Friday, November 5, 2010

Women who Become Snakes

Grimm’s Saga No. 224: Maiden of the Meadows

A boy from Auerbach near the Mountain Road tended his father’s cows on the narrow valley floor, from which one can see the ruins of the old castle. Suddenly he felt a soft hand stroking his cheek from behind. He turned around swiftly and saw a beautiful maiden standing before him. From head to toe she was dressed in white. She was just about to open her mouth to speak and address him. But the lad was terrified as if it were the devil himself and hastily retreated back to the village. But because his father had only one meadow, he had to tend the cows in the same field, whether he liked it or not. A long time passed and the youth had almost forgotten the apparition. But one warm summer’s day something rustled in the leaves and he saw a little snake creeping along. It carried a blue flower in its mouth and suddenly began to speak: “Listen, good youth. You can redeem me if you take this flower that I carry. It is the key to my little chamber high above in the castle. There you will find money and enormous riches.”

But the shepherd boy was frightened when he heard the snake speak and ran back home. And on one of the last days of autumn, he once more tended his cows in the meadow. A third time the apparition appeared, now in the form he had seen first, a white maiden. She brushed his cheek again with her hand and entreated him to redeem her; she would convey the means and the way to do this. But all her pleading was for naught because fear overcame the lad. He crossed and blessed himself and wanted nothing to do with the ghost. The maiden let out a deep sigh and said “Oh, that I placed my trust in you! Now I must sit and wait until a cherry tree grows in the meadow, from its wood a cradle shall be made. Only the babe that is first rocked in that cradle will be able to redeem me.” She then vanished and it is said that the youth never grew to become a man; how he died, I do not know.

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Monday, November 1, 2010

Fairy Tale for Late Autumn: The Maiden Notburga and Her White Stag

Grimm’s Saga No. 351: The Maiden Notburga

In the lower Inn Valley in Tyrol lies Rostenburg Castle,* where in times of old a pious maid served a royal family. Her name was Notburga and she was a mild and charitable maid. She distributed whatever she could to the poor but because the greedy royal family despised her charity, they beat the pious girl and finally chased her away. She found refuge with poor farmers at the nearby Mount Eben

God soon punished the evil mistress of Rostenburg Castle with a miserable death. Her husband now felt that injustice had been wrought against Notburga and brought her down from Mount Eben back to the Rottenburg, where she led a devout life. Finally the angels came and took her up into heaven. Two oxen bore her corpse over the River Inn and although its waters raged, the surging flood became gentle and quiet when the saint approached. She was buried in the Chapel of Saint Ruprecht.

There is another saga people tell on the River Neckar. Towers and walls of the old Hornberg Fortress still stand on this river. In times of old a powerful king lived there with his beautiful and pious daughter, Notburga. This maiden loved a knight and was engaged to marry him. But he had set out for distant lands and never returned. The maid cried night and day after his death and refused every other suitor. Her father was hard-hearted and thought little of her sadness. One day he said to her “Prepare your wedding finery, three days hence a groom shall arrive; the one I have chosen for you.” But Notburga said in her heart: “I would rather go away, as far as the heavens are blue, than break my word.
At night when the moon rose, she called a faithful servant and said to him: “Take me into the forest heights, high above St. Michael’s Chapel. I will stay there hidden from my father and live my life in the service of God!” When they had reached the highlands, the tree branches rustled and a snow-white stag came running and when it reached Notburga, it stood still. She sat on the stag’s back, held on to his antlers and was quickly carried away. The servant saw how the stag easily swam with her over the River Neckar and disappeared on the other side.

The next morning when the king could not find his daughter, he had everyone search for her. He sent out messengers to all parts of his kingdom. But they all returned without finding a trace of the girl. The faithful servant did not want to betray her. But when it was lunch time, the white stag came to the servant at Hornberg, and when the servant wanted to give him some bread, the stag bowed his head so that the old man could place it in his antlers. Then the animal jumped away and brought it to Notburga in the wilderness. He came every day and received nourishment for her in this manner. Many saw it, but no one knew what it meant, except the faithful servant.

Finally the king noticed the white stag and forced the old man to reveal his secret. The next day at lunch time, he mounted his horse and when he saw the stag return for the food, he hurried after, chased the animal through the brush, across the river and followed it up to cave perched high above on a cliff. The king dismounted and entered. There he found his daughter with folded hands, kneeling before a cross. Next to her rested the white stag. Because she had not been touched by the sun’s rays, she was as pale as death and the king recoiled at the sight of her.

He spoke “Return with me to Hornberg Castle.” But she responded “I have promised my life to God and do not wish to live among mankind.” The king could not say anything to dissuade her and she would not answer him. He fell into a rage and wanted to exert force. But she held fast to the cross and when he pulled her arm it separated from her body and remained in his hand. He was overcome by such horror that he hastened away and never more returned to that cave.

