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Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Theme of Death and Resurrection in Fairy Tales



Embraced by thorns: the Fairy Tale of Sleeping Beauty, in which a maid is brought back to life.

A long time ago there lived a king and a queen. Each day they said to each other “If only we had a child!” for it was their most fervent desire. But alas, they never had one. Now one day it happened that the queen was sitting in her bath and a frog came out of the water. It crept 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 together a celebration. He not only invited relatives and friends, but also the Wise Women, so that they would 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 would have to stay home. The party was celebrated in splendor and when it was over, each of the Wise Women presented the child with a wonderful gift: one bestowed virtue, the other beauty, the third riches, and so on and so forth with everything that could be wished for upon the earth. When eleven of these wise women had bestowed their blessings, the thirteenth suddenly appeared. She was ready to take revenge because she had not been invited to the party. Without greeting or even looking at any of the guests, she called out in a loud voice “The king’s daughter shall prick her finger in her fifteenth year and fall over dead!” She did not utter another word, but turned around and left the hall. All were aghast. But the twelfth wise woman still had one wish left over. Because she could not negate the evil spell but could only mitigate it she 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 the command that all spindles in the entire kingdom 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 heavy slumber soon 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 go and fell asleep. And the wind quieted until 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.
To read more about representations of heaven and the afterlife in fairy tales, hit link at right.
To read more fairy tales about death and resurrection of fairy tale characters, please hit the link Path to Paradise or Little Red Riding Hood.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Queen Berta the Palm Sunday Fairy


An Apparition in the Forest



In fernyear there lived many bewitched and enchanted women, who meant well by folk and even offered help in times of need or disaster. In particular, the goodly Queen Berta is well- known for the many beneficial things she did for the earth. She especially liked to hover round the Sourze Tower in Waadt Land. 

Every winter she was said to appear there in a white, radiant gown. Swinging a winnower filled to the brim, she broadcast seed over every mountain and valley. At Christmas she appeared as huntress with magic wand in hand, and processed through the village accompanied by many spirits. She circled the houses and dwellings to find where industry, diligence and order ruled. 

But the good wife Berta was not the only beneficent woman. In the steep rocky cliffs of the Jura Mountains near Vallorbes there is an enormous cave. In olden times many kindly and beautiful fairies lived there, but no one was allowed to intrude into their underground dwelling without punishment. This did not mean you could not see them. One fairy always showed herself from a distance every Palm Sunday. She led a white lamb on a string when a fertile year lay ahead, but in times of misfortune or famine a pitch-black goat followed her. 

Another fairy bathed at the midnight hour in the blue pools of the Orbe Spring. Two powerful wolves always circled the pool to keep people away. When it snowed in winter and became cold, the fairies came into the village and entered the empty smithies as soon as the workers had left. They warmed themselves by the fire and a rooster crowing loudly announced the return of the forge workers. Then the fairies vanished from the work place. 

The appearance of fairies was well-known throughout the entire land. Every herder boy knew that there were tall and beautiful women in white gowns that flowed down to the ground, which carefully concealed their feet. The fairies also sang beautifully. But their abundant and rich hair was the finest attribute of all, for their tresses fell round their shoulders and enveloped them like a golden mantle.

Fairy Tale Factum

The German expression in teueren Zeiten (Teuerung) is used in this Swiss saga and appears in other saga of the Brothers Grimm. Its antiquated meaning refers to a time of disaster, famine or need. The modern translation is inflation or a rise in prices. At first glance this modern usage seems to have little to do with the older meaning. Teuerung is a term from economics and describes the cost of living index or the price of commodities. Its ancient meaning often meant death from starvation and its causes included failed crops, mismanagement of agricultural resources or unsustainable economic or farming practices.

Queen Berta is spreading the seed for planting using a Futterschwinge. I would guess that 75 years ago, people were still familiar with this exact implement. Since the word is not included in any of the dictionaries at my disposal, I must derive its meaning from its parts, on the one hand, and a pictorial encyclopedia of early American farm tools on the other. Futter = dried food for cattle such as hay or grain and schwinge = something swung back and forth or a shallow, oval basket. The Museum of Early American Tools by Eric Sloane describes a winnower or winnowing scoop as a tool used to throw flailed grain into the air to separate the lighter particles of chaff. The process of winnowing beats or diffuses something through the air. I suspect the tool was something similar for dispersing seed during the spring planting, perhaps by swinging a shallow basket back and forth. (I am sure there are still people who know what this is out there!) Fernyear is a now obsolete term which means in olden times or past years. Fern means remote or distant in German.


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In fernyear there lived many bewitched and enchanted women, who meant well by folk and even offered help in times of need or disaster. In particular, the goodly Queen Berta is well- known for the many beneficial things she did for the earth. She especially liked to hover round the Sourze Tower in Waadt Land. Every winter she was said to appear there in a white, radiant gown. Swinging a winnower filled to the brim, she broadcast seed over every mountain and valley. At Christmas she appeared as huntress with magic wand in hand, and processed through the village accompanied by many spirits. She circled the houses and dwellings to find where industry, diligence and order ruled. But the good wife Berta was not the only beneficent woman. In the steep rocky cliffs of the Jura Mountains near Vallorbes there is an enormous cave. In olden times many kindly and beautiful fairies lived there, but no one was allowed to intrude into their underground dwelling without punishment. This did not mean you could not see them. One fairy always showed herself from a distance every Palm Sunday. She led a white lamb on a string when a fertile year lay ahead, but in times of misfortune or famine a pitch-black goat followed her. Another fairy bathed at the midnight hour in the blue pools of the Orbe Spring. Two powerful wolves always circled the pool to keep people away. When it snowed in winter and became cold, the fairies came into the village and entered the empty smithies as soon as the workers had left. They warmed themselves by the fire and a rooster crowing loudly announced the return of the forge workers. Then the fairies vanished from the work place. The appearance of fairies was well-known throughout the entire land. Every herder boy knew that there were tall and beautiful women in white gowns that flowed down to the ground, which carefully concealed their feet. The fairies also sang beautifully. But their abundant and rich hair was the finest attribute of all, for their golden tresses fell round their shoulders and enveloped them like a golden mantle.



Fairy Tale Factum

The German expression in teueren Zeiten (Teuerung) is used in this Swiss saga and appears in other saga of the Brothers Grimm. Its antiquated meaning refers to a time of disaster, famine or need. The modern translation is inflation or a rise in prices. At first glance this modern usage seems to have little to do with the older meaning. Teuerung is a term from economics and describes the cost of living index or the price of commodities. Its ancient meaning often meant death from starvation and its causes included failed crops, mismanagement of agricultural resources or unsustainable economic or farming practices.



Queen Berta is spreading the seed for planting using a Futterschwinge. I would guess that 75 years ago, people were still familiar with this exact implement. Since the word is not included in any of the dictionaries at my disposal, I must derive its meaning from its parts, on the one hand, and a pictorial encyclopedia of early American farm tools on the other. Futter = dried food for cattle such as hay or grain and schwinge = something swung back and forth or a shallow, oval basket. The Museum of Early American Tools by Eric Sloane describes a winnower or winnowing scoop as a tool used to throw flailed grain into the air to separate the lighter particles of chaff. The process of winnowing beats or diffuses something through the air. I suspect the tool was something similar for dispersing seed during the spring planting, perhaps by swinging a shallow basket back and forth. Fernyear is a now obsolete term which means in olden times or past years. Fern means remote or distant in German.


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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Grimm's Saga No. 362: Food from God


Guardian Angel Protects against the Last Fierce Onslaught of Winter

Not far from Zwickau in Vogtland parents once sent their young boy into a deep forest to drive home the oxen, which had wandered off. But when the boy did not return and night fell, the parents became fearful. A heavy snow was falling and the entire mountain would soon be covered with deep snow. The boy could not have returned from the forest if he had desired it. But when he did not return the following day, the parents were not so much worried about the oxen as they were about the boy. They could not go out and look for him because of the deep snow. On the third day, after the snowfall had diminished, they went out to find the boy. They finally found him sitting on a sunny hill, where no snow had fallen. When the boy saw his parents, he laughed. When they asked him why he had not come home, he answered that he decided to wait until evening and was unaware that an entire day had lapsed. No harm had befallen the child and he appeared happy and healthy. When they asked him if he had eaten anything he replied that a man had come to him and offered him fresh cheese and bread. Without doubt this child had been fed and sustained by an angel sent by God.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Swiss Fairy Tale: The Gnome Wife Tirli-Wirli

In these fairy tales, some words must never be spoken.

In Switzerland a farmhand married Tirli-wirli, the daughter of a gnome. One day she asked him to promise never to call her by name and he agreed. In June he went out to work in the fields and when he came home late that evening, his wife said she had had a difficult time that day. She expected frost that night and had therefore cut and secured the young, green corn. The man became enraged and yelled: “You silly Tirli-Wirli!” He had barely spoken the words when she walked out the door and vanished. That night a heavy frost did indeed fall, ruining the plants of all the neighbors.

Now the man had three children, whom he had to leave at home when he went out to work. Every morning their mother returned and washed and combed the children’s hair so that the father, when he returned found the rooms clean and the children properly cared for. He asked who was doing this because he locked the door and hid the key every day. The children cried that it was their mother who did everything. The father sorely missed his wife and he would have begged her to return if she had shown herself. He told the children they should ask their mother how she managed to enter a locked house.

When the children asked their mother, she replied she knew where the key was hidden. The unfortunate father now asked a friend to lay in watch and when his wife entered the house, he was to close the door and call him. This happened and the father rushed home and begged his wife for forgiveness. Now they have lived several years happily together.


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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Grimm's Fairy Tale: The Six Swans

In this fairy tale, silence reflects true virtue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, March 6, 2009

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


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

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


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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Life in the Castle: The Arrival of the Swan Knight


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

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


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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Ways of Warmth in February: Grimm's Saga No. 161: Silver gushes from the ground.


In February of the year 1605, Duke Heinrich Julius von Braunschweig ruled the land. A mile from Quedlinburg in a place called the Valley, it happened that a poor farmer sent out his daughter to collect fire wood. The girl took a large wood basket and a smaller hand basket and went into the thicket. When she had filled both baskets and wanted to go home, a small man clothed entirely in white approached her and asked

“What are you carrying?”

“The wood I have collected,” the girl responded “It’s for heating and cooking.”

“Empty your baskets of wood,” the little man said. “Then follow me.” I want to show you something that is better and more beneficial than wood.”

He took her hand and led her back to a hill and showed her a place roughly two household tables wide. There lay shining silver coins, some large, some small, all of moderate thickness. Above it was a picture, the likeness of the Virgin Mary and around the image could be seen inscribed an ancient language. The silver was gushing steadily out of the earth and the girl became very frightened and recoiled in fear. She did not want to shake out the content of her wood basket. So the little man in white did it for her. He filled the basket with the money and gave it to the girl saying

“This will be better than wood.”

Confused, she took it from him. But when the little man urged her to shake out her other basket and fill it with silver, the girl declined and said she had to bring home firewood. There were small children at home and they desperately needed a warm room and wood for cooking. The little man was satisfied with this response and said

“Then go home with your baskets,” and then he vanished.

The girl returned home with the basket full of silver and explained what had happened. When the farmers of the region heard about it, they all ran into the forest in droves carrying rakes and other utensils and wanted to take their share of the treasure. But no one could ever find the place where the silver gushed forth from the earth.

The Duke of Braunschweig took one pound of silver from the coins in the girls’ basket, as did a citizen from Halberstadt, by the name of N. Everkan.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Where do Lutherans come from? A Lithuanian Fairy Tale

(Illustration, Tomi Ungerer Das Grosse Liederbuch)

A castle beyond the borderlands.

There was once a wealthy property owner who had only one daughter. Because she was so rich, many suitors rode from all corners of the land to woo her. Many were handsome and some were rich. But the girl did not like any of them. Finally her father said to her “My child, there is no longer anyone in the world who could be your groom. The devil would have to come for you to fall in love.” Not long after, a young gallant appeared. He told her he came from far away, beyond the borderlands. She soon fell in love with him and it was not long before she married him. After the wedding, the young man took her back to his manor across the border. It was very beautiful there and she had everything imaginable. She liked it and her life was peaceful. But soon she had an uncanny feeling that something wasn’t right, because her husband always left the castle at twilight and when the cock crowed in the morning he returned. He was in fact the devil. Now fear seized the maid because she did not know what to do. She discussed the matter with others. They gave her the following advice: “When he goes out, have a carriage and horse stand waiting. Get into the cart immediately and flee back over the border!” So the next time he went out, she immediately ran to the carriage and made her escape. And she was able to get back across the border. The devil noticed that she was no longer there and began a hot pursuit. But he could not catch her before she crossed the border and she was able to make it back to her father. It was not long thereafter that a son was born. The boy grew quickly, was very bright and learned things easily. He soon graduated from school and became a pastor. But soon after the son of the devil had become a pastor, he lost his faith and began to follow the teachings of the Prussians. That is where the Prussians come from, or rather the Lutherans.


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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Shrouded in Mystery: The Hooded Deity


According to the Roman poet Juvenal who wrote around 100 AD, the hood or cucullus was a Celtic invention. It was primarily worn by people close to the land or those routinely exposed to the elements, such as farm laborers, travelers or shepherds. It had a practical funnel-shape, which could be easily pulled over the head. But it was also worn separately or in conjunction with a cape or tunic. Besides having these utilitarian functions, the cucullus could also conceal the identity of the wearer. The most basic information about a person was wrapped in mystery, so-to-speak, because it was difficult to ascertain the gender, age, occupation or intent of such a cloaked figure.

In areas of Europe occupied by both Romans and Celts, archaeologists have found numerous representations of a hooded deity, which they refer to as genius cucullatus. Some of these figures are believed to be female and associated with earth goddesses. They often carry eggs or other fertility symbols. Others carry parchments or scrolls, possibly signifying the wisdom and power associated with healing. It is believed these cult figures were revered for their control over prosperity, health and fertility. In 1931 two altars were found in the village of Wabelsdorf, Austria with the inscription “genio cucullato” or “to the hooded deity”. This finding is important because it confirms a formal cult following for these hooded figures. In Britain, genius cucullatus usually appears in groupings of three but in the Rhine-Moselle region of Germany the figure is usually alone and appears dwarf-like. The number three was significant in Celtic thought and this is also reflected in the tale of Brigit, who simultaneously represented a mother figure, a guardian of childbirth and a goddess of prosperity.

Thus there are ample clues in the archaelogical record but proofs confirming the identity of this figure are slim. All we know with certainty is that a hooded deity has been prominent in the European imagination for thousands of years in an area extending from Bohemia in the East to Ireland in the West. The Dirneweibl (of Bavarian folk tradition) and the character Little Red Riding Hood share some of the attributes of this mysterious deity: they all wear a cloak, which to some extent conceals their real function; they bring life-giving nourishment in the form of wine, cake and apples and thus represent healing, security and prosperity; and the color red ties them to passion, love and fecundity. In short, they represent those basic things associated with the hooded deity. It is perhaps most fitting that such a character be forever shrouded in mystery, leaving most of the story to the imagination.

This article draws heavily on information provided at
www.vroma.org/images/mcmanus_images/cucullus.jpg
It is very worthwhile to read the entire article!

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Grimm's Fairy Tale No. 24: Frau Holle


Remnants of an ancient oven in the woods in Switzerland


A widow had two daughters. One was beautiful and industrious, the other ugly and lazy. But the woman preferred the ugly and lazy one, because she was her rightful daughter. The other girl had to do all the work and be the Cinderella of the household. Every day the poor girl went out to the big road and sat beside a fountain. She had to spin until the blood flowed from her fingers. One day the spindle became so covered with blood, the girl wanted to reach down into the fountain and wash it away. But the spindle slipped out of her hand and fell deep down into the pit of the well. The girl cried and ran to her stepmother and told her about her misfortune. 

Her stepmother scolded her so forcefully and was so pitiless that she said “You dropped the spindle, now you must fetch it.” The girl went back to the fountain and didn’t know what to do. In her terror she jumped into the fountain to retrieve the spindle. She lost consciousness and when she awoke and came to, she found herself in a beautiful meadow where the sun shone and many thousands of flowers bloomed. She got up and walked away and soon found herself in front of an oven. 

The oven was full of bread and the bread called out “Take me out, take me out. Otherwise I shall burn. I have been baked through for some time already!” The girl approached, took out the bread board, and removed all the loaves, one after another. 

Then she went her way and came to a tree. It hung full of apples. It called out “Oh shake me, shake me! We apples are all ripe!” The girl shook the tree so that the apples fell down as if it were raining. She shook until none were left hanging in the branches. And when she had gathered them all into a pile, she went her way. 

Finally she arrived at a house from which an old woman poked her head. But because the hag had such large teeth, the girl became frightened and wanted to run away. But the old woman called after her “Why are you frightened, dear child? Stay with me. If you do all the work properly in my house, things will go well for you. You must only make sure you make my bed well and carefully shake out my feather comforter so that the feathers fly. Then it will snow in all the world. I am Mistress Holle.”

Because the old woman spoke so reassuringly, the girl took heart and consented and entered into her service. She took care of everything to the old woman’s satisfaction and shook out the featherbed forcefully so that the feathers flew round like snow flakes. The girl had a good life with the woman. There was never an angry word and every day good victuals with boiled and roasted meats were served.

Now the girl had spent some time with Frau Holle. She became sad and in the beginning, did not know what was wrong. But in the end she knew that she was homesick. Even though she was a thousand times better off than at home, she had a longing for that place. Finally she said to the old woman “I am miserable and want to go home. Even if things are really better down here for me, I can’t stay any longer. I must go back up to my own people.”

Frau Holle replied “It pleases me that you want to return home. And because you have served me so well, I will bring you back up myself.” She took the girl by the hand and led her to a large portal. As the gate was opened and the girl stood underneath, a mighty shower of gold fell down and stuck to the child so that she was covered. “Because you were so diligent and hard-working, this is your reward,” Frau Holle said and she also returned the spindle, which had fallen into the fountain. The gate was closed and the girl found herself back up in the world, not far from her mother’s house. And when she arrived in the yard, the rooster sat on the fountain and cried

“Cockadoodle-dack
Our golden maid is back”

The girl went inside to her mother and because she was covered in gold, she was well-received by both mother and sister.

The girl told them everything she had experienced. When the mother heard about the enormous riches she had gained, she wanted the ugly and lazy daughter to have the same fortune. The lazy girl now had to sit by the fountain and spin. And so that her spindle would become covered with blood, she stabbed her finger by thrusting her hand into a rose hedge. Then she threw the spindle into the fountain and jumped after it. 

Like the other daughter, she arrived at the beautiful meadow and walked on the same path. When she came to the oven, the bread cried out “Pull me out, pull me out, otherwise I shall burn, I am already baked through!” The lazy girl replied “I don’t want to get dirty,” and ran off. She arrived at the apple tree, which called out “Oh, shake me, shake me. We apples are all ripe.” But she replied “That’s a fine request! One of you could fall on my head!” and she continued on. 

When she arrived at Frau Holle’s house, she was not frightened because she had already heard of her big teeth. She immediately entered into her service. The first day, she worked diligently, was busy and followed Frau Holle whenever she told her something. She remembered the rich reward of gold that the old woman would give her. But on the second day, she already began to get lazy. On the third day, even more so, and she did not even want to get out of bed. She refused to make Frau Holle’s bed, as was proper, and did not shake the feathers until they flew. 

Frau Holle soon became tired of this behavior and terminated her service. The lazy one was quite satisfied and now thought the gold rain would come as reward. Frau Holle led her out to the same portal, but when she stood underneath, instead of gold, a giant pot full of pitch poured out over her. “This is the reward for your service,” Frau Holle said and closed the door. The girl returned home, but now was covered with black pitch. The rooster on the fountain crowed out:

“Cockadoodle-dack
Our dirty maid is back.”

The pitch stuck fast to the maid and as long as she lived, it never wore off.


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Friday, February 6, 2009

Becoming What You Are: the Egyptian Parable of the Doomed Prince




In the fairy tale The Doomed Prince, we meet a prince whose fate it is to die at a young age. As he grows, he longs to become independent but those closest to him are seized by a fearful sort of love, one that understandably desires to preserve his life as long as possible. But the prince is fascinated with the world and embraces life by acquiring a dog as faithful companion and then embarking on adventures. Finally he rebukes his father’s protectiveness and in complete acceptance of his doom he asserts “Because I am destined to have a sad fate, I should be allowed to act according to my own wishes. God will in the end do what He desires.” And so we watch him pass through the various stages of his life, his body grows older but he never really reaches full maturity. In the narrative he is usually referred to as a youth and his wife is always a girl.

It is perhaps not astonishing that such a doomed person would seek a rapid ascent in life and winning a flying competition is an apt metaphor for this yearning. The image of a throng of flying children being led by a boy who will never grow up is particularly poignant and a theme we find again in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. This story also shares the motif of the crocodile, representing an ever-present and looming fate that casts long shadows. Whether or not Barrie was inspired in any way by this fairy tale when he wrote Peter Pan is unknown (to me). Based on the dates the source text became known to the public (Papyrus Harris 500) it is entirely possible.


At the end of the tale we see the prince bravely meeting his destiny. From the sad circumstances of his existence, he has created a meaningful life. He has acquired certain virtues including courage and loyalty, he has forged loving relationships, he lives life without fear and has the freedom to make choices. He has followed the maxim of the Greek poet Pindar who wrote “Become what you are” (and love your fate). Embrace what is unique to you and live life to its fullest.


To read the fairy tale The Doomed Prince, click on the link:
http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2009/01/enchanted-prince-egyptian-fairy-tale.html

Further fairy tales can be found at:
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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Reading the Doomed Prince: The Hathors





In the puzzling tale of the Doomed Prince  we encounter a prince who never really grows to adulthood. His fate is foretold by the Hathors, beautiful women of ancient Egyptian mythology whose primary function was to provide food and protection for the dead. But in his 1906 collection of fairy tales Altaegyptische Sagen und Maerchen, the Egyptologist Alfred Wiedemann describes another function of these goddesses. Like the Norns revered by ancient Germanic tribes, the Hathors appear at the birth of a child, bestowing gifts and foretelling the infant’s destiny. Seven Hathors are depicted in a wall relief in the Temple of Dendera, the primary location of their cult. They are probably later forms of the goddess Hathor, who was originally the Egyptian goddess of the heavens. Her name means the “House of Horus”. Hathor was revered in the most ancient traditions as the mother of the sun god Horus until Isis superseded her. Based on a notion that likened the sky to a giant cow , the goddess herself was often depicted in cow form. Hathor, the sky-cow, often appears alongside the sky-bull. Frequently bearing horns on her head, the goddess uses them to lift the sun-child to heaven or to carry the red disk of the sun. She is also associated with an older tree cult and referred to as “Mistress of Date Palm Trees” or “Mistress of Sycamore Trees”. In addition to foretelling a person’s fate, the Hathors were called upon for protection from evil spirits. They used red ribbons to bind these malignant forces, a color often associated with ancient goddesses, the sun, light and heaven itself.

To read the fairy tale The Doomed Prince, click on the link:

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2009/01/enchanted-prince-egyptian-fairy-tale.html


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Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Doomed Prince, an Egyptian Fairy Tale



A manuscript dating to approximately 1000 B.C. bears the designation Papyrus Harris 500, marking it as the property of Mr. Harris at the British Museum in London. It contains two fairy tales in addition to a number of love poems. The first tale is about the Doomed Prince; the second is a story about the capture of the city of Joppa. Unfortunately the papyrus has been damaged; numerous small holes interrupt the storyline and several pages are missing entirely. We therefore only have the beginning of the story and the ending here has been added based on guesswork. The imagined conclusion of the tale is inferred from patterns of story-telling traditional for this genre.

There was once a king to whom no son was born. His heart was exceedingly sad and so he prayed fervently to the gods who ruled his time. These gods decreed that a son would be born. And so, one night the king approached his wife and she became pregnant. When the months had passed, a child was born. Soon thereafter the Hathors arrived, those goddesses who pronounce the fate of every child at birth. Each, in her turn, foretold the future of the child:

“The child shall die by crocodile or by snake or by dog,” was their verdict. When the people heard this, they were very much afraid and hurried to tell the king, His Majesty, Who Grants Life, Well-being and Health. This news greatly troubled His Majesty, Who Confers Life, Well-Being and Health and so he had a house of stone built for his son in the mountains. It was furnished with all kinds of beautiful things from the household of the King Who Confers Life, Well-Being and Health. But the boy never left the house.

When the child grew, he climbed onto the flat roof of his house and saw a greyhound running behind a man on the path below. He said to his servant “What is that running behind the man?” The servant replied “That is a greyhound.” The boy exclaimed “Bring me such a creature.” The servant went out to report this to his Majesty, Who Confers Life, Well-Being and Health, who promptly ordered “Bring him a small, running dog, so that his heart does not become weighed down with sadness.” So they brought him a greyhound.

Days passed and the youth (and his entire body) became older. He sent a messenger to his father and said “All is well but why should I sit around lazily? Because I am destined to have a sad fate, I should be allowed to act according to my wishes. God will in the end do, what he desires.” His wish was granted and he was given all types of arms and weapons, he was given the greyhound who followed him and he was brought to a ship at the East Nile Valley . The people bade farewell and said to him: “Grace be with you! Go where your heart desires!”


Now with his greyhound, he roamed the land and went wherever his heart desired. Soon reachng the North, he lived off the best game of the country. The Prince harbored a desire to fly and so it happened that he soon arrived in Neharina (northeastern Syria) at the palace of a count.

Wonder of wonders! The Count of Neharina had only one child, a girl. A palace had been built for her and the windows of this dwelling were 70 cubits above the ground. All the children of all the counts in the land of Syria were called to the palace. The king said to them “Whoever can reach the window of my daughter by flying, he shall receive her hand in marriage!”

Many days passed and princes from all over the land passed the time in the usual fashion, flying and attempting to reach the window. Finally the young Egyptian prince arrived at that same place. They took him home, washed him; they fed his horses; they did everything possible for the youth; they cleaned him; they anointed his feet with fine salve; they fed his servants. In conversation they asked him “Where do you come from, you handsome young man?” He replied “I am the son of an officer of chariot warriors in the land of Egypt. My mother died and my father took another wife. When her new children were born she began to hate me. I left and fled from her.” They embraced the young prince and showered him with kisses.

After many days the prince approached a throng of men. “What are you doing here?” They replied “We pass our time here flying. The one who reaches the window of the daughter of the Count of Neharina, will receive her hand in marriage.” The prince said to them “If you don’t mind, I will beseech the gods to act in my favor and go flying with you.” So they all went out to fly, as was their daily habit. But the youth stood off in the distance to watch. (At that moment, the princess of Neharina appeared at her window and her) face turned toward him. After several days passed, the youth arrived once again with the children of all the counts to try his skill at flying. He flew and reached the window of the daughter of the Count of Neharina. She kissed him and she embraced him.

The servants ran to her father with the news to delight his heart. They said “A young man has reached the window of your daughter.” The count inquired “The son of which count has reached the window?” They replied “It is the son of an officer of a chariot warrior, who arrived here after fleeing from his mother in Egypt. He came because of her children.” The Count of Neharina became very angry and said “Should I give my daughter to a refugee from Egypt? He should return home!” They went to tell the youth “You should kindly return whence you came.” But the princess embraced him and said “By the life of the god Ra-Harmachis! If you take him from me, I will refuse all food. I shall no longer drink. I shall die in the very same hour.”

The messenger went forth and told her father everything she had said. The count sent out people to kill the youth while he resided in his house. But the girl said to them “By the life of the god Ra! If you kill him, I will also be dead by sundown. I will not live another hour without him!” The servants went to her father and reported what she had said. The count had the youth and girl brought to him. When the youth stood before the count, he shook in fear but the count embraced and kissed him and said “Tell me who you are for you have become a son to me!”

The youth replied “I am the son of an officer of chariot fighters in the land of Egypt. My mother died and my father took another wife. She began to hate me and so I fled from her." The count gave him his daughter and also cattle and many beautiful things.

After many days had passed, the youth said to his wife: “Three fates have been foretold me: the crocodile, the snake and the dog.” She replied “You should kill the greyhound, who runs behind you.” But he said to her “Oh no! I will not kill my dog, who I have raised since he was a pup.” The wife now stood watch over her husband and did not let him leave the house alone. But the youth wanted to undertake a trip to the land of Egypt and wander through it. When he arrived in Egypt, a crocodile came out of the Nile and reached the center of the village where the prince was staying. [The villagers caught it and locked it in a house] that was guarded by a giant. The giant wouldn’t let the crocodile out of the house. But when the crocodile [slept], the giant left the house and went out for a walk. But when the sun came up, the giant returned and he did this every day for two months.

After many days had passed, the youth decided to stay at home to enjoy the day. When night fell, the prince lay down to sleep and soon sleep overcame him. His wife filled a bowl with milk [into which she poured a sleep-inducing substance] and placed it beside him. A snake came out of its hole to bite the prince. But his wife sat next to him and did not sleep. The servants came, (whom she called for help when she saw the snake) and they gave the snake the milk. The snake drank the milk and became sedated and remained lying on its back unconscious. The wife chopped the snake into pieces with an axe. Then she awoke her husband and he was amazed. But she said to him: “Look! Your god has given you another one of your fates. He will also give you the others.” The prince made a sacrifice to the god and praised him and every day he acknowledged the power of the god.

Many days after this event, the prince left his dwelling to take a walk nearby. He did not leave alone but rather took his dog who ran after him. His dog ran away to hunt and the youth ran after him. When he came to the Nile River, he climbed down the river bank to the flowing water. A crocodile emerged from the swirling flood and dragged him back to the the place where the giant was. [The giant hurried out and saved the youth], but the crocodile said to the youth: I am your fate that pursues you! You will cross my path again, you and the giant. And then we shall see! I will let you escape now [but you are not safe, remember this: I will come again to spread terror and I will kill the giant. And when you see that the giant is dead then you, too, shall experience death!”
When dawn broke and the earth was illuminated again, there came ....
[The original text ends here…]


Now the prince had escaped two of the fates threatening him: The snake had not killed him and the crocodile, who had seized him, had to release him again. But according to patterns of Egyptian mythology, what the gods have decreed will in fact happen. The prince will be killed by the third encounter with fate, the dog. Probably the crocodile who foretold another encounter was imminent, was correct. The crocodile returned, attacked the giant and killed him. The prince and his dog tried to help the giant and they were able to kill the crocodile but in the heat of battle the dog bit his master, who died of his wounds. He succumbed to the creature who was his faithful companion throughout life, the one he had least cause to mistrust.


To read more about the Doomed Prince, click on the link:

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2009/02/becoming-what-you-are-egyptian-parable.html

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2009/02/reading-doomed-prince-hathors.html

To read another Ancient Egyptian Fairy Tale about a possessed princess:

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2009/01/ancient-egptian-princess-is-possessed.html

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2009/01/human-versus-demon-versus-devine.html

To read more fairy tales:  FairyTaleChannel.com

Translated from the original German text by Alfred Wiedemann, 1906
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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Reading the Lithuanian Fairy Tale, Godmother Death


In the Lithuanian fairy tale Godmother Death (full text below), neither man nor god reign supreme. Rather, both characters engage in a life-and-death struggle for power, influence and survival. This tale is best read along with Godfather Death and the Possessed Princess (for full text, hit links at right) to gain some understanding of recurring notions of life and death, healing and infirmity and the status of humans alongside deities. I like this story for its rich detail and forceful characters. Even the children are no shrinking violets and are drawn to discover the source of underground moaning instead of being repelled by it. Contrasted with the story Godfather Death from the Brothers Grimm, we encounter attitudes toward life and death that are both strangely similar yet unique. Most tellingly, death here comes in the form of an earthy goddess, not a skeletal male messenger. In fact this goddess was quite comely at one time, before she experienced her own sort of death and was imprisoned beneath the soil for seven years. Like a seed lying dormant, she miraculously returns to life, suggesting that death is only one part of a mysterious cycle of life, death and rebirth. Another noteworthy feature of this story is that death is an eager killer and not merely a passive harbinger of one’s demise. Remarkably, the godmother is not reluctant to finish off her godson once he has riled her. We also see the ancient idea of healing being tied to supernatural forces. Like other gifts of prestige or riches, the power to heal is conferred or taken away by the gods. Godmother Death plays a role very similar to a Norn in this story, appearing at the birth of a child, granting gifts which fundamentally shape the quality of the child’s life and in that regard being a real presence or even spiritual guide throughout life (perhaps in fact suggesting that each person carries his own death with him throughout life). Because this fairy tale includes older notions of Norns and earth goddesses, I am inclined to believe it is an earlier version of the story we find in the Brothers Grimm collection.


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Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Princess is Healed and Evades Godmother Death in this Fairy Tale



Godmother Death

A man and a woman were living in abject poverty when God gave them a gift of a small child. They thought to themselves: “Whatever shall we do! We are so poor, we can't even afford to baptize this child?” When they invited people to the baptism, everyone declined the invitation. 

One morning the husband rose early and when he left his house he thought to himself: “The first man I meet, he shall be the godfather of my child!” And so it was! He met a man, asked him to be godfather and told him of his dire need. The man accepted. The husband heartily thanked him and continued on his way to find a godmother. He met a young and pretty wife. He wished her “Good Morning!” and asked her to be the godmother. She also did not refuse. 

When the godparents had assembled and brought their gifts, they held a huge feast and baptized the child. When they had all left the celebration, only the godmother remained behind. She thanked the parents for asking her to be the godmother and inviting her to the baptism and said “How shall I reward you? No one except you has ever invited me to a baptism. Do you know who I am? I am the Goddess of Death. I shall make this child a doctor. As soon as a person is sick, take it upon yourself to heal him! When you approach the sick person and see me standing at his feet, he will recover and become healthy again. Then you must promise to heal him! But if you see me standing at his head, don’t make the effort, for I will kill him. If you do as I say, you shall become a famous doctor and you will become enormously wealthy!” 

When the poor child grew to be a man he healed many people. No one saw the Goddess of Death except him. If he saw her standing near the sick person’s head, then he said that further help was futile. Everyone soon loved him very much. He became a famous doctor and was very rich. 

But one day the daughter of a king became deathly ill and the king called the doctor. When he arrived, he saw the Goddess of Death standing by the head of the princess. He pleaded with her to be beneficent and remove herself and let him heal the sick maid for then he would receive a handsome reward from the king. But the Goddess replied that he should move away because she intended to kill the princess. The doctor became angry at his godmother and fitted the bed so that it could be turned. Then he placed the princess in the bed. When the Goddess of Death stood at her head, the doctor simply turned the bed around and the Goddess found herself standing at her feet. When she walked around to stand at the princess’s head once more, he turned the bed around so that she stood by her feet. 

He tormented the Goddess in this way for some time until she left the sick maid enraged. The doctor healed the princess, was highly honored and received a good reward. But when he went home, the Goddess of Death, his godmother, approached him and said: “You did not listen to me. Lay down, I shall kill you now.” “But dear godmother,” the doctor replied, “Give me three days time! I want to make my own coffin and lie down inside. Then you can kill me.” She consented. 

The doctor had a very strong coffin made and strong clasps forged. When three days were up, the Goddess of Death returned and asked “Well! Have you prepared yourself for death?” The doctor lay face down in the coffin. She could not kill him and ordered him to lie on his back. When he rolled onto his back, he raised his knees so that the Goddess of Death could not close the coffin. “You don’t even know how to lie down!” the Goddess said. “Let me show you!” He jumped up. The Goddess of Death lay down inside and stretched out as straight as a reed. The doctor seized the lid of the coffin and slammed it shut, locking the Goddess of Death inside. Then he took it into the forest, dug a deep hole and buried the Goddess of Death inside. 

She lay there almost seven years. No one found her the entire time. He remained a very famous doctor because no one was dying anymore. One day children were tending their flock in the forest and heard sighing below the earth. They all decided to dig and see who was there. They dug up the coffin, opened the lid and found a living woman inside, who was now completely desiccated. Since that time she has been a terrible sight to behold. She thanked the children for freeing her, sat down on a stone near the path and waited for the doctor to come by. She sat as if she were a beggar woman, concealing her face. The doctor came by, stopped in front of the woman and commanded her to say an “Our Father”. When the prayer was over, she said “Amen,” killed the doctor where he stood and took him home. I know this because I was also in attendance at his funeral and enjoyed the wonderful food spread out on the table for all his guests.


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Friday, January 16, 2009

Human versus Demon versus Divine: The Surprising Story of the Possesssed Princess and Chunsu the Executor of Plans


The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain, Duccio du Buoninsegna (c. 1255-1319), Frick Collection

(2 versions of the original story provided below)

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The Possessed Princess is a mysterious tale about what happens to a princess dominated by an unclean spirit (not much) and more interestingly, what happens to the demon (a bit more). Set in Ancient Egypt in the time of Ramses II, the text was probably written in or around the first century BC. It is important to read this story in the context of its time. According to The New Oxford Annotated Bible, at the time of the New Testament “Demons were thought to be non material existences of a personal kind, hostile to human welfare and against God. The Gospels reflect widespread dread of demons and a general sense of helplessness before demonic activity.” This idea had apparently been around for a long time for even in the Old Testament we find the Israelites sacrificing to demons and not honoring God, instead they paid homage to deities they had never known. (Deuteronomy 32:17). The New Testament provides startling accounts of exorcisms that are often followed by even more remarkable stories of curing the sick, the paralyzed or those suffering from physical deformity. These stories lump physical and mental maladies into a general category of illness that requires a supernatural wonder cure. It was thought that only a god was powerful enough to heal a person suffering from one of these infirmities. This notion is developed further in the New Testament when Jesus is able to pass on the power of healing to mortal men or his followers. It suggests he is even more powerful than all prior gods.

In the Possessed Princess, we encounter the same biblical helplessness before demonic activity. But in this story the king takes action and summons the most learned scholars of the land. From their circle the most illustrious and skilled scribe is selected to dispel the demon. Very quickly the chosen one finds out that a mere mortal is no match for an evil spirit. The desperate king now turns to the god “Chunsu, Who Stands at the Pinnacle of all Gods”. A common feature of both biblical and Egyptian accounts of possession is that the gods roam the earth and mortals have direct access to them. In the Egyptian tale, the god communicates with the king by nodding his head twice. Like the Christian God with its threefold character, the god Chunsu has a partite nature. He decides to dispatch one of his sub-forms, Chunsu, the Executor of Plans, a deity revered for his healing power and miraculous cures. The demon’s speech in this story is remarkable for its striking similarities with the biblical account of Jesus driving out the demons in the book of Mark. The demon in the Egyptian tale, negotiates with the demi-god an outcome more to his liking. "I am your slave. I will go back to that place whence I came…I will satisfy your heart…But I ask your majesty to order a festival to be held for me…”
The demon doesn’t want to go and lingers with the Prince of Bechten until a festival is held. Then the demon “peacefully left the place he loved so much” and returned whence he came. The last we see of him, he is retreating into the desert sunset.

This is reminiscent of biblical accounts of exorcism. In Mark 5:12, “He (the demon) begged him (Jesus) earnestly not to send them (the demons) out of the country.” And in Matthew 12:43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house, from which I came.”

The fate of the demon is clear but not much is said about what happens to the princess. Of more concern in this story is the nature of man’s relationship to the gods and demons and the power structure under which the world operates. Chunsu, the Executor of Plans, is held captive by the king, who imprisons him in his chapel for over three and a half years. In the end the god cannot be kept down and returns to heaven and Egypt in the form of a golden falcon. Upon his arrival, Chunsu the Executor of Plans is embraced by the other form of his nature, Chunsu the Beautiful Resting One. He returns to his dwelling in peace and presumably stays there until he is next called to perform a miracle on behalf of mankind. And at the conclusion of the Book of Mark we read: "So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God."


To read the fairy tale of Princess Bentrescht and the Demon:

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2009/01/egyptian-princess-bentrescht-and-demon.html

More fairy tales can be found at:

FairyTaleChannel.com

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Egyptian Princess Bentrescht and the Demon


This is a re-telling of the Egyptian fairy tale, The Possessed Princess. See the next blog entry to read a complete translation of the story and to learn about the significance of the winged sun symbol.


Cast of Characters:

The Moon God, Chunsu, also known as Neferhetep, the Beautiful Resting One

An offshoot of this deity, Chunsu, the Executor of Plans
King Ramses II of Egypt
The Prince of Bechten
His daughter, Nefer-u-Ra (the Beauty of the Sun)
Her sister, the Princess Bentrescht
A library scribe
A palace scribe
The princely scribe Thuti-emheb
Place: Ancient Egypt, Northeastern Syria and the Land of Bechten (somewhere in Asia)
Time: The text claims the story took place in 1350 B.C. but a more realistic date for the text itself is closer to around 100 B.C.

His majesty, King Ramses, was residing in his palace in Neharina. Princes from the farthest reaches of the earth came to pay tribute to him. They carried gifts on their backs, one walking behind the other. Gold, silver, lapis lazuli, malachite and every kind of valuable wood was brought before the king out of the land of the gods (Arabia in the East, the country of the sun god). The Prince of Bechten also paid tribute to the king. His oldest daughter led the throng of worshipers and offered praises to him. She was a very beautiful maiden, more beautiful than any other living creature. And so she found favor with the king and she became one of his princely wives. He called her Nefer-u-Ra (the Beauty of the Sun God). When the couple returned to their palace in Egypt, he had every ceremony befitting the wife of a king performed.

After some time, a messenger came from the kingdom of Bechten. He brought many gifts for the king’s wife. When he was allowed to approach the king he said “Praise to you, Sun of the people. May your radiance bestow light and life upon us!” He threw himself down before his majesty and then continued speaking. “I come to you my prince and master, because Bentrescht, Daughter of Joy, who through your marriage with Queen Neferu-Ra is her younger sister. An evil has taken over her body and penetrated her limbs. Your majesty should send a learned scribe to drive the demon from her.”

His majesty commanded: “Bring me a library scribe and a palace scribe.” They were immediately brought to him. His majesty continued “I called you to listen to my words. Find me a man who is most learned from among your group. He should be experienced and well-versed in all things.” They brought forth a princely scribe, Thuti-emheb. His majesty commanded him to go to Bechten with the messenger. When he arrived, he found that Bentrescht had been possessed by a demon but he was too weak to do battle with this spirit. The scribe sent a message to King Ramses “O Prince and Master! Send a god to do battle with this demon for I am too weak.”

Upon receiving word, King Ramses made his way to Chunsu, the Beautiful Resting One and said “O my beautiful master! I stand once more before you on behalf of the daughter of the Prince of Bechten. Please have your servant Chunsu, the Executor of Plans, the Big God, the Banisher of Evil drive out the demon from the princess.”

The god nodded his head twice, indicating he had granted the request. The king continued: “And may your powerful magic be with him so this god can go to Bechten and save the daughter of the Prince of Bechten.” Once more Chunsu, the Beautiful Resting One in Thebes nodded his head twice and conferred four times his magic power on Chunsu, the Executor of Plans in Thebes.

A large ship was brought for the god. It was laden with wagons and horses. Chunsu, the Executor of Plans traveled to the land of Bechten and arrived after one year and five months. The god entered the room of Bentrescht. He used his magic power to heal the princess and immediately she became healthy. But the demon spoke from inside the princess and said “You come in peace, you powerful god, you banisher of evil. You are lord over Bechten and all the people are your slaves. I am your slave. I shall go back to the place from whence I came. But I ask that you order a festival to be held in my name and for the Prince of Bechten.”

The god nodded in approval and said to his priests “Bring a large sacrifice for this demon!” And it was done. A festival was called and a sacrifice was made and the demon lingered a while with the Prince of Bechten, for that was the place he loved. Finally, at the command of Chunsu, the Executor of Plans in Thebes, the demon left that place peacefully. The Prince of Bechten rejoiced loudly and all the people living in his kingdom.

Now the Prince of Bechten decided the god should not return to Egypt but should stay on with his people. He would not let him leave. The god stayed three years and nine months. One day as the king was lying in his bed, he had a vision of the god flying out of his temple like a golden falcon. When the prince awoke, he was full of terror and said “This god who has stayed with us, has moved back to Egypt. May his wagons and horses also return to Egypt.”

The god was released and sent back to Egypt. Gifts of every kind, soldiers and horses were given to him. When they all arrived in Thebes, Chunsu, the Executor of Plans met Chunsu the Beautiful Resting One. He spread out all the gifts and didn’t take a single gift for his own but instead, returned to his dwelling in peace. This happened in the thirty-fifth year of the reign of King Ramses, who awards life and is like the Sun God, Ra.


To read more about the fairy tale: http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2009/01/human-versus-demon-versus-devine.html

The illustrated version of this fairy tale can be accessed by clicking on the link:

Translation  FairyTaleChannel.com

Please read and enjoy this article.
Pass on to friends or link to.
Please do not plagiarize, copy or pilfer. Thanks and enjoy!