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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Reading Grimm's Fairy Tale The Crystal Ball


Thinking About the Future: a Riddle Inside a Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma

Thinking About the Future in Fairy Tales: an Egg Yolk, Wrapped in an Eggshell, Locked in a Fire Bird, Concealed in a Wild Ox


(This blog entry discusses Grimm’s Fairy Tale The Crystal Ball. To read the fairy tale before reading the article, hit the link at right Crystal Ball Gazing).

In the very first sentence of Grimm’s fairy tale The Crystal Ball, we are introduced to a powerful sorceress, whose three sons are filled with deep brotherly love for each other. One can only expect trouble in such a family hierarchy and true to fairy tale form, the looming crisis is described succinctly. In many folk traditions wizards are persons of enormous importance. Others can only gaze upon them in a mixture of fear and wonder. This is the situation we find at the start of the tale and whether by intention or not, the sorceress’s three rather defenseless sons now find themselves up against powerful magic.

In pagan cultures sorcerers were doctors, conjurers, magicians, soothsayers, high priests and consultants in all things regarding war and peace. They were perhaps the most important individual in the community and were “obeyed more than the chief.” * The sorceress in this story seems to be engaged in a type of activity associated with shamans and referred to as blood-brotherhood. Here an alliance with a wild animal is sought in order to bring back to the magician the creature’s specific powers. This might even be alluded to in the brotherly love reference in the narrative. It was believed that the wizard could assume the form (or have others assume the form of) of an animal, and thus could enter the beast’s realm. The purpose was often to retrieve a sick or dying person, fetch the person’s soul or acquire mantic or divine knowledge. In this tale, the two older brothers are turned into eagle and whale, but the hero is left on land in the realm of the living. Thus, the story is laid out as a three-fold quest, with the seekers exploring land, air and water. The goal of the hero’s quest is the Castle of the Golden Sun.

But heroes are prone to be side-tracked and it is interesting that the first creatures the youngest brother encounters are two giants. In Deutsche Mythologie Jakob Grimm says that folk tradition viewed giants as the oldest creatures living on earth; they belonged to a stone age and represented the old nature-gods. They are unintelligent and their dim-wittedness is often juxtaposed with the keen intelligence of mortals. The giants confer on the protagonist his wishing cap, an indispensible aid to get wherever he needs to go. In other words it is the seeker’s encounter with the past that successfully catapults him forward into the future.

Instead of finding a lovely princess, the hero finds a shriveled and wrinkled hag. The fairy tale knows that human perception cannot grasp some truths directly. By gazing into a looking glass, the hero catches a glimpse of the most beautiful woman in the world. Perhaps we could say he has recognized the essence of her being, the divine self or the divine spark within. His first words of response are “How can you be redeemed? I will not avoid any danger.” But we know that his own redemption is also on the line.

It is only toward the end of the story we actually come to the crystal ball. In this tale it is not the typical spherical crystal used to foretell the future. Surprisingly it appears as a meager egg yolk, locked within an eggshell, embedded in a fire bird, concealed in a wild ox. (In other words a riddle inside a mystery wrapped in an enigma.) Our future has the promise and mystery of life itself but it is locked deep within our being and awaits transformation. This future is our own unfolding potentiality, but we must free ourselves from the powers that control us. It is perhaps fitting in this forward-looking tale that the couple is united by a pledge to their common future (but not by a wedding).

After overcoming obstacles aided by his spiritual helpers eagle and whale, the youth is crowned King of the Castle of the Golden Sun. This is reminiscent of other tales, most strikingly the Sun Prince (see link at right) and might be referencing the afterlife. Gold is the color associated with the gods and their dwellings and the realm of the gods would be an appropriate destination for a proper hero when he leaves this life.

Modern day rituals for thinking about the future seem meager compared to the world of the fairy tale. Perhaps we associate the act with worry or even fear of our own mortality. But we are still obsessed with the future, even if this longing is frequently only expressed in making New Year’s resolutions about weight loss. Imagining the future has always been a part of what it is to be human.


To read more about the fire bird or phoenix symbolism hit the following wiki-link:
(Sorry, the link doesn't work very well. Once you get to the Wikipedia site, keep clicking on the options for Phoenix_(mythology) and you eventually you'll get there).



* Writing about the nature of wizards/sorcerers in pagan cultures. Sir James Frazier says in The Golden Bough that “In all tribes … doctors are conjurers – are magicians – are sooth-sayers, and I had like to have said high-priests, inasmuch as they superintend and conduct all their religious ceremonies; they are looked upon by all as oracles of the nation. In all councils of war and peace, they have a seat with the chiefs, are regularly consulted before any public step is taken and the greatest deference and respect is paid to their opinions... the shaman was, and still is, perhaps the most important individual ... In the absence of any definite system of government, the word of a shaman has great weight: as a class they are regarded with much awe, and as a rule are obeyed much more than the chief.”” (Page 101 Sir James Frazier, The Golden Bough).

To read more about the high priests and prognosticators in fairy tales:


Or about a crystal ball:

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2010/02/grimms-fairy-tale-of-crystal-ball.html

Read more fairy tales by clicking on link:

Copyright FairyTaleChannel.com

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Flibbertigibbet Named Squire Ludwig



Grimm’s Saga No. 285: The Doomed Surveyors

In times of old flibbertigibbets* were believed to flitter along the banks of streams, and in  fields they would move in-and-out of the stone boundary markers. It was said they had been surveyors, who had been deceitful when they measured the boundary markers. That is why they are damned for all time and after their lives must guard the boundaries forever.

(*Flibbertigibbets = phosphorescent lights that often appear at night in marshy places).

A Flibbertigibbet Named Squire Ludwig
Grimm’s Saga No. 286: Moved Boundary Stones
In a field near Eger a ghost can often be seen in the shape of a man. People call him Squire Ludwig. In times of old, someone by the same name had deceptively moved the boundary and border stones in the field. Soon after his death, this man began to wander about and frightened many who encountered him. In ancient times a girl from the city even saw him. She wandered out beyond the city gate and soon ended up in the notorious area. At the place where the boundary stones had allegedly been moved, a man approached her. He was said to have looked just like the evil squire. The flibbertigibbet approached, brushed past the maiden and touched her on her chest with his fist, then vanished. Horrified the girl returned home and said “I’ve had my full share!” They found the spot on her chest where the flibbertigibbet brushed against her and it had become black. She lay down in bed and three days later was dead.


