various blessings (and a curse).)

The NornsMany dangers threatened the Tree of Life. It probably would have been destroyed altogether were it not for the many beneficent powers laboring endlessly to preserve it.

First and foremost were the Three Norns. They were named Urd (The Past), Verdandi (The Present) and Skuld (The Future) and they lived at the Urd Fountain, a deep spring which flowed over the root of the Tree of Life and formed a lake around it. Beautiful, brilliant white swans swam on this lake. The Norns never ceased to dip their silver horns, which the gods themselves had given them, into the water of the spring to drench the roots of the Tree of Life so that it never withered.

The Gods revered the Norns. Every day the People of Asen came down from Asgard to receive words of wisdom from the sacred spring or to hold a court council. Often they approached the Norns for advice, for they were wise women and knew more about the future and the essence of all things than even the Gods themselves. But they were reticent and try as they may, the Gods did not receive any information from the Norns. They tended the Tree of Life and also did other work. They wove the threads of fate for all the world and humankind. That is why they were also called the Sisters of Fate.

Two of these women were kind and friendly but the third Norn had a hostile disposition. The first two awarded life and health but the third bestowed only death and destruction. At birth, all three stood round the infant in its cradle, dispensing to the sleeping child either fortune, health and blessings or murmured a curse. All that they said came true. For it is known that destiny itself comes from these all-powerful women. They impart glory and splendor, misery and poverty, a long life or an early death.
Here are two examples illustrating the overlapping roles of Norns, Wise Women and Valykyries:
The old Germanic tribes did not have priests or druids. But they had Wise Women, who appeared in white linen robes to their people and acted as seers in times of war and peace. The most famous of all was Velleda, who lived near the Rhine River. At a time of immense danger for the Roman army, she foretold the fall of the Roman Empire. Not only did the capital city burn, but huge campaigns were launched against the Romans.

The Acorn Stone
The Roman Field Marshal Drufus had penetrated Germany as far as the Elbe River. He stood thoughtfully on its banks, contemplating his next move, when a giant woman in white robe appeared to him. She was the most famous of all Germanic seers, who also appeared during battles and urged sons, husbands and lovers to fight honorably. She called to him “Where are you going Young Drufus, who cannot be satisfied? You want to have all of our lands, but fate does not will it! Flee! Flee! You stand at your life’s end!” Because of this apparition, Drufus retreated. He fell with his horse and broke his leg. Carried by his companions to Mainz, he died immediately. He was thus considered to be the founder of the City of Mainz. He was beloved by his legions. They therefore built a monument to honor his remains and it is called the Acorn Stone. It rises up from the ground and appears as a dark-gray, round, tower-like mass. The markings have long vanished, the height and shape of the stone have suffered many changes. Only the iron-hard core remains, which testifies to the human skill and artistry of the Romans.

Translation: Copyright
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Monday, June 2, 2008

Grimm's Fairy Tale 130: One-Eye, Two-Eyes and Three Eyes or Tree with the Golden Apples

The Tree with the Golden Apples, Gustav Klimt

This fairy tale illustrates that beauty really is in the eye (or eyes) of the beholder.
Little One-Eye, Little Two-Eyes and Little Three-Eyes

There was once a woman who had three daughters; the oldest was named Little One-Eye, because she had a single eye in the middle of her forehead. The middle child was named Little Two-Eyes, because she had two eyes like other people. The youngest was named Little Three-Eyes, because she had three eyes and her third eye was in the center of her forehead. But because Little Two-Eyes did not look any differently from other human children, her sisters and mother did not like her. They said to her “You with your two eyes are not any better than the common folk; you are not one of us.” They pushed her around and gave her ugly rags to wear and nothing to eat except leftovers and crumbs. They inflicted misery on the poor child in every way imaginable.

Now it happened that Little Two-Eyes went out into the field and tended the goat. But she was very hungry because her sisters did not give her enough to eat. She sat down at the edge of the field and began to cry so pitifully that two streams flowed from her eyes. And when she looked up in misery, there stood a woman beside her and asked “Little Two-Eyes, why are you crying?” Little Two-Eyes answered “Should I not cry? Because I have two eyes like other people, my mother and sisters can’t stand me, they push me from one corner to the next, give me old rags to wear and nothing to eat besides leftover scraps. That is why I am starving.” The wise woman said “Little Two-Eyes, dry your face. I will tell you something so you will hunger no more. Speak to your goat and say

“Little goat bleat”
Deck little table so neat.”

When you say this a neatly laid table will stand before you with the most wonderful food and you can eat as much as you desire. And when you are satisfied and don’t need the table anymore, say

“Little goat neigh”
Take little table away.”