When the people heard what had happened, they venerated Notburga as a saint. The hermit who lived near St. Michael’s Chapel sent all penitents to her when they sought help from him. She prayed with them and took on the heavy burden they bore in their hearts. In the autumn when the leaves fell, the angels came and carried her soul to heaven. They wrapped her body in a shroud and adorned it with roses, although all the flowers had long since withered. Two snow-white steers, who had never been under yoke, carried her across the river without wetting their hooves and the bells in the nearby church began to ring on their own. In this way her body was brought to repose in St. Michael’s Chapel. 

Today there still stands in the village church of Hochhausen on the River Necker the image of Saint Notburga hewn in stone. You can still see Notburga Cave, also known as the Maiden’s Cave and this is still known to every child in the area.

According to another version of the story it was King Dagobert who held his court at Mosbach. His daughter fled from him because he wanted to force her marriage to a pagan Wendt. She was only kept alive in a cave by a snake who brought her herbs and roots, until she finally died there. Wandering will o’the wisps revealed the girl’s grave and the king’s daughter was later found. Two steers pulled the wagon carrying her corpse and they remained standing at the place she is now buried. A church now marks the spot. Many miracles happen at that place. A picture of the snake is also carved in the stone at Hochhausen. An altar portrait shows the same, but here Notburga appears with her beautiful hair, before she was beheaded to satisfy her father’s rage.

*I believe this is the castle referred to in the fairy tale. Your comments are most welcome!

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Devil as Advocate

Grimm’s Saga No. 211: The Devil as Advocate

Once a farmhand living in the Mark gave his landlord money for safekeeping. When he asked for it again, the landlord said he had never received it in the first place. When the farmhand could not convince his host to return the money, he stormed out of the house. The landlord sent out men to catch him because he wanted to be rid of him once and for all so that he could keep the money. He accused the farmhand as the very one, down to his skin, hair, neck and belly, who had broken the peace of his house. The devil came to the farmhand in prison and said: Tomorrow they shall bring you in front of the court and chop off your head because you disturbed the peace of the house. But if you give me your life and soul, I shall help you.”

But the farmhand would not hear of it. The devil replied: “Do as I say when you enter court and they accuse you. Insist that you gave the landlord the money and say you were ill-advised, one should grant you an advocate to talk on your behalf. I won’t be standing far away. You will recognize me in my blue hat with white feather. I will then take over and represent your interests.”

And so it happened. But because the landlord was so obstinate in his lying, the farmhand’s barrister in the blue hat said: “Dear landlord. How can you deny it! The money is lying in your bed under the master post: Judge and bailiff go out and you will find the money lying there.”

The landlord then reflected on this turn of events and spoke “If I did receive the money, may the devil take me away!

When the money was found and brought before the judge, the man in the blue hat with white feather said “I knew I would get one of them! Either the landlord or his tenant!” With that he twisted off the head of the landlord and carried him off through the air.

More fairy tales can be found by clicking on the link:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Maidens with Keys and the Passing of the Seasons

Grimm’s Saga No. 222

The Chatelaine of Oselberg

In ancient times a castle stood on the Oselberg Mountain between Dinkelsbuehl and Hahnkamm. Here a widow lived with her father as chatelaine, keeping the keys to all the rooms of the castle in her possession. In the end she fell to her death when the castle walls collapsed. Screams can  often be heard at that place but it is only her spirit that floats round the fallen stone. She often appears on the evening of the four Ember days*; then she is in the form of a maiden, carrying a ring of keys at her side. Old farmers say the land was once owned by her father and the maiden was a pagan daughter of old. She became enchanted and was transformed into a terrible snake; others say they have seen her as viper but with the head and shape of a woman down to her waist. She always carries a ring of keys round her neck.

* Ember days: Four days immediately after 1) the first Sunday in Lent 2) Pentecost 3) Holy Cross Day (Sept. 14) or 4) St. Lucy’s Day (Dec. 13). Traditionally this is a fast day. These days designate each of four periods or seasons of the year, which were times of fasting (but became times of ordination in the Anglican Church).

And here is a beautiful song for the passing of the seasons:

More fairy tales can be found by clicking on the link:

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Grimm's Saga No. 276: The Legend of the Monks Crossing the Rhine at Speyer

Grimm's Saga No. 276
The Legend of the Monks who Crossed the Rhine

In ancient times there lived a certain fisherman in the City of Speyer. One night when this man went down to the Rhine River to let out his fishing line a man approached him wearing a long cowl-necked robe in the manner of monks. The fisherman respectfully greeted the man, who replied “I come as messenger from far away and need to cross the Rhine.”

“Enter my boat,” replied the fisherman. “I will ferry you across.”
After he had ferried the man across the river, he returned to find five more monks standing on shore. They also wanted to cross the river. The fisherman modestly asked what moved the men to travel in such a vain night? “Necessity drives us,” said one of the monks. “The world has become a hostile place for us; take us on and God shall pay your reward.”