To read more about Flibbertigibbets or strange fairy lights, click on the link:

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2009/12/strange-fairy-lights-seen-at-advent.html

To read more fairytales hit the link: FairyTaleChannel.com

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Future in Fairy Tales: the Prophesiers



The Future in Fairy Tales
The Prophesiers: Newsy Norns and Wee Wives


In ancient Germanic mythology, prophesy and magic were most often associated with women. Illustrious seers went by various names; they were often called the Three Fates, the Goddesses of Destiny or Norns. In Scandinavian mythology, their number was usually three (but we also find them in groups of twelve or other numbers in fairy tales). The three sisters of fate were named Urd (The Past), Verdandi (The Present) and Skuld (The Future). Legend has it that they lived near the Urd Fountain, a deep spring which flowed over the root of the Tree of Life and formed a lake around it. Beautiful, brilliant white swans swam on this lake. The Norns never ceased dipping their silver horns, which the gods themselves had given them, into the water of the spring to drench the roots of the Tree of Life so that it never withered.
In Fairy Tales, Norns often appear at the birth of a child, bestowing gifts of fortune or a curse, often tied to premature death. Perhaps the two most famous tales with an appearance of a prophesying Norn are Sleeping Beauty and The Doomed Prince (be sure to hit the links at the right for examples of these prophesiers: Norns, Sleeping Beauty and Doomed Prince, where they are Hathors.) Two other fairy tales posted on this website Godfather Death and Godmother Death feature deities that have a distinct Norn-likeness.
Many tales reflect the cultural importance attached to seers and their visions. A fairy tale protagonist often derives his success in life from the foresight conveyed to him either in the form of an apparition, auditory revelation or some other sensory or extra-sensory experience. Visions (or prior knowledge obtained in many different ways) seem to be something most fairy tale characters welcome, but not all can experience. A seer, who has supernatural or even semi-divine qualities, may even bestow the vision as a gift upon the seeker. The recipient then assumes protégée status. Why a certain person is selected is never fully revealed. It is interesting to compare and contrast the varieties of revelatory experience as described in the Icelandic tales and the Legend of St. Meinrad. The legend suggests that Meinrad has the ability to see the future because of his godly life. Through prayer, meditation, and an existence entirely devoted to the love of God, St. Meinrad has achieved enlightenment. However, his unique powers are fostered by isolation from community. In Icelandic sagas, the opposite is the case, the seers are elevated members within a social framework and the strong bonds among clans and persons are reflected in the narrative. Prophetic ability among these seers seems to be innate. One can only surmise that the first hermits and contemplatives who deviated from tradition and sought a life outside of a strong community were probably perceived as true revolutionaries. Both Christian legends and pre-Christian fairy tales stress the importance of accepting one’s destiny. It is important to love your life, embrace your fate and become what you are. The fairy tale frequently describes such identity-shaping transformations, sometimes even involving acceptance of the final metamorphosis, death itself. Abnegation might actually be seen as the ultimate form of self-realization (and not to be confused with self-loathing in any of its loathly forms).

The following tales involve further permutations of the Norn-function:
(Germanic tribes did not have priests or druids, instead they had Wise Women, Weisse Frauen, who appeared in white linen robes to their people and acted as seers in times of war and peace. The most famous of all was Velleda, who lived near the Rhine River. At a time of immense danger for the Roman army, she foretold the fall of the Roman Empire. Not only did the capital city burn, but huge campaigns were launched against the Romans. )

The Acorn Stone
The Roman Field Marshal Drufus had penetrated Germany as far as the Elbe River. He stood thoughtfully on its banks, contemplating his next move, when a giant woman in white robe appeared to him. She was the most famous of all Germanic seers, who also appeared during battles and urged sons, husbands and lovers to fight honorably. She called to him “Where are you going Young Drufus, who cannot be satisfied? You want to have all of our lands, but fate does not will it! Flee! Flee! You stand at your life’s end!” Because of this apparition, Drufus retreated. He fell with his horse and broke his leg. Carried by his companions to Mainz, he died immediately. He was thus considered to be the founder of the City of Mainz. He was beloved by his legions. They therefore built a monument to honor his remains and it is called the Acorn Stone. It rises up from the ground and appears as a dark-gray, round, tower-like mass. The markings have long vanished, the height and shape of the stone have suffered many changes. Only the iron-hard core remains, which testifies to the human skill and artistry of the Romans.

And in this Saga of the Brothers Grimm, a farmer ignores a Wee Wife’s gift of second sight, with dire consequences:

Grimm's Saga 47
The Wee Mossy Wife


In 1635 a farmer by the name of Hans Krepel lived near Saalfeld. One day in the afternoon he went out to the heath to cut wood, where he met a wee mossy wife. She spoke to him: “Father, when you stop chopping wood for the day, carve three crosses in the trunk of the last tree you fell. Luck will be with you.” After these words, the mossy wife went on her way. The farmer, a coarse and crude fellow, thought to himself “What good is such blabber to me and what do I care about such bogies?” He refrained from carving the three crosses and instead went home that night. The next day just when he was about to go back to the wood to continue chopping, the wee mossy wife returned and spoke: “Ach you man! Didn’t you carve the three crosses yesterday? That would have helped both you and me, for this afternoon the wild huntsman shall chase us and at night we shall have no rest and he will kill us in a gruesome fashion. We shan’t have any peace from him if we cannot sit on such carved tree trunks. He can’t do anything to us when we sit there, then we are safe.” The farmer answered: “Haha, what good would the crosses be? I’m not going to carve any just to please you.” The wee mossy wife was seized by such a rage that she assailed the farmer and pressed him fiercely, a man otherwise strong of nature, until he became quite ill and wretched. Since that time he carefully follows the advice he receives. He has never ceased carving crosses in wood and has never again encountered anything so frightful.