And before your very eyes the table will vanish.” With that, the Wise Woman departed. Little Two-Eyes thought “I must see if what she said is true, because I am starving so,” and she said

“Little goat bleat”
Deck little table so neat”

She had hardly spoken the words when a table appeared covered with a white cloth. On it lay a plate with knife and fork and a silver spoon and the most wonderful food. The steam rose from the plate, spreading a wonderful aroma. Everything was still warm as if it had just left the kitchen. Little Two-Eyes said the shortest prayer that she knew “Dear God, be our Guest always. Amen”. She ate heartily and enjoyed the food. And when she was satisfied, she spoke as the Wise Woman had instructed her:

“Little goat neigh”
Take little table away”

No sooner said than the little table and everything on it vanished at once. “This is a nice way to keep house,” Little Two-Eyes thought and was quite content and happy.

In the evening, when she came home with her goat and found her little bowl with the food her sisters had left, she did not touch a single morsel. The next day she drove her goat out to the meadow and left the few crumbs in the bowl she had been given. The first and second time, the sisters did not notice but when it happened again they said “Something is not right with Little Two-Eyes, she always leaves her food untouched and before she ate everything we gave her. She must have found some other means.” To uncover the truth it was decided that Little One-Eye would accompany Little Two-Eyes when she drove the goat to the meadow. She would watch her very carefully and see what she did and whether someone brought her food and drink. As Little Two-Eyes prepared to leave, Little One-Eye approached her and said “I will go with you to the field and see the goat is well-tended and is driven into the rich grass.”
But Little Two-Eyes understood what Little One-Eye really meant and drove the goat up into the high grass and said “Come, Little One-Eye, we shall sit down and I will sing you a song.” Little One-Eye sat down and was tired from her such physical exertion and the heat of the sun and Little Two-Eyes sang sweetly

“Little One-Eye, are you awake?
Little One-Eye, are you asleep?”

And Little One-Eye shut her eye and fell asleep. And when Little Two-Eyes saw that Little One-Eye slept and could not see anything, she said

“Little goat bleat,
Deck little table so neat,”

And she sat down at the table, ate and drank until she was full. Then she called again

“Little goat neigh,
Take little table away.”

And everything vanished in that moment. Little Two-Eyes awoke Little One-Eye and said “Little One-Eye, you wanted to stand watch but you fell asleep. That goat could have roamed the entire world in the time you slept. Let’s go home now.” They went home and Little Two-Eyes once more left her little bowl untouched. Little One-Eye could not tell her mother why she did not eat and to excuse herself said “I fell asleep out there.”

The next day the mother said to Little Three-Eyes “This time you go along and watch whether Little Two-Eyes eats anything and whether someone brings food and drink. She must be eating and drinking in secret.” Little Three-Eyes approached Little Two-Eyes and said “I will go with you to the field and see the goat is well-tended and is driven into the rich grass.”
But Little Two-Eyes understood what Little Three-Eyes really meant and drove the goat up into the high grass and said “Come, Little Three-Eyes, we shall sit down and I will sing you a song.” Little Three-Eyes sat down and was tired from her unusual exertion and the heat of the sun and Little Two-Eyes sang sweetly

Little Three-Eyes, are you awake?

But now instead of singing
Little Three-Eyes, are you asleep?”

She sang imprudently
Little Two-Eyes, are you asleep”

And continued to sing

Little Three-Eyes are you awake?
Little Two-Eyes are you asleep?

And Little Three-Eyes shut her two eyes and fell asleep. But the third eye did not fall asleep because it was not lulled to sleep by the spell. Little Three-Eyes closed the eye, but only as a ruse to pretend that she slept. But her third eye squinted a bit and could see everything clearly. And when Little Two-Eyes thought that Little Three-Eyes was asleep, she recited her spell

“Little goat bleat”
Deck little table so neat”

She ate and drank to her heart’s desire and then dismissed the table again

“Little goat neigh,
Take little table away”

But Little Three-Eyes had seen everything. Little Two-Eyes came and woke her and said “Oh, Little Three-Eyes, you fell asleep? You are a good guard! Come, we shall go home.” And when they went home, Little Two-Eyes did not eat anything and Little Three-Eyes went to her mother and said “I now know why the proud thing does not eat: when she is out with the goat she says

“Little goat bleat,”
Deck little table so neat,”

And then a little table stands before her covered with the best food, much better than we have. And when she is satisfied she says

“Little goat neigh,
Take little table away,”

And everything vanishes again; I saw everything quite clearly. Two-Eyes can work magic with her singing and my two eyes fell asleep. But the one eye on my forehead, happily that one stayed awake.” The jealous mother turned to Little Two-Eyes in rage “So, you want to have it better than we do? Your appetite shall dry up!” She took a slaughtering knife and ran it through the goat’s heart, and it fell dead.

