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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Grimm's Fairy Tale No. 177: Messenger Death

A well-worn country road.
Translation: Copyright FairyTaleChannel.com
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In ancient times a giant roamed the earth. One day he was walking down a well-worn country road when an unknown man suddenly jumped up before him and cried out “Stop, not one step more!” “What is this?” the giant exclaimed. “You are only a little dwarf that I can squash between my fingers. You want to block my path? Who are you, that you speak so boldly?” “I am Death,” the stranger replied. “No one can resist me. You, too, must listen to my commands.” But the giant refused to obey and instead, began wrestling with Death. It was a long and fierce fight, but in the end the giant gained the upper hand and beat down Death with his fist, so that he collapsed next to a stone on the road. The giant went his way and Death lay there defeated. He was so powerless that he could not get up again. “What shall happen to me?” he asked, “If I must lie here in the corner and can’t even get up? No one will ever die in the world again and it will become so filled with humankind that there won’t be enough room for people to stand side by side.” As he was thinking this, a young man came strolling down the lane. He was healthy and hearty, sang a song and glanced back and forth. When he saw the semi-conscious creature lying there lifelessly, he approached in pity. Helping him sit up, he poured a strong drink from his bottle to help him regain his strength. “Do you know,” the stranger asked as he sat up, “who I am and who you have helped get back up on his feet?” “No, the young man replied, “I don’t know you at all.” “I am Death,” he said. “I spare no one and can make no exception with you either. But you should understand that I am grateful. I promise you that I will not overtake you suddenly and without warning. Instead I shall send my messenger before I come and get you.” The youth replied, “That’s something. At least I shall know you are coming and can safely escape ahead of you.” He continued on his way, was happy and in good spirits and lived each day to the fullest. But youth and health do not last for long, soon illness and pain came. They tormented him by day and robbed him of his sleep by night. “But die I won’t,” he said, “for Death shall first send his messenger. I only wish the bad days of illness to be over.” Soon he felt healthy and once more began to live in joy. One day, someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around and saw Death standing behind him. He said “Follow me, the hour of your departure from the world has now come.” “What!” the man replied. “Shall you break your promise? Did you not promise that you would send your messenger to me before you came yourself? I haven’t seen anyone.”“Silence,” Death replied. “Have I not sent you messengers in excess? Were you not visited by Fever, who seized you violently so that you trembled and shook before he threw you down! Did not Dizziness cloud your mind? Did not Gout settle in your joints? Did you not hear buzzing in your ears? And didn’t your teeth make your gums ache? Weren’t there times you saw only black before your eyes? And above all, did not my dear Brother Sleep remind you of me every night? Weren’t your slumbers as if you had already died?” The man did not know what to say. And so he accepted his fate and went off with Death.



Translation Copyright: FairyTaleChannel.com

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Reading Godfather Death

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In Godfather Death (full text below), there is a supernatural bond between Death and the living that is established at birth. This link is so strong it is likened to kinship and is based on a pre-Christian tradition. Like the ancient Norns, Death bestows gifts of fortune upon the newborn and then accompanies the young protagonist through key stages of his life. Here, Death is conceived as a benevolent force actively shaping a person's life, creating human happiness and enjoying even more popularity than God himself. The sentence about “not knowing how wisely God distributes riches” was not part of the original version of the story and was added later. In subsequent Christian traditions, the saints took on the function that Death had performed in these earlier stories. We especially see St. Mary, St. Michal and St. John the Baptist filling the role that Death had occupied and acting as intercessors helping the soul navigate its path in the afterlife. This tale, reflecting an obsession with death that was evident in the Middle Ages in Europe, expressed both a longing to cheat death or at least to know the exact hour of one’s death. Last rites were very important to Christians in the Middle Ages. It was believed that if a person was prematurely anointed, he would be doomed to continue life as a walking dead person because the sacrament permanently terminated all human pursuits of the living on earth. As in many pagan traditions, the candle appears in this fairy tale as a symbol of life force. In Christian traditions candles were used to represent life, renewal and power over evil.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Grimm's Fairy Tale No. 44: Godfather Death


Translation: Copyright FairyTaleChannel.org
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A man once had twelve children and had to work night and day to earn even the most meager sustenance of mere bread for his children. When the thirteenth child was born, he was filled with overwhelming despair. He ran out to a well-traveled road and decided to ask the first person he met to be the child’s godfather. The first person he met was the Dear God himself. God already knew what was troubling the man and said “Poor man, I pity you. I will raise your child from the baptismal font, will care for it and make it happy on earth.” The man replied: “Who are you?” “I am the dear God.” “I don’t want you to be the child’s godfather,” the man said, “you give to the rich and let the poor hunger.” The man said this because he did not know how wisely God distributed riches and poverty. He turned from the Lord and continued on his way. He soon met the devil, who asked him: “Whom are you looking for? If you desire me to be the godfather of your child, I will bestow gold galore and furthermore, grant every worldly desire.” The man asked “Who are you?” “I am the devil.” “I don’t want you to be the child’s godfather,” the man said, “You lie and tempt people.” He continued on his way. Soon dry-boned Death approached him and said: “Take me as the child’s godfather.” The man asked “Who are you?” “I am Death, who makes everyone equal.” The man replied, “You are the right one. You take the rich and poor without distinguishing between them; you shall be the godfather of my child.” Death responded “I will make your child rich and famous. Whoever has me as friend, shall not want.” The man replied: “This Sunday is the baptism. Come at the given time.” Death appeared as promised and stood as proper godfather.

When the boy grew up, his godfather appeared to him and said he should follow. He led him into the forest, showed him an herb growing there and said “Now you shall receive your gift. I will make you a famous doctor. When you are called to a sickbed, I will also appear next to you each time. If I position myself at the head of the sick person, you can speak boldly. You will bring him back to health and will give him some of this herb. He shall recover. But if I stand at the foot of the ill person, every help is for naught. Take care that you do not give him the herb against my will. Things could go badly for you.”

It was not long until the youth became the most famous doctor in the world. It was said that he only needed to look at a sick person and he immediately knew what would happen, whether he would become healthy again or would die. People came from far and wide, bringing their sick loved ones and gave him so much gold that he was soon a rich man. Now it happened that the king became ill. The doctor was called and was to say whether recover was possible. But as he approached the bed, Death stood at the foot of the patient. No herb could help anymore. “If I could just trick Death,” the doctor thought, “he will of course be angry, but because I am his godchild, he will probably look the other way. I’m going to try.” He grabbed hold of the ill man and turned him around in bed so that Death now stood at the man’s head. Then he gave him some of the herb and the king recovered. But Death came to the doctor and made an angry and dark grimace. He threatened him by poking his bony finger in the air and said “You pulled the light from my eyes. This time I will ignore it because you are my godchild, but if you dare disobey again, you’ll be in for it and I shall carry you off myself.”

Soon thereafter the daughter of the king became seriously ill. She was the king’s only child . He cried day and night until he was blinded by tears. He let it be known that whoever would save his child, would become her husband and inherit the crown. The doctor came to the bed of the patient and saw Death at her feet. He should have remembered the warning of his godfather, but the tremendous beauty of the princess and the thought of becoming her husband filled him with joy and so he turned a deaf ear on all the warnings. He did not notice Death giving him angry looks, raising his hands in anger or threatening him with his bony fist. He raised the ill girl and placed her head were her feet had been. Then he gave her the herb and her life’s force returned immediately.
When Death saw that he had been robbed of what rightfully belonged to him, he lunged toward the doctor in long strides and said “It’s over for you! Now it’s your turn.” He grabbed him with his ice-cold hand. His grip was so firm that he could not put up a struggle but had to follow him to his underground cavern. There he saw how thousands upon thousands of lights burned in immense rows. Some of the lights were large, others half the size and still others small. Every moment several went out and others started up again, so that the flames appeared to be in a steady state of change. “You see,” Death said, “these are the life lights of men. The large candles belong to children, the half-size candles belong to married couples in the best years of their life. The small candles belong to old people. But sometimes children and young people also have a very small light.” “Show me my life light,” the doctor said, and thought his must still be quite large. Death pointed to a small stub, that was about to go out. Death said “See, there is your light.” “Oh, dear godfather,” the frightened doctor pleaded, “Light a new candle for me, do it for my sake, so that I can become king and marry the beautiful princess.” “That I cannot do,” Death replied. “First a candle must go out before a new one is lit.” “So take the old one and start a new one immediately so that it starts to burn when the other goes out,” the doctor begged. Death acted as if he wanted to fulfill his wish. He took a long, fresh candle in his bony hands. But because he wanted to take revenge, he slipped while lighting the new candle, the little stub fell over and went out. The doctor immediately fell to the floor and had now fallen into the hands of Death himself.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Death and the Afterlife in Fairy Tales and Saga; Near-Death Experiences

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The Raising of Lazurus, Vincent van Gogh

Fairy tales and saga are keenly interested in every day themes of human existence and so it is not surprising that death and mortality figure prominently in these stories. Humans have probably always had a powerful urge to explain what happens after death and many of the earliest myths do just that. Many ancient traditions describe death as a physical journey or crossing to the afterlife. A complex geography of the netherworld was created with the dead traveling to either Britannia, Jutland or Scandinavia. The idea of a soul living on after the body has died is ancient. But in the early Middle Ages a type of story was introduced whose sole purpose was to provide proof of the afterlife. Based on accounts of near-death experiences, a new genre of story arose, sometimes referred to as medieval vision literature. After reading these early near-death narratives, some striking similarities with earlier pagan traditions are evident. Notions of death in fairy tales and saga seem to blend heathen folk beliefs and Christian attitudes. These stories provide us with a picture of both enduring and changing beliefs about death and the afterlife.

The Edda describes a bridge over which the souls of the dead must tread. This bridge is thatched or covered in bright gold and it trembles and groans underfoot as the dead cross over. There is a bridge leading down into Hel as well as one leading upward into the realm of the gods (for more about these themes, see the link in this website concerning the Rainbow or Bifrost). According to Jacob Grimm, the ancients believed that a person had three souls, two were tied to the body and were lost at death but the third survived. Abandoning its decaying body, this soul proceeded on to the afterlife. Death does not kill in ancient traditions, but rather, is a messenger that announces the end of life and accompanies the soul to its new realm. Souls were both received and drawn to Wuotan, Frouwa, Ran and Hel, water spirits, angels, elves and the devil. Dying warriors were taken to the abode of the gods but descriptions of this place are few. Some accounts mention that it glitters with precious gems, gold and silver; others that the roof is made from tilted spears. Often, the dead had to arrange their own passage and cross a body of water, as described in Crossing to Remagen (see below for full text). In other tales, the dead joined a huge throng, processing a great distance on foot (Gratzug). The living were crucial to the well-being of the dead in that they supplied the departed loved one with the clothing, equipment, money or even boat to make the difficult journey. The sound of dead souls disembarking from the shallop in Crossing to Remagen is reminiscent of the footfalls heard when the dead crossed the rainbow in the Edda. That a specific or unusual sound should be equated with death is also a core element in modern near-death experiences (or NED). According to R. Moody in Life after Life, noise or sound is often the first sensory impression of a near-death experience.

In the story of Adalbert the Compatriot (full text below), we find many of the key elements of a modern day near-death experience. According to Dr. Carol Zaleski in Medieval Otherworld Journeys, near death experiences were essential to the early church for proving the existence of life after death and the soul’s immortality. In his Dialogues, Gregory the Great uses near-death experiences to underscore the veracity of church teachings: the afterlife is a real construct, you will be punished for your sins, masses and good works on behalf of the dead are important and each person is called to live a more holy life. (To find out more, read the full web article by Dr. Zaleski Medieval Otherworld Journeys).

As described in many modern accounts of near-death, Adalbert the Compatriot seems to grasp immediately that he is dead. His first experience is described as moving through the air being guided by angels. He is aware of a tunnel or shaft in the center of the earth and he meets spiritual beings who accompany him on his journey. He is given a life review and confronted with the deeds of his life time. He reaches a physical boundary defined by a stinking river and must cross a bridge to enter into the heavenly realm. A guardian angel or messenger of death appears as guide and plays an authoritative role in Adalbert’s new existence. He determines that Adalbert must return to the realm of the living. Adalbert is terrified and does not wish to return. A similar reluctance is often mentioned by survivors of near-death experiences. And like modern-day accounts of near-death, Adalbert’s ordeal transforms him and causes him to make profound changes in his life.

By contrast, the Swiss folktale Path to Paradise is not concerned with proving the notion of an afterlife. Rather, the narrative reads more like a service manual outlining the different stages of death. Unlike a typical near-death experience, the narrator does not seem to know exactly when he dies. But his soul, or something like it, continues to exist even after he has relinquished his body. In this story the Rhone River seems to represent a natural boundary of sorts and crossing it might be understood as a metaphor for dying. The tinsmith's initial guide in the afterlife is a frightening figure with green, bulging frog-eyes but later in the narrative, angelic beings appear. This tale includes elements that are common in many traditions concerning death: attraction to a distant light; the aerial bridge; a crossing; a wild and raging sea/body of water; ultimate calm and serenity in death; a beautiful and joyous garden of paradise; distinct sounds; and perhaps most interestingly, sensory perception including smelling fragances and tasting food. The sensations of eating and smelling described in this tale might suggest that the tinsmith has experienced a physical resurrection. And like Adalbert, there is a sorting out of souls into those deserving and not deserving paradise. Similar to the Grimm’s fairy tale The Shroud, death does not sever the attachment between the dead and their loved ones. The tinsmith wonders how his family is faring and whether they will ever be rejoined in paradise. An ongoing concern of the dead for the living might have provided comfort to the audience of these tales. But The Shroud also includes an ancient pagan notion that likens death to sleep. Only when survivors abandon their grief and release the dead, can their sleep be peaceful The child also carries a candle and like the candles on a birthday cake, fire and light are often used as metaphors for a human being’s life force.

In fairy tales and saga we see changing views about the responsibility of the living toward the dead: instead of conferring practical utensils that will be needed in the afterworld, survivors in medieval literature are encouraged to say masses and perform good works here on earth. And in later tales the living are instructed that the best thing for a survivor is to more or less get on with life. This may have something to do with changing attitudes toward death: from physical journey to spiritual transformation.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Grimm's Fairy Tale No. 109: The Shroud

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A mother once had a seven year-old son, who was so dear and beautiful that no one could gaze upon the child without loving it. She cherished this child more than anything on earth. Now it happened, that the boy was overtaken by a sudden illness and dear God took the child to be His own. The mother was inconsolable and cried night and day. But after the child had been buried, it appeared at night in the very places it had sat and played while living. When the mother cried, the child cried and when morning came, it vanished. The mother did not want to stop crying and so one night the child appeared in the white shroud; the one it wore when it was laid in its coffin. Wearing a little wreath on its head, it sat at the foot of the bed and said “Oh Mother, do stop crying, otherwise I shall not be able to fall asleep in my coffin, for my shroud cannot dry from all your tears falling on it.” The mother became frightened when she heard these words and did not cry any more. The next evening the child appeared again, carried a little candle in its hand and spoke “See, my little shirt will soon be dry and I will have peace in my grave.” The mother commended her sorrows to dear God and bore her misfortune quietly and patiently. The child came no more but slept in its little bed under the earth.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Glimpses of the Afterlife in Fairy Tales and Saga: Britain, Land of Departed Souls

Translation: Copyright FairyTaleChannel.org
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The Crossing to Remagen

Like the ancient Greeks who believed that Charon rowed the souls of the dead in a narrow boat over the Cocytus River to the underworld, many heathen tribes in Germany believed that the realm of the living and dead was separated by a body of water. The departed made a journey across this body of water to their final destination. Britannia was said to be this land of the dead and Frisian yeomen purportedly helped dead souls make this final crossing. Living among the Frisian nobility who made their home on the North Sea were farmers and fishermen, who had always been free from paying any tax for they performed a service that was valued more than money. These yeoman were entrusted with ferrying the dead to Britannia. The job always passed from one household to the next. At midnight the farmer or fisherman would hear a knocking on his door and then a muffled voice call out. He got up, went to the beach and there he saw what looked like an empty shallop. Boarding the heavy boat, he gripped the oar and immediately began the crossing. The oarsman would notice that the shallop seemed to be completely loaded down and barely remained one finger’s breadth above the water. But not a single passenger was ever seen. The crossing lasted only one hour but normally if they had been traveling in their own vessel it would have taken an entire night and a day. Once on shore in Britannia, the ghostly crowd disembarked and the shallop became so light that only the very bottom touched the water. The Frisians never saw anyone in the boat during the trip and when they arrived they never saw anyone disembark. But once on shore in the land of the dead they heard a voice call out the names and the tribes to which the dead belonged as they departed.

The nighttime crossing of gnomes over the Rhine River (described below) is reminiscent of the crossing of dead souls to Britannia. This tale may incorporate elements of the earlier pagan tradition:
The story was told in the beginning of the nineteenth century, that an oarsman living in Erpel on the Rhine River heard a knock at his door one night. Opening the door, an invisible presence asked for immediate passage across the river. As he climbed into the boat he noticed it sinking deeper and deeper into the water although he did not see anyone else boarding. When the vessel was only one finger’s breadth above the water’s surface, the ferryman was ordered to shove off. Upon landing on the bank of the Rhine River at Remagen, the boat immediately began to rise in the water and the oarsman could hear heavy footfalls as the boat emptied. His passengers were the gnomes who had lived in Glenberg near Linz from time immemorial. But they had been offended and that is why they were abandoning their ancestral home. They moved across the Rhine River, where -- nobody knows.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Near Death Experiences in Fairy Tales: The Path to Paradise

Translation: Copyright FairyTaleChannel.com
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The Path to Paradise (a Swiss Folk Tale)
Many years ago a poor tinsmith, who repaired pots and pans for a living, could no longer feed his family for he could not find work. Wherever he went he only found people living in greatest need and terrible suffering for the plague had infested villages and towns. Often entire families were struck down, including cattle and even the family dog. The survivors ran wildly through the streets as if insane or sat lifeless in front of their houses, stunned and brooding. The poor tinsmith had passed through all the villages on the shadow side of the Rhone River and had sold only a few small scraps. Tired and dejected, he crossed the Rhone River and thought he would now try walking on the sunny side. But the plague had wreaked havoc there also. He climbed up the mountain slag panting and gasping for breath. From time to time he had to wipe the sweat from his brow. His only wish was to lie down and rest, rest for all time. In the village he was now passing through it was deathly still. The house doors were wide open; the evil smell of corpses wafted through the alleyways and made him shudder. No one responded to his knocking. On the threshold of the last house sat a man as old as the stone cliffs, he had a long snarled beard and green, bulging frog eyes. Sadly, the little man gazed up and said in a rattling voice: You don’t need to come here with your tin pots, you won’t sell any here, the plague has been guest in this abode. Yes, I am the sole survivor of the village and I won’t buy anything from you. I have plenty of good and bad utensils – in excess. I have become a rich man, the entire village belongs to me and me alone,” and he laughed wildly and struck his forehead with his palm. Then he glared at the tinsmith with the same sad gaze. “Should I show you the way to where you will find work?”

The tinsmith shifted the heavy bundle on his back and said: “Yes, I’d be happy to find some work, but I’m sure there is nothing anywhere and the pots will stay on my back!”

The little man made a sign that the man should follow him. He placed a thick hazel branch between the pots and tin pans, shifted the bundle with the stick and plodded behind the little man, who slowly climbed the mountain. Every ten steps the man stopped, coughed but finally led him to an open field, which was easy to climb at the far end. But the front end of the field was a jagged drop-off, filled with fir trees. The sun had just sunk behind the mountain and it would soon be dark. The little man pointed to a narrow path, which led from the base of the cliff, on which they stood, in a straight direction but always upward, over the broad Rhone Valley to the peak of the Eliserhorn, which projected through the dark mass of the cliff with its snow-covered peak. On the peak of the Eliserhorn there burned a light, not larger than a star in heaven. The little man cried: Take this path and always, always follow the light! A deep, dark night will break and evil spirits will seemingly build broad bridges for you; you must not lose sight of the light, otherwise you will sink into endless night. The ocean lies below the bridge. It will remain calm as a green mountain lake, then it will become red and then roaring and finally will become sulfur-yellow and putrid. The raging waves will beat over your path and threaten to devour you.”

The tinsmith thanked the old man as the distant, remote light started to awaken new hope within him. He grasped his bundle of pots tightly and with the little light firmly in his gaze, he began his climb up the narrow aerial path. His stride was slow and deliberate, his steps long so that the tin ware on his back rattled with each step. He looked at the green shimmering surface of the water, which extended before him like an endless sea. But soon the sea glimmered a purple-red; the waves began to curl over and became larger and larger. Soon, they began to rock back and forth and he became dizzy. He began to stagger and stumble but found his equilibrium again and again with his hazel stick. When he looked into the water’s depths for only a heartbeat, he thought he would crash into the waves, but he immediately gazed up into the radiating light and stepped weakly in that direction. He paid no attention to the beautiful, wide and brightly illuminated bridge, which enticingly rose from the water and formed a bridge to the narrow and bumpy path he was on. The closer the little light appeared on the peak of the Eliserhorn, the brighter it burned. The path was now enveloped in the depths of darkness and below him the waters raged like an ocean storm. The yellow shimmering waves rolled with unceasing force against the ramp he walked on. Now the water breached the path and threatened to tear him away. The spray, hitting the granite cliff edges, splashed up striking his face and enveloping him in a veil of foam, drenching his clothes. The putrid water took his breath away. But now he was close to the light and with his last strength, he pushed himself through the foaming surf and the waves, which rose up to his left and right were as high as towers.

The sea suddenly subsided below him. A great calm descended all around. He was at his destination and stood on a large, level place. Before him stood a mighty church built of snow-white marble. In its beautiful, richly decorated façade he counted twelve doors. The tip of the tower seemed to extend into the heavens and shone like a star, in white blinding light. It all seemed so solemn, so beautiful and holy that he had to fold his hands in prayer. Over the entrance gate could be read: Church of Eternal Joy. On both sides of the gate guards stood in white shirts with golden collars, on which were written S Z (sit Zion). The one held a pick on his shoulder, the other a shovel.

The tinsmith wanted to put down his heavy bundle to enter the church properly, as is fitting; but the guards motioned to him he should take everything with him. So he stepped through the gate with the rattling bundle and entered a richly illuminated hall filled with people. It looked like the inside of any church at home, but only here it was much larger, majestic and solemn. The hall at the front and back was crossed by a passage. On the right side of the front passage he noticed a funeral pyre. He set down his tin ware as quietly as possible, kneeled completely exhausted and covered in sweat on a riser and listened to the beautiful heavenly music, which came to him from the choir. The sound was like the rushing of the organ, and other times was like the rushing of a forest stream, which fell from the heights and then rushed peacefully through a green meadow. The souls in the passage were enveloped in white robes, turned their backs to the gate and held both hands before their faces. The souls in the passage before the choir, under which he was also standing, supported their arms on the prayer stool and did not pay any attention to him.

The tinsmith hardly dared breathe, he was gripped by such solemn feelings. As far as the eye could reach, everything was rigid, unmoving figures. Only in the choir before him was there bright laughter as if the angels themselves were rejoicing. It must be wonderful there; he had to reach that spot.

He stood up, but two white-clad youth approached him, softly taking his arm, they said he must not enter the choir so dirty. He should wait a bit. He sank back onto the prayer bench, but when the youth vanished, he tried going forward again. For something pulled him there with irresistible force. Two med appeared in red robes and said to him “Follow us, you are not yet clean, we will wash you and cleanse you, then when you may join the throng that sing and praise in the choir!”

They led him by the arm through the throng, which silently made room for him. Proceeding through the door of a passage, he climbed the steps of a high tower and opened the door to a lovely room. On the table lay a scourge and tightly twisted cords. On the wall stood washing utensils and fastened to the wall sparkling faucets could be seen. The men removed his clothes, filled the barrels with water: first tepid and then boiling water. They scourged him with the whip so that his skin fell off, then they splashed him with ice-cold water and immediately his body was covered with young, fresh skin. The horrible pain turned into a wonderful, heavenly feeling of comfort. After this, they dressed him in a soft muslin shirt and said he could now pass through the door. The led him down the steps and through the passageway to the singing saints, asked him to kneel on a large, cushioned riser and ask the Heavenly Father for a beautiful cap of eternal life. He should imagine something of indescribable beautiful and then wish for it. He knelt in the choir and fervently prayed the Our Father so that he soon forgot to wish. He was hardly done, when the youth were once more at his side and waved to him to follow so that he could make room for another. They stepped out to the temple and arriving before its doors, wandered almost a half hour on a beautiful and wide street. High trees with large leaves marked the path. The trees were of such splendor, he had never laid eyes on such marvels. Between the branches he saw a garden inestimable size, from which the most wonderful sweet smells of flowers emanated. He drank in the fragrance and could not get enough of it. Before him stood vineyards, which hang ripe with fruit.

“Eat your fill,” the guide said to him. He picked a grape but each time he raised the fruit to his lips, he felt already satisfied. When he had tried every assortment, one of the youth presented him with the key to his house, which hung on a green band. He would now be the occupant of this house.

He could not really say what it looked like, for the splendor glimmered before his eyes and completely enveloped him. He only saw how enormous carnation stalks from the darkest red to the brightest snow-white hung over the wall. When he asked whether he could open all doors with this single key, the youth replied, this one key opened every door. Then he asked whether he could not fetch his family and his relatives and friends, because it was so beautiful here and he felt so happy. The youth replied: “They will come but not all. Do you see over there in front of the large gate to the cathedral? There stands the bishop with his tall miter cap and long staff. He has been standing there for a long time and must wait even longer, for he won’t be let inside!”
He nodded his head and thanked them once more. Then the youth vanished.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Glimpses of the Afterlife in Fairy Tales and Saga: Gratzug

Translation: Copyright FairyTaleChannel.com
(Please read, enjoy, link to or pass this story on to friends. Please do not plagiarize, copy or pilfer. Thanks!)

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.


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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

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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:

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2008/07/grimms-saga-no-181-saint-wilfried-or.html

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 FairyTaleChannel.org(Please 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.


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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:

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2009/05/magical-power-of-birds-nests-revealed.html

Or toadstools:

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2009/07/fairy-tale-magic-and-mystery-found-in.html

Read more fairy tales by clicking on the link:

FairyTaleChannel.com

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Strange Power of Bird's Nests, Part II

Translation FairyTaleChannel.com
(Please read, enjoy, link to or pass this story on to friends. Please do not plagiarize, copy or pilfer. Thanks!)

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:

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2009/07/fairy-tale-magic-and-mystery-found-in.html

Or about the strange power of birds' nests:

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2008/07/strange-powers-of-birds-nests-revealed.html

Friday, July 11, 2008

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

Translation FairyTaleChannel.com
(Please read, enjoy, link to or pass this story on to friends. Please do not plagiarize, copy or pilfer. Thanks!)


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:

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2009/07/fairy-tale-magic-and-mystery-found-in.html

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.


To read a fairy tale about another saint, St. Joseph in the forest, click on the link:

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2009/12/nose-is-nose-is-nose-christmas-legend.html

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