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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Fairy Tale of the Wild Huntsman and His Fire-Breathing Horse



SAGEN; Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

Source: Folk Tales from Pommern and Ruegen, Ulrich Jahn, Berlin 1889, No. 3

In Ruegen folk say that the Wild Hunstman is the devil. Every evening he rides out between eleven and twelve o’clock on his fire-breathing horse and charges through the countryside. You can hear his wild cry in the air high above: Tschue ha! Tschue ha!. When people hear this sound they hasten to reach a place of safety.

If the front or back door of a house is open, he rides his horse through the door and steals every human being he can catch inside. He carries them off to his kingdom. He prefers snatching small children. If the house door is locked, he will circle the building with loud cries and commotion. One evening a worker named Moeller living in Coldevitz left both doors of his house open. The Wild Huntsman rode through but did not find anyone inside. Moeller saw quite plainly how on the left and right side of the wild steed there hung a living boy. The devil had kidnapped these children from God knows where.


Oral tradition from Coldevitz


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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fairy Tale of the Evil Knight Eppela Gaila and His Horse


Grimm’s Saga No. 130: Eppela Gaila

Not long ago, Nuremberg street urchins still sang this old rhyme:

“Eppela Gaila from Dramout
Always rides on the fourteenth out.”

“The Nuremberg fiend rides out,
Eppela Gaila from Dramout.”

In times of old Eppelin von Gailing lived in Bayreuth near Drameyesel (a very small village parish after Muggendorf). He was a bold knight, who wantonly plundered and pillaged. He was especially inclined to do harm to the Nuremberg townfolk, whom he sought out for special distress and sorrow. But he also understood magic and had a colt that could ride and trot, canter and gallop until it’s hooves leapt from the earth and soared to high rock and crag, or down to river and meadow. And the hoof of his colt never trod on a single blade of grass.

His main estate was near Cliff Gailenreuth, but scattered throughout the region he had other castles and in a flash he could fly like the wind from one fortress to another. Often flying from one side of the mountain to the opposite or even reaching Saint Lorenz in Muggendorf. Nothing could stop his terror in Nuremberg, neither high stone wall nor deep moat. He committed many crimes and seemed unconquerable. But finally, the Nuremberg townsfolk captured him, brought him to the New Market and hanged him on the gallows with his accomplices. The Nuremberg Castle still displays weapons and the wall still shows a hoof print from his horse, which sank into the soft clay when he jumped onto it.



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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fairy Tale of Prince and Horse Chapter 6: the prince, having been abandoned by bride and horse, must undertake 3 trials as foretold by the ant king

The Ant King

Fairy Tale of Prince and Horse, Chapter 6, in which the prince, having been abandoned by bride and horse, must now undertake three trials as foretold by a chorus of chirping ants.

The prince was alone. He had lost his faithful companion the horse. He had cursed the bride he loved so dearly. Gazing dejectedly at his feet he noticed the dry dust on his boots. It was indeed a barren place he found himself in: parched earth, cracked ground and only ants as companions. “Perchance the ants will show some compassion,” he thought sadly. “But even they are so busy, I would not bother them.”

The Ant King heard the prince’s speech and rising up on his hind legs, shook the dust from his body and addressed the prince:
“Three trials you must pass, witch, werewolf, giant.
To win a wife you will surpass, witch, werewolf, giant.
When in need call the steed; witch, werewolf, giant.”

The Ant King’s underlings now rose up behind him and raising their legs they chirped:
“Three trials you must pass, witch, werewolf, giant.
To win a wife you will surpass witch, werewolf, giant.
When in need call the steed, witch, werewolf giant.”

The place buzzed with their song, growing louder and louder until it seemed the earth itself was humming with electricity.