When Little Two-Eyes saw what had happened, she was filled with sadness, went out to the field, sat down at the edge of the meadow and cried bitter tears. At once the Wise Woman appeared beside her and said “Little Two-Eyes, why are you crying?” “Should I not cry?” she answered. “The goat, which laid the table so beautifully every day when I spoke your spell has been slaughtered by my mother. Now I must suffer hunger and sorrow .” The Wise Woman spoke “Little Two-Eyes, I will give you good advice. Ask your sisters to give you the entrails of the slaughtered goat and bury them in the earth before your house door. That will bring you luck.” She vanished and Little Two-Eyes went home and said to here sisters “Dear sisters, give me something from my goat. I’m not asking for any of the good parts, only give me the entrails.” The sisters laughed and said “You can have them, if you want them.” And following the advice of the Wise Woman, Little Two-Eyes took the entrails and buried them in the peace and quiet of the night right before the house door.

The next morning, when they all awoke and stepped out the front door, there stood a beautiful and glorious tree. It had leaves of sliver and fruits of gold hanging between the leaves. There was nothing more beautiful than the tree or more delicious than its fruits in all the world. But they did not know how the tree had come there during the night. Only Little Two-Eyes noticed that it had grown from the entrails of the goat; for it stood exactly where she had buried them in the earth. The mother spoke to Little One-Eye “Climb up my child and break off some fruit from the tree.” Little One-Eye climbed up but when she wanted to grasp one of the golden apples, the branch slipped away from her hands. This happened each time and she could not break off a single apple, try as she may. The mother then said “Little Three-Eyes, you climb up. With your three eyes, you can see better than Little One-Eye.” Little One-Eye slipped down and Little Three-Eyes climbed up. But Little Three-Eyes was not any more skilled and though she tried her best, the golden apples always slipped away. Finally, her mother became impatient and climbed the tree herself. But she had just as much success grasping the fruit as Little One-Eye and Little Three-Eyes and always slapped the empty air. Then Little Two-Eyes spoke “Let me climb up and maybe it will be different with me.” The sisters called to her “You with your two eyes, what can you do!” But Little Two-Eyes climbed up and the golden apples did not slide away from her but rather fell into her hands and she could pick one after another and fill her entire apron. She climbed down from the tree and the mother took them from her. But instead of treating Little Two-Eyes better, the mother, Little One-Eye and Little Three-Eyes only became jealous that she alone could pick the apples. They treated her even more harshly than before.

It happened that they were all together standing around the tree, when a young knight rode by. “Quickly, Little Two-Eyes,” the sisters cried, “creep underneath the barrel, so that we don’t have to be ashamed of you.” And they quickly pushed Little Two-Eyes into a barrel, which stood next to the tree and also pushed underneath the golden apples, which she had broken off. When the knight approached, they saw he was a handsome man who stopped in amazement at the beautiful tree full of gold and silver and said to the two sisters “To whom does this beautiful tree belong? Whoever gives me a branch could request his heart's desire.” Little One-Eye and Little Three-Eyes replied that the tree belonged to them and they would break off a branch. Both tried their best but they could not break off the branches and the fruits slipped away each time. The knight said “It is strange that the tree belongs to you and you don’t have the power to break off anything.” They persisted and said the tree was their property. As they spoke Little Two-Eyes rolled a few golden apples from underneath the barrel, so that they landed at the feet of the knight. Little Two-Eyes was angry that Little One-Eye and Little Three-Eyes did not tell the truth. When the knight saw the apples, he was amazed and asked from where they came. Little One-Eye and Little Three-Eyes replied, they did have one other sister, but they had to keep her hidden because she had only two eyes, just like other people. The knight demanded to see her and called “Little Two-Eyes come forth.” Little Two-Eyes emerged confidently from underneath the barrel and the knight was amazed by her beauty and said “You, Little Two-Eyes, are certainly able to break off a branch.” “Yes,” Little Two-Eyes replied. “That I can do, because the tree belongs to me.” And she climbed up and with ease broke off a branch with fine silver leaves and golden fruits and gave it to the knight. The knight spoke “Little Two-Eyes, what should I give you for this?” “Oh,” replied Little Two-Eyes “I suffer hunger and thirst, grief and want, from early in the morning ‘til late at night. If you could take me with you and free me from this fate, I would be happy.” The knight lifted Little Two-Eyes onto his horse and brought her home to has father’s castle. He gave her beautiful clothes, food and drink as much as she desired. Because he loved her so, he had their union blessed and the wedding was celebrated in great joy.

