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FAIRYTALECHANNEL.com Fairy tales following the seasons and bringing warmth to heart and hearth. Featured Fairy Tale: Fairy Tale of the Hinzelmann Hille Bingels' Wedding Party

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On Christmas Eve, No Visions of Sugar Plums for These Fairy Tale Characters


The 16th century report of Martin Luther is perhaps an apt introduction to the following saga. He relates that “…young maidens stripped themselves naked, flung themselves to the ground and prayed: O God, my God, O St. Andrew, give me a godly husband, show me tonight what manner of man shall wed me. One girl, he adds, was nearly frozen to death, but no man came.” (Quoted from the Oxford Book of Days, Oxford University Press). The time from St. Andrew’s Eve (November 29) until New Year’s Eve was a time for young maids to receive visions of their future husbands. Here is another Grimm’s saga about this custom:

Grimms’ Saga No. 118

On Christmas Eve in Coburg several maidens gathered together. They had a burning desire to see their future true love. The day before they had gathered and cut nine different types of wood. When midnight came, they made a fire on the hearth with this wood. The first girl threw off her clothes, tossed her blouse in front of the chamber door and spoke these words as she sat before the fire:

“Here I sit, completely starkers,
If only my dearest would come
And throw my blouse into my lap!”



When the blouse was thrown back into the room, the maiden caught a glimpse of the face of the person who would later became her suitor. The other girls also stripped themselves naked. But they threw out their blouses tangled together in a clump. The ghosts could not separate the pieces and began to make noises and crash about until the girls were quite frightened. They quickly poured water on the fire and crept back into bed, where they stayed until early in the morning. When they awoke they found their blouses torn into many thousands of little pieces.


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Saturday, November 28, 2009

November 30: Celebrating the Protoclete or Patron Saint of Lovers

(The lover revealed on St. Andrew's Eve)

According to popular belief, St. Andrew’s Eve (November 30th ) is the first prognostication or fate day of the year. This day was especially propitious for having visions of one’s future true love. Other so-called fate days occurred soon thereafter and included Saint Thomas’ Eve (12/21), Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Popular tradition identifies St. Andrew as the patron saint of fishermen and lovers. How Saint Andrew became revered as the protector of lovers is a bit murky. It was perhaps his propensity to receive or induce his own revelations that inspired young maids to claim him as their own. And as Jesus’ appointed fisher-of-men, Andrew might have had a romantic appeal as the protector of those who would rather cast their nets for human prey.

There are purportedly many ways to celebrate St. Andrew’s Eve. The simplest way is to gaze into a fire or mirror and say a special Andrew prayer; then wait for the face of one’s true love to appear. Other methods involved throwing shoes or shirts and interpreting how they fall, praying to the saint fervently and then falling asleep to receive a vision of love or melting wax or lead, dropping it into water and interpreting the odd shapes. One tradition likens lovers to barking dogs. (Perhaps in the belief that where there is bark there is most likely a swain. ) Grimm’s Saga No. 115 explains this folk tradition best but also makes clear that like all things concerning love, augering the future is not for the faint of heart.

Grimm’s Saga No. 115. Andreas Eve (or St. Andrew's Eve)

It is a common belief that on Andreas Eve, Thomas Eve, Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve a maid can invite her future lover to come to her and reveal himself to her. The girl must set a table for two but without any forks. Whatever the lover leaves behind after departing must be carefully preserved. He will then return to the person who keeps this lost item and will love that person mightily. But he must never see this lost object again, because then he will be tortured and suffer from such overwhelming pain that he will become aware that magic has been employed and a great misfortune will befall the lovers.

A beautiful lass in Austria wanted to see her true love at midnight and performed the usual customs whereby a shoemaker appeared with a dagger, threw it at her and then vanished quickly. She picked up the thrown dagger and locked it in her little chest. Soon the shoemaker came and courted her. Many years after their marriage she once went to her chest on a Sunday after vespers. She was looking for something she needed for the next days’s work. When she opened the chest, her husband came and wanted to look inside. She stopped him but he pushed her away with force. Looking into the chest he saw his lost dagger. He seized the blade and wanted to know how she came to have it because he had lost it some time ago. In fear and confusion she could not think of a reply, instead, she acknowledged it was the same dagger he had left with her in the night she wanted to see her lover. The man became furious and spoke a terrible curse: “Harlot, you are the lass who frightened me so inhumanely that night!” and he plunged the dagger into her heart.

This legend is told in many different places by many different people. Oral tradition: the story is told about a hunter, who relinquished his knife; soon after childbirth his wife asked him to fetch her little sewing box and wasn’t thinking that he would find the magic utensil inside. But he found it and killed her with it.

(*Protoclete: the "first called", Andrew was Jesus' first disciple)
The three patron saints of lovers:
Germany = Saint Andrew (Feast Day Nov. 29/30), Eastern Orthodox Church = St. Hyacinthus (Feast Day July 3), Western Church = St. Valentine (Feast Day February 14)


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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Party Pranks and Christmas Bulbs


Hille Bingels' Wedding Party

The old castle Hudemuehle is on the Lueneburg Heath not far from the Aller River. You can still see the remnants of its stone walls embedded in the soft earth. A long time ago a mysterious house spirit haunted the castle. The spirit called himself Hinzelmann and he appeared in the year 1584 at the lord’s Christmas feast. It was said that the spirit revealed himself to the gathered revelers with banging, screeching and clanging sounds. The lord was soon annoyed, his guests frightened and all left the party early. But soon Hinzelmann appeared frequently to the castle inhabitants until he no longer frightened anyone. Many castle dwellers heard his voice or discovered the fruits of his labour: freshly baked bread, a cleanly swept room, chopped wood and fire on the hearth. By day he could be seen walking casually through the corridors. At night his snoring could be heard in the attic bedroom and the maid could discern a small indentation in the pillow where he slept. It was only a matter of time before he started to engage in conversation with the servants and soon with the lord himself. He was happy to perform a variety of kitchen tasks, and especially liked to help the servants prepare feasts. While he worked he usually sang or laughed loudly. He especially liked to appear at dinners and parties dressed in colorful garb wearing a mask. Often he would perform tricks, recite poetry and play the harp. He loved to reveal secrets people thought lay deeply hidden within their hearts. He would often blurt out some indiscretion and then laugh uncontrollably.

Once at the Andreas Night Feast he announced to the celebrants that the lord of the castle thought his wife was a bit too thin and dour. He added that the lord himself had had a difficult time recently mounting his horse after a visit to the tavern. After this announcement, all guests turned to look at the lord, who did not laugh. But the spirit continued, giving his master no time to reply. He announced that he would soon wed his lovely bride Hille Bingels. He planned to celebrate his marriage at the upcoming Christmas Pageant and asked all to attend. The lord of the castle, now quivering with rage blurted out “You with your bulbous nose! No one would marry you!. The bells on your boots are much too loud and annoying. If only you would go away!” With that the entire assembly fell silent. Some thought a single tear slid down Hinzelmann’s cheek before he vanished.

There was much hustle and bustle around the castle as the Christmas feast approached. Rooms had to be opened and beds made for the coming guests. Food had to be prepared. The musicians had to practice their music, the singers their song. In short, life at the castle hummed like a beehive. During this time the corridors were monitored, the bedrooms checked, the kitchen watched to see if Hinzelmann would return. But he did not frequent the kitchen as was his habit nor did he appear in the corridors whistling merrily. It seemed to all that he had abandoned the castle. It was rumoured that he had taken offense and the cook said ’twas a pity, for he had been a good worker.