While all this happened, the sleeping king, the kidnapper of the prince’s bride, awoke rather grumpily from his nine day slumber. “I knew it,” he snarled. The escapees have outwitted me this time, but I shall send my army after them. Witch, werewolf and giant shall come to my defense and seize my rightful bride! I shall not be out-foxed this time!”
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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Swiss Fairy Tale of Zawudschawu, the Night Horse


Strange Steeds in Switzerland

Fairy Tale of Zawudschawu, the Night Horse


Many monsters were said to inhabit the mountains and valleys in times of old. In Sitten, a town in the Wallis region of Switzerland, a three-legged steed was often seen prancing through the streets in the bright moon light. And in the soft swamplands surrounding the city, the wild horse Zawudschawu could often be seen grazing at night. His coat was an iridescent milk-white but his wild mane and long tail were as white as the driven snow. If a brittle old hag wandered out of the village and lost her way in the moor, it might happen that the horse approached at a proud trot. Lowering itself carefully, it would invite the old person to sit on its back. Barely situated there, the horse would hasten home. But the horse was not always so gracious and trustworthy. Sometimes it played mean tricks. One evening a man, who had quenched his thirst a bit too much that evening, was wandering home from the tavern. He was tired and also his legs were unsteady. Fatigued, he sat down on a large stone near the bridge and thought to himself “If only an old nag would come trotting by to take me home.”

He had hardly formed the thought when he heard the approach of a horse; turning he saw the pale-white steed. It bowed and lowered itself gently and even nodded its head in an inviting way. The man did not hesitate nor did he wonder who the owner might be of such a magnificent steed. Rather clumsily he mounted the horse but once sitting on the horse’s back, the steed got up carefully and moved away. Thus encouraged, the man promised it good feed and sugar bread as reward for taking him home.

Soon the man saw his village and the roof of his house illuminated by the full moon. He smiled remembering his soft feather bed and urged the horse on with a gentle kick in its side. The horse responded by jumping jerkily, almost catapulting the rider into the air. He gripped its mane terrified as the horse began a wild gallop. The white mane whipped back by the wind nearly blinded the man. He implored the horse to return to the rightful path but instead it crashed through the swamp and continued on to the river.

Now the rider was seized by a veritable premonition of death. He screamed and tried to turn the wild horse around by pulling violently on its mane. But the horse pulled away and he could hardly stay mounted. They quickly reached the treacherous banks of the river where its rolling waves menaced. But in the last second the horse turned as quick as lightening. Its rider flew into the whirling waters and was carried downstream. The horse neighed as if laughing, turned around and ran back in the direction of the moor.

The rider was only able to save himself with the utmost exertion. As he returned home soaked to the bone, he knew he had encountered the wild steed Zawudschawu. The cold bath in the river had a sobering effect on the man and he never again visited the tavern.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Fairy Tale of Prince and Horse, Chapter 5: In which the prince is chastised by his horse, which has assumed the form of horse-man.

Boticelli, Pallas and the Centaur

(See link at right, Fairy Tale of Prince and Horse, for prior chapters.)

Horrible fate, pitiable predicament!
The prince was overcome with anguish and lamented his sad condition to the horse: “My rash actions, though done in love, have not benefitted my bride. Whatever shall I do? Must I really sacrifice my life in this way? I curse the day I ever laid eyes on her!”

The horse halted and taking on the form of horse-man sang in somber voice:

What is it you love?
Fair face – radiant divine,
Blossom-lips – heaven sublime?
Sparkling eyes, mad desire,
Are these the boons you require?

How do you love?
With longing adoration, long-suffering pain?
With hope and aspiration to acquire gain?
As sharp as an arrow, tip full gleam,
As soft as a feather, love-fond dream?

Why do you love?
To quench your thirst, to entertain?
To amuse yourself, circumvent pain?
A strong elixir makes one cheery,
Darkness banished from the weary.

Lout-not, love-full, unbridled colt.
Lout-not, love-full, loveful filly.
Let spalt-maid canter, spalt-youth trot,
Let love spane – spang, spang!



Now a finely shaped horse stood once more before the prince. Without saying a word, the hag jumped to its back and horse and rider soon vanished in the distance.