As Little Two-Eyes was taken away by the handsome knight, her two sisters envied her happiness. “Ha!” they said. “Even though she has married the young knight, the wonderful tree still belongs to us!” “Even if we can’t break off any of the fruits, everyone will stand before it in amazement; who knows where our wheat shall blossom tomorrow!” But the next morning the tree had vanished and their hopes along with it. As Little Two-Eyes gazed out of her window, there stood the tree in its full glory. It had followed her to her new home.

Little Two-Eyes lived a long time in happiness. Once, two poor women came to the castle and begged for alms. Little Two-Eyes looked into their faces and recognized her sisters Little One-Eye and Little Three-Eyes. They had fallen into such poverty that they were forced to wander and beg bread before doors of noble houses. But Little Two-Eyes welcomed them and cared for them and they were sorry that they had done such evil to their sister in their youth.

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Myth of Opera

Richard Wagner based his opera Tannhauser und der Saengerkrieg auf Wartburg on the two sagas provided below. The opera takes a romantic look at the Middle Ages and features a lively cast of troubadours, saints and even the Goddess Venus. Venus and the Venusberg are first mentioned in German mythology in the 15th century. Before this time the goddess was referred to as Frau Holla and her escort was Getreue Eckart. They both resided in the Horselberg. In the German Saga the character Tannhauser is wracked by longing for his old pagan religion and belief system, the one that was vanishing along with Frau Holla and Eckart. Christianity proved to be too rigid and harsh for Tannhauser and so, he withdrew to the Venusberg to await his Last Judgement.

His pain and longing for a world quickly disappearing is reminiscent of another famous pagan fairy tale personage, Rumpelstiltzchen. See the link Reading Rumpelstiltzchen at the upper right for more.

It is interesting to see how Wagner mixes the two sagas to produce his musical masterpiece. In Wagner's version, Tannhauser and Heinrich von Ofterdingen become one and the same character. The language in these two sagas is particularly dense and difficult to decipher. The first line of the Wartburg Singing Contest announces six virtuous and reasonable men coming together in song to compose hymns. But nothing virtuous or reasonable follows and the story is full of curious plot twists and turns. Luckily for opera-goers, when the plot sags the music usually soars.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Grimm's Saga No. 561: The Wartburg Singing War

Grimm’s Saga No. 561 The Wartburg Singing War

In the year 1206, six virtuous and reasonable men came together in song to compose hymns at Wartburg Castle near Eisenach. Years later this was often referred to as The Singing War at Wartburg Castle. The names of the troubadours were: Heinrich Schreiber, Walther von der Vogelweide, Reimar Zweter, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Biterolf and Heinrich von Ofterdingen. They sang and quarreled over who sang most like the sun and the day. Most compared Hermann, the Count of Thuringia and Hessia to the day and placed him over all other princes. Only Ofterdingen praised Leopold, Duke of Austria even more and compared him to the sun. When setting the rules of the singing contest, the troubadours determined that the loser would lose his head. Stempfel the henchman stood ready with noose in hand and would hang the loser immediately. Heinrich von Ofterdingen sang cleverly and skillfully; in the end he was superior to all the others but they were cunning and entrapped him. Because they were jealous, they wanted to remove him from the Thuringia Court. But he complained that the contest had been rigged and he had been given the wrong dice to play their game. The five others called Stempfel and ordered him to hang Heinrich from a tree. But Heinrich fled to the Landgravine Sophia and hid behind her coat. They were forced to let him go and they reached agreement that they would leave him in peace for one year. He would go to Hungary and Siebenbuergen and fetch the Meistersinger Klingsor. The troubadours would then settle the singing contest and they would abide by his decision. At the time, Meistersinger Klingsor was considered to be the most famous of all German Meistersingers. Because the Landgravine Sophia had granted Heinrich protection, the others had to follow her bidding.

Heinrich von Ofterdingen started his journey. First he visited the Duke of Austria and with his letters of recommendation continued on to Siebenbuergen to the Meistersinger. He told Meistersinger Klingsor the reason for his trip and performed his songs.

Klingsor praised his singing and promised to return with him to Thuringia and settle the dispute. But on the way, they spent their time in idle amusement and the deadline given Heinrich was fast approaching. Because Klingsor still gave no sign of starting the journey, Heinrich became fearful and said: “Meistersinger Klingsor, I fear you are abandoning me and I must sadly accept my punishment alone. I shall lose my honor and never again be able to return to Thuringia.” But Klingsor replied “Do not worry! We have strong horses and a light wagon. We shall manage the distance in a short time.”

Heinrich could not sleep because of his anxiety; in the evening Klingsor gave him a drink so that he fell into a deep sleep. Klingsor commanded his ghosts to bring Heinrich quickly to Eisenach in Thuringia and to set him down in the best inn. It happened and they brought him to Helgrevenhof before daylight. Heinrich recognized the bells ringing in his morning sleep and said “It seems as though I have heard these bells before and that I’m in Eisenach.”
“You must be dreaming,” the Meister replied. But Heinrich stood up and looked round and he noticed that he really was in Thuringia. “Thank God that we are here, this is Helgrevenhaus Inn and I can see St. George’s Gate and the people standing in front of it want to cross the field.”