As Christmas day approached, the servants ran to and fro, the mistress of the house oversaw the decorating of the great hall and the lord sampled and selected the wines and stout. The day before the feast, the lord announced an even larger guest list than originally anticipated. This sent the cook and the servants scurrying. It was not surprising that everyone had forgotten poor Hinzelmann.

At last it was Christmas. The pageant began cheerfully and peacefully enough. The entire hall was decked with fragrant greenery, the tables were all set, the hall was filled with merry-makers and singers. The most delicious food was served to the guests and wine flowed. As the hour approached midnight, the lord’s entertainers now brought forth their musical instruments. But soon a faint tinkling of bells could be heard above the cheerful melody. At first it seemed as if bells were ringing far away but then the sound grew into violent metallic clanging. When the noise erupted into a loud roar, Hinzelmann burst into the center of the hall. He wore bright clothing, a cap with bells and a mask covered his eyes. “I shall perform a magic trick for your enjoyment!” he cried. With that he conjured up a little pony, which danced and pranced in a circle. “Me, my, mo, Up you now go!” he cried. He held up a rope, which now extended to the ceiling and up the rope the pony did go until it finally disappeared. “Now I shall introduce my lovely bride, Hille Bingels, applause please!” With that a diminutive form was seen illuminated next to him. She appeared as a dainty speck of light, likewise wore a mask and a costume of many colors. There was wild applause as Hille, too, made her ascent and vanished into the ceiling along with the pony. Gasps of amazement could be heard from all present as Hinzelman swirled around and around. “Look, my dear friends,” he cried out “His bulbous nose!” and he gripped his sides in laughter and pointed to the lord at the head table. The laughter faded into gasps as each person in the audience first gazed upon the lord and then touched his own nose. Each guest’s nose had grown into a round, potato-sized appendage but the lord of the castle, his nose was the size of a ripe pumpkin. Amid cries of terror, shrieks of alarm the chimes of bells could be heard once more. “Me, my, mo, Up the rope I now go!” and with that the Hinzelmann flew up the rope and vanished.
The guests were left gripping their noses. Some rushed to the windows and saw Hinzelmann and his bride in a sled, racing from the castle laughing merrily. Soon the sound of sleigh bells became faint and vanished altogether. Some thought it was a dream. But one of the ladies who had attended found a bell from Hinzelman’s hat lying on the floor. She kept it and treasured it forever. And to this day the people who live near the Aller River all have rather bulbous noses.

My story is now told, the light grown old.


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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Famous Fairy Tale Christmas Parties, Balls and Dinners


As we head into the holiday season it is well worth exploring the peculiar parties and curious celebrations of fairy tales, especially as we plan our own festivities. These tales twinkle with fun, so remember their verve as you launch your own dinner party. I think this tale illustrates quite well that the key ingredients of many fairy tale Christmas parties include bread and knives (but not to forget lovers).

The Lover Invited to Dinner

There once lived a woman who earned her living as a tax collector. Secretly this woman had fallen in love with her bookkeeper. She wanted to win his heart through magic and so she had a fresh loaf of bread baked on Holy Christmas Eve. She then stuck two knives into the loaf, cross-wise while murmuring quite a few words of incantation. The bookkeeper came to her from his sleep, completely unclothed, sat down at the table and looked at her severely. She stood up and ran away but the bookkeeper pulled both knives out of the bread and hurled them after her, almost wounding her. Then he returned home. The woman’s aunt, who was present in the chamber, was so violently frightened by the whole ordeal that she lay in bed for several weeks unable to move. The next day the bookkeeper was heard to inquire of the household servants about the identity of the woman who had scared him in the past night. He was so exhausted that he could barely speak, he should have escaped easily but could not help himself. Try as he may, pray as he may, he was instead driven out into the night.
The same old woman, who told this tale, also related the following: On Christmas Eve in Coburg it was the habit of several young noble women to keep a portion of their food from their dinner meal. After going to bed they then got up at midnight and sat down once more at the table. Soon, their dearest one appeared; each suitor brought a knife with him and wanted to sit down beside his girl. But the noble women became frightened and fled. One of the maids in her terror took the knife and flung it back at the swains. Turning around she looked at her lover picking up the knife. Another time, instead of the invited swains, death itself came to the dinner party. He placed an hour glass next to one of the girls, who then died during the year.
In Silesia three ladies of the court sat down at a bedecked table on Christmas Eve and waited for their true loves to arrive. They had set a place for each gallant at the table. Soon the lovers arrived in response to the maids’ invitation, but only two had come and each sat down next to his lady. The third fellow did not appear. The maid who was left out became sad and impatient and finally got up after waiting some time in vain. When she went to the window and looked out, she viewed a coffin across the court. A young woman was lying in it and she looked just like the maid herself. The young lady became ill immediately and died soon thereafter. According to oral tradition, instead of the maid looking through the window, a death chest came into the room, the girl approached it, the boards of the chest fell open and the maid fell dead inside.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Nose Fairy Tale


Grimm’s Saga No. 253: The Nose Fairy Tale

Grapevines and Noses

There was a fellow living at the farm of a certain gentleman named H., who performed a strange and disgraceful act at a feast. After the guests had all eaten, they desired that the man perform one of his many tricks for their amusement. So he had a vine filled with ripe grapes grow out of the table-top, one vine standing before each guest's place setting . Then he commanded everyone to grab hold of the vine in one hand and with the other, to place a knife at the vine's stem, as if to cut off the fruit. But he told them not to sever the stalk. He then left the room and when he had returned, each person held the knife to his own nose . If they had cut the stem, each would have wounded his own nose.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

The Legend of Fortress Königstein

(Click on picture to enlarge.)

The Imposing Fortress Königstein and its Infamous Whortleberries

Grimm’s Saga No. 229: Der Jungferstein / The Maiden Stone

In Meissen, not far from Fortress Königstein, there is a cliff called the Maiden Stone, also the Priest Stone. Once a mother cursed her daughter for going to pick whortleberries instead of going to church. The daughter was turned to stone and around noon on bright-lit days you can still see her image in the rock.
During the Thirty Years’ War the populace fled there to escape the soldiers.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Losing one's head is only a bit of necromancy in this legend.



Grimm’s Saga No. 94: The Lily
(The abbreviations used in the first line of this legend are probably intended to protect the identities of the innocent, although I'm not quite sure who the innocents are in this tale.)