The fisherman demanded to know what they would give him for his labours. “Now we are poor, but when things are better for us, you shall feel our gratitude.” The oarsman shoved off, but when his vessel reached the middle of the Rhine, a fearful storm blew up. Waves crashed down upon the ship and the fisherman paled in terror. “What is this,” he thought, “at sunset the sky was clear and promising and the moon shone beautifully. Whence comes this fast tempest?” And as he raised his hands to pray to God, one of the monks cried out “Why are you filling God’s ears with prayers? Steer the ship!”
With these words he tore the rudder from the boatman’s hand and began beating the poor fellow. Half-dead he lay in his vessel until daylight broke and the dark strangers had vanished. As the first rays of sunlight broke on the horizon, the heavens were once again as clear as before. The boatman took heart, sailed back to shore and reached his dwelling in sore need.

The next day a messenger who was traveling in the early morning hours from Speyer encountered these same monks driving in a rickety black wagon. The cart had only three wheels and was driven by a long-nosed driver. In confusion the man allowed the wagon to pass and saw it hasten by with much clattering, until it vanished altogether in thin air. All the while the messenger heard the sound of swords clanging like an army in battle. The messenger promptly returned to town and reported everything.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Golden Stag of Magdeburg

Grimm’s Saga No. 445

The Golden Stag of Magdeburg

In Magdeburg near Roland there once stood a stag with golden collar mounted on a stone pillar, which Charlemagne purportedly had captured. Others say Charlemagne released the animal but tied a golden collar round its neck, on which stood a cross and the words: “Dear hunters, let me live, To you my golden collar shall I give.” It was said this stag was only first captured again many years later during the reign of Friedrich Redbeard.

Other animal tales:
To read a mysterious tale about sheep:

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Monday, October 11, 2010

A Fairy Tale God for MBA's and Entrepreneurs

Reading the Fairy Tale The Spirit in the Glass

However far-fetched it might seem, the claim that this fairy tale has been thousands of years in the making is probably not an overstatement. We find clues to bolster this notion in three rather puzzling words: Mercurius, the name of the spirit in the glass, and the words dangerous oak describing the enormous and forbidding tree, which is the scene of enchantment in this tale.

First let’s take a look at the dangerous oak tree in the narrative. The ancient forests of Germany purportedly produced many incredible oaks and some of them were true giants. Thomas Pakenham in his book “Remarkable Trees of the World” cites an historical description of such a tree, quoting a 16th century writer who says of its enormity that it was “130 feet from the ground to the nearest bow” and another German tree had “a girth of over 90 feet”. Sadly, no trees of this stature have survived to this day, but we do have fragmented references in folklore and oral tradition attesting to the ancient notoriety of such trees. They are still described as “menacing, eerie, sinister” because they allegedly mark the spot where, according to Pakenham, pagan shrines once stood and “the dark rites of Woton” were performed. Pakenham goes on to explain that the so-called Feme-Eiche (Feme-Oak), which can still be seen today at Erle/Germany, was made a secret court of justice in the 13th century to try opponents of the king, but by the 19th century the practice had lapsed. One can only imagine the verdicts pronounced in the shadows of this oak!

A 17th century reference to a “deity-locked-inside-a-tree” can be found in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”. In the following lines Prospero explains how the witch Sycorax imprisoned the spirit Ariel within the confines of a pine tree:

”And for thou wast a spirit too delicate
To act her earthy and abhorr’d commands,

Refusing her grand hests, she did confine thee,

By help of her more potent ministers,

And in her most unmitigable rage,

Into a cloven pine, within which rift
Imprison’d, thou didst painfully remain
A dozen years; within which space she died,

And left thee there, where thou didst vent thy groans…”

And in Goethe’s famous poem The Erlkoenig, the child-grabbing hobgoblin is probably a reference to a spirit inhabiting an Erle or Alder Tree, most likely another reference to popular folk tradition (although disputed, I think the claim is ludicrous that the word Erlkoenig entered German literature as a result of a translation error, see the Wiki page on Erlking to read more). Jacob Grimm suggests as much by placing the origin of the word in the French aulne, aune, and German Erle and daemon).

These are all trees with strong personality (per Pakenham). Likewise the oak tree in our fairy tale, The Spirit in the Bottle, also conceals a forceful presence, nothing less than the God Mercurius. So who is this Mercurius and how does he get into a German fairy tale?

In short, the Romans brought their gods with them when they conquered Europe. Statues of the god Mercury dating from the 2nd and 4rd centuries have been found in present-day Switzerland (one such statue can be seen in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, CA), but these statutes still bear the Gallic name for the god (Cobannus, Deo Cobanno, or a variation Gobannus) . Gradually Latin displaced native languages in conquered regions, and Cobannus became Mercury (these two gods presumably merged into one because the Gallic deity was very similar in temperament or function to the Roman god Mercury). Over time the Gallic term disappeared altogether. As god of commerce and business, Mercury was a very popular figure. Edith Hamilton in Mythology describes Mercury as “the most entertaining of all the gods, the shrewdest and most resourceful.” He was Jupiter’s favorite companion. Graceful and swift, this god wore winged sandals and a winged hat. He was the gods’ cunning messenger and protector of traders and business people. He understood that speed was often a prerequisite for business success and the essence of his character seems to be he could be everywhere and anywhere at once (like the Internet?). In short, he was a god that any MBA could appreciate and all those who aspired to entrepreneurial verve revered him. How fitting that he should appear in a fairy tale about a parent’s concern for his child and musings about whether all the book-learning in the world can translate into practical business sense. Some themes, it appears, are timeless.