Soon the arrival of the two guests was heralded at Wartburg Castle. The Count ordered that Meistersinger Klingsor be received honorably and presented him with gifts. When Ofterdingen was asked what had happened to him and how he had faired in the last year, he replied “Yesterday I went to sleep in Siebenbuergen and by early morning I was here. I myself don’t know how it happened.” Several days passed before the singers were to assemble and begin the contest that Klingsor was to judge. One Evening, he sat in the innkeeper’s garden and looked up at the stars. The gentlemen asked what he saw in heaven. Klingsor said “Do you know that tonight a daughter shall be born to the King of Hungary. She will be beautiful, chaste and holy and will be married to the Count’s son.”

When this message was taken to Count Hermann, he rejoiced and invited Klingsor to Wartburg, honored him and presented a fine dinner at the princely table. After dinner, he went out to the Knight’s Hall, where the singers sat. All wanted to be free of Heinrich von Ofterdingen. Klingsor and Wolfram sang their songs but Wolfram sang with such beauty and agility, that the Meister could not surpass him. Klingsor entreated one of his ghosts, who appeared in the form of a youth. He said “I bring you my servant; he will continue the contest with you for a while.” The ghost began to sing a song, starting with the creation of the world and continuing to the time of grace. But Wolfram’s song praised the sacred birth of the Eternal Word. When he began to sing of the transformation of bread and wine, the devil was silent and had to depart. Klingsor listened to everything and heard Wolfram sing with such noble bearing and learned words of the divine secret. He believed that Wolfram was a scholar. The two then departed. Wolfram went to his place in Titzel, Gottschalk’s House, across from the bread market in the center of town. At night when he slept Klingsor sent him another of his devils to ascertain whether he was a scholar or layman. But Wolfram was only trained in God’s word, a simple man and inexperienced in other arts. The devil sang to him of the stars in heaven and asked him questions the singer could not answer. And when he was silent, the devil laughed loudly and wrote with his finger on the stone wall, as if it were soft dough: “Wolfram, you are a layman, schnipf-schnapf!” The devil withdrew but the writing remained on the wall. Many people came to see the miracle, which annoyed the innkeeper. He broke the stones out of the wall and threw them in the Horsel River. After he had done all this, Klingsor left the Count with all his gifts and rewards and with his servant wrapped in a rug, departed in the same way that he had come.

Richard Wagner used this saga as inspiration for his opera Tannhäuser. To read a translation of Grimm's Saga Tannhäuser, please hit the link: Tannhäuser

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Opera Lover's Series: Tannhäuser

The Last Judgement, Fra Angelico

Deutsche Sagen, Jacob Grimm, Wilhelm Grimm (Brueder Grimm), 1816/18
No. 171

Noble Tannhäuser, a German knight, traveled through many countries and also spent time with the many beautiful women residing in Mistress Venus’s mountain. Passing the time among these fair ladies, he spent his hours gazing upon all the magnificent wonders. For some time he stayed there happily, but his conscience finally urged him to go out and reunite with the world. He longed to take his leave from Venus but she offered to give him anything his heart desired so he would stay. Finally she presented one of her companions to be his wife. He should only remember her red mouth and think of her red lips, which filled every hour with laughter. Tannhäuser replied that he did not desire any other woman than the one he intended for himself for he did not want to burn in eternal hell fire. The red mouth was not important to him. He could not remain because his life had become something sick and foul. But the devilish temptress tried to lure him into her chamber so they could continue to seek the pleasures of love. The noble knight scorned her loudly and called upon the Heavenly Virgin to bring an end to his misery. Filled with remorse, he made a pilgrimage to Rome to seek out Pope Urban. He would confess all his sins to him so that penance would be prescribed and his soul would be saved. But when he confessed that he had passed an entire year with Frau Venus in her mountain, the pope replied: “When this thin staff in my hand sprouts green leaves, then your sins shall be forgiven. Until then, you remain a sinner.” Tannhäuser replied: “And if I only have one year to live on earth, I should show such remorse and penance that God would have mercy on me.” Full of pain and suffering because the pope had damned him, he went out from that city and re-entered the devilish mountain with the intent to live there until eternity. Mistress Venus welcomed him, like one welcomes home a long lost lover. But on the third day the staff began to sprout green buds and the pope sent a message throughout all the countryside to find the noble knight Tannhäuser. But it was too late. He had returned to the Venusberg and to his life of pleasure. Now he must sit there until the Day of Judgement, when God will perhaps deal differently with him. A priest should not dispense such despair and misery to a sinner, but rather grant forgiveness when he comes in penance and remorse.