There once lived a nobleman named A. v. Th. in the country of H. Now this nobleman was able to chop off people’s heads and then reattach them. He decided that he would stop this devilish and dangerous pastime before a misfortune occurred. But then it happened again. During a celebration he allowed himself to be convinced by good fellows that he should demonstrate his delightful skill one last time. But, as you can imagine, no one was eager to have his own head chopped off. Finally a servant consented under the stipulation that his head would be firmly reattached. The nobleman struck off his head but the reattachment was not working. He spoke to the guests: “Is there a person among you, who is preventing me from doing this? I want to warn you and have warned you not to do this.” He tried it again, but it would not work. He spoke his warning once more and threatened once again that his work should not be hindered. But when this did not help and he could not reattach the head a third time, he had a lily grow on the table. He then struck off the head and the flower of the lily. When he had done this, one of the guests fell down from his bench because his head had been chopped off. Only then was the nobleman able to reattach the head of the servant. He then fled from the country until the matter had been forgotten and he had received pardon for the deed.
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November Fairy Tale: a Mysterious Lady of the Moor and Sunken Cities


Grimm’s Saga No. 114

November Fairy Tale: Maidens of the Moor Bathe in the Shadows of Sunken Cities

In the Rhone Valley there is a swamp called the Red Moor. According to folk tradition a village once stood there in ancient times. It was called Poppenrode but sank into oblivion long, long ago. Small specks of illumination appear on the surface of the moor at night. These are the ghostly moor maidens who may also appear at another spot not far away, the Black Moor. The name is ancient and can be found in the very oldest church records. The legend tells of a sunken village but all that remains is one brick from its stone bridge.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fairy Tale of the Little Swineherd


From the shores of Lake Geneva: Fairy Tale of the Little Swineherd

(This fairy tale takes place on Lake Leman in Switzerland, which is more widely known as Lake Geneva.)


At the mouth of the beautiful and enormous Lake Leman, the snow-capped ridges of the Savoy mountain range are reflected. Here lies the city of Geneva, today often referred to as the Republic of Geneva by proud citizens. In ancient times the Dukes of Savoy wanted to conquer the populace of Geneva. Under the cover of darkness they scaled the city walls only to be discovered in the nick of time. Although they had already penetrated the city, they were driven out and soundly defeated. At Fortress Escalade, the youths of Geneva still sing a song about this siege. They sing: “A la belle escalade, Savoyard, garde, garde!”

In those ancient times a phantom ship was often seen from the beautiful terraces of the city and the small villages dotting the strand. Villagers reported that the ship glimmered brightly under a full moon and the soft strumming of a harp could often be heard floating gently across the waters. When the vessel approached shore you could see a beautiful woman in white surrounded by numerous small children; more like angels or gentle butterflies they danced a roundelay. The maiden was so beautiful that the townspeople could only think her beauty was conjured up by witches or devilry. Wherever the ship touched land, the most wonderful flowers sprouted up and you could not find these flowers anywhere else. Whoever saw the ship of fortune, for that is what the people called it, that person’s last wish was fulfilled. Many a stingy or depraved person strolled the shoreline by night and day … searching for a glimpse of the ship, but all in vain. It never revealed itself to them. It only brought luck to persons like the small maid, who stared longingly out of her window and had a secret wish deep in her heart.

Once an orphan by the name of Johann from Brogny tended his herd of pigs in a small village outside Geneva. He spent the entire day with them in the field but at night he drove them back to the village. One day it seemed to him that darkness fell much earlier. The moon soon rose over Mount Saleff and formed a golden path down to the lake and the city of Geneva. Johann could see the dome of the cathedral outlined in the eerie glow. Suddenly he heard the sound of horses galloping in his direction. A troop of soldiers rode by and frightened his pigs so they ran off into every direction. Behind the soldiers, the Bishop of Geneva could be seen riding in pomp and circumstance.

Soon the sound of the horses’ hooves echoed in the distance and only the little wavelets could be heard beating the sand. The boy said “If only I could be such a fine gentleman!” In that moment he was startled by the wonderful playing of a harp and when he looked around he saw the phantom ship illuminated as it sailed by. A woman in white stood in the ship surrounded by the children dancing their roundelay, singing and laughing. His heart pounded and he was blinded by the intensity of the ship’s glow. He covered his eyes with his hands but when he took them away, the phantom ship had vanished. He thought it had all been a dream, gathered his spooked piglets and drove them back to the village.

As he entered the village he saw a light burning in the shop of the shoemaker. He had ordered a pair of fine shoes but didn’t have the money to pay for them. He stammered out his apologies to the man, but the shoemaker pulled out a fine pair of leather shoes from under his three-legged stool. He held them up and said laughingly “Take them, they are finished. You can pay me when you become a rich man!”

Small Johann from Brogny beamed with joy and took the fine pair of shoes gratefully. He thought to himself how his wish had been fulfilled because the woman in white had heard his yearning and answered his prayers. He had long forgotten his other wish of becoming a fine gentleman.

But God did not forget and his ways are perhaps strange to men. When Johann put on his new pair of shoes, they glimmered and shone in the bright sunlight. This drew the attention of a wealthy nobleman in the city, who noticed Johann’s diligence and honesty. He soon adopted the orphan boy and when he grew to manhood, Johann married the duke’s beautiful daughter. It is said that a pair golden shoes still figure prominently in the crest of an ancient Geneva family. Their shield and coat of arms are engraved over a doorway in a castle near Lake Leman. Below the shoes the words can be read “A la belle escalade, Savoyard, garde, garde!”


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Monday, November 9, 2009

The Peaceable Kingdom of Fairy Tales: Paradise of Animals


Grimm’s Saga No. 301: The Paradise of Animals

In every creature a spark of God.

Hidden between the lofty and forbidding cliffs of the Mattenberg mountain ridge there is a place where the snowdrifts blow fiercely across the rock. People say there is a certain area nearby where the most beautiful chamois and mountain goats congregate with even more wonderful and strange animals. It is just like paradise. Every twenty years it is possible for one man to reach this place and among any twenty hunters, only one will be able to find his way there. But the hunter may not bring down any of these animals with him when he descends. Many have told of the splendor of the place, also reported that names of many men could be seen carved into the surrounding trees. Those were the lucky ones, who over the years have found their way. Once it was even said that a man brought out with him a glorious ibex pelt for all to see.


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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Fairy Tale to Remember when the First Snow Flies: Grimm's Fairy Tale No. 53, Snow White





Grimm's Fairy Tale No. 53: Snow White


Once in the middle of winter when the snow flakes fell like feathers from heaven, a queen sat sewing at her ebony-framed window. As she sat there doing her needlework she looked up at the gently falling flakes and pricked her finger with the needle. Three drops of her blood fell onto the snow. The red hue on the white snow looked so beautiful that she thought to herself “If only I had a child as white as the snow, as red as blood and as black as the wood in this frame!” Soon thereafter she had a little girl, who was as white as the snow, as red as blood and as black-haired as ebony. That is why she called her Snow White. And when the child was born the queen died.

A year later the king took another wife. She was a beautiful woman but proud and arrogant and could not bear the thought that someone might exceed her in beauty. She had an enchanted mirror and when she stood before it and gazed into it she said

“Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who’s the fairest in all the land?”

And the mirror replied

“Mistress Queen, you are the fairest in the land!”

She was at peace because she knew the mirror told the truth.

But as the little Snow White grew, she became more and more beautiful. When she was seven years old, she was as fair as a clear day and even more beautiful than the queen herself. When the queen once again asked her mirror:

“Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who’s the fairest in all the land?”

It replied:

“Mistress Queen, you are the fairest here,
But Snow white is a thousand times fairer than you!”

The queen was very much taken aback and became yellow and green with envy. From that hour whenever she saw Snow White, her heart turned round in her body because she hated the girl so much. Her envy and arrogance grew higher and higher like weeds in her heart until she no longer had any peace day or night. She called a huntsman and said “Bring the child out into the forest. I don’t want to lay my eyes on it any more. You should kill it and bring me the lungs and liver as sign.”