Photo of bronze statue of the God Cobannus, private collection S. While/L. Levy, New York, Height 17.2 cm. Inscription on the shield: To the King and the God Cobannus dedicated by Marcus Tutus Cassio. Late 2nd century B.C., from Helvetia Archaeologica, No. 37/2006 - 145

Mercurial = of or pertaining to the god or planet Mercury. Characteristics include: eloquence, ingenuity, aptitude for commerce. Present day usage especially: lively, sprightly, ready-witted, but also volatile. Grimm notes that this god was among those who accepted (possibly demanded) human sacrifice, where many of the other gods were appeased with animal or vegetable offerings.

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Ghost in the Glass

Grimm’s Fairy Tale No. 99: The Ghost in the Glass

(Also known as The Spirit in the Bottle or The Genie in the Bottle)

There once lived a poor woodcutter, who worked from morning until late at night. When he had finally saved some money, he said to his son “You are my only child. I want to use the money I have earned with the sour sweat of my brow for your education. You should learn something honest and decent so you can support me in my old age. The time will come when my limbs become stiff and I will have to sit at home and cannot work.”

The youth went to a school of high learning and studied so diligently that all his teachers praised him. There he stayed for some time. But soon he had learned his way through quite a few subjects and realized he had still not mastered everything there was to know. The little bit that his father had acquired in poverty was all spent, so he returned home. “Ach,” the father said distressed “I cannot give you any more money. In these lean times I cannot even earn my daily bread.”
“Dear father,” the son replied. Don’t worry about it. If it is God’s will, things will go well for me. I will make the best of it.”

When the father went out into the forest to earn something, his son said “I will go with you and help you.” “Yes, my son,” the father replied, “But it will be difficult for you, you are not used to hard work, you won’t be able to manage. I only have one axe and not enough money left over to buy another.” “Then go to the neighbor,” the son replied. “He will loan you his axe until I have earned enough to buy my own.”

The father borrowed an axe from his neighbor and the next morning at the break of day, they went out together into the forest. The son helped his father and was happy and joyful. When the sun stood high overhead in the sky, the father said “We shall rest now and have lunch. Afterward, we will continue.” The son took his bread in his hand and said “You rest, father. I am not tired. I will walk a bit in the forest and look for bird’s nests.” “Oh, you fool,” the father replied. “Why would you want to run around idly in the forest? Afterward you will only be tired and won’t be able to lift your arms; stay here and sit with me.”

But the son went out into the forest, ate his bread, was very happy and looked behind the green branches to see if he could find a nest. He went back and forth until finally he came to a large, dangerous oak tree, which must have been many hundreds of years old for it would have taken more than five men holding hands to circle it’s girth. He stopped and gazed at the tree thinking “Many a bird must have built its nest in such a tree.” Suddenly he thought he heard a voice. He listened and finally could hear a low, muffled sound “Let me out, let me out!” He looked around but could find nothing. Finally he thought the voice was coming from below the earth. He called out “Where are you?” The voice replied “I am stuck here under the roots of the oak tree. Let me out, let me out!”

The student began to dig below the tree and search around the tree roots until he finally found a small hollow in which there was a glass bottle. He raised it in the air and held it up against the light. There he saw a little thing, it had the shape of a frog. It jumped back and forth in the glass. “Let me out, let me out!” it cried again. The student, who didn’t think any harm could come by it, removed the cork from the bottle. Immediately a spirit emerged and began to grow. It grew so quickly that it soon became a frightful fellow, as big as half of the tree where the student stood. “Do you know what your reward shall be for letting me out?” “No,” replied the student without fear, “How should I know that?” “I will tell you,” the spirit called out, “I will have to break your neck!” “You should have told me beforehand,” the student replied. “I would have let you stay stuck where you were. My head should be able to withstand you, but more people will have to be asked.”

“More people, ha!” the spirit cried out “You shall get what you deserve!” Do you think I stayed locked in there for so long out of charity? No it was my punishment. I am the powerful Mercurius. I must break the neck of whoever releases me.” “Wait,” replied the student. “Slow down, haste makes waste! First I must know that you really were sitting in that small bottle and that you are a true spirit. If you can go inside again, then I’ll believe it. Then you can do with me what you want.” The spirit replied full of scorn “That is not much to ask and easier to do,” he said as he pulled himself together becoming as thin and small as he was in the beginning. He went through the same opening and crept through the neck of the bottle. He was barely inside when the student popped the cork back on the top and threw the bottle under the oak roots, in its prior place. The spirit had been deceived.
Now the student wanted to return to his father but the spirit called out remorsefully “Ach, let me out, let me out.”