War and Peace
In the year 1644, on the 18th of August, the Prince Elector Johann Georg I moved his army past the city of Chemnitz. There, his men captured a wild little wife in the thicket of the area. She was only one ell high but otherwise had a human shape. Her face, hands and feet were smooth, but the rest of her body was rough. The wee wife began to speak: “I prophesy and bring peace to all the land.” The Prince Elector ordered that the wee wife be released, because twenty-five years earlier a wee husband had been found with the same shape. He foreboded unrest and war for all the land.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Legend of Saint Meinrad and his Ravens


‘Tis destiny unshunnable, like death. (Othello)

In this legend from Switzerland, a saint acquires the gift of second sight through prayer and meditation.

In ancient times, when St. Gall, St. Columba and St. Fridolin roamed the earth, they eventually arrived in Switzerland, where they found the Helvetii, the first inhabitants of Switzerland. There are many stories about these saints, but the miracles they performed were often only witnessed by the stone cliffs, ancient trees, babbling streams or wild animals they encountered. Still they toiled on, leaving behind many chapels, churches and cloisters. A long time ago, a God-fearing hermit took up residence in one of the saints’ abandoned abodes he found in ruins on Etzelberg Mountain. This is where the Alps begin and where the Helvetii built their pole-dwellings. The hermit’s name was Meinrad and he was of Hollenzollern lineage.

One day he sat in his small chapel reading a book. Deep in thought he turned his gaze to the blue lake lying below him. He looked out over the valley; the numerous fruit trees surrounding the cloister had burst into bloom and a large hawk circled high above the nearby Santis Mountain.

Now Meinrad loved his solitary life on snow-capped Etzelberg Mountain. But soon the people living in the valley below heard of his piety. More and more began making the journey up the steep path to his dwelling, but this disturbed the hermit’s meditations.

One day, when people once again had climbed the arduous path they no longer found the recluse. He had departed beyond the wild Sihlbach forest stream and had penetrated deep, deep inside the wilderness, where only wild animals lived. But he was not afraid. On his way he found a fir tree with a nest. The mother bird flew round 'bout his head, but he took the baby birds from the nest, placed one on each shoulder and continued on his way. He walked until he came to a spring, with bubbling water as fresh and cold as the ice around him. Here he built a hut and a chapel. He stayed at this lonely and desolate spot and now lived once more in complete isolation in the wilderness.

Day and night he lay prostrate on the floor of his hut in deep prayer and meditation, while the two raven babies played and frolicked outside his dwelling. At night when the fog enveloped the mountain side, creaking noises could be heard coming from the forest, the voice of bear and wolf sometimes penetrated the walls and often frightful spooks could be heard raging around the chapel at night. But he was not afraid, because the angels always came and helped him and comforted him.

After many years of living in the wilderness, pilgrims once again began to come to him, drawn by stories of his holy life. Finally two robbers crept in secretly toward St. Meinrad’s chapel. They thought they might find valuables in his hut and relieve the Saint of such articles that were of no use to him. But the Saint saw the thieves coming toward him in a vision and so he prepared a meal for them.

When they finally arrived, he extended a warm welcome and gave them as much food and drink as they wished. But falling into a rage in the face of such meekness, the thieves overcame him. They beat him with their clubs until he was dead. The two large ravens of St. Meinrad descended on the thieves, flattering about and scratching them with their talons; they soon became frightened for their lives. Thinking it best to light a candle near the Saint’s feet, they stooped over to find one already lit.

Now they were even more afraid. They realized they had murdered a saint and fled through the dark forest. But the ravens followed high over head, just above the tops of the fir trees. Finally the robbers came to the city of Zurich and hoped for protection there. Here they entered a tavern and wanted to laugh out in relief. But the raven pair flew through the open window, fell upon the two robbers and caused the other guests to take notice. It dawned on the other guests that these ravens were no other than the ravens of St. Meinrad, who lived in the dark wood high up on the mountain. The murderers realized that fleeing was of no use, they admitted their deed and were put to death. The villagers ascended the mountain and buried St. Meinrad in the wilderness where later Cloister Maria Einsiedeln was built. The ravens took up watch on a nearby fir tree, where they still reside today.


More fairy tales can be found at:


Translation Copyright FairyTaleChannel.com


Fairy tales about prognostication and the future:

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2010/03/reading-grimms-fairy-tale-crystal-ball.html


Or about a pagan religious tradition transformed into a Christian rite:

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2008/08/fairy-tale-for-august-15-assumption-of.html

Or about Saint Dionysisus and King Dagobert:

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2010/04/king-dagoberts-soul-sails-seas.html

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Of Preeners and Prognosticators: The Bird, Who Tells the Truth


The Bird, Who Tells the Truth, a Fairy Tale from the Rhaeto-Romansh Region of Switzerland

One morning a miller found a large and heavy chest resting on his millwheel. He quickly removed the heavy box and opened it. Inside he found three children, like wine and milk, each with a golden star on its forehead. They were two boys and one girl. Astonished the miller brought the children to his wife and because they had no children of their own, they took in these three and raised them. When the children had grown, the miller let the truth slip out and he revealed, he did not know where they came from. The two boys would not give the miller any rest. They urged him to reveal the person who knew of their parentage. After many hours of pleading and needling, the miller finally said: “The bird who tells the truth knows it and he lives in the castle!”

Now the youngest of the boys could no longer be kept at home. The next day he took the miller’s black horse and went out riding to find the bird who tells the truth. He rode many days and the youth did not return. The next spring, the older brother left home to look for his brother and the bird who tells the truth. He, too, did not return. Now it was the sister’s turn. Her name was Amalia and she, too, no longer wanted to stay at the mill. She took the white horse of the miller and rode out into the world to search for the bird who tells the truth. The miller and his wife cried bitter tears so that their eyes were quite red, for Amalia was beautiful and good, like an angel.

The maid bravely traversed the wide, dark wood until she met an old withered wife, who said to her “I know you want to find the bird who tells the truth and your two brothers. If you want to be successful in both things, you must never look back, regardless what happens!”

