Friday, September 5, 2008

Glimpses of the Afterlife in Fairy Tales and Saga: Gratzug

Translation: Copyright
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A well-worn path through the mountains.

(Der Gratzug: A procession of the dead over mountain and through valley. According to Swiss folk tradition, whoever encounters such a “Volch”, will be visited by a dangerous illness. Also referred to as “Totevolch”.)
There are paths, roads and corridors through the mountains, on which the souls of the dead travel in long ghostly processions. These deathly processions are called Gratzug, also folk walk or symphony. Whoever falls into such a buzzing or whirring train of ghosts or is taken by surprise by such a procession, often falls victim to a dangerous illness and suffers from it for weeks or months. People believe they can recognize these well-worn corridors and paths in the landscape. One ghost path purportedly winds through the Tschingel Valley and has ninety-nine different segments.

The ghosts appear wearing the clothing they wore when they were carried to the grave, or in the robe which was presented to their death guardian or given to the poor of the community in their memory. A deceased person, who is not well-dressed when he is interred or is only partially dressed or who did not receive a God’s garment (as these gifts are called), also appears in the Gratzug as poorly dressed or lacking dress, without a coat or hat or may even walk barefoot.

In the Visper Valley region of Switzerland, a man who was once sleeping alone at home heard someone call out his name three times around eleven o’clock at night. The voice whispered softly that he should get up and go to the field where he had just cut down larch trees. He should remove them immediately so that the Gratzug would not be hindered but would find a clear path. He believed he recognized the voice to be that of his deceased father. He responded immediately and said he would go as quickly as possible and remove the obstruction. He got dressed, climbed the path in large strides and began work immediately. When he had removed the last tree from the path he heard the same voice say urgently: “Quickly, quickly, move to the right side of the path!”

With all his strength he pulled the last round piece of wood out of the way and sat down exhausted on the trunk. Promptly a faint buzzing sound could be heard, which soon swelled into a loud roar. As the sound approached it sounded like an entire army praying the rosary. Drumbeat and whistles like a slow death march could also be heard and in midst of the throng; the cacophony of music echoed off the cliff walls. Then he heard crying and laughing voices, a whirring sound and whispers. At first only a warm breeze blew round him but then suddenly a blast of wind blew through the wood, causing his hair to stand on end. Try as he may he could distinguish nothing other than black shadows passing by quickly. But when the clock in the church tower struck twelve he saw figures walking along the path in twos and fours, as many as the width of the path would allow. Some were well-dressed but others walked barefoot. Still others were weighted down by a haphazard assortment of garments, some even wore two coats. One woman balanced a heavy ball of butter on her head instead of a hat. One of the deceased was missing the belt of his white garment. The robe fluttered in the wind and he had to hold it together with his hands.

When the ghost train passed, the clock in the valley below struck three and then the prayer bell sounded. The ghost procession had lasted three long hours as measured by the tower bell.

To read further fairy tales click on the link:

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Near Death Experiences Described in Fairy Tales: The Story of Adalbert the Compatriot

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Adalbert, the Compatriot

Adalbert, the compatriot, was getting on in years. The time came when it was believed he was dying, for he lay as lifeless as a dead man for an entire night. But when the sun rose and he was about to be buried, he came back to life. Those standing round his bed fled in terror. But the risen man went into the church and remained there a long time, praying on his knees. He saw and heard nothing and did not notice that a throng had gathered round him. Only when he was addressed directly by one of the crowd did he finally cry out “Oh you foolish and godless men. What torture awaits you in the afterlife!”

Adalbert’s words and warnings occupied the thoughts of all those around him, but most of all, Priest Mandel, Abbot Sponheim and Prior Joachim. These three clergymen went to Adalbert’s dwelling and he told them what had happened the night before.

After his death, he said, several angels guided his soul through the air. Large sparks whirled around them in every direction like snow flakes. These were innumerable devils desiring nothing else but to push him into the blazing fire encircling them. But the good angels warded off the devils. Every sin he had ever committed was known to the bad and good angels alike. But these sins appeared even more terrible to him, even if he had considered them insignificant in his earlier life. Once when he was traveling to Kreuznach he met a beggar who asked him directions. He responded but did not describe the path in enough detail. The beggar had to spend several hours wandering around lost in the forest. According to Adalbert the Compatriot, it was for this that he was punished in a way he could not even describe, even if he were given one-hundred tongues. And because of another mistake, which he had hardly considered an error before, the devils threw burning coals on him with loud laughter. He thought this punishment lasted at least four-hundred years and burned him in a most terrifying way.