To read the Wartburg Singing War, Grimm's Saga No. 561, on which the opera Tannhäuser is also based, hit the link: Wartburg Singing War.

You also might be interested in reading  Grimm's Saga No. 542, Lohengrin from Brabant, click on the link.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Of Fairies, Gnomes and Men

In addition to their pantheon of gods, ancient Germanic tribes acknowledged a number of supernatural beings, who were capable of help or harm. Air, meadow, forest, water, even the interior of the earth – in short, everything that surrounded them was populated by such beings. They were generally called Alben (goblins) or Elben (elves) and they inhabited the realm of light (Lichtalben) or darkness (Schwarzalben). Those inhabiting the realm of light lived in Lichtalbenheim, between Midgard and Asgard. They were delicate and gentle creatures of indescribable beauty. They seemed to be woven out of a sheer fabric of sunlight and vapor. They were so light and transparent, that when they landed in the calyx of a flower, it did not tremble. A dewdrop did not break when such a creature alighted on it but rather vibrated ever so slightly. More than anything else, the Light Elves or Light Fairies loved music and their greatest pleasure was dance and play. In forest clearings on quiet moonlit nights, they performed their round dances faster and faster, with ever-higher leaps into the air. Sometimes they preferred to sing their gentle songs quietly, sometimes with an even solemn grandeur. If they were disturbed by curious onlookers, they vanished immediately. Such troublemakers had to take care that the outraged elves did not seek to play some unkind prank in retaliation.

Schwarzalben or gnomes were different from their dear relatives the Light Fairies. The gods created them from the same dark fabric they used to make the monsters. They resided in Schwarzalbenheim, deep inside the earth. Many of them were so small, they could duck inside the shell of an acorn cap. They were a diminutive folk; an entire group could ride a ship fashioned from a leaf. When they celebrated a feast, the amount of water boiled in an egg-shell would be enough for all the guests. Others were about the size of a thumb but the largest among them rarely reached the height of a two-year-old child. They were ugly, their faces dark gray, ashen and full of wrinkles. Beards were wild and unkempt. They lived together in underground holes and the glitter of gold and precious stones that decorated their abodes was so radiant that they did not miss the light of day. Like the Light Fairies and Elves, they loved to dance and play in the moonlight. But they were mindful of the rising sun, for a single ray was enough to turn them to stone. Gnomes were masters of the art of finding precious stones and fashioning beautiful objects from them. They also used magic rings to uncover every treasure deep inside the earth. With their magic caps, they were able to make themselves invisible to humans.

Usually, gnomes were friendly toward humans. They richly rewarded anyone who helped them, but they did not like to be showered with gratitude. If they felt kindly toward a human, they would appear before him at night but never when the sun was shining. They did work for those they favored and it was always perfectly executed, much better than if human hands had performed the task. But woe to the man who offended them! He could be certain that the insulted dwarves would never forgive the misdeed and would seek revenge at every opportunity. They would milk the cows until their udders were dry and at night destroy all the work their enemies had finished the day before. Whatever they could steal, they carried off, including the baby in the cradle. When a human slept who had fallen from their graces, they sat on his chest and weighed down the unsuspecting slumberer like a stone. It was then said the goblin had been pressing again last night. People did everything in their power to ward off the vengeful gnomes, but this was an impossible thing to do. It was best not to kindle their wrath, but to submit to their will. There were many types of gnomes: so-called Heinzel-men, Wichtel-men, Klabauter-men (protective spirits of a ship) and Poltergeist.

Translation: Copyright
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Friday, May 23, 2008

Reading Rumpelstiltskin

Rumpelstiltskin is an odd fellow. Sharing traits of both wild man and witch, he is indeed a rare breed of fairytale figure. It might be said that he represents two opposing attitudes toward paganism: on the one hand, paganism can be thought of as a virtuous and more natural way of life. On the other hand, it may also be associated with a demonic or unnatural lifestyle, one that should be shunned. Rumpelstiltskin does not fit neatly into the typical template for a fairytale fiend. He is a diligent worker, honest and true to his word. He is compassionate for he shows mercy to the queen and allows her to win back her child. We can only laud his priorities and agree with him when he says: “A living thing is more dear to me than all the treasures of the earth.”This is contrasted with the ignoble king, who loves gold above all else and only marries the miller’s daughter to enrich himself. He admits “Even if she is only a miller’s daughter, I will not find a richer woman in the whole world.”
And the queen might be quick-witted but is not necessarily a principled character. She relinquishes her first-born child because it is expedient and makes sense to her at the time.