The hunter obeyed and brought the girl out into the woods. When he pulled out his hunting knife and wanted to bore through Snow White’s innocent heart, the girl began to cry and said “Oh dear Hunter, let me live; I will run into the wild forest and never come home again.”

Because the girl was so beautiful, the hunter had pity on the girl and said “So run away, you poor child.” But he thought to himself “The wild animals will soon eat you.” But to the hunter, it felt as if a stone had been lifted from his heart because he did not need to kill the girl. And just then a young boar crossed his path. He stabbed it, took its lungs and liver and brought these as signs to the queen. The cook had to prepare them in salt and the evil woman ate them and thought she had eaten Snow White’s lungs and liver.

Now the poor child was all alone in the great forest and she was so frightened that she looked at all the leaves on the trees and did not know how to help herself. She began to run over the sharp stones and through the thorns and the wild animals jumped past her but did her no harm. She ran as long as her feet could move until evening, when she saw a small hut and went inside to rest. Everything in the hut was small, but delicate and clean. A little table with white table cloth stood in the room. It had seven little plates and each little plate had a little spoon, also seven little knives and forks and seven little cups. Seven little beds stood next to each other on the wall and were covered with bright-white sheets. Because Snow White was so hungry and thirsty, she ate a little portion of vegetables and bread and drank a drop of wine from each little cup. She didn’t want to take everything away from one person. After this, because she was so tired, she lay down in a bed which hardly fit her. The one was too long, the other too short, but finally the seventh bed was just right. And there she remained lying, commended herself to God and fell asleep.

When it was quite dark, the gentlemen of the little house returned home. They were the seven dwarves, who mined and dug ore in the mountains. They lit their seven little lights and when it was bright in the hut, they saw that someone was inside because everything was not standing in order as they had left it. The first one spoke: “Who has sat on my little chair?” The second one said “Who ate from my little plate?” The third one said: Who ate from my bread?” The fourth “Who has eaten from my vegetables?” The fifth said “Who used my fork?” The sixth said “Who has cut with my knife?” The seventh said “Who has drunk from my little cup?”

Then the first one looked around and saw a small indentation in his bed. He said “Who has been sleeping in my bed?” The others came running and called “Someone has also slept in mine.” But the seventh dwarf, when he looked at his bed, saw Snow White lying there asleep. He ran to the others and they all came crying out in amazement. Each of the seven fetched his little torch and they all illuminated Snow White. “Oh, my God, my God!” they called, “How beautiful the child is!” and were so happy that they did not awake it but let it sleep in the little bed. The seventh dwarf took turns sleeping next to his fellows for one hour each. Then night was over.

When morning came, Snow White awoke and when she saw the seven dwarves she was afraid. But they were friendly and asked her “What is your name?” “My name is Snow White” she replied. “How did you get to our house?” the dwarves asked. She told them how her step-mother had wanted to kill her, but the hunter spared her life. Then she ran the entire day until she finally found their little hut. The dwarves spoke: “If you will manage our household, cook for us, make the beds, wash, sew and knit and if you will keep everything in order and clean for us, then you can stay with us and you will never lack a thing.”

“Yes,” Snow White responded “from the depths of my heart, I will do this gladly.” And she stayed with them. She kept the house orderly: in the morning they went to the mountain and looked for ore and gold, in the evening they came home again and then their dinner had to be ready. During the day when the girl was alone, the good dwarves warned her to be on her guard “Protect yourself against the step-mother. She will soon know that you are here; never let anyone inside.”

But the queen, after she believed she had eaten Snow White’s lungs and liver, thought only that she was now the first and foremost beauty, so she stepped before her mirror and said

“Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who’s the fairest in all the land?”

The mirror replied

“Mistress Queen you are the fairest here,
But Snow White beyond the hills,
With the Seven Dwarves,
Is a thousand times more beautiful than you.”

She was taken aback because she knew that the mirror never spoke an untruth and realized the hunter had lied to her. Snow White still lived. Then she knew she would have to kill the child. As long as she was not the fairest in all the land, she did not have any peace. Finally she conceived a plan. Painting her face she disguised herself as an old shopkeeper and was completely unrecognizable. In this form she walked over the seven hills to the seven dwarves and knocked on the door and cried “Beautiful goods, oh how fine, fine!” Snow White looked out of the window and called “Good day, dear wife. What do you have to sell?”

“Good wares, beautiful wares,” she replied “laces of every color,” and held up a lace woven from the finest silk. “I can surely let this honorable woman inside,” Snow White thought. So she opened the door to buy the pretty laces.

“Child,” the old woman said, “How you look! Come, let me lace you up properly.”

Snow White was not afraid as she stood before her. She let her tighten the new laces: but the old woman laced so quickly and tightly that Snow White could not breathe and fell over as if dead. “Now you were the fairest,” she said and hurried out.

Soon it was dinnertime and the seven dwarves returned home. They were terrified when they saw their dear Snow White lying on the floor. She did not breathe or move and it was as if she were dead. They cut the laces in two and she began breathing again and gradually she came back to life. When the dwarves heard what had happened, they spoke “The old wife was no one other than the godless queen: protect yourself and don’t let another person in, when we are not with you.”

But the evil woman returned home and went to her mirror and said:

“Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest in all the land?”

And it answered just like before:

“Mistress Queen, you are the fairest here,
But Snow White over the hills
With the seven dwarves,
Is a thousand times more beautiful than you.”

When she heard this, her blood rushed to her heart. She was taken aback because she saw that Snow White lived again. “But now,” she said, “I will do something that will bring your ruin,” and using the witchery in which she was skilled, she made a poison comb. Then she disguised herself and took the shape of an old woman. She went over the seven hills to the seven dwarves, knocked on the door and cried “Good wares, fine, fine!”

Snow White looked out and spoke “Go on your way, I’m not allowed to let anyone in.” “Certainly you can look,” the old woman said pulling the poison comb out and holding it in the air. This pleased the child so much, that she let herself be fooled and opened the door. When they agreed on the sale, the old woman said “Now I will comb your hair properly.” Poor Snow White did not think anything was amiss and let the old woman comb. But she had hardly placed the comb in her hair, when the poison began to act and the girl fell over unconscious. “You, paragon of beauty,” the evil woman said, “Now it’s over for you,” and she departed. But luckily it was soon evening when the seven dwarves returned home. When they saw Snow White lying on the ground as if dead, they immediately suspected the step-mother. They looked for and found the poison comb and hardly had they removed it when Snow White revived. She told them what had happened. They warned her once again to be watchful and not to open the door for anyone.

The queen stood once more before her mirror and said,

“Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest in all the land?”

It replied as before:

“Mistress Queen you are the fairest here,
But Snow White over the hills
With the seven dwarves,
Is a thousand times fairer than you.”