In the end an angel was given him as guide and this angel led him to the place of eternal damnation. In truth he had not been dead four-hundred years but rather only a single night. But during this time innumerable souls were pushed into hell and he thought so many could hardly have died in just one-hundred years.

In the center of earth, Adalbert the Compatriot saw a horrible shaft filled entirely with souls and from this shaft flames emerged and extended into heaven. The devils swirled around and in between them. Crying, wailing and horrible cursing resounded from the depths. The angels spoke to Adalbert the Compratriot “Whoever is enclosed herein, never emerges again”.

The angel also showed Adalbert purgatory. Adalbert looked into a deep, deep valley, into which flowed a large, stinking river. Over this river stretched a thin and slippery bridge from one mountain to the next, higher than if four church towers of Kreuznach Cathedral were stacked one atop another. This bridge was only two feet wide and then fell down steeply to the center, only to rise again sharply on the other side. But the souls who sought to cross this bridge were many. Some fell at the beginning. Others fell in the middle. Still others fell at the end into the raging waters below. Horrible dragons and snakes waited below and the heads of the damned could be seen held in their jaws. Others fell next to monsters according to the degree of their sinning, either falling on their head, neck or knee. Many were able to recover quickly and make their way through the river and safely ashore.

Those who were able to reach the bank looked much more beautiful than before. They were received joyfully by angels and led to the palace of heaven.

But those who started the journey laden with gold, fell at the very beginning. Because it was impossible for them to turn around, they had to struggle terribly to get ashore. They were engulfed in the tumult of the putrid waters for years until they finally reached the river bank, completely debilitated.

Adalbert saw one very beautiful soul quickly cross the bridge with sure footing. That was Monk Theodobert, the angel said. He loved nothing on earth but the dear God himself.

Now the angel took Adalbert’s hand and led him to the realm of the saints.

The flock of heavenly beings wanted Adalbert to stay with them. But the angel who brought him over said: “He must go back to earth so that he can confess and atone for his sins and return to us much happier in several years.”

Adalbert the Compatriot was terrified and cried bitterly to no avail.

After he had told the three clergymen all this, he subjected himself to the rules of strict penance. He built himself a hut of wood and lime in the forest near Dahlen and lived there seven years in complete abhorrence of the flesh. The Abbot of Kreuznach, the Prior of Hildesheim and the Priest of Mandel founded a cloister for nuns between Rockshain and Braunweiler to memorialize him. It is now called Katharinenhof.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Representations of Heaven and the Afterlife in Fairy Tales and Saga: The Rainbow

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(Vandana's Rainbow)

The appearance of the rainbow in the sky has been explained by many different myths. In the Edda, the curved arc is a celestial bridge, over which the gods tread. That is why it is called Asbrû or more commonly Bifröst (or Bilrost, Old-high German: piparasta). Translated this means the trembling, shaking path. Röst expresses a certain length of time or distance, comparable to our hour or mile. It is the best of all bridges, made from three sturdy hues. But one day it will collapse when the world ends and Muspell's sons travel over it. The tail of this bridge extends into Himinbiörg, Heimdallr’s residence (or Himmelsberg = mountain of heaven). It is the link between the realm of the gods and Midgardr (realm of humans). Heimdallr has been appointed guardian of the bridge and consequently, is heaven's guard. He protects the bridge from Hrimthursen and mountain-giants so that they cannot enter heaven via this bridge (Hrimthursen = giant, demonic beings with large ears, capable of causing both physical and mental illness). In this function as celestial road, the rainbow brings to mind the wagon, chariot and path the gods use to travel across the sky. The bridge is purported to make a rattling sound when the horses and wagons of dead men cross it. Christianity spread the belief expressed in the Old Testament that the heavenly arch or rainbow is a sign of the covenant God made with mankind after the great flood. But here folkloric and Christian traditions mingle. Folkloric tradition also adds the motif of a golden key or treasure marking the spot where the rainbow touches the earth. Gold coins or Pfennig pieces fall from the rainbow and are found on earth. These golden coins are called regenbogenschüsselein or patellae Iridis; it was thought the sun dispersed them by means of the rainbow. In Bavaria the rainbow is called heaven’s ring or sun ring and the golden coins are called heaven’s ring bowls or cups. Romans saw the rising arc of the rainbow as something that actually sucked water out of the earth: “bibit arcus pluet hodie”. Superstition dictated that one must never point to the rainbow (or for that matter, the stars in the sky). Building or making something on top of a rainbow signifies a vain, fruitless undertaking. A Finnish song tells of a maiden sitting on the rainbow and weaving a golden robe. The pagans told the same story about the piparasta. Serbian folk tradition says that everything masculine passing under the rainbow becomes feminine and everything feminine becomes masculine. The Welsh tradition sees the rainbow as a chair for the goddess Ceridwen. The Lithuanian tradition refers to the rainbow as Laumes josta or the belt of Lauma (Laima = goddess of fortune), dangaus josta (heaven’s belt) and kilpinnis dangaus (heaven’s arc). Folk belief in the Polish region of Lithuania describes the rainbow both as messenger and advisor after the flood. In some regions of Lothringen it is called the courier of Saint Lienard or couronne of Saint Bernard. According to Estonian folk tradition, the rainbow represents the sickle of the thunder god.