“No,” answered the student. “I won’t do it a second time. I won’t release the thing that threatened my life once before.”
“If you release me,” the spirit cried out, “I will give you so much that you have plenty all the days of your life!” “No,”replied the student. “You are lying to fool me like the first time.”
“Don’t throw away your luck,” the spirit replied. “I won’t do anything to you, but will reward you richly.”

The student mulled it over, “I’ll take up the wager. Perhaps he will really keep his word and I don’t think he can harm me.” He removed the cork and the ghost emerged again, grew in size and ballooned up into large giant. “Now you shall reap your reward,” the ghost said and he gave the student a small cloth, like a little bandage. “When you rub a wound with the tip of this cloth, it will be healed. If, on the other hand, you touch steel or iron with the other end, it will become pure silver.”
“I’ll have to try that,” the student said. He went to a tree, cut the bark with his axe and rubbed it with the end of the bandage. Immediately the wood closed up, grew together and was healed. “I see the things your said are correct,” the student said to the spirit. “We can now part ways.” The ghost thanked him for redeeming him and the student thanked the ghost for his gift and returned to his father.

“Where have you been?” the father asked “Why did you forget your work? I told you that you would not amount to anything.
“Be of good cheer, father, I will make it up to you.”
“Yes, make it up,” the father replied angrily. “How do you suppose doing that?”
“Watch, father. I will chop down the tree, so that it crashes to the ground.” He then took the bandage, rubbed his axe with it and struck a mighty blow. But because the iron had turned to silver, the blade bent upward. “Oh father. You have given me a bad axe, it is now bent.” The father became scared and said “What have you done! Now I will have to pay for the axe and I don’t know where I shall get the money! That’s some benefit I have reaped from your labors!”
“Don’t be angry,” the son replied. “I will pay for the axe.”
“Oh you blockhead!” the father cried. “How will you pay for the axe. You have nothing but what I give you; the only thing you have in your head are student schemes! You don’t understand a thing about chopping wood.”

After a while the student spoke: “Father, I can’t work anymore. Let’s call it quits.”
“What is the matter with you,” the father replied. “Do you think I want to go home and twiddle my thumbs? I still have to work, but you can leave.”
“Father, I am in these woods for the first time. I don’t know the way back alone, please come with me.” Because his anger had subsided, the father finally was convinced and went home.
“Go and sell the ruined axe and see what you get for it. The remainder I will have to earn to pay the neighbor.”

The son took the axe and went into the city to a goldsmith. The goldsmith tested it, placed it on a scale and said “It is worth four-hundred talers but I don’t have so much cash with me.” The student spoke “Give me what you have, the rest I shall loan you.” The goldsmith gave him three-hundred talers and owed him one-hundred. The student went home and said “Father I have the money. Go and ask the neighbor how much he wants for his axe.”

“I already know the answer” the old man replied. “He wants one-taler and six groschen.”
“So give him two talers and twelve groschen”, that is twice as much and plenty. You see, I have money enough,” and he gave his father one-hundred talers and said “You shall never lack anything again and shall live your life in comfort.”

“My God,” the old man replied. “How did you acquire such riches?” The son told him everything that had happened and how he had trusted his luck to snag such riches. With the remaining money he returned to school and continued learning. But because he could heal every wound with his bandage, he became the most famous doctor in the world.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Peaceable Farmer Understands the Language of Animals

(Lucas Cranach, the Farmer)

The Difference between Speaking and Communicating Sorted Out in this Fairy Tale from Lithuania

A Retelling of the Fairy Tale The Peaceable Farmer

A peaceable farmer had the ability to understand the language of animals. But he had to promise not to tell anyone about his powers. For if he revealed a single secret of the animals, he would die.
One evening the farmer sat at his table for the evening meal. His chair was not far from the crib where his ox ate the hay. As daylight waned, a farmhand was just coming home from the field and tied an ass next to the ox. The ass was tired and grumpily complained to the ox about his misfortune. Oh the burdens he had to endure! The ox gave the ass the following piece of advice:
“As soon as they give you something to eat, ignore the food and pretend to be sick! You won’t have to work then.”

The farmer sitting nearby heard it all. The next morning when the farmhand announced that the ass was ill, the farmer ordered him to take the ox instead of the ass to accomplish the day’s work. When evening came the farmer was once again sitting at his table, but this time the ass was tied to the manger. The ox came home from working in the field and he was not at all happy. He complained to the ass he should stop acting sick because he had heard that the farmer had promised to slaughter him if he did not return to work. The ass had become worthless and the farmer planned to buy a new beast of burden. The farmer heard this all and burst out laughing. His wife asked him why he was laughing but he only replied, that he could not reveal the reason.
Since that day the farmer’s wife needled him mercilessly about the reason for his amusement. He knew he would have to die if he revealed the real reason, so he remained silent. Finally she became so angry, that she refused to eat with him. In her rage, she ceased loving him and could barely wait for him to die. But the farmer loved his wife dearly and said he wanted to tell her the reason for his laughter, but then he would have to die. Immediately his wife cheered up. They once more ate their evening meal together and full of joy the wife awaited the promised hour, when her husband would tell the reason of his laughter.