When they heard the mirror, she shook and quivered in rage. “Snow White shall die,” she called “and if it costs me my own life!” With that she went to a lonely, hidden chamber, where no one ever came, and made a very poisonous apple. On the outside the apple looked luscious, white with red cheeks, and anyone who saw it desired to eat a little piece. But if they did, they would die. When the apple was finished, she painted her face and disguised herself as a farmer’s wife and in this manner she went over the seven hills to the seven dwarves. When she knocked on the door, Snow White stuck her head out of the window and said: “I mustn’t let in anyone, the seven dwarves have forbidden it.” “That’s fine by me,” the farmer’s wife replied. “I want to get rid of my apples. Here, take this one, I will give it to you as a present.” “No,” Snow White answered. “I must not take anything.” “Are you afraid of poison?” the old woman asked, “Do you see, I will cut the apple in two pieces. The red part you can eat, the white part, I shall eat.” But the apple was made so well that the red part alone was poisonous. Snow White longed for the pretty apple and when she saw that the farmer’s wife ate from it, she could resist no more. She extended her hand and took the poisonous half. She had hardly taken a bite in her mouth, when she fell over dead to the ground. The queen gazed upon her with an evil smile and laughed and said “White as snow, red as blood, black as ebony! This time the dwarves shall not awake you again!” And she returned home to the mirror and asked

“Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest in all the land?”

It finally replied

“Mistress Queen, you are the fairest in all the land,”

Her envious heart could now be at peace as much as it is possible for an envious heart to be at peace.

The little dwarves, when they came home, found Snow White lying on the floor and no more breath came out of her mouth and she was dead. They lifted her up, tried to find the poison, unlaced her, combed her hair, washed her with water and wine, but nothing helped. The dear child was dead and remained dead. They placed her on a bier and each of the seven took their place around it and cried for the child. They cried three days long. They wanted to bury the child, but she looked so fresh and lively like a living person. She still had pretty red cheeks. They said: “We can’t lower her into the black earth,” so they had a clear glass coffin made in order to see her from all sides. Placing her inside, they wrote her name in golden letters and that she was a king’s daughter. Then they placed the coffin out on the hill and one of them always held watch. The animals also came and cried for Snow White. First an owl, then a raven and finally a dove.

Snow White lay in the coffin a very long time and her body did not decay. Instead, it looked like she was sleeping because she was still as white as snow, as red as blood and had black hair like ebony. It happened once that a king’s son entered the forest and came to the dwarves’ house to spend the night. On the hill he saw the coffin and the beautiful Snow White inside. He read what was written with the golden letters. He said to the dwarves “Give me the coffin. I will give you what you want for it.” But the dwarves replied “We will not relinquish her for all the gold in the world.” He answered “You must give me the girl, for I cannot live without looking at Snow White. I want to honor and revere her, my dearest one.” When he spoke these words, the good dwarves felt pity for him and gave him the coffin. The king’s son had it carried by his servants on their shoulders. It happened that one stumbled on a shrub and the jarring loosened the poisonous apple from the throat of Snow White. It did not take long for the girl to open her eyes, raise the cover of the coffin in the air and sit up. She was alive again. “Oh God, where am I?” she cried. The king’s son said full of joy “You are with me,” and told her what had happened. He said “I hold you dearer than anything in the world; come with me to my father’s castle. You will be my wife.” Snow White was so gentle and went with him. Their wedding was celebrated with great pomp and splendor.

But Snow White’s godless stepmother was also invited to the celebration. When she put on her beautiful dress, she stepped before the mirror and said

“Mirror, mirror on the wall
Who is the fairest in all the land?

The mirror replied

“Mistress Queen, you are the fairest here,
But the young queen is a thousand times fairer than you.”

The evil woman pronounced a curse and became so terrified, that she did not know what to do. First, she didn’t want to come to the wedding; but she had no peace and had to go and see the young queen. And when she entered the hall, she recognized Snow White and stood there in terror and fear and could not move. But iron slippers had been placed in the coal fire and were carried in with tongs and set down before her. She had to put on the red hot shoes and dance until she fell to the ground dead.





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November Hauntings: the Feast Day of Lemuria November 9


Doppelgänger and Our Own Internal Demons

An illusive spirit appears in Grimms' Saga No. 260 Ghost as Married Woman (full text below). 
The ghoulish apparition in this story can be likened to a doppelgänger or fetch, a true replicate of a living person whose appearance announces illness, danger or death. According to folk tradition nothing was quite so unnerving as seeing your own doppelganger for then your own death was imminent.  Grimms' saga goes to great lengths to present the apparition as an exact physical copy of the lady of the house. But another interesting interpretation equates the doppelgänger with an outward manifestation the sub-conscious, here the malice an older woman feels toward her younger female relative. 

The saga suggests there are all sorts of things that may haunt people, including living disgruntled relations. An extension of this theme is that past deeds or even thoughts or memories are the ghosts that haunt us today. This idea is prominent in numerous works of literature and is also a key element in the play Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen. Likewise in the Grimms' Tale Snow White (see link or posting above) the evil queen is driven to action by thoughts that haunt her, ultimately harming herself and others.

Since ancient times distinctions have been drawn between the various manifestations of ghosts. The Romans distinguished between peaceful or essentially happy spirits (manes) and the tortured kind, who appear as terrors in the night (lemure or larvae).
The lemure were the restless spirits of the dead who wandered the earth. Their feast day was Lemuria celebrated on November 9 and May 13. At midnight on these days the master of the house had to placate these spirits with an offering (typically black beans).

Ghosts also purportedly appeared in processions racing through the landscape, only to disappear inside a mountain (see Gratzug). To be caught up in such a procession meant certain death but there were also other ghosts that could cause real problems. These were the Irrlicht or Irwisch (in German) and are often described as a fiery man or blue shimmering light. English folk names for these luminous clouds of light include Jack in a lantern or Will with a wisp. These wisps of blue are often seen in November and December during the advent season, an especially active season for experiencing ghosts in all of the their variety.

To read the more about doppelganger, hit the Wiki-link below. This link also provides interesting accounts of alleged doppelganger sightings, including one of Abraham Lincoln:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doppelg%C3%A4nger


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Have you experienced a sudden drop in fortune? Then your Hopfenhuetel or Butzenhaensel has probably left you.



Ghost Theory Expounded Here


(So what does ghost theory have to do with the latest book of short stories, Too Much Happiness, by Alice Munro? The title story of this collection is based on the life of 19th century Russian mathematician Sophia Kovalesvsky, the first woman elected to the Russian Academy of Sciences and the great-great granddaughter of Johann Ernst Schubert, the Lutheran theologian whose ideas about Ghost Theory are outlined below.)

What is a ghost? The answer probably depends on whom you’re talking to. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines a ghost as “an apparition of a dead person that is believed to appear or become manifest to the living, typically as a nebulous image.” The dictionary goes on to explain that it is common for ghosts to appear to the living even though they are not really part of this world. Haunting seems to be crucial to their existence for they either spook a person or a locality, but often both at the same time. Ironically much of what we know about the nature of ghosts comes to us from theologians or treatises seeking to dispel widespread belief in them. One of the earliest harangues against ghosts can be found in Deuteronomy 18: 10 – 11, cf. 13: “No one shall be found among you who makes a son or a daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur or a sorcerer, or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead.” Despite these assaults on popular tradition, belief in ghosts has flourished and these spirits often appear in fairy tales wandering the earth or even possessing a living person (on this website see Gratzug, Crossing to Remagen, True Eckart and Frau Holle, Ghost of Boyne Castle, Ghost Ship, Lurching Hand, Ghost as Married Woman)

Unwittingly, perhaps, the Catholic Church promoted belief in ghosts in their doctrine of purgatory, which provides a middle place for souls transitioning between life and death and thus a physical place for ghosts to reside. It was Augustine who finally endeavored to bring the teachings of the church into sharper focus and overturn popular superstition. He did not deny the existence of ghosts but did argue instead that their appearance and activity were due to demonic forces acting in the world. This rationale was continued in the 18th century when the German theologian Johan Ernst Schubert outlined his Ghost Theory in two treatises: The Appearance of Souls after Death and The Location of Souls after Death. Here Schubert explores the various notions of what happens to us at death and the nature of ghosts in general. Yale University has several items in its rare books collection written by Johann Ernst Schubert, but I am not aware of any library in America that holds this particular work. I am therefore posting excerpts of translations of Schubert’s text because they illuminate folk beliefs reflected in many of the fairy tales posted here.