The Greeks mention a demi-goddess, Iris, who is dispatched as messenger from heaven over the rainbow. Indian tradition recognizes the goddess Indra in the colorful arc of heaven. And according to the belief of Germanic tribes, after death the souls of the just are accompanied by their guardian angels over the rainbow and into heaven.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Representations of Heaven and the Afterlife in Fairy Tales and Saga

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Mass on the Hungerli Alp (full text below) is an extraordinary folk tale examining ideas of heaven and hell and the best way to lead a godly life. The characters include a rather dour priest and a family of simple cowherders living in a remote alpine setting. The priest becomes impatient with the family’s seemingly heathen lifestyle and what he discovers up on the Hungerli Alp is not at all what the reader is expecting: a direct experience of heaven and hell. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what this fairy tale is extolling: the virtues of a lifestyle more closely in tune with nature? Or perhaps the post-Reformation view of a Christianity stressing the importance of an individual’s relationship to God without an intermediary? However one reads the text, the meticulous detail provided for the mass is noteworthy, perhaps echoing a long-forgotten pagan ritual.
The story takes place on August 15th, the day traditionally associated with the bodily ascension of the Virgin Mary into heaven. With her direct heavenly connection the Virgin became the patron saint of pilots and plane crews or those who spend a great deal of time floating above or through the clouds.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fairy Tale for August 15: Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Translation: Copyright
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The Mass on the Hungerli Alp

For quite a long time a priest in the valley below the Hungerli Alp had noticed that a family of cowherders never came to mass. Their hut lay deep within the valley and the family would have had to walk many hours to reach the church. But in the Wallis region of Switzerland, this was not unusual. In fernyear the cowherders were accustomed to walking even longer distances and never came late to mass. The priest would have been satisfied if the family on the Hungerli Alp appeared only once or twice a year, but he could not understand why they never came. He waited until the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (August 15) and celebrated early morning mass instead of high mass. When once again the family did not appear, he reached for his walking stick and climbed the mountain to find the family and settle the matter once and for all. The question needled him and he wanted to find the reason of their absence.

When he reached the family’s brown wooden hut, he found only the children at home. He asked them where their parents were. They replied: “At mass,” and pointed up the steep mountain to a grove. The priest looked round in surprise and asked “What, a mass here?” he cried out in some confusion. “There is neither church nor chapel up here!” The children stared blankly at the priest. Regarding him from head to toe, they did not know how to reply. The oldest jumped up, fetched a bowl of milk; brought bread and cheese and offered the priest the traditional meal. The priest sat down on the grass and refreshed himself with the simple meal, waiting for the parents. After some time they both appeared, dressed in their Sunday’s best. The man wore a freshly washed shirt; the wife had a new headscarf. They greeted the priest heartily and said how happy they were that he was honoring them with a visit. “Yes,” the priest replied as his face tightened with concern, “and why do you never come to church and why do you live a heathen life style up here?”

“Your Holiness, we are just coming from mass,” the cowherder replied, “and what I have up here I don’t need to look for below in the valley; it’s a long way and what is more, the path is difficult!”

The priest shook his head in response to these strange people and said not a word. The wife prepared a meal and when they sat down at the table it seemed to the priest that the plates were small and only half full. But it was also quite strange and inexplicable to him that he started to eat with enormous appetite, but like the rest, his plate never emptied and everyone left the table completely satisfied.

After dinner, the cowherder took the priest by the hand and said “So, Reverend, if you have time, I will now take you to mass.” The priest agreed and thought it would be a peculiar mass up there in the mountain wilderness. They walked through a bright green meadow and through a black fir forest, over which hung a snowy mountain peak. Finally they reached a small forest clearing, encircled by the most beautiful larch trees where the birds sang sweetly. Above the field the blue vault of heaven soared. In the middle of the grove was a large, flat stone with a recess that was hand-deep and filled with water.

“Look, do you see the hole in the middle of the stone?” the cowherder asked. “That is filled with holy water or consecrated water, as you like to say.” Around the stone bloomed many wild flowers: narcissus, rose-red cloves and many other colorful flowers. “So now, stand on your left foot and look at me over your right shoulder!” The priest followed his instructions.