The farmer called together his entire household to say farewell. All were deeply moved and saddened because he was going to die. They all wished to convince his wife to turn away from her evilness and abandon her curiosity. But their pleas went unheard.

The farmer had a special love for his chickens, ducks, and feathered fowl. He decided to give each and every bird one last meal before he died. The rooster crowed happily and came strutting, as if he were a king. The dog came bounding out of his doghouse but rebuked the chicken: “Why are you so happy? Don’t you know our master is readying himself for death?”

The rooster replied: “Our master need only learn the language of his wife. If he did, he wouldn’t have to die a premature death. I myself have seventy wives and know how to talk to each and every one of them. The farmer heard it all. He led his wife into an empty room and decided to try this language understood only by wives. No one knows exactly what was said, but when he emerged, he told the entire household his wife was no longer curious about the reason for his laughter. He had avoided death. The couple lived to a ripe old age, until finally in their dotage a natural death divided them.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fairy Tale of Spindle, Shuttle and Needle

Grimm’s Fairy Tale No. 188: Spindle, Shuttle and Needle

There once lived a young maiden, whose father and mother had died when she was a small girl. Her godmother; who earned her living by spinning, weaving and sewing; lived at the end of the village in a little hut. The old woman took in the abandoned child, instilled in her the virtues of this work and raised her in utmost piety. When the girl was fifteen, the woman fell ill, called the child to her bedside and said: “Dear daughter, I feel that my end is approaching. I leave you my little hut, which shall protect you from wind and weather. Also, my spindle, shuttle and needle so you can earn your bread.
She placed her hands on the girl’s head, blessed the child and said “Keep God in your heart and things shall go well for you.” Then the woman closed her eyes and when she was buried in the ground, the girl cried bitter tears as she walked behind the coffin paying her last respects. The girl now lived in the hut all alone, was diligent and hard-working, spun, wove and sewed. And everything that she did was blessed by the beneficent old woman. It seemed like the flax in her chamber multiplied on its own and when she had woven a small cloth or carpet or had sewn a shirt, she immediately found a buyer who paid her handsomely. In this way she did not suffer want and could even give something to others. Around this time, the king’s son traveled through the countryside looking for a bride. He was not to select a poor one and a rich girl he did not want. He said: “She shall be my bride, who is both the poorest and the richest.” When he arrived in the village where the girl lived, he asked as he did everywhere else, who in the village was the richest and the poorest. First, the villagers mentioned the richest one. The poorest, they said, was the girl who lived in the small hut at the end of the village. The rich girl sat at the front of her house dressed in her finery. When the king’s son approached, she stood up, walked up to him and bowed. He looked upon her, spoke not a word and rode on. When he came to the house of the poor girl, the maiden was not sitting at the door but was inside instead. He stopped his horse and looked through the window, through which the sun shone. He saw the girl sitting at her spinning wheel, working industriously. She looked up and noticed that the king’s son was peering inside. She blushed deeply, lowered her eyes and continued spinning. Whether or not the thread at that moment was spun evenly, I do not know, but the girl continued spinning until the king’s son rode away again. Then she went to the window, opened it and said “It is hot in the chamber,” but she watched him as he rode away, until she could only see the white feathers in his hat. The girl went back to work again in the chamber and continued spinning. She remembered a saying the old woman had often recited when she sat working. The girl sang it now:

“Spindle, spindle, now go out,
Bring the suitor to my house.”

What happened? The spindle immediately jumped out of the girl’s hand and went through the door. When the girl stood up in amazement and followed the spindle with her eyes, she saw that it had merrily run into the field where it danced, pulling a shiny golden thread with it. It wasn’t long before it vanished altogether. Because the girl didn’t have a spindle any more, she took up the shuttle, sat by the loom and began to weave. But the spindle continued dancing and when the thread came to an end, it had reached the king’s son. “What do I see here?” he cried, “the spindle wants to show me the way.” He turned his horse and followed the golden thread. The girl sat at her work and sang:

“Shuttle, shuttle, weave so fine,
Bring to me the suitor mine.”

The shuttle immediately jumped from her hand and ran through the door. Before the threshold it began to weave a carpet, more beautiful than anyone had ever seen. On both sides roses and lilies bloomed and in the middle sprang forth a trellised flower on a golden background. Rabbits and hares were woven into the fabric, stag and deer stretched their necks in between. Colorful birds sat in the branches above. Everything she had sung about was included in the design. The shuttle wove back and forth effortlessly on its own.
Because the shuttle was now gone, the girl sat down to sew. She held the needle in her hand and sang:“Needle, needle, sharp and keen,
Make for my suitor the house so clean.”