The wild man of ancient mythology often appeared on German heraldic shields with uprooted tree in hand. He is wild, rough and crude like a satyr or faun and is associated with plants, trees and wild animals. But Rumpelstiltskin bakes and brews and this also connects him to witches, who frequently performed such tasks in fairy tales. Baking and brewing were essential tasks for survival in ancient cultures. It is very unusual to encounter a male witch in a German fairy tale and so it is worthwhile to read this story very carefully.

Another theme in Rumpelstiltskin is the power of language and naming things. But what exactly does the name Rumpelstiltskin mean? I have read several explanations, including one that interprets Rumpel as the sound made by little stilts (stiltzchen) or little legs of this diminutive character. It is impossible to ascribe a precise meaning to the name, but it does evoke the idea of a person of small stature and unknown magical properties. See commentary on The White Snake or Taboo for more on the topic of language and naming things.
There are several versions of the story. In the one printed here, Rumpelstiltskin is seized by such a powerful rage that he tears himself in two, an apt metaphor for two worldviews colliding and ripping apart the very essence of his being. In another version, he merely flies out the window on a spoon (reminiscent of a witch on a broomstick). His wretched lament at the end that “the devil told you” brings to mind a person indicting a world he doesn’t really understand or expect fair treatment from. He remains illusive but in the end, the story is still very entertaining.

To read the Brother Grimm's Version of Rumpelstiltskin, hit the link:

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Grimm's Fairy Tale No. 55: Rumpelstiltskin

There was once a miller who was poor, but he had a beautiful daughter. Now it happened that he came into conversation with the king and to gain his favor told him “I have a daughter who can spin straw into gold.” The king replied “That is an art, which I hold dear. If your daughter is as clever as you say, bring her to my castle in the morning. I will test her skill.” When the maid was brought to him, he led her to a chamber, which was packed full with straw, gave her a spinning wheel and bobbin and said “Now get to work and if you do not spin this straw into gold by morning, you must die.” With that he closed the door to the chamber and she sat all alone.

The poor miller’s daughter sat quietly and did not know how to save her life. She knew nothing about how straw was spun to gold. Her fear grew until she finally began to cry bitterly. At once the door opened and a small man came inside. He spoke “Good evening, dear miller’s daughter, why are you crying so pitifully?”
“Oh,” the maid replied, “I must spin straw into gold and I don’t know how.” The little man spoke “What will you give me if I spin it for you?” “My necklace,” the maid replied. The little man took her necklace, sat in front of the wheel and whirr, whirr, whirr, the wheel turned three times and the spindle was full. Then he placed another spindle on the wheel and whirr, whirr, whirr, the wheel turned three times and the second spindle was also full. And so it continued until morning. All the straw was spun and all spindles were full of gold. When the sun went up the king entered the chamber. When he saw the gold, he was amazed and happy. But his heart was greedy for even more gold. He took the miller’s daughter to another chamber full of straw, which was even larger and commanded her to spin this too into gold if she cherished her life. The maid did not know what to do and cried bitter tears. The door opened once more and the small man appeared and said “What will you give me if I spin the straw into gold?” “The ring on my finger,” the maid replied. The little man took the ring and began once more to turn the wheel and had spun all the straw into brilliant gold by morning. The king’s joy was without bounds but he was still greedy for gold. He took the miller’s daughter to an even larger chamber full of straw and said “You must once more spin this night. But if you succeed you shall become my wife.” “Even if she is only a miller’s daughter,” he thought, “I will not find a richer woman in the whole world.” When the maid was once again alone, the little man came to her a third time and said “What will you give me if I spin the straw for you this time?” “I have nothing more that I can give,” the maid replied. “So promise me when you become queen that you will give me your first child.” “Who knows what will happen,” the miller’s daughter thought and she did not know what else to do. She promised the little man what he demanded and once more the little man spun the straw into gold. And in the morning the king came and found everything as he desired it. He celebrated his marriage with her and the beautiful miller’s daughter became queen.

Over a year later the queen bore a beautiful child and she didn’t even think about the little man again. Suddenly he entered her chamber and said “Now give me what you have promised.” The queen recoiled in fear and offered the little man all the riches of the kingdom if he would leave her the child. But the little man replied: “No, a living thing is more dear to me than all the treasures of the earth.” The queen began to weep and wail, so that the little man had compassion for her. “I will give you three days time,” he said. “If you know my name by then, you shall keep your child.”