Chapter 6: http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2009/05/fairy-tale-of-prince-and-horse-chapter_19.html


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Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Scent of Spring: Dragon Takes Wing, Grimm's Saga No. 216, a Saga from Switzerland in which a Man Escapes from Entanglement with Two Ancient Worms




Alpine folk in Switzerland have preserved many sagas about dragons and worms, which in ancient times dwelled in mountain caverns and often descended upon the valleys, leaving total destruction and sorrow behind. Even now, when an impetuous forest stream breaks its banks, crashing down the mountain and pulling along trees and rock with it, the local folk cite this melancholy proverb: “The dragon has taken wing.” The following story is one of the oddest:

A barrel binder from Lucerne went out into the forest to fetch Dauben wood for his barrels and lost his way until he found himself in a barren, lonely place. Night came and he suddenly fell into a deep pit, but it was muddy, like a well. On both sides of the bottom, gangways led off from the side into enormous caves. When he approached to examine them more carefully, to his horror, two frightful dragons blocked his way. The man prayed fervently while the dragons wound themselves round his body several times, but they did not harm him. One day passed thus, then several. He had to endure the dragon’s tight embrace from November 6 until April 10. He was only able to nourish himself with the salty dewdrops that formed like beads of perspiration on the stone walls

When the dragons smelled the scent of spring, they knew the winter season was over and decided to take flight. The first dragon did this with a loud roar. When the other prepared to do the same, the unlucky barrel maker took hold of the dragon’s tail, gripped hard and was pulled out of the well. Once above, he released his grip and fell free. He then returned to town. To commemorate his experience, he had a picture of his ordeal embroidered on a priest’s frock. It can still be seen in the Holy Leodagars Church near Lucerne. According to church records, this happened in the year 1420.

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Horse Prophesy


The Fairy Tale of Prince and Horse, Chapter 4
(See link at right Fairy Tale of Prince and Horse for prior chapters.)
The young prince soon asked for the hand of the beautiful princess and she was willing to take him as husband.

But the neighboring king would not hear of it. He wanted to have such a beautiful wife for his own. How could he win her? Finally he thought up the following trick: He would send to his rival news that he should return home for his father was on his deathbed. Naturally it was a lie, but who would know? When the prince heard of his father's misfortune, he saddled his trusted steed and rode as fast as he could in the direction of home. He was hardly gone when the neighboring king appeared and robbed the prince of his bride.

On his way home, the prince stopped in a peaceful grove of oak trees. He alighted from his horse to take water from a bubbling spring. With a heavy heart he gazed at his own reflection in the pool of water and thought back to the counsel the Head had given him. “Beseech the horse three times when you are in distress,” it had said. The prince then remembered the magic horse spell:

Huzza, huzza, hinny-whinny.
Fly like a hawk, shake like thunder.
Eyes like the sun,
Hooves swift-footed,
Your lightning-gait,
Your mane gold-plait.

Huzza, huzza, hinny-whinny,
Fly like a hawk, shake like thunder.
Legs are leaping.
Ears are keeping.
Your truth be told.
Your signs unfold.

Huzza, huzza, hinny-whinny.
Fly like a hawk, shake like thunder.
All-seeing – tell.
All telling – see.
Horse-laugh prophesy!
Horse-neigh prophesy!

The horse turned to the prince and spoke solemnly: “Do not ride any further but halt and listen! It is not true that your father is lying on his deathbed. Your rival lied to you and while you rode, he robbed you of your bride. Return quickly for tomorrow is the wedding feast. Here, beside this stream you shall find three potions. If you drink from the first, you will fall into the deepest sleep for nine days and nine nights. If you drink from the second, you will become so old and brittle, that no one will recognize you. But if you douse yourself with the third potion, you will become as young, strong and vigorous as before.”

The prince turned his horse immediately and hurried to free his bride. He reached the gate of the neighboring king’s realm. Everything glittered like the richest jewelry. Guests had arrived; the wedding had begun. The prince drank from the second potion and became an old, old beggar. The beggar entered the castle and once in the wedding hall he begged for alms. Everyone gave him something; only the bride gave him nothing. She sat dejected in the corner. At last the beggar spoke: “I shall honor the bride with a wedding gift and you will give me refreshments in return. I can teach the young lady how to acquire virtue that attracts good fortune.” When the bride heard this, she reached forward to give the beggar his portion. The beggar took the alms with both hands and said: “Let us step aside so that I can tell you what a young bride must know.” Both stepped to the side. The beggar only then revealed what had happened and why he had purposely taken the form of a beggar. And finally, he gave his bride the potions and said: “Try to give your kidnapper some of this first potion. While he sleeps nine days, we will be long gone over the mountain.”