“What do you see?”

“Heaven!” the priest called out enraptured and his eyes opened wide and drank in the brilliance of heaven in the greatest bliss.

“Now turn! – Turn yourself around!”

The priest did not respond, he was so taken aback with the heavenly image. Finally he stepped back and dropped his hands.

“So now, stand on your right foot and look over your left shoulder!” the cowherd continued.

The priest once more did was he was told.

“What do you see?”

“I see hell itself!” the priest called and his eyes grew large and the horrors of hell were reflected in his face.

The priest let his hands drop, folded them and his demeanor was quiet and subdued. Before he left the meadow, he dipped his fingertips in the heavenly water and made the sign of the cross, as if he were leaving church. Then he returned with the cowherd to the dark forest but on the return path he did not speak. The cowherd explained as they began their descent: “Every day I go to the clearing in the wood. An angel prepares the sacred mass and from him I receive Holy Communion!” The priest was perplexed that the lowly cowherd could see and understand things, which normally only a saint had the capacity to see. They continued on in silence.

When they reached the hut, the priest said farewell to the wife and children. He bowed respectfully and offered his hand in a friendly manner. The cowherd accompanied him a small distance through the valley. When they parted the priest said: “Yes, you are good Christians up there on the Hungerli Alp. I saw that today. Continue with your mass, you don’t need me!” And he shook the farmer’s hand and lost in thought, continued down the mountain.

Soon thereafter the priest left his office and traveled to Turtmanntal, where he lived as a hermit for eleven years.

Once, the people heard bells ringing in the middle of the night and knew something strange must have happened. In the morning, several men entered the Turtmanntal Valley where they found the priest dead in his hermitage.

To read a fairy tale about Saint Boniface/Saint Wilfried, click on the link:

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Love and Marriage Celebrated in the Fairy Tale Newt and Cuckoo

Newt, if you live, let a maelstrom of milk rise up!

The Newt and Cuckoo is a Latvian fairytale about love and marriage (see below for full text). In its compact and entertaining style, the story manages to touch upon the common obstacles to a successful marriage: the tricky business of choosing a spouse, the marital contract, expectations partners have after marriage, the dangers of child bearing and difficult familial relationships, especially with in-laws. Below the surface of the jovial text, however, dangers lurk.

Times are hard when the hide of a flea becomes the material for shoe leather. But in the indomitable spirit of this tale, virtue springs from hardship. The winner who guesses the source of these unusual shoes happens to be a newt. According to the internal rules of the narrative, the newt must now become the lucky groom against all the objections of the protagonist’s parents. The newt, like the snake and frog in other fairy tales, symbolizes male fertility and the act of love. He is, in a word, a phallus. Also like snake and toad, the newt is traditionally an object of loathing and revulsion. Feelings of abhorrence toward the newt-as-phallus must be overcome by the young bride to assure a successful marriage and offspring is perhaps the most visible sign of this success. The fairy tale succinctly describes this difficult period of a young woman’s early marriage as learning to walk in iron shoes and says it lasts the “biblical” seven years. In the end the shoes are ripped to shreds and the wife has been blessed with three children. The wife has now achieved higher social status for she is able to make choices independently, such as when she shall visit her parents.
Perhaps the most powerful image in the narrative is the newt rising up in a maelstrom of blood or milk: a strong metaphor for the dangers of pregnancy and childbirth. These nine months culminate in either blood and death or milk and a healthy baby. The surging of milk and blood may also suggest the act of love itself, to the uninitiated something alluring yet feared.
The poignant conclusion of the tale leaves us with the image of a wife transformed by love for her husband. His death is forever memorialized in the cuckoo’s call.
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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Reading Newt and Cuckoo

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The Cuckoo
No other bird in European mythology is more generally associated with the gift of prophecy than the cuckoo. Its loud cry is often awaited in spring in the freshly sprouting leaves of the forest canopy. An old song describes a dispute between spring and winter, both claiming the cuckoo as its own. But the cuckoo’s call heralds the dearest time of year, namely spring, and according to folk belief, whoever hears the cuckoo’s cry first can inquire of the bird how long he will live. Children in Switzerland call out “Cuckoo (Gugger), how long shall I live?” The caller must then listen and count the number of times the cuckoo calls in response and that will be the number of years left to live. It was said the bird was an enchanted baker or miller and that is why its feathers were dusted with flour. But it is bad luck to hear the cuckoo call after St. John’s Day (summer solstice) for then it foretells hard times. It was believed that the bird was never heard to call before April 3rd and never after St. John’s Day. But it was impossible for the cuckoo to call until he had eaten another bird’s egg. The direction from which the bird called was also significant. To hear its call from the north forebode sadness, but from the east or west meant the greatest fortune. When his call was first heard in spring it was important to have money in your purse for then a year of plenty lay ahead. But if you had no money you would suffer want and hunger the entire year. Because the cuckoo was rarely heard calling after the summer solstice, it was a common belief that it turned into a hawk or bird of prey for the remainder of the year.
The cuckoo is commonly associated with marriage and allegedly could foretell the number of children a person would have. According to Serbian folk tradition, after her brother’s death a young maiden was transformed into a cuckoo; her mournful call gave voice to the sadness and despair of her loss. In the Latvian folk tale below it is the wife, who mourning the loss of her husband, transforms herself into a cuckoo. The cuckoo’s call reputedly alerted a husband to an unfaithful wife. The word cuckold is based on the bird’s behavior of placing its eggs in another bird’s nest for care. Thus the cuckoo’s call was not a welcome sound to a married man.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Fairy Tale of Newt and Cuckoo