The entire night through the queen recalled all the names she had ever heard and sent a messenger throughout the land to find all the names that existed far and wide. When the little man returned the next day, she began with Caspar, Melchior, Balzer and said all the names that she knew in order. But each time the little man said “My name that is not.” The second day she asked around the neighborhood, what people were called there and recited to the little man the most unusual and strange names. “Are you perhaps called Beastyrib or Lambchop or Stringbone? But he always replied “My name that is not.” On the third day, the messenger returned and said “I could not find out any new names, but when I reached a high mountain and came around a bend in the wood, where fox and hare say goodnight to each other, I saw a small hut and in front of the hut burned a fire and around the fire jumped a funny little man. He hopped on one leg and cried:

“Today I bake, tomorrow I brew,
Next, the queen’s child is mine;
How good it is that no one knows
Rumpelstiltskin is my name!”

You can imagine how happy the queen was when she heard the name. And soon after the little man entered her chamber and asked “Now, Mistress Queen, what is my name?” She first asked “Is your name Kunz?” “No.” “Is your name Heinz?” “No”.

“Is your name perhaps Rumpelstiltskin?”

“The devil told you, the devil told you,” the little man cried and in his rage stamped his little foot so with such force that he sank into the ground up to his waist. Then he stamped his left foot into the ground in rage and with both hands tore himself in two.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Lorelei

Source: Ludwig Bechstein, German Saga Book, Leipzig 1853
The Lorelei (or Lurlei)

The Rhine River flows through a valley and pushes through jagged cliffs at its narrowest point near Kaub. At this lonesome place echoes reverberate off the black stone and mournful sounds ricochet upward. The river flows faster and the waves swell noisily here; then they hit the jagged rock and form a foaming eddy. The gorge is eerie and the current quick. A story is told about the beautiful water nymph of the Rhine, the dangerous Lurlei or Lorelei, who was been banished to these cliffs. She often appears to passing ships, combing her long golden hair, which shines radiantly like the bright harvest moon. She sings a sweet, beguiling song. Those who are lured to the rock, attempt to climb the cliff and fall to their death in the maelstrom of waves below. Upstream and downstream all folk speak of the Lorelei. She is most like an echo emanating from the cliff wall. Her song breaks like the waves and then repeats itself over and over. Many poets have described her charms but she remains illusive.

Lorelei is the Nymph of the Rhine. Whoever sees her and hears her song, loses his heart. High above on the highest peak of the cliff you can see a maiden in white, with flowing veil and hair, waving her arms in a beckoning gesture. But whenever someone approaches or climbs the cliff peaks, she retreats. She lures unsuspecting youth to the abrupt abyss with her supernatural beauty. The beholder only has eyes for the Lorelei and as he approaches, he believes he is standing on firm ground but takes one step forward and is dashed to the rocks below.

Some folk say that the devil himself once steered a ship down the Rhine and arrived between the Lorelei rocks. The passage seemed too narrow and he wanted to take the boat out farther, either toward the adjacent rock or break against it so that the boat would block the river and make it unnavigable. He turned his back on the Lorelei cliff and pushed himself toward the adjacent mountain. This cliff began to sway when the Lorelei started her song. The devil heard her singing and a strange feeling overcame him. He concentrated on his work but was only able to withstand the song with enormous effort. His greatest desire was to win the Lorelei as his own and kidnap her, but he had no power over her. He became so agitated that steam could be seen rising from his body. When Lorelei ended her song, he hastened away; he had already come to believe that he would have to stay forever banished at that rock. But as he slipped away, a miracle occurred. His entire shape including his forked tail left a black imprint on the cliff wall. Today, this image still marks his visit to the Lorelei. After this encounter, the devil took enormous care never to approach the siren song of the Rhine again. He was afraid of being seized by her power and being pulled into the eddy of chaos and enchantment, would cease to be able to perform his work. The Lorelei, however, still sings in the moonlight on quiet evenings. She is seen on the peak of the cliff and awaits her coming redemption. But those who love her, the beguiled, have all died out. Today the world has no time to climb her cliff or approach her in the moonlight. The wheels of the steamship turn, boats still pass by, but now without stopping. Through the swell of the waves you can no longer hear the voice of the nymph’s sweet song. 

Fairy Tale Factum

Ironically, the very steamships that the author bemoans created a new generation of Lorelei admirers in the 19th century. Flocks of tourists were now able to float down the the Rhine River leisurely and admire its charms. With Heine's poem in hand, The Lorelei, they passed jagged cliffs, picturesque villages and sleepy castles that dotted the Rhine Valley. From the comfort of a cruise ship, this new generation rediscovered national myth. Alexander Dumas, writing about the Germans love affair with the Rhine wrote of "the profound veneration" they held for the river. "The Rhine is might; it is independence, it is liberty; it has passions like a man or rather like a God. .. It is an object of fear or hope, a symbol of love or hate, the principle of life and death." Modernity, it turns out, did not kill myth but rather rekindled interest. (From: Landscape and Memory, Simon Schama, Vintage Books)

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