What is the essence of a ghost? To Schubert this question is inextricably tied to the nature of our souls. He says “The soul is in and of itself an invisible essence. If we assume that the soul is located near the ashes (or decay) of its body, you still would not be able to see it or sense it. If it appeared, the soul would either have to re-construct the body, in which it formerly dwelled or build a body from other material to be able to appear to the eyes of the living. The one thing is just as impossible as the other….. " Thus souls are not body-builders, but instead more like invisible clouds or transparent vapor. Schubert envisions them hovering close to their limp and decaying bodies, or, by extension inhabiting the cemetery.

More Schubert quotations and information about his ghost theory can be found at http://afterlifeinfairytales.blogspot.com/

Vernacular literature offers a rich variety of ghosts that do not fit so neatly into an organized theology. The ghosts of fairy tales and legends haunt mountains, forests, lakes and even houses. They are not the dead stuff so painstakingly defined in Schubert's theology and many ghosts (especially in Grimm's Saga) do not seem to be motivated by malevolence. In popular lore ghosts often have preferences, likes and dislikes. They have favorite seasons (winter) and the time around All Soul’s Day (November 1) was believed to be the time it was easiest to breach the barrier between the living and dead and see one. In cold and dark months they are often spied running merrily through a courtyard, riding in a sled, playing music or dancing in the parlor. They love to wear colorful garb adorned with bells and they actually seek out human companionship. The Swedish Tomte is one such ghost. He has the stature of a child but the face of an aged man. Often appearing in a red cap, an offering of tobacco or a shovel-full of earth would appease such a house spirit. These ghosts, known as kobold, shellycoat, brownie or heinzelman love to play tricks on the mortals with whom they live. They love to laugh and perform mundane household chores for the family they haunt. But their persistent appearances are often perceived as an annoyance, their rituals a nuisance or even an embarrassment to the master of the house. Instead of receiving a small boon, house spirits are often rebuked with unkind words or jokes. This enrages the kobold and causes him to leave the family he has been associated with for centuries. When the ghost leaves, the family’s fortune collapses. In German folk traditions these spirits are often named Huetchen, Hopfenhuetel, Eisenhuetel, Heinz, Butz or Butzenhaensel. These ghosts like to live in the stable, cellar, silo or even a favorite tree. Often they have their own room in the house under the eaves and a soft indentation can be seen on the pillow or chair where they sleep. Or they may even sleep in the same bed as the humans, with whom they live. On Thursday these spirits will not tolerate any wood-cutting or spinning. They love to play the harp, talk to everyone in the household and reveal secrets. Because of this familiar relationship, they are often referred to as uncle or father-in-law. But there is also a more sinister form of these spirits, who are then referred to as poltergeist or rumpelgeist.

Here are the various names of house ghosts or spirits in saga and fairy tales:
Aitvaras (Lithuanian house ghost, his manifestations include black rooster, black cat or flying snake. A devil or evil spirit, who demands the soul of the person he haunts and then richly rewards him (Faust))
Bukura e dheut (Albanian fairy. Helpful and very powerful. Only a god or angel is capable of performing the same functions. Her castle is guarded by magical animals. Sometimes she has a demonic connection. She is protected by a three-headed dog.)
Brownie (Scotland and Northern England: a house ghost. Similar to a Heinzelmannchen in Central Europe. In Cornwall, Brownies are responsible for guarding bees.)
Domovoj (Russian, ghosts incarnating from dead souls, they protect the family and its cattle , dom means house.
Druden (Truden, Old Norse trotha meaning “treten or “stossen”/ "kicking" or "pushing") (A female demon appearing especially in Southern Germany and Austria who disturbs sleep or performs evil magic. The word “Trute” is middle-high German for “ghost” and is synomynos with “witch”. The pentagram or “Drudenfuss” was a protection against evil spirits (Goethe’s Faust).
Elves (Old English Aelfen. There were 3 types: Mountain Elves, Water Elves or Forest Elves. The English tradition characterizes them as lovely female spirits and they appear in German literature in this form in the 17th century. They love music and dance. Herder and Goethe refer to their king as “Erlkoenig” (Elf King)
Haltia (Finnish “protector”, ghostly protectors of a house, mill or hearth/fire. The person who first establishes or builds a house or who first made fire in the house can become this house spirit.
Heinzelmaennchen (Germany, Central Europe, helpful house spirits of gnome-like stature with red or green clothing and usually with red hair. They are indefatigable helpers of house occupants and provide good advice. Mean spirited comments or curiosity drive them away. Also called Heinzlein (short form for Heinrich) and a euphemism for a demon or devilish spirit.
Juma (Finno-Ugric, Finnish for ghosts of the earth, water, wind and house.)
Kobold (Central European, beneficient house spirit. Name means ruler of the chamber or house (from English: cove meaning chamber and old meaning ruling), i.e. the spirit ruling the house. Also appear as mountain spirits, who rob silver and return valueless cobalt. They work as invisible spirits for the good of the house.)
Majas gars (Latvian house ghost. Even in the 19th century Latvian farmers hoped to achieve the beneficence of such spirits through prayer and offering, thus assuring the fortune of the house and its inhabitants.
Para (Finnish folk tradition, a house ghost that often appears in the shape of snake, frog or cat; responsible for multiplying a household’s fortunes in the form of grain, milk, butter and also money.
Pukis (Lithuanian dragon with a helping function, acts as house guide or bringer of treasure.
Shellycoat (Scottish kobold, loves bells on clothing, likes to play tricks and laugh, acts as true servant but a Shellycoat's presence is perceived as an annoyance.)
Teraphim (Hebrew for house idol, bestows charity and riches to a family, assumes a position of honor and leadership within the family, assures family’s inheritance and also serves oracular purposes. Mentioned in Book of Judges.


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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Grimm's Saga No. 260: Ghost as Married Woman


Grimm's Saga No. 260

In the time when Johann Casimir was Duke of Coburg*, his Master of the Stables was named G. P. von Z. This master of the stables first resided in the street called Spitalgasse, afterward in a dwelling subsequently inhabited by D. Frommann and then in a large villa outside town, which was called Rosenau. Finally he took up residence in the castle where he also acted as captain of arms. A ghost forced him to these frequent moves. In appearance this spirit looked exactly like his living wife, so much so, that each time when he entered a new dwelling and sat at his table he often doubted whether he was in the presence of his true wife. For the spirit followed him out of each house and everywhere. When his wife once again suggested moving into new living quarters to avoid the ghost, the apparition began to cry out in a loud voice: “Go where you will. I will follow you, even to the ends of the earth!” This was not an idle threat for when the Master of the Stables moved out, the doors of the houses he left behind slammed shut with ferocious force. From then on the spirit was never seen in the abandoned house but only in the new residence.

Every day when the true wife dressed herself, the ghost appeared in the same clothing regardless of whether it was a fancy dress or an every-day dress and the colour of the fabric didn’t matter. This is why the wife never went about her household tasks alone, but was always accompanied by a servant. The spirit often appeared between eleven and twelve o’clock. If a priest or man of the cloth was present, the ghost did not appear. Once  when Johann Pruescher the Father Confessor had been invited and the noble man and his wife and sister accompanied him down the stairs, the spirit began to climb the stairs from below at the same time. Through the wooden rail it gripped the young maid’s apron and disappeared when she began to scream. Once the spirit lay on it’s side over the threshold to the kitchen. When the cook asked “What do you want?” the spirit responded “I shall have your mistress.” But the mistress of the house never experienced any harm. Things did not go as well for the young maid, the sister of the nobleman. One time the spirit hit the girl so hard on the face that her cheek swelled up and the girl had to return to her father’s house. Finally the spirit retreated and it became peaceful in the house once more.

*  
John Casimir (German: Johann Kasimir) of Saxe-Coburg (Gotha, 12 June 1564 – Coburg, 16 July 1633) was the Duke of Saxe-Coburg. He was the descendant of the Ernestine branch of the House of Wettin. / Wikipedia

To read more about Ghosts and Ghost Theory, click on the links.


To read about ghosts and all they manifestations click on the link:
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Friday, October 23, 2009

In this tale for hallow e'en, a hand lurches through the darkness at the church of dead souls.


Three Tales for Halloween: Beware of the Hand in the Dark

Tale 3: The Lurching Hand

This strange story happened in the year 1517 in the St. Lorentia Church and adjacent graveyard. Early in the morning of All Souls’ Eve, a pious old lady left her home to attend the Angels' Mass at church. But when she stood before the gate to the cemetery she found it was midnight instead of morning. She heard a dull murmur coming from within and so she entered. There she saw an old priest whom she did not know standing before an immense congregation. As she walked down the aisle to take her accustomed seat, she felt a hand on her shoulder pulling her gently back. Struggling free, she once more attempted to take her customary place. This time she saw an iridescent hand floating toward her through the darkness. When it gripped her shoulder, she felt a chill seize her body and she could not walk any further. Then she noticed persons sitting on her right and left side, some without heads or without arms or legs. Many of these persons she had known in her lifetime. She sat down in the nearest pew trembling with fear. Because she only recognized dead people, those she knew or did not know in her lifetime, she believed she was in the presence of departed souls. Terrified she did not know whether to remain in the church or leave or what she should do. Finally she saw her sister-in-law, who had died just three weeks before. Because she knew her sister-in-law had been a kindly, angelic woman while she lived, she approached the spirit and asked “Dear sister-in-law, God save us, how do we get out of here?” The sister-in-law replied “When the priest turns to pronounce the blessing, then make haste and leave the church. Do not turn back but flee!” She watched and when the priest began to turn and say his blessing, she hurried from the church. Behind her a great tumult rose up as if the entire congregation were rushing out and following her into the cemetery. She felt the hand once more ripping at her shoulder and grasping for her coat. She could not move past the gate until she slipped out of the coat and left it lying near a tombstone. Hastening home, the church bell rang out three hours past midnight. The next day the townspeople found lying next to each tombstone one small piece of torn fabric from the woman’s coat.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Three Tales for Halloween: Vampire Empire


Tale 2: Vampire Empire

In Livland the following story is told: on All Soul’s Eve a young boy can often be seen limping about in the streets at dusk. He calls all those who follow Darkness, whose numbers are too numerous to be counted, to come with him. They cannot resist and soon a large throng forms. At midnight another larger man can be seen walking beside the boy, with whip in hand made from plaited strands of iron wire he herds the multitude. He brings down this utensil on the vampires and werewolves running before him and drives them toward the castle on the hill. Their curses and groans reverberate off the steep cliff wall and can be heard in the next village.



To read about all manner of ghosts and their manifestations:

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2009/11/have-you-experienced-sudden-drop-in.html

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Three Tales for Halloween: The Cat in the Willow Tree



Three Tales for Halloween Tale 1, Grimm’s Saga 250: The Cat in the Willow Tree
There once lived a farm boy in Strassleben who told the following story: In his village there was a certain maid, who had lost her wits to dancing mania. Often no one knew where her dancing took her, she seemed to lose her senses completely and then vanish. She would only return home after some time had lapsed. Once, this same farm boy and other workers decided to follow the maid. When once again on Sunday the girl began to dance and amuse herself in the company of the workers, she suddenly departed. But they all crept after her in stealth. She left the inn and went out into the field and ran off without looking around, straight to a hollow willow tree, in which she hid herself. The workers followed, curious to see whether she would remain some time in the willow. They waited at a place where they could stand well-hidden. After a short time they noticed that a cat jumped out of the willow and crossed the field back to Langendorf. Now the fieldhands approached the willow; there they saw the maid, or better said her body, leaning against the tree completely rigid. They could not bring her back to life however fiercely they shook her body. They were overcome with terrible dread; they left her body standing and returned home. After some time they could see the cat creeping back through the field and then it slipped silently into the willow and vanished. Some moments later the maid emerged from the willow and returned to the village.


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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A German Fairy Tale about the Problem with Bread Shoes



(Another saga about Bread Sin. However gloomy these tales might appear to the modern reader, they do reflect a deep reverance for the food we eat. Perhaps these tales are most fitting to read in the autumn as we approach Thanksgiving, All Souls' Day and Halloween. It is also interesting to read this fairy tale alongside The Shroud, see link at right.)


Grimms’ Saga No. 238: Bread Shoes

A woman from a respectable family had a child who was the apple of her eye. When it died, she did not know how she could express the love and tenderness she felt before the babe was lowered into the earth and she would see it nevermore. And as she washed and dressed the child and placed it in its coffin, it struck her that its little shoes were not fine enough. She took the whitest flour that she had and made a dough and from this she baked soft bread shoes. The child was buried in these shoes. But the child would not give the mother any rest or peace but instead appeared looking mournful until its coffin was dug up again and the little shoes of bread were taken from its feet and replaced with proper shoes. From then on, the child was quiet and returned no more.

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

God is Bread in this German Legend



Although a rather bleak tale, this German legend illustrates the notion of a deity residing within the bread and thus its sacred nature. This belief caused quite a controversy during the Reformation but can actually be traced back to pre-Christian notions about the sanctity of grain. Read this alongside A Walk Through the Forest: a Recipe for Resilience  to explore how food is depicted in the Fairy Tale.

Grimms’ Legend No. 5: God’s Food

There once were two sisters; one of them was childless and rich, the other had five children and was a widow. The widow was so poor that she no longer had bread to feed herself or her children. In her dire need she approached her sister and said “My children and I suffer from the harshest hunger. You are rich, give me some bread.”

But the woman who was stone-rich spoke “But even I have nothing in my house!” And she drove the poor woman away with her evil words. After some time the husband of the rich sister came home and wanted to cut a piece of bread. But when he cut the first slice from the loaf, red blood flowed from within. When the woman saw this, she was terrified and told her husband what had happened. He rushed to the poor sister and wanted to help. But when he entered the chamber of the poor widow, he found her praying. She held the two youngest children in her arms. The three oldest lay on the floor and were dead. He offered her food but she replied “We no longer long for earthly food; God has already satisfied three. He will also hear our pleas.”

The widow had hardly spoken these words, when the two little ones took their last breath. This broke the woman’s heart and she sank to floor dead.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reading Hänsel and Gretel: Stepmother and witch, the ladies we love to loathe.



The fairy tale Hänsel and Gretel features two female characters that audiences love to abhor: the stepmother and wicked witch. It is the behavior of the stepmother that frequently launches the action of a fairy tale. The scheming machinations of this female, who we know from the beginning is not really the true mother, catapults the objects of her villainy into life-defining moments of distress and terror. Her evil actions speak for themselves and in this fairy tale, nothing is said (or needs to be said) about how the children feel toward the woman. She is fully human yet fully horrid and concerned only with her own welfare. We understand this type of person and perhaps even recognize elements of her character in our own acquaintances and family. Though thoroughly bad, there is nothing preternatural in her ability to make bad things happen. She does real harm to the other characters, but in the end she is usually dead or receives her just reward. In hindsight we can usually say that the evil stepmother is crucial as catalyst for transformation in the narrative.

The witch is another story. She is aligned with the forces of evil and thus her powers are stronger than the stepmother’s. Her supernatural qualities make humans appear even more frail and defenseless. In Hänsel and Gretel her unique attributes are animal-like and include recognizing creatures by their scent. Other characteristics include red eyes and indeterminable advanced age. She usually has something that people absolutely need or even worse, absolutely desire. That is the source of her power and why she can always lure the protagonists into her lair. But her powers are not without limit. Like the stepmother, she can do real harm. But fairy tale characters who look deep inside themselves can often find the resources they need to overcome the witch. The hero or heroine can always choose to take action or not. When put up against a supernatural being, he or she must develop resourcefulness and ingenuity, those qualities that have hitherto lain dormant. When these untapped qualities are finally unleashed, the witch has no power over the individual.

In fairy tales witches or sorceresses frequently have the power to reveal the future and thus they influence human destiny. They can shape-shift, disappear, do real harm to cattle and crops and also exercise control over the weather. But they usually cannot take a person’s life and thus it is up to the individual to develop strategies to overcome their evil.* This has caused some commentators to believe that witches are merely personifications or symbols of our inner struggle to become more fully human. Other writers have lamented the fact that the loathsome characters in fairy tales are mostly female. I would argue that the crucial characters in fairy tales are almost exclusively female. The male characters, such as the father in Hänsel and Gretel, are frequently weak and indecisive. Even Hänsel is not the true hero of the story for it is Gretel’s swift thinking that saves the day.

* The fairy tale Frau Trude is one exception. The witch ends up killing the girl because she is not up to the challenges of transforming her character.


To read the fairy tale Hänsel and Gretel click on the link:

 http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2009/09/fairy-tale-about-food-or-lack-of-it.html

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Reading Hänsel and Gretel: a Journey of Filial Love and Survival



A Walk Through the Forest: a Recipe for Resilience

The situation is dire indeed in the fairy tale Hänsel and Gretel. We are told in the very first paragraph that “a terrible famine ravaged the land” and it was impossible to find even the most basic sustenance, bread. Without any relief on the horizon, the parents plot to rid themselves of their offspring in the hope that by losing their children in the forest they will somehow save themselves. Fairy tales are filled with examples of such extreme behavior and here the abandonment of children is equivalent to murder by neglect. A natural disaster is at the root of the crisis. The famine has not only ushered in a period of physical hardship but it has introduced widespread spiritual decay as well. This is a time when murder and cannibalism become strategies for survival. This fairy tale might be based on memories of the Great Famine of 1315 – 1322, which caused millions of deaths by starvation in Northern Europe. Catastrophic weather patterns produced greatly diminished yields in crops. The resulting calamity hit all echelons of society and many incidents of child abandonment and cannibalism have been documented by the chroniclers of the times.

Into this grim landscape come the innocent children, who are fully attuned to the gravity of their situation. Stripped of the protection and security offered by a properly functioning family, the children must make their own decisions and define their own survival plans. Hänsel tries to take charge and protect his sister. He comforts the crying Gretel and assures her that God will not abandon them. This might be a reference to the crisis in confidence the Church experienced during and after the Great Famine. Organized religion seemed impotent against the destructive forces that had been unleashed and the authority of the Church and God were called into question. But with the faith of a child, Hänsel insists on holding fast to his past beliefs as a prescription for survival.

Faced with impending death, Hänsel takes action while his sister responds to each new situation by crying, appearing frail and helpless. The gender roles in this fairy tale have often been criticized. But it is Gretel’s quick thinking that ultimately saves the day when she pushes the witch into the oven. And at the conclusion of the tale, Gretel gives her “duck speech” to Hänsel, signaling a new sort of self-reliance and confidence. Injecting a dose of fairy tale realism into the narrative, Gretel gently reminds her brother that the weight of two children on the back of a duck would probably cause them both to drown.

This fairy tale also has older motifs that pre-date the food shortages of the fourteenth century or other medieval famines; they are the bread and food images in the narrative, which are intriguing in and of themselves. Bread is one of the oldest foodstuffs and evidence of leavened bread can be found in the archeological record going back 6000 years. The very earliest references to bread are restricted to small or broken pieces, leading scholars to surmise that the first loaves were similarly small fragments. The fairy tale often mentions such broken bread pieces and they appear here in Hänsel and Gretel as the crumbs left as markers on the path through the woods. In the saga Queen Huett the proud monarch takes soft bread crumbs to clean away mud and in the saga Semmelschuhe the proud princess fashions shoes from little pieces of bread. In the world of the fairy tale, these acts are examples of depravity and sacrilege. Bread, one of the most fundamental necessities for survival, is sacred in these stories. Pre-Christian rites in Europe also reflect the consecrated status of bread. Sir James Frazer describes a custom in France in The Golden Bough . A god or corn-spirit was believed to reside in the last harvested sheaf of grain, which was ritually eaten in the form of a baked dough-man. Frazer cites numerous examples of this ancient custom of ritually eating the god or indwelling spirit of the harvested grain. He concludes that the Christian rite of communion absorbed these earlier pagan practices. The notion of a deity being bodily present within the grain and being harmed by a sacrilegious act is also illustrated in the Grimms' legend God’s Food. Here, the loaf actually gushes blood in response to an evil deed. And although Hänsel and Gretel are starving, they do not begin their feast on the witch’s house of bread and cake until Hänsel blesses their meal.

The period of sorrow and misfortune ends when the two protagonists make their way home. Their journey includes crossing an immense body of water, which is often a metaphor for dying. After walking through a strange and uncertain landscape, they finally reach a place more familiar. Their reunion with their father is joyful. The father hadn’t had a moment’s peace since he left his children in the forest. The children bring back wealth and prosperity in the form of gems and pearls. If only the family had stuck together during the crisis! Sorrows do end, the strong can persevere with their principles still intact and they are often rewarded in the end. Unfortunately, without the journey there is no transformation. One must take up life's challenges however terrifying they might be, because they are indispensable in making us what we are.
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