The bride took the sleeping potion, but noticed that the second potion looked so sweet and glittered in its golden vessel. She secretly took it, too. She slipped the first potion into a golden goblet, went to her kidnapper and spoke: “Before the wedding we should drink from this cup to celebrate our engagement!” He was satisfied. But when he drank, he fell into a nine-day sleep.

The young bride hastened away, but as she turned, she noticed the bright color of the second potion and how the vessel glittered that held this wonderful refreshment. Surely, a small portion from this second vessel could do no harm. No sooner thought than done and instead of a beautiful princess, a wretched beggar woman stood before the eager prince. The prince had already doused himself with the third potion and had thus resumed his comely form. No time was left to lose. The prince escaped with the old hag on his wonderful horse and they galloped away into the night.

When they had ridden a distance, the prince took the vessel of the third potion to douse his bride and return her beauty. But alas, when he opened it, he realized that in his haste, he had used the entire potion on himself. Now his bride was as old and brittle as a broomstick and there was no potion to restore her youth.


Chapter 5   http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2009/05/fairy-tale-of-prince-and-horse-chapter.html

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Magical Power of Bird's Nests Revealed in Fairy Tale and Saga


Grimm's Saga No. 86: Bird's Nest

This saga celebrates the mystery and beauty of spring and is well worth reading this time of year.


In some areas people still believe that there are certain bird's 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 most likely a reference to Bifolium, a two-leaf plant genus commonly referred to as Bird's Nest in almost every European language. There seems to be something magical or mandrakelike about it. This belief is elaborated in an account from the 17th century, most certainly originating from 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. She vanished the moment 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 bird's nest in her hands which she had removed from the knick in 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 come all the way 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 move in the sun but could not see her. And because it was easier for her to approach me 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. 


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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fairy Tale of Prince and Horse, Chapter 3: The Magic Charm Used to Beseech the Horse


And this is the charm the prince was to use when he beseeched his horse to prophesy the future:
Huzza, huzza, hinny-whinny.
Fly like a hawk, shake like thunder.
Eyes like the sun,
Hooves swift-footed.
Your lightning-gait,
Your mane gold-plait.

Huzza, huzza, hinny-whinny.
Fly like a hawk, shake like thunder.
Legs are leaping,
Ears are keeping.
Your truth be told.
Your signs unfold.

Huzza, huzza, hinny-whinny.
Fly like a hawk, shake like thunder.
All-seeing – tell.
All telling – see.
Horse-laugh prophesy!
Horse-neigh prophesy!



Chapter 4: http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2009/05/horse-prophesy.html

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fairy Tale of Prince and Horse, Chapter 2



How the Horse Outfoxed River Witches and Forest Witches

The sun hung low in the sky when the prince and his swift-footed steed reached a lucious flower meadow. They rode through it and came to a gently rolling river. “We shall cross the river and go to the castle in the distance,” the prince said. But his horse replied: “The river is enchanted by witches. Once in the middle of the stream, the water would swell up so violently, it would devour us both. Take hold of my mane, we shall leap across instead.”

The youth took hold of his horse’s mane and in a single leap, both horse and rider reached the other side. With another leap they found themselves in the center of the forest. The youth looked around in amazement and saw majestic oaks and in a clearing, he could see a cabin. “Wait dear steed, for I long to find refreshment in that house I spy! I hear a wonderful and sweet song coming from within.” It was the enchanted song of witches, luring him to his doom.

“We must leave here,” the horse replied. “You shall not endeavor to reach that hut or we shall come to blows and the winner will then decide where we go.”

“Well let us try then,” the young man answered laughing. Both took hold of each other and a wrestling match ensued. As it happened, the young man was soon lying on the bottom. But the witches in stealth had encircled them whilst they wrestled. The steed said “Quickly jump to my back and hold fast to my mane! I shall kick our way free!” The powerful steed kicked with his hindquarters and pranced and jumped free of the forest with a single leap. Now prince and steed were well on their way and soon approached the castle of a foreign king, who had a beautiful daughter.


Chapter 3  http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2009/04/fairy-tale-of-prince-and-horse-chapter_30.html

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Monday, April 20, 2009

The Fairy Tale of Prince and Horse: How a prince allied with a horse overcame witches.



Chapter 1: The Nature of Horses: How the Horse Runs in Freedom and Understands All Wild Things
In times of old a king went to war and he was gone nine years. He left behind a young wife and his one-year old son. The king loved this son dearly. When he took leave from his wife, he made her pledge to care for this dear child with the greatest diligence and utmost prudence. The mother promised to do this. She alone would feed him and place him in his cradle. She would not allow another living person to even take him in arm. And so, the boy grew quickly like a radish.

In his fifth year, he was as big as a ten year old and had good sense and understanding. When he was eight, the young prince had already grown into a strapping young fellow, whose sole yearning and longing was to brandish a sword. He said: “Dear little mother, there is nothing for me to do at home, I want to go into the world and look for father.” “Good, good my dear son. Prepare yourself and go into the world. I also want to see father again.”

In the early morning hour, before the cock had crowed, the prince was on his way. Toward evening he reached a large wood and directly at the edge of this wood, he saw a man’s head. It was as large as a haystack and below the head lay a sword. He wanted to remove the sword but the head spoke: “Dear son, if instead you undertake to kill the magician who struck off my head with this sword, the sword will be yours, otherwise not.”

“Well and good Dear Head, I will help you. But can you not tell me where my father is?” “Dear son, when you have slain the magician and have returned to me, I will tell you where your father is. But listen well! The magician lives in a rocky cliff. Do not go to him as you are, but instead put on my armor and mount my steed. In the hollow of the that tree you will find armor and steed. And one more thing: stagger him a single blow, do not strike him twice. Otherwise, the miscreant will come back to life.”

The prince mounted the swift-hooved steed and flew like the wind to the rocky cliff. He suffered the magician such a severe blow, that his head dropped to his shoulders but did not fall off entirely. The magician said: “Have pity on me and strike off my head completely, so I suffer no pain.” But the prince replied: “A true warrior hews only once. I will not hew a second time.”

“Then I must die at once for your are my superior,” the magician replied and drew his last breath. Prince and steed flew back to the Head, which said: “Be joyful for you have released me from the spell. I will help you in the future in every way you have helped me. Take my horse, for the horse runs in freedom and has the understanding of all wild things. In times of dire distress, beseech the horse three times and he will give you wise counsel. Now return home, for your father will also be on his way and will meet you there.” The prince turned his horse and in one leap he found himself home.

As the sun set behind the hills, the father's figure could be seen on the horizon. The mother was exceedingly happy. She embraced her husband. She embraced her son. Her joy found no bound or limit. And so they lived in peace and contentment for some time. But after a while the son said: “Father, let me go out into the world to seek my fortune and test my strength.” Good, the father was satisfied. He gave his son the swift-footed steed and escorted them to the border of his kingdom.
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Friday, April 17, 2009

Grimm's Saga No. 538, Siegfried and Genofeva

Genofeva in the Forest


When Hildolf was Archbishop of Trier, the Palatinate Count Siegfried lived with his wife Genofeva, the daughter of a Duke from Brabant. She was fair and pious. It happened that a campaign was launched against the pagans and Siegfried had to go to war. He ordered Genofeva to live a quiet life of reclusion at his castle in Meifelder Gau. To Golo his trusted servant, he encharged his wife and requested that he be vigilant in watching over her. The last night before his departure, Genofeva received a child from her husband. When Siegfried was gone it did not take long for Golo to be aroused by sinful desire for the fair Genofeva. Finally, he could restrain himself no longer, but declared his intentions to the Palatinate Duchess. Filled with repugnance, she rejected him. In response, Golo wrote false letters pretending that Siegfried had drowned with all his men at sea and read them aloud to the Duchess. The entire kingdom belonged to him, he said, and she could love him without fear of sinning. But when he wanted to kiss her, she hit him hard in the face with her fist and he noticed that he would not accomplish anything. He changed tack, took away from the noble woman all her servants and maids so that she suffered enormously in her pregnancy. When her time came, Genofeva bore a beautiful son and no one but an old washer woman stood by and comforted her. Finally she heard that the Palatinate Duke was still alive and would return soon. She questioned the messenger and approached Golo, who had received the same news. Golo was beside himself with fright and thought all was lost. In his distress he turned to an old witch for counsel. She asked why he was so forlorn. The Palatinate Duchess bore her child at a time when no one could know who the father was, whether it be the cook or some one else. “Tell the Palatinate Duke that she took the cook as lover. He will have the cook killed and you will live in peace.” Golo said “That’s good advice,” and so he hurried to his master and told him the entire lie. Siegfried was mortified and sighed mournfully. Golo said “It is not proper for you to keep this woman as your wife.” The Palatinate Duke replied “What should I do?”
The unfaithful servant said “I will take her and the child to a lake and drown them both in the water.” After Siegfried agreed, Golo seized Genofeva and the child and gave them to the servants with instructions to kill them. The servants led them into the forest, but one among them said “What have these innocents done?” And they exchanged words but no one knew anything bad that could be said of the Fair Genofeva and no reason why she should be killed. “It is better,” they said, “that we let wild animals tear them apart than stain our hands with their blood.” And so they left Genofeva alone in the wild wood and went out. But because they needed a sign to bring to Golo, one of them said it would be best to cut out the tongue of their hound. And when they came to Golo, he said “Where have you left them?” “They are murdered,” the servants replied and showed them the tongue.

Genofeva cried and prayed in the desolate wilderness. Her child was not yet 30 days old and she could no longer nurse the child. She prayed to the Holy Virgin Mary for help and suddenly a roe deer leapt through the bush and sat down next to the child. The deer was able to suckle the child and he drank. Genofeva stayed at this place for six years and three months. She nourished herself on roots and herbs that she found in the forest. They lived under fallen tree trunks that Genofeva was able to pull together in layers to form a kind of dwelling.

After some time, the Palatinate Duke rode out into the forest to hunt. As the hunters rushed their hounds, they saw the same roe deer that nourished the boy with her milk. The hunters pursued the deer and because there was no way out, it fled to the spot where the two walked daily. It threw itself as usual at the feet of the boy. The hounds pressed forward while the child’s mother took a stick and warded off the hounds. At that moment the Palatinate Duke arrived, he saw the miracle and he ordered the dogs to be called back. He asked the woman whether she was Christian. She replied “I am a Christian, but completely uncovered. Give me your coat so that I can hide my shame.” Siegfried threw down his coat and she covered herself. “Woman,” he said “Why don’t you get food and clothing for yourself?” She replied “Bread I have none; I eat the herbs that I find in the wood; my clothing became worn and fell apart a long time ago.”
“How many years have you been here?”
“Six years and three moons is the time I have been living here.”
“To whom does the boy belong?”
“He is my son.”
“Who is the child’s father?”
“God alone knows.”
“How did you come here and what is your name?”
“My name is Genofeva.”
When the Palatinate Duke heard the name, he thought of his wife, and one of the Duke’s men stepped forward and said “By God that looks like our lady, who died some time ago and she had the same beauty mark on her face.” And every one saw that she had the same mark. “Does she still have her wedding ring?” Siegfried asked. The two went out and saw that she still wore the ring. The Palatinate Duke embraced her and took the child in his arms “This is my wife and this is my child,” he said. The good wife now told him everything that had happened, word-for-word. And everyone cried tears of joy. The faithless Golo was also found and brought forth. The crowd wanted to kill him but the Palatinate Duke cried out: “Hold him until we can determine whether he is worthy of dying.” It happened and Siegfried ordered four oxen, who had not yet pulled the plow, to be tied to the four parts of the body, two on his feet and two on his hands and then to make the oxen move forward. When they were tied in this way, each oxen moved forward and Golo’s body was torn into four pieces.

The Palatinate Duke wanted to bring his wife and child home. But she refused and said: “At this holy site the Virgin saved me from the wild beasts and preserved the life of my child by sending a roe deer. I will not leave this place until it is properly consecrated and honored.” The Palatinate Duke immediate sent word to Bishop Hildolf and everything was reported to him. The Bishop was happy and consecrated the site. After the consecration, Siegfried led his wife and son to the spot and they ate a solemn meal. She asked her husband to build a church there, which he promised. The Palatinate Duchess could no longer eat food, but instead ate the herbs she was used to and had gathered from the wood. She lived only a few days and then returned to God in heaven. Siegfried had her bones buried in the Forest Church, which he had built. This Chapel was called Our Lady (not far from Meyen) and many miracles happened there.


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Monday, April 13, 2009

Ostara, Easter Bunnies and Colored Eggs



Ostara is the Germanic goddess of spring and the rising morning sun. She represents nature’s resurrection from its deep winter sleep. A daughter of Woton and Fricka, she accompanied her brother Donar when he led the many processions celebrating victory over the winter giants in spring. She was also called the May Queen and the figures known as the May Count and May Countess, who often presided over Easter pageantry and spring festivals, most certainly are references to Donar and Ostara.

Reverence for the goddess was so firmly rooted in ancient ceremonies celebrating the vernal equinox that her name was subsequently transferred to the Christian feast day commemorating the resurrection of Christ. “Ostar” means morning, or rather, the direction from which the first spring rays of sunshine emanate. Easter month is the month of April, the time of nature’s reawakening and the Christian festival of resurrection.

On Easter Sunday the sun purportedly took three leaps of joy – delighting over the return of spring according to early pagan beliefs. The priests said these “jubilatory jumps” honored the risen Christ.

According to folk tradition, Easter water must be collected from a flowing stream at daybreak and the person who carries it home must not let any sound escape from his lips. If he forgets, the Easter water becomes babbling water and it loses all of its healing properties. The water must be scooped up at the precise moment the sun rises and the collector must bow three times in the direction of the sun. Sealed bottles of this holy water were stored in dark places and used throughout the entire year as healing agent against eye ailments and other sufferings.

The rabbit, considered to be Ostara’s favorite animal because of its fecundity, and the egg, considered to be a symbol of germinating life, were therefore dedicated to the goddess and forever associated with springtime celebrations. This gave rise to the belief that the Easter Bunny laid Easter Eggs on Maundy Thursday. Naturally, the eggs were dyed the colors of Donar and Ostara, red and yellow. Such colorful eggs were then brought to the gods as spring offerings. The custom of dying and presenting eggs at Easter has survived to this day.

The first night in the mild month of May was dedicated to the goddess Ostara. Giant fires were lit symbolizing the power of Donar and May flowers were strewn to honor the goddess Ostara. There were celebratory processions and in some locations it was popular to burn an effigy representing the giant-winter. Conquered by Donar’s superior power, this ritual burning signified winter’s power now broken. As Europe became Christianized, this spring narrative changed from “Nature is awakening” to “Christ is risen”.

Later, an attempt was made to remove the fervently revered goddess Ostara from the picture altogether, replacing her with the Holy Saint Walpurga. The saint’s feast day was set on the eve of April 30 to May 1st. Easter bonfires were now referred to as the devil’s fire and Ostara and her attendants became witches. The festival associated with the goddess was now referred to as the witch’s Sabbath and was supposedly held at Blocksberg Mountain. Blocksberg is the Brocken, the highest mountain in the Harz region of Germany. This mountain is closely tied to German folklore as is the Teutoburg Forest. On Walpurgistnacht witches were said to ride their firey broomsticks through the air and meet at this dancing site.

To protect against such dreadful demons, a farmer was advised to paint three crosses on his barn door and place a broom across the threshold because malevolent spirits were said to retreat at the sight of a cross and broom. Whoever did not take such precautions might find that his cows had been visited by a dreadful disease in the morning, or that they now gave red instead of white milk.

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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.
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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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