Translation: Copyright read, enjoy, link to or pass this story on to friends. Please do not plagiarize, copy or pilfer. Thanks!)
(If you are dead, let a maelstrom of blood rise up...)
How the Cuckoo Came to Call

There once was a mother who raised a flea in her bathroom. The flea became so large that she was able to make an entire pair of shoes from its skin for her daughter. Soon thereafter the mother was invited to a wedding with her daughter. At the wedding feast the mother promised to give her daughter’s hand in marriage to the first person who could guess the kind of hide the shoes were made from. One after another tried to guess, but in vain. Suddenly a newt poked his head through a crack in the floorboard and cried “The shoes are made from the skin of a flea!” And so, nothing could be done, the mother had to give her daughter to the newt in marriage.

The newt led his wife to his castle by the sea. They lived there for a long time. One day, the wife became restless and desired to see her parents again. But the newt would not allow it, she must first find her way and walk in iron shoes, then he would allow it. Well and good, after seven years she had mastered walking in iron shoes and they were ripped to shreds. The wife took her three children by the hand to visit her parents. The newt led all four to the seashore. He said: “When you return, step very closely to the edge of the sea and call out: “Newt, if you live, let a maelstrom of milk rise up; if you are dead, let a maelstrom of blood rise up. When I hear your words, I will come to meet you.”

And so they said their good-byes. After the newt’s wife had spent some time with her parents, she became homesick for her newt. Her parents did not want her to go. But the newt’s wife praised her life with the newt; life in the castle by the sea was good for her and her children; it was now time to go home. The parents wanted to follow her and find out how she met the newt by the big water and how they could find the castle, but she would not tell them. So, if she would not say, they would have to worm it out of the small, dumb children.

They asked the oldest: he said nothing. They asked the middle child: she also said nothing. They asked the youngest, he said it. As soon as the father found out the secret, he went to the seashore and called out: “Newt, if you live, let a maelstrom of milk rise up; if you are dead, let a maelstrom of blood rise up!” The newt whirled up an eddy of milk and emerged on shore. But the father took aim and shot him dead. The next morning when the wife went to the seashore with her children and called out: “Newt, if you live, let a maelstrom of milk rise up; if you are dead, let a maelstrom of blood rise up!” The newt whirled up an eddy of blood. The mother was terrified and asked the children, which of them had divulged the father’s secret. The youngest acknowledged his misdeed. The mother spoke her judgment on each one. “You my eldest son, shall become an oak tree, so that everyone admires you. You, my middle daughter, shall become a fresh linden tree, so that the maidens adorn themselves with your branches. You, my youngest chatterbox shall become a stumbling block, which shall break the axle of even the largest cart. I myself will become a cuckoo and will call for my newt for ever and always.” And so it was.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

July Fairy Tale: Tanzwut or the Dangers of Dancing Rage at the Height of Summer

Grimm’s Saga No. 51: Dance with the Waterman

Near the town of Laibach a water spirit lived in a river of the same name. He was called Nix or Waterman. He showed himself to fishermen and sailors by night and to others by day so that everyone knew how he rose up from the water and revealed himself in human form.

In the year 1547 on the first Sunday in the month of Julius, the entire village gathered according to an old custom at the old Laibach market near the fountain, under the cheerful shade of a beautiful linden tree. Here they ate their meal in a joyful, communal spirit whilst music played and not a few danced merrily. After a while a finely shaped, well-dressed young swain entered the throng, as if he wanted to join in the dance. He nodded politely to the assembled folk and offered each dancer his hand in a friendly way. But his grip was limp and ice-cold and upon touching his hand, a gray shudder went through the limb of the person he greeted. Soon he selected from the group a splendidly adorned, fresh-faced but impudent maid, who was known as Ursula the shepherdess and began the dance. He was a graceful dancer and commanded all the unusual steps. After they had danced wildly with each other for a time, they veered from the platform, which had marked off the dance space and swirled ever farther and farther away. From the Linden tree across the Sittich square and on down to the Laibach River, where he in the presence of many seamen, grabbed the waist of his partner and jumped into the splashing waters. Both disappeared before their very eyes.

The linden tree stood until 1638, when it had to be chopped down because of age.

Fairy Tale Factum:
St. Vitus is the patron saint of dancers for allegedly his powers included the ability to alleviate Tanzwut or hysterical dancing mania. The symptoms included frenzied leaping and swirling, even uncontrollable gyrations. Folk tradition often frowns on dancing and music, for it seems these two pastimes inevitably led to the unhinging of village youth. Unfortunately in this story the impudent Ursula could not be rescued by St. Vitus. Perhaps his cult had not yet been sufficiently established in Laibach or had already been diminished after the Reformation. Of interest in this saga is the description of a rather romanticized peasant life, with al fresco dancing, eating and celebrating at the height of summer on the village green. Two characteristics described in this tale can still be found today in many towns throughout Europe: the linden (or lime) tree and the fountain on the square.

According to folk tradition it was believed that a Wasserman (or Nix) held fast to the souls of the drowned in his underwater dwelling. Varying accounts describe him as having either a beautiful form or an ugly and terrible countenance. Like dancing, the church uniformly frowned upon these spirits and equated them with the diabolical and dangerous. Folk tradition, however, preserves a certain amount of awe and reverence for them.

Translation: Copyright
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Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Magical Properties of Plants and Herbs

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The magical properties of herbs are celebrated in numerous fairy tales, saga and myths. In the sagas of the Brother Grimm, the plants springroot (or springwort), wonderflower, bird’s nest (Vogelnest), alraun/mandrake and thief’s key all have magical properties that often overlap. According to tradition, the wonderflower only blooms on St. John’s Eve (summer solstice) or every hundred years. If a person hesitates and does not pluck the flower immediately, it vanishes under lightning and thunder. Finding one of these flowers often coincides with the appearance of a gnome or woman in white. These flowers are usually blue (sometimes yellow) and when they appear in a grouping of three are associated with redemption and transformation. In conjunction with these magical flowers, the saga often uses the phrase “but don’t forget the best” (meaning don’t forget the flower itself for its magical properties are worth more than all worldly treasures. German: Vergissmannicht). Over time, this name was changed to Vergissmichnicht (or Forget-me-not) now a common name for beautiful blue spring flower. These plants confer the ability to uncover secret treasure, unlock chests or doors and make one invisible. In the case of Vogelnest, the plant was probably associated with a sacred bird and the notion of invisibility might come from the real difficulty in finding or seeing a bird’s nest in a tree. The alraun or mandrake was prized as the most potent of all plants. Folk tradition regarding this plant is simultaneously creepy and alluring (See Saga Nr. 84 below).

Grimm's Saga No. 304 The Gnome and the Wonderflower

A young, poor shepherd from Sittendorf on the southern side of the Harz Mountains in Golden Aue once drove his flock near the foot of the Kyffhaeuser Mountain and climbed the mountain, but with each step he grew sadder. At the top he found a beautiful flower, the likes of which he had never seen before. He picked it and placed it in his cap with the intention of giving it to his bride as a gift. But as he walked on, he found a cavern at the top of the old mountain. The entryway was cluttered and buried under some debris. He entered, saw many glittering stones lying on the ground and filled his pockets with them. As he turned and left the cavern he heard a muffled voice sound: “Do not forget the best!” He didn’t know what had happened and how he had left the cavern but suddenly he found himself squinting at the sun and heard the door slam shut behind him, which he hadn’t even noticed before. When the shepherd touched his hat, he realized the flower had fallen out of his cap when he had stumbled. Immediately a gnome stood before him: “Where is the wonder flower, which you found?” – “Lost,” the shepherd said sadly. “It was intended for you,” the gnome said “and it is worth more than the entire Rothenburg Mountain.” When the shepherd felt his pocket at home, the glistening stones had become splendid gold coins. But the flower had vanished and to this day the mountain folk search for the flower, not only in the caverns of the Kyffhaeuser mountain but also on Questenburg Mountain and even on the north side of the Harz, because it is said that hidden treasures lie buried there.

Grimm’s Saga No. 84: Der Alraun / The Mandrake

The saga tells of congenital thieves to whom stealing comes naturally. This happens when a man has descended from a long line of thieves or when a person has become a thief because his mother stole while she was pregnant. In this instance he has at least an overwhelming desire to steal (according to others, when an innocent man confesses to thievery under torture) and he is a pure youth but is hanged for the crime and waters the ground with his seed (aut sperma in terram effundit), then the mandrake plant or Gallow’s Man grows at that spot. The top of the plant has broad leaves and yellow flowers. When this same plant is dug up there is great danger for when the plant is pulled out it sighs, howels and screams in such a frightful manner that the person who has dug it up soon dies. In order to acquire the plant, the man must approach the plant on a Friday before sunup. After plugging his ears with cotton, wax or pitch, he goes out with a black dog, which must not have spots of any other color on its body. The man makes the sign of the cross three times over the mandrake and carefully digs up a circle around the plant so only a few fibers of the root remain in the earth. Then he must tie it with a string to the dog’s tail, show the dog a piece of bread and run away quickly. The dog, desiring the bread, takes off quickly and pulls out the root. But the dog promptly drops over dead when he hears the groaning scream emanating from the plant. The man must now pick up the plant, wash it until clean with red wine and wrap it in a white and red silk cloth, place it in a small chest, wash it every Friday and give it a new white shirt every new moon. If you ask the mandrake a question, it will respond and reveal your future. It will tell you about concealed things regarding your future welfare and prosperity. From that time forth the owner has no enemies, can never become poor and if he has no children his marriage will soon be blessed. If you place a coin next to the mandrake at night, the next morning you will find twice as much. If you want to enjoy the services of the mandrake plant for a long time and make sure that it does not die, never overtax it. You can easily place a half-taler coin next to it every night, but maximum a ducat. But don’t do this always only very rarely.

When the owner of the Gallow’s Man dies, his youngest son inherits the plant. But he must place a piece of bread and a coin in the coffin and bury these things with his father. If the heir dies before the father, then the oldest son inherits the alraun, but the youngest son must also be buried with bread and money.

To read about the magical power of birds' nests:

Or toadstools:

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Monday, July 14, 2008

The Strange Power of Bird's Nests, Part II

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Grimm's Saga Nr. 9 Die Springwurzel / The Springroot

In ancient times a shepherd tended his flock peacefully on the Koeterberg Mountain. One day he was in the meadow when he turned around and suddenly a magnificent queen stood before him. She spoke: “Take this spring root and follow me.” The spring root is found by following a green woodpecker (magpie or hoopoe) to his nest. Blocking off his nest with a wedge of wood, the bird, when he notices the obstruction, flies away and knows where to find the wonderful root, which men look for in vain. He brings it back in his bill and uses it to open his nest. When he holds the root in his bill above the wooden wedge, it slips out as if driven by a hard knock. If you hide and make a loud noise, the bird is startled and drops the root (but if you place a white or red cloth below the nest, the bird throws the root onto the cloth as soon as he has used it.) The shepherd had such a spring root and so he left his animals to wander freely and followed the woman. She led him into the mountain and then deep inside a cave. As the two approached a door or a closed off passage, each time the shepherd held up his root. Immediately the door opened with a loud groan. They continued on their way until they were almost at the center of the mountain. There sat two maidens who were busily at work spinning. The Evil One was also present, but he was without power and sat bound underneath the table where the two women sat. Around them were baskets of gold and shiny precious gems stacked up and the king’s daughter spoke to the shepherd, who stood and gazed lustfully at the treasures. “Take as much as you want.” Without hesitating, he reached into the baskets and filled his pockets to the brim. And when he turned to depart, richly laden, she spoke: “But don’t forget the best!” He thought she meant nothing else but the treasure and that he had already supplied himself well. But she meant the spring-wort. As he emerged into the daylight without the root, which he had left on the table, the door slammed shut hard on his heels but without injuring him for he could easily have lost his life. He happily brought enormous riches home but he could never again find the entrance to the mountain.

To read about the magical powers of toadstools, click on the link:

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Friday, July 11, 2008

The Strange Power of Bird's Nests Revealed Here: Grimm's Saga No. 86 Vogelnest

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In some areas people still believe that there are certain bird nests (also called Zwissel or Zeissel nests), which make all persons carrying the nest invisible. To find the nest, you must by chance see it in a mirror or in the reflection of a pool of water. The saga is probably a reference to Bifolium, a two-leaf plant genus, which is called birds nest in almost every European language. There seems to be something magical or mandrakelike about it. This is elaborated upon in an account from the 17th century, most certainly originating from a folk tradition:

While I was talking, I saw the reflection of the tree in the water, but there was something lying on the branch, which I could not see in the tree itself and for this reason, I pointed it out to my wife. When she found it and the branch, on which it lay, she climbed up the tree and brought down the object we had seen in the reflection of the water. I watched her and saw her the moment she disappeared. It vanished when she picked up the nest whose shadow (image) we had viewed in the water’s reflection. I still saw my wife in the reflection of the water: how she climbed down from the tree and held the small birds nest in her hands, which she had removed from the branch. I asked her what kind of bird’s nest she carried. In reply she asked me if I could see her. I said “I can’t see you in the tree but I can see your shape in the water’s reflection.” --- “It’s best,” she replied, “if I would come down now. Then you shall see what I have.” It seemed strange to me to hear my wife talking in this manner, because I couldn’t see her and it was even stranger that I should see her shadow movements in the sun but could not see her. And because she could approach me better in the shade (when she didn’t have a shadow because she was outside of the sunlight in the shade) I couldn’t see anything more of her, except I heard the faint sounds she made with her footfalls and her clothing, as if a ghost were passing me by. She sat down next to me and placed the nest in my hand. As soon as I held it, I saw her again, but she in turn no longer saw me. We repeated this several times and each time we found that whoever held the nest in their hand, that person was completely invisible. She finally wrapped the little nest in a handkerchief, so that the stone or herb or root, which was giving the nest these powers, could not fall out and be lost. And after she placed the bundle beside her, we saw each other again, just as before she climbed the tree. We could not see the handkerchief with the nest, but could feel it at the spot where she had laid it.

To read about the strange power of toadstools, click on the link:

Monday, July 7, 2008

Grimm's Saga No. 181: Saint Wilfried or the Holy Saint Boniface

St. Boniface's Chapel

When Saint Winfried (called Boniface) wanted to convert the Hessians, he came to a mountain where a pagan temple stood. He had the building torn down and built the first Christian church. Since that time the mountain is called Christenberg (four hours distant from Marburg). Two-hundred paces from the church, people still point to a footprint in stone, which is attributed to Boniface when he stamped the ground in holy zeal. He said “As sure as my foot presses into this stone, so surely shall I convert the pagans.” The pagans called the mountain Castorberg. Boniface wanted to retain the C of this word by naming the place Christenberg. In the area around Christenberg people still speak of Boniface’s Way, the path he took through the forest when he came and went. Farmer’s fields abutting against this path are still free from Zent law but all other land is still encumbered. A harsher penalty must be paid for any misdeeds occurring there. When farmers from the surrounding villages die, their bodies are still carried with enormous effort up the steep path and buried in the graveyard enveloping Christenberg Church. When Boniface came to Thuringia, he had a church built at Grossvargula, which he wanted to consecrate himself. He struck his staff into the earth, entered the church and read the mass; after the service was over his staff sprouted green shoots.

Grimm's Saga No. 182 The Huelfenberg of St. Boniface
(Or: The Mountain from Whence Help Comes)

Huelfenberg lies an hour away from Wanfried at the oak-field boundary. St. Boniface ordered a chapel built on this mountain. During construction, a man often came by and asked about the ongoing work. What kind of building was it going to be? The carpenters always answered: “Oh, it will be a barn when we are finished.” The man went on his way. But finally, with the church almost finished and the altar erected, the cross was happily mounted. When the Evil Foe returned and viewed it all, he shuddered in rage and flew out through the gable roof. The hole that he made there can still be seen today and can never be repaired. He also went inside the mountain and tried to destroy the church from there. But it was all in vain. Supposedly an oak tree sacred to the pagan deity was bricked in under the chapel. The hole, into which he vanished, is called the Stuffenlock (as the entire mountain today is also called the Stuffensberg). At times, steam and fog supposedly can be seen rising from the mountain. Another story is told of the chapel, that it was dedicated to a Saint. If a sick person touched the saint’s garment, that person was restored to good health within the very hour. This saint had once been a beautiful princess, but her father had fallen in love with her. In her dire distress she called upon God in heaven. Thereupon she grew a beard and her earthly beauty found an end.

Fairy Tale Factum
When Saint Boniface began his missionary work in Germany (~ 723 A.D.), he struggled to establish a Christianity that was free of pagan custom. According to tradition, he was able to demonstrate to the heathen population how utterly powerless their gods were by felling the the sacred oak of Jupiter (most probably this tree was sacred to Woton), at Geismar, near Fritzlar. From the wood he had a chapel built. When the pagans saw that their god was powerless to avert this assault on their religion, great numbers were allegedly converted. It is interesting to read these accounts of St. Boniface's missionary work in conjunction with Reading the Pied Piper of Hamelin and Tannhauser, where the struggle between pagan and Christian elements is also of central importance for understanding the story. The Huelfenberg saga is another example of a pagan deity being first flummoxed by the rise of Christianity and then being transformed into a demon in the narrative.

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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.

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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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