The needle now slipped from her fingers and flew back and forth in the room as fast as lightening. It seemed as if invisible ghosts worked the room. One set the table, one spread a green cloth on the bench, covered the chairs in satin and hung silk curtains on the windows.
The needle had barely finished the last stitch when the girl looked through the window and saw the white feathers on the hat of the king’s son, who was carrying the spindle by the golden thread. He dismounted from his horse, walked across the carpet into the house and when he entered the room, the girl stood there in her poor dress, but she was as brilliant as a fresh rose blossom on the bush. “You are the poorest but also the richest,” he said to her, “Come with me, you shall be my bride.” She was silent but extended her hand. He then gave her a kiss and led her out, lifted her onto his horse and brought her to the royal palace, where the wedding was celebrated in great happiness. Spindle, shuttle and needle were kept in the treasury and were always held in high regard.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Men Who Become Wolves

Men Who Become Wolves

A fairy tale from Lithuania: The Man Who Became a Wolf

There once lived a farmer who led his horses out into the field. When he dismounted from his steed, he tied it to the fence rail. At once the animal began to snort through his nostrils and ran away. But the farmer mulled it over to himself “Why is the horse shying so? “ he wondered. Then he looked down and, saw he had become a wolf. What to do? The poor man ran home to his wife. When she saw the wolf coming, she screamed out “A wolf! A wolf!” The wolf didn’t know where to go and ran into the forest. There he found animals to eat and could scrape by.

But in winter there was nothing left for sustenance. And so he had to run after horses and nourish himself with their dung or the occasional lost stirrup he found in the snow. He ran around as wolf for four years. During this time his wife waited for him, but finally she decided he was not coming home. She decided to marry another.

The wolf had just fallen asleep when he heard a voice, as if in a dream, say to him: “Go home! Your wife wants to marry again!” The wolf hurried home. He saw his courtyard filled with horses. When the horses caught sight of the wolf, they all fled from the yard, dragging their wagons with them. The wedding guests noticed the horses running from the yard and saw the reason why. There stood a wolf. They immediately fell upon the animal and the wolf soon understood things were going badly for him and he would soon meet a woeful end. He tried jumping over the fence, but his buckle became caught on the wooden post. The belt was ripped open by the fall and behind the fence now stood a man.

The wedding guests departed when they saw the bridegroom had returned home. The man now told his wife everything that had happened. The belt had been given him by an old woman. As soon as he put on the belt and had fastened the buckle, he was transformed into a wolf.

Further wolf tales:

Copyright Translation

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Long Man in Murder Lane

Grimm’s Saga No. 168: The Long Man in Murder Lane (in Hof)

Before the plague came to Hof in 1519, a large, dark, long man could be seen at night in Murder Lane. His long legs touched down on both sides of the narrow street, where he walked with head held high above the rooftops. My ancestor, Frau Walburg Widmaennin, saw this man one evening as she walked along the old passageway. She saw how he placed one foot near the entrance of the pub but placed his other foot on the opposite side of the street next to the big house there. Out of terror she knew not what to do, whether to go back the way she had come or to continue along the street. So she continued on her way and walked down the center of the lane, crossing herself and commending herself to God. She walked straight through the long man’s legs and thought to herself, that such a ghost might hasten after her. She had hardly passed underneath him, when the ghost slammed his legs shut so hard, that a shudder reverberated off the walls of the buildings and it sounded as if they all were about to collapse. Terrible plague then came to the land and the people in Murder Lane were the first to die.

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Translation Copyright

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fairy Tale for Autumn: The Butterfly

The Butterfly
A fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen

A butterfly longed to find a bride; so of course it sought a pretty one amongst the flowers. It inspected an entire meadow full but found that each bloom sat quietly and respectably on its stalk (exactly as is fitting for a young maiden when she is not yet engaged). The only problem was that there were so many flowers and the huge selection threatened to become overwhelming.

The butterfly did not like exerting all this effort. That is why he flew to visit the daisies. The French call this flower “Margerite” because they know that the Margerite can prophesy the future. And this the flower gladly does, if a lover pulls out each petal one by one, while asking a question about his or her intended true love: “Does she love me from the bottom of her heart? – Love so deep, it causes pain? – Does he love me truly? – A little? -- Not at all? –“ These and many other questions the flower will gladly answer.

The butterfly came to the Margerite to ask his question. But he did not pull off the petals. Instead he pressed a kiss onto each little bud. He did this because he reasoned, he would get much farther by showing good will.
“Margerite, best of all blooms!” he said to the flower. “You are the smartest woman among all the flowers. You can foretell the future. Please, please tell me, shall I win her or another? Which one shall be my bride? When I know the answer, I will fly straight away to her and ask for her hand in marriage.”