The maid gratefully promised she would not forget such wise counsel and continued riding. She came to a dark and deep sea, beside which lay a steep mountain. At the summit could be seen a large and beautiful castle. As quickly as she could, she jumped off her steed, took up her walking stick and began climbing the mountain. She heard calling after her: “Amalia! Amalia!” and a loud noise followed her. But Amalia never looked back. She continued on her way, walking ever more quickly. Finally she arrived at a castle made of beautiful green marble, with high towers and golden roof. But in front of the gate stood a fearsome wild man of the forest who grasped a fir tree in each hand. He guarded the entry and let no one enter. Amalia was quick as a weasel and ran through the legs of the wild man and entered the castle. Everywhere she looked there were rooms filled with gold, silver and glistening gems. But the most beautiful room was filled with cages containing every type of bird. Some were red, others white, yellow, green, black-brown, in short, they were of every color. When the maid entered the room, each bird called out to her “I am the bird who tells the truth! Take me, take me!”

In the corner sat a small bird, who said nothing. Amalia took this one. The gray bird was very happy and said: “I was not allowed to say that I am the bird who tells the truth, but you have found the right one! You must go into the rose garden, take the divining rod next to the clear spring in the middle of the garden. When we descend from the mountain, touch every stone you see with the rod!”

The maid found the rod in the garden and together with the bird, made her way down the mountain. Every stone she touched with the rod was transformed into a knight or lady. The two brothers of Amalia also emerged from two stones and with tears in their eyes, they now embraced their dear sister. The bird, however, warbled that they were all king’s children. Their uncle had placed them in a chest while their father was at war and the waves had carried them far away. The evil uncle had told the king, that his wife had instead bore three kittens.

Full of rage the brothers, accompanied by many knights and ladies, went to the realm of the king. There, the bird told the king the story of his children. Overcome with happiness, he embraced his children and released their mother from prison. They all sat down at a splendid table and celebrated a feast. But the uncle was torn into four pieces by four horses. Amalia became a fine and tender queen while her brothers became brave and goodly kings. This is the story of the bird who tells the truth!



To read more fairy tales, about seers and prognosticators, click on the link:


http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2010/03/reading-grimms-fairy-tale-crystal-ball.html


http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2010/02/legend-of-saint-meinrad-and-his-ravens.html

And a wonderful fairy tale about a horse that tells the truth:

http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2010/02/animal-prognosticators-in-fairy-tales.html


Hit the link Seers  in the right hand column of the first page of this blog for more fairy tales about discerning the future.

Translation Copyright FairyTaleChannel.com

Please read and enjoy and pass on to friends.
Do not copy, plagiarize or pilfer, Thanks!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Animal Prognosticators in Fairy Tales: The Goose Girl



The Future in Fairy Tales:

Grimm’s Fairy Tale No. 89: The Goose Girl


There once lived a queen who was no longer very young; her husband had died many years before, and this queen had a beautiful daughter. When the girl grew up, she was promised to a king’s son in a distant realm. When it came time for her to marry, the old woman packed up immense treasures: every manner of utensil, gold and silver, cups and gems. In short she included everything belonging to a royal dowry, because the queen loved her child dearly. She also gave the girl a lady-in-waiting to accompany her on her travels. This lady was to deliver the girl into the hands of her bridegroom. Each received a horse for the trip, but the horse of the king’s daughter was called Falada and could talk.

When the hour of departure arrived, the old mother entered the bedroom of her daughter, took a little knife and cut her finger until it bled. Then she held a white cloth underneath it and let three drops of blood fall, one after another. She gave the cloth to her daughter and said “Dear child, guard these drops well. You shall experience harm on your journey.”

So both sadly took leave of each other: the king’s daughter placed the cloth close to her breast, mounted the horse and rode out to her bridegroom. They had ridden an hour when the girl felt hot pangs of thirst and said to her lady-in-waiting : “Dismount and fetch me my cup that you have brought for me. Take water from the stream, I so long for a drink.”

“If you are thirsty,” the lady replied, “get off your horse, lay down at the water and drink. I don’t want to be your lady.”

The king’s daughter dismounted because she was very thirsty, bent over the water and drank from the stream, but was not allowed to use the golden cup. She said to herself “Dear God!” and the three droplets of blood responded: “If your mother only knew, her heart would break in two.” But the king’s bride was meek, she didn’t say anything, and mounted her horse again.

They rode endless miles and the day was hot. The sun was piercing and soon she was as thirsty as before. When they came to a river, she called to her lady-in-waiting , “Dismount and give me my golden cup to drink.” She had long forgotten the lady’s evil words. But she answered even more haughtily than before “If you want to drink, so drink alone. I do not want to be your lady!”

The king’s daughter dismounted from her horse because she was so thirsty, she bent over the flowing water and cried. “Dear God!” and the droplets of blood answered ““If your mother only knew, her heart would break in two.”And as she drank, the little cloth with the three droplets of blood fell from her breast and was swept away by the water, without her noticing anything in her distress. Her lady had seen it all and rejoiced that she now would have power over the bride. Because she had lost these three droplets of blood, she was now weak and powerless. When she wanted to mount her horse Falada, the lady-in-waiting said “I belong on Falada and you belong on my old nag!” So the girl had to submit. Then the lady-in-waiting ordered her with harsh words to take off her royal clothing and to put on the lady’s poorer dress. Finally she had to swear under the open sky that when they arrived at the king’s court she would not tell anyone what had transpired. If she had not taken this oath, she would have been killed immediately. But Falada saw it all and was wary.

The lady-in-waiting now mounted Falada and the true bride sat on the poor horse and they continued on in this way. Finally they arrived at the royal castle. There was enormous joy upon their arrival. The king’s son hastened to meet them, lifted the lady-in-waiting from the horse and thought she was his true bride. She was led up the steps while the true king’s daughter had to remain standing below. But the old king looked out of his window down to the courtyard below and saw how beautiful and delicate the girl was. He went to his royal chamber and inquired of the new bride about who had arrived with her and was standing below in the courtyard. “I took the girl standing below in the courtyard for company; give the girl some work so she doesn’t stand around idly.” But the old king did not have any work for her and did not know anything else except to say “I have a small boy who guards the geese. She can help him.” The boy was called Kurdchen or little Konrad. So the true bride was given the task of helping him tend the geese.

Soon the false bride spoke to the young king “Dear husband, I ask you to do me a favor.” He replied “I will do it gladly!” “Call the rawhider, and have him chop off the head of the horse I rode on, he annoyed me so on the journey.” But in reality she was fearful that the horse would tell how she had treated the king’s daughter. Now it happened that the dear and true Falada was to die. The rightful king’s daughter heard the news and she promised the rawhider a coin, if he would do her a service. In the city was an enormous, dark gate, through which she had to pass every evening and morning with the geese. “Under the dark gate, nail the head of my Falada so that I can see him still.” The rawhider promised to do what was asked, struck off the head and nailed it fast to the gloomy gate.

In the morning, when she and Kurdchen passed under the gate, driving the geese before them, she spoke:

“Oh you, Falada, hanging there,

And the head responded,

“O you young princess, walking by,
If your mother only knew,
Her heart would break in two.”

She withdrew far from the city and drove the geese into the field. And when she arrived in the meadow, she sat down and untied her tresses that glistened like pure gold.
Kurdchen saw it all, was enamored by how her hair sparkled and wanted to pull out a few strands for himself. She spoke:


“Blow, blow little breeze,
Take from Kurdchen his little hat,
Make him chase and follow that,
Until I have plaited and braided
And bound up my tresses.”

The wind blew off the little hat from Kurdchen’s head, so that he had to chase after it. When he returned, she had long finished plaiting her hair and he couldn’t snatch a single hair. So the two guarded the geese until it was evening.

But in the evening, when they returned home, Kurdchen went to the old king and said “I don’t want to guard the geese with the maid.” “Why not?” the old king asked. “Oh, she angers me the entire day.” The old king ordered him to tell him everything that happened with her. Kurdchen said “In the morning, when we pass through the gloomy gate with the flock, there hangs the head of an old nag, with whom she speaks:

“Oh you, Falada, hanging there,

And the head responds,

“O you young princess, walking by,
If your mother only knew,
Her heart would break in two.”

Kurdchen continued to tell what happened out in the goose meadow, how he had to chase his hat in the wind.

The old king ordered him to go out the next day. And when it was morning, he himself sat behind the gate and listened to how she talked to the head of Falada. Then he went out to the field and hid behind a bush. He now saw with his own eyes how the goose girl and the goose boy drove the flock out, how after a while she sat down, undid her hair, and her tresses glistened like gold. She spoke:

“Blow, blow little breeze,
Take from Kurdchen his little hat,
Make him chase and follow that,
Until I have plaited and braided
And bound up my tresses.

A burst of wind seized Kurdchen’s hat so that he had to run. While the maid combed and plaited her tresses, the old king observed it all. He returned unnoticed and in the evening when the goose girl came home, he called her aside and asked why she acted so. “I cannot tell you, and can tell no one of my pain, for I swore under the free sky, and I would otherwise have lost my life.” He urged her and would not leave her in peace, but could not find out anything. He said, “If you won’t tell me, so tell the iron stove of your misery,” and went away. She crept into the iron oven and began to cry, poured out her heart and said “Here I sit abandoned by the world, and I am a king’s daughter and the false lady-in-waiting has forced me under violence to take off my royal clothing. She took my place with my groom and I must do work as a goose girl. If my mother knew, her heart would break in two.” The old king stood outside at the stove pipe and listened and heard what she said. He came in and told her to come out of the oven. She put on her royal clothing and it was a miracle to see how beautiful she was. The old king called his son and revealed to him that he had the false bride. She was just a lady-in-waiting , the true bride now stood before him, the former goose girl. They young king was filled with joy when he gazed upon her beauty and virtue. A feast was prepared and all people in the kingdom and good friends were invited. At the head of the table sat the bridegroom, the king’s daughter on one side and the lady-in-waiting on the other. But the lady-in-waiting no longer recognized the princess in her radiant finery. When everyone had eaten and drunk and were merry, the old king gave the lady-in-waiting a riddle to solve. What fate did a person deserve who had lied? He told her the entire tale and asked “Of what judgment is such a person worthy?” The false bride spoke “She is not worth anything better than to be stripped naked and placed in a barrel lined with nails. Two white horses must be harnessed and they shall pull the barrel up and down the lane until she is dead.”

“You are the person,” the old king said “and you have declared your own judgment, which we must now abide.” And when the judgment was executed, the young king married his rightful bride


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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Grimm's Fairy Tale of the Crystal Ball


Grimm’s Fairy Tale No. 197: The Crystal Ball

There once lived a sorceress, she had three sons who were filled with brotherly love for each other. But the old woman did not trust any of them and thought they wanted to rob her of her powers. She turned the oldest son into an eagle. He had to sit high up on a rocky cliff and often could be seen circling the heavens, soaring up and down. She turned the second into a whale who lived deep in the ocean. You could only see him when he blew a mighty blast of water into the air. Both brothers took their human shape for only two hours each day. The third son fled in secret, because he feared the sorceress would also turn him into some wild beast, a bear or wolf perhaps. He had heard that an enchanted princess sat in the castle of the golden sun, waiting for her redemption. Each suitor had to risk his life and twentythree gallants had already died a miserable death. There was only one left and after him, no one else would come. Because his heart knew no fear, the youth made a decision to seek out the castle of the golden sun.

He had already been looking for some time and had not found it, when he lost his way in a deep forest and did not know which way out. At once he saw two giants in the distance, they waved at him with their hand and when he approached they said “We are fighting over a hat, and because we are both equally strong we cannot decide who should own it. One of us cannot overcome the other. You smaller people are smarter than we are. That is why, we will leave the decision up to you.”

“How could you fight over an old hat?” the youth said.

“You don’t know the qualities of this hat, it’s a wishing hat. Whoever wears it can wish to go wherever he wants. In that very moment, he will be there.”

“Give me the hat,” the youth replied. “I will walk a short distance, and when I call you, run a race. Whoever reaches me first, will own the hat.”

He put on the hat, walked away and thought about the king’s daughter, forgot the giants and continued walking. Once he sighed from the depths of his heart and said “Oh, I wish I were in the castle of the golden sun!” The words had barely passed over his lips and he stood on a large mountain before the gate of the castle.

He entered and went through all the rooms until he found the king’s daughter in the last one. But how frightened he was when he saw her: she had an ashen face full of wrinkles, cloudy eyes and red hair. “Are you the king’s daughter, whose beauty is famous throughout the land?” he cried.

“Oh,” replied the maid. “This is not my true form. The eyes of men can only see me in this frightful state. But so that you know how I look, gaze into the mirror and don’t be confused. I will show you my true image there.”

She gave him the mirror in hand and he saw the image of the most beautiful maiden in the world. He saw how the tears rolled down her cheeks in sadness. He spoke “How can you be redeemed?” I will not avoid any danger.”

She answered “Whoever finds the crystal ball and holds it before the sorceress, that person shall break her power and I can return to my true form. Oh,” she added, “so many have already died before you and I am fearful for your young blood, if you should place yourself in this great danger.”

“Nothing can stop me,” he said, “but tell me what I must do.”

“You should know everything,” the king’s daughter replied, “When you descend the mountain on which the castle stands, there will be a wild ox standing at the spring below. You must fight with him. And when you are able to kill him, a fire bird will rise out of his carcass. The bird carries a firey egg in its body and in the egg there is an egg yolk, which is the crystal ball. The bird will not let go of the egg until he is forced. But if it falls to the earth, it will ignite and burn everything nearby. The egg itself will melt, along with it the crystal ball and all your efforts will be for naught.”

The youth walked down to the spring where the ox snorted and bellowed. After a long battle, he stuck his sword in its side and the beast sank to the ground. At that moment the fire bird flew up and wanted to fly away, but the eagle, the brother of the youth who flew between the clouds, commenced the chase. It flew after him to the ocean and picked him with his beak so that in his need, the fire bird let the egg drop. But it didn’t fall into the ocean but onto a fisherman’s hut on shore. The hut immediately began to smoke and was about to burst into flames. But waves as big as the house rose up from the ocean, crashed down on the hut and extinguished the flames. The other brother, the whale, swam up to shore and blew water into the air. When the fire was extinguished, the youth looked for the egg and luckily found it. It had not yet melted but the shell was cracked because of the sudden cooling by cold water. He was able to remove the crystal ball without damaging it.

When the youth returned to the sorceress, she accused him and said “My power is destroyed and you are now the king of the castle of the golden sun. You can also return your brothers’ human forms.” The youth hastened to the king’s daughter and when he entered her room she stood before him in the full splendor of her beauty. Filled with joy, they both exchanged rings.
Translation Copyright FairyTaleChannel.com

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Divining the Future in Fairy Tales: Crystal Ball Gazing


The future casts long shadows on these fairy tale characters.

Grimm’s Saga No. 119: Crystal Ball Gazing

A noble and beautiful maiden and a distinguished young man bore an intense love for each other; but because of the girl’s step-parents, they did not receive permission to marry. This caused them both to live in extreme sadness. It happened that an old woman, who had access to the house, came to the maiden and comforted her. She said, the one she loved would certainly become her own. The maiden, who heard these words gladly, asked how the woman could know this. “Oh, my young mistress,” the old woman said “I have received grace from God and know future things before they happen. That is why the chance that this could remain hidden from me is slight. To take away any doubt you may have, I will show you clearly in my crystal ball so that you shall praise my art. But we must choose a time when your parents are not at home; They should not witness this wonder!”

The maiden waited until her parents were visiting a neighboring estate and then she went to the teacher of her brother, Johann Ruest, who later became the famous poet. She told him of her intentions and begged him to accompany her and be present when she gazed into the crystal. The teacher tried to dissuade her from such an impertinent and sinful act, which could be the cause of great misfortune. But it was all for naught, she held fast to her plan. Finally the teacher let himself be persuaded by her incessant pleading and accompanied her. When they entered the chamber, the old woman was busy removing her utensils from a small basket. She was not happy that this man, Ruest, accompanied the maid and said, she could see in his eyes that he did not hold much of her art. Then she spread out on the table a blue silk cloth, on which were embroidered strange pictures of dragons, snakes and other animals. On this cloth she placed a green glass bowl and in this vessel she placed a gold-colored silk cloth. Finally she placed in this cloth a rather large crystal ball, but she covered it again with a white cloth.

The woman began making strange gesticulations, murmuring to herself and when this was over, she took the ball into her hand with great reverence, called the maid and her escort to the window and told them to gaze inside.

At first they saw nothing, but soon the bride was visible in the crystal, dressed in priceless finery; her costume was so magnificent, it was as if it were her wedding day. As beautiful as she appeared, she still looked troubled and sad. In fact her entire countenance had such a deathly pale hue, that one could not look at her without feeling pity. The maiden gazed at her own image with horror. Her terror became even greater when she saw her dear swain appear. He had a horrible and dreadful look on his face, and he was usually such a friendly man. This caused the girl to shake in fear. Her love was dressed as one returning from a trip, wearing boots and spurs, with a gray overcoat and golden buttons. Out of the folds of this garment he took two new and shining pistols, with one in each hand he pointed one at his own heart and the other he placed on the maiden’s temple. The onlookers were frozen in terror. Finally, trembling they stumbled out of the chamber and attempted to regain their composure.

Even the old woman, who had not been expecting the situation to end this way, was not feeling well. She rushed out and did not show herself for quite some time thereafter. But the frightful experience could not extinguish the maiden’s love for her swain, even though her stepparents held fast to their decision to deny their consent to her marriage. Finally with threats and force, the girl became engaged to a distinguished court official in the neighborhood. It was then that the maiden really began to suffer heartache. She spent her time sobbing and weeping and her true love was torn by wrenching despair.

In the meantime, the wedding date was set and because several members of the royal family were to be present, every detail of the wedding was to be much more splendid than any other wedding. When the day arrived, the maiden was to be picked up in pomp and ceremony by a splendid procession. The duchess sent her own carriage drawn by six steeds and several court servants and riders in accompaniment. Added to this pageantry were distinguished relatives and friends of the bride. The first lover had found this out in advance and because of his desperation, he decided not to relinquish his love to his rival. For this purpose, he had purchased a pair of good pistols and planned to kill his bride with one and himself with the other. There was a house about ten to twelve paces in front of the gate, which the bride had to pass. He decided this would be the place to perform the dreadful deed. When the entire parade of carriages and riders passed by, accompanied by a huge throng of people, he shot one pistol into the bride’s carriage. But he fired a bit prematurely and the bride was not touched by the bullet. The noble woman sitting next to her, however, had her headgear shot off. Because this woman fell unconscious and everyone hastened to help her, the culprit had time to flee through the back door of the house. Leaping across a rather wide body of water, he was able to make his escape. As soon as the terrified woman revived, the procession started anew and the wedding was celebrated in great ceremony. But the bride suffered from a sad heart, amplified by her memory of gazing into the crystal ball and this weighted down on her spirits. Her marriage was also unhappy, because her husband was a harsh and mean man. He gruesomely mistreated his sweet and virtuous wife, who nevertheless bore him a dear child.


To read more about divining the future:
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Translation Copyright FairyTaleChannel.com
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Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Icelandic Voice in Fairy Tales and Saga


The importance of seeing the future.

Of all the fairy tale genres presented on this website, the Icelandic form is most interested in human relationships. The first paragraphs are often filled with a roll call of character names and a meticulous description of personal associations. Protagonists in these tales are identified by their position within a web of relationships, which in turn is anchored in a specific locale. This sometimes threatens to overload the story for modern readers. but we can only assume ancient audiences were enthralled. German sagas are also concerned with the precise naming of persons, places and times but this naming never suggests a world where the social framework itself is of ultimate importance. Of interest here is also that descent and relationship are often defined through the female line (see the Finnwife's Prophecy: "because you are the daughter's son of Jarls Ingimund."), yet society does not strictly follow a matriarchal structure. This is a land where powerful chieftains determine the fate of underlings and violence seems to lie just beyond the next snow drift.


It is perhaps not surprising in this world that women, who can travel freely and possess their own property, also occupy the important role of seer. But what exactly is the nature of this role? In the tale Groa's Magic the hero is visited in his dreams by a "woman who accompanied his ancestors." She endeavors to change his course of action, but when her arguments flounder, she places her hands on his eyes, perhaps alluding to the woman's own far-sightedness and prescience, which she is attempting to transfer to the hero. In other Icelandic tales women gifted with prophetic foresight often place their hands on the person to facilitate a vision. In Thorstein's case, the seer helps him make decisions crucial for his survival. This type of action is referred to as taking a turn in one's life and underscores an abrupt departure from the past. And although the tale attributes the seer's powers to magic, the goal is quite practical: aligning oneself with the power of destiny and fate to secure money, love, power and prestige.

In the second tale, the Finnwife's Prophecy, the Finns themselves are presented as a race imbued with special powers of prophecy. Their abilities include both on-the-spot prognostication (as in the case of the Finnwife) and bilocation (as in the case of the three Finns dispatched to find Ingimund's lot). In this tale, traveling to Iceland is synonymous with having a prophetic vision, even though the seers remain locked up in a house. Their out-of-body traveling poses enormous danger to them but they are richly rewarded for their efforts. The tale stresses that knowledge of the future is neither good nor bad. However, not heeding its warnings can be disastrous. The protagonists in these stories all initially resist their fate, and the stories spell out the trouble caused by willful disobedience. In the case of Groa's Magic the unlucky ones end up under a heap of rock, snow and mud. It might seem strange that the story is called Groa's Magic, after all, Groa is the one lying under the avalanche in the end. But I would suggest Groa offers a model of the ultimate acceptance of fate: one's own demise. The description of Groa confidently stepping into the last rays of sunshine, equipped with all her riches tied up in a cloth, signals she is ready for safe passage to the afterlife. The sunset on the horizon was considered to be the portal into the next life by many pagan cultures and this might be an allusion to an actual funerary ritual.

Why the Finns were associated with the supranormal powers of prophecy is anyone's guess. German Sagas frequently refer to seers as white women (weisse Frauen), which is often translated as women in white because of the awkwardness and also uncertainty of meaning. This might also be a reference to the stereotypical pale complexion and white-blond hair of many Finns.

The three Icelandic tales provided on this website explore the notion that each person has an individual fate which he must embrace to be successful in life. The characters in these stories use the assets at their disposal to accomplish self-realization: first and foremost strong relationships and the magic of seers. These stories have a sense of weighty pragmatism, where the secrets of redemption are locked in ice and snow.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Where is the Sooth in Soothsaying? The Finns as Skilled Fairy Tale Prognosticators




Part II: Finn-magic. Ingimund commences the trip to Iceland.


King Harold had retired, the mightiest of all kings in the Northern Kingdoms. He remembered what his friends had foretold and now held a great festival to bestow high honor. He invited Ingimund and when that man arrived, the king received him graciously and said "Your diligence and position among men, I hear, is considerable. But you are lacking one thing, you do not have a wife. I have selected a woman to be your spouse. I remembered her, when you put your own life in danger for mine. The daughter of Jaris Thorir the Silent. Her name is Vigdis, she is a very beautiful wife and very rich. I will be your advocate to her." Ingimund thanked the king and said he very much wished the union. The king held the festival with great splendor and ceremony and the guests traveled home.


Ingimund prepared himself for the wedding and when everything was ready, King Harold appeared and many other great men. Ingimund married Vigdis per the agreement. The wedding feast was celebrated with great honor; the king did his part with gifts and other honors.


Ingimund spoke to the king: Now I am quite satisfied in my station. It is a great honor to stand in your favor. But I intend to do what the Finnwife prophesied about the turn in my life. I wish it weren't true that I will sever the attachment to the inheritance from my father.


The king replied: "I can't do anything to stop you and there might be something to it. Frey will allow his lot to be taken there, where he shall establish his chair of honor." Ingimund said, "I want to call three Finns who will disclose to me the fruitfulness of the district and the nature of the land where I am to dwell. I want to send them to Iceland."


The king said, he would grant permission "But I suspect you shall travel there and I am not sure whether you shall obtain my permission or steal away, as is now often customary."


"That I shall never do," Ingimund spoke "that I would travel under your banishment." Then the King departed from him. Ingimund went home to his property.


He sent for the Finns; three came out of the north. Ingimund said, he wanted to strike a deal with them "I shall give you butter and tin, but you shall travel on an errand for me to Iceland, search for my lot and report on the nature of the country." They replied "A dangerous mission for the messengers, but because you have requested it, we shall try. Now you should lock us alone in a house and do not allow anyone to call us by name." And so it happened as the Finns described.


After three nights Ingimund went to the three Finns, who jumped up and all breathed uneasily. One spoke "Hard work for messengers and enormous trials did we have. But we bring such signs to ensure you will recognize the country when you arrive; all shall be according to our description. It was difficult for us to find the lot and the magic words of the Finnwife have great meaning; we have put ourselves in the utmost danger. We came to the country where three Fjords intersect out of the Northeast and large seas lay beyond. Then we came to a deep valley and in the valley below the mountain there were several copses. There we found the usual little valley and in the small forest we found the lot. When we wanted to snatch it up, the brush shot up all around us and (impeded us) and the lot always slipped through our fingers. When we reached after it, a veil always covered it and we could not seize it. You shall have to go there yourself." He said he would ride immediately and thought it would be useless to resist. He richly rewarded the Finns and they departed. But he continued to live on his property, was rich and an honorable man.


Soon thereafter he visited the king and reported to him what had happened and what he had decided. The king said this was not unexpected. He said, it was difficult to act against magic words. Ingimund agreed it was true "I have tried everything." The king replied "Regardless of the country you reside in, you shall be respected." Once again, he gave honor to the king. Ingimund called a feast and invited his friends and chieftains. They celebrated in great splendor. He demanded silence at this feast and spoke "I have decided to make an enormous turn in my life. I am considering going to Iceland, more in consideration of fate and the overwhelming power of magic words than because of any desire on my part. Those who want to go with me, are free to do so. Those who wish to stay, may do this also. What all our friends decide is the same to me."


There were loud outcries in response to his speech and the people said the departure of such a man would be a loss. "And still, there are fewer things stronger than fate." Many decided to travel with Ingimund, who were well-respected farmers and men. Those who decided to go, did not have their own house or farm.



* It is common belief that calling a person by name interrupts the magic.

* Apparently the three southern branches of the Wespenbotten: Widder Fjord, Mittel Fjord and Welpen Fjord.

Translation Copyright FairyTaleChannel.com

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Past, Present and Future in Fairy Tales and the Reluctant Fairy Tale Hero


Themes:
The Finnwife as prognosticator and the Finns themselves as powerful seers.
Destiny versus fortune. Things that can versus things that must happen.
The nature of fate and aligning yourself with the forces of your destiny.
And lastly: In winter, it seems, fairy tale characters stay put if they reside in a northern climate.



A Fairy Tale from Iceland : The Finnwife’s Prophecy

After the battle at Bocksford, Ingimund in splendid finery hastened home to his father, Thorstein, who received him with open arms. He said Ingimund’s path had been full of great fortune, but this was not astonishing, “because you are the daughter’s son of Jarls Ingimund, the luckiest of all men.”
Ingimund stayed the winter and it was that winter Ingjald also visited Thorstein and they celebrated a happy reunion. Ingjald said Ingimund had become all that his ancestors had promised. “But I will hold a festival for you, my foster son, with all the splendor at my command.” Ingimund consented. Ingjald accompanied him and invited many men. Then each rode out and the festival was proclaimed.
Ingjald and his clan practiced magic, according to the custom of the time, that people inquired about their fortune. A Finnish woman, well-versed in magic, came to the festival. Ingimund and Grim appeared at the banquet with a large following. A tall chair was prepared for the Finnwife and it was adorned and decorated for the ceremony. The men approached, one-by-one, rising up from their seats and asking a question about their fate. The woman prophesied for each man, as it was, but each prophecy was quite different from the next and all were satisfied.
The foster brothers sat in their places and did not get up to pose a question. They also did not heed the Finnwife’s prognostications. The seer spoke “Why are those young men not inquiring about their fortune? It seems they are the most magnificent of all persons assembled here.” Ingimund replied “I don’t want to know my fate in advance and I do not believe my destiny rests under the root of your tongue.”
She replied “But nonetheless I will tell you: you shall cultivate the land called Iceland ; it is mostly a wild place now. You shall raise yourself up and become a highly honored man. You shall become old and gray. Your descendents will also be many excellent men in that country.”
Ingimund replied: “That is well said, because I am certain in my decision never to move to that place. Surely I would not be a good merchant if I sold the many beautiful goods of my family and moved to that desolate spot.”
The Finnwife said: “It will happen as I have said. And take this as sign: the lot in your bag has vanished, that lot which King Harold gave you as present. It is lying in the forest where you shall live. The word Frey has been emblazoned in silver on the lot. When you take up your farm, my words shall be fulfilled.”
Ingimund replied: “If it weren’t going against my foster father, you would receive your reward broken over your skull. But because I am not a violent man and don’t want an argument, let us keep it at this.” She said there was no need to become angry.
Ingimund said she had come to bring him misfortune; she replied that it was his fate and would remain so, regardless of how he felt, good or bad about it. She continued “Grim’s fortune will also lead him there, also the fate of his brother, Gromund, and they will both become rich farmers.”
The next morning Ingimund searched for his lot and could not find it. This seemed to him a bad sign. Ingjald asked him to be of good cheer and not let it bother him or dispel his joy. He said: Many splendid men are sailing to Iceland . “I only had good intentions when I invited the Finnwife here..” Ingimund said he could not thank him for it, “But our friendship shall not be severed.” Then Ingimund traveled home to his father and stayed there the winter.
When spring came, he asked his foster brother, what they thought about their travels. Grim said, he thought it was no use struggling against one’s fate. “In summer I will go to Iceland , we two brothers. Many are going there even though they are rich here. Much good has been told me about the country, that the cattle finds nourishment even in winter; there are many fish in the sea and enormous forests. The land is free from the violent acts of kings and evil doers.”
Ingiumund replied “I shall not go there, we must then separate.” Grim said that may well be the case “But it shall not come as a surprise to me, if we meet again in Iceland .” It is difficult to escape one’s fate.” Ingimund said his departure caused him much pain.
Grim sailed out in summer. Both brothers arrived in Borg Fjord and sailed up to the Angelroot Strand. Grim said he would take this land for settlement. He took into possession so much land, that many farms today are still standing on the same ground. Gromund said he would go up to the highlands because he would like the area near the mountains. Grim said it would be a good thing because they would have both benefits from the rich mountain land and abundance from the sea. Gromund settled on Querachenhalde and was considered by all in the land to be a splendid man. Juugi the Black is his descendent. Grim’s line was also blessed and many famous men descended from him, even though they are not named here.

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