But the Margerite Daisy did not respond. She was angry that he had called her a “woman”, when in fact she was a young maiden. There is a difference! He asked a second and third time. When the flower remained silent and would not utter a single word, he decided not to linger any longer and flew away to find his own bride. It was the last days of spring. All around the snowdrops and crocuses bloomed. “They are all very nice indeed,” the butterfly thought. But they are all small fish! Then he flew to the anemones. They were a little too bitter. The violets a bit too effusive. The tulips were too proud. The narcissus too domestic. The lime blossoms were too small and had too many relatives. The apple blossoms, they were as beautiful as roses, but here today, gone tomorrow, depending on how the wind was blowing. The pea blossoms pleased him the most. They were red and white, delicate and fine. They were like good domestic help: pleasant to look at and great in the kitchen. He was just about to ask one to be his bride when he spied a dried-out pod standing nearby, from its tip hung an old blossom. “Who is that?” he asked. “It is my sister,” the pea flower replied. “Aha! Later she will look exactly the same!” he exclaimed and fled because her appearance startled him.
Spring passed and summer also ended. Now it was autumn, but the butterfly was still indecisive. Now the flowers all appeared in their finest gowns – but it was all for naught! They were all lacking the fresh, balmy scent of youth. A fragrant aroma is what the heart longs for when it is no longer young. The butterfly now flew to the mum and aster, but there were few to be found. So finally he settled on some crinkly mint. “The mint has no blossom, but its entire being is bud! It is fragrant from top to bottom and emits a flower’s perfume in every blade. I will take the mint as bride!” said the butterfly. And so, he asked the mint for her hand in marriage. But the crinkly mint stood there stiffly and listened silently. Finally it said “We can be friends, but not more than that! I am old and you are old. We can live and help each other, even amuse each other. But marry? Never!”

And so the butterfly did not marry. He had waited too long, and one should never do that! And so the butterfly remained a confirmed bachelor.

Soon it was late autumn with rain and dark weather. The wind blew cold over the backs of the old willow trees and the branches groaned. It wasn’t the type of weather to fly about in one’s summer outfit! But the butterfly wasn’t flying outside anymore. He had managed to fly into a house, where the logs in the oven burned so brightly and it was as warm as a summer’s day. He considered whether or not he could live in such a cozy little room. “Merely living is not enough!” He finally said. “Sunshine, freedom and a small flower are what I require!”
And he flew against the windowpane. The children all came running, admired him, then stuck him through with a needle and placed him in their box of treasures. Nothing else could be done for the fellow now.

“Here I sit, pricked through by this needle instead of sitting on a flower!” the butterfly sighed. “This truly is not very pleasant! It must be what it’s like to be married, you are stuck to one spot!” And so he tried to console himself.

“That’s cold comfort, indeed,” said the houseplant on the windowsill. “But,” the butterfly thought to himself “One can’t really trust a houseplant. They spend far too much time among people!”

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Reading the Fairy Tale Allerleirauh

The Importance of Looking beyond Rough Exteriors

In a heart-wrenching tale by Grimm, The Maiden with the Beard, a beautiful nun’s life is threatened by the untoward attentions of a king. In her despair the girl petitions God to save her life through disfigurement. Her pleas are immediately answered and she spontaneously grows a beard. And so begins the fairy tale Allerleirauh. A king’s daughter intent on thwarting the improper advances of her father, dons a protective cloak of hair. In fact an apt translation of the title Allerleirauh could be The Hirsute Maiden. Finding protection in a coat of animal pelts, the maiden is able to begin a coarse new life covered in fur. She is, in a word, Allerleirauh or rough all over.

At the heart of this tale is an improper attraction of a king for his daughter, caused by a sort of supernatural magnetism emanating from the girl’s beautiful golden tresses. Hair is the root of the problem and hair must therefore be the girl’s deliverance.
Hair-as-protection is a common theme in fairy tales, see Child of Mary and Genofeva, for two examples on this website. In folk tradition, a protagonist who must resort to shielding-by-hair is particularly vulnerable and often the victim of sexual predation. And like a modern-day account of such abuse, hush-ups and silence follow. In Allerleirauh the hairy coat the daughter is forced to wear is an apt metaphor for a community covering-up a situation it would rather not acknowledge. Silence is often the preferred way of coping for an audience unwilling to take action.
Victims of abuse are often urged to remain silent, but their reticence is often vexing to an outsider. As one reader of this blog, Genie of the Shell, writes:
“But in other stories, the ones about abused young girls (The Six Swans, Allerleirauh, The Goose Girl, etc.), the girl is victimized until the point at which she is able or willing to reveal the secret of the abuse or injustice done to her. Then, after telling the secret aloud, she is saved. “

I like the point this reader brings up: it is only by naming our deepest secrets that we are freed from their terror.

However, once Allerleirauh is ensconced in her hirsute coat, she begins to take action. No longer providing simple coverage, her animal skin now seems to be more like a shaman’s cloak . Her subsequent actions of placing powerful objects of attraction at the bottom of a soup bowl suggest she is no longer a mere victim but rather an enchantress intent on binding her lover to her through magic. Rings are employed as powerful symbols of attraction in fairy tales. Exerting a mysterious influence that defies all logic, the power of a ring (and other similar magic objects) cannot be overlooked in a fairy tale. The resulting attachment is often so puzzling to an onlooker, that only some hidden object or charm can explain the enchantment. See the legends of Charlemagne for more on this subject.
From hirsute maiden to wife of the king, Allerleirauh overcomes every obstacle placed in her path. Some would say she resorts to tricks or magic to regain her station in life. Others would say that the strength of the victim to overcome such adversity is in itself a wondrous deed similar to enchantment. Still others would say Allerleirauh relies on the truth to shape her destiny.

Further reading: